Growing Male Presence: A Culture of Rape?

According to the editors of Transforming Rape Culture, rape culture is “a complex of beliefs that encourages and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm.” (Buchwald, Fletcher, and Roth, vii)

This particularly distasteful cartoon dealing with rape was published in the Breeze. 1973.

This particularly distasteful cartoon dealing with rape was published in the Breeze. 1973.

Was Madison in the 1970s an example of a rape culture?

Burnett, et al. and Sanday each find that college campuses are especially susceptible to being host to a rape culture, despite efforts to counteract this trend.  Burnett, et al. detail four main factors that allow rape cultures to thrive on college campuses:

1) Rape Myths

According to Burnett, et al. rape myths tend to “deny or minimize victim injury or blame the victims for their own victimization.” (Burnett, et al., 466)  Evidence of rape myths at Madison during this period can be found mostly in articles published in the Breeze dealing with the subject of rape.  One such article details a guest appearance by a man named Frederick Storaska who apparently specializes in self-defense and advocates for all women to be trained in self-defense as a preventative tactic against rape.  While Storaska no doubt meant well, his focus on “preventative measures” that should be taken by women shifts the blame back on the women who are being victimized.  Furthermore, he describes a potential rapist as an “emotional disturbed person,” robbing them of their agency and any real complicity in the act that they are committing.  This implies that women are entirely responsible for the prevention of rape, which is a clear indication of a rape culture.  That he was given a standing ovation by the audience, as the article states he was, suggests that the Madison populace agreed with and likely perpetuated the dangerous myths that he was teaching them.

The Breeze article on Storaska's appearence. 1973.

The Breeze article on Storaska’s appearence. 1973.

2) Men’s Athletics

Burnett, et al. argue that men’s athletics programs can contribute to a college rape culture because “they are sex-segregated, the nature of sport is to be dominant, and students involved in a college sport, particularly men, gain prestige from being physically domineering.”(Burnett, et al., 466)  In this way, the rise of the male population of Madison, and the increasing prominence place upon the schools men’s sports teams, had the adverse effect of creating a campus on which rape culture could thrive, perhaps made worse by the fact that the campus was not used to the level of male presence it would attain in the 70s.   For a traditional female campus, becoming accustomed to the power dynamics that did not exist in a single-sex environment would have had the potential to make this culture all the more toxic during this early period of male presence on the campus.

3) Fraternity Culture

Much like the culture associated with men’s athletics, fraternity culture is a contributing factor to a college rape culture because it is sex-segregated and that it “fosters discussion and beliefs that are different from those outside the fraternity.” (Burnett, et al., 466)  Like with the rise of men’s athletics, the introduction of fraternity life to the equation altered the environment of the Madison College campus in a way that supported the development of a rape culture.

4) Alchohol Use Among Fraternities and Sororities

As the authors note, those engaged in fraternity and sorority culture are “more likely than independent men and women to use alcohol before sex,” (Burnett, et al., 467)  which raises the chances of unwanted sexual experiences, such as date rape.  The fact that, starting in 1974, almost every student at Madison College in the 70s would have been able to legally consume alcohol, would have compounded this problem even further.  Furthermore, the reputation of Madison as a “party school,” is well known, and photos found in the Bluestones published in this era confirm that it was alive in well in the 70s, and, perhaps, even widely accepted.

Madison students partake in the school's party culture. Bluestone, 1978.

Madison students partake in the school’s party culture. Bluestone, 1978.

So, unfortunately, all signs do point to the conclusion that Madison College in the 70s is an example of a rape culture.  However, this is true of almost any mixed-sexed institution, as the power dynamics associated with male privilege will tend to push the institution towards this type of toxic culture.  It is not a issue that was specific to Madison College, but instead is representative of a greater societal problem that continues to exist to this day.

Works Cited:

Buchwald, Emilie, Pamela R. Fletcher, and Martha Roth, eds. Transforming Rape Culture. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 1993.

Burnett, Ann, Jody L. Mattern, Liliana L. Herakova, David H. Kahl, Jr., Cloy Tobola, Susan E. Bornsen. “Communicating/Muting Date Rape: A Co-Cultural Theoretical Analysis of Communication Factors Related to Rape Culture on a College Campus.” Journal of Applied Communication Research 37, n. 4 (2009): 465-485.

Sanday, Peggy Reeves. Fraternity Gang Rape : Sex, Brotherhood, and Privilege on Campus. New York: New York University Press, 2007.

Snead, Jack. “To Rape or Not to Rape.” The Breeze. December 4, 1973.