It seems like every six months or so, a new flier or e-mail gets leaked from some college featuring men making highly disturbing comments about rape. This month, it’s a flier that was posted at Miami University of Ohio about how to get away with rape. Even if it is a joke, as the school claims, what do fliers like this — and other comments and jokes about rape on college campuses — tell us about our attitudes towards sexual violence?
Honestly, I’m not quite sure what to make of this. As someone who’s worked as a rape crisis advocate and educator, I’m a strong believer that both the way we casually talk about rape (as in “That test just raped me”), a habit that’s especially prevalent on college campuses, minimizes the trauma of sexual assault and contributes to a culture that permits it.
On the other hand, this flier seems to me like a weak attempt at satire and just doesn’t make my blood boil. (Which is not to say that other similar events, like this disgusting e-mail leaked from a USC frat last spring or the horribly offensive chants at Yale in the fall of last year, haven’t turned my stomach and prompted hours of rants.)
Regardless of what you think of the Miami University of Ohio flier, I do think there are some basic factors that should be taken into account when we decide whether or not to laugh at rape jokes or react with outrage to misogynistic, rape-supportive comments.
1) Flyers and jokes like these may act as triggers.
First and foremost, sexual violence is a real problem in our country. It’s estimated that 1 in 5 women are the victim of some sort of attempted or completed sexual violence over the course of her lifetime and that 1 in 4 college women will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape during her four years in school.
Given these astonishing numbers, there’s a very good chance that every off-hand rape comment or circulated e-mail will be overheard or read by a survivor of sexual assault. This is often a traumatic experience that leads victims to believe that their community doesn’t take their assault seriously.
2) Why do we talk and joke about rape so flippantly?
I think we need to seriously ask ourselves why we talk about sexual assault in this way, but not other traumatic events or crimes. (Imagine joking or circulating fliers promoting suicide or child abuse. Not super funny.) Do we really believe that it’s okay to dehumanize women or treat them this way?
It’s sometimes argued that we minimize sexual assault or blame the victim as a way to burry our heads in the ground and avoid acknowledging the very scary reality of rape. While this might be an understandable reaction, it isn’t an excusable one and it harms victims.
3) We need to give men more credit.
There’s a mentality about “boys will be boys” that seems to always come up when we talk about rape jokes and rape itself. We tell women that it’s their job to draw boundaries in relationships and protect themselves against strangers, as if we’ve given up on preventing men from raping women. (Similarly, we make excuses for misogynistic jokes and violent chants by dismissing them as juvenile jokes, as if you can’t expect anything more from college men.)
I think that this implicit assumption that men can’t control themselves or can’t help but commit this crime is a disservice to men. All of the men that I know are perfectly capable of restraining themselves when they see attractive women and are not violent, crazed slaves to their sex drives. Assuming otherwise not only lets perpetrators off the hook, but doesn’t give the vast majority of good men the credit that they deserve.
What are your reactions to the comments and jokes that seem to constantly circulate college campuses about rape? Are there any other factors that you think weigh heavily when reacting to them?