It’s 8 p.m. and you’ve just walked out of your first Ec 10 midterm. You may have blanked on some of the long answers or messed up part b, which then messed up part c, d, e, f, and then the rest of your 35 point question. You’re frustrated. As you’re walking out, five first-year boys yell loudly how they had just been “totally raped by that test.”
You rack your brains for a definition of rape and search it on your phone just in case. Google tells you: “Rape is defined as unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against the will usually of a female or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent.”
You turn around to clarify the definition for these confused first-years and see one of them carrying a water bottle with a “Consent is Sexy” sticker on it.
You are so confused by these two minutes that by the time you manage to wrap your head around all the cognitive dissonance, they’ve made it into their Holworthy dorm and are now out of sight. You walk back to your House, members of whose HoCo almost two years ago created a Housing Day video with female bodies in bikinis wearing boar heads while dancing around a male rapper, and you go to bed.
It’s been another long day at Harvard College.
Despite the fact that every town hall meeting on the sexual assault survey has ended its dialogue with the topic of final clubs and the need for them to go co-ed, this is not about final clubs.
This is about college students who still think rape happens in a dark alley at 2 a.m. when you’re walking back from Felipe’s, instead of in your own dorm room with a perpetrator who is an acquaintance, or even a friend.
This is about those college men who are liking Facebook statuses, articles, and pictures advocating for the end to rape culture, but can be found a few hours later making degrading jokes and "rape" comments with their all-male blocking group.
You may not be in a final club or a fraternity; you may have a consent sticker on your laptop; you may even openly claim you are a feminist, but we have a lot of work to do if you think you can slap on a sticker and share some articles without deeply reflecting on other sexist actions you may not know are even sexist. The fight to end rape culture on this campus should not only be a fight against final clubs, but should also be a fight against the very language and hook up culture that portrays women as objects, encourages men to assume women who flirt with them are always asking to get laid, and allows first-years to joke about how they “just got raped.”
Sexism is generous. People from all gender identities, backgrounds, and ideologies can equally partake in the continuance of rape culture. The problem occurs when it becomes easier to point fingers at institutions like final clubs and fraternities rather than pointing fingers at ourselves.
One staggering statistic from last spring's sexual conduct climate survey reports that 46.6 percent of student respondents had witnessed a drunken person heading for a sexual encounter. Of that 46.6 percent, 79.8 percent of the bystanders did nothing to address the situation. Meaning, 79.8 percent of students who witnessed a questionable sexual encounter did not take a few seconds to ask either party if they were aware of what was happening and wanted it to continue. Hey, sticker boy—bystander intervention beats Facebook likes in the fight against rape culture, just so you know.
Campus dialogue by students and administrators fails to address the core issues of rape culture. The same way that body cameras are a necessary step to stop the killing of black bodies in the United States, final clubs going co-ed is a step forward in creating a more gender equitable campus culture. There is no denying that. However, making cops wear cameras will not end the mass incarceration of black and brown bodies. Making final clubs co-ed will not bring an end to sexual assault; it is just another battle in a much longer war for gender equality.
Yes, they are single sex organizations with a high number of sexual assault cases, but shortly after the last club goes co-ed, we will be in for an unpleasant surprise: Rape will still happen at Harvard.
I have learned two things through my experience with gender discrimination and sexual assault. First, rape exists because of sexism. Second, sexism exists in every nook and cranny you could possibly imagine.
It is time for everyone—college students, tutors, professors, feminists, and final club members—to think about what rape culture really is and how it is not confined to the mansions along Mt. Auburn St. It is time for Harvard administration to have mandatory bystander intervention in all of the Houses. It is time for all parties to require two or three sober party officers dedicated to ensuring a safe space whose contact information is readily accessible for partygoers—a policy Sigma Chi already uses at its parties . Finally, it is time for us to have conversations with friends about why our language can sometimes indicate troubling understandings of what rape really means.
Maybe when all of this happens, a “Consent is Sexy” sticker on your water bottle will actually merit a smile.
Andrea Ortiz ’16 is a Social Studies concentrator living in Kirkland House. She is the director of PBHA’s Athena Gender Empowerment Program.
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