November 26, 2013

Of lips and sealants

Katz’s new article confuses criticism with censure.

In the November 22 issue of the Maroon, readers can find yet another voice joining the chorus of responses to Eliora Katz’s “My Lips Are Sealed” (11/08/13) article: Katz’s own. In her follow-up article, “Sorry I’m Not Sorry: In Defense of Viewpoints,”  Katz bemoans a pseudo-liberalism that does not want to hear any viewpoints that are not its own. What she says boils down to this: Critics of “My Lips Are Sealed” should stop telling her that her views and language are offensive, because they’re then “morphing into the very bigots they loudly claim to criticize.” Katz warns us not to “silence differing voices” and asks us to allow her to share her viewpoint “sans unwarranted censure.”

We have, so far, this progression of opinions: Katz’s explanation of her refusal to participate in hookup culture, various commenters’ complaints that Katz is offending all kinds of groups including Muslims and rape victims, Benjamin Gammage’s warning that a discourse on hookup culture should proceed without slut-shaming (“Letter: Modesty Needn’t Slut-Shame” 11/12/13), Haleigh Miller’s defense of her right to wear whatever she wants (“Let Me Choose to Seal My Lips” 11/19/13), and Katz’s subsequent defense of her ability to speak from her conservative viewpoint on certain issues.

That a plurality of viewpoints is necessary for healthy discourse to proceed is a statement with which no one mentioned above would disagree. But a plurality of viewpoints includes not just the right to speak from one’s viewpoint on issues, but to speak from one’s viewpoint about other people’s viewpoints, especially if another’s viewpoint is harmful or questionable. I don’t think that any of the responders to Katz’s article were saying that her Orthodox Judaism offended them. What may have offended them, however, was the way her language (“my soul was raped,” “hills of flesh,” her invocation of a Muslim stranger who never gets to speak for herself, and her Hieronymus-Boschian description of a frat party) might be unfair or injurious to rape victims, Muslims, or those whose sexual choices differ from hers.

If we trust the Torah’s Book of Proverbs, then we know that life and death are in the power of the tongue. It follows from this that one simply should neither say things that hurt other people nor treat them unfairly. If one encounters speech that strikes one as harmful or unfair, then, one has every right to speak out against it. Rather than clouding discourse with “a haze of political correctness,” articles like Miller’s and Gammage’s are productive in that they seek to define what is OK to say on the topic of sexual promiscuity and what is not. Just because they take issue with something in Katz’s expression of her opinion does not mean they wish to prevent her from holding or expressing her opinion altogether.

It is fine to speak from a conservative viewpoint about not participating in hookup culture. But if you speak objectionably—like Katz has done—people will object. This is not indicative of “oversensitivity in recent times” or “post-modernist non-doctrine doctrine”—this is healthy discourse proceeding the way it should. I don’t actually see why Katz would have any beef with the fact that people are so vocal about responding to her article. If people really wanted to censor her, wouldn’t they just ignore her altogether? What she says in “Sorry I’m Not Sorry” amounts, unfortunately, to “you shouldn’t tell me what I should and shouldn’t tell you,” which is a participation in the very “unwarranted censure” she maligns.

At the outset, “Sorry” seems like a commentary on the state of discourse as a whole, but it soon becomes clear that this is pretty much only about Katz’s article. If any of the responders to Katz’s article had actually claimed that she should not espouse her conservative viewpoint, then “Sorry” would be a worthwhile defense of pluralism in discourse. No one, however, has told Katz to seal her lips: Others have only opened theirs in response, and responses to discourse are an integral part of discourse itself.

Jake Bittle is a first-year in the College.