By Wendy McElroy
April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, and it will be used to promote a big lie — namely, that we live in a “rape culture.”
The term “rape culture” was coined by politically correct (PC) feminists in the 1970s. It refers to attitudes, beliefs, and values that allegedly normalize sexual violence against women and encourage the act of rape by men. America is called a “rape culture” because sexual violence is deemed to be so pervasive that all women live in constant danger from all men. The violence or threat of it occurs on a continuum running from sexual glances to physical rape. The fact that so many people are unaware of the rape culture surrounding them only points to its omnipresence; that is, the rape culture is supposed to be as common as air and taken as much for granted.
The solution proposed by PC feminists is to change the fundamentals of society, especially with regard to gender, sexuality, and power. Institutions such as law, religion, and the educational system must be deconstructed and reconstructed in order to remove the alleged danger and discrimination that is inherent in being a woman today. Of course, this deconstruction and reconstruction requires extensive action by the state. For instance, PC feminists are trying to use the dubious legal doctrine of “affirmative consent” to increase the regulation of sex on post-secondary campuses.
The idea that America is a rape culture is a particularly vicious big lie, because it brands all men as rapists or rape facilitators. This lie has been successful despite reality. The rate of actual rape is declining. The crime is severely punished, and even an accusation can ruin lives; men who rape are reviled; the social messages on rape delivered regularly to young men are the opposite of encouragement.
Nevertheless, in January 2014, the White House Council on Women and Girls issued a report that stated, “1 in 5 women has been sexually assaulted while in college” (PDF). A key reason for this amazingly high statistic is that the report significantly expands the definition of rape, and it counts every accusation as true. Since then, the “1 in 5” statistic has gained legs in the media and been used as proof that we live in a rape culture. (For a debunking of the White House report, please see The Future of Freedom Foundation article “Making Men Rapists.”)
How do big lies like this one become politically powerful forces?
Finally, a Good Reason to Use Hitler in a Discussion
The concept of a “big lie” as a propaganda tool is often traced back to Adolf Hitler and his book Mein Kampf (1925). In its pages, he accused Jews and Marxists of shifting responsibility for the loss of World War I onto the shoulders of a particular German Army officer. Hitler wrote,
[I]n the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily.… [T]hey more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.
Here are some of the components that build a successful big lie:
- The lie must be “grossly impudent” and “colossal” — for example, the lie that men and women are not human beings who share the same political interests, such as freedom of speech, but are separate classes with separate and antagonistic political interests.
- The lie must be frequently repeated, because some people believe whatever they hear often enough or from enough people. For example, PC feminists who endorse the idea of a “rape culture” also interpret everything in society through its lens, from casual glances to the prospect of a nuclear winter. It is the constant explanation.
- It should make the average person ask, “Who would lie about that?” It is assumed that women would not lie about rape, and that feminists would not commit the intellectual crime of a mass fabrication about women. After all, aren’t they for women?
- A big lie must be maintained by the state. For example, tax-funded campuses become places where ideas are stifled rather than explored. In classrooms, only “correct” discussions occur, and they do so only by using “correct” words.
- A big lie must impact “the deeper strata” of people’s “emotional nature.” Few images elicit as much emotion as that of women being savagely raped. That’s why “they are coming to rape our women!” has been a popular rallying cry to rouse men into battle.
- It must be something many people wish to believe. The gender war has broadened and deepened since the ‘70s. There is a palpable anger within PC feminism and within many women who feel oppressed, whether or not they really are. The “rape culture” myth appeals to that anger.
- A big lie is best expressed in a tone of moral outrage and in the name of a noble goal. Both aspects discourage casual critics and allow the liars to vilify any critic who dares to proceed. The rape-culture myth is advanced in the name of protecting women, and anyone who questions it is said to be defending rapists.
A Sea Change on “Rape Culture”?
A fascinating phenomenon is occurring. There has been significant blowback to the White House report and to PC activists who suggest lowering the standards of evidence and legal procedures by which, for instance, campus hearings find male students guilty of rape. A remarkable flood of articles have criticized the “rape culture” campaign, and they have done so in prominent venues. One example: Caroline Kitchens has published an article entitled “It’s Time to End ‘Rape Culture’ Hysteria” in Time magazine. Kitchens points to an even more surprising example of blowback.
The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) is America’s largest anti-sexual-violence organization. In a letter on February 28 addressed to the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, RAINN rejected the idea of America as a “rape culture” (PDF). The letter stated, “Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime. While that may seem an obvious point, it has tended to get lost in recent debates.” As a result, the letter continued, the dialogue on rape has tended to focus “on particular segments of the student population (e.g., athletes) … or traits that are common in many millions of law-abiding Americans (e.g., ‘masculinity’), rather than on the subpopulation at fault: those who choose to commit rape.”
The letter argued powerfully that focusing on the “rape culture” makes “it harder to stop sexual violence, since it removes the focus from the individual at fault, and seemingly mitigates personal responsibility for his or her own actions.”
April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. Outcry against the “rape culture” will almost certainly be a core part of the rhetoric and reporting. As a woman who has experienced genuine sexual violence, I ask one thing of the awareness month and the people promoting it. Tell the truth. Tell the truth to women and tell it about men. Those who use the big lie of “rape culture” to promote their politics have more in common with rapists than they know; both use the pain and fear of women to their own advantage.
Wendy McElroy is an author for the Future of Freedom Foundation, a fellow of the Independent Institute, and the author of The Reasonable Woman: A Guide to Intellectual Survival. This article first appeared with the Future of Freedom Foundation.