Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Conservative Writers on Campus Rape

Remember that George Will column about the coveted nature of being a victim of a sexual assault on US college campuses?  I wrote about it earlier.  The column brought poor George some trouble, partly because of the illogical and furious voices on the net.  Or so he thinks.  The St. Louis Post-Dispatch also dropped his column after the controversy.

What's so terrible about suggesting that being raped is a coveted status, Will appears to ask us.  It's a legitimate intellectual position to take, to argue that sexual assaults can be just bad sex, bad choices by the victim. 

Perhaps he should ask that question of those victims or survivors who spend years, decades even, in therapy, who try to bind together the frayed bits of their lives, who desperately try to trust people again, who strive for healthy sexuality and fail, over and over again.  Who are afraid to go out, for instance.  Those sufferers are not all women, either.

My apologies for that paragraph.  Will's column didn't have paragraphs of that sort, and their absence was part of the problem.  If you are going to write about the "nonexistent" sexual assaults, also write about the "existent" ones,  unless you are willing to hear from the sufferers of those, to correct your oversight.

This whole topic lures odd stuff out of the woodwork.  For instance, this one:

A George Will column about sexual assault, which received lots of criticism and caused one newspaper to drop the longtime syndicated conservative columnist, had all male editors, the Washington Post's Erik Wemple reported on Friday.
“On that day, there were three males, if that is important to you,” Alan Shearer, CEO and editorial director of Washington Post News Media Services, which is the company that syndicates Will's columns, told Wemple in response to a question about whether any women had reviewed the column.
Is it important to you?  And if it is, what do we learn from that?  I'm not sure.  Are we to assume that male editors couldn't identify with being a victim of a sexual assault but would identify with, say, being falsely accused of one when sex turns out less than wonderful? 

What are the statistical odds of a man being either the victim of a sexual assault or of being falsely accused of one?  My guess is that the former group is larger than the latter group, but a group of three editors would be unlikely to have anyone from either group, given the overall statistics. So are we to think that men, as a class, cannot identify with the victims of sexual assaults but women, as a class, can?

That may be the case.   When I call these arguments odd I don't mean that they wouldn't have actual content or that they wouldn't be worth investigating.  At the same time, there's a sense of war fronts being set up in a certain way, with conservative writers worrying about the rights of college students who are accused of sexual assault to due process and liberal or progressive writers worrying about the same rights for college students who allege that they are raped or sexually assaulted.  If you omit gender references, that's what you get.

But you can't really omit gender in this conversation.  The conservative writers quickly fall back to "innate" positions where the women are supposed to be the gate-keepers, where they are supposed to be modest and to cross their legs, where they are not supposed to get inebriated, and where nobody explicitly negotiates sex, unless it's for money. 

None of that has saved India from a wave of publicized gang rapes or killings, by the way, and neither has the idea of "implicit consent" worked anywhere where "consent" can be interpreted as being out in the streets without a chaperone or having a short skirt or whatever other cultural rules are being used to define "consent" from one extreme angle.

Is there anything at all useful in these conservative writings about sexual assault?  Perhaps what I have revealed above?  That the debate is about where to draw the line which defines that we have moved from sex to sexual assault, and that different people have very different ideas about where that line should be drawn.  Remember the legitimate rape arguments?

Still, it would be a great idea to create a short question which everyone can use about sex, a question which isn't too clinical or too weird, one which can be answered in the affirmative by anyone who wants to have sex with the one popping the question, with full understanding of what it is one has agreed to.  We don't have that in our cultures, and we need that.