Both of these were written in response to an op-ed in the LA Times by Heather MacDonald.
This op/ed is one of the most ridiculous I’ve read in a long, long time (and that’s pretty impressive). Heather MacDonald argues that high rates of sexual assault on campus don’t exist because women don’t always define their experiences as rape; she then goes on to say that women who say they were raped are lying sluts who exaggerate the truth and were probably asking for it.
Jill’s evisceration of this op-ed is a joy to read, and then she gets on to the larger feminist points:
At first glance, it seems strange that MacDonald would simultaneously attack what she thinks is a hyped campus rape crisis and sex education on campuses. But it’s quite deliberate, and very telling. Anti-rape activism and sex-positive sexual health education are two sides to the same coin: They both challenge the dominant narrative that women’s bodies aren’t our own; they insist that sex is about consent and enjoyment, not violence and harm; and they attack a power structure that sees women as victims and men as predators. Anti-rape activists and sex-positive educators insist that men are not animals. Instead, men are rational human beings fully capable of listening to their partners and understanding that sex isn’t about pushing someone to do something they don’t want to; plenty of men are able to grasp the idea that sex should be entered into joyfully and enthusiastically by both partners, and that an absence of “no” isn’t enough — “yes” should be the baseline requirement.
Obviously, moving from the traditional “consent” standard of non-dissent to a new standard of affirmative assent still won’t end rape altogether: there will always be the vicious predatory rapists (of the type that Heather MacDonald alleges all rapists to be, thus her arguments against the reported rates) for whom their victim’s actively expressed dissent and terror is basically the whole point. But, as Jill argues, by changing the culture to one where it is generally agreed that sexual contact without affirmative assent is ipso facto assault, the claimed “grey area” of acquaintance/date-rape will shrink away to almost nothing:
It would be a lot harder to push the idea that “date rape” is less serious than “real” rape, that women who are assaulted by acquaintances were probably teases, that what is now called “date rape” used to just be called “seduction.”
The second thread gets derailed by one bunny214 doing a very good impression of a concern troll1 right out of the gate:
k and dont hate me for saying that last thing. its just..why do girls go to frat parties? yes, they want to have fun and everyone else is going. but if everyone else is jumping into a pool of sharks for fun, and you decide you have the right to do it too, why would you get mad if you got bitten? it just doesnt make sense. its like these girls are going “well, tonight i might get raped,but it’s TOTALLY worth risking for a few shitty beers and drunken, immature frat boys howling at me! teehee!” i dont see the appeal of college parties with certain males.
i mean, college parties dont have to be on campus or at sor./frats…
i think these poor college girls need to see there are other SAFER ways to party…and its not worth getting raped to hang out with a buncha assholes. why not hang out w/ NICE guys? perhaps NOT rapists?
i kno not all rapes are at parties, but im sure MOST are. everyone’s drunk and horny… ok im done. dont hate me. im not saying they ‘asked’ for it, but they just made a dumb choice to GO TO A HOUSE FULL O’ RAPISTS!! X(
This garnered predictable hostility, then when it appears that this commentor is not actually a troll the later responses to hir arguments end up making for an excellent Feminism 101 thread on victim-blaming and the feedback circle from it which drives what we call rape culture.
Jill’s comment in response debunks some of the myths that Bunny is repeating:
Statistically, a woman is most likely to be sexually assaulted in her own home. Women are victimized in private far more often; it’s men who are more likely to be victimized in public. People here are taking issue with your statements because there’s a broad rape narrative which tells women that leaving the house to socialize, to go to parties, to date men, whatever, opens them up to violence. That constant threat of rape is used as a tool of social control against all women.
In reality, men are 150 percent more likely to be victims of violent crimes than women. Men are more likely to be both victims and perpetrators of crimes. Men are more likely to be assaulted, injured or killed when alcohol is involved. Men are more likely to be victimized by a stranger (63 percent of violent victimizations), whereas women are more likely to be victimized by someone they know (62 percent of violent victimizations). Women are more likely to be victimized in their home or in the home of someone they know, whereas men are more likely to be victimized in public.
So the constant narrative of “why do women go here when they know they might be raped?” isn’t innocent, even if you mean it that way. It adopts a greater framework that has always been used to keep women docile and domiciled. It’s men who are more likely to experience violence at places like frat parties, but no one suggests that they simply stay home or don’t socialize in a particular way, because everyone assumes that men are entitled to live in the public space as they see fit. Women don’t have that kind of entitlement. That’s why feminists get pissed off when people suggest that women shouldn’t go certain places or do certain things because they might get themselves raped; it’s both inaccurate and part of a larger misogynist message.
Bunny’s arguments end up being a very good illustration of a phenomenon Jill described in Post 1 above, in reference to Heather MacDonald:
The psychology of female rape apologists isn’t that hard to figure out. If you can tell yourself that rape survivors asked for it — that they dressed a certain way, flirted too much, drank too much, just changed their minds, or flat-out made it up — you feel safe. You don’t do those things, and so you aren’t at risk.
I’m sympathetic to the need for psychological self-protection. But not when it’s to the detriment of other women. MacDonald works for the conservative Manhattan Institute, and her view isn’t simply a personal one: It’s the standard right-wing misogynist line. And it’s part of a much broader assault on women’s rights and basic bodily autonomy.
Arguing that women who have been sexually attacked must have done something “unwise” to provoke the attack may make other women feel safer about their own vulnerability, but it’s a delusion of safety (anything women do can be spun as “provocative”), and it directly harms other women. Don’t fall for it.
ADDIT: Change Happens: the SAFER blog (from Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER) has a
roundup of posts responding to the Heather MacDonald op-ed.
1. Concern trolling: a particularly annoying form of trolling in which someone falsely pretends to be offering advice to favor a position they do not endorse; e.g. a creationist who masquerades as someone concerned about the arguments for evolution as an excuse to make criticisms. [back]