The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Feminism, Victimhood, Therapy

Posted on | July 6, 2011 | 20 Comments

“To me the piece was a stunning example of journalistic malpractice, the kind that reinforces the public perception that deep down journalists think every story or major news event is somehow really all about them.
“McClelland, who covered Haiti for Mother Jones, has provided us with yet another clichéd, egocentric article about documenting unimaginably terrible things experienced by powerless, broken, poor people who are victimized on a regular basis. But here’s the rub, we get a mere few lines about the pain experienced by a Haitian rape victim named ‘Sybille’ but a long screed about McClelland’s pain, albeit with the provocative spin of needing violent sex to cure her of all that ails her. Sybille’s violent rape feeds McClelland’s need to feel victimized.”

Marjorie Valbrun, Slate, “Mac McClelland: What’s Happening in Haiti Is Not About You”

“[W]hen other women speak out, our first reason shouldn’t be to punish or criticize our own. . . . When men write about their personal experiences and their observations and their roads to recovery and self-discovery, it’s a great American novel or a shining example of journalistic bravery. When women do it it’s narcissistic and selfish.”
Jill Filipovic, Feministe, “But sometimes it is about you”

Well, let’s you and her fight, huh? It’s probably not necessary to say that I agree with Valbrun’s criticism of Mac McClelland and despise Filipovic’s girls-gotta-stick-together cheerleading. Implicit in Filipovic’s argument is not merely gynocentric tribalism — where all women must support the criticized woman, merely because she is a woman being criticized — but also feminism’s telltale gesture, an insistence that victimhood is the essence of the female experience.

My own reaction to McClelland’s article (other than sarcastic contempt) was a profound skepticism of her veracity as a reporter, inspired by an instinctive distrust of her dramatic “just-so story.” Rigoberto Menchu, Misha Defonseca, James Frey, “JT LeRoy,” Herman Rosenblat, Greg Mortenson — how many times do people have to see the fake-memoir saga re-enacted before they learn to recognize the aroma of bovine excrement?

We at least know for a fact that McClelland is a reporter who has actually been to Haiti. Surely she didn’t just fake those Port-au-Prince datelines like Jayon Blair filing a West Virginia dateline from his apartment in Brooklyn. And for all we know, her account of curing her psychological trauma through brutal sex is actually true — but I call your attention to the phrase “for all we know,” because so much of it is unverifiable.

Putting aside questions of accuracy, however, we return to ask the key question: Why does Filipovic reflexively defend McClelland? Precisely because McClelland speaks from a perspective of victimhood and, to a feminist ideologue like Filipovic, women’s victimhood is a sacred narrative beyond skeptical scrutiny.

Thou shalt not doubt the victim, saith the Goddess.

Isn’t this commandment why the whole feminist universe prematurely rushed to convict the Duke lacrosse team, because Crystal Mangum’s victimhood was so unquestionable?

This veneration of victimhood is deeply rooted in feminism’s history, going back to when Betty Friedan invoked the Holocaust to describe suburban housewives as helpless inmates of a “comfortable concentration camp.” Feminism’s insistence on the unquestionable nature of the victim’s tale — the subjectivity of personal truth — can be traced back to the “consciousness raising” discussion groups that sprang up during the Women’s Liberation movement of the late 1960s and ’70s.

Yet the whole notion that sharing stories of personal trauma has therapeutic value does not originate with feminism. Rather it is a dumbed-down relic of Freudian psychoanalysis. It’s the couch trip, where telling a shrink about your problems and feelings and dreams was supposed to cure all those neuroses, syndromes and complexes which the fin-de-siecle Viennese doctor claimed to diagnose with such clinical certainty. Feminists hate Freud (his accusation of “penis envy” especially made him an early target of their wrath) and yet they seem to have uncritically accepted many of his therapeutic concepts.

The victim is a mental-health patient, who must be supported uncritically as she discusses her experiences and her feelings, because only by discussing her experiences and her feelings can she achieve wellness. Note the language Filipovic employs in talking about McClelland: “psychologically overwhelmed,” “traumatized,” “mental health,” “networks and support systems,” “self-care.”

We cannot criticize McClelland’s article as journalism or any sort of literature, because it is neither. It is therapy.

And the amazing thing is that, rather than having to pay a shrink to listen to her traumatic tale, McClelland is paid to tell it.

Nice work, if you can get it.


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