Andrea Dworkin describes rape as an act of terrorism and the ultimate affront to humyn dignity. She says that not only is rape a barbaric crime of power and hate, it is THE most effective method of perpetuating the patriarchal system. Not only does rape exert power, it terrorizes and intimidates and then works to shame the victims in order to keep them quiet and non-confrontational. Rape is no benevolent dictator. Rape is an evil despot placed at the helm of a patriarchal society and reinforced every time it is used as a weapon in the war against womyn.
This war is fought with increasingly steep repercussions on my college campus every semester. Those of us who speak out are denounced, personally attacked in newspapers, sent hate mail, sneered at in the food court and, my favorite, accused of instilling a “victim mentality” in womyn in order to secretly perpetuate the very patriarchal systems of oppression we claim to fight against. In essence, we are accused of “working for the enemy.” While it’s a laughable accusation to those of us in the know, I shudder to think of wide-eyed freshwomyn listening in terror as the evils of feminist agendas are described to them.
Attacks against our center and me are nothing new and are not effective. Lambasting our efforts is an exercise in futility. We’re certainly not deterred from our mission and never will be, especially not now, in this time of “War on Terror.” The time has never been more right to take up arms against those who would harm us again and again, with their actions, their words and their attitudes. Education is the best tool on college campuses, and that is the primary instrument in our struggle. Our university has celebrated Rape Awareness Week for several years now, with varying levels of success. The turnout is always much higher if there has been a well-publicized incident on campus near that time. Unfortunately, incidents that happen weekly are not so well publicized, especially when it comes to athletes as perpetrators, or we might have a better showing every year.
That one single week during the entire year was devoted to educating the campus about the epidemic of rape. When we stopped to consider why we weren’t more effective in our efforts, the answer was clear: one week out of the year wasn’t nearly enough time to carry out what we needed to do. We proposed monthly programming to the then-coordinator of our center and were granted permission to do what we felt would be most effective. To this end we have developed plans to speak at mandatory dorm floor meetings at the beginnings of every semester. During our presentations, we’ll hand out materials about safety and information about the women’s center, along with stats, facts and figures. We’re hoping something catches their attention, and then if they are assaulted, they’ll know what to do about it and who to call. We plan to sponsor speakers from Planned Parenthood and the DA’s office as well as police officers to teach basic safety routines. We host a self-defense workshop twice per semester, and have found an outlet for our discounted pepper spray. The problem I have with these programs is that it puts the responsibility on the victim and doesn’t actually address the root of the problem at the heart of rape culture: why men rape. The issues we want to examine are those of power and control. The question we want to ask is, What can we do to PREVENT rape, rather than merely teaching our campus womyn whom to call when they are assaulted. How can we help to change the perceptions and attitudes about womyn and subsequently about rape, on our college campus? The answer seems to lie again in education.
We are speaking to the men’s floors in the dorms, as well as to the womyn’s. Our coordinator visits the fraternity houses and does workshops and presentations about what “no” really means, and how to understand when sex is inappropriate. We try to put a face on the subject of rape by utilizing the services of a volunteer who is also a rape survivor. She speaks openly about the attack, that her attacker was a football player, and how the assault has affected her. She is a compelling speaker and is always met with great respect by her audiences. We set up information tables on campus to distribute facts and figures. We get the number of womyn students on campus each. semester and divide it by 4 (1 in 4) and post that number (those who will be the victim of rape or attempted rape) in big red numbers on a banner at various events on campus. It is a sobering figure.
We plan to stage a demonstration to illuminate the 1 in 4 statistic. Our most viable strategy has been and will remain to be as visible and vocal as possible and to inform our classmates as to what rape really is. In addition, we must continue to be vigilant in our stance against those anti-feminists, who decry our position and who work to perpetuate the myths that have built rape culture into the edifice it is today. We will continue our struggle to educate others about the attitudes and myths that have allowed womyn to become objects, and why objectification causes rape. Enlightenment about rape culture is never easy, but it is a task that we can never afford to let lapse, especially not now, in light of the current “War on Terror.” We are using that phrase to our advantage, to teach others about the War on Womyn, using rape as an act of terrorism, that has been going on for centuries…al though somehow I doubt it’s what Bush had in mind when he exhorted us to “watch out for” our neighbors.