Christine M. Flowers: Danny not-so-Rotten

Posted: July 15, 2011

COLUMNIST Dan Rottenberg got into a lot of hot water with local feminists recently for saying that actions have consequences.

Well, actually, it wasn't what he said. It was how he said it, and the example he used, that turned him into Osama bin Rotten for the irritable set.

Personally, I'm offended at the implication that women who dress to thrill are in any way responsible for being sexually assaulted.

Rape is about power, not sex appeal, so I'm not condoning Rottenberg's suggestion that reporter Lara Logan was assaulted in Egypt because she displayed her cleavage in a CBS publicity photo. (I think it might have more to do with a mob of Arabs angry at the pretty blonde Westerner who refused to hide under a burqa.)

But I find the mentality exhibited by Rottenberg's critics to be almost as scary as that mob's.

Immediately after the column appeared on the Broad Street Review website, the backlash began.

Tara Murtha in the Philadelphia Weekly penned a tirade titled "Dan Rottenberg Spews Vile Rape Commentary."

Murtha, a writer I admire, made this rather spurious comment, which makes sense only if you think there's no difference between L.L. Bean and Frederick's of Hollywood: "The majority of my female friends have been molested, sexually assaulted or raped at some point in their lives. In most cases, no one paid for these crimes even when the attacker was identified - in part because the culture of victim-blaming trumpeted by Rottenberg enables it to happen without consequences."

Actually, Tara, there are a lot of reasons rape accusations do not always result in convictions. One of them was on display in Durham, N.C., when three young men were falsely branded criminals on the word of a drunken, revenge-fueled stripper. (Is calling her a stripper victim-blaming?)

Another is playing itself out in New York, where an immigrant who apparently lied on her asylum application is now suspected of having fabricated a rape claim against Dominique Strauss-Kahn for mercenary reasons.

So it's not just (or even primarily) because society can be judgmental about women's attire that the number of rape accusations doesn't match the number of convictions.

I also know people who've been sexually assaulted, and they certainly didn't ask for that hell. But to go from that to a flat claim that women should never take responsibility for their own safety - even if it means foregoing the fishnets for the knee-highs - is ridiculous.

And Murtha wasn't alone. A local playwright decided to jump on the "I hate Dan" bandwagon by writing a theatrical piece called "Dan Rottenberg Is Thinking About Raping You," and the Women's Media Center founded by (who else?) Gloria Steinem ran an online petition urging the Broad Street Review to fire him.

Rottenberg, as someone who talks about actions having consequences, should have expected this. He knew his ideas would stir up some controversy, even though he expressed them with the style of a veteran journalist and made some cogent points.

For example, this paragraph particularly resonates with me, who spent the first 12 years of her school life in a blazer and kilt:

"Earth to liberated women. When you display legs, thighs or cleavage, some liberated men will see it as a sign that you feel good about yourself and your sexuality. But most men will see it as a sign that you want to get laid."

Anyone who ever attended a campus kegger knows the truth of that. And I find it just as offensive to men to say they can't control themselves as it is to argue that women who dress like sluts are "asking for it."

Feminists become enraged at the suggestion that women should ever have to show restraint in their dealings with the opposite sex. (Last week, we saw what happens when people refuse to be "judgmental" about a single mother who acted as if she were employed by an escort service.)

So, like Rottenberg, I anticipate a lot of negative response to this piece. It happened before when I wrote an article for that most staid of publications, the Legal Intelligencer, suggesting that female lawyers do themselves a disservice wearing miniskirts in court, à la Ally McBeal. (The reference gives you an idea as to how long ago it appeared.)

But while I'm offended at any claim that a woman who dresses like a slut deserves to be treated like one, I'm not naive enough to ignore that Rottenberg had a point - even though he backed down with an apology when faced with the flaming torches.

So much for the marketplace of ideas.

Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer. E-mail

cflowers1961@yahoo.com. She blogs at philly.com/philly/blogs/flowersshow.

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