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At the heart of this book lies a statistic, one which will either seem implausible to you on its face or else will confirm your worst suspicions about men:
One in four college women has been the victim of rape or attempted rape. One in four. I remember standing outside the dining hall in college, looking at the purple poster with this statistic written in bold letters. It didn't seem right. If sexual assault was really so pervasive, it seemed strange that the intricate gossip networks hadn't picked up more than one or two shadowy instances of rape. If I was really standing in the middle of an "epidemic," a "crisis"- if 25 percent of my women friends were really being raped- wouldn't I know it?
Ms Roiphe, a student at Princeton at the time, plumped herself down in the middle of the culture wars by not only finding that statistic dubious, but by drawing out wider conclusions about the credulousness with which many women greeted it:
The posters were not presenting facts. They were advertising a mood. Preoccupied with issues like date rape and sexual harassment, campus feminists produce endless images of women as victims-- women offended by a professor's dirty joke, women pressured into sex by peers, women trying to say no but not managing to get it across.

This portrait of the delicate female bears a striking resemblance to that 50's ideal my mother and other women fought so hard to leave behind. They didn't like her passivity, her wide-eyed innocence. They didn't like the fact that she was perpetually offended by sexual innuendo. They didn't like her excessive need for protection. She represented personal, social, and intellectual possibilities collapsed, and they worked and marched, shouted and wrote to make her irrelevant for their daughters. But here she is again, with her pure intentions and her wide eyes. Only this time it is the feminists themselves who are breathing new life into her.
Now, it would have been sufficient to raise feminist ire had she merely doubted the extent of the problem of rape. In the most widely cited refutation of the book, the feminist warhorse Kathy Pollit, first concedes that the one in four number drops to one in five in the cited study if you exclude alcohol related incidents, but then asks:
ONE in five, one in eight- what if it's "only" one in ten or twelve? Social science isn't physics. Exact numbers are important, and elusive, but surely what is significant here is that lots of different studies, with different agendas, sample populations, and methods, tend in the same direction.
Except, of course, that the number matters, specifically the purported enormity of the number. Yet Ms Pollit is herself headed in the opposite direction--towards rape being less and less prevalent--as even she extends the odds. And, having conceded the sketchiness of the evidence, why stop there? What about one in 100 or one in a thousand? As Ms Roiphe notes, in the decade before her book came out there were only two reported rapes at Princeton. Surely that's two too many, but only in utopian fantasy is it possible to imagine a world without rape, murder, violence of every kind. The persistence of rape, it is apparent, is a function of the human condition, not of any new "epidemic" or "crisis". Ultimately then, in trying to turn a real but minor, and inevitable, problem into a rallying cry, an organizational tool, and a political weapon Ms Pollit, the makers of the Princeton posters, the organizers of "Take Back the Night" marches, and other feminists must either be completely deluded or must have other interests in mind than actual rape.

It is here that Ms Roiphe's mere disbelief turned towards intellectual critique. Though she denied that the intent of this book was political polemic, that's precisely what it is. After all, it's not really possible to reconcile her disavowal with what she stated as her purpose:
In the pages of this book, devoted to the idea of women taking responsibility for their actions, I am writing against the grain. Moral and legal responsibility are not in vogue for anybody these days--it is never our fault or our responsibility, it is always low esteem or social oppression or our family or patterns of abuse. If we cannot trust ourselves to be responsible, we have to rely on courts and on ever-more-elaborate codes of conduct. Once the individual is not held accountable for his or her behavior, it makes a certain amount of sense that we should look to new, stringent rules of sexual conduct to keep order.
In holding, or at least trying to hold, women accountable for their own actions, Ms Roiphe unleashed a firestorm of criticism, the tenor of which suggested that she was a traitor to her gender and an apologist for rape. But such attacks fail to address her broader point, that the obsessive focus on a bogus rape "crisis" could only reinforce an image of women as helpless victims and was completely incompatible with the idea of women as responsible, empowered, and prepared to compete with men as equals in all walks of life.

One metaphor from the book will be especially memorable for many folks who live in a college town, as I happen to. One of the images Ms Roiphe summoned is of the system of emergency phones that dot the Princeton campus, readily identifiable at night by the eerie blue lights mounted over them. Spaced about a hundred yards apart, they convey the obviously doubtful notion that women are at risk with nearly every footstep they take around campus. Here in New Hampshire, we're a bit behind the times, so Dartmouth only got its blue phones this past year and many of us townies were perplexed by them and the K-Mart effect they lend the campus. Little did we know that their function is mostly political, a concession to the gender warriors, rather than an actual safety necessity.

Even setting aside the fact that we're in one of the quieter regions in one of the more crime free states in one of the safest countries in the world. It just happens that as Dartmouth has expanded its property holdings, the college built a set of apartments across the street from campus, backing up against a residential neighborhood. Since the half of this block that hosts the apartments is now a part of the campus, there's a blue phone on the corner. But then, as you drive down the increasingly empty and poorly lit street and into the more thickly wooded and less densely settled neighborhood, there are no more phones. The implication, that women are less safe on a well-lit, heavily-trafficked, security-patrolled, Ivy League campus than they are in the rest of the surrounding area, whether these presumably unfamiliar side streets or, in the other direction, heading towards the downtown area, simply defies comprehension. If nothing else, this being New England, you're much more likely to slip and fall on the ice once you leave the well-tended Dartmouth grounds. This does stand though as an ideal example of what Ms Roiphe found in her college experience, that what's been created is an artificial sense that the campus is a particularly dangerous place for women, a place where men lurk around every corner, just waiting to take advantage of inherently helpless females.

One would hope that this patent absurdity is or was just a temporary phenomena of the hothouse politics of academia and that its recent appearance here is a reflection of how slowly the trend spread rather than an indication of any continuing strength. Violence against women is too serious an issue to be exploited for political reasons. Surely this must be the last dying ripple from a stone thrown years ago. At any rate, no one who reads Ms Roiphe's book will have an easy time taking seriously the claims of the activists and that seems all to the good. Young women have enough genuine concerns without folks fabricating phantoms to scare them and young men have enough problems without folks seeking to demonize them.


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (B)

  

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See also:

Gender Issues
Book-related and General Links:

    -ESSAY: Date Rape's Other Victim (Katie Roiphe, June 13, 1993 , New York Times Magazine)
    -EXCERPT: First Chapter of Still She Haunts Me
    -ESSAY: Clinton's silvery web of words: Once again, the president teased us and left us hanging. (KATIE ROIPHE, August 1998, Salon)
    -ESSAY: W o m e n__b e w a r e__w o m e n: •OUR ONGOING NATIONAL CATFIGHT HAS REVEALED AN UNPLEASANT TRUTH: WOMEN HAVE ALWAYS BETRAYED EACH OTHER (KATIE ROIPHE, April 1998, Salon)
    -ESSAY: The Willey of Our Discontent (Katie Roiphe, March 1998, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Just good friends?: Was there something sinister about Lewis Carroll's fixation with seven-year-old Alice Liddell? (Katie Roiphe, October 29, 2001, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: It's a girl thing: If you designed a senate candidate on paper to appeal to the ambitious, powerful and driven women voters of New York, Hillary Clinton would be that person. So why is she so unpopular with her natural constituents, and why does she make their skin crawl? (Katie Roiphe, August 1, 2000, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Why we all want a happy ending: When Ellen Fein wrote The Rules, telling single women how to capture Mr Right, millions rushed to give them a go. Now that their author is facing divorce, it's tempting to mock - but the reasons for the book's success remain as real as ever (Katie Roiphe, March 27, 2001, The Guardian)
    -INTERVIEW: After The Morning After: An interview with Katie Roiphe (Jeffrey Seeman, December 1994, The Backlash!)
    -INTERVIEW: Katie Roiphe (Bill Moyers, February 8, 2002, NOW)
    -ESSAY: Babes, Barbie and the battle of the sexes: The storm over the recent film Disclosure has thrown up debate about women's sexual freedom and sexual liberation. Is the fight to end women's oppression about 'equality in a man's world' or should it be linked with the fight to end class society? (Lindsey German, April 1995, Socialist Review)
    -The Date Rape Research Controversy
    -ESSAY: Celebrity Profiles a Sham? Noooo: Brill's Content provides us with yet another story about how empty celebrity profiles are. Uh ... duh! (Scott Dickensheets, Ironminds)
    -ARTICLE: 'Alice' author exposed (BBC , 31 October, 2001)
    -REVIEW: of The Morning After: Sex, Fear, and Feminism by Katie Roiphe (Kathy Pollitt, The New Yorker)
    -REVIEW: of The Morning After (Jean Bethke Elshtain, First Things)
   -REVIEW: of The Morning After (Wes Wynne, Contumacy)
    -REVIEW: of The Morning After (MALENE ARPE, Eye Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Last Night In Paradise: Sex and Morals at the Century's End, by Katie Roiphe (Stacey Richter, Tucson Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Last Night In Paradise (LAURA MILLER , Salon)
    -REVIEW: of •Last Night In Paradise(Courtney Weaver, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of •Last Night In Paradise (Scott Stossel, American Prospect)
    -REVIEW: of Last Night In Paradise •(Kate Tuttle, BookWire)
    -REVIEW: of Still She Haunts Me by Katie Roiphe (Maria Russo, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Still She Haunts Me (Doug Childers, The Wag)
    -REVIEW: of Still She Haunts Me (Sarah A. Rodriguez, Radcliffe Quarterly)
    -REVIEW: of Still She Haunts Me (Anna Shapiro, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Still She Haunts Me (HEATHER RODGERS, The Stranger)
    -REVIEW: of Still She Haunts Me (Anneli Rufus, SF Chronicle)

WENDY SHALLIT:
    -INTERVIEW: A MODEST PROPOSAL: Wendy Shalit wants to change the way we think about sex. (Mai Nguyen, Ironminds)

GENERAL:
    -Articles on Feminism and Gender Relations
    -Backlash!: Flagship forum of the Equalitarian movement
    -Interactive Theatre: using drama to educate on sexual assault

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