Thursday, November 29, 2012

Two Weeks Worth of Wasted Writing

This article was recently linked to from a Facebook account affiliated with my alma mater--which itself usually sticks to lighter topics--and several things in it, and as well in the discussion among our own alumni commentators, caught my attention.

The article is about another article, written by a former student at Amherst College and published in that school's newspaper, about the writer's having been raped by another student in a dorm room, and the college's inadequate response to it. We are informed that the rapist's friends were standing outside the door laughing while he committed his offense, and that 'an underground fraternity...printed T-shirts featuring a cartoon of a bruised, bikini-clad woman roasting like a pig over an open fire'. Allusions were also made in the original article to 'multiple serial rapists, men who raped more than five girls' at the school over the last fifteen years, who despite their crimes being apparently well known, were, it is implied, allowed to continue at the school with a modicum of inconvenience.

My initial reaction, predictably, was surprise, not that so much that rapes were taking place on a college campus, even at a place like Amherst, but that the culture there--especially in the part of the country where I live the school is regarded as one of those occupying a plane of human existence that is incomprehensible to people who have not ascended to that level--should in any of its parts take such a low and artless tone. I also at first glance had the impression that this was all the doing of those usual suspects, jocks,  lacrosse players especially, and this also surprised me because Amherst's athletic program competes at about the lowest level possible and I wouldn't have imagined their players to think of themselves as extra- entitled or superior as a result of their prowess as their counterparts at Duke or The University of Virginia; but on reading the article more carefully, I found no indication that the men involved were in fact athletes. (Still, I think it probable that they were, as the author of the piece indicated that she was an athlete, and female athletes, if they like men, seem to me to be especially inclined to party with male athletes or jock types as opposed to intellectuals of a less aggressive and physically dominant nature, whom I would assume would constitute some significant part of the male student body at a school like Amherst). With regard to the college's handling of the case, they obviously were not comforting or reassuring to the traumatized woman in the least, though it sounds like most of the administrators the author dealt with at least were women, and the president of the college was even a scholar in feminist and gender theory: i.e., the sort of person one would expect to be more than usually sensitive to this issue and eager both to identify and make an example of the perpetrator  and to eradicate all aspects of the social environment that may have encouraged such behavior. As far as I can make out, the opinion of the original writer, and ensuing that of most of the respectable portion of the broader public, seems to be that even if the school had no legal grounds to expel or seek prosecution against the alleged rapist, that it could have expressed more vehement outrage and support for women who are victims of these sorts of circumstances, and taken more forceful steps to show the obnoxious frat crowd that their attitudes and conduct towards the same were not going to be tolerated on campus any longer.

Did I imagine that this sort of thing never happened at my school? Perhaps one does imagine so much of the time, but periodically you will hear whispers, or louder assertions, that such incidents have taken place; sometimes there is even police involvement. My instinctive reaction to all of these, particularly the last, were never what I am pretty sure conventional wisdom would say they ought to have been--if not anger and arousal to ostracize and demand the expulsion from the community of the perpetrator than at least contrition and humility at my own abetment of such crimes by thinking of women as sex objects in my meek but still dark heart, or whatever other general offenses are legion in the run of men of my type. No. They were, in short: 1. hope that whatever happened had not technically been a criminal act. 2. hope that whatever atmosphere or direct expression of feminine anger that could plausibly be aimed at me and hinder my own social interests, feeble as those were, would blow over before too many precious weeks of what remained in the school year (these things always seemed to happen or come out in the spring) had passed by. 3. In certain instances, and obviously assuming #1, I would not exactly feel jealousy toward the man in the case, but I would wonder about his habits and if in his general history this inclination towards forcefulness and perhaps inducing and then taking more advantage of confusion or indecisiveness on the part of the other party than strict propriety would deem acceptable had not in some way served him better in all areas of his life than my approach, whatever it was, was serving me. #2 and #3 are morally disgraceful--my moral upbringing was obviously weak, and my instincts in that realm of life are not especially strong even now--though I have internalized the idea that when it comes to writing at least, one should attempt to tell the truth. One of our alumni commentators on this article, a woman, not from my era (I would guess 6-8 years older just based on something in her overall tone but I really don't know) speaking with regard to sexual assault rather than rape, asserted  that whenever she posed to a group of women from our school the question of whether they had been sexually assaulted while students, a majority would usually say that they had been. That proportion I suppose surprised me somewhat, though if the definition of sexual assault (one was not given) is broad enough to encompass any kind of unwanted physical approach, such as ill-advised attempts at hugging, kissing, groping, etc, that while unpleasant are in many cases probably easily forestalled, I can grasp that it is likely true. If it refers to more violent behaviors, aggressive attacks where no indication has been given of such being welcome, throwing women down on beds and jumping on them, etc I admit that would surprise me more. Even though these techniques, or variations of them, are not unknown in movies or literature, and are often praised when done right for bringing some edge and danger to the work, most men sense that they themselves are not going to be able to bring them off, and therefore refrain from attempting them.

Or maybe not. How big of a fool does one have to be in order that any such statistic confirming the general awfulness of male treatment towards women, especially in upper middle class settings, would be a surprise to him? The problem is this. I am pretty certain that the overwhelming majority of men not from an underclass background--myself included--not only truly believe they have never done anything that would merit the name of criminal sexual assault, let alone rape, but are convinced that the opportunity to commit such offenses, however much they might even feel the slightest twinge from time to time to do so, is more limited for them than it has ever been in human history. How many times in my own life have I found myself alone in a room, or even a semi-private corner of a room, with a female for whom I might have harbored seriously ungentlemanly intentions? It does not seem like very many, and I suspect most men would consider themselves to have had little better fortune--though given that something like 80% of men get some action at some point by their 25th birthday obviously this sense of a dearth of opportunity is in no way absolute; and doubtless there are many who have used even those few occasions to commit an assault of one kind or another. The other possibility of course is that an identifiable small minority of men are perpetrating all these crimes on a majority of the female population at certain exclusive colleges, which to the, for lack of a better phrase, hardcore beta male community, does not focus their attention on the vileness of the behavior so much as to, as ever, invoke the question of "Why are these guys getting so many opportunities to indulge in it?" When you're a proven loser in the erotic arena even if a girl is sitting next to you on a bed in a room in which you are alone at 2 a.m. on Saturday night after 6 hours of drinking, if she is fully clothed and not attacking you or openly beckoning you to attack her, successful consummation of any kind of seduction still seems to be a long way off; multiple things involving the application of skills you do not have and rarely have had occasion to practice still have to go right. Unlike your rivals with their misogynistic T-shirts, you cannot clearly envision what you have to do to attain whatever end it is you desire, or ever have full confidence that if matters come to an extreme point that you will be ready to perform at adequate strength. Most commentary with regard to rape and sexual assault seems to assume that it is easy, practically first nature, for a man to inflict, and perhaps among men deeply accustomed to violence this is true, but this would seem to describe a fairly small minority of the males on a modern day elite or semi-elite college campus. But I guess I underestimate the aggression latent even in apparently meek and spiritless undergraduates.

In any event the majority of these high-profile incidents anyway, as far as the male is concerned, seem to involve men who compared to most of their gender peers are more aggressively sexual, experienced and used to impressing upon women in a kind of unambiguous confusion that sex will be the predominant factor in such relations as they choose to undertake with him, and every second of his time that he permits you to monopolize you are to understand as a tacit acknowledgement of that fact. In the world of sex and courtship there are truly two types of men; men for whom women know and acknowledge that engagment in sexual relations is non-negotiable beyond a certain point of niceties, usually reached sooner rather than later; and men who never force any such idea to enter anyone's mind. Very few men in the second category past about age 18 or 19 can ever move into the first. I certainly could not. And certainly at some basic level they hate the date-rapers nearly as bitterly as women do, while also knowing that they need to be more like them, not to be egregiously criminal but to take risks and go after what they want with a little aggression and a little calm fortitude at least a few times in their wretched lives. This is why many men, I think, who are honest with themselves do not get as worked up in these cases as perhaps they ought to. They do not see themselves necessarily but they see something of themselves that they can hardly despise but in most instances never gained a proper mastery over one way or the other. In my own youth I was perfectly inoffensive, unsensual, in public I was careful to suppress such little energies and petty enthusiasms as I had, I would not/could not engage with all but a miniscule number of women as anything resembling a normal healthy young male human being such as they would have wished me to have been, and what good did that do? There is a real sickness in my soul, and I think a lot of that is the result of suppressing so much physical energy and desire when I was young to the point where I could never be naturally exuberant or comfortable in any physical space with other people, and it only seems to grow worse as I get older.

I've spent two weeks on this topic and I do not know what the hell I think of it. In short it is something like--rape is obviously bad, sexual assault is admittedly bad, but underdeveloped male sensualism, especially in the absence of serious intellectual qualities, is also kind of bad in its own way but how do you present it as such?...

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