Letters to the editor Feb. 21
Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 21, 2013 00:02
Response to Harry Mallory’s Feb. 20 letters
The point of this exchange
We’ve come a long way from the Feb. 13 column advocating awareness of rape culture, penned by 12 women’s studies students, through Steven McLain’s Feb. 14 and Harry Mallory’s Feb. 18 responses, my Feb. 19 letter and Mallory’s Feb. 20 response to me. It is likely that some have lost sight of the entire point of this exchange.
Rape culture is an empirically affirmed aspect of our social reality that emboldens sexual violence by decontextualizing and normalizing rape, blaming victims, narrowly delimiting rape and stigmatizing women’s sexuality. Rape culture contributes to the underreporting of sexual assaults by 54 percent, according to the U.S. Justice Department. Rape culture contributes to the prevalence of the false perception that 3 to 8 percent of women lie about rape, numbers derived from FBI statistics from the 1990s when reports were considered false if the rape was not “forcible,” a criterion that was changed in 2012 with the support of the law enforcement community. Expressions like “that test just raped me” are small but significant threads in the fabric of rape culture. The words that come out of our mouths are consequential. They not only reflect our attitudes in the present, they also help shape our future beliefs.
However, this exchange has generated another important point regarding the caliber of civic discourse in The Daily Barometer and, more broadly, the OSU and national communities.
Mallory calls me an angry liberal, a totalitarian brute, an “extremist,” a “purveyor of the approved political dogma” and asserts that I fallaciously argue from authority. I could point out that my letter consisted of reasoned, evidence-based arguments while Mallory’s was filled with emotional invective and based purely on his own opinion. I could suggest that the reader consult a dictionary and decide whether Mallory knows what a “totalitarian” or a “brute” is. I could explain that the need to educate people about rape culture evidences that my position is not “the approved political dogma” but rather one that is only recently emerging into public consciousness. I could clarify that argument from authority is only a fallacy when the appeal is to an improper authority or when there is no semblance of consensus among authorities and that my arguments are valid on both accounts. But given his decision to impinge my character and motives rather than engage my ideas, I don’t think that Mallory cares.
Instead of responding to Mallory, I question why The Daily Barometer, the newspaper of a university community, would print a letter that is 57 percent ad hominem attack, 30 percent attack on the entire academic enterprise, and 13 percent reassertion of a letter printed two days prior — these percentages are based on column inch. What Mallory and the Barometer editorial staff seem unaware of is that not every word uttered needs to be legitimated in a respectable vehicle for public information and discussion. The Barometer could print tabloid stories but chooses not to, and the Barometer can also choose not to print defamatory, uninformed diatribes that are based in neither reason nor evidence. Doing so is not censorship but rather stewardship. The failure to do so does not serve free speech but rather abdicates responsibility.
I’m going to recuse myself from this conversation now and give the university community, including the Barometer staff, the opportunity to decide what kind of discourse it wants to sanction.
Assistant professor of media and cultural studies,
Oregon State University