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LA Times Columnist: Campus Rape Victims Need To Stop Focusing On Their Own Problems
Newspaper opinion sections are full of half-baked arguments and tepid hot-takes on last week's news, but Meghan Daum's column in the Los Angeles Times this week "Time for young feminists to look beyond the mattress and campus rape" is particularly obnoxious.
She uses the horrific rapes of the women kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria to criticize feminist activists, including those who have called attention to their own rapes on college campuses. The suggested tweet for her column gives you an idea of her argument: "Enough of Mattress Girl; what about the victims of Boko Haram?"
Daum is troubled by the fact that college women are calling attention to their own rapes and the problems with college disciplinary systems instead of rapes abroad: "Why, when there is so much serious work to be done, does this new generation of feminists only look inward instead of out at the big world?"
This is an old tactic. Feminists in Western countries are often told that their problems aren't important—or aren't important enough. If a lady complains that someone catcalled her on the way home, she might be told to thank her lucky stars she's allowed to leave the house without a man's permission (thanks!). If a feminist calls attention to domestic violence, someone might chime in and point out that maybe we should just be grateful that we don't live in a country where arranged marriage is the norm. This is a familiar, misguided argument referred to as the fallacy of relative privation. The point isn't to call attention to real, heinous problems but to distract from and discredit the argument at hand.
Daum pins the blame for the lack of attention to Boko Haram abuse squarely on rape victims themselves, saying that it's time for them to heal from their own rapes so they can tackle the issue of rape abroad:
I hope the wounded women at our colleges and universities find a way to heal themselves and then get to work in the places they're needed most. I hope they take all the passion, anger and energy they've applied to making college administrators figure out when yes means yes and no means no, and harness it to address problems far beyond their own.
It's an odd argument to say that it is specifically the responsibility of college-aged women who have been raped—not, say, the rest of us—to solve the problems of the Boko Haram victims an ocean away. Can't both issues be important—or is there a finite amount of anti-rape energy that sexual assault victims on college campuses are squandering?
The thing is that the people making these kinds of arguments don't actually seem to be all that invested in the issues they're using as counterpoints. We looked in vain to see how Daum in her own work had called attention to the plight of the women kidnapped and tortured by Boko Haram and found only this tweet from last year:
Daum most recently edited a well-regarded anthology on the issue of women not having kids: SELFISH, SHALLOW & SELF-ABSORBED: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids—not exactly a gritty expose on Third World feminist issues. One could make the argument that there are more important issues to focus on than whether to have children. For instance, transwomen are being murdered at rates that some advocates are calling "epidemic." Women today face acid attacks when they turn down marriage suitors. But to be honest, it sounds like an interesting book, and, personally, we don't seem to have much trouble switching gears between reading about adults who choose not to parent, reading a harrowing CNN dispatch from Nigeria and then maybe switching on an episode of The Mindy Project when we're done reading about all the world's ills.