The February 15 issue of the New York Times Magazine (http://www.nytimes.com/pages/magazine/index.htmline) featured an article entitled “The Accusation”. Basically, this is how the story goes, as best as I can summarize. A brilliant, beautiful and very sheltered 21 year old Stanford student, Ellie Clougherty signs up for a class where she will be mentored by a Silicon Valley tech exec. Joe Lonsdale, a wealthy 29 year old tech entrepreneur who was already acquainted with Clougherty through mutual friends volunteered to be her mentor. She accepted. The mentorship proceeded essentially on schedule, but also evolved into a romantic relationship. Lonsdale was a pretty showy nouveau riche guy, and he introduced Clougherty to a glitzy, fast lane lifestyle: town cars to pick her up on dates; trips to Europe; a 30th birthday party at the Hearst Mansion. The relationship was completely out in the open and involved visits with both families. Clougherty’s mother in particular insinuated herself into the Lonsdale family, attending family parties and asking Lonsdale for business advice. But the relationship grew troubled, as relationships often do. After a tempestuous Christmas break (visiting the Clougherty family) Lonsdale broke up with Clougherty via email, but they got back together. After a couple more months, Clougherty broke up with Lonsdale. He began dating someone else. OK. How many people on this planet have experienced the break up of a relationship, especially in college? End of story, right? Clougherty assimilates this experience into her life, regrets the bad times, remembers the good times fondly, learns from her mistakes and moves on?
Apparently after the breakup, which she initiated, Clougherty fell into a deep depression. A prior eating disorder resurfaced, she lost interest in her studies, she sat around and cried all the time. She withdrew from school. Her mother showed up, took her home, started her in therapy, and that’s where things get really crazy. Clougherty filed a lawsuit alleging that Lonsdale RAPED HER FOR A YEAR. You heard that right. Lonsdale was stripped of his mentoring privileges, which he accepted without argument, but when that wasn’t enough, more abuse allegations, still continuing, against both Lonsdale and Stanford University, were filed in the courts.
I’m trying to figure out why this story made me as angry as it did. I’ll boil it down to a few basics:
1) It rolls back female accountability, responsibility, and personal agency back to the Victorian Age. Personally, Lonsdale strikes me as somewhat of a jerk. A vocal “libertarian” who made a fortune developing software that mines people’s personal data for the NSA? Not my type. And from the immense number of personal anecdotes and emails released for these lawsuits, he strikes me as narcissistic and controlling, as people who meet such success early in life often are. I also think he showed poor judgement mingling the mentor/mentee experience with a romantic relationship. But a jerk does not an abuser make.
Much is made–especially by Clougherty’s mother–about her tender age. But she was 21, three years past the age of consent, old enough to vote, to serve in the armed forces, to sign a contract, to have a drink in a bar. Many people her age are married, have children and jobs. At 29, Lonsdale was older than her but not by a huge amount. They were in the same decade, for God’s sake. I’ve known many couples with bigger age differences. Apparently she was a virgin when she met Lonsdale and now we are expected to believe that her precious virtue was stripped from her innocent self by this evil man? Again and again, for a YEAR? PLease. I think a grown woman can be in charge of her own sexuality, and take ownership of her own regrets.
2) Throwing around terms like rape and abuse casts doubt on the legitimate claims of the many women who are actually raped and abused. Nobody got Clougherty drunk at a frat party, or slipped a roofie in her drink, or pointed a gun at her head, or physically abused her in any way. Why is she getting the court time when so many abusers go free?
3) It takes the personal and makes it public. I cannot believe the extent of the private information this woman was perfectly content to get splashed all over a national newspaper. I get the feeling that people like this, people who are talented and gorgeous and rich, who have had everything go their way in their young lives assume life should be a smooth ride for their perfect selves. Is something goes wrong and they suffer psychic pain, then it has to be someone’s fault. Someone or something else must bear the blame. Their helicopter parents all too often go along with this fantasy. Yet the only way to grow up is to experience life, to make mistakes, to suffer, sometimes unfairly, and from that suffering learn and grow. That can’t be legislated in a court.