Roiphe, Katie 1968(?)–
Roiphe, Katie 1968(?)–
Born c. 1968; daughter of Herman (a psychoanalyst) and Anne (a writer) Roiphe; married Harry Chernoff (a lawyer), 2001; divorced. Education: Undergraduate degree from Harvard University, Cambridge, MA; Ph.D, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ.
Writer and educator. New York University, New York, NY, professor of journalism, 2007—.
The Morning After: Sex, Fear, and Feminism on Campus, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1993.
Last Night in Paradise: Sex and Morals at the Century's End, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1997.
Still She Haunts Me (novel), Dial (New York, NY), 2001.
Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles, 1910-1939, Dial Press (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor to periodicals, including Vogue, Tin House, New York Times Magazine, Washington Post, Esquire, Harper's, and New Yorker.
Katie Roiphe's first book, The Morning After: Sex, Fear, and Feminism on Campus, catapulted her into the media spotlight. Its pronouncements on issues of violence against women, victimization, and contemporary feminist thinking demonstrated that the twenty-five-year-old scholar clearly had some strong opinions in these areas and was critical of the direction she felt the struggle for women's rights had taken during the 1980s. Roiphe, with an Ivy-League background and working on a Ph.D. at Princeton University at the time of the book's publication, is the daughter of writer Anne Roiphe, the author of the classic women's-liberation-era novel Up the Sandbox. The younger Roiphe's book explores the dilemma faced by women in a society that finally offers them equal pay but cannot provide adequate controls, remedies, or justice against the rising tide of sexual violence at the hands of men. Roiphe condemns the "rape-crisis" feminism that she finds on college campuses, a movement which she sees as simply a hysterical reaction to confusion about sexual desire and gender roles.
The Morning After specifically addresses the issue of "date" or "acquaintance" rape on college campuses and the manner in which the actual definition of rape has been broadened to include instances of miscommunication and verbal coercion. Roiphe argues that incidents in which a woman was incapacitated by alcohol or was unable to state unequivocally that she did not wish to have sex cannot be classified as rape, and that to do so trivializes the real crime. "The idea that only an explicit yes means yes proposes that, like children, women have trouble communicating what they want," Roiphe wrote in the New York Times Magazine. "Beyond its dubious premise about the limits of female communication, the idea of active consent bolsters stereotypes of men just out to ‘get some’ and women who don't really want any."
Yet contemporary feminists have in more recent years begun to look at the ways in which women are unable to claim true and equal status in society, and these ways involve a complicated set of culturally conditioned behaviors and semantics. A younger generation of women's-rights activists have discussed the more subtle means through which men attempt to exert control over women, whether in sexual encounters, the workplace, the classroom, or committed relationships. Roiphe, on the other hand, dismisses this line of thinking as a throwback to the pre-women's liberation era when women and their virtue were safeguarded by a strict set of societal rules. "It's creating stereotypes of men as sexual beasts and women as delicate vessels," Roiphe said in a New York Times Book Review interview. Later, discussing her criticism of feminist scholars like Catherine MacKinnon (who has advocated banning pornography for its depiction of violence against women), Roiphe asserted "they're giving you an ideological framework that only makes things worse—the idea that all men are doing this kind of thing to all women."
At the heart of the issue, as The Morning After explains, is the concept of women's control over their own sexuality. Roiphe argues that by assuming that women in potentially risky sexual situations are devoid of passion, the tenets of "basic competence, free will and strength of character"—as she terms it in her book—are removed from the roster of acceptable female traits, essentially reducing women to the status of protected and sheltered children incapable of making a rational decision.
Roiphe's book generated a rash of media attention upon publication and the author was compared to controversial author Camille Paglia; conservative elements heralded both Roiphe's and Paglia's contributions as a return to a more palatable approach to feminism. Some reviewers of The Morning After disparaged the author's flippant tone and reliance on anecdotal evidence in place of solid facts. Actual "rape-crisis" feminists—the women who staff the sexual assault prevention organizations on college campuses—questioned why Roiphe failed to spend time in such a center as part of her research. Women's-studies scholars noted that only when sexual relations are free from violence and manipulation can the true and healthy feminine sexuality Roiphe champions really exist.
Wendy Kaminer, writing in the New York Times Book Review praised the volume as "a nervy rather than a judicious book (injudiciousness is part of its charm)," but criticized some of Roiphe's terminology as well as her omission of the legal/historical background of both rape and past treatment of rape victims. Time reviewer Margaret Emery decried The Morning After as "crippled by clunky prose and Roiphe's self-absorbed, sometimes jarringly cynical tone." While Emery conceded that the book does make several valid points about issues of personal responsibility, the critic noted that "Roiphe's shrewd observations have an ugly undercurrent," especially when the author suggests that some of the tales told by rape survivors are falsified for dramatic purposes. Emery concluded by stating that The Morning After will attract readers who decry the ubiquitous "victim" mentality so pervasive of the 1990s, "but others may be put off by Roiphe's awkward musings and disturbing flippancy. Feminism thrives on many voices, but The Morning After contributes little to the discourse." On the other hand, Washington Post Book World contributor Cathy Young found the volume "a clear-headed, wry, disturbing look at the radical feminist obsession with sexual victimization and at the effect this has on the younger generation." Her assessment of Roiphe's "message" is that "we're all fallible human beings, and we should stop the blame game and take responsibility for how we treat others and ourselves."
Roiphe's next book also focused on sex. Last Night in Paradise: Sex and Morals at the Century's End explores our culture's—and the author's—ambivalence toward sexual permissiveness. Roiphe, who was a child during the hedonistic 1970s, expresses a longing for the innocence of the 1960s when, she believes, people hoped that sexual freedom would lead to an utopian society. Instead, she states, promiscuity led only to emotional barrenness. The call for abstinence and "safe sex" that arose in the 1980s is in part a response to the threat of AIDS, but it is also a reflection of society's deep yearning for some kind of moral mooring.
"It is a theme with potential, full of twists and turns and rich psychosocial quarry," noted Washington Post reviewer Marie Arana-Ward. "But, well written as it is, Roiphe's book is ultimately as unsatisfying as a backseat dalliance—quick, self-absorbed and startlingly juvenile." Arana-Ward charged that Roiphe failed to adequately develop her arguments and concluded that Last Night in Paradise is a "slight and self-indulgent volume … that purports to speak for all Americans at the brink of the millennium." Maggie Gallagher was more positive in her National Review assessment. Noting that Last Night in Paradise is "not an easy book to categorize," she went on to say: "One is alternately repelled by the author's narrow Upper East Side provincialism and attracted by her hard-won personal insights into our current cultural quandaries about sex."
A more wholehearted endorsement for The Morning After came from Wall Street Journal contributor Jennifer Grossman, who declared: "Ms. Roiphe is at her best when articulating the inchoate anxieties of her generation, handed the keys to a culture that resembles a hotel room after a late-night debauch. The minibar is empty, the scent of sex hangs heavy with spent promise, and someone has stolen Gideon's Bible. ‘Without God, without rigid rules of social class, without reputations to worry about, we have no material out of which to form new values.’ In the morning after Paradise, I look forward to hearing from Ms. Roiphe again."
Roiphe again turned dealt with a sexual topic in her third book, this time a novel. Still She Haunts Me is a fictional take on the real-life relationship between nineteenth-century Oxford professor Charles Ludwidge Dodgson—a.k.a. Lewis Carroll—and prepubescent Alice Liddell, widely seen as the inspiration for Carroll's classic tale, Alice's Adventures under Ground (better known through the years as Alice in Wonderland). Socially inept with his fellow adults, Dodgson often sought company among children, and young Alice, whom Dodgson met when she was four, was his favorite. They were close for seven years, with Dodgson photographing the child and telling her elaborate stories. When Alice was eleven, Dodgson received a letter from the girl's mother requesting that he stay away from the family.
Still She Haunts Me depicts their relationship in ways that can be compared to Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita. In Roiphe's view, Dodgson is a man for whom "fantasy and photography are the only means of escaping a general lack of confidence," according to Heather Rodgers in a review for Stranger. On the other hand, Alice "is a nymphet who is confident, who understands what she is doing with Dodgson." Rodgers claimed Roiphe is suggesting the child wanted the man to regard her in a sexual way. The author's depiction of Dodgson's obsession is not new, noted New York Times Book Review reviewer Maria Russo, but her descriptions are fresh: she "conveys an adroit, plausible picture of Dodgson's inner turmoil and the process by which it was converted into the ‘Alice’ books." Other favorable notices joined Russo's, including that of Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor D.J. Carlile, who wrote that Still She Haunts Me "holds the reader under a magic spell. This is a strictly adult entertainment, a finely wrought fantasia that has a ring of truth about it."
In Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles, 1910-1939, Roiphe examines the unconventional domestic relationships of such notable figures as Katharine Mansfield and John Middleton Murry, H.G. Wells and Rebecca West, and Radclyffe Hall and Lady Una Troubridge. "In a sense the book's title is a misnomer," observed New York Times Book Review contributor Tina Brown. "These unions were not arrangements in any static sense; they were vibrant works in progress, exercises in passionate experimentalism. The encrusted inhibitions of the Victorian era had at last fallen away, allowing the intellectual elite to regard matrimony as a lifelong seminar in ways of loving."
According to Salon.com reviewer Rebecca Traister, Uncommon Arrangements "steers clear of the kind of autobiographical detail that littered Roiphe's earlier work, but it is infused with what has long obsessed her: the power dynamics of sex and love." As the author told Traister: "These people were pioneering relationships where they're going to be equal and control their feelings with ideas. And of course, that's doomed to failure … reason always fails and emotion always wins out in all its most banal forms." "Jealousy is a recurring theme among these couples, as well as the ennui felt by the daily routine of their couplehood," noted Jessica Schneider in Monsters and Critics. "All of the parties involved seem to have a dissatisfaction with conventional life, and yet they cannot pull themselves from it fully."
Uncommon Arrangements received generally strong reviews. Though New York Times critic Michelle Green felt that Roiphe "doesn't find any significant common ground or offer conclusions that rise above the level of platitudes," Booklist contributor Donna Seaman remarked that the author "offers sophisticated psychological, sexual, and social analysis, fashioning uncommonly affecting portraits of uncommon men and women." Traister praised Roiphe's "collection of satisfyingly detailed, occasionally lurid portraits," and Brown stated: "At the end of her book we feel we know these couples as intimately as if we were part of their circle, but the ultimate nature of each relationship is left inviolate in its unknowability."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, June 1, 2007, Donna Seaman, review of Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles, 1910-1939, p. 28.
Library Journal, May 15, 2007, Kathryn R. Bartelt, review of Uncommon Arrangements, p. 92.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 11, 2001, D.J. Carlile, review of Still She Haunts Me.
National Review, March 24, 1997, Maggie Gallagher, review of Last Night in Paradise: Sex and Morals at the Century's End, p. 51.
New York Times, July 24, 2007, Michelle Green, "The Bloomsburys and Other Marital Experimenters," review of Uncommon Arrangements.
New York Times Book Review, September 16, 1993, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, "Divergent Views of Rape as Violence and Sex, review of The Morning After: Sex, Fear, and Feminism on Campus, pp. 1, 41-42; November 10, 1993, Barbara Presley Noble, "One Daughter's Rebellion or Her Mother's Imprint?"; June 8, 1997, Courtney Weaver, "Growing Up Sexual"; September 16, 2001, Maria Russo, "Girl Crazy," p. 12; June 24, 2007, Tina Brown, "Couples," review of Uncommon Arrangements.
New York Times Magazine, June 13, 1993, "Date Rape's Other Victim," pp. 26-30, 40, 68.
Publishers Weekly, April 23, 2007, Lauren F. Winner, "PW Talks with Katie Roiphe," p. 40.
Time, September 20, 1993, Margaret Emery, review of The Morning After, p. 86.
Wall Street Journal, March 12, 1997, Jennifer Grossman, review of Last Night in Paradise, p. A16.
Washington Post, May 5, 1997, Marie Arana-Ward, review of Last Night in Paradise, p. D1.
Washington Post Book World, September 19, 1993, Cathy Young, review of The Morning After, pp. 3, 8.
Monsters and Critics,http://books.monstersandcritics.com (July 19, 2007), Jessica Schneider, "London Literary Marriages in Crisis Can Be Fun to Uncover," review of Uncommon Arrangements.
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (July 9, 2007), Rebecca Traister, "Katie Roiphe's Morning After."
Stranger,http://www.thestranger.com/ (December 6, 2001), Heather Rodgers, review of Still She Haunts Me.
Wag,http://thewag.net/ (November, 2001), Doug Childers, "Dark Secrets Underground."