Last night, journalist Helen Andrews gave a talk at Bowdoin titled “The New McCarthyism” in which she compared today’s culture of “political correctness” with Joseph McCarthy’s persecution of accused communist sympathizers in the 1950s. Andrews argued that McCarthyism was aimed at “an existential threat” and all accusations were supported by evidence, but said the #MeToo movement has created a similar atmosphere without clearing the same evidentiary hurdle. Instead of armed agents of the state, she said, the McCarthyites of today wield Facebook posts.
Much of the lecture dealt with history. Andrews claimed that McCarthyites would produce evidence to support the idea that the alleged communists were a threat to America—although McCarthy himself was at one point censured by his Senate colleagues for ethics violations. Andrews noted nonetheless that this image sharply contrasts with today’s world in which people can have their lives ruined by something as simple as a frivolous comment on a Facebook post.
One of the more tense moments took place when Ezra Rice ’19 asked, “all in all, do you think the world is better off due to the #MeToo movement?” Andrews responded with a simple “no.”
When Rice elaborated, asking if one could really tell women who now feel safer that #MeToo had a net negative effect, Andrews dismissed the idea that the world is better for women in the movement’s wake. She claimed that, while it may currently be safer for women than in what she calls the “nadir of sexual activity,” from the 1960s to 1990s, there were far fewer sexual assaults in the more traditionalist era of the 1940s and 1950s.
She blamed a rise in sexual assaults on college campuses on the integration of men and women in the second half of the twentieth century, arguing that sexual assaults make sense when you put “people at their most sexually active and irresponsible age living, without adult supervision, in gender-integrated housing.”
In an interview after the lecture, the Orient asked for clarification and evidence for Andrew’s assertion that there were more sexual assaults in the 2000s and 2010s than in the 1940s and 1950s. She admitted that she did not have evidence, but claimed that arguing points that could not be proven but that also could not be disproven is an effective tactic of persuasion.
Throughout the talk, Andrews was quick to admit that she was looking to challenge and even offend. When the Orient asked how she would feel if there was a sexual assault survivor in the audience when she critiqued the #MeToo movement, and if she feared that she was in danger of delegitimizing a student’s trauma, Andrews responded that survivors of sexual assault needed to learn resilience.
“I think that it is important for trauma victims to be realistic about where they are in their healing process,” she said. “If you’re not ready to talk about these sorts of issues, then I think it’s completely OK, and not something you should be judged for, if you want to absent yourself from those conversations.”
Andrews is a writer with bylines in the Catholic Herald, the Weekly Standard and the National Review, and was the 2017-18 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow. She has also worked as a think tank researcher. Andrews described her experience at Bowdoin as a good one.
“I was afraid I was going to get a Middlebury mob, but no, the reception here has been not only courteous, but also intellectually stimulating, you guys are really on the ball, extremely impressive,” she said.