Column: Misogyny: Paving the way for sexual assault

By Matt Simmons

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This month the University will show films, hold workshops, put on a concert and hold a rally, all in the name of combating sexual assault. Decreasing the number of sexual assaults on campus should be a priority, but addressing sexual assault without addressing the larger issue of widespread misogyny throughout our campus and society is a futile task.

Misogyny is hatred or strong prejudice against women, not to be confused with sexism which is discrimination based on sex. Misogyny is usually more subtle, making it difficult to identify. Since it is hard to identify misogyny, it is also hard to identify the effects of it. One of the most ominous consequences of misogyny is sexual assault.

The traditional explanation of sexual assault is that most assaults are committed because the offender has the need to aggressively dominate another human being. The claim was that sex was simply the tool to achieve the goal of domination and humiliation of the victim. However, more recent explanations such as the biosocial theory of rape created by Lee Ellis in the 1990s, reject that simplistic explanation. Ellis hypothesizes that domination and aggression are tactics used to achieve a sexual goal.

I am not saying this to make sexual assault seem more justifiable, in fact, this explanation makes it sound a lot worse. This theory essentially says that some men will go to any lengths to have sex. Whether it is through violence, threats, or lies; these men will do whatever it takes to have sex. A 1996 study of 477 male students done by Scot B. Boeringer supports this hypothesis. He found that 56 percent of men admitted to using non-violent coercion to obtain sex. Some examples of non-violent coercion are threatening to end a relationship, falsely professing love, and other lies.

The fact that half of college-aged men coerce women into having sex is very troubling. The fact that some men will resort to threats and violence in order to have sex is downright scary. Decent people do not treat other people that way. These men obviously believe that women are inferior, that it is OK to disrespect them, and that a woman’s safety, comfort, and well-being come second to man’s need for sexual gratification.

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Men think this way because our society encourages it. According to a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee report from 1991, American women are eight times more likely to be raped than European women. We cannot blame sexual assault on some biological predisposition that makes all men rapists. Sadly, our society is unique in this sense.

Early in their life, men not only learn that it is okay to pursue sex by any means, but they are encouraged to do so. The thing is that many men are rewarded for their behavior. Guys learn that telling a girl “I love you” will work and they continue to do it. Even more important is that our society consistently dehumanizes women, associating their worth in terms of their sexual desirability. If women are gauged by their sex appeal, they become primarily sexual beings. In this context, it is easy to see how men can so easily disregard a woman’s humanity just to achieve his sexual goals.

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that nearly all of us have largely consented to this institutional misogyny. This misogyny is manifested here on campus. Look at the “Girls of Engineering” calendar that Chiral Productions is making to promote the College of Engineering to young girls. The calendar features scantily-dressed engineering students posing seductively. The calendar reinforces the notion that women’s looks are what matters most. Forget about the fact that these women are studying in one of the top engineering schools in the country. They are sexy, therefore they are important.

We need to end this practice of valuing women for their sexuality more than anything else. When we do that we can move misogyny out of the mainstream and discard it along with racism, homophobia, and other forms of oppression.

Matt Simmons is a senior in LAS. His column appears on Fridays. He can be reached at [email protected].