Jess McCabe

I am a journalist and these are some of the stories I've been working on lately

Interviewing Katie Roiphe – at The Toast

I love the Toast, a long-form blog set up by Hairpin alumni. So I am really pleased to have interviewed provocateur-in-chief Katie Roiphe for them

Since her first opinion piece, a critique of college anti-rape activism, was published in 1993 in the New York Times, Roiphe, an academic at New York University, has embraced a stock-in-trade described in Salon by Rebecca Traister as an ‘I’m-too-sexy-for-this-movement provocation.’  The article in question typifies the literary mix which makes her both so interesting and infuriating. Roiphe wrote it at a time when anti-rape activism was growing rapidly on university campuses. At the same time, riot grrls were forming bands and making zines, often telling their own personal stories of abuse and assault. Just the year before, Rebecca Walker co-founded the Third Wave Foundation, meant to kick-start a new type of organised feminism – and one which put issues that young women cared about in focus.

But when Roiphe chose not to praise the anti-rape activism she saw on campus, but to bury it. Some of her analysis was spot on–there were pamphlets and other materials that gave the impression that all female students were naïve young things, not particularly interested in sex, and some of the tips on how to “avoid” being raped would be seen as placing an undue burden on victims today. But Roiphe’s op-ed wraps around to a conclusion that might have come out of the mouth of a hoary old man, that rape which doesn’t involve a stranger jumping out of the bushes or cornering you in a dark alley, might not really exist. She wrote: ‘There is a gray area in which one person’s rape may be another’s bad night.’ It’s a dangerous and frankly irresponsible argument, when rape victims who know their attacker are so often dismissed and disbelieved.

As if to acknowledge this deliberately provocative persona, in the publicity photo at the back of her most recent book, a collection of essays called In Praise of Messy Lives, Roiphe is lounging on a sofa, like a particularly sarcastic character from a film about literary bohemians. She is wearing an unsmiling fuck-you expression with red lipstick, legs crossed.

Yet in the introduction, Roiphe introduces herself in a different way: ‘In life I will go very far out of my way to avoid any possible conflict or argument, so it is a little surprising that in my essays I often seem to pick fights, and to offend or otherwise enrage people. It’s hard to explain how this works, and I admit that it’s fairly implausible or untenable as a way of life, but that seems to be how I go about my days: peaceably in person, fiercely on paper.’

Read the rest at The Toast

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