“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Attributed to the anthropologist Margaret Mead, this sentiment is both insightful and beautiful, but deceivingly tragic as well. If, after all, Mead was right that only small, committed groups of people have really changed the world, then it’s exactly because human beings as they’ve assembled in larger groups never would or could.
It’s sad but true. Tribes, nation-states, empires and entire civilizations have made, by and large, miserable decisions over the millennia in just about every area of human interaction. In our largest collections, we’ve consistently chosen slavery, patriarchy, militarism, vengeance, racial and sectarian violence, bigotry and greed.
Regardless, hope and progress persist and have moved the world forward; I believe Mead is right that this progress in humanity has been driven in large part not by the masses but by the outliers, the suffering, the unusually reflective, empathic and brave.
When it comes to the shameful and shame-based, age-old shroud of silence that has been draped over survivors of sexual violence, nothing is different. Progress is being made, much of it born of the efforts of women (and some men) who refused at last to suffer silently and who finally punched through to the social consciousness with the feminist and victim’s movements of recent decades.
And now a small but surprisingly growing number are coming forward to expose what’s always been true and almost never acknowledged: Colleges and universities, like most institutional environments, have been havens for sexually violent individuals for far too long, and for reasons that institutional leadership could address far better than it ever has.
But for writers like George F. Will, this shedding of light and move toward accountability must be dismissed as hysteria and the establishment of yet another “victim class” with a hidden agenda. He’s armed with nothing more than one, remarkably atypical and grossly misleading anecdote of an apparently mischaracterized sexual assault. Yet he spends half of a column on its facts before dismissing pretty much all college-aged victims as confused and coddled miscreants, unable to characterize their own experiences due to “hook up culture,” or “hormones, alcohol, and faux sophistication.”
As Will himself would write in judgment of such a moronic conclusion:
Like so many before him, Will combines ignorance and useless moralizing; unlearned in sexual violence dynamics, he fails to grasp that most clear cases of victimization- let alone awkward or even borderline violent sexual events- almost never lead to complaints of victimization to anyone. Of course, awkward and negative sexual hook-ups happen. Of course regret sometimes sinks in. Of course women (and some men) feel cheated, used and angry after sexual encounters in many circumstances and because of many factors. The idea that they’ll now “cry rape” because of a handful of Department of Education initiatives, thus filling the country’s prisons with innocent men, is paranoid nonsense.
Regardless, as with so many men of his generation and inclination, Will’s real concern is with the fate of the hapless, charming lothario who he is certain has no ill intent but now faces the wrath of the badly behaved, deviously empowered woman with an axe to grind and a sympathetic, left-leaning government to help her grind it.
It’s garbage. But it’s not surprising. Will’s hysteria is a common and oft-repeated pattern of those who would preserve the status quo and the appearance of white, male dominated normalcy at any cost; just as women who demanded equal rights were once marginalized and dismissed as a small, vocal group of disgruntled malcontents; just as those who fought for an end to racial segregation were once branded as the minority in an otherwise content sub-culture of second class citizens. It’s that ever-present, all too common drone that has damned the world to so much misery and injustice for so long without change. On this issue, Will champions it shamefully.
My hope is that efforts like Will’s- ones which regrettably resemble the sad echo of mass group-think through the ages- will continue to falter, however improbably, because of a small group of thoughtful individuals who have simply had enough.