Among the progressive factions on campus, there is perhaps none as over-the-top and histrionic as feminism. And we are in the midst of a particular strain of feminist activism that has promoted an “infantilized view of women,” according to one scholar.
At The New York Times, American Enterprise Institute scholar Christina Hoff Sommers argues in an interview that “fainting couch feminism” has helped turn the modern American campus into places where kangaroo courts reign over the lives of students.
“In the past few years,” Sommers argues, “many of our campuses have descended into a kind of sexual McCarthyism where due process was suspended and the presumption of innocence was replaced by ‘guilty because accused.’ An untold number of college students have been subjected to injustices in these campus rape tribunals.”
“The important thing is to establish due process” in these trials, Sommers argues. “The standard of guilt is important, but not nearly as important as due process, where both sides are fully informed of the process and allowed to question the legitimacy of the evidence.”
Sommers contrasts “fainting couch feminism” with what she calls “equity feminism,” which she says “is just about gender equity. It wants for women what it wants for everyone — fair treatment, respect and dignity.” In contrast, fainting couch or “victim” feminism “calls for special protections for women in sexual assault cases because it views women as an oppressed and silenced class.”
I think the rape culture theory was just an outgrowth of this infantilized view of women. The fainting couchers enlarged the meaning of sexual assault to include a lot of activities that most of us don’t think of as sexual assault. They collapsed the distinction between regretted sex and rape. An equity feminist does not assume that all sex under the influence is assault, or that men are automatically to blame. That’s not to say that sexual assault isn’t a real problem on campus.
Are college administrative tribunals capable of policing this issue or should it be handled by law enforcement?
They’re a mix of professors, sometimes students and an assistant dean or two typically assembled to resolve cases involving plagiarism or someone caught drinking in the dorm or smoking pot. Are they prepared to adjudicate murder, arson and kidnapping? Rape is a serious crime. I think they lack the training and resources to investigate and adjudicate felonies. When there’s a serious allegation of assault, it should go to the police and the courts, and universities shouldn’t be pressured to set up a judicial system where students can be found guilty of a major crime by a mere preponderance of the evidence.
So what’s the role of the university?
Not all cases are going to go to the police. A lot of bad things are going to happen that are less than a felony but need some attention. These students have to live together and to go to class together. It’s reasonable to have some kind of procedures, to counsel and be understanding and protective and listen to both sides and work out an arrangement. And I think a major source of the trouble is binge drinking. I certainly think alcohol prevention programs are part of the solution. Some women say that is blaming the victim. Teaching people how to avoid becoming victims isn’t blaming the victim. It’s common sense.
Sommers counsels against using Title IX on academics in the same way it is used in sports: “[S]cience is not a sport, and men and women play on the same team. There are very few women who can compete in wrestling and basketball, but there are many women in the top ranks of every science and no one doubts their ability to compete on equal terms. If Title IX is used, it’s going to create a two-tiered system.”