Our Jeffersonian Rape Culture

Our Jeffersonian Rape Culture November 22, 2014


Establishment darling, southern gentleman, scholar and author Jon Meacham had no trouble getting on talk shows to pitch his book extolling the virtues of the serial rapist Thomas Jefferson. What else do you call sex with a fourteen year old black slave, but rape?

So how fitting it is that at the university founded by a serial rapist–the University of Virginia–the federal government is investigating UVA for Title IX violations, including the mishandling of sexual assault allegations. Eighty-six schools, including Princeton, Swarthmore College and Arizona State University, are also under investigation.

How fitting that another college was the venue, for Bill Cosby (just last night, November 21, 2014), to receive a standing ovation for a comedy routine while the women he is alleged to have drugged and raped over many years are trying to put their lives back together?

On talk shows Meacham would excuse his favorite rapist’s exploits with the old lie that those were “different times…” so we can’t expect Jefferson to have…” you know the rest.


In “different times” rape of slave children was okay? John Adams also went to Paris, but he took no slave child with him. Instead he, like his wife the luminous Abigail Adams, believed that God was judging the colonies for slavery. He too was a so-called man of his times.

And so it goes then as now: we excuse even glorify rape.

As a father of a daughter, a husband of a wife and grandfather of three granddaughters I say, enough.

In 1787, Sally Hemings–at the age of 14 was taken to France by the rapist Jefferson. Hemings spent two years there Jefferson repeatedly raped this child. She eventually bore him 6 children. The rapist Jefferson did not even free his own children until on his deathbed.

Here’s how it started:

Sipping from a plastic cup, Jackie grimaced, then discreetly spilled her spiked punch onto the sludgy fraternity-house floor. The University of Virginia freshman wasn’t a drinker, but she didn’t want to seem like a goody-goody at her very first frat party – and she especially wanted to impress her date, the handsome Phi Kappa Psi brother who’d brought her here. Jackie was sober but giddy with discovery as she looked around the room crammed with rowdy strangers guzzling beer and dancing to loud music. She smiled at her date, whom we’ll call Drew, a good-looking junior – or in UVA parlance, a third-year – and he smiled enticingly back.

“Want to go upstairs, where it’s quieter?” Drew shouted into her ear, and Jackie’s heart quickened. She took his hand as he threaded them out of the crowded room and up a staircase.

Four weeks into UVA’s 2012 school year, 18-year-old Jackie was crushing it at college. A chatty, straight-A achiever from a rural Virginia town, she’d initially been intimidated by UVA’s aura of preppy success, where throngs of toned, tanned and overwhelmingly blond students fanned across a landscape of neoclassical brick buildings, hurrying to classes, clubs, sports, internships, part-time jobs, volunteer work and parties; Jackie’s orientation leader had warned her that UVA students’ schedules were so packed that “no one has time to date – people just hook up.” But despite her reservations, Jackie had flung herself into campus life, attending events, joining clubs, making friends and, now, being asked on an actual date. She and Drew had met while working lifeguard shifts together at the university pool, and Jackie had been floored by Drew’s invitation to dinner, followed by a “date function” at his fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi. The “upper tier” frat had a reputation of tremendous wealth, and its imposingly large house overlooked a vast manicured field, giving “Phi Psi” the undisputed best real estate along UVA’s fraternity row known as Rugby Road.

Jackie had taken three hours getting ready, straightening her long, dark, wavy hair. She’d congratulated herself on her choice of a tasteful red dress with a high neckline. Now, climbing the frat-house stairs with Drew, Jackie felt excited. Drew ushered Jackie into a bedroom, shutting the door behind them. The room was pitch-black inside. Jackie blindly turned toward Drew, uttering his name. At that same moment, she says, she detected movement in the room – and felt someone bump into her. Jackie began to scream.

“Shut up,” she heard a man’s voice say as a body barreled into her, tripping her backward and sending them both crashing through a low glass table. There was a heavy person on top of her, spreading open her thighs, and another person kneeling on her hair, hands pinning down her arms, sharp shards digging into her back, and excited male voices rising all around her. When yet another hand clamped over her mouth, Jackie bit it, and the hand became a fist that punched her in the face. The men surrounding her began to laugh. For a hopeful moment Jackie wondered if this wasn’t some collegiate prank. Perhaps at any second someone would flick on the lights and they’d return to the party.

“Grab its motherfucking leg,” she heard a voice say. And that’s when Jackie knew she was going to be raped.

She remembers every moment of the next three hours of agony, during which, she says, seven men took turns raping her, while two more – her date, Drew, and another man – gave instruction and encouragement. She remembers how the spectators swigged beers, and how they called each other nicknames like Armpit and Blanket. She remembers the men’s heft and their sour reek of alcohol mixed with the pungency of marijuana. Most of all, Jackie remembers the pain and the pounding that went on and on.

As the last man sank onto her, Jackie was startled to recognize him: He attended her tiny anthropology discussion group. He looked like he was going to cry or puke as he told the crowd he couldn’t get it up. “Pussy!” the other men jeered. “What, she’s not hot enough for you?” Then they egged him on: “Don’t you want to be a brother?” “We all had to do it, so you do, too.” Someone handed her classmate a beer bottle. Jackie stared at the young man, silently begging him not to go through with it. And as he shoved the bottle into her, Jackie fell into a stupor, mentally untethering from the brutal tableau, her mind leaving behind the bleeding body under assault on the floor.

When Jackie came to, she was alone. It was after 3 a.m. She painfully rose from the floor and ran shoeless from the room. She emerged to discover the Phi Psi party still surreally under way, but if anyone noticed the barefoot, disheveled girl hurrying down a side staircase, face beaten, dress spattered with blood, they said nothing. Disoriented, Jackie burst out a side door, realized she was lost, and dialed a friend, screaming, “Something bad happened. I need you to come and find me!” Minutes later, her three best friends on campus – two boys and a girl (whose names are changed) – arrived to find Jackie on a nearby street corner, shaking. “What did they do to you? What did they make you do?” Jackie recalls her friend Randall demanding. Jackie shook her head and began to cry. The group looked at one another in a panic. They all knew about Jackie’s date; the Phi Kappa Psi house loomed behind them. “We have to get her to the hospital,” Randall said.

Their other two friends, however, weren’t convinced. “Is that such a good idea?” she recalls Cindy asking. “Her reputation will be shot for the next four years.” Andy seconded the opinion, adding that since he and Randall both planned to rush fraternities, they ought to think this through. The three friends launched into a heated discussion about the social price of reporting Jackie’s rape, while Jackie stood beside them, mute in her bloody dress, wishing only to go back to her dorm room and fall into a deep, forgetful sleep. Detached, Jackie listened as Cindy prevailed over the group: “She’s gonna be the girl who cried ‘rape,’ and we’ll never be allowed into any frat party again.”

…One need only glance around at some recent college hijinks to see spectacular examples of the way the abasement of women has broken through to no-holds-barred misogyny: a Dartmouth student’s how-to-rape guide posted online this past January; Yale pledges chanting “No means yes! Yes means anal!” And despite its air of mannered civility, UVA has been in on the naughty fun for at least 70 years with its jolly fight song “Rugby Road,” which celebrates the sexual triumphs of UVA fraternity men, named for the very same street where my guides and I are now enveloped in a thickening crowd of wasted first-years. Through the decades, the song has expanded to 35 verses, with the more recent, student-penned stanzas shedding the song’s winking tone in favor of something more jarringly explicit:

A hundred Delta Gammas, a thousand AZDs
Ten thousand Pi Phi bitches who get down on their knees
But the ones that we hold true, the ones that we hold dear
Are the ones who stay up late at night, and take it in the rear.

In 2010, “Rugby Road” was banned from football games – despite a petition calling it “an integral part” of UVA culture. But Wahoos fearing the loss of tradition can take heart that “Rugby Road” verses are still performed on campus by UVA’s oldest a cappella group, the Virginia Gentlemen…

Meanwhile elsewhere in our Jeffersonian rape culture…

According to the New York Times, this week, Julien Blanc became possibly the first man ever denied a visa on grounds of sexism. (“After Outcry, Britain Bars ‘Pickup Artist’ From Entering” NOV. 21, 2014.)

Mr. Blanc, a 25-year-old Californian, calls himself a “pickup artist.” His website promises men that he will “make girls beg to sleep with you,” and in expensive dating boot camps held around the world he shares tips about “gaming” and grabbing women, including casually pulling their heads toward the crotch.

The latter technique works particularly well in Japan, Mr. Blanc recently told an audience of men in Tokyo: “If you’re a white male, you can do what you want.”

Amid a public outcry over his abusive techniques, which some say verge on rape promotion, and an online petition with over 150,000 signatures, the British government on Wednesday barred Mr. Blanc from entering the country for a series of events scheduled here. Officials said people could be denied entry on the grounds that their presence was “not conducive to the public good,” a rare power usually reserved for far-right activists and terrorism suspects.

In a video available on YouTube, Julien Blanc told an audience of men in Tokyo: “If you’re a white male, you can do what you want.”

The decision by the British Home Office came after the Australian government hastily withdrew Mr. Blanc’s visa last week and forced him to leave the country. Photos he had shared on social media showing him pretending to choke a series of women went viral on Twitter under the hashtag #ChokingGirlsAroundTheWorld. Since then, women and men in several countries where he had scheduled events in the coming months, including Canada, have started campaigns to deny him entry…

As executive coach for Real Social Dynamics, a dating seminar company, Mr. Blanc promises to teach men how to “make girls beg to sleep with you after short-circuiting their emotional and logical mind” and develop “panty-dropping masculinity” to generate the “powerful emotions girls crave.” Offers range from $197 for 23 instructional videos to a $2,000 dating boot camp.

Mr. Blanc promises to teach men how to overcome “last-minute resistance” when women say no to sex and get them to do “crazy sexual things.”

“You’ll love this if you have any fetishes,” he says.

The video clip that caused the most outrage was filmed in Tokyo and shows Mr. Blanc pulling women’s faces into his crotch on the street. In one scene, he harasses a visibly distressed Japanese cashier by kissing her neck and ear.

Meanwhile… As the New York Times reported  in Amid Uproar, Cosby Gets Standing Ovations at Show the Jeffersonian rape culture is alive and well…Cosby is still a hero…

Despite a small protest outside a theater at Eastern Florida State College in Melbourne, Fla., Bill Cosby performed to applause without addressing accusations of sexual assault. The uproar over allegations that Bill Cosby had molested or assaulted several women, in some cases years ago, was almost nowhere in evidence on Friday night during a sold-out performance by the 77-year-old comedian on a college campus here…

People attending the show here were almost uniformly supportive of the veteran comedian… In interviews before the performance, the overriding theme of the comments was that nothing had been proved against Mr. Cosby and that the women who had come forward must be doing so solely for financial gain.

“I bet if he gave every one of them $2 million, they’d never say a word again,” Marc Linden, a 65-year-old former elementary schoolteacher, said as he took photographs of the television satellite trucks on Post Road. “They just want the money. If all this was true, these women would have come out a long time ago.”

What does it mean to perpetuate rape and rape culture?

Media imagery perpetuates rape by excusing it, validating myths about rape, and/or sexualizing rape. As I said establishment daring and author Jon Meacham had no trouble getting on talk shows to pitch about his book extolling the virtues of serial rapist Thomas Jefferson.

As –Ellen Friedrichs writes in “Why We Still Blame Victims of Rape” Alternet (April 7, 2010 )

Recent research reminds us that no matter how far we’ve come in our understanding of the crime of rape, the old sexist beliefs die hard.

It was only six years ago that the woman who accused basketball player Kobe Bryant of rape had her photo and phone number plastered across the Internet, received death threats, and saw her sex life dragged through court as proof that she wasn’t a credible witness. “She is not worthy of your belief,” one of Bryant’s attorneys told the judge.

While this situation was unique in that it involved an accusation against a celebrity, a few recent surveys confirm that victim blaming in general is still alive and well. One survey, conducted with 1,000 people in the UK, found that while both women and men tend to blame female rape victims for sexual assaults, women are actually “less forgiving” than men…. Interestingly, they also concluded that rape myth belief was higher in those whose tolerance of racial and religious difference was lower.

We don’t say that Hitler was a man of his times and excuse his Antisemitism. Jefferson was scum, even by the standards of his time. It is time for us all to look deep within.

When the hook-up-drink-till-you-drop “culture” opens the door to blurring the lines with the Jeffersonian rape culture we have a problem. And we need to stop holding up “heroes” like Jefferson for worship. No more excuses for rapists now… or then.

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