Looks like George Will is going to get away with his sexist remarks. When famous and even powerful people make racist remarks (as the recent owner of a basketball team) they suffer serious consequences. Apparently you can still say horrible sexist things and basically slide.
Here's my Oped, which I tried to publish in a few newspapers, but no one was taking.
Academia Should Rebuke George Will
Universities everywhere, public and private, should officially condemn remarks made recently by George Will in his nationally syndicated column. Will said that being a rape victim in a college environment brings a “coveted status that confers privileges,” and he claimed that “nonconsensual touching” is not a true form of sexual assault. Adding more fuel to the fire, he unreasonably challenged the well-documented statistic that one-in-five women in college will suffer sexual assault or attempted assault. Will recently doubled down on his invidious claims in a CSPAN interview. Four US Senators have written a letter denouncing his statements, and the St. Louis Dispatch has dropped his column in protest. Legitimate moral disgust and outrage at Will’s callous, preposterous, retrograde stance continues to grow and burst into new offshoots.
The institutions of higher learning have a chance not only do the right thing but to impress students, particularly female students. They are the primary targets of sexual assault on campus and are leading the fight to gain more recognition of the problem. Universities are badly lagging in their response to the epidemic of violence that belies collegial images of fun and camaraderie. The recent struggles of Emma Sulkowicz and other students at Columbia University to get justice has brought much needed national attention to the issue.
Any university or college that does not address George Will’s easily falsifiable remarks could, and should, lose moral stature. Over half the students in America are women, and at least half the potential students are women. This is a great chance to make a positive impression with a strong declaration against an absurd and crime-provoking statement, a statement tossed out almost offhandedly by a pundit clearly out of touch with the realities of campus life. Mark Wemple of the Washington Post seems to think so, and he points out, disparagingly, that all three editors who reviewed Will’s piece for print were male: “Women are the predominant victims of rape and sexual assault; therefore, they may have some insight on the editing of a column on sexual assault.”
Let me return to my claim that Will’s words are crime-provoking. They do indeed offer a catalyst of cultural reinforcement, from the pulpit of respected intelligentsia, for terrible illegal behaviors, the sort that break the right to privacy directly and despicably. Ms. Sulkowicz, in her struggle for justice, has already shown how difficult it is to get heard, let alone to motivate action. How much more difficult will it be if Will’s highly memorable claim of “coveted status” sinks into the natioinal psyche? His glossy dismissal of the widespread problem is, in effect, a permission slip for sexual assault. His denial of the plague of rape is great news for the rapist, and yet anathema for anyone aware of the damage, both physical and psychological, induced by the very real scourge on our campuses.
Will’s remarks have been defended on the grounds of freedom of speech. However, you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater; and if you shield and encourage sexual assault (by saying those who are victimized are privileged) you are doing something tantamount. Even if you consider Will’s remarks protected speech, that in no way implies they should be condoned by the leaders of our university system, who have a trust and obligation to provide a safe and open environment. When Cliven Bundy made blatantly racist statements, those who once favored him stepped back with sharp criticism. Is Will’s sexism not as bad as Bundy’s racism? And does not academia have a special obligation in this matter, standing in a direct position of leadership and policy concerning sexual assault on students?
Those ensconced in the Echelons of Ivory need to speak up. If they do not, all students should be offended. Potential students should make this an indicator of appeal, or lack thereof (“you’re condoning a guy who’s promoting sexual assault on campus?”). If administrators won’t act, students have every right and reason to initiate protests. Survivors of sexual assault often feel they are not heard by the system. George Will has added yet another prominent layer of fancy-worded denial, a cultural imprimatur of grave ignorance, despite the sesquipedalian packaging. Screaming at rape-deniers won’t work, but organized protest is a fair way to sublimate that justified internal scream into salient action.
On the other hand, a powerful unilateral condemnation of Will’s sexism by any university serves as a beacon for prospective students, and a magnet of respect for current students, who will then feel that their administration is aware of the tremendous problem, and not just another unresponsive, unhealthy bureaucracy.