George Will Vilified for Questioning Campus “Rape Culture”

According to Vice President Joe Biden twenty percent of college women will be sexually assaulted over the course of their college life. Walk onto any college campus, and one out of every five women you see either has been or likely will be the victim of rape during her college years.

Can you believe it? Well, if not, you aren’t the only one who’s skeptical. George Will recently landed himself in a hotbed of controversy by daring to question the accuracy of these statistics. In the aftermath of the public outcry, his column was canceled by the St Louis Post-Dispatch. Will’s column will continue to be syndicated nation-wide. In some respects it was encouraging to see that the campaign to vilify Will accomplished so little. It’s still unfortunate that pressuring conservatives to shut up now seems to many like the obvious way to deal with uncomfortable views.

Was he right to suggest that campus rape is, if not a non-issue, at least far less rampant than suggested? Will offers some useful analysis on the statistics, but if those don’t convince you, think about it this way. If young women really believed they stood a twenty percent chance of being raped, would their parents continue sending them off to college? Or would they opt for a safer and more sensible online college experience? If indeed they were determined to brave the four-year college, the sensible thing would be to petition universities to issue concealed carry permits, while offering classes in defensive firearm use. I suspect that would prove quite an effective deterrent for your average drunken frat boy.

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This will never happen, of course. Feminist activists respond to these types of suggestions with endless posturing about “blaming the victim” and the necessity of “re-educating men not to rape.” This is in itself a clear sign of their unseriousness. People in grave danger do not consent to wait on the moral maturation of their attackers. They protect themselves.

The fact that women are not arming themselves or fleeing college campuses probably qualifies as fairly strong evidence that they are not being raped in anything like the suggested numbers … assuming of course that we understand rape in a traditional way. Nevertheless, it’s equally obvious that campus cultures are not healthy, especially when it comes to sex.

In speaking of “rape culture” feminists follow their usual habit of presuming that the vast majority of problems between the sexes arise as a result of men’s violent and predatory tendencies. More realistically, it can be quite hard to figure out who has wronged whom when young people are invited to have sex freely with anyone, conditional only on their partner’s immediate “consent.” But I think it’s probably fair to say that people are both doing wrong, and being wronged, and that both sexes could do with a good dose of re-education on this mysterious thing called “chastity.”

First of all, I should clarify that chastity is not the same as celibacy. It is simply virtue as applied to sex. The person who has sex appropriately, at the right times and in the right ways and for the right reasons, is chaste. For some people, that might imply never having sex at all, and contrary to popular opinion, this is not life-threatening. Not everyone, however, is called to a life of celibacy. Everyone ought to be chaste.

For young men, instruction in chastity might begin with some discussion of sex and commitment. Few young men are rapists, but many have been taught to regard casual sex as unproblematic. They should come to understand that “good” sex always involves love and commitment. Consensual sex is not rape, but merely consensual sex (which is not accompanied by commitment or real concern) is always predatory, and should be seen as a genuine wrong to another person. I appreciated Matt Walsh’s recent reflection on this topic, especially because it’s a point that conservatives (in their understandable eagerness to defend boys from unjust charges of “rape”) sometimes miss.

For young men, I would sum up the point this way. Suppose you’re thinking about having sex, and you find yourself wondering, “if she accused me of rape, how strong a case could she make, and is she the kind of girl who would do that?”

Just don’t. Nobody ever began a loving, intimate encounter with those kinds of concerns.

Young women need to start by understanding two things. First, sex will affect them on many levels, physical, emotional and spiritual. This is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of moral health to be emotionally affected by things that are objectively morally significant. But that being the case, it’s important to protect themselves and make reasonable choices. As my colleague Amy Otto recently observed, “sex positivity” is no protection from the negative consequences of bad sex. The best plan is to stay sober and stay clothed, especially around people who are intoxicated or likely to take liberties. One of the worst ideas feminists ever had was to urge girls to “empower” themselves through behavior that was all but guaranteed to hurt them.

The second thing women should understand is that men are not (as feminists often imply) naturally violent or brutish per se. However, their sensibilities are shaped to a considerable degree by the behavior of women. This is another basic fact of the world that “sex positivity” cannot change. In a culture that sanctions sexual promiscuity, men are effectively trained to view women as objects of sexual pleasure. The effects of that training are liable to overflow into other areas of life; what happens at the Friday-night party really doesn’t stay at the Friday-night party.

I suspect that this fact helps to explain claims that campus cultures are rife with “micro-aggression” towards female students. Some of it, perhaps, is mere paranoia. But it’s really the case that men who have learned to see their female classmates as material for enjoyable one-night stands, are indeed inclined to treat them less respectfully. This is one major reason why women, far more than men, have always been inclined to shower scorn on promiscuous members of their own sex. We understand instinctively that all of us stand to lose from this assault on men’s better nature.

It’s unfortunate that feminists, by speaking of “rape culture,” continue to blame men for a problem that can really only be solved by both sexes together. Of course, blaming men is a long-standing liberal strategy, but in this case it is hurting young men and young women alike. Until they can attain some real understanding of what sex means and is for, college students will continue to get hurt by their sexually depraved campus culture. Until that reality is acknowledged, all the blather about “no means no” or “zero tolerance” for sexual crime is just so much empty posturing.


  • Rachel Lu

    Rachel Lu, a Catholic convert, teaches philosophy at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota where she lives with her husband and four boys. Dr. Lu earned her Ph.D. in philosophy at Cornell University. Follow her on Twitter at rclu.

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