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Rape Culture and the College Campus

The idea that colleges and universities are “rape cultures,” that is cultures in which rape is normalized due to invidious gender norms, is a false and malicious one that should rejected by all progressives. Young women go to college for reasons very similar to those of young men, among which a very important one is to have sexual experiences. Colleges are ideal environments for young people to experiment sexually. They meet each other in relaxed environments, such as classes, athletic and cultural events, and lounges. There is a general air of freedom. Sexuality is regularly discussed in classes in literature, history, biology, anthropology, art and the like. The fact that students will be separated in summers and after graduation encourages experimentation. College is in fact a perfect environment to make the transition from adolescent to adult sexuality, and functions in that way for most students.

Anyone who has studied history knows how central women’s right to say no to sexual assertiveness on the part of men is. This right is at the center of the modern novel, from Clarissa Harlowe on. It is central to Victorianism, especially the right of poor women, maids, servants, working class women and the like to refuse sexual demands from their class or racial superiors. This right is one of the few fundamental moral advances that human beings have made in the modern era, and it can never be tampered with. Women’s right to refuse sexual advances from men is not an alternative to a sexually emancipated culture but a prerequisite for one.

As important as the Victorian right to say no has been, no less important have been modern movements for sexual, including homosexual, emancipation. The picture of the male beast, rapist, predator, etc. that the Victorians created and that is being recirculated today, is only one current in the history of women. Much more important and more positive are women like Emma Goldman, Alexandra Kollontai, and Crystal Eastman, who understood that women’s self-discovery of their own sexual needs was a critical part of modern emancipation. Any form of male privilege, and of course any condoning of crime, needs to be combated. But we need to keep the larger picture in mind. Today’s colleges represent a level of freedom that generations have fought for, and we do not want to lose that.

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Eli Zaretsky

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