Back to School, I Mean Rape Culture

SUNY Cortland men post back to school sign

SUNY Cortland men post back to school sign

As college women returned to school this fall, some were welcomed back to rape culture.

A few college boys who haven’t yet grown into man-sized shoes unravelled banners shouting:

Freshman Daughter Drop-Off

Hope your baby girl is ready for a good time

Go ahead and drop mom off too

A few bad apples amidst plenty of good men. (One of the good guys is a disgusted reader, “Bob,” who pointed me to this sorry story.)

Schools on the quarter system – like mine – started up this week. Hopefully we won’t face the sorts of problems that Old Dominion University of Norfolk Virginia and SUNY Cortland in New York state, have experienced.

Fortunately, both college and fraternity officials responded quickly to the OD and CUNY debacles, condemning the messages that make light of sexual assault. Sigma Nu suspended activities at Old Dominion while they investigate. And SUNY Cortland President, John Broderick, says the offending students will be disciplined.

Why promote rape culture? 

Unfortunately, from time to time a few young college men promote rape culture — making threats, making light of sexual violence or blaming victims. And some commit sexual assault. One of my first blog posts was about Yale boys (not yet living up to the title “men”) who chanted “No means yes! Yes means anal!” as they marched thru women’s campus housing.

But why?

Sexism and insecurity work hand-in-hand.

Whether or not these guys mean anything real by their threats, their motives and behavior reflect those of “Walter Mitty” rapists.

Walter Mitty is a fictional character who is meek, mild and disempowered but with delusions of grandeur. He fantasizes about being a wartime pilot, an emergency-room surgeon, and a killer. The American Heritage Dictionary defines a Walter Mitty as “an ordinary, often ineffectual person who indulges in fantastic daydreams of personal triumphs.”

When it comes to sexual assault, a Walter Mitty uses rape to bridge a gap between the not quite adequate man he sees himself as being and the manly man — defined as strong, dominant, invulnerable and virile — that he seeks to be.

College boys on the cusp of manhood can feel insecure, and worry that they don’t measure up.

By demeaning women with threats of assault — even if the threats are empty — they assert a sense of dominance over them.

For some reason this gives these guys a sense of power and superiority. Even though rapists are actually inferior beings who have lost their humanity.

Bob opines,

Many cocky “tools” I’ve seen… think it’s cool to treat women like shit and be players and brag or be cocky about it. Too many guys with over-inflated egos, and more likely rooted from insecurity… trying to prove to each other who is more of a man.

True. People who are truly confident needn’t go around acting the part, trying to convince both themselves and others that they are really great. Because a truly confident person just is.

Hopefully these boys will one day gain real self-esteem. And then they will become men.

In the future I hope that young women everywhere will be welcomed back to school, and not to rape culture.

Related Posts 

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on September 25, 2015, in feminism, men, psychology, rape and sexual assault, sexism, violence against women, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 62 Comments.

  1. While this cultural water is large… I find myself wondering about “what is it to be a man” these days. & what are the pervasive messages in the world…
    I recently listened to a podcast regarding change within any group.
    That it has to change from within the group – in the case of the podcast, they were speaking of street harassment (of women, by men) & how the only way that will shift, will be the men speaking to the men.
    I wonder if it’s a similar phenomenon in this case of rape/rape culture.

    • I definitely think that the most powerful change will come as men influence other men for good.

      And men are changing. I’ve been teaching for 15 years and the men in my classes these days are noticeably more pro-feminist than they were years ago. And that’s partly because women have gained a more feminist consciousness, And partly because men have. So it goes hand-in-hand. But as you suspect, much more powerful when men influence men.

      I’ll be posting a Ted talk from Michael Kimmel next week where he talks about how feminism helps men. And I read one of his books, Guyland, where he includes discussion of rape culture, and how the best way to stop this sort of thing is guys influencing guys. I’ll have to write more on what he had to say on that topic later.

      • Yes, yes I have seen this too, in men. The change through time…
        I’ll try to sit down with that book some time & look up the talk.
        I’m glad men (& women) are active in your classes… Working it, wrestling with it, so-to-speak.
        Thank you for your work

      • Thank you. And I will be posting Dr. Kimmel’s TED Talk on Wednesday.

  2. That’s disgusting. Who raised these jerks?

  3. This is what’s wrong with our society. A few stupid boys giving a bad image to so many others innocent men around them. It only takes a couple of idiots to create and image that this is how all men think. These guys just need to grow up. Making lite of rape jokes is no laughing matter, and I don’t see how anyone could see it as one. Dropping of ones daughter on her freshman year of college is already hard enough on parents, let alone adding these “daughter drop off” banners. It could just be 3 kids with 3 banners around town, and that alone makes it seem like “This is what the town does, deal with it”. And that’s simply not the case. I be the majority of men in these towns were against putting up the banners. But because a few immature guys thought it was funny, the majority of men gave their voice away. The sad thing is, the guys who don’t approve of these banners will most likely NOT be stepping forward anytime soon. Because they fear if they say they think the banners are inappropriate, sexist, or just plain wrong. They will be considered un-manly, or a wimp. A sad day when ones afraid to say how they feel so they can be considered manly. They too are part of the problem.

  4. I’ve read in an article about rapists about how these people are usually lacking in self esteem and confidence and because of that they feel the need to force women to be with them. And that rejection angers them and leads to them wanting to hurt the person who rejected them. Which I personally find scary especially relating it to this article, because college is full of insecure boys who feel the need to force others to be with them and no girl is safe in college. A lot of my friends who are in their first year of college bought mace and pepper spray and some colleges even give these out and also give rape whistles in their “welcome” package”. It’s ridiculous all the precautions college students have to take just to get an education or even going to a party. I think college should be a safe space where young women don’t have to worry about being sexually assaulted or threatened for not being interested in a man.

    • And the insecurity doesn’t necessarily center around anything a woman has done. Maybe their boss fired them, They feel insecure, And want to create a sense of power. Thanks for your thoughts.

  5. This is definitely cultural. In Europe, that behavior by college students is unheard of

  6. I believe a large portion of the reason that those boys mistakenly understand the misleading way to treat women is the failure of early family education. It’s pathetic to put threat on women who are usually physically having smaller scale than men in a way to gain their confidence. What mostly the healthy families are teaching their children, especially boys that as older and stronger they become, as more responsibilities they will face along the way, and the responsibility should not be and cannot be denial by them.

  7. In my opinion I feel that today’s media has played a large part in the way boys portray women. For instance, I feel like movies such as ‘American Pie’ or explicate music videos focus so often on the sexuality of women and the thought of sex that as boys grow up they cant help but feel like its the norm to treat women the way that they see them being portrayed in the media

  8. When I read this article I was really suprised I had no idea this happened. I am aware of the rape culture that we promote but I never thought it would be shown like this and especially in a enviroment were we are to learn. I agree with you where you say that these boys should learn how to grow up and be confident and don’t do stupid things to make you feel any better. I have heard stories that are similar to this but a lot of people are ignorant and should stop it. A lot of people assume that because women are dressed provacatively thats the reason they get raped. I disagree with people because no one deserves to get raped and we should stop promoting rape culture.

  9. I have to agree that the perception of rape culture in college and narrowed in specifically fraternity life stems from societal gender roles and perceptions of what a “man” should entail. From these constant pressures grows insecurities, which create an inferiority complex and therefore exploitation and extreme sexism of women. What we discussed in class today regarding how although males are seen as the “oppressors” that also plays into their own “oppression” and imprisonment in these cultural bindings of masculinity. Huggy Bear’s post touching on the question of how “men can do these sorts of things when they have moms, sisters, wives, aunts, daughters, etc..” is something I wonder all the time. How can men constantly objectify and demean women, when they come from a woman and have such close bonds with women in their lives? It’s absolutely crazy to me.

  10. I personally heard about this story on the news not that long ago and personally Im just amazed by these young college boys actions by “welcoming ” the young women to the school. Im truly just shocked by there way of thinking and putting up there sign. I can only imagine the parents thoughts once they were to drop off there daughters at the college. Because for sure I wouldn’t feel safe to even participate in the school if this was the I first thing I saw. Nevertheless, promoting rape culture is something just very unpleasing in many ways. Its something that is truly unnecessary and just wrong I believe. However, as mentioned in the blog I also believe that this was done for these young men to have that feeling of superiority and power over the women and its a way to also show off of what they are made up of. But its not also women to show off, but also against other men around to show who’s the “real man”. Lastly, I also do hope for the change in this situation because I believe that no woman should ever be exposed to the rape culture and most of all just have the right to feel safe in an environment such as a new school.

  11. I think back to my college days and how it was absolutely par for the course for my friends and I (this was the early 90’s) to walk around with metal rod key chains that contained sharp blades – and we’d walk around at night with the top of the rod unscrewed in case we had to pull out the blade to defend ourselves in the event of an attack. We never thought of it as rape culture- it just was what it was and we were responsible for protecting ourselves while walking home from a study group at the library, etc. Knowing what I do now about rape culture I see how unacceptable it was that we had to live in that type of climate.

    • When everyone around you sees the world in the same way — for instance that rape is natural and normal and that women must just learn to protect themselves — we don’t think to change the culture. Luckily, consciousness is being raised and we ARE now changing the culture. Rape is now drastically down among women of most ages. College-aged people have been resistant until recently — rape is finally starting to drop among 20-year-olds!

  12. When you enter college, I don’t think enough emphasis is put onto young adults about rape culture. We hear about these tragic stories of women being threatened and raped mostly among the fraternity scene, but it is continuously happening over and over again . To see this picture above with these boys “welcoming” women to school is absolutely horrific to me. Going to a junior college for the past 2 years, I have been exposed to a fair (not too much) amount of fraternity parties. Being aware of these issues, I still never really thought when I’m out “this could happen to me”. I have many other friends who attend four year universities who have brought this issue of rape to me more than once and it really shocked me. And although I am aware that these things do happen, it still surprised me when I found out that this is very common among big universities. Being reminded yet again that this is a reoccurring action in the college life is a real eye-opener.

  13. I think these guys acted upon this way due to their lack of self esteem. They probably feel as acting this way gives them a temporary status of superiority and a fake self-esteem. Being surrounded by a group of guys who all think this way makes it hard for them to mature and grow up and realized the wrongs in their mistakes. It still doesn’t justifie their actions but i hope they find a solution or a better guidance after this incident.

  14. Disgusting! It’s good that action is being taken against them. It starts with one person and slowly it passes to others. I don’t comprehend what such morons think about themselves. They find such acts as a cool one. Really their parents must be ashamed of having them as their sons!

  15. Shelley Greenaway

    i hate this sort of masculinity what with that, domestic violence and gun shootings, it makes me wonder if society’s ideal of masculinity equates to acting like a sex mad, brutish Neanderthal!! give me a quiet intelligent guy who reads any day over those who think masculinity= Neanderthal behaviour!!

  16. This makes me loose faith in humanity sometimes; however there is a bright side. I recently talked to my friend who goes to Yale University, wow I know, and she told me something. They have a group on campus that walks you home. It is a number you can text and someone will come to you and walk you home. I think it is so sad that there are campuses that promote rape culture, but for every closed door there is an open window. It is important to bring light on those who are doing wrong, but also promote those who are doing something about it.

  17. Victoria Hangs

    Being a freshman myself in college I got to see a lot of my good friends go off to 4 year colleges this year. They were all ready to join sororities and fraternities looking for the party and “cool” atmosphere. Just like some of the points made above, I couldn’t help but worry about my friends who are girls that love to party. They sometimes get very carried away. Us females have been raised to be aware and stay fearful so that you won’t have to reap the consequences of someone else trying to take advantage of you. Several of my friends have gone to these parties and been taken advantage of at a certain point in the night. Why do these boys think it is ok to bully innocent women and violate them? There has to be a million different ways to gain respect from your peers that doesn’t include putting someone in danger and committing a heinous crime.

    • It’s kind of hard to explain why so many guys do this. And a lot of them don’t even want to feel pressured to. But when women gain more equality with men, Some men feel threatened and react in ways like this, unfortunately.

  18. I used to live in Isla Vista in SoCal (a college town) and we had so many sexual assaults and rapes, it was disgusting. One time me and my friends were walking home late at night and some guys started following us and then proceeded to yell to us that they were rapists (thinking it was a funny joke), then when we called the police and they talked to them they said the boys said they were just drunk and thought they were being funny. It was baffling to me how even the police sided with them and thought that was an acceptable thing to joke about. I think the biggest problem is men and authority figures downplaying how serious of an epidemic this is. Every time they make an excuse for it, they give these men a reason to think its okay.

  19. How could young men even think that its okay for the to make a joke out of what some people really went through and had to deal with or may be dealing with this as we speak. For these boys it seems like a cool thing to do so they seem like they are more manly or to prove something to the people around them.

  20. On my first day of school I was worried about getting to school on time, finding parking, and not getting lost finding my classes. The last thing that was even on my mind was worrying about guys coming up to me making sexual threats or committing actions that would make me feel uncomfortable. We (as women) should not have to think about if we are wearing something too revealing that would make guys notice us or feel that we can’t walk to class (or to dorms) alone for the fear of something happening to us. School is suppose to be an environment where anyone can feel safe and push themselves forward into studying something they love and find a career that applies their interest and studies. The way you said that sexism and insecruity go together is very true. Guys that have confidence in themselves and the way they present themselves to the ladies are not going to do things that would be otherwise be called creepy or just plain wrong. These boys need to work on themselves and build a confidence so maybe the next time they meet a woman they might actually be on the same level and he won’t need to go back to a worse way just to feel good about himself.

  21. While I agree that the slogan “No means yes! Yes means anal!” is certainly endorsing non-consensual sex, I feel that it differs from the greatly from the other sign that is discussed in this article. Saying “Hope your baby girl is ready for a good time” is a very sexually aggressive message, and is wildly inappropriate to display publicly, however I do not feel that it shares the same message as “No means yes!” College is, statistically, where most young people experience the majority of their sexual exploration. I think that implying that the baby daughters going to have a “good time” are only going to be raped is a negative message to spread for both men and women. Firstly, the average college male is being assumed to be a sexual deviant who would rather rape than have consensual sex. That is a very detrimental stereotype to spread. Secondly, it removes all sexual agency from the young women beginning their college careers. Who are we to stop them from seeking sexual pleasure?
    Also, I object to the distinction that is made between “boys” and “men” in this article, because it upholds gender roles and expectations. Sexual assault on college campuses is a huge issue that desperately needs to be addressed, and removing sexual agency from women and telling young men that they are mere boys who must turn into real men is not the answer to this problem.

    • In a culture with so much violence against women on college campuses — about one in four college-aged women say they have been sexually assaulted — and because fraternities have such a reputation for gang rape, or raping drunk young women, people read these words in light of their cultural knowledge.

      If guys don’t like a stereotype that sees them as rape-prone (particularly fraternity boys) then they should do something about the reality behind it: guys need to promote respect between the sexes, and they need to stop boys (not yet deserving the title “men”) from raping instead of turning their eyes away.

      With regard to calling rapists “boys” instead of men, the comparison is between children and adults (not male and female). These boys need to grow up.

      The real answer to the problem is gender equality. In cultures where women and girls are respected you have low or no violence against them.

      btw, I suspect that “Jennifer” is actually more likely “John” or some other guy’s name.

  22. It is always really difficult reading these stories and articles, especially being a young female college student. The most difficult part about all of this is how true and common it is in our society. It is very sad that in our culture and society, us women are the ones that are usually blamed for the behavior of these boys. This article stated it nicely how these boys are insecure and are trying to prove their masculinity to themselves and others. The most annoying thing for a girl, is to be told that we shouldn’t wear a certain outfit because it is too revealing or that it is basically telling a guy that we want it. Why can’t we teach boys how to respect women? Why are we the ones having to change or hide ourselves just so that they don’t act out? I think more people need to realize the these boys should be held accountable for their actions, this article is really helpful for that. I’ve observed the different types of guys, either they’re respectful to women or just like the guys in this article. I do believe it has to do with self confidence and their egos but a lot of it is also because of the way they were raised. However, there is only so much your family and parents can teach you, the media pretty much does the rest. These boys sadly don’t know any better when they should.

  23. This is a sad, unfortunate, and frightening truth to this article. I have attended fraternity parties in the distant past, I can proudly say I was only an observer of these terrible acts. In fraternity culture, college boys are only see as men if they are able to have sex and dominate over the women that are persuaded to attend the parties. College students who are able to bring in the most girl’s are the “pimps” that all of the other boy’s look up to. The truth that these college boys see is distorted. They get these girl’s drunk in order to sleep with them, which is literally rape because it is always without consent. Some disgustingly persuade their fraternity brothers to “share” afterwards treating these women like objects.
    For women who do not conform to their wishes and decide to stay sober, the college boys use demeaning and demoralizing words towards them; they tell these women to pretty much get lost.

    The saddest truth of all is that college campuses today continue to support these fraternities. This culture still remains in existence today. Although some schools have addressed this culture, a larger majority still support it by basically remaining ignorant about whats going on. Regardless of what truth is being told, this is rape!

    • And due to social pressure it can be hard for guys to stand up to other guys. It can help to find a few other men who seem to be uncomfortable with what is happening and join together to have a discussion with some of the guys who are behaving in these negative ways. It’s important to be part of the solution because it is so devastating for men and women alike to live in rape culture. A lot of women become fearful of men and can’t enjoy sexuality — not to mention the trauma, anxiety, depression and even suicide attempts that so many young women experience.

  24. I truly see the rape culture in colleges, or college towns. It is such a shame that as the society we now live in, we have to have commercials or even reminders that is it wrong to rape. What kind of society do we live in that it we have to teach our daughters and young women to be fearful of walking the streets alone or feel guilty of wearing clothing that show skin. Somehow it is the woman’s fault because what she is wearing that is why she got raped because in a weak man’s mind he thinks she is asking for it. Regardless if a man has a inferiority complex or is insecure it doesn’t give them the right to sexually or verbally assault women, its not ok, and I think it needs to start from when they are boys, that no means no and I completely agree there needs to be an influence of men to teach people that rape culture is not ok and should be put to an end.

  25. Rape culture is something that is sadly, heavily embedded in our society. Boys are socialized to believe that they must be strong and macho in order to receive the approval of their male counterparts. It is important to not only teach girls how to protect themselves, but also even more important to teach the boys not to rape. No girl should ever feel scared to step on a college campus, especially in this case incoming freshmen girls. A school campus should be sanctuary and in this case I do not see how any parent would feel comfortable leaving their daughter on this campus. Any jokes about rape or in regards to rape should be completely stopped as they take away from the weight of the actual problem. No matter whether the boys did this as joke or actually believe in the statements they presented, this should be handled with the upmost importance so that this never happens again.

  26. I definitely can understand how college boys treas young women in college. They try to act tough and like they can’t be touched. At my old college, the girls would literally be treated like shit by the athletes and Frat guys, but they didn’t even care because they were getting a lot of attention even though these guys thought no less of them as little puppy dogs. Honestly college is quite horrible in the way that women and men interact. When guys think college they think “sex, sex sex”. Especially with the expectations that freshman have when it comes to the fraternity, sorority, and parties aspect of it. Guys acting like this becomes an expectation.

    • Fortunately, the problem isn’t all college men. It’s college men who are part of the more dangerous fraternities and sports teams. And interestingly, a lot of these guys don’t even want to act that way. These good men need to find other men who feel similarly and then work to change their subcultures.

  27. Whats almost as disgusting as the horrendous rape culture on college campuses, is how most school treat sexual assaults. They either drag the victim through the mud (what were you wearing? Were you drinking? Did you fight back?) or they will completely disregard the victim and pretend nothing happened. They do this for the one thing that controls the entire world: money. If schools were to crack down on fraternities they might loose loyal alumni in the future. This means a good chunk of their donations would go down the drain. Of course money is more important than someones safety right? In the documentary The Hunting Ground, its explains that even campus security will try to hush you up. The best corse of action if you’re sexually assaulted on campus is to go to a hospital, do a rape kit, and then go to the real police.

  28. As a college student I find that the kids on campus can be separated into those who make light of rape and those who take is seriously. All around campus there are posters which display the statistics on rape and these posters do a good job emphasizing how often rapes occur on college campuses but they do not help get across the point that rape can happen to you and your friends. I find that college campuses do not talk specifically about the rape culture at the individual school, which I think would be helpful especially since, while all rape cultures have similar aspects of men trying to gain control or prove their masculinity, each campuses rape culture differs. No college wants to admit that rape happens at their school so the posters giving national statistics distance the specific campus from the rape that happens where those reading the posters go to school. This reinforces the idea that “it could never happen to me.”
    An aspect at my college that I do think is small yet progressive is the amount of “Of Course I’m A Feminist” stickers that not only women sport on their computers, but that men do as well. It is very important that men are not ridiculed for making a statement of supporting the feminist cause because I think even a few years ago there wouldn’t have been as much support on campus.

    • Thanks for sharing. I agree.

      And ““Of Course I’m A Feminist” stickers that not only women sport on their computers, but that men do as well.” How cool is that?!

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