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Target: Women

A Commentary by Susan Estrich

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Someone is giving the university I love a bad name.

An e-mail purportedly written by a member of Kappa Sigma fraternity at USC has gone viral. The idea is that women are targets, to be judged by their willingness and anatomical ability to satisfy a man sexually, and that men can benefit by exchanging such information on a weekly basis with great specificity so they will know who to target. As the author puts it:

"I want raw data on who (has sex) and who doesn't. (The report) will strengthen brotherhood and help pin-point sorostitiutes more inclined to put-out. From my experience when a female goes Ksig shes typically repeats."

The writer goes on to clarify some terms he'll be using:

"Note: I will refer to females as 'targets.' They aren't actual people like us men. Consequently, giving them a certain name or distinction is pointless." His other terms are so vile I can't even clean them up for publication.

As for what the woman thinks, or whether she is actually consenting, he has this to say:

"Non-consent and rape are two different things. There is a fine line, so make sure not to cross it. ... When utilizing the loop power of 4 Lokos, be careful. A target on one 4 Loko is putting the odds in your favor of getting some pie. A target on two 4 Lokos is going to get sick and pass out. A target on three 4 Lokos leads to instances of litigation and lawsuits. Terms like 'sexual assault' seem to be used in this case."

Seem? You mean, having sex with a woman who is beyond being sick and passed out is not sexual assault?

Now, it's not at all clear whether this e-mail really originated at USC or was "just" distributed by a student here. And it's not at all clear whether it was meant as a "prank" or as the introduction of an actual weekly report. That matters to those of us who find it hard to believe that one of our students could be responsible for such venality. For your purposes, it hardly makes a difference. Someone wrote this. Thousands have passed it along. And my students tell me that many people find this blatant objectification of women "funny."

Yes, I know there was that woman, the Duke graduate, whose ratings of men's sexual prowess went viral last October. That was also a disgrace. It doesn't matter which was worse; this is not a competition. The fact that women can, at times, come close to the venality of the "Kappa Sig" e-mail only proves that the cancer here is not limited to boys.

What has gone wrong? Part of it, no doubt, is a function of the "hooking up" culture so prevalent today on college campuses. Sex without a relationship. Not even "friends with privileges." I cannot begin to tell you how many of these supposed "hook-ups" -- these exercises of "privilege" -- turn out, from the perspective of the woman crying in my office, to be horrifying rather than satisfying. The number of college-age women who tell interviewers they have been forced to have sex against their will and without their consent remains heartbreakingly high: one in four, one in five, depending on which study you credit.

The critics of these studies, and there are a few, argue that this is overstated, that maybe it's only one in seven. Only?

On Thursday night, my daughter is directing a production at Harvard of "A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant and a Prayer," monologues collected by Eve Ensler. Sponsored by the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (OSAPR), an office that did not exist in my days there, the ushers for the show will be young men from Harvard Men Against Rape, an organization founded by football players that includes many young men from Harvard's fraternity-like final clubs.

My daughter will be opening the show with a monologue she wrote entitled, "Daughter Of." What happened to me 35 years ago has shaped her life. The pain -- and the lessons -- of rape do not go away.

I am as proud of my daughter as I am disappointed in Kappa Sig.
 
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