Conservatives have constantly railed against institutions of higher education with the false claim that they are overly liberal and brainwashing North America’s youth. Teaching students to think critically is seen as brainwashing, because if done successfully — they will understand how power and hierarchy really work, thus disabling undeserved privilege over time. Unfortunately, despite the due diligence of many liberal arts professors, time after time, we have seen that students fail to understand the discursive elements of our social world. Last week, Eastern Michigan University’s paper published what was clearly a racist cartoon and then failed to apologize for it. This week, The Purdue Exponent, the Purdue University student newspaper published a cartoon in their “sex position of the week” series, that clearly reduces rape to a simple form of trickery.
What happens in this cartoon is clearly not sex, it’s rape. The element of consent is removed because the men switch without the woman’s approval. Consent is what separates sex from rape and it is something that is continually ignored, because of a desire by patriarchy to assert the right to female bodies. This cartoon further promotes our rape culture. When cartoons like this appear in the mainstream, I find it difficult to understand how anyone could possibly argue that violence against women has not been normalized. Of course, men’s rights activists would look at an image like this and once again remind us that we should be focusing on men, though statistics have shown time and time again that the violence in our society is largely perpetrated by men against women.
I am further troubled that no one seemed to think about how an image like this could be traumatic and triggering to rape survivors. It tells these women that what happened to them was meaningless sex and that they should just get past it. We have this idea that rape must happen under very specific circumstances to be legitimized and in an instance like this, there is no apparent violence with the exception of the rape itself. If a woman is already engaging in sex, it is assumed for too often that she consents to all sexual activity. We only seem to have sympathy for rape victims that are virginal and all others are assumed to be complicit in their own rape, because this once again disciplines women and maintains the gender imbalance.
It will be interesting to see if the Purdue Exponent offers a faux apology like Eastern Michigan. Somehow I doubt they will even concede that this image is at the very least problematic, because of how we understand rape and its reinforcement of male privilege. Perhaps some have become desensitized, because the rape culture has proliferated through the annals of our social discourse, but all one need do is simply pay attention, because daily rape is something we not only approve of, but justify through victim blaming. How can we say women matter, when rape can be made into a cartoon?