January 26 2015
After Caroline Kitchens, now a 25-year-old senior research associate at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., was accepted by Duke University, the small town Wisconsin girl did something unusual to prepare: she read Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case, by Stuart Taylor and K.C. Johnson. It is an account of the notorious 2006 case, which took place two years before Kitchens entered the freshman class.
Caroline can’t remember whether her father, a veterinarian (as is her mother) and then-school board president who has since been elected to serve in the Wisconsin state legislature, introduced the book or she discovered it. But Kitchens quickly became fascinated by the saga. The young men had become symbols of male, white, preppy privilege by the time the accusation was exposed as false.
“After I got accepted at Duke, I thought this would be a good thing to read up on and try to understand the Lacrosse case,” Kitchens, interviewed in her small office at AEI, recalled. “I was eager to talk about the Duke Lacrosse case and see how the university learned from it but for the most part it was very clear that most people didn’t want to discuss it. I guess that is understandable. It was a shameful episode in Duke’s history. But I think the university missed out on some learning opportunities.”
But Kitchens was not about to miss out on learning the lessons. She decided to make the Lacrosse case the subject of a paper in a freshman writing course. Kitchens regarded herself as “lucky to have a professor who was interested in talking about it and having an evidence-based discussion and didn’t see any view as out of bounds.” After immersing herself in primary sources—mainly newspaper reports and editorials—Kitchens wrote that the lacrosse players had been turned into “scapegoats for a politically correct agenda.”
“The story played into biases and prejudices people already had, and it was the perfect storm,” Kitchens said. “There was class resentment: here were these wealthy boys, they were white, they seemed to be at the top of the social ladder, and obviously the accuser was a poor black stripper. So I think that is why it was able to take off and people believed it even though it really wasn’t grounded in any facts.”
“Growing up, I honestly don’t think that it ever occurred to me that girls were second-class citizens or that somehow my gender would hold me back. Then I got to Duke, where it seemed everyone was so privileged and was blessed with the amazing opportunity to study at such a prestigious school, and then all of a sudden I started hearing that we lived in a patriarchy and that women are victims. It didn’t make any sense to me that such smart, privileged, ambitious women were so fixated on their victimhood.”
In a way, Kitchens’ freshman paper, with its love of just the facts, ma-am, was a prelude to the work she now does at AEI—both as a senior researcher for AEI stars Christina Hoff Sommers, Charles Murray and Jonah Goldberg and in her own writings. Despite Kitchens’ sober emphasis on statistics, she inspired the harshly feminist website Jezebel to colorfully label her a “small-town bigot” and a “rape-denying harpy.” Whew!
Jezebel’s outrage—not an uncommon thing—was aroused by Kitchens’ analysis of campus rape statistics. The article, which shows the author’s characteristically measured approach, appeared in 2013 in U.S. News & World Report. It was headlined “The Rape ‘Epidemic’ Doesn’t Actually Exist.” In addition to grappling with the numbers, Kitchens argued that many who insist that there is a pervasive rape culture use this to justify compromising the civil rights of the accused. Kitchens had not raised the issue of alcohol on campus in that article, so she didn’t realize at first that the Jezebel screed was aimed at her. It bore an incendiary headline:
“Rape Culture” Is Just Drunk College Sluts Lying, Says Major Magazine
When she realized she was the target, Kitchens was surprised. “I fact-checked the article meticulously,” she said. “I knew that everything was grounded in facts. People said, ‘Oh, you are so brave to publish this.’ I didn’t know what they meant. So I was shocked to see Jezebel’s attack. I am always open to thoughtful criticism, but what upset me about the Jezebel blog was that it was in bad faith. She was attacking me for views I don’t hold, and she knew it wasn’t true. I’m twenty-five years old and just out of college. Obviously, I am not a rape apologist.”
But then, what Kitchens calls (with surprising good humor) Jezebel’s “outrage brigade” got busy tweeting denunciations of her. It was not the last time she has been attacked in that venue. The belles of Jezebel were further outraged by a video Kitchens did for Christina Hoff Sommers’ Factual Feminist vlog that challenged the widespread notion that date rape drugs are prevalent on campus. Kitchens, who “didn’t have an agenda,” had simply crunched the numbers.
Kitchens was heartened that, unlike the Duke Lacrosse story, the recent Rolling Stone “exposé” about a fraternity gang rape at the University of Virginia received almost immediate scrutiny in the mainstream media. It fell apart when journalists looked at what was an overtly shoddy and biased job by Rolling Stone reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely. “The most important aspect of the University of Virginia story’s unraveling was that Hanna Rosin and some other people on the left began to question the story and do the fact-checking that Sabrina Rubin Erdely should have done. From then on, it was impossible to ignore the flaws in the story. Obviously, the Washington Post also deserves a lot of credit. If there was something positive about the story, it did restore my faith in journalism.”
Kitchens is critical, however, that both the left and right seemed to buy into the story for the first week after it came out—both saw it as confirmation of their prejudices. On the right, people cited the story as an indication that law enforcement, not universities, should deal with rape allegations—a point of view Kitchens shares but nevertheless says it should not have blinded holders of that position to what should have been immediately apparent as a journalistic abdication of responsibility on the part of Rolling Stone.
On the subject of the yes means yes law in California, which requires progressive consent from the woman throughout the sexual encounter and is likely to be adopted in other states, Kitchens said, “It is horrible. It’s just crazy. I do believe we are in the middle of a moral panic with campus sexual assault. I agree with the spirit behind ‘yes means yes.’ If I had a son, I’d tell him that ‘If you are going to have sex with a woman, you had better be sure she wants to, too.’ But the problem is that as a policy ‘yes means yes’ is ridiculous. It criminalizes all sexual intercourse.”
A member of Delta Gamma sorority at Duke—Caroline thinks the Greek system is unfairly under attack—Caroline enjoyed the social life of Duke. She has “mixed feelings” about the hook-up culture, which she said was just a fact at Duke. “Personally, I don’t find anything wrong with the hook-up culture, as long as people are responsible for their actions,” she said. “If a college woman wants casual sex, that is fine with me. I don’t really care. But the fact that there is so much confusion and so many women seem to be unhappy shows that there must be some unrest in the hook-up culture.”
She cites as intellectual influences or people she admires author Jonathan Rauch of the Brookings Institution, Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), gadfly social critic and art historian Camille Paglia, experimental psychologist Steven Pinker, maverick feminist Cathy Young, and Brendan O’Neill, editor of Spiked, the no-holds-barred British magazine—and perhaps most of all Hoff Sommers and Murray. She said that the latter two are “really brave and attract a lot of blowback, but they are dedicated to good scholarship.”
One of her biggest concerns: “I really worry about the state of free speech.” Kitchens describes herself as a classical liberal—or a libertarian—who has previously voted Republican. “But that could change,” she said. Kitchens calls herself a feminist. She likes to use the word to denote that there are intrinsic differences between the sexes and that women have a different history. “It is remarkable when you think how the status of women has evolved over the last few decades,” she said.
Still, she is not without her criticisms for what passes as feminism today.
“To me, it’s a shame that feminists who claim to be all about empowering women are teaching young girls that they will always be victims and that the cards are stacked against them. I just don’t think that’s true in our society anymore, and we’re sending a horrible message to girls by teaching them to embrace victim status.”
Knowing Kitchens, we can bet she probably has some numbers to back this up.
She usually does.