College coeds have all heard the statistic: one out of four college-age women will be the victim of a rape or attempted rape. While that statistic, which comes from a 1985 Mary Koss study reported in Ms. Magazine, has largely been discredited, the message behind it remains firmly in place; young women have a great deal to fear in their college environment. Statistics devoid of context, though, offer no insight into the sexual politics of college campuses.
As a college sophomore, I’ve been subject to the same messages as the rest of my peers. Young women, liberated from the narrow confines of modesty and chastity by so-called “sex-positive feminism,” are told that sex is just another extracurricular activity, with no value attached, and their cultural icons glorify a life of careless partying and drunken hook-ups.
In order to avoid the propagation of harmful sexual double standards, sex-positive feminism declares that any disapproval aimed at promiscuous young women is an attempt to drag us back to the dark ages of modesty and chastity. Attempting to defeat the Victorian stereotypes of women as sexless creatures, these feminists have swung the pendulum too far in the opposite direction, consistently standing up for a woman’s right to reject both morality and common sense.
In the absence of moral boundaries, college students must invent their own. Feminism combined with the sexual revolution has created a generation of young men and women who believe that sex without consequence is their birthright. Separating sex from a moral context or value system, though, has not benefited young women.
Sexual misconduct has proliferated on college campuses, as evidenced by the relatively recent popular usage of the term date rape. Anxious to protect young women, colleges have formulated more stringent policies on informed consent, and launched rape awareness and education campaigns.
The term date rape is generally used to describe cases where a man either drugs a woman or gets her drunk without her knowledge or consent in order to have sex with her. Informed consent laws, though, have expanded the definition of rape to include any sexual activity in which the woman is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, regardless of whether or not she knowingly and willingly placed herself in that situation.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison put out a pamphlet titled What Men Can Do to Prevent Sexual Assault, which instructs men to “manage alcohol and drug use,” as alcohol increases male sexual aggression, and may cause men not to listen to their partner. This pamphlet also makes it clear that regardless of their state of intoxication, men are still responsible for their actions.
The same pamphlet also warns that men are more likely to wrongly interpret certain actions as being sexual advances; these include wearing provocative clothing, dancing suggestively, and going up to a man’s room.
As a woman, I have every right to drink, to dress however I want, and to go to a man’s room alone. I also have every right to walk into an urban ghetto and scream racial slurs, but if I got shot, no one would argue that I wasn’t complicit in my own victimhood.
The same is true of many young women on college campuses. While pamphlets like the one from the University of Wisconsin are attempting to teach young men how to be more sexually responsible, the lesson lacks efficacy if young women are not given a similar message. By granting approval to all forms of sexual activity, sex-positive feminists have denied young men and women a moral structure, which cannot be replaced by simply tightening rape laws.
College-age women have suffered the collateral damage of the culture wars. Feminism, rather than attempting to counter the message that a woman’s worth is tied to her sexuality, has played a large part in its spread. By preaching that empowerment is reflected in a woman’s lack of scruples, feminists not only condone raunchy, irresponsible behavior, they encourage it.
As a result, women have lost a moral context in which to express their dissatisfaction and feeling of having been victimized. The feminist response is to declare that their experiences are rape under the concept of informed consent, whether their intoxication and subsequent actions were willing or not. Under the new sexual mores, women don’t have a right to be upset about the casual nature of sexual encounters unless they can classify them as rape.
More stringent laws cannot address the underlying lack of self-respect and responsibility that allows young men and women to treat themselves and each other like objects. The only way to counter the trends on college campuses today is to challenge the mindset that leads to them and reintroduce morality, giving back to women the right to say that they are worth more than a drunken hook-up.