Julia Fisher ’13 (“Not a rape culture, just a PC one,” Sept. 22) wants us to know that there is no rape culture at Yale. She’s wrong. And the way I know she’s wrong is that, according to a commonly cited Justice Department statistic, 1 in 4 college women are raped during their years as students. That the numbers are horrifying is not a good enough reason to dismiss them. It is a reason to wake up to the fact that rape is an epidemic, and that it is supported by a culture that condones, hides and minimizes the violence suffered by its victims.
That culture exists here at Yale, too. I don’t understand why that needs to be said, but I will say it again, and I will continue saying it — at parties, in class and into my pillow — until people who claim that rape is a figment of our hysterical imaginations wake the hell up. Rape happens. Victims are silenced. And the complex web of factors that not only allow but encourage those two things to occur in tandem is rape culture.
I don’t know why Fisher is so convinced that rape is not “a common practice” at Yale; she cites no statistics to back up her assertions. But maybe it’s because of underreporting — the DOJ has found that less than 5 percent of incidents of rape and sexual assault are reported to law enforcement officials. That helps explain why Yale’s official numbers on rape are so low. Another explanation is that they lie about them. This June, the Department of Education cited Yale for failing to include some sexual assaults in its crime data as recently as 2004. While Yale has since strengthened its reporting procedures, such changes do nothing to acknowledge the experience of women who, cowed into silence by the perpetrator or fearful of social exclusion, never report their rape to University officials or police.
So I am confident that rape happens. Even Fisher is willing to acknowledge that there are “isolated incidents” of it here at Yale. But the real problem, according to her, is that acknowledging rape’s existence prevents people who perpetuate it with misogynistic views from expressing their opinions freely. She calls for a return to “civil conversation,” to a “reasonable discourse” in which rape apologism is treated like any other “divergent opinion.” I wonder: Should we do the same for other “controversial” views — scientific racism, Holocaust denials, advocacy for sterilization of the mentally ill? We constantly set parameters for our conversations based not necessarily on our own political alignment but on the much broader bounds of our modern ideological climate. While a Yale man in 1800 would likely have felt comfortable offering an erudite defense of American slavery, such an opinion would never be tolerated in the “open discussion” of today’s Yale that Fisher lauds so highly. Don’t believe me? Try speaking out against gay marriage in your LGBT history section. No, really, try it, and tell me when you’re doing it, so I can come watch.
While “political correctness,” and its sometimes laughable iterations, have always been a bugbear of the right, the fact is that every culture has its own taboos, its own dogma, its own concepts that have been deemed unspeakable. That Fisher and others don’t think ideas that promote sexual violence fit into that category is not a proof that rape really isn’t an issue on this campus. Rather, it is a measure of how much ground we have left to cover, and how untrue is Fisher’s statement that “as far as sexism goes, we’re doing pretty well.”
Ideas are not inert intellectual objects that we gather around to discuss in hushed tones; they have teeth and claws, they do real violence to real men and women. One such idea is the notion, perfectly exemplified by Fisher’s piece, that rape is neither common nor serious, that violence against women is merely one among many petty crimes committed by deviants. Sadly, that view is at stark odds with reality. Rape is an endemic symptom of a sexual culture that sees women as passive, resisting objects of male desire and that condones violent means to overcome female resistance. Rape happens, and happens so often, not because the rare man is a sociopath but because all straight men and women enter bedrooms with wildly different sexual strategies and methods of exercising power. That’s rape culture. And even Yale is not exceptional enough to escape it.
I challenge Fisher, and anyone who shares her view, to start a “reasonable discourse” with one of the dozen or so women I know who have been raped or assaulted. Don’t just talk at them; don’t just accuse them of “crying sexism,” or of falling victim to some terrible thing that doesn’t quite qualify as a “real act of rape.” Listen to them. Hear their stories, about pathetically lax disciplinary penalties for their rapists, social consequences for speaking out, and psychological damage for which they receive little support. Then say that it’s perfectly clear there’s no rape culture at Yale. Say it to their faces.
Kate Orazem is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College.