America’s Real Favorite Pastime? Judging Women

After the mob attack on Lara Logan, many commenters claimed she was partly to blame. Recalling her own experiences with sexual violence and public criticism, Deborah Copaken Kogan dissects the judgment game

by Deborah Copaken Kogan
deborah copaken cogan image
Photograph: Elinor Carucci

“Not if you press charges, you won’t,” she said. She painted a grim picture of court dates and lawyers, of putting my career plans on hold until the end of a trial that in all likelihood I would lose.

I took her advice and left for Paris at the end of September, without having pressed charges. A month later, I was molested by the rabbi, whose assault I did not report either, both for logistical reasons—as a freelancer, I could not afford to hire a lawyer or to stay in Israel indefinitely until a trial—and for fear that having allowed him into my room for an interview would be used against me in court. Plus, I didn’t want my photo agency back in Paris to think of me as any different, any less capable than my male colleagues. So once again I sucked it up and moved on.


TWENTY-THREE years—nearly a quarter century—have elapsed since the rabbi’s attack. Today I have a daughter who will be heading off to college in a few years. And yet society’s attitudes regarding women and sexual assault are remarkably unchanged. After the attack on Logan, Bill O’Reilly posed the following question: “Is the danger to women journalists in the Muslim world worth the risk?”

Dear Bill, I wanted to remind him. It has nothing to do with Muslims. Or journalism. To state the obvious: Because most men are physically stronger than most women, females will always be at a greater risk of rape, assault and battery. It doesn’t matter whether we’re in a war zone or walking down a well-lit street in a supposedly safe neighborhood. Our bodies can, at any time, in any place, while we’re doing any job, be violated.

But just as sexual violence can be found around every corner, so can opportunity, love, life! My two eldest are a 16-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl. We live in New York City, so they are often roaming the streets and subways on their own. Do I restrict my daughter’s movements because she’s a girl? No, never. Do I worry about her safety more than I worry about my son’s? Yes, always. This social inequity is a permanent condition we must unfortunately accept and learn to manage rather than use as an excuse to keep our daughters from strolling through Times Square or our female journalists from working in Tahrir Square.

But in the Lara Logan round of the endless game of Judge That Woman, I believe there’s something more insidious at play: namely, her role as the mother of small children. In his Toronto Sun Op-Ed, Peter Worthington wrote, “Fine and commendable for, say, the Calgary Herald’s Michelle Lang to cover the Canadians’ war in Afghanistan, where she was killed during the first few days she was there. But she was single and prepared to take her chances. Were she the mother of small children, plain and simple she should not have been there . . . A double standard, perhaps, with men, but that’s the way it is. Or should be.”

A double standard, indeed—and an infuriating one—but is this kind of sexist singling out of mothers surprising? Of course not. In the media, mothers are always judged for their choices, whether they’re journalists like Logan, politicians like Sarah Palin (who drew fire for accepting the vice presidential nomination only four and a half months after giving birth to a Down syndrome child) or even gifted performers like Tina Fey, who in her new essay collection, Bossypants, hilariously pinpoints the judgment disguised as concern in the question “How do you juggle it all?” She writes, “The topic of working moms is a tap-dance recital in a minefield.”

First Published May 26, 2011

Share Your Thoughts!


Vanessa 08.15.2011

Thank you to the author for writing this important piece and for her courage speaking out. I picked up my first issue of MORE today and after reading this, I went online and bought a subscription.

Liana Preble08.01.2011

Great article! Thank you for sharing....
Liana Preble

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