Joyce Carol Oates is an O. Henry and National Book Award-winning novelist, dramatist, essayist, memoirist, and poet, as well as a longtime professor of creative writing at Princeton. In other words, she’s not someone you expect to see put her foot in her mouth.
But Twitter works in mysterious ways.
Earlier this afternoon, the celebrated author was pondering the unfolding crisis in Egypt (amid asides about the George Zimmerman trial, Heidegger, Spinoza, and Kant) before finally framing a provocative, if not downright repugnant, query:
Where 99.3% of women report having been sexually harassed & rape is epidemic--Egypt--natural to inquire: what's the predominant religion?— Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates) July 5, 2013
Drawing a straight causal line from Islam to communally sanctioned sexual assault is a favorite pastime of the anti-Muslim hate groups that pepper social media, including the insidious Ban Islam Facebook page. The accusation goes hand-in-hand with stereotypes of Muslims as savage or subhuman.
The tweet set off a firestorm of replies, many from other respected authors. Teju Cole was rather blunt:
@JoyceCarolOates No...— Teju Cole (@tejucole) July 5, 2013
Then there’s this bracingly personal reply, buttressed by writer Roxane Gay:
@randajarrar this. This. This.— Roxane Gay (@rgay) July 5, 2013
Many users expressed their disappointment in Oates, pointing out the prevalence of rape and sexual abuse in majority-Christian states and institutions, and informed her that a patriarchal power structure’s use of religion as a weapon or means of control does not indict the faith itself.
It’s worth your while to go through the whole list of well-considered reactions.
For her part, Oates didn’t seem inclined to backtrack, delete the tweet, or further engage on the matter, except in somewhat oblique fashion:
If 99.3% of women reported being treated equitably, fairly, generously--it would be natural to ask: what's the predominant religion?— Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates) July 5, 2013
Trying to imagine a society (not prison) where 99.3% of men report being sexually harassed & (male) rape is epidemic....— Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates) July 5, 2013
"Rape culture" has no relationship to any "religious culture"--how can this be? Religion has no effect on behavior at all? How possible?— Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates) July 5, 2013
Something tells us she’s pretty darn far from whatever point she was trying to make.
Photo by Angie Naron/Flickr