Valenti opines in the Post: Jessica Valenti is often featured in the Washington Post’s Sunday Outlook section.
Yesterday, she extended a fascinating recent discussion about either 1) the term “rape culture” or 2) the concepts behind the term “rape culture.” The fact that no one seems to know what is actually being discussed shows us something less than great about our emerging “progressive” culture.
The current discussion (or non-discussion) started with a cryptic remark by RAINN, which describes itself as “the country’s largest anti-sexual-violence organization.” Midway through a five-page letter to a White House task force, two RAINN officials said this:
RAINN (2/28/14): In the last few years, there has been an unfortunate trend towards blaming “rape culture” for the extensive problem of sexual violence on campuses. While it is helpful to point out the systemic barriers to addressing the problem, it is important to not lose sight of a simple fact: Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime.The letter goes on at some length. That short remark has produced a lot of pushback, part of a very confused and confusing discussion.
What exactly did the RAINN officials mean by that remark? Constructively, Valenti asked them! This is part of her piece in the Post:
VALENTI (3/30/14): RAINN President Scott Berkowitz told me that the memo to the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault wasn’t meant as a thorough critique of sexual violence in America. He agreed there are systemic issues: from untested rape kits to justice system treatment of survivors. But he stood by the passage about rape culture, arguing that the term “muddies” the conversation about how to help survivors and risks alienating allies. “Many people interpret it—men in particular—as accusatory,” he said. “We need to encourage their good instincts rather than pointing a finger.”Do men interpret the term “rape culture” as accusatory? We don’t know, but we’ll guess that it does “muddy” some conservations, as is true whenever a group starts adopting a private language that the wider population finds unfamiliar and perhaps a bit strange-sounding.
Yet Tracey Vitchers of Students Active for Ending Rape says talking about rape culture has been instrumental to her work. “The concept of rape culture provides students with the language to contextualize what is happening and how they can talk to administrators and peers,” Vitchers says. “Rape culture speaks to the larger systemic problem of why bystanders don’t intervene, why victims don’t feel safe going to campus police and why you see such levels of PTSD among college survivors.”
Yesterday, we looked through the comments to Valenti’s piece and to this earlier piece by Amanda Marcotte at Slate. We were struck by the total confusion—the sense that nobody seemed to agree on what was being debated.
Private language can defeat efforts at wider persuasion. That is especially true of private language which may sound jargonized, with perhaps a whiff of the academy attached to it.
More powerfully, unfamiliar locutions may tend to drive people away if they seem to carry a not-too-secret animus against the people being approached. As in the street-fighting 1960s, so too now: we will guess that many people may see an animus against “Amerikan culture” in some of the banners under which the emerging progressive world may be choosing to march.
It’s hard to approach the wider population, all 315 million strong, if you sound like you may not like them much, or if you sound like you have an animus against their “culture.” Progressives are allowed to have such an animus, of course. It's just that some such animus may make it hard to win approval for progressive causes from the wider public, even where the overall goals should be widely held.
Based on Valenti’s report, Berkowitz seemed to say that many people find the term “rape culture” off-putting in some way or other. If that problem actually exists, one solution would be obvious—people could look for a way to present the ideas in question in a more persuasive way.
That said, progressives and liberals sometimes seem to have a cultural preference for the name-calling of The Others. The examples are endless; we'll offer one below.
With that is mind, we’ll make one final point, and we’ll flirt with being a tiny bit snarky. Valenti quotes Kitchens saying this:
“The concept of rape culture provides students with the language to contextualize what is happening and how they can talk to administrators and peers.”
We don’t know how people react to the term “rape culture.” But if you want to approach the public and win them over to a cause, we’ll even suggest that you stay away from terms like “contextualize.”
People won’t know what you’re talking about. They may find themselves strangely inclined to turn away from your cause.
What’s the matter with Iowa farmers: In what ways do liberals sometimes signal that they may not fully respect average people?
Sadly, hopelessly, let Candidate Braley show you!