Provocations

by Daniel A. Kaufman

No one likes hyperbole more than I do, but it’s reached a point, now, in our public discourse, where it’s making us say and do crazy things, and as we all should know, buying your own bullshit – like getting high on your own supply – is always a bad idea.

Take the word ‘safe’.  Right before the most recent presidential inauguration – yes, that one – a minor shitstorm erupted on my campus, when certain excitable parties discovered that the university choir had accepted an invitation from the White House to sing the national anthem.  Unbeknownst to me I had been put on the “diversity committee” the semester before, so I suddenly found my email inbox flooded with breathless messages, in which faculty worried about the “safety” of Muslim students on campus, should  the choir perform.  Inquiries as to what they could possibly mean by this went unanswered, so I emailed my department head and told him to remove my name from the committee immediately.

This bothered me for several days, so I went to talk with one of my colleagues about it.  She has a “Safe Space” sticker on her door, with a multicolor upside-down triangle on it, so I figured she might be able to help me understand what this is all supposed to be about.  (She tends to be my go-to person, whenever I find myself particularly puzzled by developments in and among the more exotic flora and fauna of the contemporary Left.)

I told her that I found the uses of ‘safe’ I was hearing difficult to make sense of.  If you told me, for example, that students attending school in Darfur, Mogadishu or Aleppo were “unsafe,” it would be perfectly clear to me what you meant, i.e.:  they are at serious risk of being shot, rocketed, beheaded, kidnapped, raped, sold into slavery … that sort of thing.  But given what I know about American campuses and especially American campuses in places like Springfield, Missouri, where I teach – that they are even safer than the rest of the country, which itself is the safest it’s been since the 1960’s –  saying students here are unsafe strikes me as somewhat obscure.  (1) I mean, if a student on a campus in Springfield, MO is unsafe, then what is a student in Sudan or Yemen? Super-duper unsafe?  Uber unsafe?

As it turns out, she got the sticker from a campus gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer organization that provides “training” for faculty which, once you complete it, turns your office into a “safe zone” for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer students.  When I asked her what made other parts of the campus, like the cafeteria or the library or even my office “unsafe” for these students, it became quite clear that her use of ‘safe’ had nothing to do with what it means in common English.  “Safe Spaces” are places where those belonging to “marginalized groups” can be fully “out” in their identities without any chance of disapproval, judgment, or of being subjected to any manner of critical or skeptical conversation, with all of these being defined purely subjectively – that is, in terms of whether the student in question feels that they are being so-subjected.  In short, they are places where one can be oneself, entirely as one conceives oneself, and only ever receive supporting, comforting, approving reactions from the people who man (!) the safe spaces.  Now I don’t deny that to have such a place must be very pleasant indeed, but it does seem somewhat rarefied, insofar as one is not guaranteed such a reception even from ones closest relatives, friends, and confidants, all of whom may offer tough love, despite the fact that one doesn’t like it.

A related fixation on campuses is with “rape culture,” which large numbers of students and faculty seem to think we – by which I mean, the people of the United States – are living in.  Indeed, a survey of the students in one of my classes this semester revealed that virtually all of them think that the culture of the U.S. today is a “rape culture.”  As I had done with my colleague, I told them that I found this hard to understand, given that federal crime statistics demonstrate quite clearly that in the U.S., we currently enjoy the lowest violent crime rates (including rape), since the 1960’s and that American campuses are even safer than the society at large. I explained that unlike them, I could actually remember when it was unsafe for a woman (or anyone for that matter) to walk down 42nd Street, back in the 1970s and 80s, from Times Square to the Port Authority bus terminal, in the middle of the day, because there was nothing but porno theaters, hookers, and roaming junkies openly smoking crack on the sidewalks, for several blocks. But these observations caused no embarrassment.  In fact, they had no effect on my students’ estimation of the situation whatsoever.  They told me that they think we live in a rape culture, regardless of the facts I mentioned, and it’s because what they mean by a ‘rape culture’ isn’t a culture where there is a rape epidemic or even just a high level of sexual crimes against women.  What they mean is a culture with a certain kind of climate in which some women feel a certain kind of unsafety.  My colleague, when I discussed it with her, mentioned things like criminal trials and the awful position women often find themselves in when trying to prosecute rapists; MGTOWs and other associated bro-douchebag types; and Trump … lots of Trump.  I found myself agreeing with most of what she said, in that I think that most of the things she described are pretty terrible.  But I can’t accept the idea that this constitutes a “rape culture.”  I asked her again, if this is a rape culture then what was America at the peak of its violent crime wave?  Or Sudan, where rape is used as a common war tactic?  Or countries where it is perfectly legal to rape your wife?  Are they super-duper rape cultures?  Uber rape cultures?  She seemed to get the point … somewhat.  But she also isn’t going to stop using the terms in question.  The “Safe Space” sticker remains.

In my view – and I told her this – this sort of empirically resistant, hyperbolic characterization is extremely dangerous.  For one thing, it justifies and even encourages us to pursue illiberal and even outright authoritarian policies and for another, it is ripe for abuse and threatens to balkanize us in ways that we all are going to regret.  It also would seem to be psychologically unhealthy, not simply because such talk primes people to perceive situations and people in unrealistically threatening terms, but because it flat-out involves what clinical psychologists refer to as “cognitive distortions,” including filtering, overgeneralization, catastrophizing, emotional reasoning, and more.  (2)  Indeed, a recent article in Psychological Inquiry suggests that this “concept creep” runs the risk of “pathologizing everyday experience and encouraging a sense of virtuous but impotent victimhood.” (3)  Seeing my students worrying about their safety, in the safest place, at the safest time in half a century, it’s hard not to agree.

But how is such hyperbolic speech actually dangerous?  Consider the hyperbolic use of the term ‘war’, as when we speak of our ongoing “War on Terror.”  Now, I think I know what a war is.  WWI and WWII were wars.  The American Civil War was a war.  The Napoleonic Wars were wars.  But is what we’re in now a war? The number of people who died in the 9/11 attacks is less than the number of people who drown each year in swimming pools and bathtubs.  (4)  Aside from the bizarre Iraq invasion, there has been no serious mobilization of forces.  There certainly has been no mobilization of the nation.  There is no rationing of resources.  There has been no draft.  Women aren’t going to work in factories to support the war effort, while their husbands are out fighting on the beaches or in the jungles or wherever.  Occasionally a drone blows up a wedding somewhere or a special ops team goes and shoots up some wretched Islamists in sandals and pajamas, hiding in a hole in some godforsaken place or other.  Once in a blue moon we drop the Biggest Mother Fucking Bomb Ever or whatever the thing we dropped last week is called.  Every now and then there is an attack on a discotheque or market, in which scores of people are injured or killed, but the numbers still don’t add up to anything more than occurs as a result of the unfortunate but perfectly ordinary violent crime that every modern nation still suffers to some degree or other.

In no serious sense, then, are we “at war,” even though we all say that we are and have been, now, for sixteen years.  And doing so has made it possible for the government to justify doing any number of dangerously illiberal things that we otherwise likely would not accept.  Mass, warrantless surveillance; the erosion of habeas corpus; the torture of prisoners; the list goes on and on.  And who knows where it will go, if, God forbid, we still claim to be “at war” with this rabble of atavists ten years from now.

Similar dangers loom with the constant assertions of ‘harm’ and being ‘unsafe’ and of living in a ‘rape culture’.  All connote a state of emergency, and in states of emergency, one takes emergency measures.  Fortunately, thus far, the courts have resisted moving to an emergency footing when being confronted with these sorts of cases, but on college campuses we are seeing the sorts of nightmarish scenarios that we might find ourselves in, in the civil and criminal justice system, if we don’t stop this nonsense soon.  Administrative tribunals in which those accused of (but not criminally charged with) harassment, discrimination, “micro-aggressions,” and even sexual assault are denied access to counsel; are not informed of the charges beforehand; have no right to confront their accuser; and even find that the fundamental burdens of proof have been reversed.

I also told my colleague that given that these uses of ‘unsafe’, ‘harm’, ‘rape culture’ and the like are grounded not in any objective, publicly verifiable facts, but in the subjective feelings and perceptions of the complainants, I don’t see how it will be possible ever to reject or even resist claims that someone or some people have been harmed or harassed or are unsafe.  Many humanities and liberal arts professors are outspokenly and aggressively left-wing in class.  What’s going to happen when right-wing, evangelical students, taking a lesson from their left-wing peers, start to claim that they are “unsafe” in their anthropology or sociology class or that their teacher has created a “hostile environment” or “harassed” them?  Or that they live in a “Christian hating culture”?  One won’t be able to deny their complaint by way of an appeal to facts, because it has already been established that such claims are true regardless of the facts. If we have to accept claims that some students are “unsafe” and in a “rape culture,” even though crime and other relevant statistics say the opposite, then we will have to accept claims that other students are “unsafe” and in a “Christian hating culture,” even though all the evidence would indicate that white Christians are doing just fine in America today.  (The execrable Bill O’Reilly, lately of Fox News, worked up excitable right wingers for years claiming there is a “War on Christmas.”)  Will we start to see “Safe Space” stickers with little crosses or elephants in them, indicating the offices of those professors who have undergone “training” as to how to affirm and validate the identities of right-wing evangelical students?  I don’t see how we could expect not to and the result will be a balkanized campus in which the climate is even more hostile and divisive than it is now.

My advice?  In the words of that great philosophical sage, Bob Newhart, “Stop it! Just stop it!”

Notes

  1. https://www.brennancenter.org/blog/americas-faulty-perception-crime-rates
  2. https://psychcentral.com/lib/15-common-cognitive-distortions/
  3. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1047840X.2016.1082418?journalCode=hpli20
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/water-safety/waterinjuries-factsheet.html

87 Comments »

  1. Dan-K,
    — is that one of the features of the activist consciousness is that it is never inclined to think a problem has been solved or even significantly improved upon and that it is thus important that not everyone within a movement be a hard core activist.

    Exactly.

    I call them the ‘stormy petrels‘ of our society. For what seems like emotional reasons they reject the system, question it, undermine it, provoke dissension or conflict. They are natural contrarians or Querdenkers. They can be found everywhere, provoking trouble. For them the problem is never fixed because fighting problems is the rationale that feeds their ego. They can be a force for good or a force for bad, depending on the quality of their insights and judgement.

    In a business environment they can be especially troublesome and so they tend to be squashed like noxious bugs. But some stormy petrels possess insights and judgement that make them a valuable asset. They see things we don’t and have the emotional energy to provoke useful change.

    In my company we were taught to look for such stormy petrels, with special insights and judgement. We were taught to nurture these people, to protect them, and if possible, to guide them. This nurturing and protection was to be of the sotto voce kind and never official, since that would merely provoke them to go in a contrary direction, as well as set a bad example for everyone else. They were the source of all the important changes in our company.

    Some stormy petrels age out, having come to terms with their emotional drives and they are often the most effective senior management. They then nurture a new generation of stormy petrels, just as they were nurtured. The saddest sight are the older stormy petrels who have never come to terms with their emotional drives. They are condemned to forever being a marginal force.

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  2. I don’t actually know, but I think I might be the first woman to enter the comment conversation (??). If so, hello.

    I looked up “rape culture” to make sure I had a dictionary definition, and this is what I got: “a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse.” Below I’ll make an argument that if we don’t call it “rape culture” per se (noting issues with both the understanding of the term “rape” and the large anthropological issues with the word “culture), we at least need to call it something.

    I agree completely that society is now safer than it’s been in years. One of my favorite summer pastimes is to read books about skeezy, crime-ridden Boston in the 1960s- so many murderers! Love that stuff. Boston just isn’t that way anymore. I live four miles from campus, and I frequently walk home after dark and without fear. Does this mean that we DON’T live in a rape culture? I would argue no. Certainly things are BETTER, and that should not be understated. I believe that “we” are making progress, at least in terms of reported crime, and I’m very grateful for that perceived safety in my urban habitat.

    BUT, I consume media every day where women are objectified, and where sexual assault or harassment is made light of. I attend a college where these things regularly happen. I navigate in a world that is profoundly different than the one my male colleagues inhabit. There’s a Japanese term for continual improvement, “kaizen,” that I’ve been thinking of lately in a variety of contexts, and I think it applies here. Just because we’re doing better doesn’t mean we are doing the best we could- sitting back on our laurels might mean slipping back into a “culture” where rape happens even more frequently.

    I have never been raped (if we define rape as genital penetration- also problematic), but I know women and men who have, and many of them never reported it for various and complex reasons. And in case this looks like hyperbole, I thought I’d throw a few examples of harassment and assault out there, starting with a more recent one and moving backward.

    -My boss left the workforce after becoming pregnant; she had had the life-long goal of becoming a stay-at-home mother. A faculty member approached me shortly thereafter, and unsolicited with absolutely no preamble, asked “so are you planning on getting pregnant and leaving too?” My colleague and I had nothing in common except for our sex, and the faculty member did not know me well enough to even begin to guess at my future plans, whether I was even able to have children, etc.

    -The professor I TAed for called me into his office for a closed-door meeting, and after discussing the plans for the upcoming week, he turned the conversation to my upcoming relocation. He asked if I was moving “to sleep with one guy or to sleep around.” When I demurred, he pressed the point. This was not the first comment that he’d made in this vein. In frustration, I brought this conversation to a faculty mentor, who was a mandated reporter. He took it to the department head, who referred it to the sexual harassment team. I recounted the conversation multiple times to multiple people, on and off recording. I was asked if I might be exaggerating. The Dean had one conversation with the professor in question, and dropped all investigation because the professor “thought of me like a daughter” and “didn’t mean it like that.” Because I was still TAing for him, he was asked to never be in the same room alone with me for the remainder of our time working together. Regardless, he repeatedly entered the room where I taught while I was alone, mentioned that he knew he was “breaking the rules,” and dismissed them with an “oh well.”

    -I was doing fieldwork and staying with a friend of mine. I woke up from a deep sleep to find him on top of me, groping me and trying to turn my head toward him.

    These are just a few of many examples. In none of these cases did I “ask for it.” Nor was I trying to “find a suitor.” Nor was I wearing a short skirt, flirting with my eyes, drunk, or any other possible way to pin the blame on me.

    Possibly the shockiness of the word “rape” is really what’s in question here, but I would argue that we still need something to describe the society that I experience, and that the women in my life experience. “Assault culture?” “Hegemony?”

    One more point, which is not mine originally, but with which I strongly agree: short skirts, looking pretty, looking “tempting,” etc, are all thrown out there as reasons that women get raped. But it’s alright because we can protect ourselves by wearing baggy jeans and t-shirts, and not putting on makeup (except that the statistics and anecdotal evidence strongly refute this- https://www.buzzfeed.com/jtes/sexual-assault-survivors-answer-the-question-what-were-you-w?utm_term=.mi5y4ZrWa#.fsZjzE5wQ). But IF that worked, then wouldn’t it essentially be saying “don’t rape me… but rape her instead”? This is why the issue is not with what women wear- the issue is with the people doing the raping (and this includes all genders of rapists).

    And for my money, THAT is what we call rape culture: the fact that when a women is raped – when an act of sex is performed against the will of the woman in question – the “culture” attempts to absolve the guilty party by focusing on what the woman was doing to deserve it. There was plenty of that rhetoric surrounding the Brock Turner case, in which whatever-we-want-to-call-it culture handed down a six-month sentence, and three months of time served, for witnessed, unquestioned, felony rape.

    Kaizen. I’m arguing that it’s still rape culture, or some equivalent term, because we can do better.

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  3. I don’t think the gender of the analyst makes any difference to determining whether or not “x culture” applies.

    I take it you think we are “at war” too. I could make a case exactly like the one you’ve made here.

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  4. Apologies if anyone was offended by my questioning whether I was the first woman in the conversation- since sexual assault often is a gendered thing, I would suggest that the lived experience of the analyst could actually make a difference. Case in point, if I was having a discussion with only women about shaving, we would probably not talk about our struggle shaving our faces. It’s not a lived experience for us. There’s even a chance we might neglect to even consider the topic (and the cuts! And the little pieces of toilet paper!) if we didn’t have another perspective.

    I actually don’t think we’re at war, by our common definition of the word “war.” This is why I am with you on possibly needing to rethink terminology. There’s something going on, but it’s not “war” as we understand it.

    What would be your recommendation for issues of harassment, assault, and rape that do things like set legal precedent that rape isn’t that serious of a crime, or undermine workplace equality? As I see it, the options are:

    1. Acknowledge that we are improving, and as such, do away with the terminology until either the problem is fixed or it becomes re-aggravated, risking marginalizing those affected (20% of women and 1.5% of men, although likely higher because of discrepancies in reporting statistics, as you said above).
    2. Acknowledge the continual problem, thereby risking the alarm saturation that I think you’re referencing here.
    3. Change the terminology to stop the constant alarm bells, but still acknowledge the problem.
    4. Another fourth option?

    The definitions that I’m seeing for “rape culture” all amount to “victim-blaming culture.” Would this terminology be better?

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  5. Apologies for the scattered questions: if I’m reading you right, the issue is that the problem is getting better and therefore doesn’t merit the alarm bells of the terminology. To clarify- would the terminology be warranted if the problem was getting worse? Or was static? Where is the cutoff line, as far as percentages of the population experiencing rape in their lifetimes? To me, the (likely under-)reported statistic of 20% still seems uncomfortably high.

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  6. Hi Margaret,
    it is lovely to have a woman’s voice in this discussion.

    I think it is undoubtedly true there is a culture of sexual entitlement and sexual harassment, particularly among men who possess power. I have been witness to this far too often to think otherwise. But this is not the same thing as a rape culture.

    Rapes happen and they are a terrible thing, just as murders happen and they are equally terrible. But we don’t have a murder culture and we don’t have a rape culture, because society, in general, abhors this. There is a threshold of prevalent behaviour and prevalent beliefs that must be crossed before we can call it a culture. I argue that we are far below that threshold. The concept creep that Dan-K talks about has led some to lower that threshold. Is that a good thing? Anything that lessens the punishing experiences that women must endure is a good thing. But it must not be at the expense of truth because bending the truth has a world of unwelcome consequences.

    This brings to mind the unutterably bizarre case of Anna Stubbenfield(former professor of Ethics at Rutgers University), found guilty of raping of raping a young man with cerebral palsy. Even more bizarrely, Peter Singer defends her conduct in a recent NY Times article. This takes Hedonist Utilitarianism to a new low.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Margaret,
    The definitions that I’m seeing for “rape culture” all amount to “victim-blaming culture.”

    That seems unduly strong. Are you talking about the essay, the discussion or society in general? Can you be more specific and show us how the victims are being blamed?

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  8. Margaret,
    the issue is that the problem is getting better and therefore doesn’t merit the alarm bells of the terminology.

    Rape is a terrible problem, even at one tenth of the present levels. It must be addressed. But the alarm bells of terminology, as you call them, is the wrong way to deal with it. Overuse and exaggeration desensitises society. Changing phraseology and labels has a satisfying feel but we need something far more substantial than that and something deeper that addresses root causes. I am reminded of my period of work in China where we were subjected to a sustained assault of polemical labels. Yeah, yeah, every one muttered in symbolic obeisance before averting their eyes and getting on with their life.

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  9. In this case – when much of the debate hinges on discrepancies between crime statistics and self reports, and when it is likely difficult for a man to experience this aspect of our culture as a woman does – I do think the gender of the analyst matters. At least there should be some voice from that perspective. This is one of those issues where I think any progress depends on the groups involved ( in this case men and women ) being able to have a dialogue that includes some attempt to see from the others perspective. For that reason alone I am glad mlrowley added her comment.

    I think it is clear we still have a lot of growing up to do when it come male/female relations. I am not myself a big fan of the way the ‘rape culture’ term gets used. I see a lot of men making displays with it’s use to demonstrate their sensitive progressive bonafides, and in my experience they are ironically often the more extroverted, aggressive types. One problem I think is that men are generally rewarded for being assertive or even aggressive when it comes to dating, and conversely introverted guys who may be overly concerned about crossing unwanted lines have a much harder time. When the incentives go in one direction ( more aggression-> more reward ), and when finding the balance between showing desire and being respectful is not easy for everyone one might see how a dynamic emerges where women often have to deal very bad behavior. That said we need better ways for women to express their discomfort with our sexual culture.

    So I disagree with Labnut’s earlier comment that seemed to suggest that men need to lead and be assertive ( because women are more naturally discerning ), and then just let it go quickly if they are rejected. Instead I think we would do better with a more level playing field with both men and women taking an active role in attempts to communicate desire and respect. If good behavior in this respect were more often rewarded I think it would become more often the norm.

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  10. Again, if I wasn’t clear, there is no offense whatsoever. If anything, it’s my essay that runs the risk of offending. What you are arguing is today’s common wisdom.

    My main problem with the terminology is that it implies that we should be on an emergency footing and this is then used to push through what in my view are dangerously illiberal policies. This is obvious in the case of “war” but also should be obvious in the case of “rape culture,” if you look at the way administrative tribunals work on campus. They involve at their heart, a rejection of basic, fundamental principles of criminal and even civil jurisprudence, all of which are designed to protect defendants.

    So, I probably agree with you regarding most, if not all, of the things you are concerned about. But I do not agree that we are in any sort of emergency. The problems you are talking about are the residual traces of what were once far bigger versions of the same problem. I also think, probably, that there is a limit to how completely they can be solved. Hence my other concern about the activist mind and it’s unwillingness ever to declare victory, no matter how far things have progressed.

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  11. The 20% statistic is a survey of reports. It is not a crime statistic. And I don’t think a claim about being in an “x culture” can ever be appropriately grounded in surveys of reports. If you asked people whether they thought we were “at war,” you’d also get an “uncomfortably high” number.

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  12. Hi Margaret, I’m going to start where we disagree…

    ““a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse.””

    I’m not sure I see this going on at all. There are examples (and you have given some) where abuse has occurred, and in some cases they have been dismissed. But is that what is being promoted by society (intentional or not), *or* is that something that happens in spite of societal concern? It seems to me the account you gave at the start, about how safe you are and feel most of the time, indicates that societal attitudes *have had* the effect of *reducing* sexual assault and abuse.

    It seems odd to me to acknowledge positive changes, while using a term that argues the exact opposite is being promoted.

    “Below I’ll make an argument that if we don’t call it “rape culture” per se (noting issues with both the understanding of the term “rape” and the large anthropological issues with the word “culture), we at least need to call it something.”

    Why do we have to label it anything? Why can’t we just say there are continuing problems, point to them, and try to get them fixed with practical solutions? I’ll expand on that later.

    “I consume media every day where women are objectified, and where sexual assault or harassment is made light of.”

    Again, as with Robin, I would like to have some examples. If you say Bond and MASH (the books) I’ll be surprised 🙂

    And I also am interested if you are for censorship (this is what drives the phenomena), or just view this as a symptom (the attitudes have driven the interest and so the product)?

    “THAT is what we call rape culture: the fact that when a women is raped – when an act of sex is performed against the will of the woman in question – the “culture” attempts to absolve the guilty party by focusing on what the woman was doing to deserve it.”

    Is that true of most of the culture? Most people in the culture? I think this is to project behavior by a subset onto society as a whole, rather than look at whether this is what the majority of society really agrees with… and promotes.

    “The definitions that I’m seeing for “rape culture” all amount to “victim-blaming culture.” Would this terminology be better?”

    Now I will return to the earlier point. What do you see coming from labelling? While I might agree victim-blaming is more accurate (and covers a lot more bases), I’m left guessing what this means for society. I agree with Labnut that this is a rather counter-productive strategy, and if anything *will* act to normalize and trivialize abuse. And it gives people a way to feel they are doing something when really they haven’t done anything at all.

    How about, instead of using labels to characterize society’s negative qualities, we adopt labels to promote positive efforts, the laudable moments and successes? You have mentioned one that seems pretty nice. Lets promote a “Kaizen” culture. Of course I see the problem this could quickly become an extension of PC policing, but at least it is about a destination and has some flare.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Seth,
    … earlier comment that seemed to suggest that men need to lead and be assertive

    No, I did not say that.
    This is what I actually said:

    1) Women naturally tend to make themselves attractive and desirable. 2) So that they can attract many suitors and select the best suitor.
    and
    Women try to attract many suitors so that they can select the best available.

    Suitor implies courtship and it is usually a mutual courtship with the man and woman playing complementary roles. My view of courtship gives women the power of selection and that is a powerful role.

    Suitor: Merriam-Webster “3 : one who courts a woman or seeks to marry her

    I did also say that women are the objects of aggressive sexual desire(uncontroversially true) but in the past we erected social practices to protect women. These social practices have been eroded, to the detriment of women.

    Instead I think we would do better with a more level playing field with both men and women taking an active role in attempts to communicate desire and respect.

    I think that has usually been the case with men and women playing complementary roles during courtship. A woman has a variety of ways to signal her interest and availability. Well adjusted and properly socialised men recognise these signals and initiate courtship. It is a mutual dance where each has an appropriate repertoire of dance moves.

    But in most mammalian species the female endeavours to attract many suitors so that they can select the best. It is called sexual selection. We display similar behavioural patterns, though greatly muted or altered by the prevailing culture.

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  14. Hi Labnut,

    “There is a simple indicator of promiscuity and that is the incidence of sexually transmitted infections. If there was zero promiscuity there would be close to zero sexually transmitted infections.”

    I have a terrible habit of wanting to reply with great sarcasm when someone presents me with a study they have clearly not read or understood. Please, in the future, read studies you cite to me.

    The statement above is not true. I can think of at least two explanations for differences in rates of STDs that have nothing to do with changes in general rates of promiscuity. And as it turns out, not only does the full CDC paper (if you read it) explain them, I don’t need to go further than your own quote to find one…

    “STD rates are rising, and many of the country’s systems for preventing STDs have eroded. We must mobilize, rebuild and expand services – or the human and economic burden will continue to grow.”

    Unless you think by “systems for preventing STDs” that person meant some mechanism to stop people being promiscuous, you have clearly missed something important.

    BTW, this is actually a very interesting report and I recommend everyone interested in STDs read this and I thank you for bringing it to my attention.

    But as a clear response to your claim above, and to save you time having to read (thought I recommend it) just look at Figure 12 (Gonorrhoea) and Figure 30 (Syphilis). If what you said was true… oh man what that would say about people before the 1990s. And FYI some of the historic lows were as recent as 2000.

    Anyway, I’ll leave the other reasons for fluctuations in rates for you to find out, but returning to the one I mentioned earlier, an important part of their Foreward reads…

    “The resurgence of syphilis, and particularly congenital syphilis, is not an arbitrary event, but rather a symptom of a deteriorating public health infrastructure and lack of access to health care. It is exposing hidden, fragile populations in need that are not getting the health care and preventive services they deserve.”

    If you are interested in promiscuity, you could have gone to studies on that. Admittedly they are a bit of a mixed bag, and I am not a fan of self-reporting, but (given the limitations) one of the more comprehensive ones in recent years was this (go through the link to the study within the article, otherwise routed to abstract only):

    http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-millennials-sex-attitudes-20150508-story.html

    While the abstract suggests there was a dip (past Gen X) and then recent return to Boomer levels of sexual partners, the full report has more interesting breakdowns. It reports that differences in sexual attitudes and behaviors vary by generation, and in the case of the latest generation, while they are the most openminded with regard to casual sex, they have less sexual partners than Generation Xers and some Boomers. Fig 3 on cohort effects is most pertinent. From their conclusion…

    “Intriguingly, Millennials embraced more permissive attitudes toward non-marital sex but reported fewer sexual partners than GenX’ers born in the 1960s. Overall, this is a time of fascinating changes in the sexual landscape of the United States.”

    If you combine this with the detailed statistics given in the report you cited, you may gain a better impression of what the general trend in promiscuity is for US culture as a whole… as compared with specific sub-populations.

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  15. Hi Labnut,

    Sorry if my quick few word summary of your longer outline was misleading. I think I did get the the gist of it based on your follow-up.

    “Well adjusted and properly socialised men recognise these signals and initiate courtship. It is a mutual dance where each has an appropriate repertoire of dance moves.”

    I think this is a simplification and downplays the very real situation that well adjusted and properly socialised men on the introverted side of the spectrum face. There is also often quite a bit of ambiguity in the signals being sent. The persistent assertive male is often actually less well tuned to the ambiguous or even negative signals yet tends to be rewarded for being persistent. This model creates men who need to be hit on the head with a hammer to get the point. Those who are perhaps a bit overly sensitive to ambiguous signals quickly get crowded out. In my view it is a climate that favors insensitivity.

    Of course I am simplifying as well, but as a well adjusted introvert with extroverted, assertive and persistent siblings and friends I have seen this dynamic play-out often and thought it was relevant to the discussion.

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  16. @ dbholmes “Again, as with Robin, I would like to have some examples.” (these are examples of media where women are objectified, assaulted, or harassed); happy to oblige; consider the reference to Brock Turner, above, to be included.

    -Mad Men, Season 2, Episode 12 (Roger rapes Joan): this is not the only rape scene in this series… I think there are three? Four? It could be seen as representational of the era (like the constant smoking, for which Betty is the sacrificial lamb at the end of the series), but if this is the case, it might possibly undercut labnut’s assertion that “in the past we erected social practices to protect women. These social practices have been eroded, to the detriment of women.” In Mad Men, none of the rapes were ever reported (another representation of the era?).

    -Game of Thrones, Season 5, Episode 6 (Ramsay Bolton rapes Sansa Stark): this was quite a big deal at the time that it aired. It was also fairly shocking in its graphic depiction.

    -Downton Abbey Season 4, Episode 2 (Green rapes Anna): again, super uncomfortable scene.

    Now, the argument could be made (and should be made) that these are all quasi-historical settings where presumably these things “did” “happen.” Nevertheless, there are plenty of episodes created and aired without a rape that are received just fine, and I think all of us would be hard pressed to explain why these rape scenes were included, except perhaps to further a violent plot line, or to get ratings.

    Here’s a list of NFL players who have been accused of sexual assault or battery, and I believe most of them still have jobs: https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/2015-nfl-report (I did some checking on this list and it looks to me to be accurate)

    Here’s a montage from Fox & Friends, the reported favorite morning viewing for our President: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GIyzYU3oF1g (An argument will likely be made here that Gretchen is feeding into it, which she sometimes certainly seems to be, but I believe that this further communicates to viewers that this type of behavior is to be expected. For clarity, I’m not saying to never call a woman beautiful, but there’s a time and a place. The time is on a date. The place is a place where calling her beautiful doesn’t undercut her intellectual authority and make her look like an object)

    Bill O’Reilly was recently let go from Fox amid rampant accusations of prolonged sexual harassment in the workplace, and took with him $25 million for his trouble. He follows Roger Ailes, who left under the same circumstances, but with $40 million. https://www.ft.com/content/3e8850b4-25e4-11e7-a34a-538b4cb30025

    “How about, instead of using labels to characterize society’s negative qualities, we adopt labels to promote positive efforts, the laudable moments and successes?”

    A lovely idea. I think the idea of “rape culture” (more below) is predicated on the entire female struggle for equality, the modern version of which started in the early 20th century. There is a great deal of anxiety about ground being lost, and I think there’s ample reason for this anxiety: the equality that women have was not easily won and is not easily maintained, see my own paltry stories for more detail.

    I agree with what I think Dan K is saying about campuses policing their own business- leave it to the law enforcement. That is why we have them. My alma mater: http://fox17online.com/2014/02/25/msu-under-federal-investigation-accused-of-mishandling-sexual-assault-cases/#axzz2uOY6Cg6e

    Here are the CDC’s numbers, acknowledging all the familiar-to-ethnography problems that always come along with voluntary reporting: https://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/SV-DataSheet-a.pdf

    I know that here I’m addressing only a tiny fraction of a larger point that Dan K was making about alarmism working its way into our vocabulary, and I largely agree with this point. The problem on multiple fronts seems to be the terminology. “Culture” means a certain thing (to most people, although ethnographers hate the word), and we have many micro-cultures in the US to which we refer regularly. Let’s take “urban culture,” for example, which is neither a pervasive US culture nor decidedly “urban”: it is usually a lexical stand-in for Black culture (see the Grammys, where Beyoncé’s album, which was hip-hop, country, and folk-based, won in this category). We would likely not argue that “urban culture” has to be pervasive to be a thing. “Rape” also means a certain thing, and most definitions of rape culture that I’ve found don’t necessarily NEED to include rape. They involve sexual assault, or sexual harassment, and a culture that normalizes these things and mocks women for being frustrated and aggravated by them. If the problem is terminology, sure, I’m on board. If the problem is recognizing that the *thing itself* exists- well, I’ll be happy to go on providing examples.

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  17. I certainly agree that there are a number of serious problems that we have yet to overcome in our treatment of women. I also think, however, that we are rapidly approaching — or perhaps have already passed — the point at which the negative social indicators that characterize men’s lives are worse than those of women: suicide rates; drug abuse; learning disabilities; incarceration rates; presence and performance in university … with regard to the latter, I am literally watching the guys disappear from my classroom, and on average, the girls do far better than the guys.

    I am pretty resistant to every form of apocalypticism, not just this one. I don’t think it helps, but that, in fact, it actually hurts. As mentioned, the language of emergency puts us on an emergency footing, which is dangerous, in a liberal society, but more than that, hyperbole and emergency talk actually increases the chance that the problems that do exist won’t be taken seriously. Anyone who actually remembers when crime rates were through the roof and one literally could not walk safely down the street, in the middle of the day, is not going to take seriously either Trump’s claims that our cities are “burning” or social-justice claims that we are in a “rape culture.” So, beyond the harm it causes in justifying illiberal policies, it also actually makes it less likely that people are going to do something about the problems that remain.

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  18. Indeed, I have argued elsewhere — and I’m hardly the only one — that precisely this sort of hyperbole, ratcheted up to a feverish pitch in the last 5 years or so, directly contributed to Trump’s victory. Video of people at Ivy League schools yelling about how oppressed they are and accusing everyone of everything from racism to promoting rape culture just didn’t fly with the tens of millions of non-college-educated Americans who have watched the industrial base of the country disintegrate out from under them and their families.

    The social justice Left *way* overshot, and it may mean that they won’t see a national electoral victory for several cycles to come. I wonder if they’ll think it was worth it.

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  19. @ Dan K- I absolutely agree that these things are pressing problems, and am thrilled to see departments of masculine studies popping up here and there. The pressures on men in contemporary culture are largely different from those imposed on women, but often just as harmful.

    I’ll sandwich a “but”: we are not even beginning to approach overall equality of men and women in our overarching power structures in this country. We have not had a woman president. The Senate and House continue to be male-dominated. Women make up about 4% of the Fortune 500 CEOs. And on and on- I’m looking forward to the day that I can exist in a workplace without someone making a comment about my presumed gestational capabilities about once a week, or be promoted, rather than left in place because “I’m that age” and “I might want a family.” This being said, I believe strongly that one of the most important questions we can ask in education right now is how we can promote equality for women, on the one hand, and stop failing our young men, on the other.

    I agree with you regarding the Peter-and-the-Wolf problem, although I actually do think many people think that our cities are burning. The profit margins of 24-hour news networks depend on them making it look like the cities are burning, and maybe this is another facet to the hyperbole.

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  20. There is at least one reading that suggests it was mostly about race, if we can even say that it was mostly about anything: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/04/17/racism-motivated-trump-voters-more-than-authoritarianism-or-income-inequality/?utm_term=.df88b9536623

    I also read this week that more jobs have been lost in brick-and-mortar retail *since October* than there are jobs in the entire coal industry. Our industrial base has certainly been eroding, but not more in the last eight years than in the last sixty- I think we should now be worried about other types of job losses, and start enforcing anti-trust laws again, but this is entirely beside the point. 🙂

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  21. Margaret: Funny that you mentioned Game of Thrones. I stopped watching it at the beginning of the second season, because of a scene in which the shithead young boy king sexually tortures some servant girl. I found it repulsive. But I don’t think of that in terms of rape culture. I think of it in terms of the weird way in which what was once exploitation cinema has gone mainstream. I remember being similarly shocked by the Battlestar Galactica reboot, when I watched a sadistic torture scene (nothing to do with sex).

    Re: your other point, at this stage in my life, I have had significantly more female bosses than male ones. Fortune 500 companies are another matter entirely of course, and I suspect that won’t change until women no longer do the bulk of the child rearing in our society.

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  22. DB,
    the unpleasant snide way in which you persistently target me is the reason I will no longer take part in any forum where you are present.

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  23. “social-justice claims that we are in a ‘rape culture’.” It seems the term “rape culture” is a quasi-technical one (“a theoretical construct”) that has entered the mainstream via second-wave feminism (“police culture” was another popular one when I did Sociology 191 ;)).

    Though I have a certain sympathy for Dan’s overall claim that the terminology and some actions might be counterproductive, I think much the same arguments have been used by reactionaries for the last 50 years against numerous other social justice claims.

    I’ll just continue on one narrow front discounting the suggestion that sexual assaults are now less of a problem than other issues. I’ll boringly quote from 2014 report of the Panel on Measuring Rape and Sexual Assault in Bureau of Justice Statistics Household Surveys, which specifically addresses the discrepancies Dan is relying on.

    https://www.nap.edu/catalog/18605/estimating-the-incidence-of-rape-and-sexual-assault

    They note that 65-80% of rapes are not reported, and that official crime statistics are a marked underestimate of the true incidence.
    (In passing, the National Institute of Justice 1996 college survey found the non-report rate was 96%).

    “from 2005 to 2010, the percentage of victimizations that went unreported due to the belief that the police would not or could not help increased from 7% to 20%.”

    “‘[M]ore than half the time New Orleans police receive reports of rape or other sexual assaults against women, officers classify
    the matter as a noncriminal `complaint.’ UCR statistics for New Orleans for rape and attempted rape showed a sharp decrease from 2007 to 2008, in contrast with data from the Interim Louisiana State University Public Hospital, where rape victims seeking treatment increased during that same period.”

    “A recent report found that between 9,000 and 11,300 rape kits3 were stored for many years, untested, by Detroit police”

    “the Baltimore Police Department coded reported rape cases as false or baseless 30 percent of the time, more often than any other city in the country. In addition, the article noted (Fenton, 2010): “[I]n 4 of 10 emergency calls to police involving al
    legations of rape, officers conclude that there is no need for a further review so the case never makes it to detectives”

    These are all newspaper stories. Obviously there is no official statistic that can take this into account, so I will believe what was characterised in that report as the public health oriented studies. I think there is good evidence there for “a pervasive ideology that effectively supports or excuses sexual assault” within the police (yes, I know it is partly financial, laziness etc but you also know the retort to that). I will take it that Labnut thinks men in the military are another such group, and that such things are in fact cultural in nature.

    Even though stranger rapes may have decreased in the US (these are more likely to be reported), this group has never been more than 1/4 of such offences. So I would continue to suggest that the lifetime risk of being sexually assaulted is large enough to justify a cautious attitude in women under 25 years of age. The idea that some kind of public education program might alter these rates – eg via male peer pressure – might seem quixotic, but comes from the pragmatic public health view of the world: “The bystander approach to rape prevention is one such program, which has been endorsed by the Center for Disease Control (2004) and American College Health Association (Carr & Ward, 2006)” [Johnson-Quay 2015].

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  24. I’m not a reactionary, but a classical liberal, and guilt by association is not a particularly persuasive rhetorical strategy.

    I stand by my characterization on the basis of the arguments I’ve made.

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  25. Hi Margaret, I think there are a few points of disagreement between us on this issue. But before I get to them, I agree that we should be better about recognizing that abuse (of all sorts) happen and that victims, especially when facing victimizers in positions of power (including being shielded by companies not wanting bad press/losses), are being let down.

    First issue, as you suggest, I do have an issue with terminology. Your example of urban culture would sort of work for my position. Unlike urban culture, which is trying to define/get at something limited in scope, rape culture is being touted as characterizing the entirety of society. I guess if people were using it in the sense of: hey that judge who let that rapist off (and the rapist) are part of rape culture, that would at least start to be understandable. But what we seem to be discussing here is what label fits society at large. And that’s where things fall apart for me.

    Second, you didn’t quite answer my question of what finding the right label will do. Like I said, victim-blaming sounds more accurate, and even if I totally bought into that term… I don’t see where that moves us anywhere. As a separate issue I feel like the US is obsessed with labelling, putting people and things in boxes as if that has helps us in some way. But I haven’t seen where that has helped more than pointing to the specific thing that one wants addressed, and putting pressure on solving that thing. So I am curious where/how you think that helps.

    Third, on the media issue, barring Fox and Friends (and does that channel represent the whole culture?) I am not quite sure how your other examples indicate a society that is normalizing or trivializing abuse. You seem to be equating having abuse in a story line, or explicitness, with promoting acceptance of it (if I am going with the definition of rape culture).

    I never watched Mad Men, but I assume viewers were not mean to view any abuse as something that is or should be acceptable. I have watched and read Game of Thrones (love them both) and never took Sansa Stark’s rape as something that was supposed to be normal or unimportant, much like all the other horrors seen in that series. I saw some irony in people that got upset with GoT because of that episode, after all the things that happened (to men and women) in all the rest of the seasons prior to that (Dan points to an early scene which seemed much worse). If someone has a problem with explicit violence, ok, don’t watch or read it. But its popularity does not mean people who are not offended by such things (in fiction), think it it is normal or trivial in real life. This is what raised my question of censorship. We can deal with on and off air sexism by real people, but the idea fiction must be curbed to the tastes of some demographic, because certain storylines and explicitness makes those people uncomfortable… again things start to fall apart for me.

    I do agree with you on problems with campus policing (though I’m not even confident of regular police) and the contents of the CDC report.

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  26. In reading the comments responding to this blog I think we can see that there are several more or less classic issues relating to legitimate competing concerns at stake.

    1) The concern that people act in a way that is morally good including, but not limited to, making sure criminal behavior is deterred and/or punished.

    2) The concern that people have freedom of expression (including having scenes in movies or television that may be upsetting to others, and even saying things that can be upsetting to others)

    3) The concern that we not punish the innocent.

    So the use alarmist language tends to support the first concern and but it would seem to undermine the latter 2 policy goals.

    E.g.,
    “Here’s a list of NFL players who have been accused of sexual assault or battery, and I believe most of them still have jobs…”

    Should they lose their jobs over accusations? Should someone automatically lose their job even if they are convicted of a crime? Should they automatically lose their job only if it is a sexual crime? There are good reasons to argue on both sides of these issues.

    These are age old balancing acts for every society. People who think the balance should be for one or these concerns all have great reasons to support them. But I think it is important to at least understand and acknowledge that it is a balance and when you tip to favor one way you often lose out in another way. Using alarmist language like “rape culture” you are in effect saying 1 should be weighted more heavily than 2 or 3.

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  27. Hi dbholmes, thanks- I’ll try to respond in order.

    First, on culture: I also would benefit, I think, from a few examples. Who is actually saying that “rape culture” has to be 100% saturated in our society to be a thing? I’m sure you’re familiar with the #notallmen movement- we all know many people who have no interest in participating in what we are referring to as “rape culture.” Further, I do not think that something has to be culturally saturated – that it has to apply to 100% of the population of a given geographical area – in order to be a pervasive cultural “thing.” I am hard-pressed to think of a single cultural norm that applies to every American. Speaking English? Not always. Of European descent? We know that’s not true. Watching Fox & Friends? Definitely not. Because of this, I suspect we are using “culture” in two different ways, which is part of the reason anthropologists hate it so much! 🙂 It’s such a squirmy word, and so frustrating to pin down.

    Second, on labels: I’m sorry I didn’t answer your question, and I think it’s because I also don’t find much use for labels. My argument isn’t for the label “rape culture,” but rather, for the phenomenon-of-something-going-on, whatever we want to call it. Labels are a issue we see in structuralist anthropology: this is man, this is woman, this is nature, this is culture. Obviously there are things, many things, in between these labeled categories (things that are natural AND cultural, for example, like the gardens at Versailles), and we ignore them by using the labels and imagining that these boundaries are cleanly cut. In an ideal situation, and if I ruled the world, we would eschew labels and proceed without them. “Unfortunately,” the structuralists would say from the past, “labeling and categorizing things is what humans do best.” “Ugh,” I would say back to them, rolling my eyes.

    Third, I’ll refer back to the first point here. I’m challenged to come up with a single item that “represents the whole culture.” I think the fact that we all know the President watches Fox & Friends on the daily, that Bill O’Reilly had top ratings for many years (see the recent Last Week Tonight for a good montage of Bill O’Reilly mocking people calling him sexist), and that so, so many pro athletes are convicted of felonies, many involving sex crimes, with no repercussions… all of these things are building blocks that contribute to our “culture” (again: ugh. That slippery, slippery word).

    I am not arguing for censorship- I have no wish to make that argument, nor (I suspect, like you?) patience for it. But if we look at only these three cases (and there are many, many more, but I’m in the final weeks of my semester and am stretching myself just to partake in these conversations because I enjoy them so much!)- here are three women, at three different time periods, showing up in three different contemporary shows, being raped by three men, none of whom face consequences in the depictions. I have some questions about that, and these are honest questions with no presumed answer, and they’re mostly rhetorical in some way:

    Is this a coincidence?
    Does it, in any way, reflect “culture” (ugh culture) with the understanding that these shows were made by people living in the contemporary world, and that they almost certainly could have churned out these shows without a rape scene?
    What if these three shows were depicting men being raped?
    Are there any contemporary examples of mass-distributed media that depict men being raped?
    (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/11587324/Why-doesnt-society-care-about-male-rape.html)
    Why or why not?
    When a man raped in mass media, is he depicted as “lucky” or is the rape used for comedic effect if the woman is considered “unattractive?”

    Again, I’m not standing up for the terminology, and have endeavored not to stand up for it. I see Dan K’s point, and I think it’s a well-considered one. I’m swayed even more by the hyperbole of “CNN: The Twenty-Four Hour News Network” and all the gimmicks my Facebook uses to try to get my attention. We don’t need anybody screaming any louder over all this mess, is an inelegant way to put it.

    But the phenomenon-of-something-going-on, in all of its boundary-less glory, is real. I’m glad if it’s getting better. I want it to keep getting better. I don’t want it to get worse, and because I’m an academic, I believe that ignoring it will make it worse. Post-structuralist anthropology admits the difficulties in talking about phenomenons-of-something-going-on without labeling them, but certainly we haven’t explored all the possible solutions yet.

    Joe: “Should they lose their jobs over accusations? Should someone automatically lose their job even if they are convicted of a crime? Should they automatically lose their job only if it is a sexual crime? There are good reasons to argue on both sides of these issues.”

    Agreed, and in my mind these are great questions. Keeping in mind that these are highly-paid, extremely high-profile athletes who serve, wittingly or unwittingly, as role models, entertainment figures, and “cultural” (ugh) icons: if I were accused of a felony I would cede my place in my program. If my husband was accused of a felony he would never work in his profession again. If most employed Americans are accused of a felony, they will have to “attach a sheet of explanation” on every job application forever, even if they aren’t convicted. So why the different set of standards for athletes, who are much more in the public eye than many of us?

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  28. Joe,

    “Using alarmist language like “rape culture” you are in effect saying 1 should be weighted more heavily than 2 or 3.”

    I don’t think we can do that kind of logic with those kinds of lists of propositions and statements while expecting to arrive at sound conclusions, and especially concerning an expression like Rape Culture, and knowing that what’s considered alarmist language depends on context and who’s doing the judging and what’s considered situations that we should be alarmed about also differ by context and who’s judging.

    But that’s not to say I don’t find the use of the expression Rape Culture very problematic and inappropriate as a label for the concerns it intends to express.

    Moreover, as far as I can tell the large quantity of alarmist language people are using and currently exposed to in our culture (be it from individuals or groups, but especially from media, governments, and persons in positions of authority) is symptomatic of deeper and broader cultural dysfunctions, and I think that’s where we need to focus our concerns, while being careful not to compound the problem ourselves.

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  29. mlrowley
    “Agreed, and in my mind these are great questions. Keeping in mind that these are highly-paid, extremely high-profile athletes who serve, wittingly or unwittingly, as role models, entertainment figures, and “cultural” (ugh) icons: if I were accused of a felony I would cede my place in my program. If my husband was accused of a felony he would never work in his profession again. If most employed Americans are accused of a felony, they will have to “attach a sheet of explanation” on every job application forever, even if they aren’t convicted. So why the different set of standards for athletes, who are much more in the public eye than many of us?”

    I don’t think that is accurate. Its hard to think back far enough when a president has not been accused of a felony. And that is as about as high profile as it comes. Although it is interesting that for example Bill Clinton was suspended from the practice of law in Arkansas so perhaps we can say the bar we hold for the president is much lower than what we hold for allot of other professions. Martha Stewart seems to be doing fine as well. Perhaps the message in all of this is that the rich and powerful don’t have to worry about consequences as much as everyone else. On the other hand Joe Paterno was accused of not properly reporting a felony so it was decreed that he would deemed to have lost a bunch of football games that he actually won. (I guess the NCAA will rev up the flux capacitor and go back and say he did actually win those games again.)

    To say “most employed Americans” would lose their job if they were “accused” of a felony I think is a pretty far stretch. And athletes aren’t really hired to be in positions of extreme trust like ceos and politicians. Of course if the accusation was by the employer about something having to do with work then yes of course they would most likely be fired. But that is not the case in that example. Moreover people who are hired for their physical abilities (athletes) are least likely to be fired because they commit crimes unrelated to work.

    I have only had limited contact with college campuses lately. But from what little I have seen as well as my experience with younger generation of employees is that their skin is starting to get a bit too thin for a country that prides itself on robust freedoms of expression, association, and religion. But I don’t want to be alarmist the other way either. I am just saying that the balance is tipping too far for my personal liking but I am not yet up in arms about it. I have more questions about how far the scales are tipped on many college campuses than I have opinions.

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  30. Hi Joe,

    “To say “most employed Americans” would lose their job if they were “accused” of a felony I think is a pretty far stretch.”

    I agree, which I why I didn’t say that. I said that “If most employed Americans are accused of a felony, they will have to “attach a sheet of explanation” on every job application forever, even if they aren’t convicted.” I have never applied for a job that didn’t ask “have you ever been accused or convicted of a felony?” although I definitely cede that some only say “convicted.”

    “Perhaps the message in all of this is that the rich and powerful don’t have to worry about consequences as much as everyone else.”

    I think this is right on the money. No pun intended.

    I am a graduate student at a private northeastern university, which maintains rights to ask graduate students to leave at any time, and almost certainly would in the case of a felony. My husband is a K-12 teacher, a profession in which employees face a likelihood of suspension and termination even for “crimes unrelated to work,” for obvious reasons: they are role models and are in close contact with children. Here’s some legal advice for teachers facing a DWI arrest in New York State, the state where my husband first received licensure.

    https://www.nysdwi.com/what-happens-if-youre-an-educator-and-receive-a-dwi/

    Probably nobody in this forum would argue too much if I made the assertion that college athletes are treated differently from other college students, particularly the Big 10 football and basketball players. I have quite a few stories from my days as a TA at Michigan State, and just received an alumni e-mailing yesterday from the president of that institution explaining forthcoming actions by the university in the wake of massive sexual assault accusations levied toward the football team.

    In any case, not to go on too long with this- I really appreciate the discussion, and don’t wish to veer too far off-topic. My point is that, actually, these public figures (and we can throw Bill Clinton in there for perjury as well) get away with a lot more than those without significant financial means. I’m NOT saying that people should automatically lose their jobs if they are convicted of a crime, as you asked above. I AM saying that many people I know *would,* so why not NFL athletes too? Surely there are plenty of hard-working, talented young athletes out there who would like a shot- the NFL is tremendously competitive. So why send the message that you can commit crimes (including those of a sexual nature) and still be a lauded cultural icon, when instead they could be sending the message that high moral and legal standards matter? Other than the small matter of jaw-dropping amounts of money, I mean?

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  31. Hi Margaret, it sounds like we are more in agreement than I thought. Following in same order…

    1) “Who is actually saying that “rape culture” has to be 100% saturated in our society to be a thing?…”

    I’m not sure anything can be 100% so that’s not what I was expecting, or thinking others meant. But Dan’s essay said… “large numbers of students and faculty seem to think we… the people of the United States – are living in [a rape culture]. Indeed, a survey of the students in one of my classes this semester revealed that virtually all of them think that the culture of the U.S. today is a “rape culture.”” … and the definition you gave said… “prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse.”

    Without substantially watering down the meaning of “rape”, “prevailing”, “normalizing” and “trivializing” I don’t see how the term is a useful or accurate umbrella descriptor for the US as it was used by the students and faculty above. I may be reflexively returning to that usage, in my criticism, than what you are arguing for.

    2) (about labels) Agreed.

    3) “I’m challenged to come up with a single item that “represents the whole culture.”

    Sorry, that’s not what I was trying to do, but I see where my comment about Fox &Friends might have made it seem that way. My main interest was what you were referring to when you said …”I consume media every day where women are objectified, and where sexual assault or harassment is made light of.” That read like many shows had characters that were abused and the abuse trivialized. The Fox&Friends clips definitely showed real people being (at best) cavalier about sexual harassment. But the fictional shows did not sound like they treated it lightly. GoT for sure did not, and given that (spoiler alert) Sansa fed Ramsay to his dogs it is odd to say he did not face consequences.

    I guess one of my concerns with such claims is how one goes about disproving or refuting them? Your experience is not the one I have, and the examples largely do not seem to fit the description. What else can I do but criticize them as I have? It seems we are both pressed into a situation trying to show something is true or not about the society/culture in general via specific items.

    Regarding your series of questions, I wasn’t sure what kind of answers you were looking for, and the topic of violence against men (sexual or other) in media is its own can of worms, probably best not opened fully if time/space is limited. Briefly, I do believe the presence of scenes involving rape in media are a coincidence, and not sure what else they could be (the opposite of coincidence would be intentional?).

    I think they are more prevalent because of changing interest in abuse (especially sexual) as a topic, and explicitness of scenes due to changing aesthetic tastes. I take it as a given, and so neither a criticism nor interesting, when it is pointed out that any kind of scene (whatever topic) is *unnecessary*, and that the story could have been told without it. Explicitness is an artistic choice, which makes its point viscerally rather than confining it to the intellectual. Graphic depictions of sexual violence are usually used to make one identify with the victim (or at least empathize with their pain) and to make one feel bad about the abuser. However, that may be less effective for violations of males as that could have the contrary effect of making the character seem weak (and so lower empathy) while making the abuser seem stronger (they have shown they are more powerful). That would account for the relative disparity in showing it.

    However, there are mass media depictions of male rape that are quite uncomfortable. Those with prison settings often have them (like Oz), and most recently (and directly comparable to GoT) is Outlander. That is a popular fantasy series with an extensive rape scene of the lead male character.

    But an interesting comparison is two of the earliest graphic depictions of rape in cinema: “Last Tango in Paris” and “Deliverance”. They came out the same year (a coincidence?) and involve a woman (forced/coerced into anal sex by her lover, arguably rape and certainly sexual humiliation) and a man (brutally raped and sexually humiliated), respectively. Both are classics, but if we want to consider “trivialization”, how each scene has been treated by society since 1972 is telling. The first is still considered shocking and upsetting, the latter is largely treated as a jokey reference for male rape/humiliation right up until today: “squeal like a pig, boy”.

    … And now, I think I’ll retire to contemplate how seriously media concerns itself with the comfort of male viewers, and not trivializing sexual violence against them….

    (The link is to the “top 10 movie crotch shots”, but listening to the female narrator at “WatchMojo”** detail the hits with comic reference makes it all the better. Her sexualization of Daniel Craig just because he is naked, before/while joking about his (as Bond nonetheless) being sexually tortured (#10) is comedy gold I tells ya.)

    ** credited with being “…a leading producer of reference online video content, covering the People, Places and Trends you care about.” Apparently we care about the best of men’s balls getting rekt.

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  32. Joe:

    “Perhaps the message in all of this is that the rich and powerful don’t have to worry about consequences as much as everyone else.”

    I think you’re right on the money (no pun intended).

    “To say “most employed Americans” would lose their job if they were “accused” of a felony I think is a pretty far stretch.”

    I agree, which is why I didn’t say that. I said that “If most employed Americans are accused of a felony, they will have to “attach a sheet of explanation” on every job application forever, even if they aren’t convicted.” I stand by this- I’ve never applied for a job where “have you been accused or convicted [or occasionally just “convicted”] of a felony please attach a sheet of explanation” wasn’t included in the application. I am a PhD student at a private R1 university, and my academic career would not survive my being accused of a felony- in fact, my university does not need a reason, per se, to ask me to leave my program. My husband is a teacher and would not work again in his field if he were to be accused of a felony, especially one sexual in nature. Surely not all careers are this stringent, but the examples I provided in my original comment do hold water.

    dbholmes:

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, we in this forum are not the first to debate what is meant by “rape,” “culture,” and “rape culture.” The definition that pops up when one Googles is the one I provided in my first comment, and it is thus: “a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse.” To be clear, I did not write this definition. This is a definition that is floating around out there in the internet-ether. Wikipedia, that weird amalgam of encyclopedia and pop culture, has a surprisingly nuanced take, and some historical background that takes it right back to when Dan K mentions that women actually “did” have to be afraid to walk alone.

    “Sociology professor Joyce E. Williams traces the origin and first usage of the term “rape culture”[28] to the 1975 documentary film Rape Culture, produced and directed by Margaret Lazarus and Renner Wunderlich for Cambridge Documentary Films. She said that the film “takes credit for first defining the concept.”[28] The film discussed rape of both men and women in the context of a larger cultural normalization of rape.[29][30] The film featured the work of the DC Rape Crisis Center in co-operation with Prisoners Against Rape, Inc.[31] It included interviews with rapists and victims, as well as with prominent anti-rape activists such as feminist philosopher and theologian Mary Daly and author and artist Emily Culpepper. The film explored how mass media and popular culture have perpetuated attitudes towards rape.[30]”

    “given that (spoiler alert) Sansa fed Ramsay to his dogs it is odd to say he did not face consequences.”

    Sorry, should have said any type of *legal* consequences. What Ramsay got was vigilante justice, and that still happens (as a long parenthetical, theoretically this is what we have a justice system for… In the GoT case, the justice system’s brokenness is kind of the point of the show, but in contemporary society, how do we feel about women feeling like they have to take things into their own hands?):
    http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=125846&page=1
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4410488/Woman-rapist-father-killed-rebuilds-life.html
    http://www.newser.com/story/228201/woman-gets-prison-time-for-alleged-rapists-1995-killing.html

    “Your experience is not the one I have”
    Agreed, and this brings me back to my earliest point, actually. My experience is different, just as yours is different from mine; neither better nor worse, but certainly different. I walk through life in a different way, behave and am seen in a different way. I have provided a number of personal anecdotes throughout this conversation, and none has particularly been remarked upon, so I won’t reiterate too much.

    I don’t know many men who get asked regularly at work when they plan to leave the workforce to have a family. I don’t know many men who carry Mace when they walk, because even though crime is certainly lower than it has been in decades, it could still happen and if it did, someone would certainly say “why wasn’t she carrying Mace?” or “why didn’t she know how to protect herself?” or “why was she walking alone at night anyway?” or “was she drunk?” I don’t know many men who carry Mace because one of their friends showed up for a party once, shellshocked, and recounted quietly “I just got raped.” I don’t know men who worry that their search for jobs in their mid-30s as newly-minted PhDs will be thwarted by a committee perception that they will just want paternity leave as soon as they are hired, regardless of what they say about wanting children. I don’t know men who have sat on a hiring committee, as I have, and seen the committee throw out applications of other men in their mid-30s because “they won’t stick around.” I don’t know men who have felt physically threatened as the professor they TA for as a young master’s student grills them about their sex life. Of course, in each case, it could be because I just don’t know these men, and maybe these things do happen. But I cannot stress enough that these things or things like them have happened to me and every woman I know.

    “Your experience is not the one I have, and the examples largely do not seem to fit the description. What else can I do but criticize them as I have? It seems we are both pressed into a situation trying to show something is true or not about the society/culture in general via specific items.”

    I think this is true. I notice these things as I’m watching them, as many of my male friends have told me they do not, and then I immediately dismiss them in my mind because otherwise it would just become overwhelming. I’d ask you to consider that you and I may consume different media, and to consider how many options I would have to provide in order for you to empirically believe my claims (which is not, I think, what it’s about).

    How do we come to grips with these disparate viewpoints? I would suggest conversation, like the important one that is happening here, and careful listening. These conversations *should* include different viewpoints, and a conversation about “rape culture” (ugh culture) *should* include the voices of those affected by this purported phenomenon. Otherwise it becomes a bit like a boardroom full of women in a government full of women discussing personal stories of testicular cancer for the purposes of federal funding.

    *IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER*

    I do not think that men *can’t* have these conversations. They should, and do. I do not think that white people should not talk about racism. They should, and do. But I do think that we all should be aware of who is in on the conversation, because my experience of racism is very different than that of PoC, and it’s to my benefit to hear what they have to say so that I can have a better picture of the whole picture.

    “Regarding your series of questions, I wasn’t sure what kind of answers you were looking for, and the topic of violence against men (sexual or other) in media is its own can of worms, probably best not opened fully if time/space is limited. Briefly, I do believe the presence of scenes involving rape in media are a coincidence, and not sure what else they could be (the opposite of coincidence would be intentional?).”

    They were largely rhetorical questions, so it’s okay. Just food for (mostly my own) thought. It is a giant can of worms.

    I just gave the crotch shot video a cursory viewing, but it looks to me like most of the sexual violence is both received and perpetrated by men, except for the early example where a woman being held at knifepoint kicks the man holding her at knifepoint in the crotch. Again, there’s something going on here, if we are taking these things as representations, no matter how flawed, of “culture” (ugh).

    Thank you for your viewpoints. I really do appreciate them, and they also help me to have a fuller view of things.

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  33. Hi Margaret, I want to make clear I wasn’t trying to say you had created the definition, just saying I was running with the one you gave to make the evaluation. Reading the Wikipedia entry makes me think, “no wonder I have problems with it.” I pretty much loathe second wave feminism, its toxic attitudes and products. That this is one of them… figures.

    “Sorry, should have said any type of *legal* consequences. What Ramsay got was vigilante justice, and that still happens”

    But then this seems like a very different complaint than what you originally set out (“making light of”), and fully in line with my last comment in the thread pointing to Bill the Butcher being–if anything is–an exemplar of US culture (delivered, with no irony, by a nativist wrapped in a US flag). Intriguingly the examples you gave seemed less than connected to Sansa, seeking justice where there is none felt possible from the legal system. We can discuss them if you want, but they seem more problematic than supportive for your case. But yes, it *is* of concern that people are feeling alienated from law enforcement, and especially bad that sexual violence is not handled better.

    “My experience is different, just as yours is different from mine; neither better nor worse, but certainly different. I walk through life in a different way, behave and am seen in a different way. I have provided a number of personal anecdotes throughout this conversation, and none has particularly been remarked upon, so I won’t reiterate too much.”

    Again, to clarify, when I was talking about different experiences I was only referring to what I was seeing in media. What you had said reminded me of what Robin had said earlier, and for that he cited Bond and MASH which to me was pretty bizarre. While I don’t watch MadMen or Downtown Abbey, I also consume a lot of modern media, and have not seen much, if any, mainstream fiction “making light of” abuse. If anything, the trend seems quite the opposite, an obsessive concern. We might agree the presence of such situations, and more graphic depictions, are there… but the takeaway message appears to be anything but normalizing and trivializing.

    Outside of that, I’m certain we experience the world differently, and it reacts to us differently, in part based on our different genders.

    I’m more than a bit hesitant to start discussing anecdotes on this topic, because it tends to be a race to the bottom, and would involve an unusual display of exhibitionism. If you wanted to discuss things over email, that would be better. But in the end, I don’t really know you and am not sure how much I would feel comfortable sharing (or should share because some involve the personal lives of others). And as it is, this is sort of where statistics (though I agree they are problematic) would be better suited.

    If the crime stats are (accurately) trending very low, then a head-to-head battle of anecdotes should put those who feel safe in their every day life (or give accounts of being safe) in the numerical superiority to those who have opposite accounts. And if people are worrying, and not gaining comfort from those stats, either the stats are wrong, or people are unwarranted in their fear (again circling back to Bill the Butcher).

    But one thing I should note, your anecdotes (especially these latest ones) have mingled threats from sexual violence, with sexism. I don’t think conflations help make the case, and if anything involve the very “watering down” I discussed. Worrying about whether a woman employee will get pregnant isn’t even victim-blaming, but a whole other matter (stereotyping, for which men can face their own set of problems).

    As an interesting anecdote, since 2010 I have only worked for women, and for much of that the boss of my boss was a woman. Out of >20 employees in my last department, I think there were at most 6-8 men, and in my direct lab a max of 2 males out of 7-9 employees. They now only have one. I’ve been to conferences with few to no men in leading roles and all awards given to (and IIRC all nominees) women. Science is no longer just old, white men (indeed that now seems to be a “negative” category to be in).

    “consider how many options I would have to provide in order for you to empirically believe my claims”

    Regarding media, in all honesty if you showed that at least three major primetime shows (over different outlets) had regular instances of sexual abuse being depicted as funny, and/or dismissed as something important, that *would* lend support for your claim for me. It would indicate that programmers in general (not a single outlet) felt public tastes were for seeing such abuse taken lightly, and seeking to capitalize on that interest in competition with others.

    “I would suggest conversation, like the important one that is happening here, and careful listening…”

    I agree with your entire last paragraph (before the disclaimer).

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  34. Hi Margaret, an Addendum about the balls…

    “I just gave the crotch shot video a cursory viewing, but it looks to me like most of the sexual violence is both received and perpetrated by men…”

    I should note that I added that clip more as satire on the general concept media was somehow respectful of men’s feelings, than as a specific (or serious) response to anything you said (which I do appreciate).

    That said, I’m seriously trying to wrap my mind around why it being men on men violence would make a difference?

    First, a woman narrator is the one enjoying it, so isn’t she taking part in it and suggesting women should (that is a major 2nd wave feminist position). Second, if mass media regularly contained scenes of women torturing each others genitals for the amusement of the public, it was something we were expected to laugh about, that would *not* be normalizing and trivializing?

    In any case, this was the “best of” not the totality out there. There are plenty of woman kicking guys in the nuts gags…

    There’s a whole Youtube list devoted to it (watch that first instructional vid for sure):

    Here’s a Ghostbusters parody made by women called Ball Busters:

    Oh, and if you want to see how normalized and trivialized it is, there are several videos on Youtube about the hot new game for kids called “Kick or Kiss”. A coin is flipped (or whatever) and the girl either kisses a boy or kicks him in the nuts:

    “Again, there’s something going on here,”

    Yes, yes there is… Ouch! 🙂

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  35. Dan,

    “Mark: Well, we’ll have to disagree then”

    NO, and it’s Marc 🙂 , and we agree too much for me to agree we disagree when I’ve only questioned some aspects of your premises. I’ll try to find the time to elaborate if the subject comes up again.

    “So, in my view, you are either being disingenuous, or you have no idea what’s actually going on, on college campuses.”

    I hope you’re open to more than just those two options!

    Joe,

    “I don’t think we can do that kind of logic with those kinds of lists of propositions and statements while expecting to arrive at sound conclusions”

    I over stated. I think we can do ‘that kind of logic with those kinds of lists of propositions and statements’ but the soundness or reliability of our conclusions doesn’t follow, we also need to consider things like confounds, how reliable our definitions are and how comprehensive our premises.

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