In November last year, anti-rape activists at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, erupted in outrage when it was announced that libertarian feminist Wendy McElroy had been invited to take part in a debate about sexual violence. McElroy, as it happens, was herself the victim of a rape so violent it left her with permanently impaired vision. But she has since incurred the wrath of those who claim to speak for rape victims by vehemently disputing the existence of what radical feminists call ‘rape culture’. Rape culture, McElroy has written, is ‘a lie [which] has been successful in spite of reality’ and is now being used to justify an illiberal and sinister attack on due process. Whether one agrees with this view or not, it ought to be obvious that transparent debate of this issue is not only legitimate, but vital. McElroy’s activist opponents disagreed. The very expression of opinions like hers, they insisted, constitutes an intolerable threat to student safety.Why would people want to believe such things? What do they get out of it?
This dismal scenario is now being re-run following an invitation extended by Oberlin College Republicans and Libertarians (OCRL) to feminist writer Christina Hoff Sommers. Sommers – a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and author of the 1994 polemic Who Stole Feminism? – also considers ‘rape culture’ to be a dangerous moral panic. And, like McElroy, she believes it must be discredited with the careful marshalling of evidence and argument. Her opponents, on the other hand, while maintaining the truth of their own claims to be self-evident, have preferred to marshal only disgust and invective, the most recent manifestation of which has been an open letter published in the Oberlin Review beneath the maudlin headline ‘A Love Letter To Ourselves’...
Instead, what follows is an example of question begging in its crudest form:
‘By denying rape culture, [Sommers] is creating exactly the cycle of victim/survivor blame, where victims are responsible for the violence that was forced upon them and the subsequent shame that occurs when survivors share their stories, whose existence she denies. This is how rape culture flourishes. By bringing her to a college campus laden with trauma and sexualised violence and full of victims/survivors, OCRL is choosing to reinforce this climate of denial/blame/shame that ultimately has real-life consequences on the wellbeing of people who have experienced sexualised violence.’
Or, in other words, it is dangerous to challenge the existence of rape culture, since to do so inflames rape culture.
Friday, April 24, 2015
Free Speech, "Rape Culture", and Soft Minds
If university students cannot bear to hear an opposing opinion, if hearing one induces the vapors, perhaps they're neither strong enough nor mature enough to attend college.