National Review Writer Worried Anti-Stalking Laws Will Murder All The Romance
While things are terrible now, in a lot of ways, there are also many ways in which shit used to be a hell of a lot worse. In the first season of Law and Order: SVU, which I rewatched recently, there is an episode in which the suspect is stalking Olivia Benson, but nothing could be done about it because at the time, stalking wasn't really all that illegal in New York State.
We take stalking a lot more seriously now, thank goodness -- but not everyone is happy about that. Sure, most of those people are actual stalkers themselves, but others are women who write for the National Review and worry that taking stalking behavior too seriously could kill romance forever and then boys will never ask them out on dates or show up to their houses with boomboxes blasting Peter Gabriel songs.
Yesterday, the National Review published an essay by Katherine Timpf titled "Student Found to Have Violated Title IX by Asking Another Student on a Date," in which she went on and on about how very dreadful it was that a student was found guilty of stalking another because he simply asked her on a date she did not want to go on. The National Review has since retracted said essay because -- as was plainly evident in the deposition Timpf linked to in the piece -- said student had actually done a lot more than innocently ask a girl out on a date.
This article and its headline originally stated that a male student at the University of Missouri was found in violation of Title IX because he asked a female student on a date and "was perceived as having power over her." The article accurately quoted the deposition of the Title IX case, but it left out relevant details. In fact, the male student had made repeated, unwelcome advances toward the female student and was found in violation of Title IX for stalking her. He is suing the university and alleging that its Title IX office engaged in arbitrary enforcement and racial discrimination, but his lawsuit does not contest the fact pattern left out of this article. We are retracting the article and we regret the error. The article, including the the initial editor's note, is below.
The article went through several revisions before the retraction was issued, including one in which Timpf attempted to make the main issue the fact that it was mentioned that the stalker was physically larger than the woman he was stalking. Which, surprise, was not nearly as much of an issue as the fact that he followed her around for a year making unwanted and bizarre romantic overtures:
A student at the University of Missouri was found to be in violation of Title IX because he asked another student out on a date and is physically larger than she is.
According to a deposition about the case, the male student was deemed to have violated civil-rights law — and was guilty of sexual harassment — because he asked a female student out on a date that she did not want. Why? Because he was bigger than her, and his "physical size" meant that "he was perceived as having power over her."
Had Timpf actually read the deposition she linked to, she would have understood what had actually gone down -- but she had a point to make! That point was that a bunch of crazy feminists are trying to murder romance by punishing innocent men who just ask ladies on dates. And how is Katherine Timpf going to get a date if men are too scared of violating the law to ask her on one?
It would be one thing if this student were a teacher or other type of authority figure. Then I could certainly understand how that would be sexual harassment. But this was not the case. This was simply one student asking another student out on a date, which, believe it or not, is completely normal and appropriate human behavior. So what if he was bigger than her? Spoiler alert: Most men are bigger than most women. If it's a violation to ask out a woman who is smaller than you, then both men and women are going to have a lot fewer options in their romantic lives.
Not only does this kind of thing hurt men, she claimed, it also hurts the women that those men could be asking out on dates (HINT, HINT: Women like Katherine Timpf, who is not like other girls and actually likes romance):
The way this kind of thinking hurts men is obvious: They risk violating a law, and potentially being punished for it, over what every sane person could agree is normal human behavior. What may be less obvious, though, is that it hurts women, too. For one thing, a lot of women like going out on dates, and men being too afraid to ask them out on dates for fear of being in violation of Title IX could easily result in fewer of them. Yes, the women could always ask out the men that they are interested in — assuming, of course, that those men are larger than they are — but the truth is, a lot of women don't like to do that. Personally, I know that I strongly prefer for a man to ask me out rather than the other way around. Is that based on some kind of abstract social construct? Maybe it is, I don't know, but I do know that most of the women I have talked to would agree with my preference nonetheless.
As the National Review swiftly learned, there is actually a difference between asking a woman out on a date one time and stalking her. I have had men ask me out before and I have been stalked and assure you that they are definitely very different experiences.
Timpf was also concerned that rules barring stalking might actually also undermine all of feminism by presuming women are weak and cannot handle being asked out by a man they are not interested in.
Aside from the practical consequence of potentially fewer dates, this sort of philosophy hurts women in yet another way: It makes us appear weaker and less capable than men, strictly because of our size. Think about it — this sort of interpretation of Title IX suggests that women are too fragile to be able to handle the seemingly innocuous experience of being asked out on a date that they don't want without having administrative help to handle it. This, to me, is not feminism. To me, feminism should emphasize the strength of women; it shouldn't portray us as incapable of handling normal social interactions on our own. Turning down a date that you don't want is hardly a fun experience, but I have faith that the vast majority of women (yes, even college students) are perfectly capable of handling it on their own. Policies should reflect this reality — and they certainly shouldn't harm both men and women in their attempt to solve problems that don't even really exist.
Yeah. No. Those problems definitely do exist, and what the plaintiff in this case was doing was extremely fucked up. He was sending the young woman letters, he signed up for her dance class and repeatedly asked her for private lessons even though she didn't offer them, he sent her Coldplay lyrics written out, and he would not back down. The defendant literally had to hide in the bathroom to avoid him after dance classes because he would stand there and wait for her. He had also previously been accused of sexual harassment when -- while working as a teacher's assistant -- he implied that he would give a student answers to an exam in exchange for sexual favors.
You wanna know what ruins romance? That shit ruins romance.
For Timpf's edification, and because she is so clearly concerned with the preservation of romance, I shall share my own story. Several years ago, I went out with this guy a few times. He wasn't really my "type," but he was extremely enthusiastic about my writing and I thought "Robyn, it's time to stop being so shallow, maybe you should give this guy a chance. He likes you for your brain! That is good and different!" I did, and he ended up saying a really shitty and mean thing to me, after which I decided I was never speaking to him again. He had other plans. For two years, he kept texting me. Any time I put up a post on my old blogspot blog, he'd be there to comment on it or he'd share it and tell everyone what a fabulous genius he thought I was. He stood outside of my apartment, told me he could see inside my window and asked me what episode of Law and Order I was watching. I ignored him entirely, it didn't stop. Finally, I told him that if he didn't stop texting me, I would tell his girlfriend and that was the only way I got it to stop.
He wasn't violent. He wasn't mean. He just wouldn't go away. It's hard to put into words how it felt at the time, but it just ruined things for me. I felt like I was being monitored all the time. I stopped writing online for a long time; he'd sucked all the joy out of that. I barely dated anyone for several years after that, and was scared to even flirt or be too friendly to any man for fear that I'd be stuck again and wouldn't be able to get him to go away. I wasn't "weak," I wasn't "fragile," I had a shitty thing happen to me and just did not ever want it to happen again.
I know people who have had it a lot worse with stalkers than I have. But even when it's something like that, even when it's just some asshole guy who won't go away even when you beg him to go away, it can affect your life.
So, you know, I'm real sorry if anti-stalking laws make it a tad harder for Katherine Timpf to get a date, but I assure her that if she ever was stalked, that would suck the romance out of her life a hell of a lot faster. I would also like to assure her that there are many, many men out there who do know the difference between asking a woman on a date and boiling her pet rabbit, and most men are probably not going to go "Well! If I can't legally stalk anyone, I guess I'll never ask anyone, including Katherine Timpf, out on a date again!"
And if they do think that, I'm gonna say you dodged a bullet.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Previously, she was a Senior Staff Writer at Death & Taxes, and Assistant Editor at The Frisky (RIP). Currently, she writes for Wonkette, Friendly Atheist, Quartz and other sites. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse