My sex life was solitary and secret until I got to college. It remained silent and secret in regards to myself, but suddenly my reading knowledge of sex (which was very science-based) was greatly augmented by roommates -- one in particular. (This was ’57 - ’61.) I was much impressed by her black underwear. I hadn’t known there could be such a thing. (It was many more years before I came across red underwear that wasn’t long-johns, much less leopard-spotted satin or purple lace.) She informed me that sex is no different from food. A good fuck was equivalent to a good steak. And gender mattered not.
I was reminded of what she thought DID matter more recently. We’re in our seventies now and she was shocked that I didn’t realize that while she was my roommate she was regularly being taken to the floor by her most important professor. Worse, I’d never heard of him and didn’t know how significant he was. She had the idea that she was attractive because of her brains, which were considerable, but it seemed transparent to me that it was because she was a cute little blonde whose personal life was already so freeform that when “student health” sent her to the University shrink they turned out to be having sex with the same handsome young man, dubbed “Steppenwolf.” Things did not go well, then or now. In fact, when she announced she was coming to visit Montana with her handsome husband, I quickly picked a fight so she wouldn’t.
Martha Shull, my high school sophomore English teacher, who was also the president of the NEA that year, taught us that the Atlantic Monthly was an upscale, prestigious, respectable magazine. Thus I was a little disconcerted when someone forwarded me the Jan/Feb Atlantic article called “Hard Core” by Natasha Vargas-Cooper . I didn’t catch up with the companion article “The Hazards of Duke” by Caitlin Flanagan until just now when sorting a pile of mags for discard. It happened to coincide with the current news wave about rape as a weapon of war. The rest of this is not about me. I just wanted to prepare you with my point of view, which is amazed but not surprised.
You can see anything on YouTube, including a perfectly clear and straightforward interview with several male Congo fighters (doesn’t matter which side, since they switch all the time anyway) who explained why they rape women as an act of war. They are convinced that their success in battle is directly related to their raping because it reinforces their “magic.” (Nothing was said about raping boys, though they do that, too.) When the interviewer pressed a little bit (“What if you caught someone raping your sister?” Unhesitatingly: “Oh, I would kill him.”) they began to shift their eyes and look a bit uneasy. (Was there something they hadn’t been told?)
With that in the background, I’m told (sorry, there I am again) that high school, college and professional coaches urge their teams to imagine that the opposing team has raped their sister, killed their mother, must be punished. I’m told that coaches who do this (only in the locker room) are called (approvingly) “red-blood coaches.” Their teams win because their aggressiveness is so ramped up. That’s the stick. The carrot is the promise of a beer blast afterwards, the tab being picked up by members of the Chamber of Commerce, which doesn’t acknowledge it. Athletics and schools are deeply, deeply linked. Also, drunkenness and drugging. Aggression is so useful in school athletics. When it comes to hiring for ordinary jobs after graduation, not so much.
Into this triangle of forces steps a liberated woman named Karen Owen, who decides to “sleep with” the entire lacrosse team at Duke University. Treated like dirt, she develops a “Power Point” slide show describing and ranking them, right down to their penis size and shape. It’s hard to know how she could rank their sexual performance since few lasted more than five minutes and she was beer-blasted out of her mind at the time. However, she put a high value on aggressiveness, meaning brute force, and ranked those who left cuts and bruises above those who didn’t, even if she couldn’t remember what actions caused the traumas. She did not address any bruises on the boys. I didn’t read her prose but judging from the photos she included, these were handsome well-built upscale white boys. Some of them were also involved in the scandal in which three black hired strippers/exotic dancers were thought at first to have been raped in a frat house. (Later it was all excused as a mistake.)
In short, these boys (technically old enough to be classified as men) were not at all different from those Congo soldiers. About the same age. Convinced that sex added to their magic. They didn’t go in for foreplay either. This is all so primal that it’s not surprising except that the context of an academic campus is quite different than a Congo jungle. It’s harder to understand Karen Owen, whose Power Point went viral on YouTube, along with a lot of commentary if you are interested. She “went into hiding” by canceling her Facebook and Twitter accounts.
I’m going to have to talk about me, or at least my roommate. What she got out of sex on the office floor was the honor of it all -- not just the aggressiveness, which was also a thrill -- but the fact of a high prestige man’s “endorsement” at the, uh, “root of his being.” Hey, what’s a Ph.D.? (Actually, these days, not so much.) Come to that, who cares about the law or campus regs? Let alone contagious diseases.
So what will happen to Karen Owen? Judging by my roommate, not much. She’s had the same journal editing job all her working life. Feminist rhetoric is not much use in the corporate world. Those who know say Owen’s Power Point wasn’t really that well-done in terms of Power Points, which are going out of style as being too focused on checklists instead of sound basic thinking. That sounds about right, though I never use Power Point. She’ll undoubtedly have a boring low level job in a boring hierarchical bureaucratic world. I don’t think her academic major was mentioned.
I’m more interested in the fate of the high schools and universities. They always protest that without athletics, they will fall apart. Without drunkenness and sex, it just won’t be the traditional campus. Okay. Let’s push it. Cancel the sex, booze and fucking. If nothing is left but classes, that’s okay with me. Then maybe we can address war rape with clear heads. And reach a better understanding of the place of sex in human life. I guess it’s pretty personal for each of us.