Cathy Young: Rape Culture is like "Witchcraft in Salem"
On Emma Sulkowicz and "Rape Culture" Hysteria
Remember the Mattress Girl? The Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz who caused a national firestorm by carrying a mattress around campus to protest an alleged rape? Despite being now widely seen as another campus rape hoaxer, Ms. Sulkowicz was recently given the Woman of Courage award by the National Organization of Women.
Cathy Young, whose article "Columbia Student: I Didn't Rape Her" was one of the first to cast doubt on the Mattress Girl's narrative, talked to The Swog Blog about the feminist backlash from her narrative-shattering piece and "rape culture" hysteria in general, which she compared to "witchcraft in Salem." (The full interview can be read here).
In the first day after this piece hit the web, Salon, Mic, and numerous other publications immediately released articles criticizing you for trying to "discredit" the victim and being an "apologist" for the assault. Emma Sulkowicz herself called you an "anti-feminist."
I've been called that before, I've been called worse. I was called a rape-denier over the UVA case, which of course turned out to be a hoax. And obviously, "rape apologist" really is just name-calling. But if I took it seriously, it really would be pretty devastating to be called an actual apologist for rape.
Yeah that's a terrible thing to put on somebody.
Rape is a horrible thing. I mean, I know women who were raped. A co-worker of mine years ago was very violently raped in an acquaintance situation; I'm certainly not saying that the concept of rape should only be limited to a guy jumping out of a dark alley. I know that acquaintance rape actually does happen.
And it's interesting because this incident, that I was personally close to, happened when there was a kind of previous round of moral panic about rape, and a similar attempt to redefine rape, for instance, to include being verbally pressured into unwanted sex. And I remember this woman reading an article about that and just saying that she felt incredibly insulted. Suddenly there were comparisons made between her experience of being hit, having her head slammed into furniture, literally fearing for her life; and then she's reading an article in which somebody said "well you know he kind of kept coming onto me, and I really didn't want to hurt his feelings by saying no, so I just went along with it." And she was like "what the hell! This is really insulting."
I think it is really dangerous ultimately to trivialize rape the way that those people are doing. And not only that, but one of the things about this rape culture ideology is this argument that constantly gets made: that by questioning the existence of a rape culture, you are perpetuating rape culture.
It's a Catch-22.
It's an extremely circular argument, and it reminds me a little bit of arguments that were being made during the Salem Witch Hunts.
No seriously! The idea was that if you denied the existence of witchcraft, that inherently made you a suspect. Because, you know, why would anyone deny the existence of witchcraft unless they were with the witches and wanted to help them get away with it? So it is really a very similar argument.
I know that we can all say that, well, rape really exists. And we know today that witches did not exist, but rape does. To which I would say yeah, absolutely, rape exists. But I don't think "rape culture" in modern Western society is any more real than witchcraft was in Salem.
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