College campuses and feminism

Will’s and DensityDuck’scomments in this thread gave me the idea to write this post. This is just an anecdotal musing, not a data-supported argument for anything. But it seems to me that campus feminism has gone through an enormous shift in the past 20 years. If right-wingers, some remembering their own college experience, are afraid that college campuses are a brain-washing center where people are cleansed of their belief in innate sex differences, that is simply not the case.

Way, way, back, all the way in the nineties (I know, right? I’m that old!), I started college. Upon arriving on campus, within the first day or two, I was given a rape whistle. That is, a whistle I could blow in case I was getting raped. Rape was considered endemic on campuses. The statistics cited at the time were that 1 in 4 women were raped. Which seems…awfully high? The feminist groups on campus were extremely active, and their biggest issues were 1) rape (especially date rape), and 2) the objectification of women in mass media and pornography. Not equal pay for equal work. I remember the virulent reaction to Katie Roiphe’s piece criticizing the rape obsession of feminists at the time.

Bear in mind that I think some good came of this. Alerting people to the fact there is such a thing as date rape, and a man is not owed sex for dinner, is a positive step.. But there’s no question that the danger was blown out of proportion, men were smeared (I remember this poor guy holding up a sign in some protest saying, “I am a potential rapist”), facts were elided.

I learned as undisputed fact that any sex differences other than body shape were all culturally determined. If children were raised differently — ideally — there would be no gender differences. Pornography was an attack on all women (I was assigned to read both Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin).

Toward the end of my time as an undergrad, some of this had started to change. There was a move toward sex-positive feminism, in which plans were hatched to make a new, empowering porn by women for women (can’t see that that has dented the porn market all that much). Old movies were scoured for evidence of female empowerment among the objectification.

When I returned to campus to start grad school and teaching in 2004, an enormous shift had occurred. Feminist groups on this campus (a ginormous flagship state university) were basically unheard from. Environmental groups, Iraq war protests, and general Bush-protesting was where most lefties found themselves. But rape, pornography, and objectification were by no means a major topic of conversation. Outside of a few people in a few departments, people were not generally willing to assert that there were, in fact, no non-culturally determined gender differences. Most people I know in academia who don’t specialize in the area either think there are biologically determined sex differences, or that there’s no way of knowing.

[An exception to this is the claim that is widely held that sex differences in the sciences and in my own field (philosophy, which is about 80% male) must be due to how children are raised or sexism practiced by the field. See: Larry Summers scandal.]

I sometimes teach the hot-button moral issues freshman course. Pornography is one of those issues that I teach, and I assign pieces pro and con. In 2004, the general view of my students was that pornography objectifies women (but they didn’t think it was all that big a deal). Male students were generally silent during these discussions, or agreed that objectification takes place.

Now when I teach this, it’s a complete sea change in 8 years. Female students are largely silent while male students vociferously defend pornography. I don’t think the female students are scared into silence (although perhaps a few are), I think they simply don’t care. They seem a bit bemused about what objectification means. 8 years ago, no male student would have dreamt of referring to his own porn habits and preferences during that discussion. Now many do. Some of them simply can’t see how this is even a moral issue at all – the idea of being opposed to pornography on moral grounds simply makes no sense (they sometimes make an exception for hardcore, very violent porn).

(FWIW, I don’t think porn is necessarily immoral – I keep my own views under wraps as best I can when I teach. I’m more interested in the drastic shift in their views, and the feeling on college campuses.)

This semester I asked my students, as I do when I teach a small-enrollment class, to send me an email introducing themselves. One guy listed one of his hobbies as masturbation. This guy is not a strange duck, just sort of a frat boy type. Seriously, I wonder if that would have gotten him kicked out of college when I was undergrad. But it showed me that he was so unthinking about the possible implications of what he was saying, that he used it by way of introduction to a female instructor who would be grading him.

Of course, feminism survives and has shifted. But it is a vastly diminished part of campus life. I don’t think the night is getting taken back all that much anymore.

Rose Woodhouse

Elizabeth Picciuto was born and reared on Long Island, and, as was the custom for the time and place, got a PhD in philosophy. She freelances, mainly about disability, but once in a while about yeti. Mother to three children, one of whom is disabled, two of whom have brown eyes, three of whom are reasonable cute, you do not want to get her started talking about gardening.


  1. I was at college between Anita Hill and Paula Jones and remember the Dworkin/MacKinnon assignments and how subversive it was to bring up Paglia, of all people.

    If you had asked me then if we’d be somewhere around “here” today? I’d have been shocked at the suggestion.

    But here we are.

    • That’s right! I remember a whole class discussion devoted to whether Paglia could be cosidered a feminist (the answer was no).

      • Come have some lemonade and set on the porch a spell, in our creaky rocking chairs, complaining about our rheumatism, yammering about days long gone, talking to gatherings of amazed local children who listen, wide-eyed, while we tell them that all men were once potential rapists.

      • Kids today take themselves so seriously. Go watch your Star Wars and get off my lawn.

    • If you had asked me then if we’d be somewhere around “here” today? I’d have been shocked at the suggestion.

      Where would you have expected us to be? (Seriously, I know next to nothing about second-wave feminism, so any insight on that era is fascinating.)

      • I might have guessed that we’d all be using gender-neutral pronouns, as the Swedes apparently aren’t.

        • I’m actually with the feminists on this one. Sort of. I would support it if we could actually get from Point A to Point B. Unfortunately, the degree of control that would be required to wholesale change a language would pose a much bigger threat to a society than the language that I would change.

          • Not necessarily. We all use Ms. instead of Mrs. or Miss with no coercion required.

          • True, though I think the goal with that was to retire Miss and Mrs. entirely. On the other hand, since the goal of Point B in this case would be in addition to rather than instead of the current gender-specific words, maybe we could slip esh and ris (or whatever) in there. We need the Canadians to take the lead in this. When they say things like “use metric” Canadians listen and Americans get ornery.

          • Personally, I think it’s a stupid assumption.
            Obviously, “he” is a neutral term in many regards.
            In German, the proper pronoun for a young girl is “it.” Entirely de-sexed.
            It grates on me every time I hear the word “journeypersons.” It’s absolutely stupid. The appropriate term is “journeymen.”
            I asked my girlfriend one time if she was upset that they did not grant her a mistress of English degree. She giggled, and told me that it didn’t.
            Same stupidity, different sphere.
            More than anything else, people need to stop trying to extract large meanings from small words.
            IMO, if the purpose of college is to produce the veneer of intelligence, they have done quite well.

          • Will-

            If it is a small word, why such a hassle to change?

          • WillH, to me it’s an issue of specificity. Are we talking about a male, a female, either, or unknown. It doesn’t matter when we’re talking about “master” or ever “fireman” but it does matter, to an extent, if we’re talking about an either or an unknown that is outside the context of a position. We accept that a bachelor’s or master’s degree can be conferred on male or female, and journeyman in relation to a female doesn’t bother me, but the direct he, she, him, his, and her does have a specific connotation.

            If we say she or her, we are undeniably asking about a female. If we say he or his, we are probably talking about a male. If we strip he and his of its gender connotation entirely, then we lack a corresponding male term for she and her. Either a reference is female, or it is male or female. Dropping she and her would be a possible solution, but it’s a pretty uncomfortable one.

            It’s not a matter of offensiveness. It’s a matter of being able to communicate. The language has been crying out for a gender-neutral pronoun. We’re sort of settling on “they” and “their”, which is problematic and not accepted in many circles. Always specifying “his or her” and “he or she” is also clunky. Just using “he” doesn’t let us know if we’re specifying a man or we’re not making that judgment. Sometimes context lets us know, but sometimes it doesn’t.

            And all of this can be fixed with esh and ris.

          • Kazzy, I assume you’re talking to WillH, correct?

            I actually share his issue with journeyperson or congressperson, for that matter. Not that it’s conceptually bad, but because the words are clunky. I fail to see why it would be so bad for he, she, him, his, and her though. Particularly if we found a single-syllable designation.

            The more I think about it, the more I like Mike’s Ms. example. It does provide a helpful marker for marriage-status-unknown. It never replaced Miss or Mrs., though I’m not sure that’s necessary. If anything, we should add a married and unmarried honorific for men!

          • @Kazzy: Because the degree of stupidity in the movement for such a change is in no wise small.

            @WillT: Words are symbols. The symbol has no meaning in and of itself.
            In other languages, furniture and articles of clothing are sexed.
            Example: Negra Modelo.
            Not “Negro Modelo.” It’s the feminine form.
            For an unsexed thing.
            Why is this a problem?
            Please explain.

          • WillH-
            “Because the degree of stupidity in the movement for such a change is in no wise small.”

            Easy for you to say… Your preferred term is the norm. Suppose I opt to use an existing term but instead go for the feminie form, referring to you as a she/her. Do you have an issue with that?

            I was initially referring to WillH. I agree that many gender neutral terms are quite clunky. That doesn’t necessarily eliminate the goal of better terms… It just means we haven’t realized it yet.

          • I don’t see why some things that are so easy are so difficult for some people to understand.
            “He” is a gender-neutral term in English in many of its uses.
            If I say it 100 times, it comes out the last time the very same as the first.
            It’s not that difficult to grasp.
            In English, in instances where there is no term which is specifically gender-neutral, use is made of other terms to indicate gender-neutrality.
            Got it?
            The entirely inane and undue focus on one specific word while removing it from all context renders the meaning incomplete.
            English is, always has been, and will continue to be a very flexible language in this regard.
            No matter how many stupid people might love to isolate words from there context for the sake of spouting idiocy and nonsense.

            I can’t think of a context where the term she/her could be applied to me in a gender-neutral manner. Can you think of one?
            It’s a part of the meaning of a word.

          • Mike S. & Will T – I would like to be called Miss Mary until the day I die for a number of reasons. Miss makes me feel young, feminine, beautiful, respected, etc.

          • The current academic trend is to alternate he and she for impersonal pronouns. So one example will be she, the next will be he, and so one. Which i think is a good solution for formal writing.

            If I thought that changing pronouns in everyday speech would precipitate a change in thought, I would be all in favor. But I’m pretty skeptical about that sort of thing.

          • Will H-

            Please document that “he” is gender neutral as opposed to simply what is used. It is not gender neutral. Insisting it as such doesn’t make it so.

            It is easy for you to declare a position stupid when you are not the one in need of taking that position. You are not referred to using words and titles that disregard your gender. This is privilege at its worst and your inability to even see that, to seek to justify your privileged position as not privileged is revealing.

            That is what I tend to do in my writing at work. I hate using “one” or “child” when referring to the students because it gets clunky. “He/she” and “him/her” just bog everything down. So I’ll usually do a male one and then a female one, though I didn’t realize this was a larger trend.

          • We’re sort of settling on “they” and “their”, which is problematic and not accepted in many circles.

            As oppose to the widespread acceptance of words like esh?

          • I find “they” as a singular risible and uneshthetic.

          • I was going to make a joke, but they are named after the yellow pig Spivak.

          • I prefer “they/their”.


            Shut up. It’s better than insisting that gendered pronouns be used but that they be switched–is there, like, an Example Ombudman who audits your text for equivalent numbers of “he” and “she”? And it beats all hell out of continuing to insist that “he” is gender-neutral.

            Indeed, people will tell you that “he” is gender-neutral due to usage convention, and then tell you that it’s impossible for usage convention to permit “they” as a singular gender-neutral pronoun.


            “Fireperson!” No, firefighter. “Mailperson!” No, mail carrier. “Waitperson!” No, server. This is not that hard, people.

          • WillH,

            My objection is less symbolic and more logistical. Which is to say, most people do understand “he” to be an assumed male. It improves the ability to communicate when you can make clear that you are not assuming a male. I am all in favor of making communication easier. It’s one of the main things that language has to offer.


            I tend to they/their or sometimes the word “one.” The word “one” doesn’t fit in a while lot of situations. I’m perfectly content with they/their, but a lot of people object to it because the words have other meaning and the result is them thinking not “they use that word in a way that I wouldn’t” but “they don’t know how to use words”, which is also something to be avoided.

          • Will H,

            There are plenty of empirical studies which show that the gendered pronouns indeed form a bias in a person’s mind. Here is one:

            The reason is simple: humans do not process language according to the terms of analytic philosophy. We do not hear a word and then carefully analyze its full denotation. Instead, we form images and process iconic representations. The iconic image/idea of “Is the doctor in; can he see me?” is different from “Is the doctor in; can he or she see me?”

            To say the pronoun does not matter is false.

            And yes, the languages with gendered nouns have it much worse than English. However, that they have an unsolvable problem does not change the nature of our lesser problem, which is perhaps solvable.

      • Somewhere slightly more Victorian. Perhaps not discussing masturbation in public. Or at all, for that matter.

        I think most of this is the internet, though.

        Back in the early 90’s, if you were a furry? You were just some weirdo living in a basement apartment somewhere. When the internet arrived, suddenly, people found that there were tons of people JUST LIKE THEM!!! Living in basement apartments somewhere.

        So they started having conventions.

        Attempts to create shame cannot stand up to anonymous/pseudonymous messageboards where people suggest which fabric gloves purchased from which online store to best facilitate pretending one is a panda bear.

  2. “There was a move toward sex-positive feminism, in which plans were hatched to make a new, empowering porn by women for women (can’t see that that has dented the porn market all that much)”

    …. Okay. Deep Breath.
    …. Okay, try again.

    1) 46% of all paperbacks sold in this country are pornography for women (and mostly by women).
    2) How much graphical pornography for women by women have you read? (some of it is actually pretty violent, but ALL of it is nearly immediately visually distinct from male pornography, by a skilled observer.
    3) Do you have any idea about the pornography market at all? Is this a subject you research? If so, what are your thoughts on the changing marketplace?

    • No research, as stated in OP. Just anecdotal impressions. It is very much my impression that porn consumption by females (in the absence of a male partner)who demand female-produced porn is still pretty much of a niche market. It may be an avid market, it may a growing market, but I don’t get the sense that it’s widespread. Or that females who do seek out porn uniformly demand female-produced porn. Whereas porn by men for men is pretty universally popular. How much of the porn market is made up by paperbacks and graphical porn?As I said, I have no data on this, so if you have links to any studies that indicate what percentage of the entire porn market (including Internet and movies) is female-purchased, and isolating females who are not purchasing for use with a male partner, and isolating females who specifically demand female-produced porn, I would love to read it.

    • “46% of all paperbacks sold in this country are pornography for women (and mostly by women).”

      Hmm. I assume you mean romance novels, the literary value of which is indeed questionable. But you seem to be saying, “They are porn, I shall call them porn, and all who use ‘porn’ must mean this thing also.” That seems a lousy way to communicate with other people.

      Speaking of which, I sat next to a lady on the train the other day who was reading that _Shades of Gray_ thing on her Kindle. I was amused.

      Is it porn?


      • da. It is porn for da girlies, who, it is known, respond significantly more to the “leetle pictures in their heads” where da guys have a liking for de aktual pictures demselves.

        This is not to say that people don’t use different modalities, just that there are strong preferences that express themselves in business models.

        • Right. I get it.

          But see, I am sensitive to applying value-laden labels like “porn” to things that are not exactly porn. It reminds me too much of those who call Obama a “socialist” — ’cause, you know, look at all the ways he resembles a socialist.

          People apply words as broadly as they can, but they process the moral gravity of words according to the most egregious iconic example. The leads to no end of mischief. (See “socialist,” “sex offender,” “republican,” and so on.)

          Don’t take it personally. You got caught in the cross hairs of my pet peeve.

      • Ooooo, I adore bodice-ripping historical romances. Give me some Philippa Gregory! I don’t think it’s porn, but it certainly scratches a not-dissimilar itch.

        • English is wonderful. We have words like “erotic” and “racy” for a reason. Leaping to “porn” all the time seems clumsy to me.

          But then, _Shades of Gray_ — hmm — maybe.

        • There’s a line between Romance and Erotica and I daresay that the market for “Naughty Nooners” as Mrs. Teacher calls them is pretty.. er.. rich.

          Something has happened in the last 20 years to bring sexuality to the forefront of consumption, though I wager a lot of that has to do with internet connections and closed bedroom doors and teenaged hormones.

  3. Rape is still the major issue for feminist groups on my campus; understandably, as there have been several sexual assaults this year. I’m sure if there were several shootings on campus in a year, guns would become a major issue.

    What bothers me more about the university feminists (and I’m well aware that this is a stereotype, but that doesn’t stop it from being true in this case) is the utter lack of respect for any opposing viewpoints. There are two sides to an issue: their side, and the side that hates women and wants to oppress them. The biggest example of this is that the university just passed a referendum (about 800 people voted on it; 500 for, 300 against, approximately) to ban several pro-life groups from campus on the basis that 1) they were saying untrue things and 2) they were showing graphic images that discouraged women from pursing abortion. (Note: for a pro-life-group, discouraging people from having abortions is kind of the POINT.) Other university campuses have enacted similar bans, or tried to.

    To give a sense of contrast, just the week before the referendum a student group called Students Against Israeli Apartheid set up a week’s worth of events to raise awareness on the treatment of the Palestinians. Another group, that supported Israel’s actions, set up booths beside them endeavouring to convince people that Israel was basically the same as Canada. Both groups likely regarded the other as offensive and flagrantly dishonest. But they were both permitted to present their views.

    So the radicalism on the issue of abortion astounds me. Not just “our position is right” but “other positions shouldn’t be heard”. This isn’t even about pro-life groups that advocate government making abortion illegal. This isn’t about pro-life groups that are advocating restrictions on abortion. This is about banning from campus groups that simply believe that abortion is wrong, and seek to discourage it. In Canada, that’s oppressively pro-life and a view that needs to be suppressed. I can’t even call the other side “pro-choice”, because they’re not in favour of choice. They’re not in favour of dialogue or debate. They’re in favour of shouting down or suppressing any suggestion that abortion qualifies as a moral issue at all.

    (I designed and put up a bunch of posters before the election urging people to support freedom of speech. It’s the first issue I’ve actively campaigned on in an election of any kind.)

    So, low view of university feminism here.

    • Interesting to hear it is an issue on some campuses. There hasn’t been a particular problem with it on my campus (crime overall is reasonably high, but not especially rape). I’ve found that true in the abortion debate as well – although another change I should note is that in my classes, more and more students are defending a pro-life position (they’re still in the minority, but it was next to unheard of when I was an undergrad). I have heard many people say outright that you cannot be a pro-life feminist. One of these days I’m going to post on how I don’t consider abortion to be a feminist issue as such – that it is right or wrong independently of your views on the status of women. I imagine that will get me about as much adulation as I got when I wrote that wrongful birth lawsuits rub me the wrong way :).

      • In my day (which was after yours), one of the fraternities was distributing recipes for date rape drugs to everyone who lived there (including the non-frat guys)

        • ….okay, that is evil. Did the university take any action against them? I mean, on the one hand those guys could probably get the same information on the internet, but on the other that seems to come pretty close to incitement to commit a crime, from my perspective. Although distributing info on how to grow your own pot would also amount to incitement in the same way, and I wouldn’t object to that…

          Gah. This is why libertarian issues are tricky for me.

          • For the record: The libertarian attitude towards knocking other people out and then having sex with them is fairly uncomplicated.

          • They shouldn’t have let themselves get knocked out in the first place…?

          • The articles in favor of it were published without Ron Paul’s knowledge, and the socialist MSM should stop hounding him.

          • If only you’d paid them enough, they’d have knocked themselves out. (bah-DOOMP!)

          • Kat,
            No, doubt the uni ever knew.
            you didn’t need to pay girls to knock themselves out at that frat. They had laughing gas and a dental chair. People were quite crazy enough.

        • Jesus. Which reminds me, and I should have said in the OP, please don’t think that I think rape is not a serious problem, or something feminists should be concerned with. But the exclusivity of the focus was problematic.

      • One of these days I’m going to post on how I don’t consider abortion to be a feminist issue as such – that it is right or wrong independently of your views on the status of women. I imagine that will get me about as much adulation as I got when I wrote that wrongful birth lawsuits rub me the wrong way.

        I expect you’re right about the reaction, but I agree with you. Whether an unborn child qualifies as a human life (I’ve never comprehended the debate on that fully – genetically, it’s obviously human, and biologically it’s obviously distinct from the parent, as it’s growing to grow into a different person whereas your hand isn’t going to grow into a different person if you cut it off) is a question that is not inherently related to the question of women’s equality with men.

        • Would that mean men can have an opinion other than “whatever the woman wants” and not be labeled as a fascist misogynist?

    • …. yeah. I’d have actually gone and voted for keeping the pro-life folks. One can make a comment that they might be taking advantage if they’re posting graphic stuff around a woman who “is pregnant, and presumably in a lot of conflict with herself.” But asking people, in a “moral vacuum” (aka not emotional Right Now), to look at graphic images? Not too bad. I’d ask that they don’t do it on the sidewalk (some people have weak tummies), but…

      Any abortion ought to be treated as an ethical crossroads.Sit down, think about it.

      • Why shouldn’t a pro-life person seek to influence women who are pregnant and conflicted about whether to have an abortion? They’re going to be making an emotional decision regardless; they’re going to be influenced by emotions that push them both ways; what’s wrong with encouraging them to let the child live? The good of such an action (saving a life) overwhelmingly outweighs the harm, to my point of view.

        • Gee, don’t you think those women might also might reasoned decisions influenced by facts?

          • Yes, both emotion and reason will likely play a role. My point in responding to Kimmi is that abortion being an emotional decision is not in itself a reason to view trying to influence a pregnant woman’s decision as inappropriate.

          • That said, I’d rather people don’t display pictures of aborted fetuses, war photos, etc. etc. in public areas.

    • I would have voted to allow the pro-life groups to be on campus, with the caveat that they should be prohibited from displaying graphic content (pictures of late-term aborted fetuses, for example),

      • Why should that be prohibited? (And as a corollary: If there is an anti-war group, should it be prohibited from showing pictures of children killed in NATO air strikes? If there’s a group supporting the KONY 2012 campaign, should it be prohibited from showing pictures of child soldiers? Where’s the line?)

        • Because they are graphic and disturbing. Similarly, I would enjoin those protesting the fur industry not to show skinned animal carcasses. I think the public square should be reasonably free of inflammatory or unsettling imagery, such that people can spend their time there without being fear of encountering them.

        • It strikes me that the best way to keep everyone honest is to say that such things apply just as equally to anti-war as they do anti-abortion protests. They’re both movements that tend to lend themselves to graphic imagery. There is a good argument for time-and-place restrictions on such things, but we have to be able to separate time-and-place from “I agree” and “I disagree.”

    • Gender roles are an interesting topic. Strident feminists are often the worst advocates for the issues they want to raise. There is a strong tendency to want to squelch other voices or do this outrageous good/evil dichotomy. Its a shame since “feminist” ideas deserve more discussion.

        • Allow me to say that a) I consider myself a feminist, and b) there is plenty of thoughtful, sane feminist written by females (who are not just tourists to sexism). But of course, I think there’s something especially persuasive to males when a male writes it. Should there be? I don’t know.

          • I consider myself a feminist guy and completely agree with point 2. Sometimes people can only open their ears to an idea when they here somebody in their own group speaking.

          • It’s complicated, right? That article opened my eyes a lot. I mean, I was halfway there before I bothered to read it, and I was seeking thoughtful writing on the subject anyhow, so I count as receptive to the message. Myself, I would have been every bit as convinced by a female writing a “my experience at comics stores” (or some such).

            Actually, I’m sure we need both: the “As a girl, I find…” and the “Hey fellow guys, think about this…” Both send the message to some who need to hear it. A guy writing to guys has power, but Doctor Nerdlove did not figure this out himself. He listened to the gals. Feminist thought must originate from women — kinda the point.

        • The part about comics is pretty weak. Superhero comics cater to adolescent male fantasies. It’s what they do. And there’s nothing wrong with that, any more than there is with books that cater to female fantasies with unrealistic portrayals of men. The thing is, nobody’s demanding that female-targeted media be changed to appeal to men.

          If feminists want superhero comics that don’t offend their feminist sensibilities, that’s great. They should take their money and use it to support creators who make that sort of thing. But they don’t get to demand that comic book producers change their product in a way that makes it less appealing to its core market.

          Feminists aren’t fighting male privilege here—they’re demanding that their tastes be privileged over those of a demographic which spends orders of magnitude more on comic books than they ever will. Which is kind of how feminism has operated ever since they got legal equality with men: Exaggerate male privilege while minimizing female privilege, and demand that women be given compensatory privileges.

          And I’m not saying that the nerd in the story wasn’t a jerk, but it sounds like the first thing the author’s girlfriend did when she walked into the store was to start badmouthing the comics. I suspect that that had more to do with the hostility she received than the fact that she was a girl.

          • Disclaimer: I own three comic books, all of them written by women.

          • That said, it’s pretty silly for the guys who are into male-targeted comics to complain that there aren’t enough girls at the club meetings.

          • >But they don’t get to demand that comic book producers change their product in a way that makes it less appealing to its core market.

            Well, of course they do get to demand it, but no one will listen to them. It’s not strictly analogous with inaccurate portrayals of men. Many, many women believe (whether they’re right or wrong is an unsettled empirical issue) that these images harm women. That when men consume this stuff, it trickles down into the way they treat women. Or (less frequently) that it’s immoral in itself to treat women as mere means, and that is what these images do. So if you have that belief, it makes sense that you’d demand it. If I thought there was a clear cut case of of a harmful or exploitative product, I’d demand it change even though it would be less appealing.

          • Brandon says: “That said, it’s pretty silly for the guys who are into male-targeted comics to complain that there aren’t enough girls at the club meetings.”

            This is the whole point. I see few people these days calling for a ban of cheesecake. But consider this: women (and girls) get to decide for themselves their own sexuality, including what sorts of sexual presentation they should enjoy, and what might irritate or offend them. If something offends them, they are allowed to say, “Hey, that’s pretty crass. I don’t like it.”

            The right answer for that girl at the comic shop was: “Yeah, guys (and a few gals) like the cheesecake. It sells. But hey, check out this stuff over here. Maybe you’ll like it better.” There was almost certainly stuff in the store that girl would have like. Maybe quiet a bit. Instead she was told, “Hey, you’re wrong to feel to feel what you feel.”

            Add to that the creepy-weird-guy vibe. No wonder she ran for the hills.

  4. The statistics cited at the time were that 1 in 4 women were raped. Which seems…awfully high?

    Fun fact: the rape rate has actually dropped by about 80% since 1990. That may or may not have been true at the time, for some definition of “rape,” but it definitely isn’t anymore.

    • Interesting! Do you have a link? I am curious as to how such headway was made. And how the fall in the rape rate corresponds with the fall in other crimes.

      • I misremembered. The rape rate actually peaked in 1979, not in 1990, so it hasn’t fallen as quickly as I thought, but I was right about the 80% decline from the peak. Here are some numbers for violent crime rates 1973-2009.

        • According to these numbers, the ratios of robbery, simple assault, and aggravated assault to rape have roughly doubled over the same period of time, so it does appear that rape is declining faster than other violent crimes. I’m not seeing any clear Internet porn effect, as some have hypothesized, though a more sophisticated analysis might turn something up.

          • I think the data on porn are mixed.

            IIRC, the 1 in 4 claim was based on the idea that rape was the crime most likely to be underreported. And who knows what was defined as rape then?

          • Interesting that most of the disproportionate gains in rape versus violent crime in general came from before 2000. If I were a partisan, I might call that an Internet porn effect.

            It looks to me, though, that it’s more that the rate of violent crime fell even faster in the decade following 2000 than in the 80s and 90s.

  5. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, victimization rate for rape was 1.7% in 1999 (note, not 1990, I couldn’t find data older then 1999 conveniently) and fell to 0.7% by 2010, for a drop of about 60%; the victimization rate for all violent crimes was 32.8% in 1999 and 14.9% in 2010, a drop of about 55%.

    A few caveats:
    First, the rape rates given in the National Crime Victimization Survey are for total population; based on that survey, more than 90% of rape victims in 2010 were women, so the rate for women would obviously be higher than for overall population.

    Secondly, especially when dealing with relatively small numbers like recent rape rates, you may be look at relatively large error bars and also significant differences based on methodology. So, while you might conclude the rape vicitimization rate for women in 2010 was 1.4, based on the NCVS, the CDC Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found a 2010 rape victimization rate of 1.1 for women (and too small to measure for men).

    NCVS 2010:
    NCVS 2008 (source of 1999 data):

    Thirdly, there may be a tendency for these studies to undercount the rape of men, particularly the rape of men by women. The CDC study, in particular, defines to include only cases where the victim was penetrated. When you additionally count situations where the victim is forced to penetrate the attacker (which, as you might expect, is significantly higher for men than women), the victimization rate of men is 1.1%, the same as for women. And with that in mind, I see some indicators that the rate of rape and sexual assault of men is not declining as quickly as for women. As mentioned, the 2010 rate of rape combined with “forced to penetrate” is the same for men as women, and the overall 2010 rate of sexual assault is about 20% lower for men than for women. The lifetime rates, on the other hand, are one half to two thirds lower for men than for women.

    • I find this comment vaguely disturbing. And why isn’t there a name attached to it?

      • I see a name. Is there an anonymity-except-for-post-writer feature?

    • And, I’m replying to my own comment while it’s still in moderation, but…

      I see that my NCVS doesn’t match Brandon’s. I erroneously used percentages in the first paragraph, when in fact the rate is per 1000, not per 100. Also, looking at my documents again, my data is apparently for Rape/Sexual in general, as opposed to just Rape (which is Brandon’s data).

      • For my purposes, the specific numbers aren’t all that important. I just wanted to demonstrate the decline, which is huge and bound to show up however you measure it.

        • Absolutely.

          Just wanted to clarify (especially given the order of magnitude mistake I made).

    • What’s with the goldenrod comments? I notice that they usually come from the writer of the original post, but that such comments are not always goldenrod. Maybe it’s only the top-level ones, I guess. Is it something that happens automatically when the original poster adds a top-level comment?

  6. I’ve watched feminism evolve since the 60s, slyly wondering which crop of newly-minted feminists will demand the right to return to the lives of their great-grandmothers. One of my daughters had a big Playboy bunny logo on a poster in her bedroom. What’s next?

    Women got pretty much what they wanted, over the years after their services were so badly needed on the home front of WW2. Like the genie who grants wishes, those wishes and demands were granted. Now women graduate from university in greater numbers than men, I’m told. But like the genie’s wishes in the stories, there were consequences for wishing for such things as workplace equality: the tradeoff between motherhood and career has never been an easy one to make.

    I worked out of my house so my wife could finish up college and two master’s degrees. I thought I was a pretty good caregiver. I was certainly a better housekeeper and cook. I resented her coming in the door and wading into my handling of the kids, contradicting me in front of them, acting — if I may make so bold as to say it — like a particularly bad father who comes in from work, wants dinner, kicks up the dust and heads off to bed to watch TV. I was holding down the house and working, too. I stuck it out until the kids were grown, then left.

    But such is the lot of most working women in this country. The reason women don’t make it out of middle management and into the executive suite is precisely because she’s tending to a family. When there’s some equality on that front, and odds are there won’t be, I predict women will begin to push back, demanding the right to be mothers first.

  7. Wow, fascinating account, Rose. I’m glad to be able to read.

    I too started college in the nineties, and I remember it similarly, though I was only passingly aware of what was going on with feminist groups on campus. But surely in class, and discussion of masturbation or pornography was as you describe it at that time. It’s pretty amazing to hear about this transformation.

    • I am in fact glad to be able to read. But I’m also glad to be able to have read this piece. 😛

      • Thanks! I missed you in the recent art brou-ha-has.

  8. I should point out that I don’t have a problem with the idea that tendencies toward certain distinct patterns of behavior are inherent to biological genders. (meaning: I’m okay with the idea that men and women behave different due to gender.)

    But, as with anything else, I also don’t think that any individual should be coerced into those patterns of behavior because they’re “normal”. A girl playing “house” with dolls is not a sign of Oppression By The Cultural Patriarchy. A boy playing “house” with dolls shouldn’t be told that it’s wrong to do that.

    (My mother tells a story of how she decided to be a nurse. It’s because she wanted to be a doctor, but when it came time to talk to the guidance counselor about college majors, she was informed that “girls don’t become doctors, girls become nurses”. I don’t think I ever thought that was a good thing that should have happened, because I couldn’t imagine why someone would want to tell my mother that she couldn’t do what she wanted.)

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