My name is Edward Lowe, I am a senior at Tufts, and I am an older brother. I have two younger sisters: one is going to college next year and the other journeying towards high school. The other night, as I was praying, I had the harrowing realization that my sister was going to enter a college with a campus culture not unlike the one we have here at our fine, progressive university.
The reason for my concern has largely to do with the party culture but also, more importantly, with the sexual culture on campuses that, like ours, are considered progressive and liberated. Over the past four years, my sister and I have developed a close friendship and, since our parents divorced, have worked together and supported one another in dealing with our fragmented family. She has become one of my best friends and I would be heart broken if anything bad were to happen to her. Given the statistics that any informed Tufts student is aware of regarding sexual assault on college campuses, she will inevitably have to take steps to protect herself in the years to come.
The fact that this is a genuine and deep fear of mine, along with her necessary self-defense education, struck me as somewhat absurd. I thought this was the dawning age of sexual liberation? As I began to consider what exactly our liberation has meant, in terms of real human beings and real human lives (rather than dogmatic ideological assertions about “freedom”), I began to think of the issues, and potential solutions, that we, as young, informed and progressive people, are all too willing to ignore.
Over the past 60 years, sexual liberation has freed millions of American women from the bondage of patriarchy and sexism, enabling them to advance socially and in the workplace in ways they never could before. But what exactly has this liberation meant, and what is it liberation from? While it might clearly be articulated that it is liberation from the (White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant) patriarchy (and I, coming from an Irish Catholic background, resent being grouped with the Brits simply because the islands are near one another), it is rarely discussed exactly what this liberation has meant as it has played out in real time and space.
Freedom is generally understood by the liberal mainstream to mean freedom to exert my will as long as no one gets hurt (unless they’re old and suffering or developing in my uterus). What that means for living in communities with one another is that no external monitors or controls are allowed. I, as an enlightened, mature, autonomous individual, am perfectly capable of deciding what is right and wrong for myself, thank you very much. We have completely removed the possibility for prevention (consider the heyday of sex-segregated dorms, student curfews and faculty ensuring that no one was having sleepovers).
Now, while I wouldn’t advocate an immediate return to the 1850s, it begs the question: if most sexual assaults occur in dorm rooms, why do we so vehemently decry the injustice of being treated like children and denied sleeping “rights” with those we desire to sleep with?
And when we show consistently that we as a culture and as a society are incapable of positively monitoring ourselves, or each other, very well: how is it that professors and adults a century ago understood the passions and aggressions of young adults and found effective ways of dealing with it while we, having “progressed” as much as we have, can only offer more punishment after the fact?
The problem with greater punishment afterward is that this doesn’t address the event before or as it is happening, and the casualties are living here among us — our sisters, our children and our mothers (and the obligatory acknowledgement that men are victims of sexual assault too). And yet all we can do for them is punish their perpetrators more harshly?
We, as a liberal, progressive culture, have failed our women and have become blind to basic and consistent realities of human nature. In the name of the gods of freedom and liberation, we put women at greater risk of violence and abuse while we reject any effective prevention methods that have proven the test of time as degrading and oppressive.
When will we recognize the failure of “sexual liberation?” When will the millions of children of broken marriages and single mothers speak to us more loudly than our progressive doctrines of freedom? When will a generation of men addicted to pornography and women alienated from such men, who cannot help but see them as objects, make us think twice about our “rights”?
After the past four years at Tufts, I can boldly declare that I am profoundly disillusioned with our ideas of “progress,” “freedom” and “sexual liberation.” Take a step outside the classroom, look around and see the price we have paid.