She was once better known as the advice columnist at Slate, Dear Prudence. But for reasons that can only be described as courage and integrity, Emily Yoffe has chosen to put herself in the line of fire of the outraged mob by cautioning prudence in the face of a tidal wave of rape hysteria.
Nobody forced Emily to take on this challenge, of being a voice of reason, of facts, of science, of prudence. Yet she did. No doubt she could have gone with the narrative and accumulated huge numbers of passionate admirers, and all the accoutrements of social media adoration that go with it, but her integrity was not for sale for “likes.”
In her latest post at Reason, she writes of former LA Times Beijing bureau chief Jon Klaiman, who, as the title states, is “radioactive.”
Until the spring of 2018, Jonathan Kaiman was the Beijing bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times. Today he is living at the home of his parents in Phoenix under conditions he describes as a form of psychological house arrest. There are no visitors, and his few remaining friends rarely call. He feels unable to make new ones, because he fears the reaction of anyone who Googles him. He’s 32, unemployed, and perhaps unemployable—”I’m radioactive,” as he puts it. And he’s still trying to find the right combination of psychotropic medication to quell the recurrent thought that ending his life may be the best way out.
What did he do to “deserve” his career, his life, being over at the tender age of 32?
The end of Kaiman’s career began January 10, 2018, with a post on Medium by a longtime friend and onetime fellow expat, Laura Tucker, now a law student in the United States. In it, she described a sexual encounter with Kaiman that had taken place five years prior, in March 2013.
The sex that followed can be explained either as a miscommunication or, as Tucker later explained it publicly in her Medium post, something far more nefarious.
She described what happened next: “I am still so upset that I concluded the easiest, least confrontational way forward was to place male satisfaction above my own desires and to go back to bed.” The sex made her feel “gross,” she wrote, and Kaiman left immediately afterward. His recollection is that she was a full participant and that he stayed the night. When he went to kiss her goodbye the next morning, he says, he was surprised that she seemed distant and upset.
Tucker did it, but didn’t want it or like it. Fair enough.
They met, and she ended up feeling his apology was insufficient. He thought that since she voluntarily resumed sex, their encounter was fully mutual, that his apology was appropriate, and that when they parted their friendship was on track.
But what followed was her public revelation of it, without warning to Kaiman, because everybody was telling their #MeToo stories and she wanted to be part of the gang.*
Why would she go public—giving Kaiman no warning—with this story of a long-ago, private event that, while regretted, did not involve a sexual assault? Especially since in telling it she was sure to damage someone who had been a friend and who held no power over her? Tucker provided both a societal and a personal explanation. She wrote that in the wake of #MeToo, she wanted to “add my voice to the broader outcry against sexual misconduct.” She also said she had come to realize that “what happened was not my fault…and I do not share the blame. This was Jon’s fault.”
What would compel Emily Yoffe to explain this, to reject the easy path to validating the feelings of other women and enjoying their validation in return?
But the accusations against Kaiman, and what happened to him as a result, should be a warning about the dangers of moral panics and of applying mob justice and the bazooka of social media to private relations. The entire feminist enterprise is undermined if society comes to the conclusion that women bear no responsibility for their choices in the sexual realm.
There is not now, nor has there ever been, anything in Emily’s writing to suggest that rape or sexual assault is acceptable. But she’s not inclined to call consensual sexual encounters rape. She won’t reinvent sex to create an offense from a miscommunication. And she won’t condemn men in perpetuity in order to absolve women of any responsibility for their own choices.
In a December 2017 article, New York Times gender editor Jessica Bennett described how issues of female consent play out in the world, writing, “Sometimes ‘yes’ means ‘no,’ simply because it is easier to go through with it than explain our way out of the situation. Sometimes ‘no’ means ‘yes,’ because you actually do want to do it, but you know you’re not supposed to lest you be labeled a slut. What about when ‘yes’ isn’t really an enthusiastic affirmative—or an affirmative at all? What about a woman who doesn’t feel that she can speak up because of cultural expectations? Should that woman be considered unable to consent?”
Emily Yoffe is a feminist. Not what’s called a feminist of late, a woman with a long list of excuses and complaints, but a feminist in the old-school sense of believing that women are equal, deserve to be treated equally and have the agency to do anything they want to do. But with the benefits come the burdens of responsibility for one’s actions and choices. Real feminists accept this, embrace it, because they don’t want to be treated as china dolls but as full human beings.
Rather than just pay lip service to the belief, Emily Yoffe puts herself on the line, to endure the castigation of women and their allies of lesser character and real bravery. Emily may have retired from the Slate job of Dear Prudence, but she remains the Dear Prudence we need in the midst of a moral panic that cares nothing about destroying the life of a young man like Jon Kaiman. Thank you, Emily, for your courage and integrity. You’re an inspiration, dear Prudence.
*The Tucker revelation raised another, “messy drunken” sexual encounter to boil to the surface, all fleshed out in Emily’s post.