Here's your next Ivy League sexism controversy: An all-male a capella group at Columbia University has apologized for distributing fliers on campus with slogans like "Rape Me." (Last year, apparently, they had a poster featuring Rihanna, adding,"I'd Hit That.")
After the posters went up, several campus social groups, including the Anti-Violence coalition, contacted the Kingsmen to express their concerns, and both have issued lengthy statements.
The Kingsmen wrote that the flier depicted a goofy Facebook photo of one of their members, and apologized by saying in part, "Kingsmen may often use off-color statements in an attempt to lampoon social norms or comment on current events, both on campus and in the media –- the flyer in question does neither. Instead, it wrongfully makes light of rape and makes us an offensive group, rather than an entertaining group."
They critique their own "utter lack of judgment and an embarrassingly complete sense of tunnel vision....We stand accountable for what we have willingly posted in public...We are sorry to have caused any pain to members of our community."
And the statement from LUCHA, described as "a Columbia social activist organization," contains a fair amount of contextual feminist analysis:
The Kingsmen and their posters fail to acknowledge or address the gravity of rape and sexual violence as an epidemic, not only in our campus community, but throughout the world. To continue, the fact that Kingsmen is comprised entirely of men emphasizes the inconsideration of the message given the reality of the disproportionate amount of women to men who are affected by sexual violence.
Additionally, besides making a caricature out of gay men, the subject's "desire" to be raped trivializes the link between sexuality and homophobic hate crimes. Furthermore, by subscribing to the patriarchal gender roles in which femininity is synonymous with submission and passivity, the flyer offensively stereotypes both women and gay men on campus... In light of the recent suicides due to the violent stigmatization of homosexuality throughout our communities, this flyer is especially insensitive, unacceptable, and heinous.
Interestingly, all of this appears to have been adjudicated behind the scenes, avoiding the sort of national conflagration that the Yale frat chants elicited — probably better for all involved, given the polarization and distortion that comes with all that. (Still to come: debate over the Conquistabros and Navajos frat party at Harvard.)
You could still consider the controversy a tempest in a teapot, a passionate exercise in outrage with relatively low stakes in a privileged environment, but you'd be missing the point — which is that these mini-battles on campus are a way to stake out norms and values on a still-manageable scale. One party tries out boorishly provocative behavior that is essentially congruent with what's in the larger culture, which in this case is that rape is totally freaking hilarious. Another offers a firm response that, while it risks being dismissed as humorless hysteria, can also be an opportunity to say it's not hilarious at all — and here's why.