Reading the Rolling Stone account of Jackie, the woman gang raped by fraternity brothers of Phi Kappa Psi (dear God that is a difficult phrase to choke out regarding the frankly evil behavior of these persons—I can’t even call them human—with all the positive things “brotherhood” can and should mean), I was struck that this is the real terrorism in this country. Not to discount the threat of political terrorism, but this is happening—it’s not a threat—and it’s happening to citizens by citizens of our own country. The systemic abuse of women by men, whether it’s sexual or other physical violence, or verbal assault, is a form of terrorism. I realize this is a strong statement, but weak ones don’t seem to be cutting it. And I’m sure reasonable people will have arguments against saying that, which is fine. But to me, that women, categorically, almost all feel to varying degrees the daily threat of such violence is terror. That’s what terrorists do: to make you feel on edge, afraid, all the time. From the article:
She’d switched her [lifeguard] shift in the hopes of never seeing him again. Since the Phi Kappa Psi party, she’d barely left her dorm room, fearful of glimpsing one of her attackers…. Jackie left her shift early, saying she wasn’t feeling well. Then she walked back to her dorm and crawled under the covers. She didn’t go to classes for the rest of the week, and soon quit her lifeguarding job – the first time she could remember quitting anything. She would never again return to the Anthropology course she shared with one of her assailants. She was constantly on the edge of panic, plagued by flashbacks – and disgusted by her own naiveté.
(Compare this to what Israelis are taught to do growing up, expecting terrorist acts: “You grow up internalizing this thought that there might be terrorists and attacks anywhere and everywhere,” Peri said of growing up in Israel. “You walk differently, you look to the sides, you look for people who might be terrorists, you look for packages. You’re more aware, that’s clear.”)
To exact no punishment on rapists and abusers, and expect a victim to be fine with sharing classroom and campus space with that abuser is terrifying. How could anyone be expected to excel let alone complete her studies under that fear of being attacked again?
The continual emphasis on women having to watch their behavior is a place to start. Women are told to practice good judgement. Of course, everyone should. But you know what is also good judgement? Not raping someone. Let’s start emphasizing good judgement in men.
This terrorism demands the same attention that our government is giving political terrorism. (But please dear God don’t let the President name someone the Rape Czar.) The shameful, willful neglect by the administration at UVA, and, let’s admit it, pretty much every college and university in this country is intolerable. As is the inaction by federal and local governments. The Title IX investigations coming out of the Executive Branch offices is a good start, but we need to see more from Congress as well as individual college administrations. And the investigations and compliance reviews have to hand out very serious punishments, or it will again achieve no change. The good thing is we don’t have to become a security state to change this way of life. We can change the behavior of many men instead.
There will continue to be violence against women as long as it’s indoctrinated into boys. We see similar entitlement behavior in college and professional sports as well (e.g., Jameis Winston/Florida State, Jerry Sandusky/Penn State, Ray Rice/Baltimore Ravens, Kobe Bryant/LA Lakers, Floyd Mayweather Jr./Boxing). The reprehensible actions of misogynists under the #GamerGate banner is another. Threatening to release personal information about someone (“doxxing”) is a an attempt to leave that person unable to feel secure. It will also continue as long as we keep holding the decrepit idea that certain activities are meant for one gender or another.
These are just the obvious, big-screen versions of this terrorism. It is inflicted with each cat call and casual grope. That this is so common should tell us that it is an vice existing in many men, one that draws them to such groups that foster this vice. Which means we need to go deeper. Ending practices that enable this would be useful. The Greek system at colleges, for one. Eliminating Greek systems across the country won’t solve the problem, which doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done—they’re ridiculous and do not contribute to higher education anymore, if they ever did. Universities should certainly stop sanctioning them. If groups of people want to form their own clubs outside of the college, so be it, that is their right. Yes, there are the occasional service projects and charity events but that whitewash is not good enough to cover a host of sins. You want to help someone, help them, you don’t need to be in a house full of jackasses to do it. I’m pleased that my alma mater, Alfred University, dismantled its Greek system a number of years ago, though only after the second hazing death, and who knows how many swept-under-the-rug abuses (see the rationale here). I’m glad I never had any desire to join a pack of hyenas. It could have been so. A little more peer pressure, a little less of the good role model of my father.
So it’s time to get as concerned with this terror at home that really does exist, here and now, among us. It’s not okay for this to continue. It is not okay for anyone to subject another to this constant degradation and fear. It is not okay that our leaders sit idly by and do nothing, and the majority of them really are doing nothing. (This statement today by UVA’s president is heartening, however late it seems to be coming.) But I do think that adding a little more mass to the side of good, even in the form of words, adds up. It’s a slow way to end such deep and abiding evil, but it may be the only way to end it for good, to crush it out with the weight of good. The norm in the world has to be one where men, and all in power, are no longer filled with their bile of entitlement. So this may require a mass of effort, especially on the part of men, to stop the cycle.
We are meant to be kind to one another.