The effect — abhorrent rates of rape and sexual assault in this country — is the regular subject of ire for columnists and random commenters penetrating every dusty corner of cyberspace.
Last week, a columnist for Slate.com — Emily Yoffe, the voice behind the popular advice column “Dear Prudence” — penned a column originally inaptly titled, “The BEST Rape Prevention: Tell College Women to Stop Getting So Wasted.” (It was later changed to “College Women: Stop Getting Drunk,” as if that were less offensive.) The column was published in response to the Internet implosion over the case of 14-year-old Daisy Coleman, whose rape allegations against her attacker in Maryville, Mo., were dismissed even after a video of the encounter surfaced during the original investigations.
Her column narrowly focuses on one particular aspect of rape culture in this country, very noticeably omitting that, as one Atlantic Wire writer mused, “the one common factor in rapes are rapists.”
Yoffe’s general argument — that girls and women can and should consider their surroundings on college campuses in relation to rape by monitoring their alcohol consumption — was well-intended, but quickly turned controversial; she made a pretty self-righteous statement about only having been hung over three times in her life (what?) and, in discussing “campus culture” riddled by binge drinking, she glaringly neglected statistics that prove most rapes are committed by someone the victim knows, which made her point that women, not men, should monitor binge drinking sound a whole lot like victim-blaming.
We face woes and issues in this country that are easy to talk about and analyze — in Cincinnati, we’re particularly adept at obsessing over the streetcar, but you don’t hear so much about the prostitution problem on McMicken Avenue or that the city’s childhood poverty rate is one of the highest in the country.
Talking publicly about rape and sexual assault is not one of those easy issues.
There’s a reason for that, albeit a shallow one.
Particularly for those of us who are in the public eye — journalists, politicians — speaking out on controversial issues brings with it such a grave risk to be deemed insensitive, uncouth, politically incorrect, racist, sexist, stupid. We’ve all said something controversial before, and some of us have taken the backlash as a sign to censor ourselves. And it’s scary that sometimes we do that and accept it as part of life.
Through the lens of Western civilization, we’d never dare assign any responsibility to the battered gang rape victims in Delhi, India, where men cite reasons like “boredom” for propelling them to commit their own atrocities. We don’t critique the victims’ clothing choices or wonder aloud if maybe she just hadn’t gotten drunk, the attack would have been avoided.
No, that’s a rather unique brand of U.S. rape critique, likely grafted from this country’s magnificently bold embrace and breeding of raunch culture, whereby women immortalize torn magazine pages baring under-clothed, blithe models and men idealize women with “porn star” bodies. And somehow, that makes victim-blaming more “OK” here.
There’s both good and bad that comes from our society’s weirdly open obsession of sex — it creates problematic perceptions about female sexuality, and it’s not really helping change the mindset of men who have become so used to objectifying the female body — but it also allows us to talk about it, and talk about it freely and often.
Of course, that obsession with raunch culture in the first place is sometimes what necessitates the hard, unpleasant conversations about preventing rape and sexual assault in this country. Cause and effect.
I don’t agree with Yoffe, and I’m one of thousands who were offended by her words. But there’s something to be said for her audacity to write it in the first place, exploring aloud this intricate, complex problem with violence against women in our society. I’m also uncomfortable with the astonishing amount of scorn and hatred Yoffe is enduring in the aftermath; she’s been demonized as a writer, critical thinker and human being for one column.
The perpetuation of rape culture and the problem with sexual assault in this country is one that’s far too complex to analyze justly in one column. Underneath all the vitriol, we’re figuring this out. Let’s keep arguing and remember that the drawbacks of staying quiet are a lot more dangerous than some Internet scrutiny.
CONTACT HANNAH MCCARTNEY: firstname.lastname@example.org