Thoughts on the Campus Culture of Rape Hysteria

The item of privilege one must first check when arriving on campus – perhaps one less arbitrary than the often unilluminating reflections on skin colour and gender – is the reduced risk of violent crime one attains simply by virtue of being a student. The Bureau of Justice Statistics, often billed as the gold standard for crime research, found that between 1995 and 2013 the rate of rape and sexual assault was 1.2 times higher for nonstudents (7.6 per 1,000) than for students (6.1 per 1,000).” Moreover, the trend for the actual rate of rape is consistent decline; the same research body found that between 1997 and 2013, the rate of sexual assault against women dropped by around 50 percent. Additionally, under the watch of a ~72% left wing faculty – some sympathetic to progressive cultural-Marxism, some cowering at the feminist thought police – you are also unlikely to face the fabled rape apologia, microaggressions and misogyny attendant to this culture of rape. In fact, you are likely to be pandered to and find the trigger-warnings and safe spaces to protect you from harm’s way at a time when there is less to protect you from than ever before. Why can’t all putatively compulsory consent classes start on this note so positive it is hard to overstate.

But instead what we hear (on an international stage, from someone as high-profile as Emma Watson, in front of no less than the UN) is the following unsubstantiated rubbish: “What if, as is the case in far too many universities, we are given the message that sexual violence isn’t actually a form of violence?” What world does she live in? Not only are we ‘given the message’ that sexual violence is absolutely a form of violence, we are told ad nauseum that it is amongst the worst of possible things that can happen to an individual. As Karen Straughan argues, hiding subtly in this assertion is a recapitulation of Victorian morals which places a woman’s sexual purity above all else; do not expose the most sacred of objects to the lewd or the libidinal. Watson is keen to re-energise the type of ‘damsel in distress’ narrative that second wave feminism sought to dispel. Hysteria about sexual violence is rife, actual sexual violence is on the decline; the moral panic remains and the attempted feminist inculcation disturbs the 80% of the population who are still unwilling to identify as a feminist.

Moreover, it is evident that the bar for what counts as violence is dropped to embarrassingly low standards in the new progressive march against being made to feel uncomfortable. If the male-perpetrator, female-victim paradigm plays out, then cat calls, ogling or even something as innocuous as a joke could now conceivably be called sexual violence. Indeed, in the 2013 Hidden Marks study into sexual assault on campus ‘making comments with a sexual overtone that made you feel uncomfortable ‘ was classed as ‘verbal harassment’ even if it the comment was not directed at you but overheard. Similarly, ‘someone asking you questions about your sex, sexuality or romantic life when it was clearly irrelevant or none of their business’ was classed as harassment too. When is it ever clearly relevant and clearly someone’s business to ask about your sex life? Personal questions sometimes get asked in the real world, the one that exists outside of the protected campus bubble. Besides, what sort of puritanical posturing have we allowed to creep into a supposedly sexually liberated age and tell us to stop talking about sex because it is harassment if someone feels uncomfortable? Prurience might be uncomfortable but it is no crime.

This embarrassing, tendentious nonsense spouted by feminist voices such as Watson flies in the face of the ultra-sensitive campus policies, the advocacy statistics and a marketplace of ideas so saturated with misinformation and hyperbole about sexual assault. This hysteria isn’t just misguided or wrong but stands as antithetical to the current campus climate; extremely sensitive and well calibrated to student demands for sexual assault education and masculinity retraining. Our intuitions about the safety of campus life are being sculpted by this culture of fear, rape hysteria and the privileging of selective subjective experiences over studies that, whilst notoriously difficult to replicate and cohere, are far from a compulsion to alarmism.

The actuary in everyone should be free to take risks, refine their ad hoc judgements and navigate the world for the dangerous and rewarding place it is. This would stand in contrast to the those who reduce sex to something of the transactional with affirmative consent thinking, where a breach of formal contract, a misstep from progressive propriety, a move outside of the feminist karma-sutra is sufficient grounds for a rape accusation. Each consent class held patronisingly insists it has something of infallible clarity to add the unavoidable – and often thrilling – complexities of modern sexual life.

Perhaps the effort and resources that are funnelled into the public discussion around sex, rape, entitlement and the effects of alcohol consumption has the potential to effect the only metric worth going by, the actual instances of rape. But this discussion needs to be had without the kind of demagoguery that paints campuses as unnavigable patriarchal terrain. The same dialogue must, if it is to deserve the title, explore different viewpoints, perhaps that rape hysteria does not help women; shoddy advocacy statistics do not help women; campuses are the safest they’ve ever been. Maybe some students, god forbid, agree with the remnants of second wave feminist thought that rattle around the web from time to time.

When Camille Paglia employed the caustic rhetoric ‘women should be free to risk rape’ she was a pugilist in the long since side-lined fight against authoritarianism.  The ‘freedom to risk rape’ was a cry against the nanny-state paternalists who would have women on campuses under curfew while male contemporaries partied into the night. This was asking for the freedom to go out into the world and be uncomfortable, to be freed from the cloistering chaise longue and the Victorian notion of women’s ultimate fragility. But now they wish to engineer a young persons sex life so that they are never – under any circumstances, under the threat of rape accusations, feminist hysteria and public humiliation – to be made uncomfortable. Sexual freedom is being curbed in the name of pandering to the modern pathology of pathologising everything. To cloak discomfort and regret in the language of psychotherapy (trigger warnings, trauma, PTSD) is to trivialise the violent assaults that do still occur.

To set rigid lines for consent and codify sexual pursuits to feminist standards is to set oneself a trap. To be ideologically consistent in this world one must insist that rape occurred where the ‘victim’ did not think it had, because their tolerances for uncertainty in the sexual sphere were higher and not fine-tuned to the feminist gold standard. If a woman simply hadn’t been educated to know that – because her leg was touched in the first instance without the Q&A-style affirmative consent courtship –  she has been assaulted, then who is anyone else to tell her such. In this case you must create victims where there are none, insist regret was something more; you are effectively educating people on precisely what there their lived experience should be given certain ambiguities in the bedroom; what their experience actually was ceases to matter. This is to manufacture trauma where it does not exist. Whilst the old authoritarians saved women from the dangers of the outside world by locking them inside, the new-authoritarians fail to save them from the same dangers through this futile engineering of our sex lives, to the very real detriment of fun. Anyone who has seen an educational affirmative consent infomercial can attest to this.

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