Thursday, June 12, 2008

Hatred Of Women Or Sage Advice?

A prominent feminist Iowa blogger has taken issue with a long-running annual college Daily Times Herald advice column. She charges that one section of the piece is "hatred of women" masquerading as advice.

In the column, which I first started running in the 1990s, I humbly offer, based on successes and failures I experienced, and observations I made as a reporter for the college newspaper covering campus crime, what I consider to be the "Top 10 Keys To Success in College." You can read the full column online at - where it is archived.

Most of it is devoted to non-controversial academic pursuits. At issue with some feminists is point No. 7 of the column, which reads as follows:

"Women should always travel with friends to parties.

"On the college-campus party landscape, women can be in an especially vulnerable position. This goes for universities and small colleges alike.

"If you doubt this, ask the directors at the women's centers on campuses how many calls they get each year about date rapes.

"When a young woman leaves her group of friends and goes it alone at a fraternity party, a dorm bash or an off-campus gathering, she is at the greatest risk of becoming a victim.

"Remember, perpetrators generally aren't the guys who pop out from behind trees in the night. They are friends or acquaintances."

I've long thought that item might be some of the best advice in the column. Before becoming the political writer for three years at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., I was on the crime beat and reported a number of stories on date rape charges. Later, at the Ames Tribune, I covered crime at Iowa State University which included articles on sexual assaults.

Reporting those stories had a major impact and led to advice I have given female members of my own family.

Thanks to the Internet and my growing involvement with the blogosphere, the column grew some digital legs and earned readers outside of the Daily Times Herald circulation area.

My friend Lynda Waddington of Marion, who writes for a number of blogs, including the highly popular and RH, both geared toward reproductive rights and women's issues, published a fierce essay concluding that my column amounted to "misogyny disguised as friendly advice."

For the record, Webster's defines misogyny as "hatred of women."

"While I find no fault with instructing young people to travel in groups or with a buddy, I do think it is unfair to only hold females to this standard of safety," Waddington writes. "It implies that women are unable to protect themselves. It implies that freedom, at least if you are female, has consequences. Far worse still, it implies that women who do choose to go stag are somehow 'asking for it' because-let's face it - women have been warned."

I think it is clear the DTH column is not intended as a sort of generalized "witness for the defense" primer to explain away criminal behavior.

In the past, I have warned friends not to go into parts of Washington, D.C., Chicago and a frightening area in West Palm Beach.

Now if said friends were mugged or murdered in said locales, we wouldn't blame the victims for their fates.

Murderers are murderers.

Rapists are rapists.

To agree with Waddington is to suggest I'm some monster hanging out in emergency rooms, pointing fingers at victims of sexual assaults as they are being swabbed for rape kits.

To be fair, the column could have included an item urging men to respect women. The vast majority of men do.

And thanks to the efforts of activists like Waddington, women are in a more empowered place today than in 1991 when I graduated from college.

But substance abuse thrives on campuses and some people are sexual criminals or deviants or both. Sexual assaults do occur. If we are free of this then what's the purpose of the Take Back The Night rallies or funding for rape crisis lines at our state-funded schools?

In the end women are free to travel alone on the college party circuit as soldiers in Waddington's ideological battles or in the company of my advice.

And Daily Times Herald readers can decide if the college advice column is the result of a genuine motivation on our family newspaper's part to help protect many of our young readers - or a dark sociological calculation involving an alleged hatred of women and desire to inspire fear and subordination in their lives.

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