If you haven’t already read Heather MacDonald’s debunking of the “Rape Epidemic” on college campuses, you must. The whole article is replete with gems such as this one:
The campus rape movement highlights the current condition of radical feminism, from its self-indulgent bathos to its embrace of ever more vulnerable female victimhood. But the movement is an even more important barometer of academia itself. In a delicious historical irony, the baby boomers who dismantled the university’s intellectual architecture in favor of unbridled sex and protest have now bureaucratized both. While women’s studies professors bang pots and blow whistles at antirape rallies, in the dorm next door, freshman counselors and deans pass out tips for better orgasms and the use of sex toys. The academic bureaucracy is roomy enough to sponsor both the dour antimale feminism of the college rape movement and the promiscuous hookup culture of student life. The only thing that doesn’t fit into the university’s new commitments is serious scholarly purpose.
The article’s first point is that the study that gave rise to the infamous “one out of four college women are raped” statistic was not merely flawed, a concept that implies that the researcher acted in good faith but erred in methodology, but was, instead, intended to arrive at the one out of four number — a result it could achieve only be stretching facts beyond all semblance of reality. There is, in fact, no rape epidemic on American campuses, and there never has been. The study’s “flaws,” of course, have never slowed down the college rape industry:
None of the obvious weaknesses in the research has had the slightest drag on the campus rape movement, because the movement is political, not empirical. In a rape culture, which “condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as a norm,” sexual assault will wind up underreported, argued the director of Yale’s Sexual Harassment and Assault Resources and Education Center in a March 2007 newsletter. You don’t need evidence for the rape culture; you simply know that it exists. But if you do need evidence, the underreporting of rape is the best proof there is.
In keeping with this political agenda, the fact that the highly funded rape centers dotting every college campus are ghost towns is irrelevant. Rather than scaling back on the centers to use the money for more useful purposes (education, anyone?), the feministas are going in the other direction: they are demanding more money, based on their contention that the empty rooms are a sign that more women are being raped than ever before. They’re just not talking about it.
MacDonald, after debunking the rape myth, then does something incredibly brave: she attacks a college social culture that is so nihilistic it creates the perfect environment for young women to find themselves in unpleasant sexual situations which are not rape, but which certainly lack any sign of love, respect, emotional commitment, or even mere affection:
So what reality does lie behind the campus rape industry? A booze-fueled hookup culture of one-night, or sometimes just partial-night, stands. Students in the sixties demanded that college administrators stop setting rules for fraternization. “We’re adults,” the students shouted. “We can manage our own lives. If we want to have members of the opposite sex in our rooms at any hour of the day or night, that’s our right.” The colleges meekly complied and opened a Pandora’s box of boorish, sluttish behavior that gets cruder each year. Do the boys, riding the testosterone wave, act thuggishly toward the girls? You bet! Do the girls try to match their insensitivity? Indisputably.
College girls drink themselves into near or actual oblivion before and during parties. That drinking is often goal-oriented, suggests University of Virginia graduate Karin Agness: it frees the drinker from responsibility and “provides an excuse for engaging in behavior that she ordinarily wouldn’t.” A Columbia University security official marvels at the scene at homecomings: “The women are shit-faced, saying, ‘Let’s get as drunk as we can,’ while the men are hovering over them.” As anticipated, the night can include a meaningless sexual encounter with a guy whom the girl may not even know. This less-than-romantic denouement produces the “roll and scream: you roll over the next morning so horrified at what you find next to you that you scream,” a Duke coed reports in Laura Sessions Stepp’s recent book Unhooked. To the extent that they’re remembered at all, these are the couplings that are occasionally transformed into “rape”—though far less often than the campus rape industry wishes.
For the unthinking, it would be easy to believe that the above paragraphs are yet another part of the old “blame the victim” mentality. (Laer, in a wonderfully thoughtful post, highlights a perfect example of this knee jerk reaction to any challenge to the campus rape paradigm.) There’s a world of difference between the two approaches, though. The old view took what was indubitably rape — forced sex on a completely unwilling victim — and pointed to inconsequential factors to justify the man’s conduct: she walked with a swing to her hips, she smiled at him, she wore a pretty dress, she’d been “flirting.” By ignoring the man’s conduct, and focusing solely on the woman’s, the legal system was able to ignore the fact that, as the woman was screaming “no,” the man was forcing sex on her.
The new rape paradigm has a very different scenario, one in which the “victim” admits that she did in fact say “yes” (although she may have intentionally reduced herself to virtually incoherent drunkeness first):
The magazine Saturday Night: Untold Stories of Sexual Assault at Harvard, produced by Harvard’s Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, provides a first-person account of such a coupling:
What can I tell you about being raped? Very little. I remember drinking with some girlfriends and then heading to a party in the house that some seniors were throwing. I’m told that I walked in and within 5 minutes was making out with one of the guys who lived there, who I’d talked to some in the dining hall but never really hung out with. I may have initiated it. I don’t remember arriving at the party; I dimly remember waking up at some point in the early morning in this guy’s room. I remember him walking me back to my room. I couldn’t have made it alone; I still had too much alcohol in my system to even stand up straight. I made myself vulnerable and even now it’s hard to think that someone here who I have talked and laughed with could be cold-hearted enough to take advantage of that vulnerability. I’d rather, sometimes, take half the blame than believe that a profound evil can exist in mankind. But it’s easy for me to say, that, of the two of us, I’m the only one who still has nightmares, found myself panicking and detaching during sex for many months afterwards, and spent more time looking into the abyss than any one person should.
The inequalities of the consequences of the night, the actions taken unintentionally or not, have changed the course of only one of our lives, irrevocably and profoundly.
Now perhaps the male willfully exploited the narrator’s self-inflicted incapacitation; if so, he deserves censure for taking advantage of a female in distress. But to hold the narrator completely without responsibility requires stripping women of volition and moral agency. Though the Harvard victim does not remember her actions, it’s highly unlikely that she passed out upon arriving at the party and was dragged away like roadkill while other students looked on. Rather, she probably participated voluntarily in the usual prelude to intercourse, and probably even in intercourse itself, however woozily.
Men actually have a name for the kind of sex described above. It’s called “coyote ugly” sex, a term that I was introduced to when I lived in Texas. It posits a man so drunk that he beds a physically unattractive woman. In the morning, he is so horrified by the ugliness lying in his arms that, rather than wake her to escape, he’s willing to gnaw his own arm off to sneak away. (The analogy being to the fact that coyotes will gnaw off a leg that’s caught in a trap so as to escape.) Interestingly, this response imagines the man imposing a punishment on himself for being intoxicated enough to climb into bed with someone he never would have considered otherwise. Women, faced with the same situation — the morning after regret following the night before — are now encouraged to place the blame elsewhere for their own conduct and to cry rape.
As indicated in the last paragraph I quoted from MacDonald, she too understands the difference between women assaulted just for being female, and women who have sex they later regret:
A large number of complicating factors make the Saturday Night story a far more problematic case than the term “rape” usually implies. Unlike the campus rape industry, most students are well aware of those complicating factors, which is why there are so few rape charges brought for college sex. But if the rape industrialists are so sure that foreseeable and seemingly cooperative drunken sex amounts to rape, there are some obvious steps that they could take to prevent it. Above all, they could persuade girls not to put themselves into situations whose likely outcome is intercourse. Specifically: don’t get drunk, don’t get into bed with a guy, and don’t take off your clothes or allow them to be removed. Once you’re in that situation, the rape activists could say, it’s going to be hard to halt the proceedings, for lots of complex emotional reasons. Were this advice heeded, the campus “rape” epidemic would be wiped out overnight.
But suggest to a rape bureaucrat that female students should behave with greater sexual restraint as a preventive measure, and you might as well be saying that the girls should enter a convent or don the burka. “I am uncomfortable with the idea,” e-mailed Hillary Wing-Richards, the associate director of the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Women’s Resource Center at James Madison University in Virginia. “This indicates that if [female students] are raped it could be their fault—it is never their fault—and how one dresses does not invite rape or violence. . . . I would never allow my staff or myself to send the message it is the victim’s fault due to their dress or lack of restraint in any way.” Putting on a tight tank top doesn’t, of course, lead to what the bureaucrats call “rape.” But taking off that tank top does increase the risk of sexual intercourse that will be later regretted, especially when the tank-topper has been intently mainlining rum and Cokes all evening.
The only area in which I’d differ with MacDonald is with regard to her second to last sentence or, at least, I’d expand upon it: “Putting on a tight tank top doesn’t, of course, lead to what the bureaucrats call ‘rape.’” If a woman is forced into non-consensual sex that the attacker justifies by pointing to her tank top, that’s rape. However, I’m in complete agreement with MacDonald that, if the same woman gets drunk, makes out with a complete stranger, takes off the tank top on the dance floor, and then goes into a room and climbs in the bed naked with that same stranger, while she may later have regrets, he hasn’t raped her.
(I’m going to stick with this topic for the rest of this post, but I do urge you to read the rest of MacDonald’s article, which also has an extended discussion of the way in which universities encourage the hypersexualized culture at American colleges by doing such things as inviting sex shows to perform on campus.)
On the subject of that tank top: One of the things the anti-blame the victim movement did was to create an environment in which women were told that they ought to have the right to do anything they want without any risk at all. This is a striking departure from the original challenges mounted to the old “blame the victim” mentality. The original feminist attack, which was valid, challenged a legal system that allowed men to walk away without any consequences despite the fact that they had clearly forced sex, often horribly brutal sex, on an unwilling woman. These early (and rational) feminists weren’t looking at whether women should be able to engage in any conduct they wanted without consequences. Instead, they were looking at the men and saying that, if a man engaged in certain illegal sexual acts, there would inevitably be consequences regardless of the woman’s own conduct. Under this original and equitable feminist system, women were still expected not to be stupid. The only difference was that, whether the woman was stupid or not, a man who committed rape was denied the “it’s all her fault” legal defense.
I strongly support that world view. It’s a tragedy and a travesty that it’s morphed into a view that is the mirror image of the view prevailing in the pre-women’s rights era. Back then, the man was never at fault; now, the woman is never at fault. Both systems are equally abhorrent and equally damaging to the relationship between the sexes. It makes all of them enemies of each other.