“But the hatred of women is a source of sexual pleasure for men in its own right. Intercourse appears to be the expression of that contempt in pure form, in the form of a sexed hierarchy; it requires no passion or heart because it is power without invention articulating the arrogance of those who do the f–king. Intercourse is the pure, sterile, formal expression of men’s contempt for women . . .”
— Andrea Dworkin, Intercourse, 1987
“Male power is systemic. Coercive, legitimated, and epistemic, it is the regime.”
— Catharine MacKinnon, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State (1989)
“There are politics in sexual relationships because they occur in the context of a society that assigns power based on gender and other systems of inequality and privilege. . . . [T]he interconnections of systems are reflected in the concept of heteropatriarchy, the dominance associated with a gender binary system that presumes heterosexuality as a social norm. . . .
“As many feminists have pointed out, heterosexuality is organized in such a way that the power men have in society gets carried into relationships and can encourage women’s subservience, sexually and emotionally.”
— Susan M. Shaw and Janet Lee, Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions (fifth edition, 2012)
“Ultimately, there was a disenchantment with the ‘No means no’ framework — by requiring women to say no, we reinforce the idea that sex is something women, by definition, have, which men are trying to get, and of which women must be the moral guardians.”
— Jill Filipovic, “America, pop culture and tackling sexual assault,” Oct. 10, 2015
You probably have to read a lot of feminist theory (and I’ve been immersed in it for months) to understand that feminist rhetoric about a “campus rape epidemic” isn’t actually about rape. There has been no such “epidemic” on America’s university and college campuses, or anywhere else for that matter. Statistics from the Justice Department show a remarkable decline in the incidence of sexual assault in recent decades, which may be explained by a number of factors, including legislation (e.g., sex-offender registries) and technological advances in law enforcement, including DNA testing and widespread video surveillance. Sexual predators are less likely to get away with their crimes, and more likely to be locked away for long sentences when apprehended, preventing them from becoming repeat offenders.
American women are now less at risk of rape than at any time in the past 40 years, and the emergence of a frantic hysteria about “rape culture” on college campuses therefore seems contradictory — unless you understand how feminist theory “problematizes” heterosexuality.
To those who have read my book Sex Trouble, or followed the continuing discussion here, it is unnecessary for me to explain that feminist theory views heterosexuality as practically synonymous with male supremacy. Andrea Dworkin’s 1979 declaration that “the essence of so-called romance . . . is rape embellished with meaningful looks” was perhaps the most vivid expression of this view, but radical theory has been so widely promulgated within academic feminism (particularly within university Women’s Studies programs) that it is taken for granted.
Anyone who has read Catharine MacKinnon’s Toward a Feminist Theory of the State recognizes that what Jill Filipovic is calling into question — “the idea that sex is something women, by definition, have, which men are trying to get” — is simply normal human heterosexual behavior. The dynamics inherent to the testosterone-fueled male sexual drive as a biological force of nature, and the social customs necessary to restraining this unruly force, are not really controversial, except in feminist theory, which emphatically denies that there is any such thing as “human nature.” Because social customs surrounding sexual behavior have traditionally required certain female responsibilities (i.e., placing women in the role of “moral guardians,” as Filipovic says), feminists have sought not merely to destroy these customs (thus to absolve themselves of responsibility, moral or otherwise) but have attacked as “sexist” our basic understanding of normal sexual behavior.
What Filipovic describes as feminist “disenchantment with the ‘No means no’ framework” amounts to an admission that the recent rhetorical fury about “rape culture” is actually an attempt to move the goalposts, in such a way as to criminalize normal male sexual behavior. The confusion created by so-called “affirmative consent” policies (also known as “yes means yes”) is understandable because most people would be shocked senseless if they stopped to consider what it actually means. Under the rules of “affirmative consent,” any attempt by a male to initiate sexual activity with a female, under any circumstances, is presumed to be sexual assault if she says it was. If a man and a woman have any sexual contact whatsoever — a kiss, a hug, anything — and she subsequently claims this contact was “unwanted,” “unwelcome” or “coerced,” then he is presumed guilty of sexual assault.
The ‘Regret Equals Rape’ Standard
We have seen this scenario made explicit by numerous recent lawsuits filed by male students protesting the denial of due-process rights in university “sexual misconduct” cases. An official at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, for example, reportedly told students that “regret equals rape,” which the plaintiff said led to his girlfriend claiming he had raped her. In other cases, notably the “Mattress Girl” episode at Columbia University, it appears that accusations of sexual assault were acts of revenge by women who felt spurned after a sexual hookup did not lead to a romantic relationship. Obviously, the kind of “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” situation outlined in the Nungesser v. Columbiacomplaint should alarm any parent who has a son attending college, or hoping to do so in the future. Any male student could be subjected to this kind of heinous treatment if he has any interaction with a female classmate which she subsequently regrets. Indeed, hysterical claims about a “campus rape epidemic” seem to have inspired some female students to invent sexual assaults by fictitious assailants, as in the infamous Rolling Stone hoax at the University of Virginia. In the UVA case, evidence suggests that the student “Jackie” so desired to be accepted as a member of the sexual assault “survivor” community on campus that she created the character “Haven Monahan” from whole cloth, and made up a tale about a gang rape that never happened, an imaginative tale perhaps inspired by narratives of previous assaults she had heard about through her involvement in anti-rape activism.
Because “normal human interaction is now being redefined as sexual assault,” as Ashe Schow of the Washington Examiner has explained of the current climate on campus, male students “need to stop viewing sex merely as pleasure or as an expression of affection or love, and begin seeing it as a potentially life-ruining moment.” Stripped of due-process rights in Title IX procedures, so that he has no protection against false accusations, any male who is sexually active on campus exposes himself to destruction, as Schow writes:
The situation has gotten so bad that one parents’ group has begun distributing flyers on California campuses warning students of how easy it is to be accused and expelled.
The reality of it is this: There is little trust anymore between the sexes. Women are being told that men, especially men they believe are their friends, are waiting to get them drunk and rape them. This in turn is leading men to believe that women are going to accuse them of sexual assault for just about any reason, even for consensual sexual encounters.
How did we get here? The origins of feminism’s “rape culture” discourse can be traced back to the Women’s Liberation movement of the late 1960s and ’70s. Treatises like “Rape: The All-American Crime” (Susan Griffin, 1971) and Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape (Susan Brownmiller, 1975) depicted rape as an exercise of male power that was inherent in, and necessary to, the system of male supremacy. Brownmiller described rapists as “front-line masculine shock troops, terrorist guerrillas” who served to keep women captive and subjugated under a regime of pervasive sexual fear. This feminist concept of rape as an instrument of political power gained currency within a movement that was, at that time, beginning to call into question the legitimacy of heterosexuality. Radical feminists denied that heterosexual behavior was “natural.” There was no biological “urge” or “instinct” involved in the observable patterns of male and female sexual behavior, feminists insisted. Instead, all of this was “socially constructed” by an oppressive male-dominated system that proponents of feminist gender theory now call heteronormative patriarchy. Viewing sexual behavior in this political context of systemic and collective male power, it is impossible for feminists to view any sexual behavior as private or personal. No man or woman is merely anindividual in feminist theory, but each is viewed as acting within a systemwhere men (as a collective group) exercise power to unjustly oppress women (as a collective group).
The most notorious expression of this view was arguably Andrea Dworkin’s 1987 book Intercourse — which condemned heterosexual intercourse as an expression of male “contempt” for women — but if Dworkin was more flamboyantly outspoken than some of her feminist comrades, she was not an isolated “extremist,” as some have claimed. Women’s Studies professors embraced this ideology.
At a 1980 meeting of the National Women’s Studies Association, Michigan State University Professor Marilyn Frye declared her belief “that most women have to be coerced into heterosexuality.” This idea of heterosexuality as “imposed” on women was incorporated into an all-encompassing theoretical analysis in Heterosexuality: A Feminism & Psychology Reader (edited by Sue Wilkinson and Celia Kitzinger, 1993) which cited Dworkin six times (pp. 76, 77, 78, 128, 208, 231-2) and Frye five times (pp. 20, 23, 175, 199, 211). Similarly, in Loving to Survive: Sexual Terror, Men’s Violence and Women’s Lives (Dee L.R. Graham, 1994) we find Dworkin cited nine times (pp. 87, 93, 116, 123, 162, 2000, 206, 275, 276) and Frye also cited nine times (pp. 100, 109, 110, 112, 113, 115, 209, 214, 243). In her book, Dee Graham, a professor of psychology and women’s studies at the University of Cincinnati, described female heterosexuality as resulting from emotional trauma similar to “Stockholm Syndrome.” In Chapter 4 of Loving to Survive, she argues that “women’s fear of male violence” inspires homophobia and is correlated with “support of heterosexism and male-female roles”:
Men’s violence against women encourages women to bond with “kind” men for protection against other men, setting the stage for men’s one-on-one oppression of women (Brownmiller 1975; Dworkin 1983) and the institutionalization of heterosexuality. This violence is mystified as normal under the guise of the masculine sex role. . . .
If love of men arises from terror brought on by male threat to female survival, women have to defend against any feelings that might challenge our love for men. Is this one of the reasons that most women vehemently deny their own lesbian feelings? . . .
Because of the coercive conditions under which heterosexual love arises, it has a regressive quality for women. . . . However, as a survival strategy, heterosexual love may be safer for women in the short run than any other alternative short of collective action (such as that offered by the feminist movement) by women against male violence and tyranny.
This idea of women’s heterosexuality as a pathology, symptomatic of a mental illness or the result of patriarchal indoctrination, is quite commonly accepted in academic feminism. A student in an “Introduction to Feminist Theory” class declares, “every time I walk out of this class I just become more sexually confused!” The student who reported this explains how, being in a university Gender Studies program, “the more I seem to learn, the more I question how the person I am today seems to be merely product of socialization.”
The ‘I-Didn’t-Think-It-Was-Rape’ Problem
If there is nothing natural about sexual behavior — if biology is irrelevant and “socialization” is all-powerful — then it follows logically that “men’s one-on-one oppression of women” within the “coercive conditions” of heterosexuality, to quote Professor Graham, can be abolished by changing the “gender binary system that presumes heterosexuality as a social norm,” to quote Professors Lee and Shaw. Thus, after a long detour into feminist theory, we return to Jill Filipovic’s “disenchantment with the ‘No means no’ framework.” Filipovic describes how the Internet functioned as a sort of digital “consciousness-raising” session:
The early 2000s birthed the first generation of feminist blogs, and sexual violence was high on the To Blog About list. Blogs quickly developed their own rules of engagement and their own vernacular, with writers adding “trigger warnings” to content about sexual assault, commenters debating the utility of standard sexual-assault prevention tips, and women writing openly, if sometimes pseudonymously, about their own rapes and their I-didn’t-think-it-was-rape rapes and all the other assaults on women’s physical autonomy and right to bodily safety that add up to a bigger thing called “rape culture”.
That most women are raped by someone they know, often in their late teens or early twenties, was not news. Neither was the fact thatmany of them didn’t identify what happened as rape, exactly, since it didn’t fit that stranger-in-the-bushes scenario that so many women are raised to fear. But many women still carried anger and, sometimes, shame or sadness or confusion, and feminist spaces online offered women from many different backgrounds — although disproportionately college-educated and middle- or upper-middle class — the chance to talk about it or, at least, read about it, with a large like-minded audience. That connectivity and the domino “Aha!” moments the conversations sparked — moments of, “Why are we telling young women it’s their responsibility to drink lessto avoid getting raped?” and “Why do we think acquaintance rape issome sort of misunderstanding?” and “Why should sexual consent focus on women assenting or refusing, rather than both parties wanting it?” — in such great numbers across so many of the barriers of race and class and age and location, that was new.
What we see Jill Filipovic developing here are two related ideas:
- Women are never responsible for sexual activity — Indeed, it is “rape culture” to say, for example, that women should be careful not to get so drunk that they might engage in sexual activity they regret when they sober up the next day.
- Men routinely coerce women into having sex when women don’t really want it — This is what Filipovic means in referencing the “I-didn’t-think-it-was-rape” scenario. The guy wants to have sex, the girl acquiesces to his desire, but she later feels that it wasn’t really something she should have agreed to do, and that the guy unfairly pressured her into this.
The problem should be obvious, when you’re talking about enforcing a policy with a bunch of drunk, horny teenagers — the typical “I-didn’t-think-it-was-rape” scenario, involving college freshmen and sophomores. We can acknowledge that this is very bad for the girls involved in these situations, on the one hand, while on the other hand we must acknowledge the near-impossibility of proving rape happened in this kind of “he-said/she-said” case.
The normal way sex happens, where men are the pursuers whose interest initiates the encounter, with women either rejecting or acquiescing to the male’s advances, is unacceptable from the feminist perspective. Any male effort to persuade a woman to engage in sexual activity is offensive and degrading. Sexual activity should never occur except when the female “enthusiastically” solicits such activity. What is most disturbing to me in this is the way feminists have exploited the “campus rape epidemic” (a phony crisis manufactured by the use of Statistical Voodoo and Elastic Definitions) as an excuse to delegitimize the normal pattern of heterosexual behavior. Jill Filipovic writes:
Instead of the push-pull of sexual pressure and rebuff, feminists largely said sex should be entered into mutually, with both parties enthusiastically consenting. The question shouldn’t be whether a woman said no — and if she failed to appropriately lock her theoretical chastity belt, well, too bad — the question should be whether she wanted sex and therefore said yes to it. Anything less isn’t just crappy sex — it’s a violation. . . .
Today’s college freshmen were just entering adolescence when [the 2007 anthology] Yes Means Yes! was published. The college students of the past several years came of age at a time when feminism was increasingly cool, and had unfettered access tofeminist content online that is significantly more radicaland diverse than just about anything on the internet a decade ago. It’s no surprise that those same young women brought a kind of feminist entitlement to their campuses: the simple belief that sex is something they get to choose to enter into, no matter what.
Unfortunately, as many of those same young women are now learning, that view isn’t as widely held off the feminist internet. The idea of sex as a battle, one party cajoling and the other assenting or rejecting, runs deep in the American psyche, to the point where a whole lot of people have a difficult time imagining a different social model, let alone a legal one.
You can read the whole thing. Filipovic’s suggestion of “a different social model” as the basis for a legal standard where men are deemed guilty of rape if a woman later says did not consent “enthusiastically” raises the question of how such a standard could be enforced. Preventing rape is a laudable goal, but that’s not Filipovic’s goal. Her goal is to make men responsible for women’s post-coital regret.
“Dubious claims about ‘rape culture’ are an attempt to create an all-purpose scapegoat for the emotional dark side of promiscuity,” Robert Tracinski wrote in February 2015:
College campuses have long since been taken over by a culture in which casual sex with acquaintances is considered normal and where slightly outré sexual experimentation is strongly encouraged, all of it spurred on by alcohol, which figures prominently in most of these cases. But it’s clear that some young women are not psychologically prepared for this. They have casual relationships and hookups, but then feel regret and emotional trauma when the experience ends up being emotionally unsatisfying or disturbing. Then they are encouraged, by the feminists and “rape culture” activists, to reinterpret the experience as all the fault of an evil man who must have coerced them.
It’s a system which systematically preys on and exploits the emotional vulnerability of young women in order to use them as publicity fodder for an ideological agenda.
Don’t let your sons or daughters become part of this problem — drunken hookups that turn into “he-said/she-said” dramas — but beware of the “ideological agenda” of feminism. They are moving the goalposts, attempting to redefine sexuality and reorganize society, as part of a radical War Against Human Nature.