Oppression of fear

By Eli Gottlieb

The University of Massachusetts administration allowed an allegedly confessed rapist to stay in school with nothing more than a deferred suspension. Upon hearing this, my first instinct was to break out pitchforks and torches and bear down upon the despicable scumbag who perpetrated this and see to it that he meets with an accident, followed quickly by an 11-month term in the flames and tortures of Gehenna, of course working to allow the bastard’s soul to be purified of his sin for entrance into Paradise.

            Luckily, cooler blood prevailed. At one point I asked myself: As opposed to what I wanted to do to the allegedly confessed rapist out of anger, what does the campus community really need? It doesn’t need a crusading college junior with a self-righteous sense of vengeance. It doesn’t need new administrative policies to expel allegedly confessed rapists. I had to find out what the campus community, especially its women, really needed.

            Now certainly, we need justice for the victim. I obviously don’t know who she is, but she has my sympathies for what I presume is her reasoning behind not pressing criminal charges: wanting to heal and move on with her life rather than repeatedly reliving her rape for the sake of satisfying the legal system. I wish her all the best in her life after UMass.

            I still had to find out what our community needed, so I asked UMass sophomore Alexa McKenzie. She explained to me how unsafe many women feel on the UMass campus.

            “I’ve definitely gotten those chain e-mails that say, ‘Never park next to a van, always check the back seat when you get into a car;’ there are a couple other things you’ll get in e-mails. I’ve had friends ­– girls – who will not walk across campus in broad daylight without holding a cell-phone conversation, so someone can hear their scream, or calling their friends to walk with them, because they believe it’s not safe to be alone,” she said. “I try not to buy into that, but I have to admit a certain feeling of nervousness when I’m walking on a street and there’s, specifically, a man trailing me, even from a good ways behind, and if they’re not distracted by anything else and don’t make any turns, I get nervous. And that’s not fair to me and it’s not fair to the guy I’m now nervous of.”

            Well damn. We don’t need angry undergrads or even a new administration. We need Batman. The very idea that any woman on this campus should have to live in fear, in the black of night or in broad daylight, is fundamentally and absurdly wrong. Yet statistics continually show that women are at risk. The National Organization for Women (NOW) says, “According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, which includes crimes that were not reported to the police, 232,960 women in the U.S. were raped or sexually assaulted in 2006,” and “women age 24 and under suffer from the highest rates of rape.”

            What this campus needs is a Take Back the Night march. Beginning as “a candlelight procession through the streets of Brussels,” the Take Back the Night movement believes in using marches, vigils and protests to showcase society’s solidarity not only with women but also with all victims of violence, especially sexual violence. Smaller events where men take to basketball courts at half time and vow never to rape just don’t go far enough. As McKenzie put it, “Personally, I don’t take many extra precautions, I do walk alone on campus at night, and I don’t know … basically, I feel like I’m taking a risk, but I’d rather take a risk than live in fear.”

            From her, I have heard of fears that absolutely appall me: Fear of walking alone, fear of being in crowds of people whom one doesn’t personally know, fear of being surrounded by drunken Southwesters on a Friday night, fear of parking next to a van and fear of being alone with strange men. These fears have sprung a reconstruction, a re-justification, of the very behavioral codes once considered so oppressive to women: Don’t go out alone, don’t put yourself forward, don’t say no, don’t talk to strangers, don’t befriend, don’t flirt and don’t dress immodestly.

            Enough is enough. Most fundamentally, we need to restore and strengthen our sense of trust in each other as members of a common campus community. Date rape, in particular, must be brought to a complete end, because as long as someone feels uncomfortable saying “no” and having it mean “no,” their partner can never truly know that “yes” means “yes.” Subjugation to fear must end just as more literal, violent oppressions did.

            Today, I feel ashamed of my campus and enraged at what it allows. However, we must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer, and I don’t want it to kill anyone else.

            Eli Gottlieb is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].