Going Gaga for rape culture

Tom Slater

Tom Slater

Topics Culture

The Oscars 2016 is over. And despite fears the 88th Academy Awards would be overshadowed by the lack of black nominees – which was rinsed by host Chris Rock in his blistering opening monologue – it ended up being tainted by something else: unrepentant moral grandstanding, firing in all directions.

The lists of the most-talked-about acceptance speeches read like the items on a Comment is Free editorial-meeting agenda. Leonardo DiCaprio marked his Best Actor gong for The Revenant, in which he plays a frontiersman who almost freezes to death, by waxing lyrical about the dangers of global warming. Prior to that, Brit-soul star Sam Smith, who won Best Original Song for Bond theme ‘Writing’s On The Wall’, (mistakenly) proclaimed himself the first openly gay Oscar winner. But they were all eclipsed by the queen of right-on cringe, Lady Gaga.

Hammering at a white grand piano, and flanked by survivors of sexual assault, Gaga performed ‘Til It Happens to You’, her sombre-pop ballad made for The Hunting Ground, a documentary about campus rape. What stuck most in the craw was not the ‘look, I care’ schmaltz, or the crowd’s crocodile tears, but the fact that the central message of the song, and the accompanying doc, is not only untrue, it’s dangerous.

The Hunting Ground aims to expose the ‘rape culture’ that is blighting US campuses. The evidence for this now-familiar claim, which was repeated by Gaga up and down the red carpet, is that ‘one in five’ female college students will be sexually assaulted during their studies. It’s an utter crock.

The 2007 study from which the stat springs is notoriously flawed: it conflated a vast range of experiences, from unwanted kissing and fondling to forced penetration and rape; according to journalist Cathy Young, the researchers redefined some instances of consensual, drunken sex as ‘drug- and/or or alcohol-enabled’ rape; and its sample was small and self-selecting. As Christina Hoff Sommers has pointed out, US government statistics suggest the real rate is closer to one in 40.

Though the ‘one in five’ stat continues to be repeated ad nauseam by campus campaigners and credulous journalists, the original study has been so thoroughly discredited that even its authors have admitted ‘there are caveats that make it inappropriate to use the one-in-five number’.

We’re all used to a bit of sleb soapboxing, but Gaga’s stunt was a bridge too far. The rape-culture myth only spreads fear among young women and trivialises sexual assault in the process. Let’s ‘raise awareness’ about that.

Tom Slater is deputy editor at spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_

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Topics Culture


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