In the days since the June 11 male rampage against women in Central Park, public attention has focused on police conduct and possible negligence. New York Gov. George Pataki plans to introduce legislation to combat mob sexual assault.
But public commentary and official reaction have paid little attention to what actually was tolerated that day by many of the young women in the park. A close look at the amateur videotapes of the melee reveals a sexually charged crowd of young men and women with no shared rules of conduct and no shared notions of boundaries — a personal and cultural disaster.
“An innocent water fight got out of hand,” said participant John Taylor, 25, apparently unaware that a pack of young men dousing young women is never “innocent.” A teenage girl echoed his nonchalance. “The only thing we saw (Taylor) do was pour water on one girl and she laughed,” she told The New York Times.
The videotapes confirm that some women did laugh when sprayed by leering male strangers. When pack members pulled away a woman’s tank top to expose her breast, she casually readjusted her top, turned and smiled. To be sure, some women cursed their harassers and fled. Others were pushed down, stripped bare, assaulted and utterly terrorized. But it is unclear, at least initially, which lines were not to be crossed with which women — until they were.
This is Woodstock 99 all over again, a replay of last year’s rock-concert rapes: equal- pportunity sexual energy quickly overtaken by testosterone aggression, an MTV spring break meets real-world consequences.
Thirty years after the vaunted revolution that aimed to relieve us of our hang-ups and make women the sexual equals of men, such words as “decorum,” “decency,” “modesty” and “gallantry” sound positively retro. But the horrifying events in Central Park are not the only evidence that these old-fashioned attitudes ultimately protect women. Last year at my alma mater, Princeton, a traditional cold-weather streaking event, the Nude Olympics, turned into such an ugly orgy of drinking and inappropriate behavior that the event’s now banned.
To their credit, some men in the Central Park crowd tried to get the others to stop, warned women to “get out of here” and consoled the sobbing women brutalized by the hormone-crazed mob. And certainly the male perpetrators are the ones at fault — in many cases, criminally.
But as long as consent, and not restraint, is the sexual marketplace’s guiding principle, such events as Central Park and Woodstock 99 are likely to happen again.
This article appeared in USA Today.