A woman may be running for vice president of the United States, but anyone who thinks there have been any lasting, profound changes in attitudes toward women had better take another look at the newspapers. Rape, folks, is back in vogue.
First, we have our own version of the New Bedford rape case. The story on Page 1 of yesterday's Washington Post recounts a horrifying story of a sophomore at Fort Hung High School being dragged into a men's room during a football game and raped by at least two people while as many as eight others watched. Fairfax County police spokesman Warren Carmichael said some of the spectators, later identified as students from a rival high school, hooted and jeered during the incident. The accused abductor was not a student, he said.
Next, we have an item from The Washington Times, straight from Milan, Italy. Karl Lagerfeld, the designer, was describing his spring and summer ready-to-wear collection: "Shaped to be raped," was the way he put it. There was very little danger that I would be splurging my grocery money on a Lagerfeld ready-to-wear this season, but he can bet his last designer button that there is absolutely no danger of that happening now.
There's more. Inside the Metro section yesterday was a story that's a headline writer's dream and ought to be a politician's nightmare. "Nearly Nude Females to Dance for Va. Speaker," was the headline on a story out of Richmond that informed us that an all-male charity roast for Virginia's House Speaker A. L. Philpott (D-Henry), will feature female dancers who will strip to pasties and G-strings.
For those with short memories, it is worthwhile pointing out parenthetically that Speaker Philpott's most enduring contribution to Virginia's progress was to help defeat the Equal Rights Amendment, so it would be unrealistic to expect him to have any qualms about attending an all-male affair. But that is history, and it really isn't the point.
The story quoted H. H. Howren, chairman of the Richmond chapter of the Circus Saints and Sinners, which is putting on the affair, as giving this description of the entertainment:
"We have a few dancing girls as a carnival side show.
"It's nothing special. . . . They just show their boobs and tail. You can see that on the streets today anywhere."
And: "All they do is come in and take off a veil or something. I guess they could not be accused of exploiting sex. They just come in and flip their bulbs at the guys."
To be fair, it should be noted that Howren and Speaker Philpott are two very different people and there is nothing to indicate that Howren's elegant way with words and his level of respect for women is shared by the speaker.
But there is a lot to indicate that this sort of degrading attitude toward women leads to violence against them, whether it be rape or wife-beating. The current movement to ban pornography is fueled by the belief that pornography's debasement of women encourages rape. Janet Bode, in "Fighting Back," a book that examines rape, cites study after study of rapists that found that they were motivated by a need for power and control, not sex. A 1975 study of 73 California rapists, she wrote, found that "most cited such objectives as dominance and power over their victim, control of the victim, and/or humiliation and revenge."
Lenore Walker, in her book "The Battered Woman," cites a British study that found at least 80 to 90 perecent of the women in a university sample had experienced multiple forms of abuse, ranging from obscene phone calls to exhibitionism to rape. The researcher, wrote Walker, "examined the similarities between sexual violence and violence against women in general. Not surprisingly, she found an anti-woman bias in both."
Lagerfeld's comment comes straight out of the notion that women enjoy being raped. Howren's remarks come straight out of the notion that women are property and exist for the pleasure of men. He debases them sexually, a time-honored way for men to keep women "in their place."
As long as men believe either or both of those notions, as long as they feel they can verbally degrade women without being ostracized, we'll be seeing stories about women being gang-raped on pool tables and in toilet stalls of high schools. Don't be surprised to read that people hooted and jeered in Fairfax just as they did in New Bedford.
After all, the guys were just having a little fun.