Student Newspaper Letter Says Rape Culture a Myth, Blows Up Like ‘Hindenburg Over Jersey’

A letter to the editor in The Badger Herald arguing “‘rape culture’ does not exist” has inspired massive viral hate, debate and a “devastatingly stupid” label.

The missive appeared last week in the University of Wisconsin-Madison student newspaper, penned by a junior political science major named David Hookstead. Folks, it’s a doozy.

According to Hookstead, there is a mega-conspiracy in feminist circles to create a heinous societal double standard, one always casting women as potential victims who are without blame and men as “dangerous and … the root of evil.” He also denies the existence of a rape culture in the modern world, writing that media depictions condoning and glorifying sexually disrespectful, violent and criminal behavior are no worse than movies showing murder or rappers bragging about getting high.

Additionally, Hookstead claims, too many women are “so desperate to demonize men that they’ll lie about being raped.” That portion of the letter led to this whopper: “It is unfortunate that some women feel the need to exploit anything that may be rape for publicity. Not everything that is claimed to be rape is actually rape, and false accusations only take away from the credibility of real victims.”


Separately, Hookstead reminds us that sometimes women rape men — arguing that the lack of attention paid to these acts only further underscores the sexual assault double standard he mentioned earlier. In his words, “A woman drugged a close male friend of mine, who was a superstar athlete, so that she could assault him. There was little outrage, but could you imagine if a superstar athlete drugged a random woman and raped her? It’d be on the national news by morning.”

Hookstead’s letter made news very soon after the Badger Herald published it. A large majority of the responses have been uber-negative, including “hate tweets,” roughly 1,000 nasty online comments, a smattering of shocked-and-awed letters to the editor and a bloc of dismissive and derisive media reaction posts.

City Pages in Minnesota sums things up most succinctly: “Hookstead’s victim-blaming column went over about as well as the Hindenburg over New Jersey.

2A Jezebel Groupthink post calls Hookstead a “shitheel” and “chucklef*ck” and links to an animated gif that eventually states “Go F*ck Yourself with a Cactus.” To be clear, the writer of the post is not a Hookstead fan. :)

Apparently, Hookstead has at least a mini-history of stirring up ire (and web hits). The Daily Cardinal, the competing student newspaper at UW-Madison, has in the recent past written plainly “David Hookstead needs to shut up.” And it labels him, amid this latest furor, “University of Wisconsin-Madison’s preeminent ego-inflamed, aggressively misogynistic, notorious ‘semi celebrity.'”

At least one Daily Cardinal op-ed also places blame on the Badger Herald for providing this semi-celebrity with a bullhorn to air his “warped world views.”

As DC arts editor Andy Holsteen argues, “It’s disturbing someone would find it acceptable to submit or publish such a poorly thought-out article on such a sensitive subject. But I’m glad Hookstead wrote this column — I really am — because it serves a reminder to us all that there are people outside of our immediate circle of influence who believe truly horrendous and erroneous things. It should make you angry. Be angry we are allowing this person to speak for us as a student body. I know I am.”


So is the Badger Herald disturbingly wrong to present such over-the-top controversial sentiments? Or should they be applauded for honoring the tenets of free speech? Is the ensuing debate that has arisen, mixed in with the straight vitriol, proof the letter was worth publishing? Or is this nothing more than a soulless trolling for web hits and media attention?

In an editor’s note, Badger Herald EIC Katherine Krueger confirms she in no way personally agrees with the letter. “As a woman and a feminist, I find Hookstead’s views morally repugnant, patriarchal and offensive,” she writes. “His letter is the embodiment of rape culture. He peddles the horrifically misguided beliefs that sexual assault victims were asking for it with their clothing or behavior, were drunk or are flat-out lying about being raped.”


In many ways, according to Krueger, the point was to let the vox populi shout down Hookstead’s repugnance — and hopefully make some readers think twice about similar offensiveness they overhear day-to-day. In her words:

We chose to publish the piece for its potential to move our collective understanding about what rape culture looks like in Madison forward. … In the public discourse, the most repellent ideas should be buried as the strong, well-reasoned arguments prevail. We hoped this piece would be torn limb from limb in the ensuing fray, and we haven’t been disappointed by the quality of the campus’ impassioned debate in response to the letter. … We need to stare ugly viewpoints in the face as a reminder of the work that’s left to do on campus. These views are often kept out of sight and out of mind, and it’s uncomfortable to see a fellow Badger’s hateful words printed out in the open. It’s infuriating to know that people actually believe these falsehoods. But simply condemning this piece is the easy way out. The much more difficult and fruitful way forward is to take a hard look at the things we overhear every single day at the gym, at the bars or shouted at passersby on the street.


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