“Where Ignorance Is Bliss”: Bashing The Whistleblower

Although the Western German film, The Nasty Girl (1990) is not directly about feminism, it is no coincidence that the heroine, Sonja, is an intelligent and curious school girl, the pride and joy of her small town.The film is based on the biography of the journalist Anna Rosmus who grew up Passau in Bavaria. The nasty Girl is an example of the intolerable price that one brave whistleblower ends up paying for discovering and exposing the truth.

When young Sonja decides to enter an essay competition and chooses the topic: “My town during the third Reich,” she has no idea what this topic entails. Moreover, she doesn’t know anything about, her town, Pfilzing’s Nazi past, and can’t imagine the Pandora Box she is about to open. As she embarks on a quest to discover what really happened in her quaint little town, she threatens to expose forgotten secrets, which were hidden for almost 50 years.

This seemingly innocuous assignment, takes over Sonja’s life and gradually shatters her world, and that of the people close to her. The townspeople unite against her and from being the town’s darling Sonja becomes an outcast.

Recently as I read and heard about the vicious attacks on Israeli whistleblowers, brave women who dared to reveal the truth about men who had sexually assaulted or harassed them, I have been thinking a lot about Sonja and this memorable film.

I don’t mean to compare between Pfilzing’s Nazi past and the shameful secrets of sexual offenders. However, the campaign to discredit women whistle-blowers, the accusations against them and the high price that they eventually have to pay is very similar.

In Israel recently, some of the men exposed were famous, and all of them had successful careers in areas like the arts, politics, organized religion, media, academia and the army.

Some of the women used to have a successful career as well, but in many of the cases, after they refused unwanted sexual advances their promotion was halted, or, even worse, they had to quit their jobs.

In a similar fashion, discovering the secrets of her town’s past prevented Sonja from going on with her life. Since people refused to hear her, and the town wanted to silence her, exposing the truth became her mission, and an obsession.

It is natural to loathe those who insist on telling the truth, the betrayal is especially painful if they come from our own camp.

However, no one chooses to spend her life exposing crimes, or wishes to devote her time to fight injustice, this is a burden that some women (and men), not many, are willing to shoulder. Unfortunately in the end those who tell are accused of being liars or like in the case of Sonja become the enemy of the town.

People in the media love to quote judge Brandeis’ famous statement about sunlight being the best disinfectant. However, fortunately another quote is much more prevalent “Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise,” Thomas Gray.

Gray is right, judging from the blitz on whistleblowers in the media and social media, no one cares to know and nothing needs cleaning.


About the Author
I have a PhD in English literature from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and I usually write about issues concerning women, literature, culture and society. I lived in the US for 15 years (between 1979-1994). I am widow and in March 2016 started a support/growth Facebook group for widows: "Widows Move On." In October 2017 I started a Facebook group for Older and Experienced Feminists. I am also an active member of Women Wage Peace and believe that women can succeed where men have failed.