A Response to Charlotte Allen’s Unbelievably Ignorant Op-Ed
Dear Ms. Allen,
I was not only shocked by your column “Politely Demonizing Men at Wesleyan,” on your blog, but also deeply saddened. I worry that your perspective represents the perspective of many—and if that’s true, I worry for the future of women in our world. First, let me establish that I am not in any way opposed to the existence of fraternities. I have dated a frat brother, have plenty of friends who are frat brothers, and have been to more formals and semi-formals than I can count. What I am opposed to is not fraternities; it is the terrifying, hateful, threatening actions and environment that you discussed in your column. Without a doubt, I believe that the groupthink sometimes fostered by fraternities can encourage this, but I also sincerely believe that fraternities can exist without such an atmosphere.
First, let me respond to your assertion that Wesleyan students’ beliefs are based on a blind consumption of propaganda about sexual assault. You cite the statistic that one in four women will be raped as false and pointed to Heather MacDonald’s article as proving that. MacDonald’s article cites another study as recording that only 23 percent of the women in the original study reported to have been raped considered themselves to have actually been raped.
Okay, let’s assume that’s true (even though many recent studies say the rape rate is about one in five). Guess what—that’s still a rate of nearly six percent, over twice as high as the violent crime rate in Detroit that MacDonald cites. I don’t know about you, but a rape rate of six percent still freaks me out. And when we look at the accepted studies which cite a figure closer to 20 percent, I don’t feel any more comforted. The student who you attempted to portray in your column as dumb for repeating her question about what you would say to a student who had been raped quite clearly repeated her question because YOU DIDN’T UNDERSTAND IT.
She wasn’t asking, “What happens if a student gets raped?” She was asking you what you would say to a student who had been raped. You responded that the question assumes that a rape had occurred. Yes, it does. Good observation. Now answer the question. Still not getting it? Okay, here:http://wesleyanargus.com/2011/01/26/non-student-suspect-arrested-for-oct-31-sexual-assault/. Rape. A Wesleyan student. At a fraternity. It happened.
And now it’s not even as personal as the student who bravely offered her experience with rape and who you didn’t answer for apparently no real reason other than the potential of “embarrassing her.” Rape does happen. It does have victims. Do you simply brush them aside? Even leaving out the numbers, though, your utter disregard for the feelings of students on this campus was unbelievable. It’s one thing to tell students that their knowledge about the number of rapes on campus is incorrect and another thing entirely to tell students who feel scared that their feelings are incorrect. Feelings are feelings; you have no right to tell a person that what they are feeling—because of the environment they are in and the way they perceive it—is patently false.
You don’t even offer any argument for mocking students who feel unsafe. You simply “query [them] incredulously” because they feel unsafe in a “spacious ballroom with neoclassical molding and high fireplaces.” I’m sorry—I didn’t realize that a building’s architecture was equivalent to how safe of a space it was. In that case, let’s design all prisons to look like Newport mansions. Let’s rebuild unsafe neighborhoods to look like Versailles. That will prevent all the crimes in this country! Why didn’t we think of that before?
No, Ms. Allen, “‘Safe’ is not politically correct campus jargon for ‘liking what I see or hear.’” “Safe” is a word that means safe. If students don’t feel safe, they don’t feel safe. You’re not going to make them feel safer by telling them their feelings are just the consumption of feminist propaganda (mostly because their feelings are not just the consumption of feminist propaganda), because that statement is not proof that the environments they are describing are safe. In fact, all you really succeed at is unintelligently mocking a bunch of students who expressed very legitimate perspectives. You did nothing to disprove them.
Let me move on to your argument that the Yale DKE chapter’s chants were not a threat. I find it hard to believe that you can’t see what’s threatening about a crowd of men chanting “no means yes” outside student dorms full of women, but let me break it down for you. About 90,000 women are raped in the U.S. annually. How many victims of rape are male? About one in ten. Ninety percent of rape victims are women. Women are afraid of being raped because rape is a real thing. Women get raped. Women get raped on college campuses. Yet we have also been raised in a society that acknowledges this and is on some level working to combat it. The phrase “no means no” is one everyone has heard; it asserts the voice of women and tells men to respect it.
When a large group of men marches across a campus loudly chanting to women that their voices mean nothing—that the women will be raped (and, specifically, raped anally) if men feel like raping them—that is a threat. I also want to point out that your freedom of speech claim is irrelevant. In Yale’s sexual misconduct guide, they explicitly state that sexual misconduct is not just rape. It also includes “threatening speech, which is sufficiently serious to constitute sexual harassment.” This isn’t a matter of speech—this is a matter of a clear violation of a community code, a violation that threatens women and incites violence.
Your statement that the students at your lecture “assumed that young women were so physically frail that they could be intimidated by a silly chant” is not only offensive but also completely absurd. Concerns of safety have nothing to do with women’s physical frailty. The “no means yes” march was not a “silly chant.” Eeny meeny miny mo is a silly chant. A large group of grown men threatening rape as they march across campus is not a silly chant. Even if was just one man, any woman would be justified in feeling frightened, because rape is a frightening thing. But a horde of men all shouting rape together is terrifying.
Who cares that “those guys were their own freshman classmates?” Freshman men have raped freshman women. The fact that they are classmates doesn’t lessen the threat in the least. And I haven’t even addressed the absurdity of your statement that physical frailty equates to fear. Even a 300-pound football player would have been justifiably afraid if a crowd chanting threats of rape in unison was coming toward him. Groups are capable of horrifying violence—need I mention lynch mobs, Hutus and Tutsis, Nazis?
While I disagree with most of your points, however, I do agree with you on one major point: I hope that fraternities continue to exist. In fact, I think most Wesleyan students would agree with me. I appreciate the role that fraternities play on the Wesleyan campus; they throw great concerts, sponsor worthwhile fundraisers, and bring interesting lecturers to campus who stimulate great dialogues (yourself being an example). Fraternities are an essential part of the Wesleyan social scene. What is not an essential part of the Wesleyan social scene is an atmosphere where sexual violence is acceptable. What I want to see is fraternity brothers actively working to foster a safe and welcoming environment. Now that would get my respect.
Yagle is a member of the Class of 2012.