Thoughts on the UVA Fallout

My Google News feed is never short of unsettling stories, ranging from global headline grabbers to more localized luridness, such the trial of a 30-something Catholic high school tutor who had sex with an underage student. As for national stories, there’s the ongoing strife over Michael Brown and Eric Garner’s deaths; anxiousness over a pending Senate report on the CIA and torture; and the fallout over the recent revelation that Rolling Stone’s (RS) article on a brutal gang rape at the University of Virginia (UVA) fell more than a wee bit short of journalistic standards. That revelation in particular has received a polarized response, with those on the Right showing a characteristic lack of tact when it comes to blasting RS and, by extension, the young woman at UVA, Jackie, who may or may not have authorized the publication to go with her story—a story which, whether one sympathizes with her or not, appears to be riddled with factual inaccuracies and implausible statements. The Left, naturally, is in a tizzy, for in their eyes, those who would attack RS and criticize Julie are now “rape apologists” who want nothing more than to keep the booze-filled, empty headed, and ogreish fraternity culture alive and well on campuses across the country. (As an aside, I should note, from personal observation, that the drinking-and-sex atmosphere of college fraternity life is ubiquitous; I can think of a half-dozen examples of sexual predation and rape being conducted by men who would likely be defined as “hipsters” and posture to everyone that they were “feminists,” “Leftists,” “counter-cultural,” etc. I saw similar behavior in punk/hardcore circles in my teens as well.)

I am skeptical that anything significant can be done on college campuses to solve sexual violence, including harassment and repeated unwanted advances. It is embedded in the culture and there is too much at stake, materially, behaviorally, and ideologically, to change that. It seems to me that more could be done to deter would-be assaulters, but it would come at the cost of a loss of privacy and, indeed, the “right to party.” Harsher penalties could be imposed on fraternities or other venues which host events where underage drinking is present, and if one really wants to put a material dent in environments where sexual violence has a higher chance of occurring, ban campus and campus-related drinking altogether. Moreover, keep dorms clearly divided by sex and don’t allow members of the opposite sex in each other’s rooms. Further, the college’s Internet access should be monitored; pornography—visual or written—should be banned, and those attempting to access it should lose their access privileges. Violators of any of these rules should be punished, and punished severely, with their violations publicized in the school newspaper and/or maintained on the college’s website. No, these measures won’t address the emotional, psychological, and cultural factors that contribute to sexual violence on campus, but they are steps which could plausibly reduce the number of incidents of sexual violence each year without requiring colleges to invest significant resources into the matter.

Now, returning to my aforementioned skepticism, I do not believe that the college-campus Left, which, broadly speaking, is the ideological contingent most concerned with the sexual-violence issue, has either the intellectual or moral capacity to address the matter head-on. There will be no attack on sexual libertinism, hedonism, or the mentality of entitlement and self-assertion which is now ubiquitous among the younger (and even the older) generations. The Left’s entire focus, at least in this matter, is egalitarian. If men will simply see women as “their equals” and have the “proper respect” for them, then this sort of stuff won’t happen, or at least happen a lot less. Ok. Maybe that is true, but what should these men base their respect on? The larger culture, saturated as it is with sexuality, is not conducive to such a narration, and I see no reason, based on the assumptions and principles of the Left, that anyone should follow their counsel. The rhetoric of “women’s rights” is ideological gibberish. That doesn’t mean, of course, that women have no rights or, to put the mater another way, that any man has a “sexual right” to them, but it is not through feminism or other Leftist ideologies that we can assert such truths meaningfully.

Because discussing such things as a male runs certain risks, let me close on a personal note. Of the four women I dated in college, two were subject to sexual violence. I have, over the years, lost count of how many late teens/early-20 something females I knew as coworkers, classmates, friends’ girlfriends, etc. who had undergone similar, traumatic, experiences during either their time in college or in the wider social circles they moved in. I was then, and still remain, disturbed by the indifference shown to their experiences by many of their peers, and even the casualness with which some seemed to accept the violence they suffered. I recall one of these young ladies darkly joking to me once that “being sexually harassed, groped, and stalked is the college girl’s rite of initiation into womanhood.” I was younger then and maybe a bit naïve. All of these stories I heard, whether first- or secondhand, outraged me, but I falsely comforted myself with the belief that things were about to turn a corner, that enough light was being shed on these problems to really reform the detestable environment we expect young women to negotiate every single day. There’s a reason every father my age that I know grows anxious at the prospect of their next child being a daughter; we’re quite cognizant of the kind of world they are expected to enter and participate, and the absence of virtue and restraint among those intoxicated by a perverted idea of masculinity.