by Rebecca Beauchamp
Allow me to posit an argument: there is no such thing as “rape culture.” To assume that “rape culture” exists as an other outside of “normal culture,” is to ignore history, to ignore your lived-in world. We’re shocked and appalled every time incidents of sexual violence are reported, as though rapists are outliers against a (virtuous? sensitive?) general population. My mother sends me an e-mail on a Friday night, warning me to be careful, good god be careful. Are you remembering to carry your mace? Keep your phone charged. If anyone tries to touch you, scream, kick, hit, go crazy. “They’re out there.” They’re out there — not here, not beside me, but further away, ghouls squatting on the perimeter. Ugly and double-chinned and evil, the rapist watches me from afar, sits in the bushes and waits carefully to pounce. Assuredly your son would never do such a thing — he has such good grades. He is so handsome. He plays soccer and is so healthy. He volunteered for the Red Cross two summers ago and had a swell time. He is so normal. What must be realized is that normal is the problem. Normal is what makes rape an American tradition.
No incident stands disconnected from the society in and from which it occurred. The overarching, “regular” culture pervading our society has its base in capitalism, and for the unenlightened, a quick google search of “the c-word” will result in the reappearance of a handful of buzz-phrases: accumulation, competition, exchange. Those who want to succeed in a society that beats out these phrases with prayer-like intensity must follow the rules that are their corollary. Amass what you can; situate yourself at the top; stop at nothing to get there. The University of Virginia is lauded for its abilities in producing students who succeed. When discussing the education system and its many ills in a seminar of mine, a girl scoffs and says, “I’m sure no one at UVa was in the bottom half of their class.” To succeed at the University of Virginia is to get collect-As, collect awards and executive positions in CIOs, collect a flourishing host of friends who want to succeed, but not as much as you do, ha ha. Students want to dominate. The rapist violates the victim’s body without their consent and through coercion, force, domination.
Amass what you can; situate yourself at the top; stop at nothing to get there. A statue of UVa’s founder, one Thomas Jefferson, stands at the center of grounds. Mr. Jefferson was really fucking good at amassing: founding father, inventor, auteur. The question of whether or not he sexually assaulted his slaves (he owned approximately 600) has been a subject of debate for hundreds of years. In Notes on the State of Virginia, he wrote about how he believed white people to be super, biologically, to people of color. He is worshipped, practically fetishized, on grounds and is always cited when discussing UVa’s strict and prestigious honor code: “Well, Jefferson believed…” He gifted UVa with its own Special Language: it’s grounds, not campus. Fourth year, not senior. This is the academical village, excuse me. No, nothing is disconnected.
Rape and sexual assault will always be a part, integral, of a society where the foremost goal is domination. This means that rape is not and will never be restricted to one particular area. My rapist (I cringe when I do so much as type those words – he’s my rapist, who’s yours? My phrasing is so regular, so normal.) was someone I knew who did not attend college and considered himself a counter-cultural pioneer. He was next to me, lived with me as a friend—he was not “out there.” Rapists aren’t specific to college campuses or fraternities; some may detest both institutions, and with fervor. Fraternities, however, are caricatured microcosms of the culture-at-large and practice tenets which champion brotherhood, aggressive masculinity, hegemony. It should come as no shock, then, that they are petri dishes, places where the aggressively masculine can gather as would a collection of tumorous cells. Call the Greek system cancerous – fraternities, like an outgrowth of dangerous cells – are a public health violation and should be handled as such: aggressively, swiftly.
I’m sick and tired of hearing from both staff members and students about how the University of Virginia is doing its part to end sexual assault on grounds. It’s not and will not be doing its part until I am no longer afraid to go out alone at night, will not be doing its part until the “fine, upstanding gentlemen” who destroy so many lives are not just expelled but jailed. UVa has done a great job maintaining the well-manicured lawn in front of a bastion that houses and hides its true beliefs and the reality of day-to-day life on grounds. Here, I can be expelled for cheating on an exam, yet not one student has been expelled for sexual assault in the history of the school. This sickens me. I am ashamed of “Rugby Road,” a school fight song that promotes the commandeering of female bodies. I am ashamed of our faculty members, who sweep assaults under the rug in the name of prestige and reputation. I am ashamed to tell people I study at UVa.
The on-grounds CIOs and initiatives that work or speak out against sexual violence remain largely ineffective and are reserved to the insular communities where they began. I’m only speaking for myself when I say this, but I’d like to treat my rapist as an old & revered Virginian would a British tax collector. Hang him from his toes. Tar and fucking feather the bastard. I do not support an institution where aggressive masculinity is promoted and championed among the student body. Students: do not share the Rolling Stone article and call it your daily dose of activism. Call your peers and “fellow wahoos” out when they make rape jokes, call them out when they victim blame – they do, they will. Self-evaluate. You “go here.” You are a part of it. I call for continuous, aggressive, and invasive direct action against Greek life at UVa and the faculty members who coddle it so as to save face. I call on President Sullivan to do the right thing, thing-that-shall-not-be-done: eradicate bastions of masculinity. Treat cases of sexual assault not as honor violations with strictly academic consequences but as the serious and dehumanizing crimes that they are. Eliminate fraternities from grounds, and swiftly as possible, because I’m terrified.