“You’re gonna need a shotgun” Raising a daughter in a rape culture

September 7, 2017

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I was speaking at a civil rights conference in Michigan this week and over lunch I was having a conversation with a jovial guy who worked in law enforcement. Since it’s always a unifying topic, we began chatting about our children. I showed him a cute pic of Cozy milking a cow at the Oregon State Fair. “You’re gonna need a shotgun,” he said.

I wish it was the first time I’d heard that line. Even before Cozy was born, when friends, family, or strangers heard we were having a girl, the calls for “better get a shotgun” came from men of all ages.

I understand that these men are trying to be cute, but it always injects two thoughts into my head; 1) I don’t want a gun, and 2) thanks for reminding me that boys and men will try to rape my daughter.

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I mean, isn’t that what that line means? If Cozy is hanging out with a boy that she likes, it’s her time, her body, her choice. Right? It’s only if said boy crosses some boundary into nonconsensual douche-baggery that hero dad is supposed to rush in with his 12-gauge Remington to rescue his damsel in distress by threatening to blow this kid’s head clean off. “Do you feel lucky, punk?”

I’m not buying it.

What patriarchal vision has a father guarding his daughter’s window, weapon loaded, to make sure sex-crazed boys don’t rob her of her precious virginity? Cozy can arm herself with the wisdom to surround herself with the type of boys who can use the front door. I’m trying not to think too much about her inevitable transition into a sexual being, but my hope is she will own it responsibly without the anxiety of a father who wants her locked in a chastity belt, or who is lying in wait, with a Winchester across his lap.

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The cute line about shotguns is more an acknowledgement of the rape culture we must raise our daughters in. I can trust that Cozy will make good choices with the boys (and/or girls) in her life and know how to shut down any unwanted advances (and accept the wanted ones). We will load her up with lines from TLC (“I don’t want no scrub.”) and bell hooks (“There can be no love without justice, asshole.”) But the harsh reality is that there will probably be boys and men than blast right though those defenses.

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Self-report studies have found that one in four women in America will be raped in their lifetime, many numerous times. The numbers are even more bleak for the more broadly defined “sexual assault.” He may not force his penis into her, but “just” grabbing her breasts may be enough to demonstrate who is boss. The same research shows that only 22% of rapes are committed by strangers, the majority are men known to the victim. This might happen in a dormitory, on a date, at a family gathering, or all of the above. It could be a boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, or thinks-he’s-a-boyfriend, or all of the above. There is no place that girls and women are safe from the potential of unwanted sexual contact; not home, not work, not school. So I know this, and it kills me that Cozy will know this, too.

We’ve tried raise a generation of girls who can defend themselves. We’ve given them guns, pepper spray, German Shepherds, and rape whistles. We’ve taught them how to walk in groups, cover their drinks in bars, and trust their guts about guys who give off rapey vibes. But we haven’t done a very good job teaching boys and men not to rape. When their presidents and faux-medieval TV heroes do it, you can understand why they might think they are entitled to women and girls’ bodies. According to a 1998 study by the National Institute of Justice, 1 in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. A recent University of North Dakota survey found that 1 in 3 college males would rape a female if they knew that would not face any consequences. Boys will be boys, right?

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If there’s any good news it’s that the rates of rape and sexual assault have been falling (along with the violent crime rate in general). Rape victims coming out of the shadows and sharing their stories have surely been a part of that decline. Every man has at least one woman in his life who has experienced this horror. Maybe boys need to hear these stories as well, from their mothers, sisters, teachers, doctors, neighbors. It makes all that Game of Thrones rape a bit less entertaining. I do know the decline in what is still an epidemic of sexual violence has nothing with dads chasing aspiring rapists off with shotguns.

So here’s how that conversation is going to go next time:

“You’re daughter’s very cute. You’re gonna need a shotgun”

“Why?”

“Because she’s going to have boys all over her.”

“What if she wants boys all over her?”

“What if she doesn’t?”

“So, you’re saying she’ll have guys harassing her and trying to rape her.”

“It happens.”

“And she won’t be able to take care of it herself?”

“She might not be. I’m just saying you might need that gun.”

“How about you teach your boy not to rape her and we spend that gun money on something else?”

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Postscript: A friend pointed out that also coded in this is that only pretty/skinny/cute girls are targets of rape, as if rape was an act of sexual attraction. All types of girls and women are rape. It’s about power, not sex.

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The Monsters Under the Bed

July 7, 2017

I’m learning all about the many stages of child development. For example, Cozy suddenly doesn’t want to stop wearing diapers. I figured she’s be ready to move to the next big thing, undies! It’s her connection to her safe dependency on her parents, perhaps; a security blanket she can pee on. I mean, once you start wearing underpants, what’s next? A 9 to 5 job? Days spent deleting spam emails and right-wing family members? Awkward conversations with canvassers on the front porch?

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We’re now in the monster stage. The monsters have arrived in our home. There’s a monster in her bedroom or, just one in the closet. She doesn’t want to sleep in her room or go downstairs and help me with the laundry. “There’s a monster down there!” I’m not sure where it comes from. Oh, yeah, I do. Scooby Doo, and Frozen and everything else that’s “kid friendly.”  She won’t even open Where the Wild Things Are yet.

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I know there are twisted parents that won’t think twice about exposing their kids to the most horrible images. (“C’mere baby. We’re gonna watch Aliens. It’ll be good for ya.”) I’m still suffering from watching Dark Shadows with my mom as a toddler. In 1999, I ran into a couple with their small child at a theater buying tickets to 8mm, the Nicolas Cage movie about snuff films. They were in line in front of me and I knelt down to the kid’s level and said, “Little girl, your parents are seriously fucked up people.” The mother looked like she was going to get another beating as dad glared at me. I should track that little girl down, probably in Coffee Creek Women’s Correctional Facility.

The point is, we’ve been trying to shield Cozy from the basic fact that there are truly monsters in the world. If only they were as manageable as Sasquatch or Marshmallow the Snow Giant. I don’t want her to know that there are people who would snatch her off a playground or murder her parents for a little bit of money. I’m old enough to remember stories of garment manufactures who cut corners on flame retardant pajamas, soaking them with chemicals that mutated kids’ DNA. (Explaining why they keep making X-Men movies.) Those creeps were monsters.

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In the most recent episode of my podcast, Recovering Asshole, I was talking to feminist educator Jen Moore about male privilege. There are so many monsters that I, as a male, can ignore. We discussed that, at some point, my wife and I will have to explain to our daughter that there are boys and men who will try to rape her and those monsters might appear to her as friends. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of potential threats. Add drunk drivers and politicians that want to take away your health care (some of whom are surely drunk themselves) and more. When I was a kid, I thought the city-stomping line-up in 1968 Japanese film, Destroy All Monsters, was the worst possible thing humanity could face. And then Donald Trump pulled us out of the Paris Climate Accord.

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I was listening to a story on NPR about the horrific Grenfell Tower fire in London in which they are still counting the dead. The building designers seemed to forget sprinklers and adequate fire exits, but it was low income housing so why bother. There was a witness account of a woman who wrapped a baby in blankets and dropped the baby from a 9th story window. I had to pull over the car I was so consumed with sadness. I thought of the World Trade Center jumpers on 9/11 whose last choice was one form of death over another. Then I thought of a mother choosing to say goodbye to her little baby before she perished in flames, hoping that at least her child would survive. I thought the people responsible for those deaths are the real monsters under our beds.

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Cozy has taken to playing “Monster” this week. “Daddy, you be a monster and I’ll be a princess.” Or the more fun version, “Daddy, I’ll be a monster and you be a princess.” This monster prefers tickling to abduction or regulation violations. I think it’s her way of having some power over the feeling that something evil is lurking just out of view. When she was born I believed I could protect her from it, but now I know I can’t. Not truly. But let’s pretend, just a little longer.

Postscript: About 1 a.m. this morning, Andrea and I were still up. (I had a late-night job talk with someone in Ethiopia.) Cozy came in, sleepily carrying her Minnie Mouse doll, Pink (her favorite blanket), a Frozen kickball, and a green mylar balloon on a string. We were laughing so hard, we let her climb in bed with us. No monsters here.

 

Donald Trump for President of Rape Culture

October 10, 2016

Let’s hope this is my last blog post dedicated to Candidate Trump as his schadenfreude campaign circles the toilet. One more “teachable moment” for the country that the Trump train wreck has gifted us.

I was going to call this piece, “Will Donald Trump Grab My Daughter’s Pussy?” now that that word is more relevant to the 2016 election than “down-ballot.” I have to think Trump’s marriage gets turned over to the lawyers after election day and he will start “moving on” other women “like a bitch.” I’m going to hope his targets are over the age of 13, but with Trump, we don’t know.

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Feminists and academics (and feminist academics like me) have been writing about rape culture for a while now. We’ve been writing about it existing in frat houses and rap songs and every other episode of Game of Thrones. It’s the normality of sexual violence against women. The numbers vary depending on the study and methodology, but roughly one in four women are willing to report being victims of sexual assault. Anybody willing to listen would guess the percentage is a hell of a lot higher, especially when you include sexual assaults of young girls. (Plenty of research backs this up.)

If you are a female, you know this is true. If you haven’t yet been victimized you know it is always a looming possibility. If you are a man, you either plug into the concern about the women in your life and work to make them safe (including standing up to “locker room talk”), or you are part of the problem.

Rape culture is rooted, first, in patriarchy. The most popular God in our culture is a male and He lets his men know that women are objects to be conquered. There’s plenty of sanctioned rape in The Bible, so it’s not a new idea. The belief is that women’s (and girls) bodies exist for male pleasure; to look at, to have sex with, and to kiss and grab whenever the spirit moves them. Females are certainly not autonomous humans with the right to control their own bodies. That’s a male privilege.

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So rape culture isn’t just the epidemic amount of rape that happens every day against our daughters, sisters, mothers and soap opera actresses. It’s more than a Robin Thicke song, as well. It’s the normalization that women exist FOR men’s enjoyment. One example would be beauty pageants. Imagine a beauty pageant owner who would brag about going backstage to see the contestants naked and making the bathing suits smaller to see more of their bodies. What would we think of that man? Would he make a good leader of the nation or a good leader of a rape culture? If you want them to be the same thing, you are a defender of patriarchy.

This brings us to Trump 2005 and his little bus ride with douchey Billy Bush, the poster boy for white male privilege. We’ve all heard the tape by now, as well as Trump’s half-assed “Clinton is worse!” apology. (Getting caught sucks.) There are two important discussions here for the nation at this important crossroads.

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The first is one is obvious. Is this over-ripe frat boy who brags about sexually assaulting women and, while his third wife was pregnant, boasts about trying to bed a married women, qualified to be elevated to our highest office? Does this misogynist have the right to represent our great nation that is 50.8% female? What message will that send to our daughters as well as the rest of the world?

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For me, the larger question is, what will be the impact of Donald “Grab their pussies” Trump have on this insidious rape culture? Many of his cult already view him as a “god” and we’ve seen Trump’s aggressive rhetoric translating into hate crimes and a spike in schoolyard bullying. How many boys and young males are now going to reject “sexual violence education” as “political correctness” in favor of just grabbing women and girls like Trump does? Will my daughter have to add the fear of Trump-inspired gropers to her anxiety about who claims a right to her body? This man being awarded the Oval Office would give budding douchebags license to follow their sexual drives unchecked. Be like Trump! WWDD? Move on her like a bitch!

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We’ve been trying to figure out when the “again” was in Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. Clearly, it’s at least before the existence of laws against sexual harassment.

And this is the part where I feel compelled to explain to the “But Bill Clinton…” Trumpists that Bill Clinton is not running for president. Feminists had a hard time with Bill in the 1990s, believe me. It might be news to conservatives, but wives are not their husbands. Hillary Clinton is a separate person. (I know that might be hard for these people to process.) She has her own thing goin’ on.

Look, I’m glad Trump has apologized and has said he wants to be a better man. That’s awesome. I’m on my own journey and am a better man than I was in 2005. But I’m not not running for president and I’m not sure we would have Trump’s mea culpa if that live mike hadn’t captured him off camera. The difference is two-fold. Unlike Trump, I’m willing to admit I’ve made a ton of mistakes and am using each one to be a better man (not waiting until everyone else finds out about it). Secondly, I acknowledge that this issue is deeply systemic. It affects everyone I care about, including my wife and my daughter. Out of my love for them and the mighty women and girls in the world, I am busting my ass trying to undo rape culture. This includes my role in propping it up. Trump and his droogs deny the existence of rape culture (and white privilege, and climate change, and…)

Also, I’m guessing I’ll be a better 59-year-old man in 2023 than he was in 2005. Just a hunch. But let’s imagine that he spent 69-years as a committed misogynist and dramatically changed his assessment of patriarchal privilege in year 70. Yeah, right. He’s a very old dog. We might as well just imagine the fallout if there was a 2005 tape of Hillary Clinton bragging about grabbing men’s dicks. Lord.

It’s funny trying to see the Trump camp try to rationalize this pig of a man. “Well, Trump said Bill Clinton said worse things!” Again, Bill is not running for president and, at this point, you’re really gonna believe anything that Donald Trump says? “Well, women loved 50 Shades of Grey!” As I wrote in this blog, feminists took great issue with that crappy book. Besides Christian Grey is a fictional character who, like Bill Clinton, is not running for president. Those Harry Potter books are pretty popular but I don’t think America wants a president who claims to cast magic spells either. (Okay, that might be more fun than this.)

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Trump’s lurking behind Secretary Clinton in the second debate like a creepy clown or stalker only seemed to be in line with his predatory manner. He again sloughed off his praise of sexual assault as “locker room talk” (3 times) and then quickly shifted to his go-to mantra about ISIS “chopping off heads” and people “pouring into our country.” He might be bad but at least he’s not ISIS, y’all! You had to think that Melania Trump, painfully smiling in her appropriately named Pussy-Bow blouse, was just waiting for all this to be over.

Singer Billy Bragg used to say that when Americans elect a president they elect a president for the whole world. In 2016, let us elect a president for all the women in the world and strike a very loud blow against rape culture.

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Empathy and PTSD in Rape Culture: Maybe a veteran would understand (better than Trump)

August 3, 2016

Sometimes I wonder when my thoughts about the world won’t have something to do with Donald J. Trump. I’m hoping by the second week of November. But his shameless attack on U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan’s family after their emotional appearance at the Democratic National Congress last week actually inspired me to have a hopeful thought. Seeing Clown Prince Trump claim he’s sacrificed as much as this grieving Gold Star family sent what few military families were still on the Trump Train jumping from the caboose. Trump tried to recover by waving around a Purple Heart that wasn’t his and claiming that he’s wished he’d gone to the Vietnam War (instead of taking all those rich kid deferments).

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Trump’s Islamophobic comments aside, the important part of this narrative was Khizr Khan’s passionate assertion that the the Republican nominee was devoid of empathy: empathy for veterans, empathy for the families of troops killed in combat, and empathy for the Vietnam Veteran whose Purple Heart he gladly took and showed off at a campaign rally.  “This person is totally incapable of empathy”, Khan told CNN. “I want his family to counsel him. Teach him some empathy. He will be a better person, but he is a black soul.”

Trump (and his authoritarian followers) aren’t the only people who need a lesson in  empathy. The lack of empathy knows no creed or color. But, unless you are a sociopath, there is hope that it can be learned. I’ve written about it in this blog and I teach it and I’m trying to maintain it when I talk about Trump supporters (which is getting increasingly difficult after the billionaire’s daily assault on core American values).

Here’s where this glimmer of hope from the Trump-Khan “feud” links to rape culture. And here’s where feminists can find unlikely allies. Every man has some female he loves, right? A mother, sister, daughter, wife, girlfriend, gaming store clerk. One would assume that they don’t want that female to be sexually assaulted. So if that dude learns that there is a good chance that she will be or already has been (a one in six chance by the most famous study on the topic), he might feel something: anger, maybe guilt that he doesn’t worry about being raped, hopefully concern for the (potential) victim he cares about, and MAYBE concern for other women he doesn’t even know. Empathy.

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I wrote about this power in a chapter I published in the 2004 book, Home-Grown Hate: Gender and Organized Racism. An emotional connection to a female can allow even the most committed right-wing hate-monger to build empathy towards others, including the people they are supposed to hate. So many hate group members left that world because a female impressed upon them how they are the victims of hate every single day as potential targets of sexual violence.

There’s a second link. I think most men, even the war-loving Trumpists that want to “bomb the shit” out of somebody, understand the complexity of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. When my dad was in high school he had a teacher who was a “shell-shocked” veteran from World War II. The not-empathetic 1950s kids (you know, when America was “great”) would make the sound of bombs falling to see the poor guy dive for shelter. What a hoot. Now we all have an idea of the ongoing hell many of our troops suffer when they return from war. We might not agree with the war, but we are all in agreement that those people served in conditions that the rest of us could never imagine and we owe it to them to take care of them and be mindful of the triggers of PTSD. Gone are the days of joking about vets who “go all Vietnam” when they get home. Maybe that was a contribution of President Reagan, maybe it was the 1978 film The Deer Hunter, or maybe it was the result of thousands and thousands of vets demanding their stories be heard.

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Well, I’ve got some important news for you. Those thousands and thousands of women who have suffered from sexual violence can also suffer from PTSD. This includes a lot of women you know, maybe more than you could ever guess. You think there are a lot of reminders of war in the daily life of a vet? Ask a rape survivor about the daily reminders of sexual violence in America. It doesn’t have to a news report, or a rape scene in Game of Thrones, or a Robin Thicke song. It could just be in a setting or the sound of a man’s voice. I am looking out my window right now and across the bay is Cancun. That word alone surely brings back some nightmarish memories for many women (as I wrote about last year).

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I’ve known so many women who have suffered sexual assaults, many when they were very young. Those scars last lifetimes and are heartbreaking. I’ve had female students in my criminology classes burst into tears when I talk about rape statistics. I now give a “trigger warning” before I even bring up the subject. You wouldn’t dream of telling a war vet to “just get over it,” so don’t expect a rape survivor to be on some magical recovery path that the guy who did two tours in Afghanistan isn’t on either. Like war vets, rape victims have a much higher rate of suicide. Both need our open hands, not dismissal.

And there are surely others who suffer from some variation of PTSD, including police officers, abused children, and the millions of Americans who have been incarcerated. These are all people we care about. So if you are a conservative who cares about veterans and police, you can totally care about returning inmates and women living in a culture that has normalized rape. And if you are a liberal, the converse is true! Empathy is a powerful thing! It can even turn Mr. Rambo Republican into a feminist. Let’s care about others besides ourselves. Really care.

The only question left is – Is it possible for Donald J. Trump to learn empathy or is he a sociopath. America’s soul hangs in the balance.

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Why we can’t have nice things: MEN and rape culture

June 1, 2016

When all the hullabaloo about banning transgender people from bathrooms in North Carolina hit the front page, my brilliant wife said something profound (as she is wont to do). She said, “As the mother of a daughter, I only have two things to worry about, BOYS and MEN.” There are no cases of transgender people attacking children in restrooms. There are endless cases of BOYS and MEN attacking girls and women in every conceivable location, including on a subway during morning rush hour in the nation’s capital. How we raise our BOYS has a lot to do with the hell that girls and women face on a daily basis.

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The reason people are opposed to transgender people using their restrooms is partially a product of transphobia but it’s also due to the fear that MEN, costumed in drag, will somehow abuse the bathroom right and assault girls and women. So trans people are punished for what MEN do. Frankly, I think much homophobia, in general, is rooted in this threat by MEN. Homophobic MEN are afraid gay men will treat straight MEN the same way straight MEN treat women; by sexualizing them, objectifying them, hitting on them, and raping them. I try to tell MEN that if a gay guy is looking at your ass, you’re safe. Just take it as a compliment. Those guys have high standards!

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Even before Cozy was born, MEN started telling me that I needed to get a baseball bat (or a gun) and be ready to beat down any BOY or MAN who harms my daughter. “If somebody lays an unwanted hand on my girl, I’ll kill him!” I’ve never heard a single father of a BOY say, “If my son lays an unwanted hand on a girl, I’ll kill him!” It’s up to the girls to not get raped. We train them for defense at an early age. When will we train BOYS not to do the raping and the assaulting and the harassing and the objectifying?

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There’s plenty of work being done to teach girls and women how not to become rape victims. Maybe she can take a class and learn a few good self-defense moves (“Go for his eyes!”) and her potential rapist will just go rape somebody else who didn’t take the class. There’s not much training of how BOYS and MEN can fight rape. But there’s plenty of training that helps BOYS and MEN to at least think about raping. It’s called our culture.

When I was a senior in high school I got called into the office. I routinely wore shorts to school to defy the unwritten dress code. One day the intercom in my Folk Guitar class squawked, “Will you send Mr. Blazak to the vice principal’s office?” When I asked why wearing shorts was forbidden, the very southern VP said, “Because legs are distracting.” I had to laugh at the thought of my sixteen-year-old BOY legs distracting anybody. But I asked, “What about the cheerleaders in their short skirts on Fridays? That’s not distracting?” The VP gave a chuckle and lowered his voice to say, “Okay, MAN to MAN, are you saying you don’t want to see their legs?”

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Right there is the mixed messages we give to girls. On one side, they have a narrow scope of expression or they risk slut-shaming (“Not wearing a bra? You’re suspended!) or being told they are asking to be raped. On the other side, they need to put as much energy into attracting MALES as possible and if their grades suffer, that’s just too bad. (“BOYS don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.”) No wonder teenage girls get all emo. You have to look good to BOYS but not so good you “get yourself” raped.

Feminists are all too familiar with the concept of “rape culture.” It’s the normalization of rape in our society. The data is clear, nearly a quarter of all American women will become victims of rape. That’s a quarter of our daughters, wives, sisters, mothers, girlfriends, co-workers, and students. If I’ve got a hundred students in my class and half are female, at least a dozen are or will become rape victims. If you reading this and you’re female that’s not news to you. If you’re MALE, you might have done the raping or want to. Or just maybe you want to stop your fellow BOYS and MEN from raping. What BOYS and MEN fear the most about going to prison is what girls and women fear every day.

If you don’t believe rape is normalized, just watch a few episodes of Game of Thrones, a series that must be written by teenage rapist wannabes. “Rape as entertainment” is justified on that show because some of those rapists get their heads hacked off. Yeah! A survey last year found that 1 in 3 college MALES would rape women if they could get a way with it. Think about that. That’s rape culture. I’d like to give that survey to the MALES who watch Game of Thrones. I bet it’s a lot more than 1 in 3.

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A few years ago, I went the big Bi-Mart Country Fest in a giant field near Corvallis, Oregon. (Hey, I’m from Georgia and a good country song about beer can take ahold of my soul.) There was a young MAN in the crowd that had a T-shirt that read, “Let’s play a game. Let’s see how many drinks it takes before you fuck me.” I swear to God. This was a big GUY but I said, “Nice rapist shirt, dude.” He puffed up and said, “I’m not a rapist. I have a girlfriend!” His date looked like a scared rabbit.

You add the sexual violence that BOYS and MEN wage against girls and women to all the crime BOYS and MEN commit (Another school shooting yesterday?) and you wonder why presidential candidates aren’t spending more time talking about the threat by BOYS and MEN in this country and less about (the BOYS and MEN in) ISIS. I used to assign a book in my Criminology class called Men Are Not Cost Effective. Author June Stephenson makes the case that the bad behavior by MALES is so costly to our society (police, prisons, storage space for rape kits, etc.) that MEN should be taxed to help pay for their shit. Why should females pay taxes that go to arrest, prosecute, and lock up the BOYS and MEN who rape them? Maybe the MEN who didn’t stop them should pay. And just think what we could do with the trillions of dollars we have to spend dealing with the mayhem of BOYS and MEN? (Google “Iraq War”)

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I’m going to raise my daughter to be strong and understand the real threats of living in a patriarchal society. But I’m begging you to raise your sons to not rape her. It seems like a simple request.

Note: June 7. I want to dedicated this to Brock Turner’s father, the worst father in America and a representative of everything that is wrong with affluent maleness.

University administrators allow fraternities to turn colleges into rape factories

Aug. 31, 2015

When I was an undergraduate at Emory University in Atlanta, the fraternities had a little Sunday morning ritual called the “Walk of Shame.” After all the big Saturday night parties, brothers would drag lawn chairs into the front yards of their campus frat houses and berate women who were walking down Frat Row, heading home the following morning. Many of them would hold up cards ranking the women’s attractiveness from zero to 10.0 in what one frat called the “slut Olympics.” Odds are that some of those women were the victims of date rape but none deserved to be devalued in that way. But that was the 1980s. Stuff like that doesn’t happen anymore, right?

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Lately news stories of rapist frats have to compete with news stories of racist frats so it’s easy to get confused. Last week’s story about the banners hanging on the Sigma Nu house at Old Dominion in Virginia urging parents to drop their freshman daughters off “for a good time” was just the latest offense to actually make the news cycle. Did the frat boys (yes, boys) know that freshman females are at the greatest risk of becoming rape victims the first two weeks of their freshman fall term? Even if they didn’t, I’m sure it’s what they were banking on.

The list of such stories is long. From frats jokingly referred to as “rape factories” (Wesleyan) to frat emails about female students as “rape bait” (Georgia Tech) and on and on. It is the norm of the rape culture in a place that is not only supposed to be safe for young women (universities), but is also supposed to challenge the power status quo by enlightening students to the abuses of power. Instead universities with fraternity systems are reinforcing the the status quo in the worst possible ways. I have endless stories of frat bigotry from brothers I have encountered over the years, from racism (ex. at University of Alabama, “Want one our niggers to fix you something to eat?”) to homophobia (ex. at Oregon State University, “We don’t let fags into our party.”) But misogyny was always just the air they breathed, not even worth noticing.

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Universities may suspend fraternities whose sexual abuse makes it into the mainstream media, but for the most part, it goes unchallenged in any meaningful way. Why? Because fraternities are the engine of the Old Boy Network that carries “brotherhood” into the corporate boardroom (and washroom, and country club, with “business meetings” at the strip club). This is the Old Boy Network that invented the glass ceiling and sows the seeds of rape culture because it’s a male privilege and it brings money from good old boys from Duluth to Dubai. Happy alumni in high ranking positions give a lot of endowments to universities to preserve their fond memories of academics and parties, but mostly parties. Why would any cash strapped university president bite the hand that feeds his or her beast by suggesting that the beast is deeply sick?

First, the reality

Because they’re right there on campus, researchers have had a relatively easy time studying frats for decades. Repeated surveys have shown that one in five daughters sent to college will become victims of sexual assault. A 2007 study found that fraternity brothers rape at three times the rate of non-fraternity members (300%) and that most campus rapes happen inside fraternity houses. It’s not just “coeds” who are victims. We can include off-campus girls and women (including “townies”) and young men (including fraternity pledges) in the body count.

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For years I’ve assigned Martin and Hummer’s classic 1989 study on fraternity date rape to my students. The research detailed how fraternities use “little sisters” (adopted female students) to lure women to fraternity parties, maximize their alcohol consumption (see my recent post on Cancun), and then crank the music as loud as possible. The brothers would then use the line, “It’s really loud down here. Let’s go upstairs so we can talk,” to set the stage for the rape of the incoherent female. Interestingly, the study also found that fraternity members with girlfriends were less likely to engage in rape. However, members with girlfriends were routinely castigated for being “henpecked” and “pussy-whipped.”

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There’s another deeper subtext about how these rapes often occur in group settings, gang rapes, with brothers watching each other have sex with semi-conscious women, performing their masculinity for each to other. In Peggy Sanday’s 2007 book, Fraternity Gang Rape: Sex, Brotherhood, and Privilege on Campus, there was almost a sport-like quality to “beaching a girl” – having sex with her while the frat brothers watch. Researchers have also explored the deep homoeroticism of young men living together in a “Greek” house as they throw any off any suspicions that they themselves might be gay by expressing homophobia and sexually “conquering” women (but not having girlfriends). Things that make you go, “Hmmm….”

Three things: Generalizations, boys and sororities

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Let me clear about three important things. First, not all fraternity brothers are rapists or repressed sadistic homosexuals. I’ve known plenty of fraternity guys, including my father and my college roommate. Both, like good guy Brad Pitt (left), were Sigma Chi members. (We hope Brad was a good guy in college.) I am confident they saw the experience as formative and way to make (or buy) friends that lasted beyond Graduation Day. I am not generalizing about individual members, but I can weigh in on the moral corruptness of institution itself.

Secondly, young males are inherently stupid and not encouraged to be enlightened. Teenage boys are not taught about the impact of patriarchy on their mothers and sisters. They are taught to take risks to prove they are “real men.” This includes me. My dorm at Emory’s Oxford College had an annual event called The Whore & Pimp Party. Not only did I not challenge it’s existence, my sophomore year I organized it (and booked a great Atlanta metal band called Metalworks). I really hope Oxford left that party in the twentieth century. It was both sexist and racist. And there are few more despicable characters in modern American culture than the pimp. (No Trump reference needed.) I was a stupid 18 year-old-boy. But, after that, I chose to evolve

Third, people will say, “But what about sororities? Isn’t that equality?” First of all, sororities were created because women were (and are) locked out of men’s fraternal organizations. Secondly, “separate but equal” has never translated into any form of equality. And third, sorority girls (yes, girls) aren’t dropping roofies in male students’ drinks and raping them. Sororities give the illusion of equality and therefore serve to give legitimacy to the fraternities that exclude them (unless they are “hot” enough to be a frat little sister). Sorority girls are the house slaves who think they are equal because they have a seat at the master’s table, but are still thought of just like the field slaves by the brothers. (I borrowed that analogy from Malcolm X.)

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When I was a grad student teaching at Emory, I declared open war on the racist sexist fraternity system and all its bogus “traditions.” The KA house had its big Old South party, romanticizing the days of slavery. Another frat (Pike), had a “Pole Party,” and advertised it on flyers featuring a woman with a pole going up her vagina. That one actually got a reaction. Word got out that if you were a frat boy or sorority girl, cover your Greek letters in Blazak’s class or he will call on you to defend your lifestyle choice. Anti-frat graffiti started popping up around campus. Women started saying, “I’d never date a frat boy.”

It came to a head when I was invited to a big conference of fraternities to discuss my opposition to the Greek system. Into the lion’s den. And I didn’t hold back. I talked about how we emphatically opposed racial apartheid in South Africa but we don’t recognize gender apartheid in our own house. I talked about how sororities are propping up a system that routinely turns a blind eye to the rape of their members. I said, “You are educated people heading into the twenty-first century. Is this the best you can do?”

There were lots of boos and and one alumni stood up and asked, “How can you say these things when we do so much good charity work in the community.” I could’ve questioned that charity work (A carwash for a children’s hospital! Thanks!), but for once I was right on point. I simply said, “Do you honestly think you could not have done that good work in a organization that allowed women to join?” He had no answer because there is no answer. Afterwords, two young women approached me and said they were quitting their sorority.

Now whenever I see fraternities recruiting on campuses, I always stop to ask, “Do you allow females to join yet, or do you still discriminate against women?” They just smile.

I have a fantasy that one day I will be invited to give a commencement speech at Emory. (Maybe after the film version of my book, The Mission of the Sacred Heart, comes out.) I will tell some funny stories about political science classes with guest lecturer Jimmy Carter and the day I started a punk rock riot when Ramones played at the school. And I’ll also tell a few about the bad old days of the fraternity rape factories. Of course, there are still frats on university campuses, including at Emory. A tumbler account ranks the current Emory frats, from top dogs Sigma Chi, “Good looking guys who are good with girls,” down to Phi Delta Phi, who were kicked off campus for “fight clubs.” The cream of the crap.

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My daughter, Cozy, will head off to college in 2032. I might be naive, but I hope fraternities (and sororities) are long gone by then. A memory of a hurtful tradition, like slavery. Young people do have the constitutional right to assemble. If the KA’s want to march around like Confederate soldiers they have that right. If the Alpha Phi sorority wants to say it only recruits attractive white females, they also have that right, just like the Klan does. The question is, do they have the right to do it on university campuses, subsidized and supported by all the other students who either would never be allowed to join them or who are, as my mom claimed she was in the 1960s, GDIs (God Damn Independents)? No, they do not.

Dear university administrators, do you want to reduce hazing deaths (and the lawsuits they incur), and also reduce institutionalized racism and sexism while weakening the glass ceiling that so many female administrators have pushed against? (Only 26% of college presidents are female.) End the archaic Greek system and join the twenty-first century. Clemson did it last year (temporarily). Individual frats and sororities have been kicked off campuses. It’s time for the whole system built on the exclusion of others to go. This includes black fraternites and other minority frats that exclude women and the minority sororities that back those frats up. College is supposed to be a place where all are safe to find and follow their dreams, not be encouraged to become rapists or the victims of rape. Are alumni donations more important than your daughter’s safety or your son’s criminal record? (Of course, many colleges deal with rape accusations behind closed doors so that today’s privileged college student isn’t tomorrows registered sex offender. Prison stints might cut into alumni donations.)

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Fraternity members are not “men.” They are boys who are trying to become men in a setting that encourages them to value “bros before hos.” Michael Kimmel wrote about this so well in his 2008 book, Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. In the end, he urges society to raise “just guys,” who care about justice, instead of just “guys,” who continue the cycle of bro culture. What if the next time a fraternity or sorority tried to colonize a campus (that’s their term), young men came out and, in the spirit of the opposition to Wal-Mart stores being built in small towns and big cities, said, “Not on my campus! Not at my school!”

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Some would make the case that the solution is to just teach frat boys not to rape. I would argue that’s not feasible within the institution built on the exclusion of women. It’s like teaching white people not to be racist by sending them to an Aryan Nations compound. It’s time for the whole thing to go. If they want to have their “No Girlz Allowed” treehouse off campus, they can. But let’s keep campus a safe space. I know this won’t eliminate rape (date rape is a campus-wide problem), racism and hazing deaths from America’s universities, but it will get the institutions that celebrate them away of our institutions of higher education. And obviously, some good old boys with deep pockets whose heads are still back in their college animal houses are going to whine about “political correctness” (No Trump reference needed) and threaten to close their checkbooks, so this is where the administrators get to decide where they stand. And it is a crucially important choice. The voice of non-Greek students is pretty clear.

My dream is to drop Cozy off at her freshman dorm at Emory University seventeen years from now. I want my biggest fear to be her deciding to become a business major, not if she will be one of the 20% of female students to be raped. Let them talk about the Greek system in her history class along with slavery. Evil Traditions 101.

Note: Donald Trump was a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity while at Fordham University. It is not known if he raped anybody while there and if he did how many women he raped. As Mr. Trump is fond of saying, “we’re looking into it.”

These books were mentioned in this blog and can be purchased at Powell’s Books by clicking the covers below.

Cancun: Where the U.S. Government Sends its Rapists

Aug. 10, 2015

Whenever somebody tells me, “I love Mexico! We went to Cancun just last year!” I want to beat them senseless with their selfie stick. Let’s get this straight. Cancun does not count as Mexico. It’s an American strip mall built in the land of the Mayans. It is a city created to lure gringos who want a nice beach in another country but don’t want to deal with grubby foreigners (or even their currency). It’s a fabricated vacuum that has very little to do with the great, vibrant nation of Mexico.

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Cancun was created in 1970. (So I’m older than Cancun.) At the time there were only three coconut farmers living there. (The 2010 population was 722,800, not counting douchebags. bachelorette parties and roofie suppliers.) The Mexican government invested in nine hotels and America’s favorite spring break destination was born. Clubs, hotels, and all your favorite American restaurants, like Hooters and McDonalds, are all positioned not more than 50 feet from ATMs that spit out Yankee dollars. Don’t speak Spanish? No problema!

So on Saturday night we decided to have a little excursion into a bizarre alternative universe where basic laws do not apply. We hopped a ferry off our tranquil island home and journeyed into the belly of the beast. Andrea and I and her sister Viri hoped for best. How bad could it be? Surely not the heart of darkness.

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Arriving in Puerto Jaurez we let Viri get the taxi to the club district because my American accent would have doubled the price. The cab driver told me, “Drink mucho tequila! Tequila! Tequila!” We were quickly recruited by a bouncer to come to the “hottest club in Cancun,” called La Vaquita, the little cow. (I don’t really get the cow thing. Udders?)  So when you get to this area before midnight, the clubs are front-loaded with dancing girls to lure the bros in. They are essentially strippers who have been imported from north of the border to attract customers. (None of the women looked like Latinas, not that Cancun club owners should proudly exploit their own.) After the clubs are packed, these women head home, hopefully to some safe space, before doing it again tomorrow.

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So we got cut a deal since it was one dorky guy and two beautiful women. Only about $35 each cover charge and he slapped our wrist bands on. And that came with an open bar, so an endless stream of sugary daiquiris and piña coladas headed our way. But then our waiter, Luis, just started bringing the trays of shots, one after another. I got the hint that the goal was to get the ladies extremely fucked up so they would be more “fun.” I started dumping my shots off the balcony so I could regulate and keep my cultural anthropologist hat on straight. I noticed the club next-door was Dady’O, the place Kim Kardashian goes to shake what her selfies bought her. I thought about running in and taking a massive dump in her honor but fish tacos have got me a bit irregular this summer.

One thought I had was how little dance music has changed in thirty years. (Just check out the 1983 dance mix of Human League’s “Fascination.”) But instead of extended dance versions you just got half a song before the next jam for the ADHD generation. As the clubs started to fill up, the DJ switched over to American hip hop and all your favorite hits where some rapper demands to have his dick sucked. (Can we please have a moratorium on dick sucking references in rap songs until there is an equal number of jams about going down on the muffin?) For every killer Jay-Z cut there were five super-misogynistic songs to dance to with your ass grabber. We were hoping that one-hit-wonders like Soulja Boy were now working at a Walgreens, restocking maxi-pads.

The last ferry back to Isla Mujeres was at 12:30 a.m. and since I’m no party-pooper we decided to go all night and catch the 5 a.m. ferry home. I may be a 51-year-old academic, but if there’s a good beat and you can dance to it, I’m yours for the night. And on and on to the break of dawn.

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We made our way across the street to the famous Mandala club and got in for free (again, I was with two beautiful women so I guess the logic was that at least one woman would be available). And we never paid for drinks there either (although we might have walked out on the bill, but who could tell with the jets of steam blasting out the ceiling at odd moments.) Like La Vaquita, the club was full of American bros on the  prowl. Viri had some dude try to drag her away but she used her “No speak English,” defense to escape the guy’s grasp.

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Mandala had a better dance floor and a “show.” And by show I mean female dancers who were dressed like the escaped from Baz Luhrmann’s version of The Great Gatsby prancing around while one climbed into a giant champagne glass and some bored employee poured a big bottle of bubbly (water, actually) on her ass. Worth every penny we paid to get in. And the bros shouted rude things at her because that’s what bros do.

The clubs in Cancun are open to the street which gives pedestrians a peek at what they’re missing and also allows people inside to interact directly with street vendors. What is painfully obvious is the large number of children who are working well after midnight, selling trinkets to tourists. Around 2 a.m. we took a break to grab some food on the strip (with about 10 different sound systems at full volume) and we’re approached by a sad-faced 7-year-old boy selling bracelets. Viri asked him why he wasn’t home in bed and he said his dad had died so he had to work. It was heartbreaking. You don’t want to support this exploitation of children, so I just gave him my bottle of water a sympathetic look and wished that Mexico had the same child labor laws that the U.S. does. Andrea had spotted a woman selling necklaces with a 9-month baby on her hip and chased her down to ask her why she would expose her child to all this noise well after midnight. Turns out it wasn’t even her baby, she was using it for the sympathy factor. The child seemed listless and doomed but it’s hard to judge people that are forced into this globalized cluster-fuck.

If we had been at a production of Les Mis, this would have been a quaint but sad historical footnote. But it was August 2015 and it put a downer on the vibe. It’s so odd that Americans are invited here to party their asses off while small children beg at their spray-tanned feet for pesos. And just down the street they can buy some of those children for sex as Cancun has a healthy sex-trafficking trade in the heart of the club district.

So, hoping to stretch out our adventure with some fun dancing, we headed back to La Vaquita and our open bar. But the night had passed some tipping point and all those free shots meant there were scores of barely standing females with the douchebag predators making their move, grinding and groping. It became clear at that moment that Cancun must be the date rape capital of the western world. Bros of every stripe (American, Mexican, Armenian) floated around to find the drunkest girl to “pick up.” An obese Mexican guy grabbed a petite girl on the dance floor by the hair and tried to pour a beer down her throat. I threw a handful of ice from my daiquiri at his head and she slipped away. Another guy had tried to do the same thing to Viri a little earlier and I had to give him the “don’t fuck with my hermana” look.

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It got bad. Like open season bad. Part of me resented having to stay sober so I could cock-block these rapist wanna-bees. Part of me was angry that these women were making themselves vulnerable to these assholes. But the biggest part of me was angry that men still see this sexually aggressive behavior as acceptable just because “everyone is shitfaced.” “It’s not rape if we’re both drunk!” It makes it hard to cut loose when you are thinking about all the reality-checks coming the morning after. Petite Girl ended up hooking up with a bro in a backwards ball cap and a tank top that said “Just Do Me,” while DMX rapped, “I gotta get my dick sucked.” I’m sure they’ll live happily ever after.

As 4 a.m. approached, we decided we better beat the rush and find a taxi back to the ferry port. Outside the club there was another gauntlet of vultures too cheap to pay the cover for the club. They were just hanging out in the street waiting for drunk women to come out and then zoom in like seagulls picking off baby sea turtles who just want to make it to the sea. Viri came out before us and some Pitbull-looking-motherfucker was on her tail. And he had a sidekick to insure his game. I had to position myself near her to send some kind of signal. But how many women don’t have a brother-in-law to run interference?

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We made it back to the ferry and watched the stars shine from the top deck as we headed back to our beautiful island. It was such a challenging experience. I will dance my ass off to a good Kanye jam and am happy to gulp a cocktail bigger than my head but I felt on guard against the wall of shit that happens every single night in probably every single club in Cancun. The place seemed like a fantasy world for somebody like Donald “Miss Universe Contest” Trump who puts so much emphasis on female beauty, the deregulation of the economy, and the freedom to not be accused of raping your wife. I’m surprised he doesn’t have a hotel there. Look, I know this behavior happens elsewhere and I want people to be able to celebrate the joy of life and “be drunken” (as Baudelaire urged) in a beautiful place like Cancun, but would I want my daughter Cozy to come here when she’s 18 and set herself up for the bro predators? It’s a tough call. But for now, I feel like dropping a bomb on the place would be a good start. What was wrong with it just being a coconut farm? As we approached Isla Mujeres, we saw a shooting star above the ferry and I made a wish for my little girl.

Note: The U.S. government is not sending rapists to Cancun. They come for the cheap beer and steak fajitas. Likewise, the Mexican government is not sending rapists to America. Donald Trump is just a complete idiot.