CARLISLE: Rape without ‘rapists’

I’ll admit it: When I began reading Julia Fisher’s column in Thursday’s News, I was expecting to be offended. Her first sentence is bombastic, and her first paragraph is not only sarcastic, but misleading. She seemed to have entirely missed an essential point of the article to which she was responding: namely, that a culture of silence is a “rape culture,” insofar as rape is a violence which flees the light of public view, and thrives in the dark. Instead, she labels as a “farce” the idea that Yale has a culture conducive to rape based on the fact that it is not “routine to hear someone talking about raping or being raped by someone last weekend.”

I just can’t get behind this line of thinking, as the last thing many rape victims want to do is discuss it in the dining hall, but more importantly, because many rapes on campus are committed by people who in all likelihood do not realize the extent of their transgressions.

But Fisher raises a question worth exploring when she attempts to differentiate racism from racists, and sexism from sexists. While both are harmful, there is a difference between conscious and unconscious hostility. We must make clear the difference between identifying sexism wherever it is found, and insisting that unconscious, internalized sexism irrevocably brands its practitioners as sexists. There is a world of difference between someone who consciously endorses a system of oppression, and someone who unconsciously supports it; there are committed sexists at Yale, but they are vastly outnumbered by those who unthinkingly commit sexist acts.

This is not just arguing over semantics. Fisher writes: “People are afraid to express opinions because they might be called sexist or even, as we have seen recently, supportive of rape.” This is understandable, and, more importantly, makes the conversation our community needs impossible.

Fisher says that “it’s time to give words their meaning back,” but the word “rapist” means different things to different speakers. Its use has value, because those who perpetrate acts of rape have committed a rape, and do bear responsibility; choosing to use a different term can feel like absolving them of responsibility for these facts. Others hear “rapist” and think of a man with a knife in a dark alley, know that they or their friends will never be that, and use this disparity to dismiss the conversation about campus rape as ridiculous.

Fisher’s assertion that Yale does not have a “rape culture” rests on this latter understanding. It is true that there are more rapes than there are “rapists” at Yale, in the way the term is imagined. But this does not mean that Yale does not have a culture that condones rape; it means the opposite.

I do not want to be misunderstood. Each and every act of rape is an act of incredible violence. Every act of rape has a victim, and every act of rape has a perpetrator. These perpetrators do real damage to their victims, and are accountable for the scars they leave. Moreover, they need to face serious consequences. But, as painful as it is to acknowledge, not all of them are the malicious rapists of our mothers’ nightmares. If we insist otherwise, Yale’s rape culture will never disappear.

Imagine someone at a party. He is drunk, but functional, and has spent the night hooking up with a girl on the dance floor. At the end of the night, they stumble up to his room. She is too drunk to give consent; they have sex. She wakes up feeling like she has been raped, and if she feels like she has been, she has been. But her partner wakes up thinking only that he got drunk and got laid; he does not understand, although he should, that when someone is too drunk to give consent, sex cannot be consensual, and that is the definition of rape. He was never a conscious “supporter of rape,” but he has come to see those on campus actively fighting rape as his enemies. He becomes at best apathetic, and at worst hostile, toward their efforts.

This makes the “civil conversation” Fisher calls for, and which I believe we need, impossible. Much of the failure of this conversation is due to the way the conversation itself has been discussed, on these pages and generally across campus. I do not blame any particular group on campus for the failures in the conversation thus far. I am simply trying to change the terms of this discussion, and to help people better understand each other.

Fisher writes: “As far as sexism goes, we’re doing pretty well.” Yet how many serious incidents, from the DKE chanting to the “Freshman Scouting Report” of two years ago, have occurred even during our brief time here, and how many rapes have gone unreported, undiscussed and unpunished?

Fisher writes that the debate over sex week “has nothing to do with rape or sexism,” but those communities in which sex is least discussed, like my home state of Mississippi, are also those in which the oppressive structures of deeply ingrained sexism remain most unshaken, and where sexual violence is so commonplace that people become callused to them, and forget that marital rape can exist and that lesbians have as much of a right to go to prom as anyone.

I believe that Fisher is wrong, but I do not believe she is a “supporter of rape.” I imagine that she hates rape no less than I do, but sees the world differently from me, and I believe that some of those differences unintentionally lend support a dangerous culture on this campus. But if she is willing to refrain from dismissing my respectful but urgent disagreement as “political correctness,” I would be happy to buy her a cup of coffee and continue this conversation as allies.

Cecily Carlisle is a sophomore in Branford College.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    *when someone is too drunk to give consent, sex cannot be consensual*

    Alcohol impairs judgment. So do hormones. The combination makes the DENIAL OF CONSENT unlikely.

    Rationality evaporates in such situations and impulsivity reigns. That’s how Nature perpetuates the species, whether you care to acknowledge this age-old empirical fact in our era of recreational sex or not.

    *”Nature has one goal and one goal only: to cover the planet with as much protoplasm as it can as fast as it can”* Thornton Wilder

    Nature is not interested in human definitions like “rape” and “safe sex.” Nature is THE Primordial Force of Forces.

  • ldffly

    With the attitudes expressed in this article, no male with any hope of leaving Yale without a criminal record should even consider extra marital sex. This article denies objectivity to the claim of rape.

    I believe that I have been vindicated in my belief that these discussions have been poisoned by the culture of deconstruction that took over the university during the 80s. My response: life, like rape, is not a narrative in someone’s mind, it is real.

    • Standards

      This doesn’t even make any sense.

      Rape is sex without consent.

      If you wake up thinking you had sex without your consent, then you probably didn’t give consent.

      I don’t know why you’re bringing deconstructionism into this, or suggesting that rape isn’t real, or (laughably) that this view of rape leaves no man with the safe possibility of extra marital sex (and I should see no reason the “marital” matters, because the author makes it clear rape can occur within the confines of marriage).

      So I have no idea what you’re talking about.

  • ldffly

    Rape is real, meaning it exists beyond whatever might be in someone’s mind. It is objective. It can be verified or denied by outside observers. To say that if “She wakes up feeling like she has been raped, and if she feels like she has been, she has been” takes the objectivity out of a crime and turns it into a personal narrative.

    • Branford73

      Exactly. Ms. Carlisle admits that “the word ‘rapist’ means different things to different speakers” but then contradicts that shortly after by saying, “[e]ach and every act of rape is an act of incredible violence.” And then she presents a hypothetical scenario which appears not to be violent at all. These discussions about “rape culture” have repeatedly demonstrated that in this area the terms “rape” and “violence” have been expanded by some so much as to be nearly unrecognizable to the general population. For some, particularly those concerned with law, “rape” is an intentional crime. For some it is a negligent act resulting from miscommunication.

      How intoxicated is “too drunk to consent”? Don’t give me the obvious examples of severely slurred speech and difficulty standing. Tell me, and more importantly, tell your male classmates, where the line really is. Is it a different line for criminal rape than for negligent rape? (Yes, I know the latter two words form an oxymoron.)

  • River_Tam

    oh man.

    This is getting ridiculous. Rapists are the people who commit the act of rape. You can’t say there’s rape without rapists, just as there isn’t murder without murderers. Rape is a crime – a felony. A crime requires a criminal.

    If 1 in 4 women is raped at Yale, and 1 in 4 men at Yale is gay (and they presumably do not rape women), that means that if each rapist rapes only one woman, then 1 in 3 heterosexual men at Yale has committed 1 rape each. But no – that can’t be right — let’s say that there are only a few bad apples, and that every rapist has actually raped 4 separate women. Now only 1 in 12 heterosexual men has raped a woman at Yale.

    Gee, how should we separate Yalies into 12 parts? Let’s say they’re all in Branford College. Now, every straight man in Branford College has raped 4 women. This seems even more unlikely.

    Are you starting to see how ridiculous this is? The claim that 1 in 4 women has been raped at Yale indicates that either every third heterosexual man is a rapist, that we have a residential college’s worth of serial rapists, or some combination of the two.

    But no – you protest – the stat applies only nationally – it’s lower at Yale and higher at stupider schools that don’t have our reputation for intellectual refinement (cf: Naked Parties, Porn Screenings, Giant Penises at The Game). Now for every school you claim has a less than 1 in 4 rape rate for women, you’re claiming a school with a higher rate – a school where either every other guy is a rapist or there are hundreds of serial rapists running around on the loose.

    As a woman, the claim (unsupported by actual statistical studies) that 1 in 4 women is raped during college strikes me as nothing more than sexual slander against heterosexual men.

    • CrazyBus

      I think she means rapists as perceived by most people, i.e. the dark man jumping of the alley. “Rape without violent characters leaping from shadows.”

      • ShaveTheWhales

        Hey hey hey. What dark man? Don’t be racist, gurl.

      • River_Tam

        Still doesn’t change the fact that you’re claiming that 1 in 3 heterosexual men at Yale is a rapist – regardless of what kind of rapist he is.

        • lolzipan

          A guy can’t be a serial rapist? (not like I’m expecting all guys to be)

    • ldffly

      Thank you for this. I suggested as much, without doing the detailed arithmetic, in another post to another article in this series.

      Again, the pernicious critique of objectivity, initiated on the Yale campus in the late 1970s within the English department, pervades discussion of nearly everything. There is no objective set of facts, just personal narratives. Apply ideas like this to the heinous crime of rape, and you come dangerously close to making the act of sex itself an act of rape, therefore a crime.

  • bcrosby

    Thank you, Cecily. This is right on.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “Oh man” ?

    Isn’t this gender-biased expression of exasperation part of the sexist trip does on MALES? “Man” = “stupidity” ?

    • River_Tam

      Paul,

      I don’t know what it is, but I think you’re getting genuinely funny.

      Love,
      River

      • The Anti-Yale

        Well, thanks.

        I see that I omitted a word. It should have read “the sexist trip SOCIETY does on MALES”

  • sonofmory

    i suppose my concern is this – if i girl is too drunk to give consent to a guy she has been hooking up with all night, why is a guy never too drunk to know if consent has been given. we do not have a rape culture on campus, we have a culture of people who do not know how to socialize with the opposite sex unless mass amounts of alcohol are consumed. take away the alcohol and you take away this rape culture that is being described. the women are just as much to blame as the men and no, i do not mean anyone was asking for it.

  • HighStreet2010

    “…he does not understand, although he should, that when someone is too drunk to give consent, sex cannot be consensual, and that is the definition of rape. He was never a conscious “supporter of rape,” but he has come to see those on campus actively fighting rape as his enemies. He becomes at best apathetic, and at worst hostile, toward their efforts.”

    Why does he become hostile towards their efforts? There’s some logic missing here. Surely you can be a fan of drunken sex and still be anti-rape. Or are you just trying to imply that people who are apathetic to this whole “fight the rape culture” thing probably had non-consensual sex in the past?

  • River_Tam

    > *She wakes up feeling like she has been raped, and if she feels like she has been, she has been.*

    No. This is not the definition of rape. Words – and criminal accusations specifically – have meaning.

    And even by that definition, three quarters of women in the “1 in 4″ statistic, *didn’t think they’d been raped*. So now you’re including every woman who’s ever felt like she’s been raped plus, IN ADDITION TO THAT, 300% more women that someone else feels have been raped.

  • PublicWeil

    As an alumnus, it is a shame to see this back-and-forth on an issue that should unite the entire Yale community of current and former students. Sexual violence is wrong, and coercive sexual behavior is wrong–even if it is not violent. Defining “rape” as in the most extreme terms that can be applied to it is no better than using the term loosely for ambiguous situations: the former calls to mind pre-Women’s Liberation bigotry that assumed any woman engaging in extra-marital sex, consensual or not, is “ruined,” and the latter confuses the debate somewhat by failing to clearly define terms, and leaves a door open for doubters to dismiss legitimate instances coercive sex as mere “he-said, she-said” whining. I don’t pretend to know what the campus is like now, but as a relatively recent graduate I would not be surprised if it is still as I remember it: a place where unwanted sexual attention was difficult for women to deflect, whether at the proverbial Toad’s or at parties; where those women who did stand up for themselves were branded as bitches; and those who didn’t were sluts. The presence of a culture of male entitlement to women’s bodies was real, as I imagine it still is; as was the impunity of those men and the intimidation of the women they victimized. The fundamental necessity in the face of this vein of corruption must be personal responsibility, both to avoid these situations in the first place and in shouldering the burden of unseating this corrupt incumbent order. But we all owe it to ourselves to acknowledge the problem and make it clear that we refuse to tolerate people who violate the bodies and the trust of their fellow students. -DW, BK07

    • SY

      Just read you. Your comment is almost mine from a woman’s perspective. Except for slave/prostitute cultures, in the present time and most others, male entitlement to women’s bodies cannot be without women giving that entitlement to men. It is a male sexual fantasy, but only a fantasy unless women make it real. And the fantasy is much better than the reality. I think women started giving sexual entitlement to men about 20 years ago. I don’t understand why it happened, except as one of many unintended consequences of the excesses of feminization. The Anita Hill hearing in 1991 was the highpoint in the sex culture war. Most men don’t have a clear sexual role, and with 57% of college grads women, 14 out of those 100 women won’t have an equal or higher status man in their lives–they won’t marry or stay married. China and India kill baby girls before or at birth; our society “kills” men later. Our major institutions (political, business, family, church and school) are a patriarchy that feel like a matriarchy, and something is about to give.

  • SY

    1. “Imagine someone at a party. He is drunk, but functional, and has spent the night hooking up with a girl on the dance floor. At the end of the night, they stumble up to his room. She is too drunk to give consent; they have sex. She wakes up feeling like she has been raped. . . .”

    Cecily, you have never been that woman; I have never been that man. We don’t want to be them. I would walk that woman to her room, and I know men who have done that. The male instinct to protect and take care of women is stronger than sexual desire. The two usually go together. Some drunk men mess up the balance. What I don’t see in your article is any responsibility for women? Can you ever bring yourself to tell women not to be that woman, and men not to be that man? Your only solution is more discussion because you are discussing the wrong culture. What you describe is not a rape culture. You describe a cheap sex culture.

    2. “Yet how many serious incidents, from the DKE chanting to the “Freshman Scouting Report” of two years ago, have occurred even during our brief time here, and how many rapes have gone unreported, undiscussed and unpunished?”

    How many of each? We can handle the truth. You left everyone hanging. After you have coffee with Julia, let us know.