The takedown of Emily Yoffe's Slate column -- which trotted out the groundbreaking argument that maybe if all those dum-dum college women stopped getting so wasted on Smirnoff Ices they wouldn't "end up getting raped" -- by the feminist blogosphere was swift.
The column, reprinted in Sunday's Free Press, takes a dangerous position, blaming the victim for essentially "allowing" something bad to happen to her.
Yoffe stresses that perpetrators are the ones responsible for rape, and "they should be brought to justice." But the qualifier rang hollow.
She might as well have written: "I'm not blaming the victim, but... "
Drinking responsibly and being aware of one's surroundings are important lessons, to be sure, but they are genderless ones. And they don't, on their own, prevent rape.
The best rape prevention isn't telling women to stop drinking (or making them feel stupid and guilty). The best prevention is to tell men to stop raping.
Yoffe's piece recalled a recent column by the Globe and Mail's Margaret Wente, headlined Rape on campus... is it an epidemic? Wente suggests the reaction to the frosh chants in September was overblown, that assaults on campus don't happen that often, and that rape culture is an Internet meme invented by reactionary feminists on Tumblr.
Wente writes the notion of "rape culture" is fuelled by an industry around it. "Every campus has at least one sexual-assault centre, as well as a hefty apparatus to deal with violence, harassment, discrimination and all the rest. And every administration has a reputation to protect. Which means that any incident, however slight and overblown, invariably results in official promises of investigations, task forces, sensitivity education and new, improved policies." (At least ONE sexual-assault centre? Well, then.)
Both pieces prove we're still not getting it. Anti-rape efforts continue to target women instead of rapists -- the leading cause of rape, so I'm told. High-profile cases, such as Steubenville and Maryville, continue to be mishandled by media. The victim's choices are still made the focus, with TV pundits asking, "Well, what did she expect?" (I think it a very reasonable expectation to go out and even -- gasp! -- have some drinks and not to get raped). Commenters on news stories liken sexual assault to stolen property (sorry, I can't leave my vagina at home). People wring their hands over the "promising futures" of rapists who happen to be star football players.
It's dangerous to write off columns like Yoffe's and Wente's as provocative link-bait because they're real opinions -- popular opinions.
An overwhelming number of people, particularly young people, don't understand what rape, and rape culture, is.
American feminist Jessica Valenti writes in The Nation, "In Steubenville, a student who had learned that drunk driving was wrong -- he took car keys away from an inebriated friend -- looked on while an unconscious girl was penetrated because 'it wasn't violent... I thought (rape) was forcing yourself on someone.' "
It might seem like an oversimplification to tell boys not to rape girls and that rape is bad -- but it's not, considering the scenario above. And when you consider, as she said in Slate, that Yoffe would tell her hypothetical son "that it's in his self-interest not to be the drunken frat boy who finds himself accused of raping a drunken classmate." As opposed to, you know, telling him not to be the boy that takes advantage of an intoxicated classmate.
We need to talk with our kids about sex and sexuality, instead of leaving that job to ill-informed classmates, or worse, porn. We need to teach kids that only yes means yes and no, in all of its forms, means no. "I'm not sure" means no. "I don't know" means no. And silence absolutely means no, especially when consent can't possibly be given.
We need to teach little boys to respect little girls. We need to stop making girls feel ashamed or responsible when someone commits a crime against them.
We have a lot of work to do. As Valenti writes, "when we make victims' choices the focus of rape prevention, we make the world a safer place for rapists."
When columnists refer to rape culture in quotes, the world is a safer place for rapists. When we place the responsibility for preventing rape on girls and women, we make the world a safer place for rapists. When we accept rape as an inevitability and treat men like animals with no control over themselves (which is also offensive), we make the world a safer place for rapists.
And when we refuse to accept the existence of rape culture and apologize for rapists, we continue to make the world a dangerous place for women.