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In 2015, Columbia University was in an uproar over Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which was, at the time, required reading for the freshman class. The classic Roman myths include tales of rape and sexual assault, material that students deemed “triggering and offensive,” marginalizing “student identities in the classroom.” Students felt “unsafe,” and demanded trigger warnings for the text. Nine years later, the campus is again awash in protest, but this time, students are denying, defending, or even celebrating the actual rape and sexual torture of Israeli women.

Metamorphoses has no shortage of vivid and horrific tales of rape, but the story of Tereus, Procne, and Philomela in Book VI may be the most gruesome. In it, Tereus brutally rapes his wife’s sister, Philomela, and hacks out her tongue so she can tell no one. “Even after this crime,” Ovid tells us, “though the story is scarcely believable, Tereus debauched that bleeding body again and again.” 

“Though the story is scarcely believable,” so, too, did the soldiers of Hamas rape and torture the women of Israel. There is, however, one crucial difference. Even Tereus, dreadful as he is, attempts to cover up his crime. He is not proud of what he has done, understands the depth of his depravity, and tells no one. By contrast, the Hamas soldiers dragged tortured women proudly through the streets of downtown Gaza and videotaped their own barbarity on GoPros. 

Astoundingly, not even those celebratory videos have been enough to draw condemnation from the left. The same young, progressive college women who need trigger warnings for classics now find themselves unable to denounce one of the greatest instances of mass rape in recent history. The same liberals and progressives who filled their Facebook and Instagram pages with #MeToo now stand in solidarity with the rapists of Hamas. 

What can possibly account for the willingness to justify the October 7 rapes and the continued torture of hostages? Why, now, is rape seen as a tool of lawful “resistance”? 

The first answer is that anti-Semitism always trumps everything else. Our front yard signs may boast that “Hate Has No Home Here,” but the one hate that always has a home is hatred of Jews. God’s chosen people have always been, and seemingly always will be, reviled by those not chosen. 

But there is an additional explanation for why the left has found it so hard to condemn these attacks. Whether or not they realize it, the feminist logic of the past seventy years has been laid bare and exposed. 

When women insist that they are no different from men, and that casual sex with no expectation of intimacy or procreation is an absolute good, then sex and womanhood are demystified and devalued. The feminism of hook-ups and abortion rights maintains that sex is meaningless, just another form of pleasurable exercise, no more significant than Zumba class. 

Meanwhile, our institutions of higher learning encourage women to be “sex-positive” and to experiment. Annual Sex Weeks are de rigueur on college campuses. Last year, SHEATH (Sexual Health Education & Advocacy throughout Harvard College) sponsored such illuminating classes as “Knot Your Average Workshop: Intro to BDSM and Kink,” “Harness Your Desire: A Strap-On Workshop,” “The More the Merrier: Exploring Non-Monogamy,” and “Come Hammered, Get Nailed: Safe Sex Under the Influence.” 

In a culture such as this, what does it even mean to talk about rape? When sex and virginity are stripped of their significance, and every sexual kink is permitted so long as “consent” is given, then the traditional understanding that rape is a uniquely dreadful and heinous crime collapses. Rape becomes indistinguishable from any other form of violence. It is bad only insofar as it is a violation of consent—not also because it is a devastating crime against nature, against the sacredness of sex and a woman’s body.

Finally, it is not surprising that anti-Semitism and rape denialism or rationalization should go hand in hand. God chose Israel and created male and female in his image. But in a world that has lost or condemned the biblical narrative, neither the particularity of Israel nor the particularity of male and female make any sense. Thus, even as the left talks of “de-colonizing” Israel, so trans activists speak of “de-colonizing” the body. Both are “oppressive,” and both must be overthrown. 

Feminism’s project has been to de-sex and de-mystify the female body, and, above all, to escape and deny a woman’s unique gift—the creation of new life. And it has succeeded all too well. But its success comes at the expense of all previous understandings of the sanctity of a woman’s body. Rape becomes just another form of “resistance,” and young women are left with no way to understand themselves or their bodies. The ruins lie all around us. 

Kari Jenson Gold’s most recent piece for First Things wasAt Princeton, the Ugliness Is the Point.”

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