Respecting Women Is Not Optional

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While the source of the above quote is a matter of debate, the meaning seems to be clear. When it comes to seducing women, the easiest method is to get them drunk. Fortunately, this idea has met with disfavor in recent times. There is a greater awareness of date rape and an unwillingness to wink at the idea of “taking advantage” of a woman.

Yet on college campuses, there is still much predatory behavior. Certainly the judge in the Brock Turner rape case didn’t seem to “get it” when he sentenced Turner to only six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious young woman on the Stanford University campus. The victim had attended the same fraternity party as had Turner before she ended up behind a dumpster being violated by him.

I remember attending parties at a certain fraternity at the University of Illinois back in the Dark Ages and noticing that the guys in the house never seemed to come downstairs until we girls had had time to down a few beers or cups of Everclear punch, a noxious substance that would put moonshine to shame. We girls chuckled about how the guys were just trying to get us liquored up. We didn’t really take it seriously. But now I see such practices from a different vantage point.

Last week there was a news report that a recent female high school graduate had to be rushed to the hospital because she suffered from alcohol poisoning after attending a fraternity party during freshman orientation at the University of Texas. Apparently, numerous frats host these gatherings and lure 18-year-old girls who may never have been away from home before to overindulge in alcohol at them. This strikes me as a matter of questionable judgment at best.

We need to eliminate the damaging and outdated notion that men are hunters on the prowl and women are their prey. We need to stop blaming women for drinking or wearing short skirts or acting seductive as a reason for men to attack them. We need to stop impugning the reputation of rape victims in order to let men off the hook for perpetrating violence against them.

I doubt Brock Turner would have been convicted if two eye witnesses had not seen the assault and come to the rescue of the victim. If his actions had occurred inside the fraternity house or his dorm room, the incident would have turned into a futile exercise of he said/she said.

Our culture needs to demand respect for all human beings, male and female. We should stop excusing behavior on the basis that someone was under the influence of alcohol. Until we do, incidents such as the one at Stanford will continue to occur and young women’s lives will be forever damaged.

A Rape Culture on Campus?

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The stunning disavowal by Rolling Stone magazine of an article accusing fraternity members at the University of Virginia of gang rape should give all of us pause about our prejudices and assumptions.

Far from questioning the alleged victim with a critical eye, the reporters and many others, myself included, were quick to judge and assume. The most damaging assumption made was that gang rape is a commonplace phenomenon at fraternity parties.

As an ardent feminist, I have almost always erred on the side on women and the many struggles, prejudices, and discrimination they have historically faced in America. However, this case has made me reflect on my attitude toward men and their sexuality.

The quickness to judge seems to stem from a willingness to paint young adult males as ruthless sexual aggressors who, given half a chance, will have sex with any unconscious female who crosses their paths. In point of fact, however, I don’t know any men who would commit such a heinous act.

Rape is not an act of sex but of power and violence. Although date or acquaintance rape is more difficult to prove due to the possible consensual actions that may have preceded it, the act of forcing a woman (or a man) into sex is still an act of violence. Do we really want to presume that all the men around us are potentially violent predators?

This attitude strikes me as little better than the all too prevalent opinion that women who dress or act provocatively are “asking for it” – that is, bringing sexual violence upon themselves.

As a society, we need to stop conflating sex with violence. This is the problem with the recent film Fifty Shades of Grey. While I am all for people’s freedom to do what they choose in the privacy of their bedroom, I think popularizing sadomasochism with a blockbuster “chick flick” is a bad idea. It gives people the idea that only through violence or the hint of violence can sex be exciting. A recent case at the University of Illinois, in which a student was accused of sexually assaulting a female student during a Fifty Shades– inspired encounter, bolsters my argument.

I was saddened when I saw the most recent attempt by colleges to deal with sexual assault on campus. Ads feature college students and celebrities holding up signs that say, “It’s on us.” But what, exactly, is “on us”? Holding up standards of common human decency? Rape is not a norm anywhere, including on college campuses. I fear the belief that it is normal will only breed a climate of fear and alienation.

I have two daughters and two sons. I hope I have raised them all to be respectful and kind – and certainly nonviolent. Let’s expect that of our young men and women in college. They may just rise to our expectations.