Earlier this month ex-Bush speechwriter Meghan Clyne took to the New York Post to pin Yale’s sexual harassment problem on a counterintuitive culprit: campus feminists. The feminists, apparently, have turned our alma mater into a “sexual cesspool” and “drenched students, faculty and administrators in images and vocabulary of graphic sexuality.”
Reading Clyne’s piece would leave you with the sense that the main problem with sexual harassment is that it means people are talking about sex. She suggests feminists are hypocrites for hosting events discussing drag and Dworkin and then complaining about rape threats. “These are the shrinking violets,” she writes, “shocked that a bunch of frat guys would gather around their front door crassly chanting about sex.” In other words, if you’re not embarrassed about sex, you shouldn’t be bothered by men threatening to force it on you.
Describing screams of “No Means Yes!” as “crassly chanting about sex” is like describing “Give me your wallet or I’ll shoot” as “rudely discussing money.” Either Clyne is being willfully obtuse, or when she imagines walking out of the Yale Women’s Center into a throng of men chanting “No Means Yes!” she thinks “It’s disgusting to be this sexually explicit amongst college students,” not “It’s disgusting to tell people you would force them to have sex with you.”
This kind of morality echoes her fellow conservatives who worry more about movies showing explicit images of consensual loving sex (that much worse if it’s gay) than about movies with glamorous – but less graphic – portrayals of rape. It’s a morality where what you’re exposed to is more important than what’s being endorsed. Along this strange spectrum, a condom demonstration, by taking you one step further from ignorance, drags you another step closer to being raped. And it’s difficult not to catch a whiff of justification in Clyne’s piece – not that she wants feminists threatened with rape, but that it would be a greater crime to seize away the innocence of a virgin than a whore. After all, Clyne reminds us, these women are no “shrinking violets.” (The greatest sympathies in her article go out not to women who are harassed or raped, but to “the people who truly must suffer in Yale’s climate”: anti-gay students)
There’s a special irony in Clyne’s complaint about students discussing “Andrea Dworkin’s theory ‘that intercourse and patriarchy are inseparable.’” On this point, Clyne is not so far removed from Dworkin as she may think. Clyne writes as though patriarchy inevitably follows open discussion of sex. Her suggestion that “when every taboo around sex is systematically eradicated,” harassment becomes “inevitable” suggests she can’t or doesn’t want to picture a community in which consensual sex is not taboo but abuse is.
Her suggestion that any deviation from chastity incites men to dominate women is an insult to men and women alike. It conjures a truly reactionary vision: for men, the impulse for sex and the impulse for violent conquest are one and the same. For women to discuss or pursue sex without shame is to lose a piece of themselves and their moral standing against assailants. Thus rape is avoided only if the men are kept ignorant and the women pure.
It’s a sad, cramped worldview. Clyne is entitled to it. But I’m glad it’s not the only one we were exposed to in college.