Rape Culture Hysteria: Fixing the Damage Done to Men and Women, by Wendy McElroy, 276 pages, Vulgus Press, Paperback: $12.66, Kindle: $4.99

In 2014 at Brown University, Wendy McElroy debated Jessica Valenti on the issue of so-called rape culture on college campuses. McElroy’s mere presence at Brown sparked outrage, protests, and the creation of a “safe space” for alleged sexual assault “survivors,” who occupied a room that had pillows, coloring books, and videos of puppies frolicking. Yes, there really were coloring books and videos of playful puppies.

To prepare students for this obviously traumatic event, Brown President Christina Paxson sent a message to the “Brown Community” that McElroy would be on campus to debate, and while Paxson made sure that everyone knew that she did not agree with McElroy’s positions, nonetheless, she was permitting McElroy to appear at Brown. For some Brown students, however, the very fact that someone was permitted on campus to say something that strays from campus orthodoxy was utterly traumatic because it was likely that McElroy would say something that would contradict beliefs held by some Brown students, and that would be tragic:

…multiple students have said they feel the event devalues the experiences of sexual assault survivors on campus and goes against the University’s mission to create a safe and supportive environment for survivors.

At least McElroy was permitted to speak, albeit university officials treated her as if she were carrying Ebola, and it is doubtful that Brown students and faculty were willing to learn anything from her. That is too bad, because Wendy McElroy has a lot to say, and she says much of it in her new book, Rape Culture Hysteria: Fixing the Damage Done to Men and Women.

Of all of the writers that care to deal with this volatile subject, McElroy is the best by a long shot. If she comes to the table with ideological baggage, it is of the libertarian side that emphasizes non-aggression. If you want to understand what is happening on college campuses, read this book. If you wish to better understand the issues surrounding feminism and its emphasis on declaring we live in a “rape culture,” read this book.

If you want to understand what collectivist thinking has done to our perceptions about law and due process, read this book. If you want to understand the importance of individual rights and what they mean to a free society, read this book.

Yes, read this book if you wish to receive an education, for McElroy educates the reader throughout this work. Already one of the most circumspect and thoughtful writers on the libertarian scene today, McElroy has demonstrated why she is so highly respected in many circles.

As I read through the book, I was reminded early on that everything being discussed revolves around the issue of individual rights versus collective thinking. When McElroy spoke at Brown, the (openly biased) reporter for the Brown student newspaper described her as “defensive from the outset,” as though being in a room with openly-hostile students and adults who have come to despise individual rights (except their own, of course) would engender personal confidence.

In reading the student newspaper account of the debate, one is fascinated by the overwhelming sense that the current generations in academe (and much of politics and law, as well) simply have abandoned the fundamental precept of U.S. law that it should be a mechanism that protects the rights of the innocent. Instead, the law has become a tool by which the government by force applies different standards and rules according to the political standing of the group with which one identifies. An exchange from the Brown University debate, which really was a microcosm of the larger social debate on sexual assault, demonstrates my point:

McElroy said rape culture exists in places like parts of Afghanistan where “women are married against their will” and “murdered for men’s honor” but not in North America, where “rape is a crime that’s severely punished.”

What’s more, those who politicize rape and assert the existence of rape culture imply that all men are guilty or that the accused do not deserve due process, McElroy said.

It is unacceptable that men can now be disciplined for rape through college hearings based on a preponderance of evidence rather than the traditional criminal justice standard of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. “Let’s not build justice for women on injustice for men,” McElroy said, closing her talk.

Now for Valenti’s point:

Valenti never tackled the question of whether a preponderance of evidence or guilt beyond a reasonable doubt should be the standard for conviction of men in college hearings, but she did talk about other aspects of sexual assault as it relates to college campuses, such as the fact that alcohol plays a role in most sexual assault incidents.

“Alcohol is not the problem,” Valenti said, chuckling at the notion. “What we need to discuss is the way rapists use alcohol as a weapon to attack and then discredit their victims.” Rapists benefit from others’ insistence that a victim’s inebriation is to blame for his or her assault, she added.

McElroy dealt with issues of individual responsibility and due process in order to protect the rights of individuals. Valenti – whose message was very popular with the leftist crowd – ignored due process altogether and then claimed that the binge drinking taking place on campus, which truly is destructive of individuals in so many ways, really has nothing to do with men forcing unwanted sexual contact with women, or at best is irrelevant. Furthermore, McElroy never has claimed that a female being drunk means that if a male rapes her, he does not bear responsibility for his actions, but rather that people who are intoxicated are going to have impaired judgment, and perhaps one should try to stay out of harm’s way.

Feminist Distinctions

McElroy calls herself an iFeminist, which emphasizes individual rights, and which she notes is based upon the sets of beliefs practiced by early U.S. feminists such as the black abolitionist Sojourner Truth. She writes:

As a woman, a feminist, and a survivor of sexual violence, I know the rape culture is a lie that harms women and victims of violence as well as men. It calls itself “justice” but the goal is to impose a specific ideology that legally disadvantages one class of people (white males) in order to benefit others.

PC feminism calls itself “diverse” but it wages war upon true diversity which lives or dies in the ability of people to dissent and to make decisions about their own lives. The feminist movement once championed human rights while insisting that people shoulder responsibility for themselves. The current movement is a mockery of its past. If snapping my fingers could reverse the dogma and intolerance, my hands would be numb from overuse.

This book really deals with two separate but related issues. The first is the issue of what feminists and President Obama and his colleagues call “rape culture,” which essentially says that there is an “epidemic” of rape in the USA, and especially on college campuses, where allegedly 25 percent of all women are raped. On that, McElroy writes:

Common sense can seem powerless against such crusading fear. More plausible findings on the rate of sexual assault are dismissed in favor of ones that cause a rush of righteous anger. Professors do not listen to logic but to the inner voice of caution about their own job security. It is useless to point out that no business or institution could survive if 20% of its customers were raped while using its services. Who would walk into Walmart if 1-in-4 shoppers would be sexually attacked in the aisles? But rape culture critics who raise such objections find that their characters become the topic of debate rather than the facts of rape.

Her second task is to try to save feminism itself, or at least influence people to move feminism in a different direction than toward increased state control over the lives of others. These are not mutually-exclusive things.

Throughout the book, McElroy uses reliable data and valid statistical measures to demonstrate conclusively that the “one in four” or “one in five” statistics used to claim huge percentages of women on college campuses are raped, but also admits that hardcore leftist feminists are likely to claim that none of this matters, since they already have “established” that the USA has a “rape culture.” It is “heads I win and tails you lose” thinking but it really works.

For example, when the infamous Duke Lacrosse Case and the faux “rape of Jackie” tale at the University of Virginia fell apart, feminists claimed to be alarmed, since, in their view debunking the accusations would mean that fewer women who actually were raped would come forward to report the assaults. To the left, since the “rape culture” narrative already is established, it does not matter if an individual accused actually did it, so anything that might convince others that perhaps the narrative is false – like a person accused of rape actually being found innocent of the charges – must not be permitted.

Perhaps the best expression of this viewpoint came last year from Jared Polis, a Democratic member of Congress who declared at a Congressional hearing (to enthusiastic applause from feminists in the audience) that any male on a college campus who was accused of rape or sexual assault should be found guilty and removed from campus, no matter if he actually was guilty or not. Polis said:

If I was running [a private university], I might say, “Well, you know even if there’s a 20 to 30 percent chance that it happened, I would want to remove this individual.”

He added:

… if there’s 10 people who have been accused, and under a reasonable likelihood standard maybe one or two did it, it seems better to get rid of all 10 people.

While Polis later claimed he “misspoke,” it is clear judging from what he said and from the enthusiastic response it received that collectivist thinking is alive and well in Congress and on the college campus. This latter point is important because in most cases it is imperative that the libertarians and the statists are not on the same planet when it comes to rights.

Libertarians like McElroy understand that if authorities enforce what only could be called “collective rights,” (and this would involve a very different notion of the concept of “rights” than what has undergirded U.S. law), then all legal outcomes would depend on totally upon the politics of the situation. For example, after the accused Duke Lacrosse players were declared “innocent” by North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, a local Marxist claimed that the players were guilty because, in her view, “capitalism” is advanced by rape.

Thus, we see McElroy deal both with the real-live facts of sexual assault and rape and also undergird her arguments by emphasizing the need for due process for people who are accused because, at their very heart, rights are individual, not collective. As I read the book, I realized that it was vital that she dealt with this latter point, since libertarians and collectivists have very different ideas on what the outcomes should be. All too often, I believe, we libertarians want to believe that people on the “other side” want fairness and just outcomes.

However, we then should realize that the Jared Polises of the world see “just” outcomes as being the championing of a certain point of view, and if innocent people are swept up in the hysteria, so be it, since no male is truly innocent. If one wishes to make an omelet, after all, first one must break some eggs, to repeat what champions of communism in the former Soviet Union said when justifying Stalin’s murderous purges.

Read this book for many reasons. Read it to gain new insights on what actual scientific research says about sexual assaults on college campuses. Read it to learn the arguments that collectivist feminists use to justify their statements. And read it to once again understand the importance of individual rights and the perils that await us when those rights are taken away.

Advocates of abortion on demand often claim that they support the pro-choice position because they do not want “government in the bedroom.” However, as the government moves to monitor campus sexual activity through the U.S. Department of Education and through other governmental initiatives, it is very clear that what we now have, according to New York Times writer Judith Shulevitz, is state regulation of sex. If this is not the very example of “government in the bedroom,” then one would think that there should be no limits to the power government should have over us, including down to our relationship choices. In warning us that the loss of individual rights leads to outright tyranny, Wendy McElroy has performed an important service to her readers. Thus, I emphasize, read this book.


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