Cathy Young doesn’t understand even the most basic truths about rape

For some unknown reason, virulent anti-feminist, Cathy Young, continues to be published by otherwise seemingly legit publications. Most-recently we saw her trot out an MRA-style list of “guideposts” suggesting ways feminism can “do better” in 2015 for TIME, which included a recommendation that we include men’s rights activists in our “tent” and implied that feminism was guilty of being sexist against men.

Young is extremely careful with her language and seems to be successful in convincing editors that anti-feminism is the new feminism (or, perhaps those editors have been looking for someone who can rep for the MRM in a more subtle way all along), but it’s easy to read between the lines in order to see her real message: “I’m with the boys, hi boys!

Today, The Daily Beast published an article that even those with the most basic understanding of How Humans Work would read as 4000+ words that could have easily been written in about 14. Actually, here, let me rewrite it for you:

Hed: But she was nice to him

Subhed: Here are some private messages that show rape victim knew her rapist.

Body: But she was nice to him.

Also some other people think he is nice.

There. I could have saved you a bunch of money, The Daily Beast. Instead you paid someone whose sole purpose in her writing is to discredit female victims and paint the feminist movement as a group intent on targeting males at any cost, carrying around mattresses on our backs and whatnot just for the hell of it.

(I mean, who wouldn’t want to carry a mattress around campus every day, everywhere they went, for months?)

Emma Sulkowicz (Photo via The Independent)
Emma Sulkowicz (Photo via The Independent)

For those who don’t know the story, Emma Sulkowicz began a public protest at Columbia back in September, hauling her own dorm mattress around campus in order to bring attention to the fact that the fellow student she says raped her — Paul Nungesser — was still attending classes and had not faced any formal consequences, yet she continued to carry the burden of the alleged assault.

Sulkowicz said that, in August 2012, a sexual encounter with Nungesser turned violent, reporting that he “hit [Sulkowicz] across the face, choked her, and pushed her knees onto her chest and leaned on her knees to keep them up… [then] grabbed [Sulkowicz’s] wrists and penetrated her anally.”

Photo by Amanda Hess/Slate
Photo by Amanda Hess/Slate

Other women joined Sulkowicz’s protest on campus, No Red Tape — a Columbia activist group fighting sexual assault and rape culture — was launched, and students across the world joined Carry That Weight in solidarity.

Amanda Hess wrote that “Carry That Weight acknowledges that most college assaults are committed by acquaintances of the victims, often in their own dorm rooms — carrying a mattress out the door exposes that private scene in the public square.”

Yet Young appears to have set out to discredit Sulkowicz’s story, framing Nungesser as yet another innocent victim of feminist activism (which caused him to become a “pariah” on campus, but little more).

She does this primarily by publishing casual, friendly online conversations that happened between Sulkowicz and Nungesser, somehow missing the entire point of Carry That Weight and conveniently ignoring everything we know about the reality of rape (thanks to feminist activism and the conversations we forced onto the media). That is to say that most rapes are perpetrated by men we know. Often, these men are people we have been “friendly” with — they are our boyfriends, our husbands, family members, men we went on dates with, men we slept with, friends, co-workers, employers, coaches, etc. The fact that women are or were once “friendly” with their rapists proves nothing except that rape is far more complex and ubiquitous than Young and her ilk would like to acknowledge.

Young writes:

“Nungesser provided The Daily Beast with Facebook messages with Sulkowicz from August, September, and October 2012. (In an email to The Daily Beast, Sulkowicz confirmed that these records were authentic and not redacted in any way; while she initially offered to provide ‘annotations’ explaining the context on the messages, she then emailed again to say that she would not be sending them.) On Aug. 29, two days after the alleged rape, Nungesser messaged Sulkowicz on Facebook to say, ‘Small shindig in our room tonight—bring cool freshmen.’ Her response:

‘lol yusss

Also I feel like we need to have some real time where we can talk about life and thingz

because we still haven’t really had a paul-emma chill sesh since summmmerrrr'”

Young goes on to publish several pages of back and forth messages between the two that show literally nothing except that they were friends who slept together a couple of times consensually before Nungesser allegedly assaulted Sulkowicz.

Is it really so hard to believe that a woman liked, was attracted to, was friendly with, or even “loved” a man who then abused her?? What planet does Cathy Young live on? Is it the same one we all occupy? The one where women are murdered every day by their husbands??

Wowowowow! What a revelation! Men we know and love abuse and assault us all the goddamned time!

Despite this well-known reality, Young writes near 5000 words about how, essentially, Sulkowicz “liked” and was nice — “cordial,” as Nungesser put it —  to her alleged rapist and how he is just baffled!

A big part of the reason Sulkowicz came forward was because she spoke with two other women who claimed he assaulted them as well — a former girlfriend of Nungesser’s who said he was emotionally and sexually abusive during their relationship and another student. This makes sense. In general, victims feel they won’t be believed — and sometimes don’t even believe themselves… Knowing this behaviour wasn’t a one-off or just a figment of our imaginations can encourage women to speak out.

But Young uses this information as part of her case against the women, pointing out that Nungesser’s ex-girlfriend, Natalie, “was suffering from serious depression before meeting [Nungesser] and had recently ended an emotionally abusive relationship.” (Read: crazy, unstable, can’t be trusted.) Young also writes that “Natalie did not come to see her relationship with Nungesser as abusive, or their sexual relations as non-consensual, until ‘months after their breakup.'” Oh, so you mean to tell me that sometimes women don’t realize the relationship they’re enmeshed in is abusive until after they leave the relationship and have time to reflect and maybe talk to a counselor who helps them see that abusive behaviour isn’t actually ok or healthy? That maybe if we’re used to being treated badly by our male partners we assume that this is simply what relationships are like and that it’s perfectly “normal?” That sometimes trauma is very hard to work through and that we often remain in denial for days, months, even years afterwards? That many women remain in denial about abuse and sexual assault their entire lives in order to cope?

Yeah, the fact that Natalie reacted to and came to understand her past abusive relationships in a perfectly normal and common way is totally a strike against her credibility…

In any case, Young says Natalie’s complaint was dismissed in July 2013:

“A letter from the Office of Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct informed Nungesser… that ‘based on the information available from the investigation, there is not sufficient information to indicate that reasonable suspicion exists to believe that a policy violation occurred.'”

Well hey, I’ve never reported any of the emotional, sexual, or physical abuse I’ve experienced in past relationships in any official capacity but I can almost guarantee that, if I did, my complaints would be dismissed as well. In fact, they were… By my community and friends. But gee oh gee I must be a liar.

Young notes that Nungesser complained to her about the fact that he “was never allowed to present the Facebook exchanges, which he regards as strongly exculpatory, to the panel” during the University hearings. Maybe because they are completely irrelevant and prove absolutely nothing, hey Cath? I’ll betcha my ex would have loved to humiliate me by publishing private conversations showing I consented to our relationship, liked him, had consensual sex with him, and ate dinner with him; thereby proving he did nothing wrong and that I am simply another bitter ex trying to tarnish the reputation of a “good guy.” I bet a bazillion other guys would love to do this to their accusers too. After all, it’s proven to be an effective tactic, as evidenced by the article in question.

It is a commonly-known fact that many women continue to sleep with men who have raped them, remain in relationships with men who abuse them, are polite and friendly to these same men, and sometimes chat with them on Facebook.

Julie Zeilinger at Mic spoke with Sulkowicz about Young’s article. She told Zeilinger that Young tried to contact her, saying she had spoken to Nungesser. Sulkowicz said, “Normally I don’t respond to people who use my rapist as collateral in order to make me talk to them.”

Zeilinger writes that “Young emailed again, this time saying she had about six pages of Facebook conversations between Sulkowicz and Nungesser and wanted to confirm their accuracy before publishing.”

“It’s an awful feeling where this reporter is digging through my personal life. At this point I didn’t realize that she’s extremely anti-feminist and would do this in order to shame me,” Sulkowicz said, noting that she feels Young has “written other articles supporting the rapists and making survivors look unreliable.”

All three of the women who accused Nungesser declined Young’s interview requests… understandably. Young resorts to the most basic, sexist code words and depictions typically used against female victims in her work, all the while pretending to do “fair” reporting. She highlights the fact that Natalie and Nungesser’s relationship was supposedly “messy” (how many times have we all heard our abusive relationships described in this way?), saying that Sulkowicz “couldn’t help but wonder about the nature of [Natalie and Nungesser’s] split,” in order to imply that Sulkowicz was jealous and looking for ammo to use against her alleged rapist. Young includes information from the women’s stories and statements, but couched in victim-blaming rhetoric, presenting Nungesser and the  panel members who were at the hearings (whose questions Sulkowicz described as “badgering”) as rational and the women as untrustworthy, contradictory, uncertain, and vindictive.

I mean, it’s the kind of reporting that’s worked for decades — women are jealous, vengeful, crazies; rational men are being persecuted — why not stick with it?

Nungesser was cleared of all charges in November so Young’s concern now was not that he would actually be held to account in any formal way, but rather the “trial… in the media and in the court of public opinion.” Young says he felt “harassed” and “bullied” by the mattress protest which Sulkowicz said she would keep up “until Nungesser leaves Columbia or they both graduate.” Why would she bother with all this if they were so “friendly?” Does it not occur to Young that this kind of protest might be extremely demanding, difficult, and inconvenient for Sulkowicz?

In order to further present Nungesser as credible, Young points out that he has a new girlfriend. Well guess what? My abusive ex has a girlfriend too. She gave birth to his child. Does that erase his behaviour towards me? Does that mean I lied? More likely it means that she is now — or at further risk of being — trapped in a relationship with a controlling, manipulative abusive man.

Young goes on to note that Nungesser’s mother, Karin, feels “the situation is laden with additional irony as a self-described committed feminist,” which is funny because I was told by women that, “as feminists” they were disgusted by my accusations and that I was hurting “real” victims by “crying wolf.” So really, I don’t give two fucks about how “feminist” an alleged rapist’s mother says she is. And hey, she may well be a feminist, but that doesn’t prove he didn’t assault one or more women.

Paul Nungesser told the The New York Times, Young adds, that “My mother raised me to be a feminist” — another really important and valid point because, as we all know, men who claim to be feminist are never using the title in order gain credibility and speak with authority about women’s rights, experiences, and lives. Certainly they never turn out to be abusers themselves…

Young routinely approaches this issue with the assumption that women are attention-seeking liars who constantly falsely accuse men of abuse. The reality is that abusers are extremely manipulative and know, full-well, how to do just what Young does here: paint their accusers as unreliable narrators.

The “court of public opinion,” in my experience — meaning the regular joes who surround us in our day-to-day lives — does not, in fact, tend to side with victims. They make the same excuses Young does in her work. She may see or present herself as a lone warrior, rooting for all the “bullied” men, “harassed” by feminist protest and the relatively new practice of actually speaking out about our abuse, but in reality, she is only repeating and reinforcing the most common, most clichéd myths about female victims of male violence.

Perhaps if The Daily Beast wants to produce good and responsible coverage of this issue, they might hire someone who isn’t so widely mistrusted and who understands the reality of male violence, the dynamics of abusive relationships, and how rape culture actually works. Instead, the editors chose someone whose primary talent is manipulation.

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.