Home inFocus Campaign Season ­­– Issues on the Trail (Summer 2016) Campus “Rape Culture”

Campus “Rape Culture”

Mona Charen Summer 2016
Demonstrators at the March Against Rape Culture and Gender Inequality in Boston. (Photo: Chase Carter/Flickr)

College campuses, like the rest of American society, are struggling to contain the wreckage of the sexual revolution. Neither men nor women are happy with the chaotic and utterly unromantic world they’ve inherited. It’s a culture of drunken hook-ups and “booty calls,” where traditional courtship is dead and even dating is rare.

In pop culture, in entertainment, and even in redoubts of “higher” learning, crudeness and vulgarity have become commonplace. “No Means Yes! Yes Means Anal,” shouted a bunch of Yale University undergraduates marching past women’s dorms. Our kids grow up bombarded by what feminist Ariel Levy has called “raunch culture,” just as a hormonal fire hose drenches their bodies. At the same time, a thousand spiky barriers stand in the way of mutual respect between the sexes. As for romance, it is like a transplanted tropical plant, struggling to survive in frozen soil.

Managing the transition to adulthood has never been easy or straightforward, but it is hard to think of a time when the path into the world of sex, relationships, and love has featured fewer rules or common understandings. Nor has there been a time in American history when so much of what the young are taught to prepare them for this stage is a product of ideology rather than our best understanding of the truth.

We’ve told the young that sex is “no big deal,” except for those with non-traditional inclinations. They’ve been instructed that the crucial moral lesson they should take away from sex education is hygiene. They’ve learned that anything goes so long as both (or all) parties consent; and, most crucially, they’ve been schooled that there are no differences that matter between the sexes.

That last one especially is at the heart of the current chaos. Men have been invited to assume that women are neither more nor less sensitive than themselves when it comes to sex. Women have been encouraged to believe that engaging in casual hook ups is another step on the ladder to full equality. As the Roman poet Horace said, “You may drive out nature with a pitchfork, but she will still hurry back.”

The mess on college campuses is part of the larger chaos between men and women that characterizes modern America. This failure is no orphan. It can count among its fathers the sexual revolutionists and the feminists.

The Campus Rape-Industrial Complex

Something is making many young women and more than a few young men unhappy. The progressive interpretation of this malaise is “rape culture.” Feminist anti-rape activists on campuses, aided by the Obama administration’s Department of Education, are responding with a combination of bureaucracy and ideology.

First, they are erecting a massive, unwieldy, expensive, time-consuming, unjust, and joyless establishment to adjudicate claims of sexual assault. Second, they are enforcing an interpretation of what has gone wrong with sexual behavior that emphasizes female victimhood (“women must never be advised to limit their drinking”), a neo-Victorian vision of female virtue (“women never lie about rape”), and a deep prejudice against “traditional” masculinity.

Rape is a crime usually handled by local police, prosecutors, and courts. In 2011, college and university administrators across America were thunderstruck to discover, by way of a new federal regulation, that they were now required to step into that role. Called the “Dear Colleague” letter, after its deceptively cordial greeting, the Education Department spelled out the new rules:

The sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence, interferes with students’ right to receive an education free from discrimination and, in the case of sexual violence, is a crime . . . Sexual harassment of students, which includes acts of sexual violence, is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX.

Note the conflation of “sexual harassment” and “sexual violence.” By interpreting sexual assault to be a form of sexual “discrimination,” the federal government, which would not otherwise have jurisdiction over matters like rape and assault, can claim it under the rubric of enforcing Title IX of federal education laws.

Most people think of sexual harassment as inappropriate attention of a sexual nature in the workplace or classroom, or explicit demands for sex by a superior. To say that sexual assault is a form of harassment is a little like saying that smashing someone’s temple with a hammer is a form of insult and ought to be treated under the libel laws.

These new tribunals, the Education Department continued, must apply the lowest possible legal standard of proof (50.1 percent likelihood that the offense took place), and dispense with protections for the accused such as the right to confront witnesses.

The Ban on Victim Blaming Prevents Protecting Women

A 2007 Campus Sexual Assault survey found that for women, frequency of getting drunk was highly correlated with sexual assault. According to a Washington Post/Kaiser study, 62 percent of women who said they were assaulted reported drinking before the episode, and 77 percent of students agreed that limiting alcohol consumption would be somewhat or very effective at reducing sexual assault. But the feminist enforcers have made it difficult to deliver that message.

Emily Yoffe of Slate ran into the feminist buzz saw when she wrote, “The campus culture of binge drinking is toxic, and many rapists prey on drunk young women.” The website Feministing.com called her piece a “rape denialism manifesto.” A college professor objected that Yoffe was echoing “the old Puritan line that women need to restrain and modify their pleasure-seeking behaviors” and that represented “a big step backward.” Most critics emphasized that society need to “teach men not to rape. Period.”

Common sense and about 5,000 years of human experience suggest that women keep themselves as safe as possible, mindful that they are the smaller and weaker sex, that some men are not gentlemen, and that even seemingly nice men can behave badly when drunk. They might also want to consider that their own judgment will be impaired by alcohol. Such simple truths were conveyed from mothers to daughters for eons.

When scientists at North Carolina State invented a nail polish that would change color if a woman ingested a “date rape” drug, the response among some feminists was not gratitude, but anger. Rebecca Nagle, a co-founder of an activist group called FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, was contemptuous of the invention. “As a woman, I’m told not to go out alone at night, to watch my drink, to do all of these things. That way, rape isn’t just controlling me while I’m actually being assaulted — it controls me 24/7 because it limits my behavior. Solutions like these actually just recreate that. I don’t want to f—ing test my drink when I’m at the bar. That’s not the world I want to live in.”

Maybe not, but the world is what it is.

Feminists, the Neo-Victorians

The “women never lie” dogma is taught by universities across the country. Freshmen at the University of Montana, for example, are instructed in a mandatory video called PETSA (Personal Empowerment Through Self Awareness) that one of the “myths” about rape is that women lie. “Believe your friend,” they are exhorted. “Almost no one lies.” Alan Dershowitz was accused of sexual harassment for even broaching the topic of false rape accusations in the classroom at Harvard Law School.

Of course some women lie. The young woman whose story, “A Rape On Campus,” was featured (and subsequently retracted) in Rolling Stone lied about nearly every material fact. The woman who accused the Duke University lacrosse team of gang rape also lied. It seems highly likely that Sulkowicz is shading the truth. Tawana Brawley lied.

Campus Rape Is Not A Myth

Rape is a serious problem on college campuses. The Washington Post/Kaiser poll defined sexual assault overly broadly, but still yielded data that are revealing. Nine percent of women and 1 percent of men in the survey, for example, said that someone had used physical force or the threat of physical force to have sexual contact with them. It isn’t clear from the survey what the nature of that contact was, and caution is thus necessary when describing these contacts as assaults or rapes—nevertheless, they reflect at the very least extremely bad behavior. Similarly, 14 percent of women and 4 percent of men said that someone had had sexual contact with them while they were incapacitated.

Thirty-seven percent of students in the Post/Kaiser survey said they knew at least one woman who had reported being assaulted, and 21 percent knew four or more. Sixteen percent knew of a man who’d been assaulted.

What’s Behind This Conduct?

Progressives and feminists believe the source of the sexual assault problem is “traditional masculinity.” The American College Health Association, for example, in its “toolkit” for college administrators to prevent sexual violence, cites the “pressures exerted upon [young men] by traditional (and often violent) ideas about masculinity” as one of the causes of campus rape.

“There is an unfortunate, aggressive sexual norm related to masculinity in our culture,” explains Laura Dunn of SurvJustice.org, a rape “survivors” advocacy group. “We are asserting our rights now in the face of aggressive, predatory sexuality.”

But if “traditional masculinity” is the cause of rape, how do progressives explain homosexual rapes? No one would argue that homosexual behavior of any kind fits into the “traditionalist” model. Yet the Post/Kaiser poll found that 16 percent of students, and 23 percent of men, knew of at least one man who’d been assaulted while in college.

Moreover, who gets to define “traditional masculinity”?

Many men, even in our egalitarian age, still come to the aid of women who are in distress or in trouble in public places. Such stories are extremely common. Any fair assessment of “traditional” norms of masculinity would have to include male chivalry and protectiveness toward women. The six men, including three Americans, who rushed a terrorist on a train in France, putting their own lives in danger to save others, were displaying traits that have been praised for centuries.

In July 2012, when a gunman opened fire on a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, not one but three young men sacrificed themselves for their girlfriends. Jon Blunk, 26, Matt McQuinn, 27, and Alex Teves, 24, pushed their girlfriends to the floor and covered them with their own bodies as the bullets flew. All were killed. The women survived. Isn’t that part of “traditional masculinity”?

How About the Sexual Revolution’s Hook-Up Culture

If we were attempting to design a social code that would be more conducive to date rape and less likely to lead to romance and love, we could scarcely improve on hook-up culture.

Try as they may (and many seem to be making a heroic effort) women are not comfortable with hook-up culture. That may be why drinking to the point of incapacitation has become such a widespread phenomenon among the young.

Alcohol consumption among women has risen quite dramatically in recent years. “Between 1999 and 2008,” reports the Wall Street Journal, “the number of young women who showed up in emergency rooms for being dangerously intoxicated rose by 52 percent. The rate for young men, though higher, rose just 9 percent.”

It’s common for young people to “pregame” on a Friday or Saturday night—that is, begin drinking before attending a party. The point is not to relax, nor even to get a little tipsy. The goal is drunkenness. Something is making young women in huge numbers turn to alcohol. Perhaps abrupt sexual intimacy with virtual strangers makes them uncomfortable?

The hook-up script completely inverts the traditional order of attraction and intimacy. Instead of meeting, talking, dating, touching, kissing, and eventually having sex with someone, the new rite requires sexual intimacy with virtual strangers upon a first meeting or after only casual acquaintance.

The Hook-Up Culture Leaves Women Dissatisfied

Lisa Wade, a sociologist at Occidental College, has studied hook-ups and found that most students she interviewed were “overwhelmingly disappointed with the sex they were having in hook ups.” This was true of both men and women, but “was felt more intensely by women.” The women, Wade writes, “felt that they had inherited a right to express their sexuality from the women’s movement of the 60s and 70s.” But they were disappointed. “They didn’t feel like equals on the sexual playground, more like jungle gyms.” One female student told Wade, “I was just a warm body being used to make a guy have an orgasm.” Another said she felt like a “sex toy with three holes and two hands.”

Rape culture is an attitude toward women in particular, but not even just to women—to treating all people as sexual objects, nothing more than an opportunity for sex,” Anna Bahr, a Columbia graduate told New York Magazine. That’s not “rape culture,” that’s hook-up culture. That’s the post-sexual revolution American culture, and she’s right that it stinks.

Perhaps nothing captures the essential sadness of hooking up better than the simple description of an alternative. Professor Kerry Cronin of Boston College was stunned a decade ago to discover that most of her students had never been out on a date. She decided to make asking someone on a real date part of the class curriculum.

Students were advised that they had to make the request in person, not via text or Facebook. They had to invite someone out who was a true romantic interest, not just a friend. They could not see a movie, as this would preclude conversation, and they could not drink alcohol during the date. The date could take place during the afternoon or evening, but it had to be over by 10 p.m.

One student devised a way to frame the invitation that smoothed the inherent awkwardness of asking for a date as part of class work. “I have this assignment to go out on a date, but I’ve been wanting to ask you out for a long time anyway.” Now, reflect on that sentence. Is there any decent person, of either sex, who would not prefer that invitation to a hook-up?

Romance and love, two of the greatest joys of life, must begin with interest in the whole person. To be the object of a crush, to know that someone is a little tongue-tied around you at first, to be appreciated for your unique qualities, to be admired—isn’t that what most people hope for? What a world away that is from the drunken hook-up.

The truth from which our society has been fleeing for half a century is not really so awful. There are differences between men and women, particularly in what they want and need from sex. Ungoverned sexuality can degenerate into degradation and abuse all too easily. Love and tenderness really are the best routes to happiness. Women have it within their power to reject the hook up culture and insist upon a return to dating. Such a turn would be a boon to everyone—but most of all to themselves.