The guilty verdict in the rape case against Harvey Weinstein is welcome evidence that the criminal-justice system, however imperfect, still works. It’s also a reminder that in the post-MeToo era, many of the factors that allowed a predator like Weinstein to go unpunished for so long are beyond the reach of that same system: notably, the behavior of Weinstein’s many enablers who, like Jeffrey Epstein’s enablers and Bill Cosby’s enablers, chose to make the moral compromise of ignoring a predator’s behavior in order to protect their own professional (and in some cases, political) fortunes.
Nor was the Weinstein verdict an endorsement of the more radical idea behind “Believe All Women.” As Isabelle Kirshner, a former prosecutor and now a criminal-defense lawyer, told the Times, the verdict was “certainly not ‘Believe everything women are saying.’” The jury, which declined to find Weinstein guilty of the most serious charge (predatory sexual assault) and seemed skeptical of some of the claims made on the stand by supporting witnesses for the prosecution, “looks like they were fairly careful on what they decided,” she said.
That’s a good thing. Much of the MeToo movement’s power stems from the fact that, since its inception, more women feel free to discuss their anger and betrayal and disgust with the legal and cultural response to sexual assault. The expression of those feelings created space for women (like the many women who spoke out about Weinstein’s horrifying behavior) to take the courageous step of coming forward to pursue justice against their attackers.
But this righteous rage has also fueled a vigilante-style approach to justice (such as the Shitty Media Men list) that has ruined the lives of men guilty of nothing more than poor dating etiquette; it has made undeserving heroines of women (such as the anonymous woman who went on a bad date with comedian Aziz Ansari) who falsely claim that regrettable consensual encounters are the same thing as sexual assaults. It ignores the inconvenient truth that however much they might rely on the emotional power of the testimony of victims, criminal prosecutions of assault must be grounded on facts, not merely feelings.
Yet the rallying cry to Believe All Women uncritically continues to have prominent supporters, as does the often-unproductive expression of women’s anger. Moira Donegan, the creator of the Shitty Media Men list, recently told Slate reporter Dahlia Lithwick that she “felt so much rage on your behalf, and on Dr. Blasey Ford’s behalf,” during the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings, after senators raised questions about some of Ford’s claims.
For her part, Lithwick thinks “journalism, just like those other institutions you describe, needs to decide whether it wants to do more of the same, or to radically reform itself to take womens’ stories on their own terms.” Given that it was the extensive reporting of journalists at legacy media institutions like Times reporters Meghan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, as well as Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker, that outlined in detail the case against Weinstein, it’s not clear what kind of radical reforms Lithwick has in mind.
As for women’s anger, which has been a cultural touchstone (and popular book subject) for feminists in the years since Donald Trump was elected, there’s evidence we might be reaching peak lady rage. The same day the Weinstein verdict was announced, the New York Times featured a story about a controversy over a new cookbook, Rage Baking: The Transformative Power of Flour, Fury, and Women’s Voices.
The self-described “feminist” cookbook is meant to “celebrate anger and activism in the kitchen,” because that’s evidently a thing people do now. But like so many other well-intentioned progressive projects (ahem, American Dirt), it ran straight into the buzzsaw of wokeness. The cookbook’s authors, Kathy Gunst and Katherine Alford, stand accused of racism and cultural appropriation by Tangerine Jones, an African-American woman who used “Rage Baking” as her Instagram handle and who claims she should have been credited or included as a contributor in the book.
Now, in an odd emotional feedback loop, some of the feminist contributors to the Rage Baking book are publicly expressing their own anger at the authors in support of Jones’s anger at being excluded. “That the authors were aware of her work but did not acknowledge it, or seek to work with her, obviously made me angry,” journalist Rebecca Traister, author of Good and Mad, told the Times (she also “asked the authors to remove her essay from future editions of the book”).
Blogger Katie Anthony, who also contributed to the cookbook and who is white, expressed regret that “what I didn’t know then, and have since learned, is that rage baking as activism, or channeling pain into healing acts of nurturing, nourishment, and community care, has a deep history in the kitchens of Black women and other women of color.”
As the website Eater noted, however, the cookbook was conceived as an exercise in progressive do-gooderism: “A portion of the proceeds are being donated to Emily’s List, an organization dedicated to electing pro-choice Democrat women to office, and though Jones dismisses it as having ‘some diversity,’ the book’s contributor list features numerous black women authors, as well as other women of color.” In response to the brouhaha, Gunst and Alford released a statement promising to acknowledge Tangerine Jones in future editions.
The Rage Baking “controversy” should serve as a warning about the dangers of embracing anger as an organizing principle, particularly for feminists. If your goal is self-righteous ideological posturing, then anger, as the Stoics pointed out long ago, is a useful tool, because it is a kind of brief madness. But if your goal is to encourage understanding (of something as mundane as therapeutic baking or as serious as sexual assault), then anger—especially its peculiar woke manifestation—is all too often an obstacle, not an aid to it.