Koestner's Calling It Rape

It must have been a slow news day. Last Wednesday, The Crimson, inexplicably, decided that not only was Katie Koestner's Lyman Common Room appearance newsworthy, but that it also deserved, front-page, above-the-fold, coverage.

Koestner--date-rape poster-girl--received enormous attention when she first went national. Her case acted as a catalyst in the explosion of media attention to date rape. Her previous requests to speak here at Harvard had been previously denied by the administration. And While she seems like a relatively sympathetic figure, I wonder, why has she been successful now?

Koestner could have emerged, without alteration, from Katie Roiphe's semi-literate but controversial polemic against date rape, The Morning After: Sex, Fear and Feminism on Campus. Hers is a textbook case of what occurs at that murky intersection where naivete, sexual jousting and irresponsibility collide.

My sympathy for Koestner is tempered by my understanding. of the facts, and by the fact that it is inconceivable to me, that in a situation where one's physical and mental health might be jeopardized, one would deliberately engage in behavior which would almost certainly guarantee that outcome.

I certainly do not mean to free men from their responsibility, especially in the age of AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases. But we must realize that all sex--heterosexual and homosexual--is transactional in nature, either explicitly or implicitly. Our failure, and reluctance to acknowledge this reality, results in problems--specifically, the difficulties in demarcation of boundaries, the easy confusion of post-coital tristesse with what has conventionally been known and acknowledged as rape.


Because of a refusal to acknowledge that any claim to rights must be accompanied by attendant responsibilities, women like Koestner are to an extent complicit in their dilemma. They do a severe disservice to those women who are raped and assaulted by strangers. Am I discounting date-rape as a legitimate trauma? No. I certainly appreciate that date rape is traumatic and that being violated by someone who is known to you can be just as painful, but it is more readily avoidable.

I am offended when women like Koestner mouth pieties about victimization, and in a stunning, unqualified, denigration of all men, she notes, "If I were a man, I would most of all hate that because of my gender, I was a potential rapist. I would strive to change that."

Koestner says that Harvard should "do more." More of what? Is Harvard responsible for socializing us? Should we be provided with consent forms, or chaperones?

And therein lies one of the paradoxes of American feminism. Women are clamoring for equal rights while simultaneously and contradictorily seeking status as members of a protected class.

For me the starkest illustration of this paradox, on an immediate level and by my contemporaries, is captured in the following exchange.

Sarah Winters '95, co-chair of Women Appealing For Change (WAC), in a succinct statement which captures the moral poverty, intellectual bankruptcy and overall vacuity of that entire enterprise, told Harvard Magazine that last year's boycott of the final clubs was intended to make "the men think about their reasons behind wanting women there [at club parties]," and would not be repeated this year. However, Winters continued, "for some women the boycott was a difficult thing and many women were unwilling to give up two years of final club parties."

They were apparently unwilling to give up the privilege of entering, in 1995, through back and side doors, and willing to be appendages in a hostile environment. We are, all of us, diminished when we fail to take responsibility for our actions and our well being and when we seek to lionize Katie Koestner and those of her ilk.

Lorraine A. Lezama's column appears on alternate Tuesdays.


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