Last week, my visceral response to fraternities and rape culture, which was pacified temporarily upon my immersion into a graduate school, returned with a vengeance. Granted, it's hard to avoid thinking and getting angry about rape when one works in a law center dedicated solely to responding to it, and when one pursues a graduate degree focused on it. Thus, I shouldn't have been surprised to hear about Yale's latest extracurricular sport: chanting. About rape. Anal rape. Rape of "sluts," campus rape, party rape. All kinds of rape, in fact.
Read about this radical new pastime here: http://www.salon.com/life/violence_against_women/index.html?story=/mwt/broadsheet/2010/10/15/yale_fraternity_pledges_chant_about_rape
Now, victim advocates and campus residents are calling for a reaction that goes beyond wrist-slapping (or, as I imagine it, high-fiving). But as with most women’s issues and particularly women’s issues pertaining to “sex” (is rape sex?), the backlash to this feminist response is as strong as the response itself. Protectors of these perpetrators (because, let’s face it, most of them are probably rapists) argue that adjudication by Yale’s administration would be going “overboard,” and claim that the bros in this fraternity were merely practicing their freedom of speech by inciting threats to women's health and safety.
In the words of the Dude, “this isn’t a first amendment thing.”
First of all, Yale is a private institution, and as such, it has the freedom to react accordingly to any actions that intimidate and target half their resident population.
Yes, Yale has a choice.
Of course, most institutions turn blind and/or victim-blaming eyes to victims who come forward about completed rape, let alone demonstrations calling for it.
And you know, I have a feeling that the whole "free speech" defense of these disgusting displays of violence would go out the window if the frat had showed up at a Hillel Club shouting "Kill the Jews" or headed to the Black Student Union screaming for a lynching. Like racial and cultural minorities, across which women span, this half of the world's population has historically been not only oppressed, but violently so, at the hands of a dominant, unforgiving group: men. Not all or most men, to be sure. But men, nonetheless.
Our culture needs to reach a consensus about violence against women: it's historic, it's present, and it's detrimental to us all. Rape is already rampant on college campuses in 2010. Remember: 1 in 4 women will be victims of sexual assault in college, and only 1 in 10 these victims will report it. To ignore this battle cry to perpetuate sexual assault is to comply with and condone a future where women are not valued, are not heard.
We have witnessed an outpouring of support toward suicidal teens and university students in LGBT communities around the country this month. These voices have risen to the top of the media, commanded the attention of the president, and are changing how we respond to verbal assaults upon lesbian and gay youth. Now we need to ask ourselves why we have never found the same relief- the same rallying- for women, who cross all lines of race, class, sexuality and gender identity.
It would be great to tell all women, "it gets better." But does it?