When speaking recently with a male friend and Bates alum, the subject of sexual misconduct came up. We started talking about our own personal experience of and witness to sexual misconduct at Bates. Initially, it seemed our experiences were relatively similar, mine being more aware of victims at Bates, his being more aware of aggressors at Bates. We both had experienced, seen and been close to people negatively affected by sexual misconduct. This was until he noted that a lot of his friends did not seem to have any experience with this, because the general (Bates) public either knew not to mistreat certain people (mostly women), or that certain people (mostly men) had automatic access to sex with whomever they wanted; consent was embedded in their personhood. Upon hearing this I was infuriated to the point of dropping the conversation completely, and too worked up to even combat my friend’s argument.
After a few days, though, I realized that there was a lot of truth to what he was trying to explain: a lot of ugly, violent truth to certain social groups on our campus. While I cannot speak for all social groups, I can speak from my personal experience:in my time at Bates I have noticed a hierarchy of attractiveness that is equated to personal value, building campus pressure to have sex in order to boost and prove personal value. Combined with alcohol, this pressure adds up to a disturbing amount of sexual misconduct.
What my friend was trying to explain, bluntly, was that more “popular” persons at Bates have consent woven into their social setting, and therefore, it becomes a non-issue. This is to say that there are certain people at Bates who have achieved the status of being so attractive or so magnetic that whomever they approach sexually is destined to consent. Therefore, consent is not a question they need to address;,their status as a person is elevated beyond everyone else. Conversely, there are people so deeply embedded at the top of this infrastructure that someone they would not choose to consent to would not dare approach them. While this sounds like an asinine approach to sociology, I have literally witnessed scenarios like these, particularly between upperclassmen men and underclassmen women. More embarrassingly, I have at one point or another in my Bates career believed that this kind of infrastructure is real, that certain people are literally gracing me by simply existing as sexual beings. Every single time I have seen this happen and have witnessed misconduct because of it, I have been within or among the social group of predominantly white, heterosexual athletes.
I am in no way saying that this is the only social sphere where sexual misconduct occurs. I am trying to point out, however, that this kind of class system might be the highest culprit of rape culture at Bates College. The first way it promotes rape culture is in its inherent dependence on the framework that some people deserve sex more than others, not to mention the fact that it encourages the hyper sexualization and objectification of certain people on campus. Moreover, granting certain people access to social and sexual privileges based on their status as an attractive, likable person is nothing less than horrifying. There is not a single person that should be automatically rewarded consent based on social status,which leads me to the aftermath of this class system.
While the majority of these socially elected people granted sexual keys to the kingdom of white, seemingly heterosexual athletes do not actually commit acts of sexual violence (reference above), they play a role in the spread of this culture. The spread of this culture, and the majority of its violence, occurs within the social groups of the people that surround these “sexually elite,” and the way they cope with social pressures within it. Because the obscenely muscular yet slender white man at the top of this sexual food chain is allowed to make passes at whomever he pleases with zero repercussion, there are certain groups of people witnessing this behavior and mimicking it. Because straightforward and “confident” tactics works for this person, it seems like a good idea for them to attempt. This framework, setup in a dark basement and unhealthy amounts of alcohol, inappropriate sexual conduct opportunities are endless. Because there is no universal mode of consent within this social class, the entire sanction of consent becomes flimsy and blurred.
More stressful, the individuals who belong to this social group but do not fit into the slender categories of white, heterosexual, or athlete face even more pressure to assimilate, as their bodily ability and social skills function as the currency for which they are valued. Facing pressure to conform to an identity you do not belong to, mixed, again, with alcohol and more dark basements leads to overwhelming opportunities for sexual misconduct. By imposing stringent norms in this way, any outlier to the norm is put in an uncomfortable situation. While I am in no way excusing aggressors of sexual misconduct, I am making a comment that it is not shocking that, in a culture that values athletic, straight, white men and women with very active and very public sexual lives, anyone not falling into those norms is placed in a compromising social situation .
I am in 100% support of Administration taking action to add lights to and expand spatial boundaries of dances. I am in 100% support of Administration implementing the Green Dot program, linking alcohol to sexual misconduct, and taking efforts to minimize this misconduct by imposing discipline. I am, however, unsure how wholly effective these strategies will be if we as students do not work together to face the existing social climate.