A number of people have written in and asked me to comment on this incident at Yale where a bunch of douchebag frat boys yelled a bunch of pro-rape stuff around housing where a lot of young women live. It’s obvious to me this is as classic as it gets when you’re talking about the homosocial support for rape. While it’s unlikely that all, or even most, of the frat members who did this enjoy raping women, someone thought it was just a great idea to remind the women of Yale that this threat is ever-present. You don’t have to rape to exploit the fear that rape instills in women.
Now you’re getting the usual excuse-mongering, particularly with this editorial that was run in the student paper. It’s tedious in its predictability—sexist language that paints the frat boys as “boisterous” but claims the women’s center was having “histrionics”, all but saying that boys will be boys. In addition, they pulled the same tricks of expressing surface disapproval of rape promotion while actually performing the work or a rape denialist, pretending that there’s nothing pro-rape in having a bunch of frat boys express overt support for rape to potential victims. It’s funny, because in any other context, the notion that frat boys occasionally rape college girls isn’t taken as preposterous—not when young women are being warned not to go to frat parties, not to drink, not to go anywhere without a bunch of people around, not to explore their sexuality for fear it could get ugly. Just when a bunch of dudes obnoxiously own their privilege to rape without much fear of paying the price for it. Again, most men don’t rape. But a small percentage do, and when they’re exposed to behavior like this, it validates and emboldens them.
This isn’t just about “sensitivity” or “histrionics” or “inappropriateness”. This is about a very ugly reality. This isn’t just about what people say, but what they do. Research shows that about 5-6% of college men have, by their own admission, raped someone. In this survey, 63% of the rapists were repeat offenders. The repeat rapists really enjoyed raping, with an average of 6.3 victims per rapist. Which means that if there were 20 frat boys yelling about rape, statistically speaking, at least one has or will commit rape. And if there was a rapist amongst them, he’s 63% likely to be the kind who rapes a lot of women before he’s stopped. If there was a rapist or two in this group—which is, statistically speaking, quite likely—then he was emboldened by this activity, justified in his belief that rape is something that he enjoys social support for. If he gets caught raping a woman during his college tenure, the fact that he and his fellows made this rape “joke” together might have the effect of increasing the likelihood—already high—that his frat brothers will support him instead of his victims.
And that’s just with the people who played this “joke”. What about their targets? We’re meant to assume that it was just words and that no one is really hurt, and the main problem is that it was inappropriate. And that any young woman who takes an event like this to mean that she’s being threatened with rape is a hysterical baby.
Well, the problem with that is there were almost surely survivors of sexual assault who were put in the way of this, women who know for a fact that rape is more than an abstraction, but a thing that can really happen to you. The percentage of women who say they’ve been raped varies wildly depending on who’s asking and how they ask, but according to RAINN, 14.8% of women suffer from a completed rape in their lifetime. So, if only 6 women heard this, then they’ve added insult to injury to the trauma of rape that at least one, statistically speaking, will suffer in her life. The women targeted by this were mostly freshmen, but that doesn’t make the picture much better, since 44% of rape victims weren’t yet 18 when it happened. That means if only 15 young women heard this, statistically speaking, one of them is already recovering from a rape.
Speaking as a rape survivor myself, I can say that while the emotions that victims can feel are really, truly all over the place, one of the most common reactions is to feel like the rug has been pulled out from under you. The world starts to look like a meaner, darker place. You really see from the inside how this sort of predatory masculinity is widely tolerated in our culture, with only half-hearted law enforcement efforts after the fact to work to check it. When you see men celebrate rape, even if they’re “joking”, that makes you feel very much like they don’t see you as a human being much at all. In a lot of cases, you experienced what amounts to a hate crime against women.
So of course the school is right to discipline these guys. If they marched in support—no matter how “jokingly”—for gay-bashing, lynching, or any other hate crime, I would also support disciplining them. Otherwise, you’re sending the signal to the targeted group that you allow intimidation tactics tell them they’re not welcome on campus.