All posts filed under: Top Stories

The Price of Sex

Working as a photographer for a charity a few years back, I was travelling through Malawi and stopped overnight in a mining town. It was a Wednesday, and I headed out to a bar. Other than a woman serving, everyone else there was male. Some were playing pool. Some were drinking, but most were doing neither. I asked the bargirl why there were no women in the place. With a look that suggested I was being dim, she explained: “The men get paid on Friday.” On the surface, in a mining town, the gender pay gap is huge, with the vast majority of money officially going to men. And yet, by Saturday morning, much of the cash has been transferred to bar owners, prostitutes, girlfriends, and wives. A privileged observer might suggest that women in such a town ought to be liberated to earn their own money. But the point is that they already are. While most fair-minded people would no doubt agree that women should be free to take mining jobs if they choose, …

The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is for Good Women to Do Nothing

In my pre-feminist days, sexual harassment and rape were so common, so pervasive, so accepted, that they were virtually invisible. The shame clung to the victim or to the whistle-blower; the abuser almost never experienced any consequences for his actions. In fact, he was rarely named and when he was all ranks closed to protect him and to destroy his accuser. Back then, people had very stereotypical ideas about who a rapist might be. He was a monster, a stranger, a loser—not the boy next door, not one’s husband or boyfriend, definitely not a wealthy celebrity, a diplomat, or the employer of hundreds. Like most young women in the 1950s and 1960s, I was sexually harassed, almost every day, certainly a few times every week—by strangers on the street, men on trains and in movie theaters, employers, neighbors, and professors. Like others of my generation, I was bred to accept it, keep quiet about it, and blame myself if something about it bothered me. For years I did this, until the feminist movement in the late …

Chile’s Been Falling Apart for Years. Can It Repair Itself and Remain a Democracy?

“In Chile, a billionaire president pushes austerity while the military represses protesters,” Tweeted U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential aspirant Bernie Sanders on October 30. “Thousands have been arrested. Knowing Chile’s history, this is very dangerous. The solution here and across the world is obvious. Put power where it belongs: with working people.” The next day, Donald Trump’s White House put out a statement containing the opposite message: “The United States stands with Chile, an important ally, as it works to peacefully restore national order. President Trump denounced foreign efforts to undermine Chilean institutions, democracy, or society.” Needless to say, both statements vastly simplify the situation in Chile, a country that still is used as a proxy battle for old-fashioned arguments for and against “neo-liberalism.” Like Sanders, some media outlets suggest that the current protests in Chile may be construed as toxic fallout from the free-market legacy of right-wing dictator Augusto Pinochet. On the other side are those such as City Journal writer Guy Sorman, who see the protests not as an indictment of free-market policies, …

Are Elite Colleges Really That Bad?

The last year has been a difficult time for the US’s top universities. In March, a number of top schools including Stanford, Yale, and Georgetown were implicated in the now-infamous college admissions scandal. Over the summer, the discrimination case against Harvard by a group of Asian American students exposed important parts of the university’s internal admissions policy to criticism. And all of this comes after five turbulent years of campus debates about a range of topics from trigger warnings to academic freedom. Erich J Prince’s thoughtful Quillette essay, “Elite Colleges Reconsidered,” makes the question underlying many of these discussions explicit: To what degree is attending an elite university in the US still a worthwhile goal for a young student? Plenty of factors suggest it may not be—stifling political climates, pressures of conformity, claims of poor mental health on campus, and seemingly corrupt admissions processes. There are also plenty of bad reasons to believe that going to an elite school is a worthwhile goal, from prestige-seeking to thoughtless acceptance of the adulation their reputations invite. I …

Why Taiping 2.0 Isn’t in the Cards: A Reply to ‘China’s Looming Class Struggle’

In the immediate aftermath of the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989, some Western pundits suggested that army factions might rebel against China’s central government. Living in Taiwan, where emotions were at a pitch, I felt this outcome to be plausible, perhaps even desirable. Over the decades since, I’ve watched commentators, many on my own conservative side of the spectrum, offer cheery dreams of the imminent collapse of communist power, or at least hopes that the facade would drop off a few storefronts of the Potemkin village. While I was living in South-Central China a few years back, a friend cited one such source from North America, and informed me that the “peasants” in inland China were desperate and half-starving. I replied that I’d walked past a “peasant” home that very afternoon, and found the family out washing the car and having a water fight. Over time, I have grown jaded in the face of flamboyantly expressed doubts that China can survive in its current political form. Joel Kotkin’s recent Quillette essay, China’s Looming Class Struggle, may …

Reflections on My Decision to Change Gender

It’s been a long time now since, at age 53, I became a woman. Actually, I’m an old woman more than twenty years on, who walks sometimes with a nice fold-up cane, and has had two hip-joint replacements, and lives in a loft in downtown Chicago with 8,000 books, delighting in her dogs, her birth family, her friends scattered from Chile to China, her Episcopal church across the street, her eating club near the Art Institute, and above all her teaching and writing as a professor. Or, as the Italians so charmingly say, as una professoressa. Oh, that –essa. She retired from teaching, though not from scribbling, at age 73, twenty years after transitioning, “emerita.” Not, you see, “emeritus.” But of course one can’t “really” change gender, can one? The “really” comes up when an angry conservative man or an angry essentialist feminist writes in a blog or an editorial or a comment page. The angry folk are correct, biologically speaking. That’s why their anger sounds to them like common sense. Every cell in my …

The Free-Speech Problem on Australian Campuses Is More CCP than SJW

For years now, Australia’s conservative media have been awash with dark forebodings about the threat that leftist radicals pose to free speech on campuses. The Institute of Public Affairs, a right-wing think tank, published an audit of free speech in 2018 that found a staggering 83% of Australian universities are actively hostile to free speech. My personal experience suggests that such fears are exaggerated by those seeking to import an American-style culture war into Australia. I’m a third-year undergraduate student at the University of Queensland, and I’ve never encountered the kind of ultra-leftist “social-justice warrior” types that apparently make sport out of persecuting conservatives. In truth, the vast majority of students on campus are depressingly apathetic, apolitical and disengaged. No, the real threat to freedom of speech that I’ve observed originates with a corporatized university administration that relies heavily on external sources for funding—and so is inclined to discourage views that may irk those controlling the purse strings. This is reflected in the way Australia’s universities are responding to student criticisms of the Chinese Communist …

Sheep and Mirrors: On Being Social

I’m pregnant with our third child when I read Marlen Haushofer’s 1963 novel ​The Wall​. It’s a terrifying thought experiment where the main character is confronted with the possibility she’s the last human being alive. As she documents her fight for survival, I wonder if I’d have the will to carry on if everyone I knew was dead and I had no hope of ever seeing or loving another human again. I suspect every remaining joy in the world would suddenly lose its lustre. But why? Is the ability to interact with other humans really so vital that I’d rather die than live alone? As a wife and mother of three young boys, as someone who thrives on communicating, and lives in an age of astonishing connectivity, I suspect the notion of total solitude is more unfathomable to me now than at any other point in my life. I live on an island in a country full of geographically isolated (but increasingly connected) towns, where internet access is seen as a necessity, not a luxury. …

The Culture War in Communication Studies

There have been more infamous civil wars within higher education, but perhaps none more ironic: In September, the National Communication Association (NCA) shut down the discussion feature on its Communication, Research and Theory Network Listserv: These scholars are experts at communication, apparently—just not with each other. The controversies that led to the decision were of the (by now) predictable sort—an argument about what kind of language should be used to discuss immigrants who enter the United States illegally, intertwined with concerns about the racial composition of the NCA’s (virtually all-white) membership. But the underlying tensions had long been developing within the communications field—as I learned back in May, when I attended a pre-conference entitled #CommunicationSoWhite: Discipline, Scholarship, And The Media at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., as part of the larger 2019 International Communications Association conference. The sub-conference was organized by professors Eve Ng, Alfred L. Martin, Jr., and Khadijah Costley White, who’d taken inspiration from a 2018 article of the same name appearing in the Journal of Communication. Communication studies is a broad field, …

Racial Slurs and Deferential Condescension

Over the last week, Western University (where I am currently enrolled) has been mired in scandal over an instructor’s decision to utter a racial slur during a discussion of popular culture in his English literature class. More specifically, the instructor (Andrew Wenaus) suggested that Will Smith’s use of the phrase “home butler,” in a 20-something year old episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, may have been a subtle reference (sanitized for consumption on syndicated television) to the phrase “house nigger,” which was, during the pre-emancipation period, used to refer to black slaves who worked in the household. It is, I suppose, debatable whether Smith’s use of the phrase “home butler” was in fact intended by the show’s writers as a reference to the aforementioned slur. It is not, however, debatable whether or not this slur was used to refer to black slaves who worked in the household. That is a straightforward historical fact. For daring to articulate this fact in his classroom, Wenaus has been dragged on social media (and by the local press) as racially …