by Elleanor Chin, Vice President of the Oregon chapter of the National Organization for Women
“If you disagree, I’d love to hear your thoughts”
So says David Lickey, public high school teacher in Portland Oregon. He says this in a letter he distributed to staff and the students, attacking the notion that rape culture exists, and propagating false and misleading statements about sexual assault.
Okay, Mr. Lickey, here goes. (And this is for Mr. Lickey because he brought it up, but it applies to Mr. Johnson or Mr. Russell or any of thousands of others.) As a fellow once said, “if you’re gonna be dumb, you gotta be tough.” First, Google “Rehtaeh Parsons”. You’ll need a strong stomach. Then, search “Steubenville Alayna 2015”. It sounds like you need the internet to recognize “Brock Turner” as well.
You do all that? Good. Now, a key part of the premise in your May 2, 2017 letter is rape culture is a doubtful premise because you don’t know any rapists (or don’t realize you do). All the men and boys you know agree rape is horrible. Setting aside whether your anecdotal understanding should be the benchmark, you now know of some rapists. Those internet searches will show you the pride of their respective communities, young men who thought it was totally fine to penetrate a woman who was incapable of consent, some more violently than others. If you think any of those events were actually okay – healthy sexual self-expression of young people- then we may be done talking. And I’ll hope none of the hundreds of vulnerable young women you teach have ever come to you scared, or hurt.
Next some facts: you assert rape is committed by a small cohort of violent social outliers. This myth has been disproved so thoroughly for so long, I had to read carefully to see if you were being facetious. Sexual offenses are most commonly committed by men that women not only know, but have existing relationships with: friends, husbands, boyfriends, fathers, and yes – high school teachers (look up that business teacher in Billings).
I don’t know you. I looked you up on the internet. Pictures from 2013 show a fit-looking man with silver hair and an engaging smile. If we met, we might enjoy conversation about being liberals and history geeks. I might never suspect you of being a man to use his power and access to an impressionable audience to demean women and undermine their credibility as individuals, and in the aggregate.
You have the ability to get your personal views out to hundreds of people who view you as an authority figure. You chose to package your ignorance, bounded by your limited personal experience, as dispassionate, measured fact. From there you moved on to suggest that somehow men and boys are the true victims, being treated as monolithic perpetrators of a misogyny that doesn’t exist because in the circles you move, men make themselves emotionally vulnerable in their intimate partnerships.
You have declared your experience, the life of an educated (and dare I guess, white and heterosexual) man, respected in your profession, the arbiter of the validity of everyone else’s lives. All of us are wrong, and have to be educated about the misconceptions of an “ill-defined” concept: every girl who has ever been groped or wolf-whistled on the street, every woman who has been told to walk to her car with her keys in her fingers, every woman who has been threatened in the most violent explicit terms by strangers when they set virtual foot on the internet. You elevated the legitimacy of David Lickey’s life experience over that of each of us who has listened to a man in our family laugh and say “makes you want to go rape someone right now” – when the Take Back the Night march goes by the house. You don’t know anyone like that? Lucky you. You have two choices. You can believe me when I say that I do, or you can decide I must be lying, for the simple reason that I’m not you.
What you missed about the concept of rape culture is: it’s descriptive. We don’t have to “do” anything to formulate it. It is the name we give to how we walk in the world, like it or not.
You say you know no rapists. You’re a high school teacher. You know bright, aggressive, charming young men. The statistics on men who will actually admit to sexual imposition on women means it’s mathematically unlikely you know no rapists. You did not proclaim in your letter whether you know any victims. If you have ever once in your life heard a woman described as “damaged goods,” while a man is lauded for “scoring,” you’ve seen rape culture, live and in the field. Do you know for sure not a single woman of your acquaintance has gone home after a “date” and spent an hour taking a shower and crying? Would they tell you if they had?
You’re probably having a bad few days. You’ll either learn from it, or identify as a victim (I’m not sure how your belief in the marketplace of ideas fits in with that). I’ll have a drink with you and talk about American history, or chat some more about how we disagree. Coffee or beer. You pick, my treat. If it’s a beer, I’m sure no one will tell you that you have to keep your hand on it the Whole. Time. (just in case).