The inevitable pun: Crying Wolf


Nothing illustrates feminism's moribund state like the response to Naomi Wolf's charges of sexual harassment against Yale literary lion Harold Bloom. (See also here.) Wolf, as you may or may not recall, firsrt gained fame with her best-seller The Beauty Myth as the feminist glamor girl fulminating against woman-oppressing ideals of beauty. Now she claims in a New York magazine cover story that some 20 years ago when she was a student at Yale, Bloom, her mentor, came over to her apartment to read her poetry over a nice glass of amontillado, and ended up groping her thigh. The incident ended there, but Wolf says that it destroyed her self-esteem and is very upset that Yale did not pursue her recent complaint (even though the deadline for filing a formal harassment charge expired years ago, and it's not entirely clear from her account what it was that she wanted the university to do). While Wolf claims that she was motivated by a sense of duty toward other women at Yale, a cynic might be forgiven for thinking that her coming forward was a publicity ploy from a former mini-celebrity with a flagging career.

What's more interesting than Wolf's motives, though, is the fact that the reaction to her charges—from other women—has been uniformly negative. So far, Wolf has been lambasted by Meghan O'Rourke in Slate, Zoe Williams in The Guardian, Margaret Wente in The Globe and Mail, and Anne Applebaum in The Washington Post. The general consensus is that Wolf is giving feminism a bad name by using a petty charge of sexual harassment for a vendetta and perpetuating an image of women as helpless victims reduced to panic at the first sign of male piggery. Wente even quotes, approvingly, a rather unsisterly observation by the inimitable Camille Paglia: ""It really grates on me that Naomi Wolf for her entire life has been batting her eyes and bobbing her boobs in the face of men and made a profession out of courting male attention by flirting and offering her sexual allure." Ouch.

Clearly, the days of Anita Hill have passed.

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  1. I’m not up on what’s happening in the actual WORLD, but has anyone else ever heard Maria Muldaur of “Midnight at the Oasis” fame do “Don’t you feel my leg”??

    Maria is a secret pleasure o’mine.

  2. That’s not the real world, it’s the ’70s.

  3. I was forced to read The Closing of the American Mind for a college course about 6 years ago. Is it too late to file charges of psychological abuse?

  4. Excuse me. I’m going to eat some crackers.

    (Could have even been the 60’s. In fact, it was. Maria is still making music, delectible fossil that she is. Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

  5. It was the 70s, I remember when it came out. 1974 to be exact.

  6. Pavel, that was Allan Bloom (sp?), a different guy. He’s dead now, I believe.

    Beside, what’s the problem, you don’t prefer Mozart over Michael Jackson?

  7. Left/Liberal Feminists are past masters of double-think. Ask Juanita Broaddrick about that.

  8. Ruthless:
    That sounds like someone did a cover by the tune originally by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band (The New Orleans Album).

  9. I’ve been out of touch for awhile, is flirting still legal?

    This seems to be one issue the anti-male Democrats and the anti-sex Republicans can both get behind.

  10. I read the New York article and, like all of Naomi Wolf’s writing, it gave me a headache. Seriously, like most of her writing, it is more sensationalistic than factual, and collapses under any sort of logical analysis.

    But saying this is saying nothing new. What strikes me now, however, is Wolf’s apparent inability to decide whether she is a 90’s-style gender feminist who views women as victims of male sexual oppression, or whether she is a 60’s-style, sexually liberated “Sex in the City” type of woman. Notice how every reference to the “devastating impact” of Bloom’s “boneless” hand on her thigh is immediately counterbalanced by repeated assurances that she is no prude, was “sexually active,” and could take a misplaced hand (boneless or otherwise) in stride. It is as if Wolf finds herself stuck in a “No-Man’s Land” between two competing cultural imperatives, and is unable to succesfully navigate her way between the two.

    And…if she got a C, D and F, as she claims, in the aftermath of the Bloom incident, how did she ever get a Rhodes scholarship?

  11. My current essay…

    Feminism is bitching made formal, where there is no possible accommodation in details. Women love to bitch. Now they can do it without actual men! Just sort of in general at men. Take, oh, a man of 20 years ago, that’s abstract enough.

    Bitching in an actual relationship has a place. It’s a quest to send the man on. He returns with blue feathers or something that the women had desired, and she rewards him. That’s a pattern that can be repeated forever. The woman gets to show from time to time that she’s satisfied with the man; and he’s willing to go on quests forever, because he’s a dope.

    Formalize it and you don’t get the reward, just the quest. That’s why feminism is marching in place, as Derrida put it, and has never done anything else. Marching is the point. We demand men change to fix what’s wrong. This is the material of male jokes about what it takes to get laid today, and whether it’s worth it. Women demand feathers, but no feather in particular is required.

    Men are attracted to women because men have _extremely low standards_. Why does no woman see the advantage of that for women? Men being pigs means that women have a chance with them. Women are otherwise not great deals! Mencken called romance an anaesthetic built into men.

    So is old Naomi (“I moan” backwards, don’t tell me that has no subliminal effect over 40 years) complaining that Bloom has low standards? Students really are as neuter as pine boards, is that the plan? Yeah, right, he should love her mind.

    But then there’s a faint well-bred sigh, a shifting of thighs that means she wants attention.

    How to deal with this contradiction? You can always bitch.

    I think there are well-established ways to say you’re not interested, without the charade, and even without rudeness, or even with grace.

    I think though that women buy into the idea that they really are attractive without any male desire to support the idea, in the abstract. No, you really do need the pigs to support it. Everything is about as attractive as, say, a kneecap without it.

    Karen L Kleinfelder, in the overly-postmodernist _The Artist, His Model, Her Image, His Gaze: Picasso’s Pursuit of the Model_, on Picasso’s incessant and increasingly pornographic drawings of artist and model, noted that one day the images stopped, as if Picasso had finally found the answer he had been looking for. She felt that, on that day, Picasso had accepted his mortality. No, some neuron stopped firing. Leave it to a woman.

    In the meantime, there’s a rich and varied ritual that can be engaged in called the war of the sexes. Feminism is not what it claims to be, a transcendent moment of clarity, but a move within the war, a formalization of sending the male on a quest, but without the possibility of anything further that might come from it.

    There’s a sense coming out though that there’s Something Wrong. Emma Goldman, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” Say, that men and women differ not in ability but in interests.

    Another feminism entirely is the one actually sought after. The present one displaces it.

  12. So she asked a guy to her apartment? to have him read her poetry? over drinks?

    And all he did was touch her thigh? What a gentleman.

  13. How does feminism deal with the biological fact that a strident feminist is unlikely to reproduce, therefore ending their belief/religious system in the first generation, much like the Shakers?

    Not too many Shakers around these days, are there?

    Indoctrination in college can have a proselytizing effect, but not as strong as bbelief’s learned at Mom’s knee.

  14. Doug,

    My mistake, you’re right.

    I noticed somewhere Camille pointed out that when she was a student with Wolf at the same time, it was common practice for students to get involved in relationships with professors. At least in the humanities.

    I think that’s still very much the case. It’s still also very much the case that formal sexual harassment complaints seem to be filed way after the fact when an illicit relationship goes sour.

    That’s just my impression, I could be wrong.

  15. “It really grates on me that Naomi Wolf for her entire life has been batting her eyes and bobbing her boobs in the face of men”

    Is she really this slutty? Any other links on this subject?

  16. Valkyrie,

    You can find a nice essay on shrillness in Anne Carson _Glass, Irony and God_ “The Gender of Sound”

    “Very few women in public life do not worry that their voices are too high or too light or too shrill to command respect. Margaret Thatcher trained for years with a vocal coach to make her voice sound more like those of the other Honourable Members and still earned the nickname `Attila the Hen.’ ” p.120

    On the other hand, from _Plainwater_ “Short Talks” “On Defloration” “The actions of life are not so many. To go in, to go, to go in secret, the cross the Bridge of Sighs. And when you dishonored me, I saw that dishonor was an action. It happened in Venice; it causes the vocal cords to swell. I went booming through Venice, under and over bridges, but you were gone. Later that day I telephoned your brother. What’s wrong with your voice? he said.” p.33

    I think the shrillness association is from nagging.

    Hillary Clinton had a famous shrieking speech recently Imus and Limbaugh takes real audio 156kb.

  17. Pavel,

    You may have picked the wrong Bloom the first time, but I suggest that you try reading Shakespeare and The Invention of the Human. After that book has traumatized you, we can get up a class-action suit against Weird Harold.

    Maybe we can hire John Edwards. Looks like he’ll have some free time in the near future.

  18. Don,
    Link please 🙂

  19. “Nothing illustrates feminism’s moribund state like the response to Naomi Wolf’s charges of sexual harassment against Yale literary lion Harold Bloom.”

    Vigorous internal debate over both people and ideas. Holding each other to high standards. Fighting to keep the movement from being coopted for personal vendettas. Yeah, real moribund.

    Perhaps the reactions of the other ladies would have gone over better if they had put their arms around her and said “You poor dear!”

    If the president of NOW cured cancer, this web site would find a way to attack her. On at least two contradictory grounds.

  20. Allan Bloom’s monograph is to be blunt, silly. Its a lot of pedantic, elitist whining. Indeed, its similar to all those “only if they read the GREAT WORKS they would be perfect citizens” hogwash one sees coming out of all right-wing movements.

    **Caveat: I have no issue with reading, listening to, etc. the “classics” (though I believe treating them in a rarified fashion does them a disserve and makes them rather stale); indeed, I am quite fanatical about classical, baroque, impressionist, etc. music, as well as renaissance, enlightenment, etc. literature, philosphical, scientific (ever read Harvey?), but Bloom’s witless and elitist approach is neither efficacious nor inspiring.


    You are not afflicted with “true believerism” I see. 🙂

  21. Jon,

    Gentleman indeed. Based on the picture I saw, she was a fox.

  22. Joe said:

    If the president of NOW cured cancer, this web site would find a way to attack her.

    Thats probably because she would see to it that only women received the treatment.

  23. It was linked in the Hit & Run article, but here it is again:

  24. Cathy Young writes: “The incident ended there, but Wolf says that it destroyed her self-esteem and is very upset that Yale did not pursue her recent complaint.”

    At the risk of being too blunt, this is simply a lie. Like an unfortunately high number of the responses to Wolf’s article (among them those by Anne Applebaum, Meghan O’Rourke, Camilla Paglia, etc.) the critique seems to be based on simply having skimmed over at least half of Wolf’s article. Here is what Naomi Wolf says about why she has been upset with Yale:

    ‘I was promptly called back, by Nina Glickson, assistant to the president. I explained once again why I was calling. “Unfortunately for you, Naomi, the statute of limitations has passed” was the first thing she said.

    “I know that. I don?t want money or a lawsuit or to make this public . . . ” I began again, going through my litany: I wanted to be sure the grievance process was effective. Her empathetic cooing suggested that Yale might have finally sensed something potentially awkward taking shape.

    “I?ll get back to you,” she promised. She did not do so. Five months later, having called again and yet again, she informed me that President Levin still hoped to speak to me. In fact, he had referred the matter to Brodhead.’

    Wolf could not be more clear that she is not, and never has been, interested in trying to pursue some two-decades-after-the-fact disciplinary action against Bloom. She is pissed off at Yale because of the legalistic, cover-your-ass, evasive response to her perfectly reasonable requests to know about the greivance procedures over unwanted sexual advances by their instructors. Wolf underlines this point and what she takes to be the upshot in the closing paragraphs of her essay (which, again, seem simply not to have been read by her critics):

    ‘There is something terribly wrong with the way the current sexual-harassment discussion is framed. Since damages for sexual misconduct are decided under tort law?tort means harm or wrong?those bringing complaints have had to prove that they have been harmed emotionally. Their lawyers must bring out any distress they may have suffered, such as nightmares, sexual dysfunction, trauma, and so on. Thus, it is the woman and her “frailties” under scrutiny, instead of the institution and its frailties. This victim construct in the law is one reason that women are often reluctant to go public.’

    ‘But sexual encroachment in an educational context or a workplace is, most seriously, a corruption of meritocracy; it is in this sense parallel to bribery. I was not traumatized personally, but my educational experience was corrupted. If we rephrase sexual transgression in school and work as a civil-rights and civil-society issue, everything becomes less emotional, less personal. If we see this as a systemic-corruption issue, then when people bring allegations, the focus will be on whether the institution has been damaged in its larger mission.’

    Young also claims: “What’s more interesting than Wolf’s motives, though, is the fact that the reaction to her charges — from other women — has been uniformly negative. So far, Wolf has been lambasted by Meghan O’Rourke in Slate, Zoe Williams in The Guardian, Margaret Wente in The Globe and Mail, and Anne Applebaum in The Washington Post. The general consensus is that Wolf is giving feminism a bad name by using a petty charge of sexual harassment for a vendetta and perpetuating an image of women as helpless victims reduced to panic at the first sign of male piggery.”

    But this is not true either. Of course, there have been negative reactions to Wolf — some of them from women with prominently placed newspaper columns. But why in the world should we be surprised that professional critics of feminism such as Camille Paglia, Anne Applebaum, and — not to put too fine a point on it — Cathy Young herself have reacted negatively to Wolf’s story? When have they ever reacted positively to anything that Naomi Wolf did?

    For a very short but considerably more accurate survey of the differing responses (both critical and supportive of Wolf) that women have made to Wolf’s article, one might want to see “Who’s Crying Wolf?” from The Guardian 2/26/2004:,6000,1156825,00.html

  25. EMAIL:
    DATE: 05/20/2004 10:21:28
    Gratitude is born in hearts that take time to count up past mercies.

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