Here's the REAL Problem with College Rape Culture

Don't worry about them, they're only jokes about raping your daughter. Lighten up. Only uptight administrators and Women's Studies majors are upset about these banners.

In a patriarchal culture, where jokes about female anatomy are explicit and those about sex, rape, and control are often implicit, it's a woman's job to intuit the dangers of both. At least that's what comments regarding Sigma Nu's offensive banners would have us believe. A woman needs to know the difference between "having a good time" and "I'm going to get you drunk and have sex with you whether you want to or not." But no one is going to teach her those things. She's got to put herself in a sexually dangerous situation before she can distinguish between them. And it's her father's job to lead her into the open arms of her predators, apparently.

She also needs to learn "it's always been like this," so she should just sit back and let rape culture continue.

Ahem. Just because a culture has previously accepted bad behavior as part of the mainstream, does not mean a change isn't in order. See "slavery." At any point in history. See "Black Lives Matter." See "suffrage" or "oppression" or "the American Revolution."

When these Old Dominion University students hung banners outside of their home asking for "baby girls" (and their mothers) to be dropped off, they promised a "rowdy and fun" time. As a woman and mother, I was immediately offended and sickened by the implications of those banners. Additionally, I wondered how these men made it through (at least one year of) college at a prestigious institution without one person challenging them about their views of women, rape, and sexism. How is that possible?

As a female faculty member at a small college, I got angry.  These men seem to think that women enjoy being referred to as babies. With all of the news lately about grown men sexually assaulting children, I'd think these fraternity members would've at least considered the notion that sex with babies might not be the best way to persuade members of the opposite sex to enter their abode. I also find it difficult to believe that any notion of feminism has escaped their knowledge. I'm sure some professor has at least mentioned it as part of a writing assignment or multiple choice test. Did those young men really not know what they were implying? I'm sure someone at the University heard or read something from these young men that was equally offensive prior to their ill-worded banner. I've seen and heard plenty of inappropriate language. And I challenge students on it. That's my job and responsibility. Why weren't these men ever corrected beforehand?

Then I really got angry. I teach writing, so when I see words like "fun" and "rowdy" I think That's the best language you could use? Those words are vague at best, insulting and heinous at worst. They are abstract. They mean different things to different people. A rowdy afternoon in my house means that all three of my kids are jumping on the furniture. A rowdy time at the frat house conjures images of drunken young men staggering around on a lawn. My Friday night fun time could be watching a movie as I brush my daughter's hair. While the fun time had by Sigma Nu could be raping freshmen co-eds. Which, because they were so vague, is exactly what their sign implies. I doubt a single person in America read those banners and thought, "Oh, they're not talking about something sexual."

Yeah. Pigs are flying out of my ass. Right. Now.

While I'm being outraged over grammar, 
I'd like to put in a side note here: 
based on the way this banner is written, 
they want to call someone "daddy" 
now that "she" is no longer doing it. 

A group of male Ohio State students hung a banner outside of their home advertising "Daughter Daycare" to fathers dropping off their freshmen. When questioned about it, Alex Sheets, an occupant of the house, said, "My dad, he is a good Christian man, I am a good Christian man, but we just do this for fun. We are not trying to cause any havoc or stir up any trouble, we are just trying to have some fun."

The problem with that statement--beyond the use of the abstract word "fun" which thus implies being a sexual predator is "fun"--is the use of "but." I'm a good man, but... I'm a Christian, but... "But" what? Your goodness and belief in a higher power excuse your heinous behavior? No. The use of the conjunction "but" suggests that your previous clause is about to be at odds with the clause that follows the conjunction. So when Mr. Sheets uses "but" instead of "and" (an addition to the subject, a continuation of the first clause), he's admitting culpability. He knows what he's doing is not right, is vulgar and indecent. He knows the banner was inappropriate. But he did it anyway, in the name of "fun." (See what I did there with the conjunction?)

So all of the Mr. Sheetes of the world think a joke at the expense of a woman's safety is acceptable. Never mind that it makes her uncomfortable or squeamish or look over her shoulder for the predator closing in. She's just overreacting if she wants to turn around and head back home instead of set foot on a college campus that endorses such behavior. Our culture accepts a man's excuse for just having a little "fun" because we still buy into "boys will be boys" and "we need to protect the women." You won't need to protect your daughters, wives, girlfriends, aunts, or sisters if you stop accepting rape culture, if you stop perpetuating it.

If you start accepting responsibility for it. OSU senior Justin Miller, Mr. Sheet's housemate, said, "Our motives were not to insult or look down on anyone, not to be sexist. Our motive is just to have fun, it is college." Perhaps Mr. Miller has forgotten the point of college. College can be "fun." In fact, many of my fondest memories are of the "fun" times I had on my University's campus. "Fun" I had without putting myself in the care of sexual predators. But what college "is" is not "fun." It's serious work. The function of a college is to prepare people for the world, a career, a future. Colleges graduate those who've completed course study and are ready to take on large responsibilities. Judging by the banners outside of their house, these young men are preparing for lives as sexual predators. Or worse, they expect other men to willingly hand over their daughters, as if they're entitled to them. As if women are property to be exchanged and bartered.

Furthermore, Mr. Miller claims he's not a sexist, but I wonder why he didn't open his home to all freshmen. Why just the daughters? Um, that's sexism, Mr. Miller. 

And here's a fact about "motive" and rape: it's a crime that doesn't require a motive. You did it. The reason doesn't matter. There are not degrees of rape, the way there are with things like murder, fraud, and theft. Your motives wouldn't factor into your defense in an American court. No one gives a damn about your motives. Your actions speak for themselves.

I'm glad ODU's president responded with an open message condemning the banners. I hope the offenders are ejected from their fraternity. I hope we learn their names. In fact, I'd like to know the names of anyone who thinks those sorts of messages are appropriate. Perhaps armed with that information, we can work to enlighten, and change the culture. The University needs to see this moment for what it is: an opportunity to engage its student body in a real world issue, to seek solutions from young people for young people. They don't need to just give lip service to it, then quietly let it go away. They need to create a safe environment for everyone, not just the female cohort.

In fact, they could take this opportunity to really empower said cohort, since female college students seem to need a refresher in identifying and disengaging in rape culture. For example, members of an OSU sorority posted a banner making sure "boys" "pull out" (while simultaneously throwing someone named "Megan" under the bus). These sorority sisters and their double-entendres should be held accountable for perpetuating a culture of rape. They are just as culpable as their male counterparts. In my eyes, they are even more culpable. They don't even realize they're victims of a patriarchy that values them for what is between their legs (no matter what's inside of their heads). They've bought into devaluing themselves and other women, including the daughters they may one day conceive. They're blind to the problems this sort of thinking has caused our country--like lower pay for women, little-to-no maternity leave, and accepted sexual harassment in the workplace.

The smiles on these women's faces are frightening. The one young woman bending over while being held by another housemate, and the one across from them laughing heartily, are enough to make me frightened. For me and for them. They have no idea what they're saying, endorsing, or perpetuating. This isn't "girl power" or "empowerment." It's rape culture working at a subconscious level.

The outrage over the sorority signs at OSU quickly devolved into calling these women "sluts." So women are either babies or sluts. This sounds like the same sort of dichotomy that was proposed and refuted in one of my freshman seminar courses twenty years ago. I went to a progressive California University nestled among a very conservative county. I was educated how not to pigeon-hole other women, myself, and even--can you believe it!--men. Using sexually explicit or implicit language to degrade anyone, yourself included, is unacceptable.

This is the real problem with college rape culture: generations of "educated" women who subconsciously perpetuate it, who find sexually explicit jokes "funny," who call other women "whores" and "sluts." These "educated" women will one day infiltrate the corporate world, the professional world, and classrooms. They will allow themselves, other women, and our daughters to be pinched, touched, and prodded by men and boys. They will distinguish between "normal" men and "child molesters," but they won't see that by accepting an aggressive, patriarchal, sexually-charged environment they're endorsing rape.

The young woman sitting next to this young man
is smiling. I wonder how long that smile will last
when she can't afford "the day after drug"
or is harassed when attempting to make an
appointment at Planned Parenthood

They'll shake their heads, perhaps even rail against conservative societies that require women to cover everything but their eyes lest a man be tempted into a sexual act. But they'll think nothing of calling another woman "slutty" if one too many buttons of a blouse is unfastened. They'll be shocked and horrified by random stranger rapes--those that get sensationalized in the media--but when a friend attempts to confide in them that she's been assaulted by a man she went to dinner with, they'll say, "What did you do? What did you wear? What did you say?" They'll deflect attention from the rapists. They'll think it could never happen to them.

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