Balloons and bubblegum.

In my post On Schrödinger’s Rapist, I wrote that the “rule’s for men” laid out by the author would be poisonous for some men but not others.  I’d like to expand on this thought, in the context of what has been called the Campus Rape Crisis.

Now, if we begin with the premise that we should “send a message” to young men that will encourage them to relate to women in the healthiest and most respectful way possible, the next question is, What should that message be?  I think, broadly speaking, there are two kinds of approaches.

(By “approaches” I’m talking in general terms about different attitudes that can be taken toward young men, and the attendant messages that will be communicated to them.  The extent to which these attitudes should translate into mandatory programs at universities depends on how paternalistic these institutions ought to be toward their students, and that’s not a subject I’m not going to tackle here.)

The first approach is what I would call the “warrior” approach.  I use the martial term because this approach, favored especially by pro-feminist men, seeks to push  young men into accepting the guilt, and attendant duties, that come from being a member of the oppressing gender, and tries to lay this burden on young men by shocking the sensibilities with constant talk of rape, with footage of battered women taken away in body bags, with dormitory posters exclaiming that slipping someone a roofie makes you a rapist, with skits in which the women shout that “My short skirt has nothing to do with you!,” and with exhortations to take it like a man should a young man find himself treated with suspicion or hostility.

The second, alternate approach is what I would call the “balloons and bubblegum” approach.  You know those cheesy gay pride posters on campus?  The ones that say, “We’re happy you were born!”?  The idea is to take the same tack with straight men, perhaps with less gaudy posters.  In concrete terms, instead of telling the eighteen year old virgin he needs to tone it down, we would instead encourage him to be yet more persistent in his pursuit of young women.  Instead of telling him to run with his tail between his legs when a woman doesn’t share his interest, we would encourage him to stick around and find a woman who does.

(en·cour·age  to impart courage, resolution, or confidence  syn inspirit)

Look at it this way.  We can either encourage my hypothetical eighteen year old virgin or we can choose not to, but in either case the predator is going to stick around.

In an article last year, Jaclyn Friedman made the important point that “most campus rapes are perpetrated not by well-meaning boys confused about consent but by repeat-offender sociopaths who know exactly what they are doing.”  This seems to be true, and it can be helpful to know this.  But this knowledge is helpful only if it is applied in a meaningful way.

So then why, three paragraphs later, does Ms. Friedman say we should “start teaching young men that alcohol is never an excuse to ‘get away’ with anything”?  She just said that most rapists are sociopaths, and you don’t change the behavior of sociopaths by appealing to ethics and morality.  Rapists already know that alcohol doesn’t morally excuse their behavior, and they don’t care.

The same is true for a poster that says, “Slipping her a roofie doesn’t make you a stud.  It makes you a rapist.”  The rapist already knows this, thank you very much.

I’m not saying that a well-meaning college freshman would never benefit from a gentle reminder about boundaries, and about the way in which women may feel vulnerable in certain situations.  But there seems to be an idea among some feminists, and especially among pro-feminist men, that the “warrior” approach has a salutary effect on young men, or at least is harmless.  But there are some men for whom this approach is very harmful indeed.

(An old article by Katie Roiphe about sexual assault on campus can be found here.)

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One Response to Balloons and bubblegum.

  1. voxnewman says:

    Maybe these campaigns are more aimed at women and their friends (both male and female) to normalize the the idea that a rapist is a horrible person and therefore you need to tell someone about it? Maybe it’s being used to combat the crazy amount of under-reporting of this crime.

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