We need a change in the social atmosphere

By Rose Brugger | Guest Columnist

Since returning to school this fall, I have felt a change in Baylor’s atmosphere. Within my first three days on campus, I read multiple Title IX announcements in my syllabuses, received several mini-lectures on the importance of reporting assault and opened numerous emails mentioning Baylor’s “progress” in implementing the Pepper Hamilton recommendations. A heightened awareness of assault is hanging over the entire campus.

Of course it’s important for Baylor to reform the way the administration handles assault allegations, but administrators aren’t the ones who can “fix” the problem of assault. They can’t look into our bedrooms and police our behavior, and we definitely don’t want them to try, so I can’t help but wonder why we don’t acknowledge this and begin discussing something we can control: our campus culture’s sexual climate. We are talking about rape as if it has nothing to do with the highly sexualized realities of our environment, and this seems very short-sighted.

The first thing we might do is have a public conversation about the way our culture shapes our perception of sexuality. Movies, marketing and every form of social network glamorize the erotic, highlighting our bodies’ curves with soft lighting and seductive glances. Media tells us daily that sex is nothing more than a casual activity for mutual pleasure. The message seems to be unavoidable: the body is a tool for consensual sexual gratification, suggesting that anything goes so long as an enthusiastic “yes” sanctions it.

I am bewildered by the fact that we don’t ask whether this casual view of sex might be connected with some bigger problems, such as not taking sexual boundaries seriously. It seems to me that the more we believe that sex is merely a titillating but casual pastime, the more we will treat it that way. Isn’t the date-rapist the epitome of this view? He takes what he wants when he wants it, like grabbing an apple from the fridge. I suggest his flippant attitude towards sex and bodies, including the bodies of others, is encouraged by hyper-sexualized media. Whether or not you agree with me, perhaps you can agree that it is worthy of public conversation.

We might also bring the conversation a bit closer to home and talk about how we, as men and women on Baylor’s campus, are affected by these attitudes on a daily basis. It concerns me that the same society in which I am endangered by assault is the one also encouraging me to dress in highly immodest and sexually revealing ways. Is there any correlation?

Men are encouraged to look at women as if their worth lies primarily in their sexual appeal, and women feel immense pressure to enhance that appeal through the way they dress, use and control their bodies. I am certainly not suggesting that revealing clothing causes or sanctions rape in the slightest. I am asking that we talk about the sexual culture in which these two realities coexist.

Underneath all of these questions is the more fundamental question of whether our society has gotten it right about sex. Is it no more than an instrument of passing pleasure? Is violating consent the only thing wrong with rape? Consider two victims of nonconsensual violence: one who is robbed and assaulted and one who is raped and assaulted. The robber takes a million dollars and the rapist takes his apple. Let’s presume otherwise that the amount of physical harm done to each is equal. I think it’s pretty evident that the rape victim suffers greater harm (or violation, or injustice, call it what you will.) Why? Because sexuality touches something at our deepest core, something of irreducible and limitless value, something that, when violated, can never be repaid.

Maybe our society does have it right, but maybe it doesn’t. Maybe sex fundamentally relates to respect, commitment and perhaps even, God forbid, unconditional love. But for heaven’s sake, let’s please ask the question.

Rose Brugger is a junior University Scholar from Evergreen, Col.