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Jewish World Review June 28, 2000/ 25 Sivan, 5760

Cathy Young

Cathy Young
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Consumer Reports

Rethinking the Central Park 'wilding' --
WHEN IT WAS FIRST REPORTED that dozens of women had been groped and sometimes stripped of their clothing by roving bands of young men in New York's Central Park after National Puerto Rican Day parade, I found myself thinking: Now, some people are going to use as a pretext to bash men, portray women as eternal victims, and reignite the gender wars. Needless to say, it was not long before my fears came true.

It goes without saying that the caught-on-video attacks were appalling.

Women are understandably angry at this thuggery and at the sluggish reaction of the police who apparently ignored many complaints (perhaps because recent criticism of aggressive tactics by the New York police had made them reluctant to act). But this anger has led to irresponsible, polarizing rhetoric -- and has been exploited to serve dubious agendas.

The New York Times has published a slew of letters focused on the sexism allegedly revealed by the incident and calling for a renewed "discussion of this country's attitudes toward women." Groups such as the National Organization for Women talk of women being targeted for violence "because of gender" and demand laws that would allow such "hate crimes" to be prosecuted on the federal level.

Journalists have chimed in, too. Brent Staples in the New York Times and Anna Quindlen in Newsweek blast attitudes and images that sexually objectify women and lead to aggression. In, writer Cintra Wilson says that she used to believe American women were free and equal, but now agrees with feminists who see male oppression everywhere: women are seen as nothing but instruments of male pleasure, while men feel entitled to sexual favors.

Let's get something straight. There were probably hundreds of thousands of men in the park that day, and as many women. About 50 women were assaulted, by about as many men; other men tried to help the victims. A drunken mob does not represent the attitudes of a society. Its actions do not show that American men feel entitled to molest women, any more than the mobs which "celebrated" the Lakers' win in Los Angeles showed that Americans feel entitled to set fires in the streets and trash cars.

As for the "hate crime" rhetoric, maybe some of the attackers were angry at women. Maybe some were driven by class rage. It's just as likely that many were after sexual gratification, which is hardly less reprehensible.

Incidentally, men who engage in such sexual aggression often use physical aggression against other men. More than 10 years ago, a far more brutal sex crime in Central Park -- the rape and near-fatal beating of a jogger -- was also described by many feminists as an anti-female bias crime. Yet the teenagers who committed that heinous act also viciously beat several men on their rampage in the park.

The unfortunate events after the parade are being used to revive the post-Anita Hill notion that all sexual dynamics between women and men are degrading to women and potentially violent; Staples suggests, quoting a battered women's advocate, that calling a woman "sweetheart" is the first step toward Central Park-style maulings. In fact, without sexual energy, our lives would be much poorer -- even if sexual energy mixed with aggression can turn ugly and dangerous. (The answer is to make sure such acts don't go unpunished.) Even the vulgarity of sex-drenched cultural shlock can hardly be blamed for such violent incidents; sexual violence is hardly unknown in more decorous societies.

If trying to desexualize male-female interactions is ludicrous, using the Central Park assaults to bash fathers is outrageous. A statement on the Women's Enews website, sponsored by the NOW Legal Defense Fund, segues from lamenting the "boys-will-be-boys ethos" behind the attacks to blasting a recent congressional resolution that urges a restoration of broken father-child bonds. The statement says that "family violence leaves some children better off disconnected from their fathers" (as if the same weren't true of some mothers) and urges Congress to "stop the pro-father rhetoric."

Talk about promoting bias and hate.

JWR contributor Cathy Young is co-founder and vice-president of the Women’s Freedom Network and author of Ceasefire! Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality Send your comments to her by clicking here.

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