Sex, Rape, and College, Part Two: Now and Then

Now and then, a woman is looking for casual sex, no strings attached.  Now and then, a man gets his heart broken.  And yet, culturally, the double standard of slut shaming and ubermasculinity conspire to make it seem as though men are lean mean sex machines and women are there for the taking and shaming.  How does all of this play out within the current culture of college?  And how is it connected to rape?

Hookup U and the Double Standard

In a recent article for The Atlantic entitled “Boys on the Side,” Hanna Rosin discussed the current “hookup culture” among college educated people in their twenties and early thirties.  According to Ms. Rosin’s research, the culture—one in which women are both sexually aggressive and sexual objects—is largely driven by women:  “…to a surprising degree, it is women—not men—who are perpetuating the culture, especially in school, cannily manipulating it to make space for their success, always keeping their own ends in mind. For college girls these days, an overly serious suitor fills the same role an accidental pregnancy did in the 19th century: a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it get in the way of a promising future.”  (Ms. Rosin expands on this argument in her book The End of Men.  I haven’t read the book, but the title gets on my nerves:  see Joanna Schroeder’s discussion of it.)

But the hookup culture isn’t all about female domination.  It exists smack in the middle of the same-old, same-old:  man as sexual conquerer.  Rosin quotes the research of author Kathleen Bogle, who discovered that “Men tally ‘fuck points’ on their frat-house bulletin boards,” and “Women who sleep with ‘too many’ men are called ‘houserats’ or ‘lax­titutes’ (a term of art denoting women who sleep with several guys on the lacrosse team) or are deemed ‘HFH,’ meaning ‘hot for a hookup.'”  Rosin herself opens her article with a description of men passing around a picture of women giving fellatio to a snowman—a practice called “snowblowing.”  As sexually liberated as young women might be, it’s hard to imagine them naming men “houserats” or passing around pictures of men giving cunnilingus to a snowwoman.

Ah, the more things change—the more they stay the same.

Rape Party, Anyone?

Hooking up, then, is something that current college students—both men and women— enjoy.  Women often see it as a way to defer serious relationships (read:  potential children) as they build careers.  And while some men might get their hearts broken (I’m not aware of any stats on that, though I have received comments that indicate there are men who wouldn’t mind if the ladies took them more seriously), others are living la vida loca at the frats, tallying their masculinity one shamed slut at a time.

In the midst of this sea of sexual contradiction lies the dark twin of the happy-go-lucky hookup:  rape.  In the context of ubermasculinity, rape is a joke, and a party is an excuse.

Some relevant facts, courtesy of the American Association of University Women (AAUW):

  • 3% of college women nationally have experienced rape or attempted rape during the academic year. This means, for example, that a campus with 6,000 coeds will have an average of one rape per day during the school year.
  • 13% of women are stalked during the academic year, and each stalking episode lasts an average of 60 days.
  • 90% of women know the person who sexually assaulted or raped them.
  • 75% of the time, the offender, the victim, or both have been drinking.

All that drinking, at larger universities, can happen in the context of parties that actively sanction rape.  Earlier this year, students at Northeastern University spoke out against Barstool Sports, which hosts parties around the country—the online hype around these parties, including the comments by men who plan to attend, encourages rape.  Remember:  this is the era of the instantly unconscious woman via the “date rape drug,” which can actually be one of several drugs that can easily be slipped into a drink without being detected.  (See the “Date Rape Drugs Fact Sheet” at womenshealth.gov for information about these drugs and how to protect yourself.)

Now and then—or more often—a woman might go to a party looking for an enjoyable hookup and instead find a man who could care less if she enjoys it—and doesn’t consider it a hookup.

I’ve discussed my thoughts on women watching their backs in a previous post— but what about men?  What is the role of the average guy in all of this—you know, the one who enjoys hooking up, would consider a relationship, belongs to a frat or drinks at the parties, might laugh uncomfortably at a sexist joke but would defend his sister against one, and has no intention of ever raping anyone?

Why isn’t anyone talking about that guy?

What’s a Nice Guy to Do?

There is an often-quoted statistic that one in four men on college campuses commit rape.  Although most reputable sources quote this statistic, it appears to be relatively old, and others question its validity—I would argue that, regardless of the exact number, we know rape is a problem of some proportion, as there are freaking rape parties and rape drugs.  For the sake of argument, let’s say the statistic is accurate:  one in four college men is a rapist.

That means that three in four college men aren’t rapists.

And yet.  There are freaking rape parties and rape drugs.

Here comes my mama voice again, and this time I’m bringin it for my boy, who you know I love as much as I love my girl.  Here are the three things I want young men—including my son, when it is time—to know:

1.  Don’t buy the bullshit:  All of culture is one big tease of a fantasy, right?  Advertising and online porn present the female body as an object for your pleasure 24/7, and of course you enjoy it.  But you know that “nice guys” don’t treat women like objects, even though culture presents them as such.  You are being handed objectification as a toy and then told not to play.  Now there’s a recipe for guilt and repression if I ever saw one.  Don’t buy it—any of it.  Don’t buy the idea that women exist solely for your pleasure, and don’t buy the idea that if women’s bodies bring you pleasure you, or they, are somehow wrong or dirty.  Our cultural attitudes about sex and women’s bodies have as much potential to harm you as they do to harm women.  (For example, men who watch so much online porn that they are building their sex lives around it—which is not uncommon these days—can suffer  both physically and emotionally.)

2.  Stand up and be counted:  If you see another man assaulting a woman, stop him.  Call the police.  Get others involved.  As for the rest of it—you know sexism when you see it and hear it, so call it out.  Find your brothers—the other nice guys—and call a spade a spade.  Do more than refuse to tally “fuck points”—tell the dude who is tallying them that he’s a sorry ass.  But don’t tell him alone—he’ll just call you a pussy and punch you in the gut.  That’s what his type has been doing forever.  Instead, create change.  Find the staff or faculty member on campus who is in charge of fraternity life, find professors who are doing this work and will support you.  Gather your brothers who think this shit is bogus, and create new rules of manhood that force this nonsense to stop.  Lead the charge against having Barstool U bring rape parties to your town—women who do that risk being laughed at or scorned, and the parties will probably go on anyway.  But men who do it will be listened to.  Why?  Sexists and rapists don’t respect women; they only respect men.  So show them who they’re dealing with—nice guys who don’t take bullshit.  If you do, you won’t be alone:  there are men everywhere fighting this fight.  Read the posts over at The Good Men Project; read The Macho Paradox by Jackson Katz.

3.  Watch your back and make safe choices:  Sometimes, young men are concerned that they will be falsely accused of rape.  Statistics about such false allegations are hard to find and quantify; I suspect they are insignificant compared to the number of unreported actual rapes.  That doesn’t mean it is impossible, however:  there are lying, cheating, stealing women in this world, just as there are lying, cheating, stealing men.  So take some advice that mamas have been giving their girls for years:  don’t go off in the dark with a stranger.  If you’re worried that the person you’re about to have sex with might accuse you of rape later, then you probably don’t know that person very well.  So slow it on down; that will help you both be sure you’re safe.

I don’t envy young people today—they are coming of age in a time of sexual turbulence marked by licentiousness and repression, the prejudices of the past and the push for the future.  They are standing on a border, a fissure in time which will eventually move us all toward a more equal society—in the meantime, the order of the day must be this, for women and men alike:  think before you act.

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