U-M's Douglas, another woman taking the fall?

George Will _optSusan Douglas_opt (pictured left to right: Conservative George Will, U-M Prof. Susan Douglas) For the record, I don’t know University of Michigan communication professor and chair of the department Susan Douglas. I’ve never had any reason to interact with her. Like many, I came to be familiar with her name through the article she wrote in In These Times magazine, which seemed to have rattled the conservative establishment in Michigan and around the country. The title of her article, which the editors of the progressive magazine changed to “It’s Okay to Hate Republicans,” has garnered a lot of attention from the right wing cabal, calling for her firing with demands that the university make an example by letting her go.
Thankfully, the University of Michigan knew better and did not give in to such overreach by sticking strictly to the dictates of academic freedom, an essential ingredient in academic life.
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said, “The views expressed are those of the individual faculty member and not those of the University of Michigan. Faculty freedom of expression, including in the public sphere, is one of the core values of our institution.” That was the right call.
Political expediency should not dictate how faculty members think, whether liberal or conservative. Colleges are not political parties. They are educational sanctuaries with academic freedom. No other institution should be the champion of academic freedom than the flagship of higher education in the state, the University of Michigan.
I almost chuckled at the reaction of the GOP leadership about Douglas’ article and the wrongheaded “hate” title that incensed the right to pour venom by calling her a bigot and all kinds of other names. It forced me to look up Douglas and I was impressed by her credentials. She is a feminist and a cultural critic with the body of work to prove it.
But I found it deeply hypocritical that Douglas’ piece on “hating” Republicans got more traction and calls for her resignation by the GOP establishment than conservative dogmatic thinker George Will’s column on rape victims and their “coveted status.” When Will asserted in a Washington Post column that female students basically lie about sexual assaults on college campuses to get “coveted status that confers privileges,” no one took Will to task or call for his resignation. The voices now demanding U-M fire Douglas were mute on Will’s ill-conceived column. Even when Michigan State University, using the pretext of intellectual diversity, brought Will to their campus as commencement speaker recently against the wishes of many students, there was no reaction from the self-righteous and purported truthseekers who now want Douglas’ head on a silver platter.
That is because Will is a powerful White male who sits at the apex of America’s political discourse spewing dogma and incoherent theory as rational solutions to our upending political climate. For long the highest levels of our political discourse has been the exclusive preserve of privileged White males, until the arrival of the Obama era where we are seeing more people of color and women sharing the big stage once dominated by the likes of Will. And because Will has long positioned himself as an establishment thinker, he therefore can’t be touched, even when he writes highly insensitive and grotesque articles about victims of rape in colleges and making light of their causes in seeking justice. Makes us wonder if Will has a daughter, and if he does, what column will he write if she is ever a victim of rape on a college campus? Yet, there was no righteous indignation against Will’s column from the right. I’ve seen all sorts of condemnations about Douglas online as if she is about to appear before the Sanhedrin Council for trial.
It is easy to target Douglas because she belongs to the unequal opportunity class: women. If she was a privileged White male in Will’s position, we would not have this conversation. That a man who has no understanding of what women go through during rape can sit on his velvet cushion and condemn rape victims as opportunists seeking “coveted status” is mindboggling. Yet no reprimand from the ideological spectrum that he represents? The silence is deafening and is a double standard.
But this was not the first time Will insulted women. Last year at the height of Detroit’s bankruptcy, the self-appointed moralist found a way to link the first municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history to unwed mothers in Detroit. It did not make sense for Will to go there but he did.
“You have a city, 139 square miles, you can crave cattle in vast portions of it, dangerous herds of feral dogs roam in there. Three percent of fourth graders reading at the national math standards, 47 percent of Detroit residents are functionally illiterate, 79 percent of Detroit children are born to unmarried mothers. They don’t have a fiscal problem, they have a cultural collapse,” Will said on ABC’S “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”
To suggest that unmarried women and their children helped cause the city’s collapse is in line with the narrative that comes straight out of the right-wing evangelical playbook. For Will, who is regarded as the lead conservative thinker to abandon the economic argument facing municipalities across the country and instead opt for a moral crusade as the answer to Detroit’s economic crisis is plain dogma. It is also a lazy job, an elitist approach and a downright racist diatribe because “unwed mothers” have always been the code used to refer to single African-American mothers. And it is no mistake that Will used it to describe the conditions in a major African-American city.
Was it unmarried mothers who caused the collapse of Wall Street?
Was it unmarried mothers who forced homeowners out of their homes after buffeting them with subprime lending and incomprehensible loans and interests designed to create a rainy day on Wall Street? The greed and fierce competition among some powerful White men who subscribe to Will’s philosophy caused the collapse of Wall Street that greeted the genesis of the Obama administration. That’s a column Will should write.
To brandish victims of rape as women fighting for “coveted status” devalues their humanity. Those who parade themselves as the intellectual gods of the political process need to understand that being a rape victim has nothing to do with whether you are a Republican or a Democrat. The fact is, they suffered irreparable emotional and physical damage. Only those bereft of humanity will insult rape victims and diminish their anguish before the nation.
So if you are that riled up by Douglas’ column, think twice about Will’s rape column. Also remember that despite the cruel description George Will, the conservative chieftain, used on rape victims, it did not stop Michigan State University, led by a woman, Lou Anna Kimsey Simon, from making him one of their commencement speakers two weeks ago.
I don’t agree with the use of the word “hate” in Douglas’ column. No one should condone that. But I also recognize that the editors of the progressive outfit, like all other editors, reserve the editorial discretion to shape an article in any way they deem fit for publication, in the same way no one can dictate to the conservative National Review what headlines it should use for articles it recognizes as fit for print.

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