Love, Inc

The intersections of emotion and capitalism.

George Will Doesn't Believe Campus Rape Is a Problem

A controversy breaks out over whether rape culture is really a problem.

George Will, neocon legend and Washington Post columnist, is getting a lot of heat for his latest column "Colleges become the victim of progressivism." In his column, Will makes the rather illogical argument that university professors are such left-wing idiots that they have convinced students that they are all victims of "imaginary" things like micro-aggressions and rape culture and therefore they deserve the fact that the federal government is going to start ranking universities. This strange mix of real problems like three decades of soaring costs for higher education, a rather half-hearted effort by the federal government to stop the 1100% increase in costs by ranking the worth of degrees, rape and rape culture with a typical conservative rant against "tenured radicals" and their "ridiculousness" has upset a lot of people. Not for its faulty logic and bad writing (why does the Washington Post employ him? Are there no Neocons who can write a good column?), but because of Will's dismissal of rape on college campuses as some sort of left-wing fantasy.

How ironic that at the exact same time that rape and sexual violence are being taken seriously on the world stage in London at the summit to end sexual violence in war, Will would more or less dismiss rape on college campuses. Will complains that the "supposed rape epidemic" is caused more by:

Capacious definitions of sexual assault that can include not only forcible sexual penetration but also nonconsensual touching. Then add the doctrine that the consent of a female who has been drinking might not protect a male from being found guilty of rape.

He also uses the story of a young woman at Swathmore to show how "ridiculous" date rape is since the young woman had previously had sex with her assailant and therefore must have consented, even though she said no to him that night. 

The response, as expected, is to call for George Will's ouster from the Washington Post. Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, said:

George Will needs to take a break from his column and The Washington Post needs to take a break from his column, they need to dump him. It is actively harmful for the victims of sexual assault when that kind of man writes a piece that says to assault victims, "It didn't happen, and if it did happen, you deserve it." That re-traumatizes victims. I can't believe that Mr. Will has had this experience if he would put out such a hateful message.

I am not sure if Will is actually guilty of "re-traumatizing victims" as O'Neill sugggests. That is itself a slippery slope where having someone attack you in print is the same as an actually traumatic event. Such verbal attacks are not the same as sexual assault. But rape certainly is traumatic and it is not up to Mr. Will to decide who is a "worthy" rape victim and who actually "deserved" it. Worse, by setting up this good girl/whore dichotomy, Will certainly perpetuates the idea that some women don't have the right to say no. According to Will's logic, if the women know their assailant or have slept with him before or are drinking, they cannot be raped.

Will's words are certainly dangerously conducive to creating a climate of rape. The very same climate the international conference in London is trying to address this week. So if the Washington Post does decide to fire Will, it will at least send a message that all women have the right to live free of sexual assault. Or as Laura Chapin put it in her call for Will's ouster: 

Memo to George Will: When a woman says no, it’s rape. And since you don’t understand that simple fact, the Washington Post needs to fire you.

Laurie Essig, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology and women and gender studies at Middlebury College.

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