Not a Rape Culture, Just a PC One
September 22, 2011
Let’s make this perfectly clear: there is no rape culture at Yale.
If Yale had a rape culture, there would be students and faculty speaking in favor of rape. Rape would be a common practice; it would be routine to hear someone talking about raping or being raped by someone last weekend. People would discuss what styles or methods of rape they prefer. Obviously, the existence of a rape culture is a farcical idea. These things just don’t happen at Yale.
There are isolated incidents of rape, and that is surely a severe problem. Beyond the physical harm the victim suffers, rape erodes trust. Like any crime, it arouses fear.
Rape falls somewhere on a wide spectrum between murder and robbery. The number of people who commit rape is a tiny percentage of the population at large. The vast majority of people are not criminals.
When we talk about a rape culture, when we look at everyone as a potential criminal, and when we condemn different opinions as promoting rape, we create an environment of suspicion. This suspicion, like crime, erodes trust and arouses fear.
People are afraid to express opinions because they might be called sexist or even, as we have seen recently, supportive of rape. They may not fear bodily harm, as they would after a rape. Instead, this fear in the world of ideas is expressed more often as a dark, pervasive sense of irony.
We recognize our overwhelming need to identify poisonous views, but we couldn’t possibly live in such a tight, constricted world. If you want to say something seriously but know you’ll be labeled a bigot for it, you might say it as a joke. If you say it ironically, you might get away with it.
When all views are subject to condemnation, when an idea we disagree with becomes, in our newfangled, extra-sensitive language, a call for rape, we enter a world of farce. We’re ingrained in our views of what is acceptable and what is offensive. Regardless of what we say, we know what we will hear in opposition. When a person comes to expect to be called a bigot at every turn, reasonable discourse becomes a mockery. We cease to be able to take anything seriously.
On both sides of the perpetual debates about last year’s DKE chant, the Title IX complaint and Sex Week, people are quick to call their opponents hateful, dangerous or bigoted. None of this labeling is productive.
It’s about time we stop going out of our way to try to be offended. We live in a world and on a campus where open discussion is publicly encouraged, where every voice is considered equal, and where men and women are treated equally. As far as sexism goes, we’re doing pretty well.
As the News reported earlier this week, women at Yale hold many leadership positions. Was this supposed to come as a surprise? The vast majority of women quoted in that story didn’t think so — their comments were mostly about leadership in general, not specific to gender.
In The Atlantic this week, Thomas Chatterton Williams painted a portrait of “racism without racists.” The same case can be made about sexism; what Williams calls “the centuries-old residue of systematic … oppression” creates an internalization of the problem. We are taught that women are a historically oppressed class, so we look out for sexism. We want to correct the wrongs of the past, but we can’t — the past has already happened. Frustrated, we try to correct those past wrongs in the present.
It’s a genuine concern, then, that leads to today’s farce. It’s hard to realize that the world has changed. It’s especially hard because, on rare occasions, real sexism is still alive. It’s our job, though, to separate those cases from the general atmosphere of our world. Once we can tell the difference, we can devote our outrage to incidents that really deserve it — real acts of sexism and real acts of rape.
But when we can’t tell the difference, when we let our old expectations govern our current perceptions, we cry sexism and hate when what we really ought to do is have a civil conversation about divergent opinions. Sex Week does not encourage rape; neither does opposing Sex Week. That debate is a good one to hold, but it has nothing to do with rape or sexism.
We don’t have a rape culture at Yale, but we do have a politically correct culture. It’s time to recognize when an argument is really just an argument and not a call to violence. It’s time to let rest old fears. It’s time to give words their meaning back.