On Friday, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote an op-ed about sexual harassment that drew mockery and criticism on Twitter. Brooks, who was derided for his recollection of an encounter with a female friend of his in an article about sandwiches and economic inequality, attempted Friday to pin down why and how men become sexual predators. He came to several conclusions, none of which were particularly well-received on social media.
The crux of Brooks' piece is that sexual abuse happens when men fail to view sex as something that's inextricably linked to romantic love. Brooks uses a metaphor to illustrate his point, explaining that men move between three "rooms" throughout their lives. From birth until adolescence, Brooks claims, men exist in the "room of love," in which sex is seen as "something you do with the person you love." Once they hit puberty, however, men enter the "prospector room," in which "sex is a gold nugget," a pleasure.
"When you go to a college party or a club, you’re on the prowl for women who want to share this pleasure with you," Brooks explains. "Most pop songs are about this kind of conquest. Girl I want your body." (That last phrase, which Brooks inserted without any punctuation or apparent sense of irony, is one reason the column was mocked, though not the only one).
Last comes the "predator's room," where "the pleasures of sex get mixed up with the pleasures of power." The men in this room "are not looking for a relationship," and they "apparently get pleasure from punishing the women who arouse them." Brooks insists that only a "small percentage" of men enter the predator's room (a point he returns to throughout his article), though he never cites any statistics to back up that claim.
In any event, Brooks sees the "room of love" as a sort of ideal mindset for men to occupy with regard to sex, and believes that the "collapse" of that room is a "core problem" leading to sexual assault. When men become adolescents, in Brooks' analysis, they stop seeing love as a necessary precondition for sex, and begin to seek sex for sex's sake; that, Brooks says, is a crucial step on the road to become a sexual predator. From there, he makes several boilerplate observations about sexual abuse before concluding that "if we had a clearer concept of a beautiful relationship we’d also have a clearer concept of what predatory behavior looks like and what it takes to eradicate it."
Twitter users criticized Brooks' column for a number of reasons. Many were struck by the detached and clinical view he took towards sexual attraction, with one journalist even joking that perhaps Brooks himself has not had sex.
Some suggested that the columnist's observations were too garden-variety to warrant an op-ed in the New York Times, while others were unhappy to see the phrase "David Brooks" trending on Twitter at all.
It's not the first time social media has dragged Brooks over one of his op-eds. In a July column about economic inequality, Brooks told a strange anecdote in which he claimed a female friend was unable to comprehend the names of sandwiches with Italian ingredients at a restaurant.
"Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named 'Padrino' and 'Pomodoro' and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette," he wrote. "I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican."
Many felt that Brooks' judgement of his "friend" was premature and even condescending, especially as he'd noted she had "only a high school degree."
Similarly, the reaction on Twitter to Brooks' latest column on sexual assault appeared to be almost uniformly negative. Although a few people came to his defense, they were few and far between.