Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Wicked Feminists

Have been at it again. Naomi Schaefer Riley finds us to blame for college rape, because we have no common sense:

In a survey conducted two years ago by the Harvard School of Public Health, one in every 20 women reported having been raped in college during the previous seven months. Rape statistics are notoriously unreliable, but the kicker rings true: "Nearly three-quarters of those rapes happened when the victims were so intoxicated they were unable to consent or refuse." And those are just the ones who admitted it.

The odd thing is that feminism may be partly to blame. Time magazine reporter Barrett Seaman explains that many of the college women he interviewed for his book "Binge" (2005) "saw drinking as a gender equity issue; they have as much right as the next guy to belly up to the bar." Leaving biology aside--most women's bodies can't take as much alcohol as men's--the fact of the matter is that men simply are not, to use the phrase of another generation, "taken advantage of" in the way women are.

Radical feminists used to warn that men are evil and dangerous. Andrea Dworkin made a career of it. But that message did not seem reconcilable with another core feminist notion--that women should be liberated from social constraints, especially those that require them to behave differently from men. So the first message was dropped and the second took over.

The radical-feminist message was of course wrongheaded--most men are harmless, even those who play lacrosse--but it could be useful as a worst-case scenario for young women today. There is an alternative, but to paraphrase Miss Manners: People who need to be told to use their common sense probably didn't have much to begin with.

Naomi might try to be a snake contortionist here but she gets herself into quite a few uncomfortable knots. The problem is with her logical arguments and lack of evidence. First, I have never read a single feminist tome that advocated drinking to the state of total blottoeness (a nice word, eh?) just so that we gals can say we do it, too. Second, those old-time feminists had a lot to say about women "being taken advantage of". A lot. Third, The bit about Dworkin arguing that men are evil and dangerous doesn't flow with the rest of the argument which tries to show feminists as the ones who are urging women to get mass-raped just so that they can prove their drinking rights, and it should have been omitted by the wingnut editor of this piece. Fourth, the desperate rescue attempt following the Dworkin-blunder doesn't work: once you've mentioned Dworking in a wingnut piece that's all the readers will remember, which means that the message has been turned on its head. Fifth, if most men indeed are harmless goofballs, why have this whole rant in the first place? Sixth, if the few odd rapists are sociopaths as the author states in her article, how come are they so industrious that one in twenty woman states she has been raped in college in a little more than six months? Add your own points here.

The fascinating sentence in Riley's piece is this one:

But that message did not seem reconcilable with another core feminist notion--that women should be liberated from social constraints, especially those that require them to behave differently from men.

What she means by social constraints which operate differently for women than men are the ones that regulate who can go out and get really drunk and then go and rape somebody or get raped. She advocates letting the few sociopaths and the harmless goofballs run free while all women stay at home after curfew. The logical way such differential constraints would work might be to tell the sociopaths to stay at home, of course. But that would be common sense.

Men can "be taken advantage of", too. Men who go on spring breaks can get drunk and then go swimming and drown. Men can be anally raped or hazed to death in fraternity parties. Men get liver damage from excessive alcohol consumption. But for some reason this is not much of a worry. Even the American Medical Association warns women about the dangers of college spring break craziness. Either women are more valuable than men or men's rights to wild behavior are taken for granted. I suspect it's a bit of both: women are not more valuable than men as human beings, but their fertility is an asset that must be controlled and protected, even if this means that they have fewer rights as people than men do.

Riley's piece belongs to a genre that has a long history. It's called victim blaming, because it implies that the victims can avoid being victims by just acting differently. At first glance this really looks like common sense: who among us wouldn't want to learn how to stay safe and how to teach our children safe behaviors?

But only at first glance. For a deeper investigation reveals two major problems with this strand of thinking: it doesn't stop rape if rape really is committed by that handful of determined sociopaths Riley sees as the guilty party, and it doesn't have anything to say about those who actually are to blame for rapes, the rapists themselves. And as for preventing rape, well, Riley advocates that women stay at home at night and do not drink. In some other countries her advice might consist of covering up carefully and not leaving the house without a male relative. All such schemes leave the underlying power structure unchanged and fail to address the crimes themselves.