My friend Horace was down in the dumps this afternoon when I ran into him at the mall. He’d just learned that his alma mater, Yale, is thinking of instituting gender-neutral housing, which means the girls and the boys will be allowed to live together. Horace is livid because he fears for the safety of the women on campus.
I tried to tell him his fears are for naught. “The Yale College Council says that gender-neutral housing will improve the sexual climate on campus,” I said.
“What does that mean?” asks Horace grimly.
Since I have no idea, I proceed to quote the learned individual who made the assertion. “It means it would reduce the sexual implications of male and female students socializing in a suite.”
“‘Sexual implications?’ I’m completely lost.” Horace sputters. “You’re not going to tell me that inviting horny college boys to sleep in the same room as their female counterparts isn’t going to cause problems for the women, are you?” he asks. “You seriously think the boys will be able to refrain from cajoling the girls for some, um, action? And that no sexual assaults will come of this? Don’t you pay attention to the stats? This gender-neutral housing will only increase the already unconscionable likelihood that women on campus will be sexually assaulted.” (Horace uses words like “unconscionable” because, as I say, he went to Yale.)
I put my hand on Horace’s shoulder. “You worry too much, my boy.” I sit him down. “Melanie Boyd seems to think it’s a good idea, and she should know. She’s Yale’s assistant dean of student affairs. Dean Boyd says — and I agree with her — that your concern misunderstands the nature of sexual misconduct. Now are you satisfied?”
Horace frowns. “Of course not. Aren’t we constantly told that men rape their wives, girlfriends, and female acquaintances at terrifying rates, and that one-in-four college women are raped? Didn’t Jessica Valenti tell us that rape is so ‘normalized’ that ‘otherwise decent guys’ don’t even think it’s wrong? Yet, you’re sitting here telling me that, somehow, for reasons you can’t explain, gender-neutral suites are ‘rape free zones’ where the women are safe? What’s your basis for that?”
“‘Hmm. ‘Rape free zones.'” I ponder the phrase. “I’d prefer to think of them as more like vampire nests, where these beautiful young women reside with the evil Undead — except the women have garlic smeared all over their hot, naked flesh so the vampires can’t lay a finger, or other protruding appendage, on them.”
Horace tells me to go do something to myself with my male organ of copulation that I am quite certain is an impossibility. I make a mental note that Horace isn’t into gender humor.
“Calm down,” I tell him. “If you’d give me a second, I’ll tell you why Dean Boyd says gender-neutral housing is safe for women, and I know her explanation will satisfy all your concerns. She says, and I quote: ‘The assault of a suitemate would be a very risky act, legally as well as disciplinarily.’ She went on: ‘What we know of sexual offenders suggests that they are more likely to seek out other, less risky targets.’ Now do you get it?”
Horace frowns. “That’s gobbledygook!” he shouts. “You must be misquoting her. You damn well know that men routinely rape the women they’re dating. So why isn’t raping a date just as ‘risky’ for men as raping a suitemate, both ‘legally’ and ‘disciplinarily’?”
“Because it isn’t!” I snap.
“Besides,” he continues, “if rape is so ‘normalized’ that men don’t even think it’s wrong, why will men in gender-neutral housing fear raping a suitemate?”
“Don’t mix me up!” I blurt out. “I know that Dean Boyd is right about this because gender-neutral housing is the ‘in’ thing on campus. UCLA recently made the switch, and it declared that any concerns about sexual assault in gender neutral housing have ‘no basis in reality.’ Brown University and UC Riverside also tried it, and had no reports of sexual assault.”
“But, but, but . . .” Horace is so upset, he can barely get the words out, “don’t colleges use any occasion — even a false rape claim — to beef up security to make women feel safe? Don’t they give women their own shuttle buses to keep them safe from men? Don’t they arm women with rape whistles and tell them to walk in pairs? Don’t they replace doors on women’s dorms that don’t adequately keep the men out?”
He’s standing up, and his arms are flailing like he’s conducting Flight of the Bumblebee. Everyone in the food court from Sbarro all the way down to Orange Julius is staring at us.
He leans in toward me, and for the first time I see that a vein in his forehead is ready to burst. “What about all those campus programs where men are taught that women justifiably fear them? ‘She Fears You’? ‘Walk a Mile in Her Shoes’? ‘Take Back the Night’? You don’t expect me to believe that colleges would purposefully put women in danger by embracing promiscuity and no-consequences sex, and by inventing absurd rationales to justify having the roosters to move into the hen house?!”
“Next thing you’re going to tell me is that colleges don’t take their own alcohol policies seriously,” he says angrily, “even though they know that booze is what ignites sexual assault!”
All I can do is stare at him sadly. Suddenly, a look shoots across his face that I haven’t seen since the day my daughter figured out there’s no Santa Claus, and beads of perspiration dot his forehead. Horace is having a terrible epiphany, and I wish I wasn’t around when it happened.
“What you’re telling me,” he says with the gravitas of a newsman announcing the death of the king, “is that all these efforts to combat rape culture on campus are a charade — a kabuki dance — to satisfy a small gaggle of angry feminists, and that the schools, themselves, know it’s all bullshit!”
He chokes back sobs. “Because,” he struggles to get the words out, “if one-in-four college women were really being raped, the schools wouldn’t be inviting the boys to live with the girls, they’d be banning boys altogether.”
Horace puts his head on my shoulder and weeps silently for what seemed an eternity. Just then, a miracle saves me.
“Number 24!” yells a young man from behind Sbarro’s counter.
“That’s me!” I shout. Saved by the conveyor pizza oven! I shake Horace’s hand and mutter something about keeping in touch. The last I see him, foamy saliva is oozing from the corners of his mouth, and he’s blurting out something about “patriarchy.”