Our opinion: Dinosaur logic


Can someone please loosen George Will's bowtie and resume the flow of blood to his brain? Of all the incredibly callous, insensitive and downright medieval things he's written in the past, his most recent column in the Washington Post probably tops the list.

"Consider the supposed campus epidemic of rape, a.k.a. 'sexual assault,'" wrote Will on June 6. "The Obama administration is riding to the rescue of 'sexual assault' victims." (Notice the use of quotation marks?) "It vows to excavate equities from the ambiguities of the hookup culture, this cocktail of hormones, alcohol and the faux sophistication of today's prolonged adolescence of especially privileged young adults."

It didn't take but a few minutes following publication of his column for Will to be rightfully scorned.

"Will is someone who has nothing better to do than mock the current movement on America's campuses to try and cope with the problems of rape and sexual assault ..." wrote Charlie Pierce for Esquire Magazine. Will has "proved himself to be a smug, petulant dilettante who is willing to flirt with racism -- Go back and study his coverage of the Jesse Jackson campaign in 1988 -- and who is willing to throw himself whole hog into climate change denialism."

What else did Will write to provoke the ire of Pierce and other thoughtful observers of our culture who acknowledge sexual assault is at epidemic levels, and not just on college campuses but in our culture and around the world?

"Colleges and universities are being educated by Washington and are finding the experience excruciating," wrote Will. "They are learning that when they say campus victimizations are ubiquitous ('micro-aggressions,' often not discernible to the untutored eye, are everywhere), and that when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate."

"Hear that, college women?" writes Pierce. There's a "coveted status that confers privileges' to crying rape. (Hard to believe so many women choose not to embrace this important career move by reporting their assaults.)"

In response to Will's column, the Twitterverse lit up with a new hashtag, #SurvivorPrivilege, in which sexual assault victims detailed how their lives were affected by the attacks. And we can tell you, the only time you see the word privilege is in the hashtag.

"A casual look at both our criminal justice system, military justice system and the academic disciplinary system under scrutiny right now reveals that each tend to punish survivors, not reward them," wrote Katie McDonough, for Slate. "As far as I can tell, the only 'privilege' associated with being a sexual assault survivor in the public eye is that you are maybe slightly more likely -- very, very slightly more likely if you look at the actual conviction rate -- to see your case given serious consideration rather than being ignored entirely by school administrators or law enforcement, which is actually something that happens quite a lot."

Proof? you ask.

An Indiana University student dropped out of school after her convicted attacker wasn't expelled; at Columbia University, a student was grilled over her allegation that she was anally raped without lubrication; an academic advisor at North Carolina-Chapel Hill told an assault victim that she was "being lazy" for asking for medical leave to recover from her attack; and at St. Mary's College, a student killed herself a week after reporting being raped by a Notre Dame football player.

"It takes a particular kind of ignorance to argue that people who come forward to report being raped in college are afforded benefits of any kind," writes Jessica Valenti, writing for The Guardian. "Survivors of sexual violence are treated abysmally by administrators, peers and campus police. To demonstrate the 'capacious definitions of sexual assault' that Will believes are running rampant on campuses, the conservative columnist cites a case in which a woman said, 'No, I don't want to have sex with you' ... only to have her alleged attacker proceed anyway. The only people who could find ambiguity in this are idiots and, well, rapists."

Will's contentions are "an odd variant on an old sort of dismissiveness about women's accounts of rape: But she liked it, didn't she?" writes The New Yorker's Amy Davidson. "If her distress and pain afterward were inescapable, in that telling, maybe she just felt ashamed about being a bad, immodest woman. Will takes it a step further: What she really liked was the aftermath, too. If Will thinks that being known as someone who reported a sexual assault causes one to be greeted with general awe, he is mistaken; the looks one gets, and the gossip, are likely quite different, particularly in the situations involving students in the same social circle."

The background message from Will's column is old and oft-repeated by defenders of patriarchy, contends James Hamblin of The Atlantic: Rape is not rape unless it involves force.

"Most sexual assault is perpetrated by an acquaintance, not a masked man in the bushes with a knife, and its definition hinges not on physical force but absence of consent."

But, as with most of Will's choleric columns, the true target of his moral contortionist act is "progressivism," which, writes Davidson, "he seems to regard as an engine for the mysterious elevation of people whom he doesn't feel should call themselves victims."

The Washington Post's Alyssa Rosenberg writes that addressing sexual assault on campuses around the nation has nothing to do with "progressivism."

"The right to be able to speak about your experience and have your testimony be received respectfully seems like a rather meager reward to claim for an experience that involves physical violation and pain, immense social stigma and psychological damage."

But, she noted, Will's column "is a useful example of beliefs about sexual assault that persist despite evidence to contradict them. And it is an opportunity to examine why some of those beliefs are so powerful and persistent."

And Valenti notes that Will's reaction to sexual assault awareness on campuses around the country is actually a sign that "feminist language and recommendations around sexual assault are being taken seriously ..."

"There's much work to be done, for sure -- victim-blaming is still much the norm in some circles -- but gone are the days when you could say something stupid and sexist and it would go unnoticed or applauded. I'm sure that this change in what's socially acceptable terrifies Will and his cohort because it upends everything they believe about women, sex and consent -- and it reveals them for the dinosaurs that they are."

So while "dinosaurs" like Will continue to decry the loss of white male privilege and the freedom to take what you want when you want to, no apologies, there are signs that we are slowly entering into an age when victims of sexual assault are treated with sensitivity, respect and awe ... and we say awe because of the obstacles that still exist today to coming forward and saying "I was raped."


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