Monday, February 25, 2008

Asking for it

The counterargument that always comes to mind when someone claims that Jews are the cause of anti-Semitism is that this is like saying that being female causes rape. By definition the victims of rape are female (or sexually passive), just as by definition anti-Semitism targets Jews or those perceived of as such. But, as the saying goes, don't blame the victim. Heather MacDonald's discussion of the "campus rape industry" brings to mind another "industry"-based argument, and for more than just its implicitly anti-capitalist rhetoric.

MacDonald argues that women can in fact be blamed for rape, and sees it as contradictory that college campuses encourage both sexual freedom and rape prevention. After neatly tearing apart the myth that one in four women is raped, she announces that colleges today involve "A booze-fueled hookup culture of one-night, or sometimes just partial-night, stands." I'd like to see some numbers to back this up. Of course, conservative scare tactics about girls gone wild do not need to be based on anything concrete. All you need to do is declare a hookup culture to exist, and it becomes a problem.

MacDonald, like so many conservatives, imagines sexual freedom to mean jumping on everything that moves, and being too busy having orgies to show up for class. What they do not admit is that for many college students, sexual freedom simply means monogamy without pregnancy. But the real mystery for me is why women allowed in men's rooms and vice versa is supposed to mean an end to any and all intellectual pursuits. I'm not going to ask for a show of hands, but among readers who went on to postgrad studies in serious fields, I'm going to imagine that not all left college or even high school as 'pure' as they arrived. Nor was every author of a Great Book a model of sexual restraint.

After listing the many 'sex workshops' on today's college campuses (including at NYU--I wasn't even aware of these), MacDonald asks,

"Why, exactly, are the schools offering workshops on orgasms and sex toys instead of on Michelangelo’s Campidoglio or Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin? Are students already so saturated with knowledge of Renaissance humanism or the evolution of constitutional democracy, say, that colleges can happily reroute resources to matters readily available on porn websites?"

And, concluding,

"Maybe these young iconoclasts can take up another discredited idea: college is for learning. The adults in charge have gone deaf to the siren call of beauty that for centuries lured people to the classics. But fighting male dominance or catering to the libidinal impulses released in the 1960s are sorry substitutes for the pursuit of knowledge. The campus rape and sex industries are signs of how hollow the university has become."

This is rubbish defined. As an NYU student, to repeat, I didn't even know there were workshops on the orgasm, but have attended countless lectures, both at NYU and as an undergrad at UChicago, on subjects on par with what MacDonald imagines universities have abandoned. That one exists does not mean the other has disappeared, except at colleges so small as to have only one classroom. Until MacDonald, or any other conservative worried for American universities, is able to show the discrepancy between the funding and interest in sex workshops and the funding and interest in scholarly talks, there's really no argument to be made.


Withywindle said...

"By definition the victims of rape are female (or sexually passive)."

Please note the reasonable possibility (given a lack of reliable statistics) that a majority of the Americans raped each year are men in prison. Prison reform has a fair claim to be the most pressing human rights issue in this country.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Thus my addition, "or sexually passive." I wouldn't doubt the possibility that prison reform is a more pressing issue than frat party reform.

David Schraub said...

What I love most about MacDonald's article is the beginning, which has to be the greatest unintentional parody of the "flip-flop" charge I've ever seen: "Feminist oppose sex when women are being raped. But they promote sex when women enjoy it! Which is it, feminists? Or is it all just political to you people!"