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October 28, 2013

LYONS: Sound advice could be misconstrued

Not every fundamentalist is a right-winger. Crackpot utopianism and black-and-white thinking infect all social, political and religious movements. Indeed, it often appears that abandoning common sense for dogma is one of the main concomitants of a certain kind of liberal arts education.

Consider a recent bitter controversy involving Slate’s Emily Yoffe and an angry swarm of self-described feminist detractors. As “Dear Prudence,” Yoffe writes an online advice column for that magazine and the Washington Post. You know, “I had a one-night stand with my fiance’s brother,” or “my ex-wife is stalking me on Facebook.” That kind of thing.

I’m a big fan and a friendly acquaintance. We had dinner in Washington some years back along with a mutual friend who was in town on a book tour. We’ve exchanged emails now and then, mostly about her column. Unpretentious, nondogmatic, skeptical and compassionate, Emily’s what my wife calls “real people,” her highest encomium.

It’s not necessary to agree with Dear Prudence every time to see her column as a useful antidote to a Washington disease I call “hardening of the categories.” When you read about the astonishing messes people make of their intimate lives, the wonder’s not that the world’s chaotic, but that it’s as safe and orderly as it is.

So anyway, writing under her own byline, Yoffe took note of a number of high-profile sexual abuse and rape cases in the news — the U.S. Naval Academy; Steubenville, Ohio; and Maryville, Mo. — and noticed something elementary: “A common denominator in these cases is alcohol, often copious amounts, enough to render the young woman incapacitated.”

Friends warned her against saying so. “Talking about things women can do to protect themselves from rape is the third rail, they said.”

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