Sounding off about the Duke lacrosse case

Antifeminist bloggers, Berkeley lecturers and Bob Bennett -- Bob Bennett?! -- weigh in on the university's gang-rape allegation scandal.

Published April 14, 2006 2:00PM (EDT)

There hasn't been much new news in the Duke lacrosse team rape allegations case since lawyers for the accused reported the lack of DNA evidence earlier this week. But that hasn't stopped American Coalition for Fathers and Children president David Usher from speechifying in the meantime. As Feministing noted Thursday, Usher -- who apparently spends a lot of time watching "CSI" -- has offered up plenty of speculative analysis of the case. For instance, if prosecutors knew rapists like he knows rapists, Usher contends, they'd quit gathering evidence in the case and blame the whole scandal on feminists.

"The story did not ring true to begin with," Usher wrote Wednesday, in a blog post titled "The Hazards of Duke: Predatory Feminism." "Rapists sneak around and do things as anonymously as possible. They plan their mark and then police spend a lot of time and resources to figure out who did it. Gang-raping women in busy college party bathrooms while hollering racial epithets is not something that happens even at 'Animal House.'" So, not only did gang rape not happen at this party, we learn, but no gang rapes occur at any parties -- or even in public -- ever. Good to know. Usher must get really steamed when he watches "The Accused."

As for the misogynistic e-mail sent by one of the players shortly after the alleged incident, Usher has the detective skills to sort that one out, too: "Folks do not send emails to friends joking nervously about torturing and killing a stripper unless something very upsetting did indeed take place. As the story unfolds, I predict we will find out that the stripper made a blackmail threat in the bathroom -- something like -- 'you give me a lot of money or I will say you raped me.'" (Did that not make sense to you when you first read it? Me, either. I think what he means is, the "very upsetting" thing that happened was that the accuser tried to blackmail some lacrosse players, and one player was so upset that he wrote the threatening e-mail. Makes perfect sense.)

And this is where we get into this "predatory feminism" business. "Colleges are famous for mandatory hyper-feminist coursework featuring lawyers and feminist activists that teach women how to use sex to take advantage of men and any institution that involves men." So really, Duke only has itself to blame for the scandal: "This is exactly what the University deserves for allowing feminists to run the campus in the first place, while stifling the healthy political and social views of heterosexual men." Zounds, these obstreperous feminists are everywhere! What's a God-fearing heterosexual man to do? Usher has the answer: "Stay away from feminists and strippers." Forsooth!

While I can't say I'm disappointed that Usher and his ilk will be steering clear of me and my ilk, there is one aspect of his, um, "argument" that genuinely interests me: the idea that men are helpless in the face of female guile and might. While I'm all for envisioning a world in which female power is accepted and women are treated as equals, I'm afraid Usher may be living on another planet. Or, as Feministing's Samhita aptly wondered, "Does he really believe that organized feminism is engaging in mafioso activity to use sex as power? My head just exploded (and I am laughing my ass off)."

Meanwhile, back on Earth, the AP reported Thursday that the Duke incident has prompted just the kind of female solidarity (if not actual Mafioso activity) that's sure to piss Usher off. The story cites the popularity of the Justice 4 Two Sisters blog to demonstrate a groundswell of anger and sympathy among black women in response to the scandal. The AP acknowledges that the complex intersection of race, sex and power is hardly new, but notes that "the conversation has heated up since [the] accusations surfaced."

UC-Berkeley lecturer Rebecca Hall advanced the conversation by distilling the problematic stereotype: "A black woman is somebody who has excess sexuality spilling out all over the place. It's excess sexuality that white men are entitled to." Of course, unpacking these stereotypes won't determine whether the lacrosse team members are innocent or guilty -- and neither Hall nor the AP seems to be suggesting as much -- but I was still thrilled to read such consciousness-raising, conversation-starting stuff in the AP.

Last, as if to prove that a complex situation can always become even more complicated, former federal prosecutor Bob Bennett announced Thursday that he has signed on to be the official spokesman for the lacrosse-team advocacy group Committee for Fairness to Duke Families. Most famous for being President Clinton's personal attorney during the Paula Jones trial and for representing Judith Miller in Plamegate, Bennett's appearance on the lacrosse team's side underscores the deep pockets that some of these Duke students apparently have. In a statement released Thursday, Bennett seemed ready to play the blame game in his defense of the team, but it wasn't clear whether he was blaming the accuser, Durham D.A. Mike Nifong, members of the public or what:

"It is unfortunate that members of the Duke community, players and families are being judged before all the facts are in. A lot of innocent young people and the families are being hurt, and unfortunately this situation is being abused by people with separate agendas. It is grossly unfair, and cool heads must prevail."

Still, that makes at least one thing that we and Bennett can agree on so far: The case should be tried in court, rather than in the court of public opinion.

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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