In my experience, moral panics are almost never about what they claim to be about. I am just (barely) old enough to remember the tail end of the period (around 1965) when conservative panic about drugs and rock music was actually rooted in a not very-thinly-veiled fear of the corrupting influence of non-whites on pure American children. In retrospect it’s easy to understand as a reaction against the gradual breakdown of both legally enforced and de-facto racial segregation in the U.S.
But moral panics are by no means a monopoly of cultural conservatives. These days the most virulent and bogus examples are as likely to arrive from the self-described “left” as the “right”. When they do, they’re just as likely to be about something other than the ostensible subject.
In Lies, Damn Lies, and Rape Statistics a college newspaper does a little digging through U.S. crime statistics and finds that the trendy “anti-rape” movement is exaggerating the rape risk of college women by two full orders of magnitude – as it concludes, “the ‘one in four’ chant should be abandoned and replaced with the more appropriate, albeit less catchy, 1 in 400.”
What can explain such gross distortion? I’ve looked into this issue myself and discovered a lot of flim-flam. Still, even the the best-case figures I arrived at apparently overestimated the actual risk on campuses by a factor of 50. (Barbarian zones – like, say, inner-city Detroit – might be a different story.)
If the rape panic runs parallel to the the now nearly forgotten drugs-and-rock panics of the 1950s and 1960s (and many others like them, before and after) we should expect it to actually be be rooted in an attempt to assert control of or cultural dominance over some threatening Other. And there is indeed evidence that points in that direction.
Recently, Meg Lanker-Simmons, a left-wing activist at the University of Wyoming, faked a rape threat. The agenda seemed obvious: smear Republicans, confirm feminist narratives about male hostility to ‘uppity’ women, confirm women as morally superior creatures who rightfully dictate the content and style of male behavior.
This, together with the crazy inflation of rape statistics, suggests that the campus “anti-rape” movement has little or nothing to do with preventing rape. It has become an instrument of the sort of political warfare in which truth is most likely to be the first casualty.
We’ve seen this sort of thing before, of course. Playing the “racism” card has become such a cliche of left politics that even the reliably lefty Jon Stewart now spoofs it as overdone and busted. In that case the threatening Other is working-class white men, especially rural and most especially Southern, and the aim is clearly to prevent them from pushing back against the culture and politics of elite bicoastal left-liberals.
But there’s actually something a bit more puzzling about the campus-rape panic. College campuses are far from a threatening environment for feminists. Nowadays women outnumber men in every department outside STEM fields. At many colleges mandatory ‘sensitivity training’ heavily privileges female and feminist perspectives. By federal encouragement, female students can now accuse men of rape and expect the claim to be evaluated under circumstances that deny the man any right to due process and the presumption of innocence.
On campus, the Other seems so thoroughly controlled that some academics now attribute declining male enrollments to an unwillingness to enter a hostile work environment. What are women like Meg Lanker-Simmons really pushing against? What in their environment do they not already own?
I think the answer is…themselves. The increasing intensity level of the campus-rape panic seems well correlated with the erosion of college womens’ position in sexual bargaining.
The key concept here is hypergamy: womens’ wired-in desire to mate with men who are taller, smarter, richer, a little older, and higher-status than they are. Hypergamy is at the core of the human female mating strategy in exactly the way that seeking physical attractiveness (signs of fitness to bear) is at the center of male strategy.
An increasing number of hypergamically-aspiring college women are competing for a decreasing pool of higher-status male peers. The consequences are well documented; in the “hookup” culture that now pervades many campuses, sex has become a woman’s opening bid rather than a prize men must compete strenuously to attain. This was a more or less inevitable result once premarital sex stopped being strongly tabooed and the campus sex-ratio flipped over to majority female.
It is not surprising that women like Lanker-Simmons should resent this situation, because it’s almost exactly the reverse of the instinctively K-type mating strategy common to females in humans and most other mammalian species. It’s sex on male r-type terms, and women have DNA going clear back to the Cretaceous that pushes against it.
(This logic also implies that today’s campuses should be among the last places to expect rapes rather than the first. I’ll leave that demonstration as a very simple exercise for the reader.)
This Other, alas, will not be so easily banished. To reverse the dynamic, one of the following things would have to happen:
(1) Premarital sex again becoming strongly enough tabooed that effectively all women cannot offer it as an opening bid. (It has to be effectively all; otherwise the defectors get a large enough advantage in competing for men to make the withholding strategy unstable for the rest. We’ve seen this movie before.)
(2) Sex ratios on campus flip back to a large enough majority of males so that each woman has multiple hypergamic targets who must compete for her. Under these circumstances “not till we’re married” becomes viable again.
(3) Women as a group revert to having much less economic autonomy and social power than men – enough less, anyway, that almost any nominal SES peer or near-peer is a hypergamic target. There’s a tradeoff between this and move 2; the fewer males there are in the nearly-peer population, the more status and autonomy women must implicitly sacrifice to have a constant number of eligible hypergamic targets.
I leave the reader to imagine the screams of rage that would issue from feminists if any of these were even seriously proposed, let alone attempted. And I am not actually advocating any of them, just pointing out that women like Meg Lanker-Simmons are caught in a trap that has nothing to do with (mythically) rape-minded men and everything to do with the world easy contraception and feminist ideology have given us.
I think that underneath the obvious political maneuvering, screaming about a nonexistent rape pandemic is a displacement activity. Campus feminists do it because confronting their actual powerlessness and the jaws of the dilemma that created it would be too painful for them to face.
At bottom, the problem is that female hypergamic instinct and the ideology of sexual equality are inevitably in collision. (Men don’t have the symmetrical problem because their instinctive mating strategy is to just bang women who turn them on physically without regard for differential status.) Short of genetically re-engineering humans to change their mating instincts, there is probably no fix for this.
Of course the implications of this logic go way beyond college campuses. It’s a fundamentally tragic situation and I don’t know what we as a culture or a species are going to do about it.
One thing I am sure of is that displaced moral panic and silly, counterfactual yabbering about “rape culture” will not solve the problem.