Naomi Wolf’s complaint that a professor put his hand on her thigh 20 years ago has met with nearly universal scorn. Wolf makes sexual harassment look like hysteria, writes Meghan O’Rourke. Wolf revels in unmerited victimhood, writes Anne Applebaum. In an earlier version of the story, Wolf described her own seductive behavior, writes Meghan Cox Gurdon.
In 1997, Ms. Wolf recounted the incident in her book “Promiscuities,” albeit veiling the identity of the amorous professor. In the book she makes clear that students knew that “Dr. Johnson” occasionally would “elect” girls with the right aura. One Saturday night, by pre-arrangement, the professor came over to her apartment with her manuscript and a bottle. In thrilled expectation, she had put out flowers, lit candles and taken particular care to dress attractively. And over the course of the evening she got room-spinningly drunk — a detail that does not appear in the New York magazine piece.
It’s not surprising that in “Promiscuities” she confesses to feelings of complicity in the brief hanky-panky that ensued. Yet in the New York magazine exposé, there is no acknowledgment of her inner excitement or her romantic preparations–there’s just the frightened panting of a tender fawn chased by a big bad predator.
My favorite is a letter in the Daily Telegraph from a man who was pawed by Naomi Wolf.
Sir – I can remain silent no longer. Like Naomi Wolf, I too have been a victim of sexual harassment (News, Feb 24). And it was Naomi who harassed me.
It happened about 10 years ago. She and I were both speakers at a conference on feminism, organised by a Sunday newspaper. Ms Wolf, then at the height of her fame as the author of The Beauty Myth, a book describing the way women were repressed by the requirement to look attractive to men, was the star attraction. I was just the poor, downtrodden token male.
I dressed for the occasion in my best suit, teamed with rather dashing silk waistcoat (or “vest”, as Americans inexplicably call such garments), which my wife had given me for Christmas. The guest speakers all met beforehand for a drink and it was then that the incident occurred.
Ms Wolf came up to me, fluttered her eyelashes, pouted prettily, looked at me with her huge, soulful eyes and gently ran a perfectly manicured fingernail down my chest. “Gee,” she purred. “I love your vest.”
I gave the polite laugh of a clueless Englishman who has no idea how to handle a powerful, American, feminist seductress. At the time, I believed that I was amused by Wolf’s blatant hypocrisy, and her palpable wish to have it both ways. I now realise that I was in fact suppressing profound feelings of shame, violation and abuse. Clearly, I was the victim of an appalling, long-unreported act of sexual oppression. Does that entitle me to a headline-grabbing, transatlantic, politically correct publicity stunt, too?
David Thomas, Chichester, W Sussex
Thanks to Jim Miller for the link.