Culture Wars, Literature, Spotlight, Top Stories

The Posthumous #MeToo-ing of J. D. Salinger

The first day of this year would have been the 100th birthday of J.D. Salinger, the American writer whose 1951 novel of teenage rebellion, The Catcher in the Rye, mesmerized generations and made him a cult figure. The Salinger legend was only enhanced by his reclusive life in rural New Hampshire, where he shunned interviewers and photographers and continued to write but published nothing from 1965 until his death in 2010. Given both Salinger’s literary stature and his mythic aura, the centennial should have been a big deal. And yet it went by almost unremarked—a startling fact that almost certainly has more to do with the cultural and sexual politics of this moment than with Salinger’s place in literature.

It is telling that the most prominent essay on Salinger to appear in the American media so far in 2019 has been a Washington Post piece questioning whether the writer is still relevant, given that his best-known work focuses on “the anxieties of a white heterosexual young man expelled from an expensive prep school.” (By that standard, Hamlet is surely doomed.) And the article raised another issue: the shadow cast over Salinger’s reputation by #MeToo, which had made it unacceptable to “make allowances for abusive behavior by manipulative men.”

Accusations of abusive behavior toward women have haunted Salinger’s memory since his death, gaining more traction with the rise of a victimhood-centered brand of feminism over the past few years. The tipping point came last September with the publication of an essay by Salinger’s former lover Joyce Maynard, published in the New York Times Book Review.

Maynard, who had an ill-fated romance with Salinger in 1972 when he was 53 and she was nineteen, first told her story in the scandalous 1999 memoir, At Home in the World; it earned her both notoriety and opprobrium for invading the reclusive writer’s privacy. The book certainly painted Salinger in a mostly unflattering light—as a self-centered domineering crank, albeit capable of “sweetness and tenderness.” The 2018 essay went much further. This time, Maynard—who expressed disappointment that the #MeToo movement had not led to a re-examination of her story—depicted her experience with Salinger as not just a bad relationship but essentially a violation. She also charged that the criticism she faced twenty years ago was a grotesquely sexist backlash in defense of a famous abuser.

Maynard had already tried to press for a reassessment of Salinger as a predator in 2013, in a New York Times op-ed following the release of a documentary about him. At the time, her piece had limited impact. Five years later, in a changed cultural climate, Maynard found near-unanimous sympathy. Even one of her erstwhile critics, former Time writer Elizabeth Gleick, wrote that the piece made her confront her own “internalized misogyny.”

At least for now, it seems Maynard has won: largely on the strength of her account, Salinger has been posthumously relegated to the limbo of #MeToo-tainted, “problematic” cultural figures, which probably accounts for the awkward half-silence around his centenary. But her victory is hardly a win for justice. For one thing, it has robbed us of the celebration of the legacy of a great American writer. The Catcher in the Rye, which is almost too much of a mythic artifact of its era to be properly appreciated as a novel, is certainly worth a fresh look. It is a work that revolutionized literature, capturing the adolescent voice as no one had before (and that spoke to millions of teens who were not heterosexual white males). And there are the short stories: “Just Before the War with the Eskimos,” “Down at the Dinghy,” “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,” “To Esmé—with Love and Squalor,” works of exquisite simplicity and poignancy that have lost none of their effect.

Should this achievement be overshadowed by issues of Salinger’s personal conduct? There is no question that his behavior toward the people in his life, including Maynard, was sometimes appalling. Yet the new narrative casting Maynard as a victim, first of a predatory older man and then of a misogynistic culture, is a crude distortion of a complicated story—one in which men are not the only ones behaving badly.

*     *     *

That story began when Maynard, whose voice-of-a-generation essay, “An 18-Year-Old Looks Back on Life,” had been published in the New York Times Magazine, found a letter from Salinger among her fan mail. Thrilled by his compliments and predictions of a bright future, Maynard replied. The correspondence led to a meeting, an intense friendship, and finally a sexual relationship (short of full consummation because Maynard was a virgin and all attempts at intercourse were thwarted by her painful vaginal spasms). A scholarship student at Yale, Maynard dropped out at the start of her sophomore year and moved in with “Jerry” at his rural home in Cornish, New Hampshire, alongside his teenage son and daughter who were only a few years her junior.

According to Maynard’s memoir, the New Hampshire idyll quickly soured. “Jerry” not only pressured her to join him on a strict macrobiotic diet but taught her self-induced vomiting to purge unhealthy food like pizza if it was indulged. Despite his high praise for Maynard’s talent and mind, he regularly berated her for everything from her personal habits and tastes to excessive attachment to worldly vanities, including literary success. He was furious at her for giving his number to some editors for contact in that pre-cell phone era, resulting in a call from a Time reporter. He also expected unreciprocated oral sex.

The increasingly frayed relationship ended on a Florida vacation with Salinger’s children. (The trip included a visit to a homeopathic specialist for advice on Maynard’s sexual problems; her verdict was that the problems were entirely psychological.)  On a beach outing, Salinger brusquely told Maynard that it was over and instructed her to go back to New Hampshire, collect her things, and leave before he and the kids returned.

An ugly story, to be sure; but Maynard’s condensed account in the Times makes it much worse. The oral sex is now described as “forced,” while Salinger becomes a patriarchal tyrant expecting total devotion and subservience from his young paramour: Maynard writes that he “urged [her] to leave college” to live with him and “have babies.”

At Home in the World, however anti-Salinger, tells a rather different story. There’s no mention of Salinger urging Maynard to drop out of Yale; while he fretted about the separation her studies would entail, he actually talked of moving to Connecticut to be near her and drove her to the campus at the start of the term. It was Maynard who decided to leave school and called him to pick her up. While the 2018 essay and the 2013 op-ed assert that she disconnected from friends and family to join Salinger in his near-seclusion, the book not only shows Maynard staying in regular contact with her parents and sister but shows Salinger meeting with them, too. (Some friends are in the picture as well.) Maynard’s time with Salinger coincided with her parents’ tumultuous separation, and she writes that he had long, surprisingly warm phone conversations with her mother, writer and educator Fredelle Maynard, even telling her that the end of her marriage could be an opportunity to pursue the ambitions she had curtailed for her family.

The Times article also offers no hint of the fact that during her eight or nine months with Salinger, Maynard remained active as a journalist/writer and wrote her first book with his encouragement and mentorship. As for the talk of having Salinger’s babies, the memoir leaves no doubt that it was primarily Maynard’s fantasy.

Maynard’s current account includes a repellent yet misleading detail: Salinger, she writes, “put two $50 bills in my hand and instructed me to return to New Hampshire, clear my things out of his house and disappear.” The implication—that he used and discarded her like a prostitute—is obvious. In reality, he gave her the money the day after the breakup when he put her in a cab to go to the airport: Maynard had not taken any cash on the trip, and in 1972 you could not get far without cash.

There is no question that Maynard’s experience with Salinger was traumatic. Her self-worth was wrecked by his constant criticism (though, interestingly, she admits that many of his comments about the flaws in her writing were on-target). After the relationship ended, Maynard not only spent months pining and begging him to take her back but sank the money from her book into a rural home about fifty miles from Cornish, in the hope that she could win “Jerry’s” heart by imitating his lifestyle.

And yet was this relationship anything other than consensual? It’s hard to make that case without drastically downgrading female autonomy. Maynard writes that she began to see her relationship with Salinger “through an utterly altered lens” when her daughter reached the age she had been at the time: imagining her child in her own place, she began to see her younger self as “deserving of protection and care.” An understandable impulse—but also one that arguably taps into the protectiveness toward women that feminists once identified as a source of pernicious, freedom-limiting paternalism.

The age gap matters, of course. Maynard’s youth—coupled with her dysfunctional family background as the child of an alcoholic father and a frustrated mother, and with Salinger’s aura as a great writer—made her far more vulnerable to psychological coercion. But inequalities exist in many relationships, age-disparate or not. Where do we draw the line to decide that these inequalities invalidate consent? How do we measure “power differentials” in situations where neither party has tangible, institutional power over the other?

These questions resonate with me, in part because I have my own somewhat Maynard-like story. I too got published at that age—in a Russian-language newspaper in New York, as a recent immigrant from the Soviet Union—and received a fan letter from an older male writer with whom I eventually got involved in a not-quite-consummated relationship. We too talked of marriage and being a creative team. In my case, the man was in his early thirties, not his fifties, and not a famous author but a marginally employed, alcoholic Russian immigrant with an unpublished book that he said would revolutionize philosophy. Obviously, I attracted a lower class of inappropriate older boyfriend than Maynard, but ironically this also made it easier to extricate myself—which I did after about three months, once I figured out that my would-be husband was not an unappreciated genius and was not going to stop drinking. It was a bad experience, and it’s fair to say I didn’t quite know what I was doing. (Probably the only positive thing to come out of it was that almost any boyfriend after that looked good to my parents.) But to say that it was somehow not quite consensual would be insulting—not only to actual victims of sexual coercion, but to me as an adult, however young.

What does sound much more like sexual abuse is Maynard’s brief account of some very peculiar behavior by her mother. Fredelle Maynard apparently had a habit of sharing “cuddle time” in bed with her pubescent daughter while wearing “almost transparent nightgowns” through which young Joyce could see her mother’s breasts. These snuggling sessions included kissing on the lips (including a type of kiss nicknamed “Suction”), jokes about Joyce’s nipples, and occasional inspections to see if her pubic hair was growing. Sometimes, Fredelle would also rub an herbal balm on her daughter’s vagina, to no discernible purpose.

Maynard makes no mention of this in her #MeToo narrative. She does, however, insinuate that Salinger was a serial predator because he also corresponded with other teenage girls—even though there is no evidence that these correspondences were anything but platonic, or that he was “grooming” them for sex in any way. Maynard’s 2013 piece includes the disturbing claim that “one of these girls, 14 when Salinger first pursued her … reports that he severed their relationship the day after their one and only sexual encounter.” But what he pursued was friendship, not sex; the woman, Jean Miller—who, much to Maynard’s exasperation, still admires Salinger—has unambiguously stated that it was she who pursued him sexually when she was 20. (Salinger was in his early forties.)

Maynard’s claim to have been victimized by the press are just as skewed. Yes, some of the anti-Maynard backlash in the late 1990s was vicious and unfair. Some critics acted as if it was a moral offense for her to tell her own story because it violated Salinger’s privacy; there were those who branded her a predator and an exploiter, especially after she auctioned off a trove of Salinger’s letters. (The buyer returned them to Salinger.) But most negative reviews of At Home in the World acknowledged that Salinger had behaved badly; Gleick, the Time writer who later chastised herself for “internalized misogyny,” even called him a “brute.” The critics simply felt that Maynard was something of a bad actor in her own right, and even the sympathetic feminist reviewer Katha Pollitt in the New York Times took her to task for her lack of introspection.

*     *     *

Whatever one may think of At Home in the World, it is a vivid, fascinating, and mostly believable, if unpleasant, glimpse into Salinger’s life after his withdrawal from public view. Maynard’s #MeToo essay, on the other hand, gives us nothing new or insightful; it is little more than an attempt to reframe the story with Salinger as a sexual abuser. In that, Maynard fails.

Salinger’s friendships with adolescent girls will undoubtedly look creepy and weird to many people; others will see them as an expression of the writer’s own lifelong childlike nature, an extension of his well-known fascination with the innocence of youth. Was there a sexual element to this fascination? He certainly never sexualizes children in his fiction (including the lovely character inspired by his real-life friendship with Miller, 13-year-old Esmé, who befriends an American G.I. in the wartime story “To Esmé —with Love and Squalor”). It is also worth noting that both of Salinger’s known romantic relationships post-Maynard were with much younger but mature women: television actress Elaine Joyce, whom he dated when she was in her mid-thirties, and nurse Colleen O’Neill, whom he married in 1988 when she was 29.

Few would deny that Salinger was a man with many faults—including an obsession with various forms of quackery—and with psychological problems that could make other people’s lives very difficult. (At least some of those issues undoubtedly go back to war trauma; Salinger was not in combat but served in a regiment that suffered extremely high casualties.) Much of his life remains a mystery; but the #MeToo brand of feminism that pits men against women can only impede attempts to understand it.

Salinger’s daughter Margaret, whose memoir Dream Catcher appeared two years after At Home in the World, depicts him as emotionally abusive to his family, including his second wife Claire Douglas. But his son Matt has strongly disputed that account, and Douglas has also denied some of its elements. Should we “believe women” and assume that Matt Salinger is either covering up for his father out of patriarchal solidarity or blind to abuse because of male privilege? Should we take Margaret Salinger’s word over her mother’s? Should we assume that women like veteran journalist Janet Malcolm, whose 2001 essay in the New York Review of Books referred to Maynard’s and Margaret Salinger’s oeuvre  as “crass, vengeful memoirs,” have been mere handmaidens to the patriarchy?

Questions about Salinger’s work and life will be with us for a while, though they will have to wait for a better cultural moment. The consolation is that Salinger’s books will still be read when the current politics of gender and identity have faded into irrelevance.


Cathy Young is a Russian-born American journalist and author. She is a columnist for Newsday and a contributing editor for Reason magazine andArcDigital. Her work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, the Weekly Standard, Foreign Policy, and Slate. You can follow her on Twitter 


  1. Stoic Realist says

    Thank you for the very interesting piece. It is a shame that our culture had lost its handle on objectivity. Perhaps at some point in the future events will conspire to return it along with enough maturity that we can take a more complete look at the people and literature of the past.

    • Unlikely. The USA and other western democracies are on a path towards socialism with all the tyrannies of thought that occur with it. Many countries have fallen into the anti-liberal, anti-western values camp, lead by universities and public schooling that indoctrinates.
      It took a revolution to establish liberty and equal protection (with all its initial warts that are being resolved over time to match culture), but like spoiled children, it’s easy to want and demand and blame, but hard to create and improve.

    • Cathy Young is indeed one of the few reasonable feminists but there is definitely a female movement out there, call it whatever you like, that is trying to discredit men for socialist political reasons.
      They want to artificially feminise men and society because they consider masculinity toxic by its very nature.

      Testosterone is a natural male hormone that is not toxic. It can promote violence and other negative factors but it also contributes disproportionately to the vital positive elements, strength of character, innovation, dynamism and creativity of the male species however much feminists will scream foul.

      #Metoo started out as a reasonable attempt to restrict and punish deplorable male behaviour but the longer it goes on the more it is being taken over by political feminism and is starting to resemble toxic femininity.

      This story against a great writer who has given so much joy to millions of people is a classic example of the way women can simply use #Metoo as a tool of revenge against a boyfriend who has dumped them. No defence against such attacks are available to men while the women know that they have a ready supporter in #Metoo regardless of the facts, and a band of ‘Sisters’ who will falsely back up and confirm their story no matter what, as we saw in the Kavenaugh hearings. Guilty till proven innocent is indeed a toxic development.

  2. Todd James says

    Women always complain about men. You can read about it in classical Greek literature. It will always go on. Women bitch to each other about their husbands and boyfriends. They egg each other on, encouraging separation and divorce .Men don’t do this, about women (MRA is a very new and still fringe phenomenon). Extend this principle – women write character assassinations or mere gossip about ex-lovers, men rarely do (though it does occasionally happen). So why take one-sided female gossip as any guide to historical figures at all?

    • Right, which is why a fair amount of classical poetry is men being vitriolic about their unfaithful mistresses and the like…. Not really interested in replacing feminist male-bashing with old-fashioned misogyny, but thanks all the same 🙂

      • Todd James says

        Your right. I’m complete wrong…..whoops hang on, you didn’t even address my point…mmm…you haven’t had much experience of life have you?

        Really…the old saw, criticizing feminism is misogyny. …Are you running out of ideas THAT badly?

        • Toby Young says

          But wait, let’s put aside snark (you lured me in you sneak) and get back to the point. You seem to have conflated my use of men and women to meaning individual men, and individual women, with the class of men and class of women. Misogyny is about hatred of women (not complaining about individual women). Misandry is about hatred of men (not complaining about individual men). If you haven’t heard hundreds of women (mothers, sisters, friends…) complain endlessly about the individual men in their lives, but not men do the same about the women IN THEIR LIVES, then you live on a different planet than me. Sometimes bitter old divorcees will bad mouth their exes, and I’ve met one or two men who are disrespectful in the way they talk to their wives in company, but women friends are always complaining to me about the men in their lives, but not men about women in their lives.

          Feel free of course to come back with a silly snarky put down.

          • The best definition of Misogyny is “How dare you disagree with me” Thomas Ellis the rantings of a single white male.

          • Shut the hell up dude. You’re talking to Cathy Young. She’s been writing and speaking out against left wing excess long before it became relatively mainstream to do so.

        • Jay Salhi says

          @Todd James

          If you are at all familiar with Cathy Young’s writings, she would never argue that criticizing feminism is misogyny.

          Your claim that “men don’t do this” is ridiculous and she called you out on it.

        • Palace says

          You have some points but I think you need to calm down.

      • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

        @Cathy Young

        The author of the above? How can such a thoughtful essay and the above catty-bitchy-snippy comment have come from the same person?

        • Jeremy says

          The dude she responded too is the one being a catty bitch. Cathy Young has an impeccable resume of fighting the excesses of left wing feminism and regressive leftism in general. She’s been out there calling this stuff out many years before anyone had heard of Jordan Peterson or Dave Rubin or most of the other people in the “intellectual dark web”.

          • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says


            Just so. For that reason I found her post above to be unworthy of a genuine thinker. I suspect that women have been so over exposed to the catty-bitchy talk of their feminist sisters that they become infected by it even if they are really better than that.

      • Robert Franklin says

        Actually a very small amount of classical poetry is that. As such it should be seen for what it was – a part of life that some writers occasionally wrote about. That’s not misogyny, by the way, but a portrayal of a writer’s personal experience that he considered important enough to mention. Or perhaps women are simply above criticism.

        • Jeremy says

          She didn’t call the Greek poems misogynistic she was talking about the over the top stereotypes and ridiculous generalizations that the dude she replied to made in his comments. She’s the one who wrote the essay. She’s been fighting feminists for years.Her and Christina Hoff Sommers are practically public enemy number one to left wing feminists on college campuses.

      • Jeremy says

        Ms Young,

        Please just ignore him. Quillette is a great place to read interesting essays, but we’ve got more than a few idiots constantly posting here in the comment section. I just want to say I really appreciate the work you do fighting for a more centrist and nuanced position on cultural hot buttons. You, Heather MacDonald, and Christina Hoff Sommers were out there fighting the illiberal SJW before SJW was even a term. I love what you do and please keep it up.

      • Matt M says

        Just ignore that fool. Thanks for writing another great essay.

    • Broad generalisations like “women always complain about men” and “men don’t do this” will always be wrong in the sense that there are exceptions however I do think this is typical behaviour for men and women. Your statement about MRAs is I think off the mark. I am sure there are some MRAs who simply criticise women but in general MRAs criticises the unequal treatment of men and women most especially the way that injustices, mistreatment or suffering of men is given very little or no weight compared to the interest of women and the way concerns of women even if only of individual women and even if poorly evidenced or dubious are placed above general principles of fairness and equity.

      • Jeremy says

        MRA is a toxic label just like feminist is. I’m generally sympathetic to a lot of things MRA’s want, but the label is so toxic I don’t trust anyone who uses it to describe themselves. MRA’s have valid arguments, but far too many terrible people have taken up the label MRA for me to respect someone who still calls themselves that.

    • ShipAhoy says

      I know what you mean, Todd James. “They egg each other on, encouraging separation and divorce” is spot on. In my own experience, after working to encourage a female friend to try to understand why her husband was behaving badly, the friend told me that I was the only friend who’d encouraged her to try to understand the cause — all of her other (female) friends had advised divorce — and they’d just had a baby!

      While it’s certainly possible that men complain about women — the extent is far exceed by women. Absolutely.

    • Walter says

      I’m with Todd on this. There are exceptions, of course, but gossip, innuendo, and character assassination are ways females express aggression far more frequently than men.

      I thought the author did a fine job with the article, and it was interesting and worthwhile, but Todd’s worldview had already invaded my mind by the seventh or eighth paragraph.

      I once saw a list where classic books were presented alongside books that were “better.” A commenter wrote, “Hate literature but love identity politics? Have we got a list for you!” That perfectly skewered the list and the prevailing attitude among a certain set of people.

      It probably comes down to mercantile intent. If an identity politics writer can dismiss competing authors as unfit to be read, it increases the odds someone might pick up his or her book — even if it is inferior.

      • Sherman says

        Men traditionally don’t complain about women as much because it makes the man look weak.

        Also, as you note, gossip and character assassination are the classic female methods of waging combat. This is entirely logical given that from evolutionary POV women are disbarred from physical combat, the male default way of handling conflict.

  3. Andrew Mcguiness says

    Something that always strikes me when I see a hit-piece about someone famous is that nearly everyone has character failings, many people very bad ones – it’s just that nobody wants to read about how someone they’ve never met is manipulative, selfish, unreasonable, and once trod on their pet hamster in a fit of pique. When I look at the people I’ve been close to in my life, Salinger’s foibles look pretty ordinary; and the same no doubt goes for how people see me. Only, I’m not a revered novelist, so a book published about my shortcomings wouldn’t sell.

    • Dan Love says


      I agree. The stuff the average person does is worse than half of these character assassinations. I think it’s a mass-level “holier-than-thou” hypocrisy – tabloid stuff, making money convincing people they are morally superior to famous people.

      One of the best examples of this for me was reading about what Louie C.K. actually did. When you read the details (eg. it was consensual) and think about it, no rational person would conclude he did anything wrong. Feminist hysteria simply hypes people into unjustified anger.

      What’s really disgusting is hearing what those who claim to be victims have done, which attracts them to the absolving “victim status” in the first place. They’re then disturbingly enthusiastic to tie the noose for whomever they point to.

      • @Dan Love

        I grappled with the Louie C.K. situation myself. People act like he’s a monster who raped women, and yet it sounds like all he did was ask women he works with if they would watch him masturbate. If it were, say, women he met in a random bar, then that’s perfectly consensual. But if it’s women he works with, the idea is that there’s a power dynamic there, the women would feel pressured to say yes or else it might impact their careers. What #MeToo did was merely turn the tables and put HIS career at risk.

        I’d certainly agree what Louis did was not the brightest move. But how is it different from dating co-workers? Most people agree it’s risky, but not “sexual assault.” People date co-workers all the time. They spend most of their time at work, so it makes sense. If Louis dated women at work, would they attack him like that? If not, what is it exactly they’re upset about? Is it that society puts all the risk on men to ask women out? Is it that Louis requested a sexual act instead of a date (in which case, it’s just a question of WHEN they have sex, not if)? Is it that he asked for a sex act far less risky for women than sex? Really, when you tug at all the threads, it starts to unravel. It makes no logical sense.

        Unless they never thought it through but merely felt “icked out” by this relatively unattractive man who ticks all the evil intersectional power boxes (white, wealthy male) asking women if he could do something “creepy” like masturbate in front of them. It’s a purely emotional reaction. I think this sort of emotional reasoning is endemic in #MeToo. It’s often not about what the men do, but about how women feel about what men do, which men cannot control or predict.

        • Jeremy says

          What Louis CK did is not a crime, but it was still fucked up. He deserved some of the initial blowback that he got. What he doesn’t deserve is to be banned forever from working. The near universal MSM hysteria regarding his recently recorded and leaked stamd up set was a pure hit job. I listened to the whole thing twice and there’s nothing there that would remotely shock any stand up comedy fan. He’s done past sets with more risky jokes when he was being almost universally praised by the media.

          The one thing that surprised me was that The Atlantic published one of those hysterical reactions to his leaked set. I used to habe great respect for them, but they’re going more and more the way of just pandering to their left wing viewer base. They used to be a place for relatively heterodox ideas.

          • Dan Love says


            That’s the thing though; it being “fucked up” is incredibly subjective – as subjective as sexual quirks usually are. Sexual quirks are very personal and variegated. You have people who desire really weird stuff thinking people who desire other really weird stuff are fucked up.

            For example, there is a lot of stuff gay men tend to do that is really “fucked up”, yet they are a protected class due to their attainment of victim status.

            Part of the wisdom of classical liberalism is “It doesn’t matter how fucked up I think it is, it shall be tolerated so long as it’s consensual/legal”.

          • Jeremy says

            Heh consensual is possibly an overstatement when a boss asks if he can whip out his dick and jerk off in front of you and if you don’t say no he does it. Like I said it’s not a crime and he should be allowed to have a career again after facing his repercussions.

        • @Marshall Mason
          I’m ‘icked out’ by what Louis CK did. It’s different world than mine if he thinks it’s OK to ask anyone to watch him choke the chicken let alone women subordinate to him.

          I understand men and women in the workplace will potentially result in sexual situations – but a person in hierarchical authority over another must never go there. I have zero sympathy for him. Use your head Louis, the one that thinks first…

        • Marshall Mason

          “….by this relatively unattractive man who ticks all the evil intersectional power boxes (white, wealthy male) asking women if he could do something “creepy”…”

          Louie C.K. is NOT White.

  4. I highly recommend Cathy’s book, Ceasefire: Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality. I read this book (twice) when I started discovering that feminism had a lot of false statistics and simplistic narratives
    that demonize men. I must have read a dozen books, by feminists, MRAs, etc, but it was all hopelessly biased. Then I read Ceasefire. How refreshing it was too finally read something that transcended platitudes and just explored the subject fairly objectively.

    Thank you for this article, Cathy, and thank you for your book. I’m so happy to see your articles on Quillette.

      • Angela says

        Ms Young,

        Thanks for being out there on the front lines fighting left wing excess before it was cool to do so.

    • Cathy Young is great if you’re looking to check out similar writers look into Heather MacDonald. She just a released a very well reviewed book on the SJW phenomenon on college campuses. You can also check out a bunch of her essays for free at City Journal’s website.

      Cathy Young, Christina Hoff Sommers, and Heather MacDonald are the holy trinity of relatively centrist women fighting crazy feminist and SJWs.

  5. Max Arthur says

    You never mentioned what Katha Politt called Maynard’s “relentless self-advertising.” Seems to me like like repacking her story in #MeToo terms was her bid to make herself and her brand relevant for a new generation of readers. “Yet she persisted,” indeed.

    • Quite so. From what I remember she virtually stalked JD. Turning up unannounced and uninvited at his property and inveigling herself into his house. What transpired thereafter should be viewed within the context of how she deliberately manoeuvred herself into being part of his life.

      • Area Man says

        @Pete Smyth: Indeed. What is overlooked here is that this woman went waaaay out of her way to become involved with Salinger. And she knew exactly what it is that she brought to the table. She negotiated her youth & beauty in a barter to be near a man whose work she greatly admired. That doesn’t give him permission to be abusive, but to pretend she was powerless to leave the relationship is retrograde in that it removes agency.

  6. Hutch says

    Salinger’s work on “Hollywoo Stars and Celebrities: What Do They Know? Do They Know Things?? Let’s Find Out!” clears him of any potential wrong doing in my book.

  7. Bruce Yang Babatunde says

    And there I was thinking that eccentricity and artistic ability were close friends. Imagine an unutterably tedious PC world where all art is “woke” and only state-approved, well-behaved artists are permitted to write on topics within their gender/ethnic group. There was an interesting debate on this recently on Australia’s ABC Radio National:
    P.S. Do they study Bukowski in literature courses at uni nowadays?

    • Asenath Waite says


      For real. The best artists have always been completely fucked up people. Who wants art produced by a well-adjusted person? The very idea is ridiculous.

  8. [sarcasm mode on] In essence, JM is asking for a Saudi-style patriarchy where women are considered so weak that they need a male relative approving any relevant decision…

  9. Thank you for this article, Cathy Young and Quillette.

    I googled Pollit’s 1998 review. This is how she ends her piece:

    “It’s easy to make fun of Joyce Maynard. As if her relentless self-marketing and theatricality weren’t enough, the very fact that she presents herself as vulnerable, a victim in recovery, leaves her open to mockery. Women especially, you may have noticed, are very hard on women these days — just try suggesting to a hip young post-feminist that Monica Lewinsky was a mixed-up kid who deserves a little sympathy — and I am suspicious of that. In our heard-it-all-before sophistication we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that while still very young Maynard was on the receiving end of quite a bit of damage from adults. If she doesn’t always seem to understand her own story — if she seems like a 44-year-old woman who is still 18 — maybe that goes to show how deep the damage went.”.

    So Maynard (and her memoir) gets a free pass as usual.
    But at least, Pollitt acknowledges that Maynard’s very disturbed parents were the problem. Especially her mother – except Pollitt makes it understood it wasn’t her fault: “(Mummy) would have loved nothing more than to teach English” but “couldn’t get a job because she was a woman”. So Patriarchy – be it Salinger or the oppressive Education system – is always to blame.

    By the way, Pollitt also acknowledges that – as Andrew Mcguinnes wrote in the comments above, and I totally agree with him – “lots of happy families are secretly miserable and lots of people who pass for normal are bonkers comment in this thread”.

    • Asenath Waite says



      Poor, naive 1998 Pollitt.

  10. Another C Young says

    Congratulations on a beautiful piece of writing.

    > And yet was this relationship anything other than consensual? It’s hard to make that case without drastically downgrading female autonomy.

    This is important.

    The first wave of feminism asserted that women could operate on the same level as men. They could be doctors, lawyers and politicians. They could cope with the same pressures. Women could establish the same level of autonomy as any man. If anything was holding women back it was low expectations.

    Its an odd turn of events that the most recent wave of feminism rejects this outlook wholesale. It is now common to assert that women are so unable to deal with the pressures of normal life, that it must be reshaped around their inherent weaknesses.

    We are seeing this with the notorious ‘safe spaces’. We are seeing this in the UK with pressure to limit free speech so that female politicians aren’t barracked by the uncouth and the unwashed. We see this in attempts to redefine rape and consent in ways that render autonomy to men alone.

    Implicit in this is a strange hate-worship of the middle-aged white man. They are the only truly autonomous beings. Only they can truly take responsibility for anything at all. Accordingly, all the sins of the world must be heaped upon their backs.

    • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

      @Another C Young

      “It is now common to assert that women are so unable to deal with the pressures of normal life, that it must be reshaped around their inherent weaknesses.”

      Remember when women were either madonnas or whores? Then they became either Victims or Empowered Wonder Wimin:

      But it is now possible for them to be both Wonder Wimin AND Victims at the same time. No wonder rationality is breaking down. As a date begins, she is as horny as you, she is picking YOU up, she is as worldly wise as you and she’s going to teach YOU a thing or two. After the date, perhaps years latter, she shape shifts back to Victim mode — so pure and sweet and innocent, how could that brute have done that to her?

      • Another C Young says

        @Ray Andrews

        Yes. The state of partial reform of gender leaves the world strangely incoherent.

        – Feminists claim its normal for women to work in the UK, but the state requires a man to support his ex-wife for life if she decides not to work (its 3 years elsewhere in the EU).

        – The old codes of gallantry continue alongside new feminist rights-based codes. When the head of the UK Labour party called his opponent a ‘stupid woman’, the reason it was condemned was that it broke old codes of gallantry, but critics used the language of feminism, calling it sexist.

        – Criticism of men often operates on two incompatible levels. I have many times heard the suggestion that men who reject feminism are threatened, thus weak and not real men.

        But more important than this is the impact on women’s personalities. How often do you meet young women with false identities? i.e. they claim an identity based on what they think they ought to feel, rather than what is real.

    • Well said, Another C Young. As a first wave feminist who successfully navigated through a traditionally male field to peaceful retirement, I am speechless at young feminists discounting me as an unaware victim of the patriarchy. Huh?

      • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says


        If only successful women, who hardly ever have time for Victimhood, would speak out more often. As Peterson says, men can’t fix this, it has to be grown up women taking charge of their spoiled little sisters.

        • @benitacanova, the only movement I relate to is the one that gave me the right to vote and own property, which I understand to be first-wave feminism. I don’t think one must be alive at the time of a movement to adopt its principles. I earned my place in the workforce through the merit of my work, rather than the frailty of my gender. Second and third wave feminism don’t resonate with me at all and only serve to drive an unnecessary wedge between women and men.

  11. In the pre-#meToo period (say, before 2015, going backwards some centuries), there must have been many, many love affairs, most probably mostly scandalous, between old, famous men and youngsters or teenagers. Best one known to me is the love affair of the 70+ Goethe and the 17 year old Ulrike. He even asked her to marry him, but she thought herself too young for that. Goethe was in pain, and wrote the most intimate Elegie known from him ,at that occasion (Eckerman’s words). One wonders what the feelings and opinions, anguishes of such youngsters would have been, would they have had the guts and talents of expressing theirselves. Most probably, nobody would even have given it any attention, because all the attentions were meant for the big man, the giant, the Schoengeist!

  12. Gabriel M says

    This article neatly illustrate the point made here, namely that there are two things we call feminism which exist in a dialectical relationship. The first is the view that differences between men and women are relatively trivial and as such women should have equal status, rights, privileges etc.etc. The second is the belief that women are morally superior to men and that when women behave badly it is a man’s or men’s fault.

    Cathy Young is an interesting example of a pure version of the first type of feminist, which naturally complements her retro-leftism (‘Libertarianism’). Feminists of this type generally fit their own theory, that is to say they the are basically pretty similar to men. A large minority are, of course, lesbians, and even those that aren’t are usually happy enough being single and generally prefer the company of men to other women. If 1950s America had managed to make special arrangments to accommodate this small minority of women. the sexual revolution could have been avoided.

    But most women are not like that and type-1 feminism is of no no use to them except as a weapon. What most women want is to have sex with powerful men and be excused of any moral responsibility for their actions. Similarly, most men want to have sex with attractive women and be excused of any responsibility. There are even small societies built by men that actually function this way: the mafia, gangsta rap etc. A whole society cannot function, however, unless men use reason to control their base sexual instincts. The same goes the other way round.

    • DiamondLil says

      “What most women want is to have sex with powerful men and be excused of any moral responsibility for their actions.” I don’t think I have read a more obtuse, idiotic sentence on Quillette since Vicki disappeared.

      • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says


        How obtuse? The claim could not be more clear. It is also very true. Women quite naturally seek the highest status man they can find. It would be astonishing if this were not so. Men seek the healthiest, most attractive, most reproductively prime women they can find. It would be astonishing if this were not so.

        • My wife of 35 years missed the memo on that… Highest status man she could find??? Me? She was a bright, beautiful capable lass and could have done much better than me. But some woman actually fall in love. Not everything is calculated and deliberately thought out for maximum benefit – especially among the young.

          Maybe it was instinctual on her part, I don’t know, but it turned out OK, I did pretty good, but for God’s sake she couldn’t have known that at the time.

          • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

            @Craig Willms

            We can only make the broadest of generalizations here. I’m not referring to you, but we’ve all seen the phenomenon of a really classy lady hitched to a jerk, that too is a real issue.

          • Jeremy says

            Im in the same boat as you in that I married I much higher status woman than me. Higher status in both career and looks. However exceptions don’t disprove the rule. I find the way that poster worded that to be a little crass, but in general research has shown it to be true.

      • What people (me included) write on Quillette is generally more than little bit exaggerated, Di, so, you should read here ” what quite some women…….”, and, I think, this simply is so, especially the manipulative type, of which there are more than just a few, I fear!

  13. Morgan Foster says

    “(At least some of those issues undoubtedly go back to war trauma; Salinger was not in combat but served in a regiment that suffered extremely high casualties.)”

    Well, that’s certainly something that makes you go “hmmm.”

    A brief Google search reveals information about Salinger’s personal combat experience –

    It was apparently extensive.

  14. J-E Stubbings says

    I notice that Samuel Pepys has also been posthumously ‘#metooed’ – and doubtless there’ll be plenty more…

  15. I think we under estimate the effect that active service in the war had on Salinger, not least the fact that such a talented writer could never bring himself about those experiences. He is quoted as saying that he could never forget the smell of burning flesh and relived his experiences in nightmares for decades. What is an appropriate response to witnessing the pointless violence and inhumanity of war? I guess his only escape was the world of fictions he created and spending his time with unspoiled teenagers filled with hope and dreams.

  16. E. Olson says

    A fair maiden is attracted to and/or entices and/or enticed by a famous and powerful Prince. They fall in love and she happily joins the Prince in his castle on the hill, and this is the precise point where the Disney cartoon usually ends with the “and they lived happily ever after”. Perhaps Disney leaves out the rest because reality isn’t such a fairy tale: the Prince turns out to have some strange habits, the castle is cold and dingy, other women of the Prince’s kingdom also desire his attention and are jealous of the maiden, the maiden turns out to be a neurotic bitch, etc. “Happily ever after” turns out to be a false promise and the dumped maiden in a desire to keep herself in the limelight and get a rewarding revenge signs a book deal to write of her oppressive relationship with the Prince, which the publisher and her publicists tells her will only sell if she really embellishes the dirt and tramples his reputation. She complies and the publisher and publicists live happily ever after.

    • Ray Andrews (the dolphin) says

      @ E. Olson

      “Perhaps Disney leaves out the rest because reality isn’t such a fairy tale”

      True, but the maiden still made the best deal for herself. It might not have been absolute bliss for ever after but it would likely have been better for her and her children than had she married the local fishmonger in his even colder hovel. Relatively speaking, the maiden did very well.

  17. Compliment and Question says

    I enjoyed the article. Thank you, and I will seek out more of your work.

    My question is, why do you assert that there is “no question” that Salinger’s behavior toward Maynard was at times appalling? It sounds like this could only be based on her accounts of their interactions. (I apologize if i am incorrect about that. For example, if Salinger admitted to X in a letter and I missed it in your article.) If one party’s account is sufficient information for an outsider (not in the relationship) to judge the other’s behavior, then it seems like the #metoo-ers are right. I do not think they are, to be clear. if you are making a concession to them, the concession is, it seems to me, problematic.

  18. I dunno, maybe Salinger is just overrated young adult fiction, and maybe a famous 50 year old writer sleeping with a teenager while lying to her about how much he respects her talent is creepy as fuck. Maybe #metoo is just leveling the playing field. Maybe the Quillette commentariat is just itching for a reason to divide feminists into good and bad so they can call the latter crazy bitches. Maybe Louis CK shouldn’t jerk off at work, because I’m pretty sure I’d get fired for that too. Maybe the author of this piece knows that it’s a lot easier to stake out a bit of unpopular territory than have to compete with actual talent on actual good takes. Maybe that’s the whole point of this publication? Maybe some day I’ll figure out how to get it out of my news feed…

    • rickoxo says

      Was reading through the comments and this one jumped out, I’m way too big of a fan of rude sarcasm and the tone felt just like the Good Will Hunting speech when he tells the NSA why he won’t work for them. I think a couple of the things you point out are pretty strong and probably worth addressing, the style of the comment got me wondering and thinking …

      I think the challenge with the sarcastic take on all of this (and across of much internet communication now a days) is that it just as easily could be seen as “staking out a bit of unpopular territory” rather than actually making a rational argument that can be responded to. Sometimes sarcasm is impressive and helpful, and maybe this is the space for it, to break through smug, thoughtless “me-tooing” in some of the responses.

      But sarcasm very often tends to represent a style of writing that only works for folks who already agree with the sarcastic take. It tends to tick off folks who are being condescended to (which is often part of the point) and it gets lots of “retweets” from folks who already agree. So what does it accomplish?

      I had this friend a long time ago who loved telling me his take on some political topic. He had to tell it, he had to tell all of it and I had to be at rapt, focused attention. After a while it got annoying, after a while longer it felt weirdly wrong, then finally one day, I told him it felt like he was masturbating in front of me and that pretty much ended the friendship.

      Sarcasm and comments like yours can be a bit like masturbating into this conversation. I’m guessing you felt better after writing it, but I’d bet lots of folks here didn’t really want to watch …

      I teach 9th grade at a large, urban high school and I have some seriously knuckleheaded students. Every once in a while I get sick of them asking me for the tenth time what we’re doing or where to turn in their assignment or whatever and I respond scathingly sarcastically. I almost always feel better afterwards, for a few minutes, until I realize, I can’t think of a time that actually made things better. Even for the student who was “shamed” into not asking me anymore questions, that’s a pretty bad version of winning. And any time it created a conversation, it was usually the kind of conversation that did no one any good.

      • I don’t care about winning. What’s important is representation, and the point of my comment is simply that not everyone who read this article thinks women just want to sleep with rich men and then call it rape, among some of the other awful and stupid responses seen here. I would reply to the rest of your remark but my post wasn’t actually sarcastic at all. Take your red pen and strike out the maybes and you’ll see it’s just a genuine appeal from a tired and not especially eloquent person.

        • rickoxo says

          If you think starting a post by saying, “I dunno” and then listing a bunch of things you present as obvious and that you’d have to be “creepy as &^%$” not to know, then accusing the author of writing here because they can’t compete with actual talent isn’t sarcasm, then you are seriously passively aggressively confused.

          If you actually want to make an appeal, you could try something like, “have any of the commenters considered that maybe all women don’t want to sleep with rich men?”

          If you really want to ask that question, go for it, it’s a great question.

          Of course that would lead to responses from multiple commenters saying that’s not what they said, or from one or two folks who said something like that, asking you what you think about the reasons why they said what they did.

          Either way, you didn’t make an appeal, you staked out the easy position by saying how obvious it was that people’s comments were messed up, the author was a coward and that you were much more enlightened.

          At one level, it’s no big deal, you get to write what you write. Lots of folks here write stuff like that. It just hit me as intriguingly ironic how you call out the author and commenters for doing pretty much the same thing you’re doing.

    • Scott says

      It took me a number of years to wake up to it, but my x-wife.would begin statements she knew were not true.with the word.”maybe”. Now whenever I hear or see it, I wonder

    • Area Man says

      “Maybe Louis CK shouldn’t jerk off at work”

      He jerked off in HIS hotel room, after asking if he could, in front of people who willingly went to his hotel room.

      P.S. If you can’t see the “crazy bitches” contingent in the mass of #MeToo feminists, you aren’t looking. You can start with Asia Argento and take it from there…

  19. Nate D. says

    @ Cathy Young

    Thanks for a thought-provoking article. If this recent development – to only appreciate art produced by artists that have passed unscathed through the moral furnace – is allowed to gain momentum, there will be no artist left. In a previous generation we half-expected brilliant artist to be riddled with foibles and flaws, sexual and otherwise. Their art and their ideas, while influenced by their behavior, was to be considered on its own merit – unless they were engaging in some sort of blatant hypocrisy (which is what I suppose your recent attempt to undermine Solzhenitsyn’s influence was attempting to do).

    @ Another C Young

    Astute comment. Victimhood status is attractive because it absolves individuals of personal responsibility. While most people like the idea of being autonomous and personally responsible for their life outcomes, the fact is, it’s an extremely heavy burden to carry – and many (most) aren’t up for it. When you look in the mirror and ask yourself, “Why haven’t I achieved my potential?” it’s really hard to respond, “Because I failed,” or, “Because I chose poorly.” It’s very tempting to blame others. There are many victims in this world with legitimate grievances, and the absolution they receive is coveted by many who are simply failures.

    The problem with joining the victim class is that you have to check your autonomy at the door. Many of the women who joined the #MeToo movement merely admitted that they are not responsible moral actors capable of making their own life choices. This is a dangerous trade-off for women. One that legit feminist thinkers like Camille Paglia smelled for a mile away.

  20. I’m certainly no authority on Salinger, and want to apologize in advance if my comments are misinterpreting as any type of excusing Salinger of his offenses. Not for me either way. I can’t really say Salinger suffered from arrested development, but maybe something more like a reversion to to a period of development he much preferred.

    Firstly going from one type of ghetto to another, then on through truly the ugliest battles in WWII, then Dachau and beyond, by today’s standards it would just be said the he suffered from PTSD. He had several heartbreaking relationships along the way, then stalkers and parasites found him. Granted, “you can’t go home again” to being a teenager, particularly if you’re vulnerable to teenage predators.

    • I just saw “Let There Be Light” (1948), by John Huston, and I thought Salinger might have been one of those veterans. He actually was in combat, after Utah Beach, and for weeks and months to go.

      • Dazza says

        And Catcher in the Rye is still available to read, even Mein Kampf hasn’t been banned. So who really cares what anyone says about dead author’s.

  21. In the 1950s, Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre’s compagnon, wrote ” On ne nait pas femme, on le devient”, subsequently, roughly every decade a new wave of feminism sprang up and got followers in the Western world. In all of them, the ideas were not the new facts or experiences, but new expectations and should-be’s. How will it end? What, if the expectations, for some biological, social or cultural reasons, simply cannot be realised?? This weekend, I read an interview with the daughter of Desmond Tutu, she spoke about disrcrimination and racism in South Africa and the US. She admitted that the blacks in SA were not happy and angry, but not bitter, like in the US. Is bitterness a special characteristic of the (seemingly) oppressed in the US??? It looks like!

  22. Salinger expected unreciprocated oral sex? The horror! Him and millions of other men especially in the time period this all allegedly happened.

    • E. Olson says

      I’ve also never understood how oral sex can be coerced. What man would want to put a very delicate and important part of his anatomy into an opening lined with sharp knife like elements that are designed to crush, tear, and chew meat and other digestible items when that opening is controlled by someone who is very angry, afraid, or looking for revenge?

  23. Mark Beal says

    “Most of the great artists have been unstable characters – ‘great wits are sure to madness near allied’ – and it is obvious that their instability is closely linked to their talent. My friend Negley Farson, one of the great travel writers, was an alcoholic; when he went to see a specialist about a cure, the doctor told him that he would cure his alcoholism, but he would probably cure him of his writing talent at the same time. (Negley preferred to remain alcoholic and talented.)” – Colin Wilson, “The Misfits. A Study of Sexual Outsiders”.

    The biographies of people who have achieved great things would seem to bear this theme out; it’s virtually impossible to divorce a certain level of psychological instability from the greatness of the works. Take out the instability and you have nothing of any interest. It’s not just feminists who make this mistake. We live in a culture which demands of public figures that they’re whiter than snow (while castigating them for being white), failing to understand that hardly any morally unimpeachable person ever attained greatness.

    As for Maynard, sounds like a bad Me2 remix of her book. I don’t know about internalized misogyny, but there’s a whole lot of internalized #metooism doing the rounds.

  24. Debbie says

    Sorry for not commenting about the quality and topic of the article, but “Catcher in the Rye” is the most overrated novel ever. If someone handed me the book without its cover — knowing nothing about it or its author — I would have read it (maybe, if I could have forced myself to trudge all the way through it) and concluded that its author is a hack. At least J.D. Salinger had a cool Land Cruiser…

  25. Don’t try to understand women, women understand women, and they hate each other.

    • Jeremy says

      Dont speak in such generalizations it makes you sound like a SJW feminist.

      • D.B. Cooper says


        Don’t speak in such generalizations it makes you sound like a SJW feminist.

        Leaving aside the “SJW feminist” tautology, I believe AL was describing – what is in his opinion, it should be noted – a central tendency statistic or typical value for a probability distribution; which in this case, I would assume he’s referring to the mean (average). Whether his observation is true or not, is a different discussion.

  26. Thank “Heaven” for Cathy Young as she has been and continues to be a rational, balanced, and truly well intentioned voice in the current worlderness we live in now… Check her out at Reason and NewsDay; you may not always agree but you will never regret taking time to read her work…

  27. It is incredibly naive to think that Salinger’s attraction to young girls didn’t have a sexual dimension. Against human nature. Where are these other such angels in human form? One is reminded of Michael Jackon and unhealthy interest in boys.

    “It is a work that revolutionized literature, capturing the adolescent voice as no one had before”

    Grossly overegged. Salinger is an author who is canonised due to school and teachers. Else it would have been a forgotten work. It belongs with books like Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mocking Bird.

    It is VERY unlikely #metoo has got anything to do with it. World has just moved on.

    • Jeremy says

      There’s immense evidence suggesting MJ was a pedophile. There’s no evidence Salinger was.

      • If there was solid evidence, then he would have been behind bars. There isn’t a whole lot you can do with talk.

    • Angela says

      I agree with to on Catcher in the Rye, but you’re out of your mind talking about To Catch a Mockingbird.

      • To catch a mockingbird, Angela? Better leave them alone. The blue jays,OK, those querulous birds you may catch or kill, but the mockingbirds? No ma’m, woudn’t do it, it’s simply not done!

  28. Sean S says

    It seems something that happened in Soviet Union, or communist China. Hard to believe it is happening in America. I say #metoo should go to hell.

  29. Morgan Foster says

    I wanted to be sympathetic to the #metoo movement when it first began.

    But it did not take long to turn into something that, at its heart, is ugly, vicious, opportunistic and dishonest.

    Now, when I hear of a woman making an accusation of rape or attempted rape – particularly against a dead man who is incapable of any defense – my first thought is:

    Prove it. Beyond a reasonable doubt.

  30. Sally says

    “There is no question …” (twice)
    “An ugly story, to be sure …”
    “Few would deny …”

    As far as I can see there is in fact debate about the things Young refers to in the statements I have quoted. Otherwise what is the point of the article? This kind of hedge betting just seems cowardly.

  31. Stephanie says

    Thank you for the thoughtful piece. I was also in a similar situation as Maynard: I had a relationship with a man 3 decades older when I was 19. He wasn’t famous anywhere but my department, where he was a PhD student and I was an undergrad. I had concerns about abuse at the time, and wavered between “this guy is a predator” and “I’m a competent adult who makes my own decisions” from day 1 until I left him 4.5 years later.

    I struggle to reconcile my feelings of victimisation with the knowledge I was an adult (as extremely naive as I was), and it seems to me abuse is often not black and white. Women who fall in with predatory men tend to be acting in what they think is their own best interest at the time. They have something to gain from them. It tends to be only when the man’s usefulness ends that women simplify the narrative they told themselves over the course of the relationship. Complex emotions, including awareness of their own selfishness and opportunism, are reduced to a victim/victimiser narrative. Particularly as you get older, and you realise how foolish you were in your youth, that dynamic is appealing.

    My ex’s usefulness (and thus the relationship) ended when I surpassed him in knowledge of our field, and he wasn’t a reliable source of money (aside from paying our rent). Now that I’m a PhD student myself, his work looks pathetically basic, and I’m embarrassed I idolized him. Nevertheless, he taught me a lot and gave me a leg up over my peers. Even though he was physically abusive, I couldn’t go through with reporting him to the police, let alone his employer or the media, in light of my own calculating approach to the relationship.

    • Very strange for me Stephanie, where you talk about usefulness. Is that something recognised by others here? Or maybe an exception?

      • Morgan Foster says


        Usefulness, of a type described by Stephanie in her comment, is very familiar to me over the course of decades of living and watching other people live. As it would be for most people, who are over the age of, say, 25.

        • Thanks for responding, Morgan, and very complimentary for an old man like me, I really feel like a young boy again (as I remember this phrase from a certain Whittle (it was in Thika, Kenya) that fell in love with my fiancee, she went over to him, in the month I was fired from the project and job there, I found his love-letter under my bed, and all this more than 30 yrs ago, yohohoho).

    • Nate D. says

      @ Stephanie

      I feel compelled to thank you for sharing this personal story. I found it powerful, honest, and your honest self-assessment commendable.

      Thank you.

    • @Stephanie

      Your air of superiority and desire to look down on him leads me to believe there is more to your story than what you’re presenting. Indeed, his side of the story would be pertinent here.

      • That simply is a not done on Quillette, Sara, present the other sides of stories, that would spoil the fun!

    • Rev Wazoo! says

      Thanks for your candide recap of your experience and I hope you won’t take my quibbling over perspectives in as negation of it when really I hope we can come to an even better understanding of it.

      Often the young are alleged to believe in their own immortality as cause for excessive risk-taking but this seems backwards. It’s not, “I’ll be fine in case of a bad motorcycle accident/ bad acid trip/ bad love affair because I’m impervious to harm,” instead it’s, “I might might get tomorrow so I’d better have powerful experiences today, the risk notwithstanding.” Overestimating one’s mortality justifies high risks today. If you *knew* you’d only 3 years to live wouldn’t you be tempted by higher risk/higher pleasure decision? And so you were and seemingly did very well too.

      Physical abuse is certainly victimization (and I’m sorry that happened to you) but leaving that aside for a moment, would you have been victimized if not for that? Assuming you both enjoyed the sex, was he “getting” from you while refusing to give? Paying the rent and successfully mentoring you in your field ( and kudos for surpassing your teacher; that is the idea after all) all sounds like he gave more than he got. What did you give him?

      (Again, physical abuse should never be tolerated, I’m asking if without that you would have been the victim or if he would have been? Indeed, is it today even considered possible to have or ever have had a relationship without it being defined perhaps retro-actively as a predator/victim one regardless of the sexes and ages?)

    • Area Man says

      @Stephanie: It seems you got something out of it too, which you should have.

      This reminds me of the wise words spoken by sex columnist Dan Savage. When it came to relationships–especially age-disproportionate gay relationships–he’d espouse the “campfire rule” whereby the older person should leave the younger person in at least as good a shape as he/she found him/her.

  32. Jezza says

    @Debbie Catcher never caught me either, vastly over-rated in my opinion.

    Now, a word to all the #me-tooers: just imagine that all the men you know, old, young, middle-aged – just imagine they know absolutely nothing about women. Suppose they are all ignorant of what makes a woman tick, suppose they are just floundering in the dark trying to make sense of people whose reactions appear so foreign to their own. Suppose they want to love you but they just don’t know how. Suppose all they have to go on is an all-pervading sense that they are incomplete without you. Suppose they make mistakes trying to connect. Why grind them to dust? Is it so difficult to be generous? And you fellas, for crying out loud stop bitching about the evil witches who make your life a misery. They are probably as ignorant about the forces that drive you as you are about them. Try a little kindness. Quite likely she has been hurt by something either you or someone else has said or done. And ladies, if he tells you that he is deeply hurt by unwarranted accusations, if he suggests that deep down he is bewildered and apprehensive, go easy on him. You both need to give a little.

  33. An excerpt of Catcher in the Rye, chapter 24, where the hero, asleep on a couch, feels he is being petted by Mr Antolini
    – What the hellya doing
    – Nothing, I’m simply sitting here, admiring-
    – What’re ya doing anyway, I said over again
    I didn’t know the hell what to say- I mean I was embarassed as hell……..
    -I have to go anyway,I said- boy was I nervous.

    He gets dressed, walks out to the elevator (together with Mr A.) , waites for the elevator whereas Mr A., standing in the doorway, is watching, then says:
    – I,m gonna start reading some good books, I really am- I mean you had to say something. It was very embarassing.

    Furtheron, he confesses, it was about the 20th time, something similar happened to him.

    This was 1945.

    • Another excerpt, same chapter
      -What was the trouble, Mr Antolini asked me, how d’ you do in English………
      – Oh I passed English all right……I said
      – I flunked Oral Expression though. They had this course you had to take, Oral Expression, that I flunked

  34. Natalie says

    Some references which in way or another would have some resonance with the #metoo movement – the first reference provides the now time context

    A transcript of a conversation bewtween the ever wonderful bell hooks, and Eve Ensler titled
    Strike! Rise! Dance! bell hooks and Eve Ensler at Lions Roar

    Some books:
    The War Against Women by Marilyn French
    Backlash The Undeclared War Against American Women by Susan Faludi
    Gyn/Ecology by Mary Daly
    Two books by Susan Griffin a very astute writer who most of Quillette’ readers have probably never heard of.
    Pornography & Silence

    A Chorus of Stones

  35. Young people are so eager to be taken seriously by adults. When an important older man pays attention to a young ambitious woman, it’s such a coup. When it becomes intimate, the compliment is increased. Then the woman realizes he’s just looking for young pussy, and she gets mighty pissed and takes it personally.

    Learning this is part of growing up. It shouldn’t necessarily be considered “predatory” and you’re probably not a “victim” — only another sucker. Another one born every minute.

    • Rev Wazoo! says

      S/He: “You only justify loving me because you (temporarily) want to have sex with me.”
      S/He: “You only justify having sex with me because you (temporarily) love me.”

      Which makes whom feel more used?

      From the inverse perspective: ” Middle-aged people are so eager to be taken seriously by younger ones. When a romantically important young woman pays attention to a knowledgable older man, it’s a a coup. If it becomes intimate, the compliment is increased. Then the man realizes she’s just looking for “a leg up” and he gets mightily pissed and takes it personally.
      Learning this part is growing up. It shouldn’t necessarily be considered “predatory” and neither is probably a “victim;”

  36. CanadaX says

    I’d argue that Salinger sounds like a a*hole. As a human being you have a responsibility to treat others well and any relationship that depends on the kind of inequality described here is problematic. He sounds selfish and manipulative and, as the older person in the relationship he should have taken more responsibility. We can on the other hand still like the work of someone without buying into them as a moral compass. The artistic world is full to the gunnels with people who have behaved crudely, selfishly and shamefully. It’s a shame but seems fairly standard. Maybe it’s down to us to be a little less naive about it.

  37. Indie Wifey says

    Virtue vetting of works to their creators eliminates the human component of imperfection. Taken to its logical conclusion, there’ll be nothing left. This movement is mind blowing.

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