Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Surrender the Pink(er)

Another commenter at WhoIsIOZ challenged me to explain why I’d said that Steven Pinker’s quoting Camille Paglia on rape discredited him. The commenter helpfully posted the quotation itself:
For a decade, feminists have drilled their disciples to say, "Rape is a crime of violence but not sex." This sugar-coated Shirley Temple nonsense has exposed young women to disaster. Misled by feminism, they do not expect rape from nice boys from good homes who sit next to them in class....
These girls say, "Well, I should be able to get drunk at a fraternity party and go upstairs to a guy's room without anything happening." And I say, "Oh, really? And when you drive your car to New York City, do you leave your keys on the hood?" My point is that if your car is stolen after you do something like that, yes, the police should pursue the thief and he should be punished. But at the same time, the police---and I---have the right to say to you, "You stupid idiot, what the hell were you thinking?"
That first paragraph is a stunning non sequitur. What’s the connection between rape as a crime of violence and rape as a crime committed by nice boys from good homes? None that I can see. Nor do I see where she gets “sugar-coated Shirley Temple nonsense”. (P.S. Maybe she thinks that nice boys won't commit crimes of violence, but will commit crimes of sex?)

The second sentence of that paragraph is not only false, it’s the opposite of the truth. Since the 1970s at least, feminists have been arguing (with evidence from empirical studies) that most rapists are not dark-skinned brutes leaping from the bushes to ravish white virgins, but ordinary men like any others, and that most women are raped by people they know, not by strangers. Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will (1975) argued the point at length, as I recall (it’s been close to 30 years since I read it).

Feminists were vilified for supposedly sowing discord between the sexes, for allegedly teaching young women to regard every nice young man as a potential if not actual rapist. Paglia herself attacked the concept of “date rape,” not on the ground that rape is rape regardless of the status of the rapist, but … well, I admit I’m not sure. Maybe because if a girl goes out with a boy, she should expect to put out? Paglia is not known for the coherence of her thought.
As for the second paragraph, it’s not even clear that those girls actually do get drunk at fraternity parties and go to guys’ rooms “without anything happening.” What they seem to be saying is that going to a guy’s room does not, in itself, constitute consent to intercourse, whether the girl is drunk or sober, let alone passed out. This is a less controversial doctrine than it would have been, say, forty years ago. But at the university where I work, female students are advised not to drink excessively, to be careful where they go and with whom, to stay alert and aware. Male students are advised that a woman’s presence in their room, drunk or sober, is not in itself consent to sex.

That’s not to say that idiotic things don’t get said at times. One earnest male student, working under the head counselor at the dorm where I work (notorious on campus for its “political correctness”), put together an alarmist information sheet which advised that since most rape is acquaintance rape, you shouldn’t go on a date with someone you don’t know well. How, I wondered, would one get to know another person well, if not by spending time in their company? The student evidently interpreted “acquaintance” to mean “someone to whom you’ve been introduced but don’t yet know intimately,” as though women weren’t raped by boyfriends and husbands too.

I wouldn’t put an absolute divide between rape as violence and rape as sex: I would expect that rapists are no more consistent in their motives than anyone else. But I can’t understand how anyone could deny that men do sometimes rape women (or men, for that matter) as punishment (for being in the “wrong” place, for daring to say No to their importunings, and so on), not just because they’re overwhelmed by lust and have to have an outlet. The use of words like “violation” for forced sex is itself an indication that it is traditionally seen as an act of aggression, even to the exclusion of desire.

Consider this passage from chapter 16 of the book of the prophet Ezekiel, in the Authorized (King James) Version. Yahweh is addressing Jerusalem metaphorically as a “harlot”:
36Thus saith the Lord GOD; Because thy filthiness was poured out, and thy nakedness discovered through thy whoredoms with thy lovers, and with all the idols of thy abominations, and by the blood of thy children, which thou didst give unto them;
37Behold, therefore I will gather all thy lovers, with whom thou hast taken pleasure, and all them that thou hast loved, with all them that thou hast hated; I will even gather them round about against thee, and will discover thy nakedness unto them, that they may see all thy nakedness.
38And I will judge thee, as women that break wedlock and shed blood are judged; and I will give thee blood in fury and jealousy.
39And I will also give thee into their hand, and they shall throw down thine eminent place, and shall break down thy high places: they shall strip thee also of thy clothes, and shall take thy fair jewels, and leave thee naked and bare.
Uncovering nakedness in the Hebrew Bible is often a euphemism for copulation, as in the prohibitions of uncovering the nakedness of near relatives in Leviticus 18:6-7. This passage, like others in the Bible, is a maelstrom of sexual violence. Yahweh does not propose to strip Jerusalem naked before her lovers out of erotic desire, but to shame and punish her. Similar fantasies appear in Hosea chapter 2, and in the New Testament Revelation 17, and they recur in later Western literature. Feminists didn’t invent the conflation of sex and violence – men did. Considering that Paglia made her name as a literary critic, she can hardly be unaware of this.

Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer purported to have shown that rape is not at all an act of violence. When I get back to the US, I plan to read the rest of their Natural History of Rape, to see just how they manage to do it.