Of Rape Culture, “Grievance Culture” and Mike Tyson


I’m lucky. I made it through my college years without being raped.

I did have a couple of close calls, both times when I was alone with men I had considered friends. Fortunately, my angry bravado—which covered up my fear—proved enough to short-circuit their plans. Fortunately I hadn’t been given a spiked drink that would have rendered me incapable of protest. Fortunately they were small guys, not football players—although either could have overpowered me.

Other women I know and have met weren’t so lucky. Like Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, the two main protagonists in the new documentary The Hunting Ground. Both were raped while students at the University of North Carolina and have since turned their trauma into activism, developing encyclopedic knowledge of Title IX and other laws that take schools to task if they don’t deal with sexual assault in a timely and survivor-protective manner.

Most feminists—including champions in Congress such as Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)—are convinced by statistics showing the frightening prevalence of rape on campus and a lack of effective response from school administrations. Indeed, the Department of Education is now investigating nearly 100 schools for possible Title IX violations in their treatment of campus rape.

Why, then, do some sort-of-feminist writers seem to take a contrarian delight in downplaying campus rape, and show greater concern for the accused than the assaulted?

Take Emily Yoffe of Slate, previously (2013) author of “College Women: Stop Getting Drunk,” in which she wrote that “Young women are getting a distorted message that their right to match men drink for drink is a feminist issue.” (Uh, as far as I know, that’s a topic that’s never been on the feminist agenda.) If she had a son, she wrote, she’d tell him that “it’s in his self-interest not to be the drunken frat boy who finds himself accused of raping a drunken classmate.” (In his self-interest? What about his classmate’s? How about just telling him to not rape a classmate, regardless of her or his state of inebriation?)

Yoffe followed that one up late last year with “The College Rape Overcorrection,” in which she told a long story about a male University of Michigan student accused of rape who was suspended but has filed suit against the school. It’s impossible to read the piece without concluding that her sympathies lie more with those who might be falsely accused—a very small percentage, actually—than with women who are raped.

And now, Yoffe has written a review of The Hunting Ground for Slate, because who better to review this film than someone who’s already shown she’s suspicious of campus rape accusations and believes that women should buck up and realize that “colleges are supposed to be places where young people learn to be responsible for themselves”?

Not surprisingly, Yoffe calls the campus anti-rape movement a “moral panic.” She writes,

The film traffics in alarmist statistics and terrifying assertions, but fails to acknowledge both the recent changes in the way the government and universities approach sexual assault charges and the critiques that those changes go too far. By refusing to engage the current conversation about this issue, the film does its subjects—and us all—a disservice.

What she means is that the filmmakers didn’t engage with Yoffe‘s critiques. Instead, they focused on dozens of young women students who actually have been raped but found little or no recourse from either their campus administration or the criminal justice system. Yet Yoffe insists that the campus system is “stacked against the accused.”Really? Read the transcript of the hearing in which Florida State student Erica Kinsman accused football star Jameis Winston of raping her, and then tell us which of the two got more of a fair shake.

But who needs real stories from survivors when contrarian opinions will get so many more hits online?

Certainly not Meghan Daum of the Los Angeles Times. Her review of The Hunting Ground questions the notion of whether all rapes are created equal. “I’m going to say,” she writes,

what many reasonable people have been thinking for a while: Violent rape is not the same as psychologically coercive sex, which in turn is not the same as regrettable sex, which is not the same as fielding an unwanted touch or kiss at a party.

This is a straw horse. Like Yoffe’s idea that feminists are marching for women’s right to drink as lustily as men, Daum is assuming that “unreasonable” people (like Annie and Andrea, perhaps?) want to equate rape with an unwanted touch, or even a post-coital wish that they’d just stayed friends. But watch The Hunting Ground and see if you don’t agree that rape is rape, despite variations in behavior by the rapist and the person violated. Andrea, for example, admits that she didn’t scream while being raped in a bathroom (does that disqualify her rape?) because she thought she was going to be killed and wanted to live past age 20.

Daum is forced to admit, reluctantly, that,

Rape culture is not a myth propagated by entitled young feminists who wage their battles behind the scrim of social media and in the ideological vacuum of gender studies departments. [wow, “ideological vacuum”!!] Rape culture is terrifyingly and appallingly real.

But … that doesn’t mean she can accept what she identifies as “grievance culture.” In this imagined land—which just sounds like a new version of so-called “victim feminism”—she asserts that,

sexual assault and victimhood exist as absolutes, independent of context or gray areas. The woman who gets drunk at a party and has sex she neither exactly consented to nor exactly resisted is just as much a victim as the clearly brutalized woman. The undergraduate at an elite college who continues to hang out with her alleged rapist long after the deed supposedly occurred is said to be suffering the same syndrome as the woman who lacks the resources to flee a domestic batterer on whom she may be psychologically or financially dependent.

Again, the straw horse is a-galloping. Listen to the stories of rape survivors in The Hunting Ground—which is currently playing in Los Angeles, New York, Cambridge and Berkeley—and judge for yourself how out-of-context their stories are. Do we need to develop a degree-of-rape scale before we push universities and the criminal justice system to improve their investigation and prosecution of sexual-assault crimes? Let’s see, if you’re murdered during your rape, that’s a legitimate rape, unquestionnable. If you bled or suffered broken bones, that’s legit, too. Just covered with bruises? A bit lower down on the scale. But no marks after the assault? Well … maybe it’s a gray area. Psychological trauma, PTSD? Come on, get over it!

It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? Through whose eyes are we watching a sexual assault transpire? For example, did you laugh along with Jimmy Kimmel the other night when former boxer Mike Tyson described to him how he “had to hit all the maids” in his Tokyo hotel when he was training to fight Buster Douglas in 1990, because his management wouldn’t let him party on the town? Tyson made it clear—by miming a punch and then a pelvic thrust—that he didn’t actually hit these women, he had sex with them. Despite the fact that, as he felt compelled to add, they were “so ugly.” Hahahahahaha. Isn’t Tyson charming these days?

Mike Tyson was convicted of raping a Miss Black America contestant just two years after the Douglas fight. So who’s to say those Japanese housekeepers were willing sexual partners? Perhaps they were physically compelled by this exceedingly strong person. Perhaps they feared for their jobs if they refused a rich and powerful hotel guest. And we know what happens when a hotel maid accuses a rich and powerful man of rape.

Based on the statistics—let alone the question of why any sane woman would want to put herself through the maelstrom of the criminal justice system if she didn’t have a real grievance—it shouldn’t be so hard to trust the accuser in rape cases. Yes, the accused is “innocent until proven guilty” and criminal courts require “beyond a reasonable doubt” to convict. Campus adjudications maintain a lower bar of proof, but it can still be a difficult one to clear (see the Winston case).

Nonetheless, is it to much to ask that Yoffe and Daum think of the women for a moment? Rapists who aren’t expelled can blithely attend classes and extracurricular activities, while the Annies and Andreas often must leave school to avoid further trauma and begin their recovery. It hardly seems like it’s the accused rapists being denied a fair shake.

 Photo by Flickr user Bob Mical under license from Creative Commons 2.0




Michele Kort is senior editor of Ms. She is the author of Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro and coeditor (with Audrey Bilger) of Here Come the Brides: Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage



  1. It is hard to get some women to realize the degree to which all of us have been mind/raped by the existing masculist culture. Some women are really masculists not feminists – no matter how they declare themselves.

  2. I have also noticed this backlash, both in the media and among people I know (people who, I had previously believed, would surely know better). Just the other day my mother and her friend were harping on that tired line about how awful and terrible false accusations are and how most of these “rapes” (they actually air quoted there) were simply regretted drunken hookups and not “real rapes.” As a man who was in college five years ago I KNOW this is not the case. It is a certified fact, not to mention an obvious truth, that it is rape victims who suffer the most, not only from the act itself but from the entire difficult process of trying to prove their accusation legally. False accusations are so uncommon that they are really merely a red herring used to deliberately sap credibility from rape victims. I don’t know what this pushback is about or where its coming from but I have noticed it all over and I find it very upsetting.

  3. Thank you, Michelle Kort, for this article! Since you mentioned Jimmy Kimmel, I am constantly angered by TV rape culture that manifests on talk shows, sit coms and the rest.

  4. Lisa Beaumont says:

    My comment is about your recent article titled, “Of Rape Culture, “Grievance Culture” and Mike Tyson”

    I liked the article. It was entertaining and informative. I have always been highly irritated with “Grievance Culture” as you call it. Back in college I read Katie Roiphe and others and was very angry with them etc. My comment is that the question that you posed to introduce the article was never answered. The question was,”Why do some sort-of-feminist writers seem to take a contrarian delight in downplaying campus rape, and show greater concern for the accused than the assaulted?…” I think this question needs to be answered before we can evolve the cultural discussion into something more productive. And by the way, this was a very good question. Arguing back and forth is not working and making it appear as if grievance culture is actually grounded or rational. Because the media plays off it just like they do with say Republicans and Democrats etc. The real question is; why would any woman be so anti-woman? And why would she (grievance culture feminist writers), aware or not, try to sabotage women’s progress like this? If we can get to the bottom of that question and bring it into the light in social discourse, then we can get ahead of them, way ahead of them. Otherwise we are just arguing instead of analyzing them, picking it apart and helping the larger culture to understand it. I studied psychology in college so that is my background and what I see is there needs to be a shift in this discussion. Can you all at Ms have a round table about it? Then write some articles and see what happens.

    What I see as possibilities is an overidentification on the part of the grievance culture writer with the “victim.” Then some statistics needs to added regarding the actual incidence of false reports, stressing stats about how prevalent rape is in our culture. But back to the main gist of the question–why? There is something in myself that knows in my most private feminist self that women could do ALOT more to stand up to sexual violence. That we all have alot of power that when coordinated and organized could be very influential. But relatively speaking, there are so few women who are willing to stand up for what is right. That is an ugly truth that I don’t see discussed in the popular feminist media. And I suspect that ugly truth is played upon when these grievance culture writers go to town in their writings. But just because more women don’t stand up and fight, doesn’t mean there is any legitimacy to their claims. So maybe if we can talk about this, we can move it forward a bit. There are other psychological reasons why women might take this stance and I am not sure how that could be brought into it but guessing, there are some women out there who felt, in their childhood that their dad got a bad rap. Or maybe their brother got a bad rap. Or here is another one: maybe they blame themselves for something that happened to them when they were younger. Maybe they over blame themselves which we see alot of women in therapy with that, and then they generalize that blame to all women.

    I am sure there is alot more to uncover. But I sincerely hope that you and your team read this mail and discuss. Because I am sick of listening to a dead end argument between feminists. And then I hope the discussion spreads so that in our society, people can be well informed and empowered.


  5. What I want to know is WHY young feminists today want to push universities to improve their investigation and prosecution of sexual-assault crimes? Why would you trust a university to investigate and prosecute a crime like rape? Most feminists who work in women-serving positions on campuses today would answer that by saying that many of the sexual assaults students suffer are not “violent rapes” in which weapons are involved and so forth– thereby implicitly suggesting that there are different kinds of rapes. So I think we feminists have to stop trying to have it both ways. Rape is rape, indeed. So let’s encourage all those who are raped to take it to the police. If a woman was killed during the assault, would the university be investigating it? No. Why should it be a university investigating a rape? It’s a waste of resources and does not result in anything but more headaches– for the victim as well as the accused. I am not a feminist more concerned about the accused than the accusers, but I am certain that these kangaroo courts are not following reasonable and just procedures mainly because they’re conducted by a lot of people who don’t know what they’re doing.

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