Hoist with Their Own Petard

I noted in a previous post that the North Carolina students and parents who are challenging the Obama administration’s recent bathroom edict are using the administration’s own statistics and the President’s own words to support their case.  In a recent piece at Slate, Michelle Goldberg notes that other conservative groups have adopted the same tactic:

Last week, the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group at the forefront of the war over trans people and bathrooms, released a video titled “The Unintended Victims of Bathroom Bills and Locker Room Policies.” It features several female victims of rape and sexual abuse who say they are deeply shaken by the idea of sharing bathrooms or changing areas with people who have penises…

The ADF’s video was the latest example of the right’s attempts to marshal the language of campus-style social justice politics, with its emphasis on victimization, trauma, and triggers….

“We women don’t need men telling us how to live or when and where our safety should be a priority,” said a recent Federalist piece about bathrooms. The piece aimed biting sarcasm toward men who dismiss anxiety about bathroom privacy: “Because concerned women are always just hysterical, aren’t they? Like rape victims—hysterical broads with no self-control.”

As a liberal feminist, Goldberg makes her own sympathies clear:

Obviously, there’s bad faith at work here—if not among the sexual assault victims themselves, then certainly among the right-wing propagandists who solemnly invoke feminist ideas that they usually find risible.

Yet even she recognizes the incoherence at the heart of the liberal position:

Those contradictions, however, are real. There’s no coherent ideology in which traumatized students have the right to be shielded from material that upsets them—be it Ovid, 9½ Weeks, or the sentiments of Laura Kipnis—but not from undressing in the presence of people with different genitalia. If we’ve decided that people have the right not to feel unsafe—as opposed to the right not to be unsafe—then what’s the standard for refusing that right to conservative sexual abuse victims? Is it simply that we don’t believe them when they describe the way their trauma manifests? Aren’t we supposed to believe victims no matter what?….

So far, progressives have mostly responded to conservative complaints about opening up bathrooms to trans people by loudly insisting that trans bathroom predators are a myth…. Those who want to defend laws on gender-inclusive bathroom access should have an argument besides incredulous denial.

Rather than engaging in a victimology arms race, they might ground their arguments in the language of civil liberties. Civil libertarians know that … in a diverse, fractious, free country, sometimes other people are going to exercise their rights in a way that upsets or even scares you. And they know that protecting civil liberties sometimes means forgoing other kinds of protection. It would be easier for people on the left to make that argument now, though, if they hadn’t spent the past few years arguing the opposite.

Jon Guze / Director of Legal Studies

Jon Guze is the Director of Legal Studies at the John Locke Foundation. Before joining the John Locke Foundation, Jon practiced law in Durham, North Carolina for over twent...

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