Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Victimization and the rape rhetoric

Heather Mac Donald has come under a scathing attack for her LA Times and City Journal piece on “the campus rape crisis myth”. I doubt that no response was more intemperate than the one which appeared on the LawandLetters blog entitled “Take Back the Rhetoric on Rape” by Belle Lettre.

Belle Lettre in the first sentence of her post sets the tone of what was to follow- “I do not believe in this stupid article by conservative Heather Mac Donald arguing that the statistics on campus rape are overblown.”

After this “informative” intro sentence, she states the following-

I do share in the views of Tracy Clark-Flory, who disputes the main “arguments” made by Mac Donald, and attacking the main tenet of Mac Donald’s article: that girls are getting wasted and laid, not raped, and so it’s their own damn fault, and that sexual restraint is the problem!
Mac Donald explains that the statistic originated from a survey by Mary Koss, a University of Arizona professor of public health. It found that 15 percent of women had been raped, 12 percent had experienced an attempted rape; therefore 27 percent had either experienced a rape or attempted rape. Koss attempted to strip her questions of the word “rape,” so as to lessen the social stigma facing her respondents; she didn’t ask them whether they had been raped but whether they had experienced a range of incidents that are, by definition, rape. For instance, she asked: “Have you had sexual intercourse when you didn’t want to because a man gave you alcohol or drugs?” Understandably enough, some have criticized her approach, noting that the question could be misinterpreted to mean, “Have you had sex under the influence and regretted it the next morning?”

But, these concerns have already been invalidated! In 1999, researchers set out to test whether Koss’ question was actually getting at the rape question. They asked: “Have you engaged in sexual intercourse when you didn’t want to but were so intoxicated under the influence of alcohol or drugs that you could not stop it orobject?” And, what do you know, this much more precise question yielded similar results; 17 percent of female students responded “yes.” Not to mention, these findings have been duplicated by a number of other studies — look here, here and here, just for starters.)

Mac Donald ignores these inconvenient facts and simply notes that subsequent studies show a “divergence between the victims’ and the researchers’ point of view.” Consistently, researchers are far more likely than the respondents themselves to define nonconsensual sex as rape. No! You mean there’s a widespread resistance among rape victims to labeling such a traumatic experience by its culturally loaded name? Next, Mac Donald will argue that a woman isn’t abused, isn’t a victim of domestic violence if she doesn’t personally choose that label — regardless of whether her experiences define her as such. (Apply that to any number of abuses, illnesses or crimes.)

It’s a pity Mac Donald went through all this trouble to explain why so many women are resistant to calling a forced, nonconsensual sex act “rape,” when researcher are not. She need only look at the prevalence of victim-blaming attitudes like her own.

And this, my friends, is why sociological studies that demonstrate empirically when and generate theories as to why victims report/underreport, leading to a study of victimology really matter.

The dankprofessor believes that neither Tracy Clark-Flory nor Ms. Lettre invalidate Heather Mac Donald’s basic thesis- “Believing in the campus rape epidemic, it turns out, requires ignoring women’s own interpretations of their experiences.”

It is axiomatic that in social science research that researchers do not obscure or attempt to invalidate the reality, the meanings, the interpretations of their research subjects. As a professional sociologist, I know that such is a cardinal rule for all social scientists, whether they be qualitative or statistically orientated. Of course, no such rule is relevant to the ideologically committed. No one who takes sociology seriously, and Ms. Lettres professes to take the discipline seriously, starts out by labeling the article one is critiquing as stupid.

The bottom line is that Lettre and Clark-Flory insist on labeling women as rape victims even when these women do not apply the label to themselves. In other words, they know these women better than the women know themselves. One of the worst forms of degradation is when persons simply ignore the reality of others, when the ideologically orthodox ignore the rights of others to identify themselves as they wish to be identified. Such in my opinion is a basic human right, the right to answer the question “Who Am I?” “How do I identify myself to myself?” Such is a basic right whether it be applied to religious identity or ethnic identity or political identity and even to the identity of rape victim.

Ms. Lettre and Clark-Flory may be doing good work in their attempt to help victims of rape which represents a crime of both sex and power. The irony is that they end up engaging in a form of power abuse when they attempt to apply a rape identity to those women who reject this identity.

If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration
to the same email address.

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor™
© Copyright 2008

February 26, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, Heather Mac Donald, higher education, rape, sexual politics, sexual rights, victimization | 5 Comments

Fear of professors and fear of students

One of my greatest fears is that the campaign to prohibit student professor consensual sexual relationships would lead to an academic environment which would put a chill on student professor socializing and student professor friendships. The consensual relationship prohibition might function and I believe has functioned to create fear of professors by too many students and fear of students by too many professors. It has done so by the embracing of cartoon imageries, gross stereotypes, of the professor as lecher and the student as seducer or gradedigger. Embracing such imagery can lead to the destruction of any sense of community in academia. Such imageries function to facilitate a greater sense of impersonality on campus and create an atmosphere that is all too similar to public hospitals and DMVs. Indicative of this fear on campus is a recent comment the dankprofessor weblog has received in response to the February 14 post on “Female student speaks of her relationship with a professor”. This comment merits our attention-

I just wanted to ask you if there is a proper way to address a male professor, as I am a female student? I was told the following by a male(neighbor)professor:
Most male professors have a sort of “good old boy” understanding regarding when female students address them outside of class or come for extra help.professors see them as predators. He also said that female students who need extra help etc. from their male professors are viewed as having “father issues” and/or are considered grade diggers.
I am a 30 something college student (senior) at a California State University. I have experienced great friendships with my professors during, as well as, after my course has finished. I never imagined that any of my professors saw me in this light, as I often address my male professors, as well as, seek out extra help. I have a 4.0 GPA and I did not earn this by avoiding any of my professor, male or female. His advice seems very harsh to me!
Could you shed any light on this topic? I have recently experienced some fear when approaching my current male professor as I have that negativity circulating in my mind. Am I just being gullible or naive? Could the professor have given erroneous advice?
I would love to have your thoughts on the subject. Thank you for the opportunity to present my question.
Kind Regards,

My response to her was in part as follows-

Your neighboring male professor has an extremely cynical and jaded view of the world, The overwhelming probability is that your male professors as well as your female professors view you in a very positive light, a 4.0 very highly motivated student. As a prof in the CSU system at Cal State Long Beach for 35 years, I can tell you that when a bright student visits a prof at the prof’s office for extra help to deal with the course material, such is valued. What profs don’t like are students coming to ones office to continually complain about their grade. Also, what profs don’t like is that so few students are interested in the course material, and never come to ones office. It is the indifference of students that both male and female profs dread.

For professors to reject socializing with students out of fear means that the prohibitionists have really won, that they are defining the campus climate, a very chilly climate that freezes out informal student professor socializing. Unfortunately, such is to be expected since when categorical intimacy bans come into being the social distancing between persons in different categories significantly increases. In Martin Buber’s terms, bans facilitate I-it relationships; to get to the I-thou, one must transcend the categorical boundaries, and friendship and love between members of different categories is always the enemy of those with an I-it framework. Or to put the I-it relationship in different terms- “everyone must know their place, and keep in place”. People who transcend taken for granted social and political boundaries, boundaries that are believed in with emotional fervor, are always considered THE ENEMY by the boundary believers.

If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration
to the same email address.

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008

February 26, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, fraternization, higher education, sexual politics, student professor dating | Leave a comment


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