The Isla Vista murder rampage is agonizing enough, but more deeply painful when we consider how long it has taken for universities to grapple with the daily threats to women's basic security from sexual harassment and violence. As one example, see the legislation I introduced in 1987, twenty-seven years ago, requiring public universities to actively investigate and bring penalties against individuals and fraternities engaged in "an epidemic" of campus rapes. Even at that time, campuses were accused of being slow to respond.
With the help of then Assemblywoman Louise Roybal-Allard, the bill eventually passed after being watered-down, becoming the first legislation to promote education, guidelines and rights of women to a role in campus judicial proceedings. As we noted at the time, American campuses were hobbled by an inherent conflict-of-interest in their desire to promote a harmonious image to state legislators and families seeking admissions.
It would be wrong to say nothing has changed since those days. But it is deeply depressing to realize how little has changed - on the campuses, in the military, in the office, in political discourse, in the world itself.
The war metaphors, culture war, war against women, are on the mark. Levels of violence against women, if totaled collectively, are comparable to battlefield casualties. In most of the world, violent misogyny is very much the dominant culture. In the US and the West, the very success of feminism as a social movement led to the rise of a counter-movement dedicated to striking back by any means necessary, whether through individual acts of violence, political backlash, or venomous rhetoric. This appears to be the pattern with all social movements, where hard-fought victories are met with bitter and hysterical resistance. In a classic case, Union victory in the Civil War and Reconstruction led to a century of Jim Crow and mass lynchings. At best, it's always two steps forward, one step back; at worst, it's a camouflaged civil war. After the original women's suffrage movement, Carrie Chapman Catt and Nettie Rogers Shuler looked back and wrote that:
Hundreds of women gave the
Of an entire lifetime,
Thousands gave years of their lives,
hundreds of thousands
gave constant interest,
and such aid as they could.
It was a continuous, seemingly
Endless chain of activity.
Young suffragists who helped forge
the last links of that chain
were not born when it began.
Old suffragists who forged the
first links were dead when it ended.
California Gets New Rape Bill, New York Times, April 1, 1987
Cites 'Epidemic' on State Campuses: Hayden Bill Targets Rising Number of College Rapes, Los Angeles Times, March 19, 1987