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Feminism and Its Discontents

‘Rape culture’ at Harvard

Jun 30, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 40 • By HARVEY MANSFIELD
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The hook-up culture denounced by conservatives is the very same rape culture denounced by feminists. Who wants it? Most college women do not; they ignore hookups and lament the loss of dating. Many men will not turn down the offer of an available woman, but what they really want is a girlfriend. The predatory males are a small minority among men who are the main beneficiaries of the feminist norm. It’s not the fault of men that women want to join them in excess rather than calm them down, for men too are victims of the rape culture. Nor is it the fault of women. Women are so far from wanting hook-ups that they must drink themselves into drunken consent—in order to overcome their natural modesty, one might suggest. Not having a sociable drink but getting blind drunk is today’s preliminary to sex. Beautifully romantic, isn’t it? The anonymous Harvard woman by getting drunk was unfortunately helping to pressure herself into consenting to a very bad experience. But she is right that the pressure comes with the encouragement of the culture. And the culture comes from the dogmas of feminism that made this mess for women and men too.

One more feature of the mess should not be omitted, the worsening of it by our federal government. Colleges today are under pressure not only from feminist students but also from the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the Department of Education. A recent letter from that office, one of a series, was sent to 55 colleges, addressed to “Dear Colleague” and containing what it called “significant guidance.” Anyone who thinks that the idea of a “nanny state” is an exaggeration should read this letter. The official author, who is the assistant secretary for the OCR, purports to be the colleague of the leaders of America’s universities but treats them as if they were children being instructed with a catechism. The form of the letter is Q-and-A, the questions innocent and submissive, the answers authoritative—usually you “must,” occasionally you “may.”  

The purpose behind the letter is to create an area between the law’s commands and the law’s permissions that is “significantly guided” by the government, in which the government commands but leaves the responsibility of enforcement to the universities commanded. The universities have been required to set up (and of course pay for) a “Title IX coordinator” with the duty of preventing a “hostile environment” caused by sexual assault, which may or may not be a crime prosecuted by state and local authorities. The latter police the crime, and the universities are responsible, and open to penalties, for preventing the culture of crime. Harvard responded last year by appointing as its coordinator a woman lawyer formerly employed at the OCR. It has now answered last month’s letter by hastening to hire more staff for her office. Without the slightest sign of pushback, the university volunteers to aid in the ridiculous accusation against itself. The OCR’s ridiculous accusation (and this summary does not do justice to its many absurdities) is for having failed to establish a culture of sexual adventure that never results in misadventure.

In its vocabulary, the OCR fully adopts the feminist notion of gender neutrality so that the sex of the “complainant” or the “perpetrator” is never identified. Thus the obvious difference between the sexes in regard to sexual assault is never stated, the problem never described. Are most men really potential rapists as the term “rape culture” suggests, or are some of them merely taking what is offered? Are women so colossally imprudent as to desire to get into bed with such creatures? Does a gender-neutral environment exist that will please both sexes equally? Are both sexes not independent in different ways as well as dependent on each other? Will there be an end to feminist nonsense aided by government intrusion and university compliance?

These are easy questions, but they call for the independence of mind necessary to answer the hard question that comes next: How can we recover some sense of feminine modesty and male restraint? 

Harvey Mansfield is professor of government at Harvard and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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