Pop feminism hits the sports pages

This week I’m devoting several posts stemming from Monday’s 42nd Title IX anniversary, with an emphasis on continuing cultural issues relating to gender and sports. Here’s yesterday’s introductory post, “Title IX, sports and the culture of grievance.”

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When the truth about the Duke lacrosse scandal finally was revealed, the libertarian columnist Cathy Young was hopeful that a dreary chapter in the history of rape-crisis feminism had been closed.

In a piece for reason.com, Young — an acquaintance who has been recounting the excesses of establishment feminism for many years — was cautiously optimistic in her conclusion:

“The exoneration of the accused may prove to be a turning point in social attitudes toward false accusations of rape. It may also be a major defeat for a certain kind of feminist politics.”

Until Proven InnocentThat was in the spring of 2007, nearly a year after the three lacrosse players charged were essentially declared guilty in news media accounts — most notoriously of all by The New York Times — and shortly before the prosecutor was disbarred.

As I wrote Monday, allegations of sexual violence involving athletes became easy fodder for sports feminists in the 1990s, and many of the same resentments resurfaced in the Duke lacrosse case.

Surely the feminist and media mobs had learned their lessons about making accusations before the facts were in. A history professor who blogged prodigiously on the scandalous prosecution and news coverage delved even further in the the first of several books written about the case. So did the former Duke coach who was fired during the height of the controversy, and who later won a settlement with the university after suing for wrongful termination.

But in more recent years, the blatantly outrageous events surrounding that case have largely been forgotten. Young’s best hopes may have fully withered away two years ago, when rape allegations against two high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio, made national headlines in even more viral fashion.

Perhaps I just wasn’t paying attention, but this is the first time I heard the phrase “rape culture.” The thing is, I kept hearing it, over and over, and keep hearing it all the time, even in mainstream media outlets, as if it were an accepted fact of American life.

As it turns out, the Duke lacrosse case wasn’t the end of an especially illiberal phase of feminism. It was the beginning of a toxic new wave referred to by critics as “pop feminism.” But instead of legacy media churning out a dubious narrative, a young generation of feminist bloggers is eagerly taking the lead. Its Not About the Truth

The mainstream press is sheepishly following along, with very little scrutiny about what the hell “rape culture” is, exactly. Or if it even exists. Definition in a nutsell: Our entire society and its most powerful institutions — law enforcement and media especially — routinely conspire to allow women to be assaulted, and their assailants to get away with it. Women never lie about this, and those who are accused should not be afforded the presumption of innocence.

Even after the full Duke story unfolded, feminist blogger Amanda Marcotte was unrepentant as she groused about media coverage of the hoax:

“I had to listen to how the poor dear players at Duke are being persecuted just because they held someone down and fucked her against her will—not rape, of course, because the charges have been thrown out. Can’t a few white boys sexually assault a black woman anymore without people getting all wound up about it? So unfair.”

That outburst later cost Marcotte her job as a blogger for the John Edwards presidential campaign, but it set the tone for her pop feminist acolytes, and lately they’ve taken to grinding their axe about sports.

It was hard to defend the athletes involved in the disgusting Steubenville case, and the coaches and townspeople who apparently tried to shield them from prosecution. But in labeling this “rape culture’s Abu Ghraib moment” even before the young men were tried, convicted and sentenced as juveniles, self-styled feminists acted as if the Duke case had never taken place.

Jezebel Revisits SteubenvilleSports and politics blogger Dave Zirin heatedly equated “football culture” with “rape culture,” raising an old sports feminist canard from the ’90s. And more of the same from a male blogger on forbes.com.

Ariel Levy of The New Yorker, while not denying “rape culture,” did question the effect of the online vigilantes, quoting the Steubenville prosecutor who said her job was made more difficult as a result. Even a writer for Jezebel — the pop feminist website that’s part of the Gawker media empire — returned to the town and sympathized with citizens who felt impugned by the coverage.

But by then, the “rape culture” mobs had moved on to another sports-related case, allegations against a high school football player in Maryville, Mo. After the charges were dropped, the outrage began. The mother for the victim claimed they had to leave town because of pressure not to press her case, and said her daughter had attempted suicide.

The protests are understandable to a point, and the allegations are appalling, as suspicions about rape cases involving athletes touched on long-held complaints of jock privilege. Jeff MacGregor of ESPN.com was especially harsh, hitting all the right tunes as he sang loudly from the pop feminist hymnal:

“Blaming the victim, unsubtle slut-shaming masquerading as advice, is as American as apple pie. So this was a very big week for told-you-so paternalism and boilerplate schoolmarms. Ladies, stay away from jazz and liquor!

“But the problem with rape culture isn’t alcohol.

“The problem with rape culture is rape.”

MacGregor concluded that “only the truth will save us,” but he was impatient for what a special investigation might have yielded and perhaps forgot that truth was the first casualty in the Duke saga.

The revelations of year-old rape allegations against Florida State’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Jameis Winston, also were curiously timed, as the Seminoles prepared to play Auburn for the BCS national championship in January. Triggered by the lack of formal charges, the mobs demanded to know why the university, and Tallahassee police, didn’t fully investigate. NYT Jameis Winston Probe

A special prosecutor who declined to bring up charges presented his findings to the public in abysmal fashion, fueling further anger. As FSU was winning its crown, The New York Times was conducting a lengthy probe that revealed plenty of problems in how the Tallahassee PD went about its business. But unlike the Duke case, the newspaper stepped back and didn’t let the narrative control the story.

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But the pop feminist imprint on media coverage of sexual assault and athletes is here to stay. Sports on Earth has given sports and culture blogger Jessica Luther free reign to lecture the media on how to cover these stories, as she quotes only fellow travelers as “experts.” For The Atlantic, she was allowed to claim that “the NCAA endangers women” for not cracking down on sexism in college sports.

Julie Caro, a sports blogger and rape victim, earned uncritical acclaim for posting on Deadspin how she believed Winston’s accuser. DiCaro — one of Luther’s “experts” — is also an attorney, but gave the distinct impression in her post that mere belief ought to trump matters of law.

Also on Sports on Earth this week, with Wimbledon underway, the media were admonished about “How to talk about women’s tennis.” In one of the more idiotic things I’ve ever read, a feminist blogger on The Guardian’s Comment is Free page wondered if it’s anti-feminist to watch the World Cup because of soccer sexism in Britain.

This is egregious stuff, channeled out over mainstream outlets that have turned over “coverage” of serious topics to rank ideologues. Title IX, once synonymous with sports, is now being used to pressure colleges and universities to vigorously address charges of sexual violence. Concerns that due process is being ignored to satisfy those who believe we live in an unremitting “rape culture” generate little attention.

Unless they’re high-profile conservatives taken out of context, as George Will found out.

The sports media realm seems hardly interested in taking a mulligan here, just eight short years after the Duke case for which few in the press have offered even a tiny mea culpa.

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