‘Rape culture’ or just ‘culture’?

The meaning of Spartan life

Jacob Martin

I spent most of my freshman year partying. (I leave it to the reader to discern the meaning of the term partying.) I distinctly remember finishing classes at 4:50 pm on Friday and proceeding directly to Storrs to drop my backpack off. I would meet two good friends at Leutner before we convened at their dorm to partake in pre-party festivities.

Text messages would litter our phones, informing us of the late-night revelries that could have taken place, while we steadily prepared with music and discussion of everything from classes to girls. Eventually, other pre-partiers would show up at our door, and we would make final arrangements to head to the party on Hessler, E. 115th, Fairchild, Little Italy or the Village.

Most of the time, the parties we attended saw a surge in people around 11:45. The party would hit its stride sometime around midnight and either be broken up by the CWRU police around 1 a.m. or go until a little after 2 a.m. The latter was a veritable rarity.

We would often walk home, loudly debating the value of the party we just attended, lamenting the actions we hadn’t taken or opportunities we’d missed with girls and addressing the many questions drunk freshmen deem worthy of discussion between 1:30 and 2 in the morning.

If this sounds like your Friday or Saturday night, then you are living a typical college experience, according to dominant cultural opinion. Now that I’m a senior and find myself working most weekend evenings, I can’t help but think about the partying culture of our university. What will you be doing tonight? What about Saturday night?

I don’t have time to party anymore, and even if I did, I have no interest. In everything I described above, the common denominator is time, time spent making and cancelling plans, waiting, wondering and stressing about the evening in general. Also, not to mention the late start the following morning. Leutner would slowly fill up around 10:30 a.m., as hungover freshmen and upperclassmen donning sweatpants and hoodies trickled in for brunch.

I can’t get over the amount of time I wasted partying. And for what? At the time, it was something to do, something to pass the weekends and a way to socialize. But shouldn’t we be asking what the deeper purpose of excessive partying is? I personally see partying as a way to fill a void in one’s life. Unfortunately, partying is like putting a piece of plywood over a ditch: It’ll mask the hole and enable temporary passage over it, but it will eventually break or get misplaced.

Obviously, partying doesn’t stop after college, and, to reiterate, I’m not trying to condemn it. However, media and a number of advocates seem to be relating a so-called collegiate “rape culture” to the partying I’ve outlined above. The idea is that young coeds are being taken advantage of sexually during and after these parties due to immoderate drinking.

I find the term “rape culture” troubling for a number of reasons, but I won’t deny the presence of a prevailing ignorance and even chauvinistic view of sex among young men in college today. How many times do you hear a guy brag about a recent hookup, see a girl and say how badly he wants to sleep with her or casually call a girl a slut, whore or bitch? All men are guilty of some form of this, but its prevalence is appalling. Nonetheless, does this constitute a culture of rape or just a culture of overall mistreatment?

If, for example, we knew exactly why we drank ourselves into unconsciousness, then maybe we could discover what we really need to fill our voids. Willingly drinking to blackout or memory-tainting levels yields only a couple of rational motives. Either the drinker has a bigger problem with moderation, or he or she enjoys not remembering their actions or there exists some deeper internal impetus that materializes as a desire to lose consciousness.

What else could be the reason for willfully drinking oneself into an alcoholic haze if it isn’t some type of avoidance of something? Is there something in life that forgetting temporarily will help? An emotional pain that won’t go away until it is numbed? A pressure that is insurmountable? I’m no psychologist, but if you have a rational, well-reasoned explanation for drinking superfluous amounts, I’m all ears.

Of course, not everyone parties, and not all partiers drink until they can’t walk straight. Indeed, some students avoid socializing altogether on our campus. While I don’t drink much, I do fall into this latter category (and a bunch of other negative categories). That’s as unhealthy as unrestricted partying, and it’s something I’m aware of and actively working on.

The fact that we have declared college campuses breeding grounds for rape is a sad testament to how we treat one another, but I believe sexual misconduct is a small manifestation of cultural degradation in colleges. We learn the Golden Rule in kindergarten. Where has it gone? If we don’t treat ourselves well or care to know why we do a number of things, how can we treat others better?

The problem with our culture is that we value excess over moderation, passivity over solidarity, invulnerability over vulnerability, happiness over contentment, perfection over reality. Self-awareness, the conscious mindfulness of one’s individual autonomous nature, is the way to transcend cultural impositions. Self-awareness is how to become a truly unique individual, recognize our own values and embody them. Self-awareness allows us to recognize the worth of ourselves and others, and that allows us to love.

Jacob Martin is a weekly opinion columnist. He likes to think all young men aren’t prone to rape.