On Why Judith Warner Remains at Sea


In response to the criticism by us and many others of her article on Thelma and Louise, Judith Warner in her latest column in The Times has come back to the table, prepared to admit how “shocked” she was by the reaction, but nevertheless maintaining that “[since] the 1970s and 1980s… I [can] attest to the fact that there’s been a major shift. What may have started with a fear of lawsuits has trickled down into everyday behavior. What’s sayable in polite company has changed.”

In support of this she quotes Casey Jordan, a professor of justice and law administration at Western Connecticut State University, who tells her that “what’s doable – in most of mainstream America, at least – has changed as well.” The professor expounds: “I do think most young men have an appreciation for ‘no means no.’ There is a new sense that women should be respected. You’ve got men responding to the idea that women do have more power and they have to respect them.”

Not to belabor the point, but what continues to bother us about Judith Warner (but only in these articles; generally we like her) is her failure to admit that her experience — again, as much as we often appreciate and enjoy her perspective — appears laughingly remote to those (billions) who live outside the upper middle-class enclave where she seems to spend the bulk of her time. In short, Judith, the only truth you can present with any authority is your own, as you almost seem to admit toward the end of your piece. “It’s such a quagmire,” you write, “this business of victimhood and empowerment and identity — particularly for those of us who have not been directly touched by sexual assault or harassment. In the 1980s and early ’90s, I used to believe that we all suffered from sexual violence by proxy. Beyond simple empathy, I felt we were one, in our status, with the most violently sexually subjugated women. Now I’m not so sure.”

The true quagmire, Judith, is your failure to differeniate between the subjective and the objective. To conflate the two as you have done here will never seem less than insulting to those who have been more “touched” than you by the often grim offerings of the world around us. We invite you ride the A-train uptown and spend a night with us on the corners of Broadway and Amsterdam in Washington Heights, where an entirely different culture of respect and disrespect prevails, one that we can assure you has nothing to do with fear of being hit with a sexual-harrassment lawsuit.

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