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Common Sense and Double Standards in 'Campus Rape Myth'

In my first week at university I received a copy of the Little Blue Book. This was little, blue, and full of practical advice about sex and “relationships.” I remember in particular a page with pictures of various contraceptive devices: a condom, a diaphragm, a packet of pills — and a fifty pence piece. Great fun was had speculating on how the “50 pence method” might work. “If that’s all he spends on a night out, just say no,” was one theory. In fact, the fifty pence piece was there “for scale.”

The Little Blue Book also gave the number of the Rape Crisis Center (not part of the university) and an internal contact for counseling. I never used this because I was never raped; nor were any of my friends, at least not while at university. Plenty of us had “bad sex,” often under the influence of alcohol. This wasn’t rape; it was what we English call “beer goggles.”

According to Heather MacDonald, whose article “The Campus Rape Myth” caused a bit of a stir, the “campus rape industry” says my friends and I were wrong. A quarter of us were raped, whether we knew it or not.

This is nonsense. One in four can’t be right. Heather MacDonald’s article sensibly draws a distinction between bad sex — sex that is later regretted — and rape. MacDonald rightly criticizes the “campus rape industry” for asking leading questions and encouraging a sense of victimhood:

The campus rape movement highlights the current condition of radical feminism, from its self-indulgent bathos to its embrace of ever more vulnerable female victimhood.

Equally sensibly, MacDonald questions whether the “tens of millions of dollars of federal funding” have been wisely spent on a counseling facility that is rarely used:

It’s a lonely job, working the phones at a college rape crisis center. Day after day, you wait for the casualties to show up from the alleged campus rape epidemic — but no one calls.

In arguing that casual sex is not the same as rape, and that the “campus rape crisis” is “overblown,” MacDonald presents herself as the dispassionate voice of common sense. But she doesn’t leave it at that. She launches into a tirade against what she calls the “booze-fueled hookup culture of one-night, or sometimes just partial-night, stands.” And here the voice of common sense becomes passionate — not for her a jokey term like “beer goggles”:

[B]oorish, sluttish behavior that gets cruder each year … [C]ollege girls drink themselves into near or actual oblivion before and during parties … the night can include a meaningless sexual encounter with a guy whom the girl may not even know. … To the extent that they’re remembered at all, these are the couplings that are occasionally transformed into “rape” — though far less often than the campus rape industry wishes.

Just a second — I thought rape wasn’t a problem on campus. Now MacDonald is saying that it is. Well, not rape as such, but “rape,” that strange non-rape that takes place in quotation marks, and in the imagination of campus “rape industrialists.”

[I]f the rape industrialists are so sure that foreseeable and seemingly cooperative drunken sex amounts to rape, there are some obvious steps that they could take to prevent it. Above all, they could persuade girls not to put themselves into situations whose likely outcome is intercourse. Specifically: don’t get drunk, don’t get into bed with a guy, and don’t take off your clothes or allow them to be removed. … But suggest to a rape bureaucrat that female students should behave with greater sexual restraint as a preventive measure, and you might as well be saying that the girls should enter a convent or don the burka.

How would “greater sexual restraint” be a “preventive measure”? What would it prevent? If, in MacDonald’s view and the view of most female students, girls’ behavior does not lead to rape, but merely to “drunken hookups,” why should they be advised to modify it? What effect would “greater sexual restraint” have on “real rape,” as MacDonald calls it? If, as seems to be MacDonald’s view, “real rape” can only be by a stranger in a dark alley, “greater sexual restraint” on the part of women will do nothing to contain it. But they should, nevertheless, restrain themselves.

This, I believe, is MacDonald’s main point. Girls should restrain themselves. They shouldn’t be so slutty and drunk, not because they will get raped — it isn’t real rape if she’s slutty and drunk — but because it isn’t nice. And nice girls don’t get raped.

Actually, “greater sexual restraint” can indeed reduce rape — “stranger rape” and “date rape” — if exercised by men. But MacDonald’s purse-lipped admonitions are not directed at men. Nowhere in her article does she suggest that men should change, or, to play along with her hypothetical scenario, that they should be told to change by “rape industrialists.” Women must change, restrain themselves, and not get drunk in order to avoid being raped — sorry, “raped”. But men need not modify their behavior in order to avoid raping. Boys will be boys — they just can’t help it.

“Modern feminists,” says MacDonald, “defined the right to be promiscuous as a cornerstone of female equality.”

Did they? Isn’t it rather that they rejected a double standard condemning promiscuity in women but accepting it in men — a double standard that MacDonald’s piece embraces and perpetuates?

Mary Jackson is an editor for the New English Review, an online magazine of politics and culture, dedicated to celebrating the good in Western civilization and warning against that which would threaten it. Click here for the latest full-length articles, and here for the Iconoclast, the regularly updated Community Blog. Mary Jackson is also the author of Rape – a Hopeless Case?