In any constructive agenda for the future, the gender feminist’s divisive social philosophy has no place. - Christina Hoff Sommers
One year ago today I published the first part of “Rough Trade”, which discussed the definition of rape, mentioned the hateful notion that a prostitute cannot be raped and described the first time I was raped on the job (the other incidents were described in the second part). Then a few weeks ago, I ran into this essay, “Researching the ‘Rape Culture’ of America” by Christina Hoff Sommers; it’s actually the tenth chapter of her 1994 book Who Stole Feminism? which I read while I was still a librarian, and while some parts of the essay seemed familiar when I read them a few weeks ago I put that down to its clearly being written around the same time as the book. I’m glad I reread it, though, because while doing so I was struck by the parallels between the rape hysteria of the early ‘90s she discusses in the essay and the “sex trafficking” hysteria I have discussed so often of late.
Sommers’ term for what I call “neofeminism” is “gender feminism”, i.e. anti-male, anti-sex radical feminism. She refers to its opposite as “equity feminism”, the sensible, pro-sex form of feminism which is concerned with legal equality rather than emasculating males and redesigning society; this form of feminism evolved into “third wave” feminism soon after the book was written. For the sake of clarity, I’ll use Sommers’ terms (which are also the ones used by Camille Paglia in her writing of that period) for the duration of this column. Readers over 30 will probably remember that the early ‘90s was the heyday of extremist feminism; after taking over mainstream feminism in the early ‘80s and silencing most of its critics within the movement by shame, “if you’re not for us you’re against us” rhetoric and arguments from a false concept of sisterhood, the “gender feminists” quickly established “women’s studies” departments and put a stranglehold on the government and foundation grants second-wave feminism had earned. Thus large, wealthy organizations were essentially tricked into funding neomarxist social-engineering schemes which indoctrinated an entire generation of young women into a hateful campaign against half the human race; even the Hitler Jugend was never so successful at brainwashing.
As with all hate movements, “gender feminism” needed to create a devil, a wholly imaginary or grotesquely exaggerated bogeyman on which to focus its efforts; for gender feminists that was “rape culture”. The second-wave myth that “rape is a crime of violence and not sex” was turned on its head by Dworkin, MacKinnon and others of their ilk; yes, they said, rape is a crime of violence but for men sex is violence. Girls were taught that all men are “potential rapists” and all women “potential [rape] survivors”, but unfortunately for their agenda the facts simply didn’t support that; the FBI reported that 8% of all American women would suffer an attempted rape at some point in their lifetimes, and since only about a third of all attempted rapes are completed that just wasn’t enough to create the necessary hysteria. The “gender feminists” therefore broadened the definition of “rape” to include any and all sex the woman herself did not initiate (even if it did not involve penetration or the woman did not consider it rape). In 1982 Mary Koss of Kent State used this new, broadened definition to design a questionnaire she gave to 3000 coeds, and concluded that 15.4% of respondents had been raped and 12.1% were victims of attempted rape. But that wasn’t the way the women saw it; only 27% of those she called “rape victims” agreed that they had indeed been raped, while 49% said the incidents were the result of “miscommunication,” 14% called it “a crime but not rape,” and 11% said they were not victimized at all. In true neofeminist fashion Koss ignored the women’s views of their own experiences and characterized their denial that they were raped (and the fact that 42% of them later voluntarily had sex with their “rapists”) as evidence that they were “confused and sexually naïve” rather than that her theory was wrong.
Koss’ results were published in Ms. magazine in 1985 and quickly became gospel; the “rape” and “attempted rape” figures together added up to 27.5%, a fraction quickly abbreviated to “one in four” and endlessly repeated in pamphlets, articles, “rape prevention” and “sensitivity” classes and protest marches. Joe Biden (at that time a mere senator) cited it repeatedly, and of course almost nobody in the media questioned it despite the fact that every criminologist and sexologist in the country knew that it was much too high. Then in 1990 the “National Women’s Study” by Dean Kilpatrick announced that about 13% (one in eight) adult American women had been victims of a completed, forcible rape, a number derived in part by defining an unwanted finger being inserted into the vagina during heavy petting as “rape”. A Harris Poll conducted soon afterward found the actual number of women who said they had been raped to be 2%; guess which number got repeated? The only people who made the effort to debunk these inflated numbers were Neil Gilbert of Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare and a pair of investigative reporters from the Toledo Blade; they pointed out the serious flaws in Koss’ and Kilpatrick’s studies, the conflict with other studies and the discounting of the experiences of the women themselves. The Blade article also pointed out that while the rape rate on university campuses was about 1/30 the rate in poor urban neighborhoods, millions of dollars were flowing to “rape prevention” programs and “rape crisis centers” on campuses (Biden’s “Violence Against Women Act” added a further $20 million) while most cities got nothing and “rape crisis” hotlines, where they exist, often go straight to police sex crimes units rather than to counselors.
But of course it was no use; the Gilbert and Blade critiques were welcomed by scholars and reasonable people but ignored by the fanatics and reviled by “gender feminists” with a vested interest in promoting the big numbers which would draw the big money. Both the Blade reporters and Professor Gilbert were accused of “promoting rape” and “hating women”, and protesters publicly called for their deaths or wished for them to be raped. This should, of course, all sound familiar; the “studies” designed to produce desired results, the grossly-inflated figures, the further distortion of the already-flawed figures by fanatics, the endless repetition of the bogus numbers by politicians and lazy reporters alike, the dismissal of the experiences of those touted as “victims”, the unconstitutionally-broad, civil rights-trampling laws spawned by the hysteria, the vilification of anyone who tries to tell the truth and the NGOs slurping up millions while the actual victims are ignored are all as characteristic of trafficking fanaticism as they were of rape fanaticism. The timeliness of this 17-year-old article is proof that, unfortunately, some things never change.