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Social and Political Issues: Rape and Gender

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Like nearly all the substantive threads, this one began with a forwarded message, in this case a self-described electronic "chain letter" from Mona ("Send one to the people you care about, or are afraid of. In any school, in any country. Please write the name of your school at the bottom...."). As Mona explains, she'd previously sent the message -- a narrative depicting a generic date rape, with a statement of its moral purpose -- only to the women in the dorm. Notice how Mona works, in her introduction, to engage men in the issue. She establishes her personal interest, cautions the men not to take it as an "attack," and closes with appeals to both dorm spirit ("Rinc Rules") and Stanford school spirit ("Weenies" is the pejorative term for students at the University of California, Berkeley, especially during Big Game week -- the annual football game between the two schools).

Gregory, Ronald, and others begin a series of reactions to the date rape narrative. As a writing teacher I'd highlight the reasonable, concession-and-rebuttal pattern in the thoughtful messages from Gregory and Buff. Buff's posting (one of the longest of the year, excerpted here) uses this pattern repeatedly in making specific counter-arguments to Gregory's and Ronald's, e.g. (emphasis added):

"I commend Gregory's acknowledgement that clear, initial communication is both safe and considerate; I agree. However, I question his assertion that ... "

"I accept Ronald's assertion that men may also be raped, however..."

Buff announces explicitly at the beginning that he is attacking Gregory's and Ronald's arguments, not their character, and he integrates detailed evidence and well-developed reasoning into an impassioned mini-treatise on date rape. Interestingly, at first, the whole range of debate about date rape is being carried out by men.

Six days into the thread, Betty tries to get the discussion refocused on basic feelings and human communication; she feels the argument has gotten too analytical and "theoretical." No doubt this is partly a reaction to all the facts and figures cited by Buff (and disputes over those facts and figures that followed, especially from Ronald). It's interesting that Betty would resist Buff's method -- the traditional "male" style of argumentation -- even while (presumably) embracing his arguments.

Betty is also reacting to Ronald's counter-arguments to Buff. Ronald -- rarely one to let someone else get the last word -- continues the reasonable tone of the whole discussion with a concession and clarification of his intentions: "I agree with you 100%. I just want to make sure that you understand [that] ..."

The whole gender and rape thread gets re-ignited in a major way in early December, when Carolyn (an upperclass member of the residence staff, the RCC or Residence Computer Coordinator), forwards to the list "75 Reasons Why Angry Cornell Women (Your Worst Nightmare) Are Exercising Their Freedom of Speech." As Carolyn explains, this is a direct response to the infamous "Top 75 reasons why women (bitches) should not have freedom of speech" from "the four-players of Cornell" that caused nationwide, and dorm-wide, controversy in early November. (See excerpt from this inflammatory message, forwarded to the list by Phyllis, in 07: Metadiscussion as Primary and Secondary Content.)

Several men (such as King) react to the "angry Cornell women," disputing the message's statistics and objecting to what they consider the relentless portrayal of men as perpetrators of violence. Ronald quotes selected claims from the list and counters with his own statistics, complete with quotes and citations from journals. Women then offer strong rebuttals to the implication that the Cornell women's list should be construed as feminist propaganda. Betty again objects to the emphasis in the Rinconada debate on facts and figures (which she considers a diversion from the real issues) and writes, "This was not a feminist list that was presented -- it was a humanist list."

Clarisse, too, tries to refocus the discussion away from statistics and back to human beings, and she constructs this effort explicitly in terms of gender (if we interpret "you guys" in this case as referring to men, in particular Ronald and King). In a brilliant touché that may have gone under-appreciated by the men, Clarisse connects the political discussion about gender directly to the face-to-face dorm community, objecting to RCC Carolyn being referred to as "The Computer Lady." Clarisse introduces her complaint as a "random thing," but of course it isn't random at all, because Carolyn is the one who posted the Cornell women's rebuttal to begin with.

Date: 11/20/95
Subject: (fwd) Re: Something Serious To Think About (fwd)
From: Mona

To all the women of the dorm, sorry for cluttering up your email with a repeated message, but I wanted to send this to the guys, and this was way easier. Guys, please don't take this as an attack on males, cuz it's not. I just thought it was an important message for the state of the world we live in, regardless of gender. Faith was great enough to send this to all the girls, and I thought there might be guys in the dorm who would appreciate it as well (for male/female friends, for themselves, or just as a reminder that you can't trust everyone in this world, unfortunately). The fact that we cannot remain innocent and naive without running the risk of being harmed by fellow human beings has always disturbed me - but I guess education against horrors like rape (of males and females) is the only solution. TTFN! Ta ta for now!

Rinc Rules And Weenies Got Roasted!


>Rinc women,

>A friend sent this to me and I thought this was important for us all to think about. Will you pass it on?



>>And if they didn't tell you, I will. There are people in this world who will hurt you. Sometimes very consciously, and sometimes without realizing. So wake up. You've lived in the same dorm with these people since September. That nice boy, Joe, wouldn't do anything >>to hurt you. He has animal posters on his wall, and a little sister he adores. Maybe you're right, maybe you're wrong. Why take the chance? Imagine the following scenario...

>>He knocks on the door. She doesn't really know him well, but her friends party with him often. So, she smiles and settles back onto her bed as he walks in. They chat. He is drunk and sometimes funny. Without thinking, she rubs her shoulders because they're tense and sore from the hours spent writing that paper last night. He notices and offers to give her a massage. " How sweet of him," she thinks as he stammers on about his high school. "He's a little drunk but entertaining." Her shoulders feel better, so she pulls away. He politely gets up and moves back to the desk chair as she leans against her pillows, knees pulled against her chest.

>>All so innocent. Such normal behavior in a dorm on this small campus. So what is it that made him get off the chair? Sit on the edge of her bed? Lean over and kiss her? Perhaps she kissed him back. " He was a nice guy, so why not?" And it was fine.

>>Then she tried to get up. Then she tried to get him off.

>>Maybe she screamed. Maybe she kicked. And punched and cried. Maybe she didn't. But he never got off. And quietly he whispered into her ear. Pressure. She stops struggling, and lies still. Head, empty. He moves with confidence, control." There's a crack in my ceiling," she thinks. With a groan he rolls off her. Smiles. His eyes say, "There now. That wasn't so bad, was it?" Like a doctor after an injection. He leaves. She picks up her book, and watches the words as they float in her tears. And she is scared.

>>And I was scared as I listened. And a week later, it happens again. Same guy. Same girl. Just another quiet night in the dorm.

>>She never SAID no. But he never asked. Because he didn't care.

>>This happens every day and every night, to people you know, by people you know. The guy may be sober, the girl may be drunk. But we all learned in kindergarten--ask before taking, and don't touch what isn't yours. And women--Yes is Yes, and No is NO. Please don't continue the legacy of mixed signals.

>>This is a chain letter. Send one to the people you care about, or are afraid of. In any school, in any country. Please write the name of your school at the bottom, and place an X beside it if someone you know has been a victim of assault or rape. And please, don't be afraid to say no, it's a start.

.... [a list of colleges and universities with X's follows]....

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Date: 11/20/95
Subject: what a simple situation.
From: Gregory

Dear Rincsters,

I couldn't agree more with the contents of the chain mail about rape, although the word was never mentioned. But this presents perhaps an all too simple version of things. I am not advocating rape, nor do I think that any man who has rolled off of a crying woman has any doubts about what he has done. I am also the last one to feel any compassion for rapists, for several of my friends have been sexually assaulted. I just want to challenge your assumptons for a moment. The stats say that 1 in 3 women are assaulted at Stanford. Correct me if I'm wrong but it is some large percentage like that. Where are the men? Statistically there should be a correlating population, right? So where are all of these men that are heartless, who just don't give a shit about another human being based on what is or is not between their legs? I'm not saying that these women are crying wolf or that they don't know when they have been violated, but perhaps these men aren't who we think they are. Maybe, as the letter suggests, she DIDN'T say anything. Maybe she didn't react as if anything were wrong. Maybe it wasn't the act itself but a horrible transferrence of a repressed memory, or another psychological problem. Perhaps there was no communication at all. It is possible that a man cannot see the severe emotional trauma that is happening inside a woman. Women don't either. Obviously this is a good warning for women in dorms, but I just don't see rape being such a clear cut issue anymore. Because a majority of rapes aren't violent strangers,the stats suggest this. Clear intentions are perhaps a better warning. Don't wait until the heat of the moment to decide when to say when. It might not be such a good limit later on when the enormity of the occurence comes crashing in on you. That is not just a statement to either sex, both are responsible for the prevention.

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Date: 11/20/95
Subject: Treatise: rape
From: Buff

To my friends and dormmates,

This is my response to the e-mails regarding rape. This is my rage, I do not apologize for it. Please know that I attack the arguments that Gregory and Ronald have presented, but I do not intend to attack their character. If any of my assertions seem to be lacking facts, see me, I have them in my Peer Counseling Reader.

This is long. It matters.


***Rape is not about sex. Rape is about control.

***The central issue in discussions of rape is "consent." Nonverbal consent has the potential to be ambiguous, but gaining clear, explicit consent is as easy as "May I?" -"Yes."

***In most states, rape is legally defined as, *Vaginal, oral, or anal penetration with a penis or other object, committed against the wishes of the victim by the use of force OR THE THREAT OF HARM.* Threat may be real or perceived; feeling threatened is subjective.

***Sex without explicit consent from both parties is grounds for a rape charge.

***If the woman consents while intoxicated, the consent is legally invalid. The woman has the right to press charges later if she wishes.

[....more facts are listed....]

***97% of rapes are *aquaintance rape;* only 3% of all rapes are committed by strangers. (With 97% of all rapes NOT taking place on the street or in dark alleys, what deserves more funding: street lights or rape-awareness classes?)



-First, I would like to challenge Gregory's assumption that men must certainly realize that they have raped someone if indeed they have; as well his assumption that if 1 in 3 women have experienced sexual assault of some kind, that these monstrous men should be obvious around campus. *Anyone can rape, and the majority of men who's actions satisfy the legal definition of rape do not call their actions "rape." Rape is sex without consent; a rapist is someone who takes sex without consent.

-Men may not be able to determine whether their partner is clearly consenting; this ambiguity may lead to years of prolonged emotional trauma. Better for both parties that the man ask first, just to be sure.

-I commend Gregory's acknowledgement that clear, initial communication is both safe and considerate; I agree. However, I question his assertion that the issue should end before the heat of the moment. Even if someone gives consent initially, they may revoke consent at any stage, even in "the heat of the moment." Sex is for the pleasure of both parties; if one person is no longer enjoying themselves, they have the right at any time to say, clearly and unambiguously, "stop." "Don't put it in." "Take it out, I'm not enjoying it." "I don't want to keep going." etc.

-To revise his statement: both people would be WISE to communicate and prevent misunderstanding, but the final responsibility to obtain consent lies with the man. If a man has sex with a woman without obtaining clear consent, if she did not want it, then she has grounds to charge rape.



-I accept Ronald's assertion that men may also be raped; however, the number of female rapes of males, male rapes of other males, and female rapes of other females all combined PALE in comparison to the number of male rapes of females.

-To fill in some of the holes in the story that Ronald felt were so necessary, use both extremes, first one, then the other:

-Let us assume that: He walked in the room, Neither of them are drunk, She shrugs off his massage, She does not kiss him back, She does fight back and say "no." Rape seems to be the correct assertion in this case.

-NOW, Let us assume that: She let him in the room, He is drunk, and she is not, She accepts his massage, She does kiss him back, She does no fight back or say "no."

-With these points clarified, has she at anytime explicitly stated a desire to have sex? Does a kiss justify sex? Two kisses? One long kiss and groping? What aside clear, verbal expression of consent can be construed as unmistakable desire to have sex?

-Perhaps we should go SO far as to say that she was stupid to not see any of his actions as "clear" signals that he wants to have sex. Is it a crime to be stupid? Is stupidity punishable by rape? Are any of her actions, any of her misconceptions of the situation punishable by forced, unwanted sex?


-Lack of adequate mutual effort to communicate was not the cause for the "rape," the "rape" occurred when he had sex with her without first obtaining her clear consent. The woman is under no obligation to say "no." [....]

-Does being drunk relieve the man of some of his burden of responsibility? Is this responsibility now placed on the woman? What if she is drunk as well? Who is neglecting their responsibility? If a drunk woman is sitting on a park bench, and a drunk driver hits her, is she partially at fault for not moving? Did her not moving indicate that she desired to be hit? no. In a time when inequalities of power distasteful, we sometimes forget why a woman might be afraid of resisting a man.

-In our culture, women are socialized to be passive; women, especially women who are "nice" don't fight back, "A nice girl would never kick someone in the groin, no matter what." NO MATTER WHAT.


Thank you for taking the time to read this e-mail. Please respond to any and all e-mail that stir you like this issue has stirred me.


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Date: 11/26/95
Subject: The rape issue...
From: Betty

I just wanted to throw my opinion into the discussion. I think it's fine to analyze all the little points of the law and of ethics on a theoretical level, but it seems to me that the real issue here is a lot more broad. It's about respect and communication. You should respect yourself enough to both voice your desires or concerns and then respect your partner enough to ask about their feelings and listen to their response. If you can't talk about sex, you aren't ready to have it. Period.

Date: 11/26/95
Subject: Re: The rape issue...
From: Ronald


I thank you for your response, I was hoping that it wouldn't turn out to be just Buff and myself typing it out on the internet.

I agree with you 100%.

I just want to make sure that you understand I am not advocating that you never talk about it. I just don't see it necessary to keep talking about it before you do it every single time if you have already discussed it openly and other signals will suffice. Let's face it, no matter how much somebody talks about it with loved one, or girlfriend, or whatever (there isn't necessarily a difference between any of them) you probably aren't going to talk about it every single time. Even if it is just once that you ignore it.

Besides, not everyone that has sex is ready for it whether they talk about it or not. And rape isn't defined as two people who have sex that aren't ready for it. Consent is the key issue.


"Mmmm... peanuts!"


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Date: 12/5/95
Subject: 75 REASONS. PLEASE FORWARD. (fwd)
From: Carolyn

Thought you guys might want to see the response to that previous inflammatory e-mail.

---Carolyn [.... ]

> 75 Reasons Why Angry Cornell Women (Your Worst Nightmare) Are Exercising Their Freedom of Speech

> 1. 1 out of every 3 women will be the victim of sexual assault during her lifetime.

> 2. In the U.S. it is estimated that a woman is raped every 1.3 minutes.

> 3. In one survey 51% of college men said they would rape if they were certain they could get away with it.


> 9. 79% of African-American children in female-headed households live below the poverty level.


> 15.45% of underweight women think they are too fat.


> 23. Women of color account for 73% of women with AIDS in this country.

> 24.Total public dollars spent for contraceptive services fell by > one-third between 1980 and 1990.


> 27. & 28. Before Roe v. Wade, 10,000 women died each year in the U.S. from illegal abortions. 50% of these women were women of color.


> 45. 85% of bias crimes against lesbians go unreported.


> 54. & 55. Of 1,585 Cornell University professors 296 are women. And only 33 are women of color.


> 74. Marital rape is legal in 2 states: North Carolina and Oklahoma.

> 75. 75% of rape victims know their attacker.

> statistics from:

> Women's Action Collective copyright 1992

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Date: 12/6/95
Subject: Re: A forwarded message worth reading.
From: King

I have to say that I agree totally with what Ronald said in his message. Men are often depicted as villains that suppress and abuse women. While I do feel that there is not yet true equality between the sexes, I also believe that men, in general, have been given an undeserved bad reputation. If you look at a myriad of stand-up comedy routines done by women today, you see a lot of anti-male jokes. Society accepts this with little complaint, yet if a man were to do something similar, it wouldn't be nearly as funny. Take as an example the email sent to us by Adelle concerning the Mermaid and IQ raising. When "The Executive" turned the joke around the other way, was it still funny? While whoever wrote as "The Executive" may have had poor taste in using the word "chick" in the story, I wonder what would have happened if that joke had graced the mailboxes of those "angry, Cornell women (your worst nightmare)."

Secondly, I want to question the validity of some of the statistics given in the message. I cannot believe that 51% of college men would rape if they could get away with it. That is simply ridiculous! Of course, they say in the message, "in one college survey." I wonder who they surveyed, college students just released from prison? One must realize that those surveyed are not always representative of the entire population. I cannot go to the Castro district of San Francisco and conduct a survey and state "75% of the American population is homosexual," because the Castro district is certainly not representative of the rest of the U.S.

I don't mean to sound bitter in this message, I only want what Ronald wants. It is my hope that the horrible deeds done against women, by anyone, male or female, will be recognized and dealt with.

Thank you for reading this.... King

Date: 12/6/95
Subject: Read this, it is important
From: Ronald

I was disturbed with the list that was sent to our list. About half the statistics seemed to portray the male as the violent perpetrator of all things evil against women. This is just as sexist as the original list sent to us, it is just dressed up with statistics to sound impressive. I have statistics, too. I hope you read them for it matters.

> 5. Every 15 seconds a woman is battered in the U.S. Who is beating who?

"As in heterosexual relationships, violence is an issue in lesbians. More than a third of lesbians 22 to 52 years of age have experienced battery by a partner."

--The Western Journal of Medicine, May, 1995

>>>"One group that takes female violence seriously is the lesbian community, in which battery is a profoundly disturbing concern that is rarely discussed publicly... all the available evidence points to domestic violence in lesbian couples occurring "no more and no less often than in heterosexual couples."

[....quote from The New Republic, August 1, 1994 continues for four paragraphs....]

>>>"Do you know that there's just as much battery between lesbian couples as there are between men and women?" Crossfire, July 4, 1994

> 61. In one-third of governments worldwide, there are no women in the decision-making body of the country.

One third is a minority. This implies that the progress we have made is insignificant, or that we have made no progress at all. Our society is not static. "Mother is the name of God on the lips of children everywhere."(This is not exact, my memory fails me, but it comes from The Crow.) In other words, equal opportunity is great, but in redefining gender roles, why does a homemaker have to become scum of the earth? The women that have traditionally stayed at home and the men that have been open enough to do the same over the years should be applauded because they have built this country by making us who we are.

>67. 75% of high schools violate Title IX, which bans sex discrimination in education.

Stanford was in violation of Title IX too. It taught a women's self-defense class, but would not teach men how to defend themselves. They would rather have women go defenseless than train the evil men to become stronger, more powerful, ever dominating. The course was eliminated because they did not conform to the established rules. I wonder what Stanford was thinking when it offered martial arts to everyone as a PE class.

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Date: 12/6/95
Subject: Could we just forget semantics for a minute?
From: Betty


I understand what you're trying to say. Reverse sexism is just as much a problem as sexism directed at females. But, come on, those facts stand as they do. You can pick them apart as much as you want -- but as a society, we cannot and must not downplay the tragedies of sexual abuse, of death by AIDS, of inequality and of discrimination just because we feel it necessary to debate the manner in which these facts are presented. I agree -- it is just as tragic when a man is abused or when a woman is abused by her lesbian lover as it is when a woman is abused in a heterosexual relationship -- the fact is that abuse of and by any person is horrible and must be stopped. This was not a feminist list that was presented -- it was a humanist list. It called to our attention the terrible things that happen to people, not only in our country, but in our communities. In this sheltered Stanford environment, it is easy to forget that many of our neighbors and fellow citizens are in a lot of pain. We're wasting time with petty arguments about wording and transmission of information, when we should be doing something about the facts that lie beneath the words. If you want to fight the stereotype that men don't care about women or problems like the ones in the e-mail, then show it with your actions. Start volunteering at a battered people's shelter. Volunteer with AIDS patients. Write to congressmen and demand more money and more attention paid to cancer research and programs to help people in abusive relationships. And most importantly, treat everyone around you with the respect you know we ALL deserve. Again, here's to equality and respect -- and this time to proaction and compassion too.


Date: 12/6/95
Subject: Re: Could we just forget semantics for a minute?
From: Clarisse

Regarding King's point that a double standard exists concerning genders making jokes about each other: There was a difference between Adelle's mermaid joke and The Executive's "poignant" words. The first joke had an individual name attached to it. It was a joke, and if somebody took offense, the sender was ready to take the responsibility. The latter was anonymously sent. True, all the toilet did was turn the joke around, but the anonymity created a kind of hostile undertone. If someone is going to circulate something in fun, then just put your name on it. No big deal. Hiding behind indoor plumbing does not achieve any additional renders the opposite effect. Take responsibility for your own words.

I agree that we should question and try to come up with a more intelligent interpretation of the statistics than just take them at face value. However, it is most important to not forget the battered people while we debate the anti-female, anti-male sentiments...which you guys don't seem to be doing.

Oh, and by the way...random thing. I thing the Rinc web page might be posted faster if Carolyn wasn't referred to as "The Computer Lady."


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