|It is currently estimated that
one in four American women will be raped in her lifetime
(Faludi 236). Look at the faces of the women you see
every day. Your mother; your sister; your cousin; your
best friend; your co-worker; the woman across the street;
the girl you see every morning on the subway. Maybe you
can't see it on their faces and maybe they haven't told
you about it. Women have been taught to stay silent on
the subject of rape.
When we trivialize rape, we trivialize women's value. When we deny that rape is a problem, we deny women's experience. When we question the victim's actions instead of the rapist's we are misplacing the blame and minimizing the impact and severity of the crime. Although Camille Paglia concedes that "rape is an outrage that cannot be tolerated in civilized society" (229) her writings negate the effect of rape, particularly acquaintance rape, in the United States.
Camille Paglia's writings
promulgate outdated ideas regarding the two sexes. She
uses the notion that the sexes are at war to condone male
sexual predation. Rape, she alludes, is almost a
universal rite of passage for members of the male sex;
something that transforms them from boys to men; an act
that gives them power (230). Although she accuses
feminism of promoting a victim mindset (230), it is her
own theory that women need to be protected from horny
young men that cements women's status as victim. Susan
Faludi counters that feminism has spawned a new
generation of powerful women ready to tackle rape at the
source, rather than subvert to "the old sexual
Paglia asserts that women invite rape through their actions: by being alone with a man, wearing sexually revealing clothing or drinking alcohol at parties (230-231). However, Mary P. Koss points out that although there is some empirical data to suggest that women who drink at bars have higher rape rates, this is more an indicator of past sexual assault than a predictor of future victimization. According to Koss, there is no credible research that "separat[es] those women who have and haven't been raped on the basis of routine activities, personality, or beliefs". The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) reports that one in every four rapes takes place in a public area or garage and 32% of all rapes occur during daylight hours. The figures simply do not suggest that there is a causal link between dress and rape, or behavior and rape. If anything, drug and alcohol use is a more likely indicator of rapist, rather than victim, with at least 45% of rapists being under the influence of these substances at the time of the attack (RAINN).
In emphasizing women's behavior as provocation for sexual assault Paglia exonerates the rapist and protects the patriarchal status quo. She tells women that their "most important line of defense" is self-control, but does not even question the rapist's failure to exercise his. She counsels women to give up their constitutional right to dress, act and do as they please, yet she frames rape as having a biological base in men's "aggressive, unstable, combustible" nature (231 & 233). One must ask, if rape is an uncontrollable, biological impulse unique to men, why aren't all men doing it?
Logic would dictate that if rape had a biological and evolutionary base, rape rates would hardly vary between cultures. Yet women in the United States are eight times more likely to be raped than those in the United Kingdom (Cramer), and it is estimated that women in South Africa are two times more likely to be raped than those in the United States. The disparity can be broken down even further by ethnicity within the United States: American Indian and Alaskan Native women are 2 times more likely to be the victims of rape than white or black women (Thoennes & Tjaden 5). Faludi so rightly points to the source of Paglia's misguided arguments: men who feel threatened and emasculated by the societal gains women have achieved through feminism (237). In cultures where men are more likely to feel intimidated by powerful women, women are at greater risk of becoming victims of violence. Paglia goes so far as to recognize that "much sexual violence is rooted in men's sense of psychological weakness towards' women" (232), yet she fails to arrive at the logical conclusion that rape is not simply a sexual act. It is an exercise in violence and an attempt to gain power and control. Rape is a social problem, not an evolutionary one.
Paglia attacks feminism for disseminating a "prudish" view of sex, yet it is to a traditionally conservative sexuality that she advocates return in order to avoid rape (230). Feminism's na´vity regarding the nature of sex is the reason, she asserts, for this "date-rape hysteria" (232). Faludi suggests it is the result of a media backlash against women voicing their anger on the issue of rape (237).
It is estimated that 84% of all rapes are not reported (Faludi 236). If a problem is ignored it does not get fixed. If nobody is talking about rape, no one is fighting it. The actions of college women in holding consciousness-raising sessions, petitioning administrations and demanding inquests into the problem of date rape that Paglia alludes to are not symptoms of panicky, weak and sexually unhappy women (229-230). These are actions of new "forceful feminists" (Faludi 237) who are not prepared to submissively accept that, according to the National Crime Center and Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center, 1.3 women are raped in the United States every two minutes ("Facts").
Paglia's fondly remembered
"old double standards" (231) did not protect
women. They kept women silent and masked the problem. As
Adrienne Rich once said "where language and naming
are power, silence is oppression, is violence" (qtd.
in Adams 59). In refusing to be silent, these college
women are promoting awareness of a problem that has
far-reaching psychological impact upon all women and
taking the first steps towards stopping it.
Adams, Carol J. "I Just Raped my Wife! What Are You Going to do About it Pastor?: The Church and Sexual Violence." Transforming a Rape Culture. Eds. E. Buchwald, P. Fletcher & M. Roth. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Milkweed, 1993. 59-85.
American Medical Association. "Facts About Sexual Assault." 1 Mar. 2000. <http://220.127.116.11/public/releases/assault/facts.htm>.
Cramer, Clayton. "British and Canadian Crime Rates: Not Evidence For Gun Prohibition." 15 Mar. 2000. <http://www.shadeslanding.com/firearms/cramer.us.canada.html>.
Faludi, Susan. "Whose Hype?" Readings for the 21st Century. Eds. W. Vesterman & J. Ozersky. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2000. 4th ed. 235-237.
Koss, Mary P. "Evolutionary Models of Why Men Rape: Acknowledging the Complexities." Journal of Abuse and Violence. In press. Email to the author. 18 Feb. 2000.
Paglia, Camille. "It's a Jungle Out There, So Get Used to It!" Readings for the 21st Century. Eds. W. Vesterman & J. Ozersky. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2000. 4th ed. 229-233.
15 Mar. 2000. <http://www.rainn.org/stats.html>