Thursday 27 February 2014

Whispers of Dissent Within the Feminist Echo Chamber

Well, the article at The New Republic is up, and it's a mixed bag. Which generally means mostly awful (and offal, heh), but with a few pleasant surprises.

For my part, my over 42-and-change minute interview on a number of different topics was condensed into a single quoted sentence fragment, and a two sentence soundbite about false accusations.

If anyone is interested in hearing what Ms. Matchar and I actually talked about for over 40 minutes, feel free to click here.

Issues we discussed: 

Why I got involved in the Men's Rights Movement.

Whether culturally propagated rape myths (such as the myth that ordinary, otherwise decent guys will commit rape if they have the chance, an unwillingness to accept the empirical evidence that 90% of rapes of women are committed by a small percentage of men who are recidivists, and frequent comparisons between the attrition rate for rape with the conviction rate for other crimes ) coupled with a near-constant public emphasis on the "re-victimizing" of women by the system and how difficult reporting is, discourages women from reporting.

Whether men should be considered rape victims when women have sex with them against their will, through use of threats, force, or drug/alcohol incapacitation. Currently, in statistical data such as that gathered by the CDC, for whom feminist Mary Koss acts as a consultant, such men are not considered rape victims, even if they have been forced into sex. Previous year data in their latest NISVS showed an equal number of male and female victims of sex obtained through force, threats or incapacitation (and attempts, which they did not separate out in either case), and a significant perpetration rate among women, however, Koss (and thus, the CDC) does not consider a woman forcing a man to have heterosexual sex to be rape. 

Whether, given the large minority of (as I would define it) rapes and attempted rapes committed by women, feminist ideas around rape (that it lies on a continuum of normal male behavior within the culture, that it is tied to masculinity and patriarchal domination of women, etc) have any veracity. 

Whether dubiously framing rape as intrinsic or connected to masculinity serves a purpose for feminists.

My own experience as a victim of sexual assault, and why I chose not to report it.

Whether the predominant rhetoric around rape (of women) as the most heinous of crimes (some claim it is worse than murder) does victims a disservice when it comes to stigma and recovery. When the only message the culture (not just feminists!) tells you is that the worst thing possible has happened to you with an extreme focus on the (long term, often framed as permanent) harms, is there a possibility of victims internalizing this message to the point where recovery is obstructed rather than facilitated? 

Whether other voices than feminism have a right to a public opinion about rape and how to combat it. 

Whether we are treating women like children when we assign them victim status for making the exact same decision as a man--that is, if two people are equally drunk and both consent to sex while in that condition, is it demeaning to women to assign them all the agency of a piece of furniture by labelling them victims and the men rapists? (Incidentally, commend Ms. Matchar for not calling for James Taranto's head, and even defending him. How refreshing.)

Whether a calm and coherent national conversation about rape is even possible given the fact that posing such a question as the above will lead to 14 feminist articles vilifying you by misrepresenting what you said being published within 24 hours, and NOW starting a petition to have you fired from your job (James Taranto).

Whether there is any "good way" to deal with a crime that occurs mostly in private and without witnesses, mostly between acquaintances or within a dating/relationship context, and which is based entirely on two people's states of mind.

The false accusation issue was indeed part of our conversation (the only part that made it into Ms. Matchar's article), and something discussed at Ms. Matchar's request. Much of her commentary on the issue and the MRM's stance on it seems outright silly:

(The Hofstra case has become a touchstone in the MRM community, viewed as proof that a woman will ruin five men’s lives to cover her tracks if she needs to.) We don't "view" it as proof. It IS proof. If cases like Hofstra exist, that necessarily proves that such things sometimes can and do happen. On the other hand, I doubt that any MRA believes women who behave in this way are common, just like we do not believe that people who commit sexual assault are common, but Ms. Matchar seems intent on portraying us this way. 

As for the "2-8% of rape accusations are false" thing, on the one hand, I'm not sure why it matters. The biggest issue MRAs tend to have regarding false accusations of rape is that the punishment does not fit the crime, in terms of damage done to the victim. The system generally assigns punishments based on the degree of harm done, not on the commonness of the crime. If it didn't, first degree murder would be a misdemeanor while pocketing pens from your workplace or shoplifting would be capital offences. 

One can allow that rape is more common than false accusations of rape (in fact, it can be much more common, even if the false report rate is quite high, due to the low rate at which rapes are reported to police), and still consider false accusations of rape a difficult problem that ruins people's lives, and it's nice that the author acknowledges this. But her answer seems to be to convince progressives and feminists to take on (or rather, stop ignoring and minimizing) the issue. 

However, from what I've seen, feminists seem to have this idea that taking false accusations seriously will make actual victims fear filing a report, and they typically (and incorrectly) emphasize low prevalence rates for false accusations compared to rape prevalence as a justification for not taking them seriously. I don't think they, on the whole, are in a position to be convinced of anything different.

It is unfortunate that some actual victims of rape are not believed by authorities. I know of at least one case where a woman who, it was later determined, had indeed been raped by a serial rapist, who was fined for filing a false police report. That must have been a terrible situation, and no less terrible after it was discovered that the man had gone on to commit other rapes because her case was not taken seriously enough--a vindication likely more bitter than sweet for her. However, given the high proportion (relative to other crimes) of convictions of sexual assault that result in exoneration (usually through DNA evidence, though often through recanting), I'm going to assert that we fuck it up in the other direction a lot, too. 

Feminists tend also, as the author of this piece has done, to consistently misrepresent the statistics. 2-8% is the lower boundary, derived from rape reports to police that can be determined to be definitely false (or definitely unfounded) to nearly a criminal court standard. I could just as easily flip that around and say that "only" 6% of rape accusations are true, because that is the percentage of reports that result in conviction", however, I would never do that because it would be absurd and dishonest. Ms. Matchar (and pretty much any feminist I talk to) is lumping all reports that are not determined definitely false into the "true" category, when in reality, the vast majority of cases can't be proven either way. I suppose it's entirely possible that the false report rate is as low as 2-8%. I suppose it's entirely possible that it's as high as 94%. But I don't think so, either way. 

Even regardless of that, the rates she cites have no bearing on informal false accusations made to people other than the police, and which have led in some cases to accused men being assaulted and even murdered. I find it amazing how short American's memories are, considering that a hugely disproportionate number of the black men who swung from trees during the era of lynching were accused of sex crimes.

And I find it odd that Ms. Matchar thinks MRAs are obsessed with false accusations. There are many websites and forums largely devoted, for instance, to men who suffer domestic violence, or to male victims of sexual violence, etc, but as far as I know, only one (The Community of the Wrongly Accused, formerly The False Rape Society) that is devoted to false rape accusations. Most Men's Rights Websites are multi-purpose forums that discuss a wide variety of issues, including false accusations, and much of the conversation about false accusations revolves around how difficult it is to find reliable estimates of prevalence simply because of that large number of cases that cannot be proven either way. 

I also find it odd that Ms. Matchar thinks MRAs are inflating the problem of false rape accusations when men are collectively accused of rapiness by the likes of Jessica Valenti, who claims that even otherwise decent guys will rape if they get the opportunity. Given that only a small percentage of men ever rape, what is that, other than a false accusation levelled against an entire gender?

She goes on to condescendingly, indirectly dismiss Paul Elam's concerns over the new, still changing, processes colleges use to handle accusations of sexual misconduct. It's a gorgeous rhetorical trick. First, you state their position like so:

The way rape is dealt with on college campuses is another bugaboo of the MRM. “We have a problem with feminists hyper-inflating rape statistics, creating a kind of hysteria on campus over a problem that needs due attention from law enforcement,” says Paul Elam, the founder of A Voice for Men, widely considered the flagship website of the MRM. 
Then, you follow it up with something like this:
The site, which features essays pontificating on society’s supposed anti-male bias [emphasis mine]
In the space of one sentence fragment, you have just invalidated any claim made by the owner of said website, which is portrayed as just a bunch of people "pontificating" about things that don't really exist. Neat-o, huh?

Next trick is follow it up with typical feminist black/white, all-or-nothing zero-summing:

 But the far more pressing issue in terms of the way that colleges address rape accusations has to do with the institutions ignoring or mishandling cases of sexual assault. Occidental, along with a number of other elite colleges, came under federal investigation last year for precisely this. The case was brought by 37 current and former students, including several men. According to the complaint, administrators explicitly discouraged students from coming forward with sexual assault reports. This is not unique to Occidental—similar cases have arisen at the University of North Carolina and Swarthmore, among others. This kind of discouragement, shaming, and victim-blaming is exactly why we need anonymous reporting and more stringent anti-sexual assault policies, say victims’ advocates.

Voila! You have just succeeded in deflecting the attention away from valid concerns over due process rights by pretending that there exists no means by which colleges can take accusations of sexual misconduct seriously while still being fair to those who are accused. And you can do it by implying that the solution to some colleges ignoring their own policies is not to require them to enforce those policies, but to bring in more stringent and draconian policies.

The MRM’s tirades and hijinks certainly don’t meaningfully add to the debate surrounding the way we handle sexual assault. But to totally ignore the issues that they raise does not further a productive conversation. 

I'd like to again invite readers to listen to my interview with Ms. Matchar, as well as Paul Elam's and Dean Esmay's, and get a feel for the "tirade-like" nature of our answers to her questions. Compare "hijinks" like Men's Rights Edmonton's "Don't be THAT Girl" campaign, with feminist "hijinks" such as this poster. Compare the calm and measured tone of a men's advocate like Warren Farrell, Miles Groth or Pierce Harlan with the feminist reaction of dishonestfurious, spittle-flecked moral outrage to James Taranto's article on drunk sex, or to a presentation about the problems boys face in society.

While I will not deny that tirades and hijinks exist within the MRM (Patriarchy Party, anyone?), the assumption that progressives are even capable of having a calm, reasoned, fair-minded and balanced discussion about rape is dubious at best, self-evidently false at worst, as Ms. Matchar indicates in her very next breath:

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to talk about these issues in progressive or feminist circles, where discussions of sexual assault prevention can quickly degenerate into angry hyperbole and name-calling. Among progressive media circles, to suggest that sexual assault and sexual assault prevention can be less than clear-cut is to court accusations of being a rape apologist.

Hell, I just got called a rape apologist by Naomi Wolf during a panel discussion last weekend for having the temerity to say that one reason so few rapists are prosecuted is because, given the nature of the crime, rape is difficult to prove or disprove. The only thing that separates it from a legal act is two people's states of mind--her lack of consent and his awareness of her lack of consent. Before I could even finish my thought, she turned to me and, face inches from mine, called me a rape apologist.

What I had said seems like a clear-cut statement to me, one that even agrees with feminist rhetoric on rape (that rape is about consent, and that rape is difficult to prove), yet if you're one of the "bad people", saying it apparently means you're a rape apologist.

I mean think about it. Feminists fought hard to eliminate such requirements as corroboration or physical evidence of resistance from sexual assault law. They fought and succeeded in making rape a crime whose actus reus is contingent on the lack of consent of the victim. 

And yet I got called a rape apologist by a feminist for saying rape is a crime based on consent. 

After the panel was over, I went up to her and said I couldn't believe she called me a rape apologist. She said I sure sounded like one, to which I attempted to reply, "For saying rape is about consent?" She interrupted me mid-sentence, claiming that as a rape survivor, it was too upsetting for her to discuss. 

And perhaps the most ironic thing about what she said is the accusation by a young feminist during the Q&A for my talk at Ryerson University, that Naomi Wolf herself is a rape apologist, who (allegedly) engaged in victim blaming regarding the Julian Assange case.

What a labia traitor you are, Naomi! Shame on you.

But back to Ms. Matchar:

So unless progressives want the MRM to lead the dialogue on these issues, perhaps they should start addressing them more comprehensively and less reactively. There will almost surely be more MRM rape campaigns in the coming year, says Dean Esmay, the managing editor of A Voice for Men: “We will continue to look for ways to stir things up.” Ignoring the matters these campaigns raise risks ceding the conversation.
And there lies the rub. MRAs want to have a conversation about rape. Feminists and other progressives, in the main, like Naomi Wolf, want to have a monologue about it. An "everyone else sit down, shut up and listen quietly" kind of monologue.

The term "rape apologist" is more a tactic than an assessment of someone's position on rape, intended to serve as a conversation ender, a way of either shutting someone up, or giving others moral permission to ignore what they say. It's also a way for feminists to separate the "us" from the "them", to identify and target an enemy and maintain their "vagina monologue" on sexual assault.

Naomi Wolf pulling the rape victim card was another attempted conversation ender, one which I gracefully accepted, not because such a tactic is effective in shutting me up, but because, like most feminists and progressives, she does not seem able to look at the problem in anything resembling an objective way. A discussion with someone so emotional they cannot handle a conversation they insist on having in the first place, the moment there is a difference of opinion is going to be pointless waste of time. 

Ms. Matchar warns progressives that ignoring the issues and concerns raised by the MRM may mean ceding the conversation to us. And here she's got it wrong, yet again. The feminist conversation about rape is not a conversation at all, but a one-sided, biased, moralizing lecture that does not permit any deviation from the party line, even by other feminists. 

Which makes me wonder how long it will be before Ms. Matchar herself has the scarlet letter pinned on her, merely for stating it's a bit of a stretch to characterize James Taranto's article on drunk sex "rape apology". 

If even Naomi Wolf can be labelled a rape apologist for being skeptical of what might well be politically motivated, trumped-up or inflated accusations against a man detested by the US government (among others), then letting Taranto off the hook for his "obvious rape apologia" could well get Ms. Matchar in hot water among the sisterhood. Feminists are all too happy to turn on each other over such things.

Which leads me to commend Ms. Matchar for defying, even in these small ways, the orthodoxy of progressive feminists, and to advise her to watch her back. The feminist sisterhood might not be too happy with her right now.