Conservatives Blast the “Myth” of Rape Culture

Why do some conservative thinkers insist that anti-rape-culture activism is a fraud? That “rape culture” itself is a myth?

As we’ve seen in these pages, talk about rape culture is often tied to the atmosphere of colleges and universities. And it is understandably an incredibly sensitive subject. Even asking about the nature of rape culture can be seen as truckling to rapists and those who hope to explain rape away.

Full disclosure: I am one of those who thinks that denying this problem is part of the problem. I agree that colleges and universities need actively to confront cultures that encourage sexual assault. For too long, college administrators have winked at the “boys will be boys” attitudes that lie at the heart of rape culture. In these pages, I have asked whether this is worse at conservative Christian colleges. I have wondered if non-denominational Christian schools, “fundamentalist” schools such as Bob Jones University, Patrick Henry College, and Pensacola Christian College have a harder or easier time dealing with these issues. In those cases, I was accused of apologizing for sexual assault myself.

And watch: I won’t be surprised if I am accused of supporting rape culture for writing these words as well.

But I’m going to do it anyway. Because there’s a new question that stumps me. Why do some conservative intellectuals attack the very notion of rape culture? What is “conservative” about dismissing the existence of rape culture on college campuses?

Minding the Campus Blasts Rape-Culture Activism

Minding the Campus Blasts Rape-Culture Activism

This past week, we’ve seen Caroline Kitchens of the American Enterprise Institute denouncing the “hysteria” over rape culture in the pages of Time Magazine. Kitchens asserted that there is no rape culture. There is no culture, that is, in which rape is apologized for and excused. America as a whole loathes rape and despises rapists, Kitchens points out. “Rape culture” only exists in the imaginations of over privileged college students and their tame faculty. Colleges such as Boston University and Wellesley ban pop songs and harmless statues as an overblown response to such rape-culture myths, Kitchens writes.

Kitchens claims the support of the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN). She cites a recent RAINN letter to a White House Task Force. In order to help victims of sexual assault on college campuses, this RAINN letter asserts, administrators should understand that these are the acts of criminal individuals, not the result of a nebulous cultural trend.

It is rape-culture stereotypes themselves that absolve abusers of responsibility, Kitchens argues. “By blaming so-called rape culture,” she concludes, “we implicate all men in a social atrocity, trivialize the experiences of survivors, and deflect blame from the rapists truly responsible for sexual violence.”

Kitchens is not alone. In the pages of the conservative higher-ed watchdog Minding the Campus, KC Johnson has agreed recently that “rape culture” is a “delusion,” the product of overheated leftist imaginations. Johnson, a high-profile historian from Brooklyn College, worries that campuses from Dartmouth to Occidental to Duke suffer from an overabundance of intellectual cowardice and groupthink. “Fawning” media coverage has allowed for “transparently absurd allegations,” Johnson writes. Plus, harping on “rape culture,” Johnson argues, allows “activists to shift the narrative away from uncomfortable questions about due process and false accusations against innocent male students, and toward a cultural critique in which the facts of specific cases can be deemed irrelevant.” Finally, the blunt instrument of “rape-culture” accusations provides activists with “a weapon to advance a particular type of gender-based agenda.”

Such claims are intensely controversial. But before we examine the legitimacy of these arguments, we need to ask a more basic question: Why do conservative intellectuals make them? Now, I understand Johnson is no conservative himself. But it is telling that conservative organizations such as the American Enterprise Institute and Minding the Campus are the ones hosting these anti-rape-culture accusations.

Is there something “conservative” about disputing the existence of rape culture? Is “rape culture” a leftist ploy to assert (more) control over college campuses? To tighten the screws of the academic thought police? Or is something more profound at work? Do these conservative voices dispute the existence of rape culture in order to perpetuate traditional gender roles?

 

Advertisements
Leave a comment

15 Comments

  1. Since I grew up in a somewhat excessively conservative house, I think I can speak to this a little –

    Being conservative(*) with regard to gender relations issues is kinda like being in an abusive relationship. Your perspective is so warped that you can’t see clearly what’s going on, and you don’t fully realize how the way you are being treated dehumanizes you as long as you are in the situation. In a similar way, conservatives see their perspective on gender relations (men are animals and women are gatekeepers) as the only true, fact-based perspective out there, and anything that challenges this is a “delusion.” Like, for example, the idea that “rape culture” nicely describes conservative gender relations and the fact that it dehumanizes both men and women.

    (*) Yes I realize I am painting with a broad brush. I am speaking very generally about what I have observed and experienced.

    Reply
  2. In my opinion “Rape Culture” is nothing but a self-serving fantasy of the Feminists created to promulgate their misandrous ideology among young women. It’s nothing but the natural battle cry of these females who claim that almost any sexual advance by a man is sexual assault and that “yes” only men yes if the female has no second thoughts later.

    Reply
  3. Agellius

     /  March 25, 2014

    I don’t know enough about “rape culture” to even fully define it. But what I find interesting is the way you phrase the question: “Such claims are intensely controversial. But before we examine the legitimacy of these arguments, we need to ask a more basic question: Why do conservative intellectuals make them?”

    Basically you’re saying that it’s “intensely controversial” to question or argue against the concept of rape culture. But why not say that the idea of rape culture itself is controversial? Why is it only the opposition to it that is controversial? A controversy takes two sides.

    “In those cases, I was accused of apologizing for sexual assault myself. And watch: I won’t be surprised if I am accused of supporting rape culture for writing these words as well.”

    I think this is a big part of the problem right here: This walking-on-eggshells feeling that you get when daring to even discuss an issue like this. Conservatives are sick of it (whereas liberals seem to thrive on it). If anyone in particular is doing something that is specifically wrong, call him on it. What I resent is the idea that I’m doing something wrong without any intention of doing anything wrong, or any awareness of specifically what I’m doing wrong — especially when it involves a thing that I would never intentionally do.

    Reply
    • As I understand him, this is exactly the point that motivates Professor Johnson. He is politically fairly liberal, I understand, but driven to apoplexy by the lack of reasonable standards for affixing culpability in cases of sexual assault on college campuses. The most famous case that he wrote about was the Duke lacrosse-team case of 2006. I admit, I did indeed assume the guilt of those players based mainly on my knee-jerk assumptions about elite-college-fraternity stereotypes. I was humbled by the way that case played out. But I continue to believe that we as a society suffer from assumptions about female sexuality that lead to double standards when it comes to judging cases of sexual assault. Victims are asked to produce an impossibly bulletproof case before their claims are taken seriously. Worst of all, IMHO, are cases when college administrations cover up these abuse cases in order to protect the reputations of their schools. And I don’t mind walking on eggshells when the experiences of victims of sexual abuse are involved. I want to avoid adding insult to injury, if at all possible.

      Reply
  4. Agellius

     /  March 25, 2014

    “But I continue to believe that we as a society suffer from assumptions about female sexuality that lead to double standards when it comes to judging cases of sexual assault.”

    What are those assumptions? I really have no idea.

    “Victims are asked to produce an impossibly bulletproof case before their claims are taken seriously.”

    Do you think every claim should automatically be taken seriously then? I’m not saying they shouldn’t, just trying to get a handle on where you’re at on this. .

    Reply
    • I do think our culture has a strong tradition of assuming that women are “temptresses.” Female victims of sexual assault, or even of sexual aggression, are now and have always been subjected to accusations that they somehow invited the “attention.” And, yes, I think every claim–every charge–needs to be taken seriously. I could go even further than that. I think institutions such as churches and colleges and powerful sports franchises need to be aggressive in seeking out situations in which sexual abuse might NOT be taken seriously or investigated properly. Such institutions have a responsibility to care for the least powerful, and that might mean helping victims to come forward. I sympathize with Professor Johnson’s argument that–at times–these days the shoe is simply on the other foot. That is, in some cases, those accused of sexual assault have no way to exonerate themselves. They are assumed to be guilty as soon as they are accused. Of course, that is not a fair, workable system either. Is there an answer? I don’t know.

      Reply
      • Donna

         /  March 26, 2014

        “And, yes, I think every claim–every charge–needs to be taken seriously. I could go even further than that. I think institutions such as churches and colleges and powerful sports franchises need to be aggressive in seeking out situations in which sexual abuse might NOT be taken seriously or investigated properly.” —- I agree.

        “I sympathize with Professor Johnson’s argument that–at times–these days the shoe is simply on the other foot. That is, in some cases, those accused of sexual assault have no way to exonerate themselves. They are assumed to be guilty as soon as they are accused.” —- I agree.

        I don’t think there are any easy answers. Stereotypes regarding female temptresses and elite-college-fraternity-men aren’t helpful, and can hinder an investigation. Investigations take time.

    • jitters

       /  May 12, 2014

      “Do you think every claim should automatically be taken seriously then?”
      I’m wondering why this is even a question. I realize you weren’t necessarily asking this yourself, but it IS asked, and not infrequently. And when it’s asked, most people don’t question the fact that it’s being asked; rather, they answer the question, further legitimizing the question.

      What other criminal act is automatically met with skepticism? If someone is burglarized, do we raise an eyebrow and ask if they’re certain it really happened that way? If someone is mugged, do we first wonder if they were somehow responsible for it? Why are victims of rape the only victims who are treated this way and why is that okay? What if someone treated children who reported being molested like this? They would be viewed as monsters.

      The percentage of false accusations is remarkably low, especially when you factor in how many sexual assaults go under-reported. The fact is, there are far more rapes that are never reported than there are false reports. Far, far more. And the worst part is that rape is probably the worst thing that can happen to a person, outside of murder, and there are some victims who will even debate that; the depression and feeling of complete violation is so overwhelming, I’ve heard women say that they would have preferred to be killed rather than daily endure the pain caused by the assault.

      Reply
      • Actually, many crimes, including assault, battery, and “mugging” are met with a certain skepticism about the amount of responsibility that the victim bears for the crime’s happening in the first place. Even murder gets its share of such things.

        In point of fact, it is sexual assault that is given special consideration because it is the only crime that is taken seriously based solely upon allegation in the absence of forensic evidence.

        Non of that, by the way, is meant to invalidate your last paragraph. The two points are not, however, in opposition.

  5. Donna

     /  March 25, 2014

    I could be totally wrong.

    I think part of the point Caroline Kitchens is trying to make is that as a society, we do not see rape as being normal or right. She states, “Though rape is certainly a serious problem, there’s no evidence that it’s considered a cultural norm.”

    At the very beginning of the article… “The nation’s largest and most influential anti-sexual-violence organization is rejecting the idea that culture — as opposed to the actions of individuals — is responsible for rape.” I think the meaning of culture here is our society as a whole. And “the actions of individuals” refers to the rapists.

    Our society thinks rape is a horrific crime, and rapists are responsible for this crime.

    I think the confusion here is how culture is defined. The problem is that lines can blurred between certain subcultures, and who the individuals are that are seen as being responsible for the rape. Though I think the vast majority of people would agree with the above statement, I’m not certain it takes everything into consideration. It could likely be seen as minimizing or dismissing someone’s personal experience because a victim has been blamed for the rape by whatever subculture they were a part of. Discussion can take place after people understand what the problem is, the above statement does not take every situation into consideration, and it could lead to incorrect conclusions either way.

    Reply
    • Donna

       /  March 26, 2014

      I’m thinking out loud because I’m trying to figure this out, and welcome comments.

      Our society thinks rape is a horrific crime, and rapists are responsible for this crime. At the same time, people can subscribe to cultural stereotypes of the female temptress and elite-college-fraternity-man.

      These stereotypes can make it difficult for a victim to not only come forward, but stereotypes can also hinder an investigation because a safe environment has not been created for the victim to tell the complete story.

      These same cultural stereotypes can also harm the elite-college-fraternity man because, “They are assumed to be guilty as soon as they are accused.”

      Reply
      • And there you have the singular core of what is as close as it gets to “rape culture” in America.

        These same cultural stereotypes can also harm the elite-college-fraternity man because, “They are assumed to be guilty as soon as they are accused.”

        Beyond that it’s an agenda-driven myth. The closest you can come to in reality is that colleges will strive to protect their images and their star athletes, many of whom now have legal teams believe or not, from any claims of wrongdoing, not just rape or even mostly rape.

  6. I am learning more and more about the culture that tends to blame women automatically. In conservative Christianity, women are expected to dress in a way that won’t tempt men. The first questions asked when a rape victim comes forward at one of these conservative Christian colleges & universities usually includes “what were you wearing?” Rape victims have been labeled as “fornicators” and expelled.

    And, those who are trying to explain how the rape culture works, also include men as victims. Statistically, however, women are assaulted in greater numbers than men in our society, unless you look at cohorts which are comprised mostly of men, as in the military. And we all know that the military has failed to protect the troops from sexual assault.

    Reply
  7. Sarah

     /  April 30, 2014

    I can somewhat understand where Kitchens feels that the concept of a “rape culture” excuses rapists of their actions. But to deny that rape cultures can and do exist is ludicrous. We definitely see increased rates of assault in places where rape is not addressed, discussed or punished. Further, the fact of allowing and therefore excouraging rape not only increases the likelihood of rape, it dehumanizes and reviolates victims because they are told, “We are sure it was bad, but we’d really hate to see a boy suffer for what he did to you. It’s ok that you suffer, you’re a girl.” This message can’t help but make women feel less safe, less valuable in society and increase the harm to rape victims.

    Rapists are responsible for their actions. Shouldn’t need to be even discussed – (side note, isn’t it interesteing how women are described and portrayed as less rational but when it is convenient suddenly men are so irrational they can’t possibly be expected to control their emotions and actions. And the hyper rational women (with the script now flipped) are asked to control the emotions and actions of men.) – But rapists exist in a society that either excuses and encourages or holds them accountable, and rape victims exist in a society that either dismisses, accuses and ignores or provides them with appropriate support. Rape culture is a totally separate issue from whether a rapist is responsible for his/her actions and does have a massive impact on the occurance of and harm caused by rape.

    Reply
  8. Sarah,

    The disconnect and contention – IMHO – is due solely to the fact that “rape culture” is a trope with its own definition that truly has no direct bearing on reality. As soon as it’s used as a label it generate a very specific sort of argument.

    As for responsibility – that’s murky. First, we have to decide upon a common context for it, then we have to ascribe it. Even then we have to differentiate between the specific crime and the overall behavior pattern. And then…we have to assign the appropriate level of culpability in the specific WITHOUT excusing the aggressor, who would likely have just picked another victim.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s