For people who think they’re smarter than everyone else, libertarians sure can be narrow-minded, simplistic thinkers. That’s the most relevant lesson after following this asinine injection of libertarian “thought” into the debate over how to prevent rape, or really, if you want to be honest about it, whether to prevent rape, since all right wingers do is just suggest that women just give up basic freedoms in order to not be raped. Which isn’t rape prevention—the rapists are still out there and raping—but just a matter of making sure that the victims are people that you can chastise for supposedly not doing enough to protect themselves. But I digress. Jessica Valenti debated libertarian Wendy McElroy about how colleges should handle sexual assault, though it sounds like McElroy spent most of her time obsessing over the weird libertarian fixation on the idea that culture has little to no impact on people’s choices in life.
The talk, titled “How Should Colleges Handle Sexual Assault?” largely deviated from the Janus Forum’s stated purpose for the event, centering instead on the question of whether rape culture exists, and then on the implications of the phenomenon for victims and perpetrators of sexual assault. The speakers also touched on how the debate over rape culture affects the disciplinary process for accused students….
“I was raped and brutally so … I did not blame society. I did not blame the culture. I blamed the man who raped me,” McElroy said.
But Jessica Valenti, who offered her opposing perspective in a 20-minute presentation after McElroy’s, expressed frustration that some continue to question rape culture’s existence, adding that the debate leaves her “exhausted.”
That’s because it’s exhausting to argue with people whose bad faith gets so out of control they sound like obtuse toddlers. Like McElroy here. It appears her argument is that you have to choose between blaming the person who did a bad thing and blaming the social messages he got encouraging him to do that bad thing. The possibility that both could be to blame is just dismissed out of hand. Why? Apparently because libertarians are too dumb to think that two ideas can coexist. Either it has to be a matter of individual responsibility or collective responsibility. Nothing can have two causes! That’s crazy talk. Next you’ll be telling me that children have two parents! Or that the clothes you wore were designed by one person and sewn by another. Or that Game of Thrones is both based on a book series written by George R.R. Martin and is written by a team of screenwriters hired by HBO. All things have one sole cause. Asking libertarians to consider anything else is just too much for their wee brains to handle, I guess.
Obviously, I get that this is part of a larger libertarian obsession with denying that society shapes people. This has always been a dumb argument. If social forces don’t really shape people, someone born in America is just as likely to speak Russian as English. That does not happen, because, duh, society shapes us so thoroughly that it even shapes the language we think in.
So it follows fairly straightforwardly that most rapists rape for a combination of reasons, but the two big ones are: 1) They are assholes and 2) they receive a lot of cultural messaging that makes them think there’s something admirable about forcing yourself on a woman. The way I’d say many rapists seem to think of it is that being willing to rape takes a certain amount of masculine bravado. We all, I suspect, know the rush of winning or dominating, though most of us channel that desire into less harmful forms, like playing games or harmless trash talk. But some men pick up on the idea that it’s edgy and daring and super-cool to take that will to dominate into real life, by starting fights or, you know, raping people. And you bet your ass they think other men admire them for it. This is not conjecture or some kind of liberal high-mindedness, of which I’m largely incapable anyway. This is just fact.
Think, for instance, of how the Steubenville rapists got found out: Because so many of the people at the party were celebrating how awesome and edgy and daring they were to treat the victim like she was some kind of toy. This is no surprise. Rapists love bragging about getting one over on bitches, though they are often constrained, of course, by legal considerations. So they’ll brag as much as they feel they can get away with without confessing to crimes, but rest assured, they think they are The Man for being able to get away with this. If you don’t believe me, listen to rape researcher David Lisak:
It might seem like it would be hard for a researcher to get these men to admit to something that fits the definition of rape. But Lisak says it’s not. “They are very forthcoming,” he says. “In fact, they are eager to talk about their experiences. They’re quite narcissistic as a group — the offenders — and they view this as an opportunity, essentially, to brag.”
So where do men who force themselves on women get this idea that their behavior is daring and edgy and cool? Did they pull it out of their asses, as libertarians would have you believe? Do people just roll a dice and determine their values that way? Or do they live in a culture where there are plenty of social messages suggesting that being a badass means dominating other people and treating women like disposable objects? Depends, I suppose, on whether or not you believe that a baby born in America is just as likely to grow up speaking Russian as speaking English.
Robby Soave at Reason was so upset by the idea that rapists—perhaps people generally—might have absorbed a cultural message or two that influences their choices that he wrote an incredibly dishonest headline about the entire event:
Needless to say, Valenti did not say jokes “cause” rape. She helpfully provided the context to the editors at Reason, even though their desperation to hitch the misogynist stereotype of the “crazy bitch” to feminists is such that they are stonewalling her:
Soave’s take on this shows the typical libertarian dummy logic:
Since the college already saw fit to rebut McElroy, I will only deal with Valenti. I find her view on rape not only misguided, but positively deleterious to the cause of lessening sexual assault. The idea that stopping someone from telling a joke is “a start” to preventing rape is utter nonsense. People jokingly say, “you’re killing me,” when they don’t get what they want; it doesn’t mean they anticipate being murdered. When I say that I was beaten up in an argument, I don’t mean that I suffered physical pain. Professing to have been “raped by a test” may be an off-color remark, but it has nothing to with actual sexual assault. Pretending otherwise is ludicrous.
First of all, he’s conflating her point about rape jokes and her entirely separate point about rape metaphors. (There’s that libertarian inability to hold two thoughts at once rearing its head again.) When she’s talking about rape jokes, we all know what she means: Jokes that push the idea that it’s cool and edgy to cross sexual boundaries or use force on unwilling women. A good example would be this “Spanish fly” joke Bill Cosby told to peals of approving laughter in the 60s. Or the “did she put up a fight?” line in the song “Summer Nights”. Or Daniel Tosh pandering to his dudebro audience by fantasizing about raping a heckler. I could keep going, but the only people who claim not to know that dudebros make bragging, amirite-style jokes about forcible sex are people who are lying.
The rape metaphor thing is also a bit of bad faith. People say that they feel “raped” because they want to sound edgy and blasé about sexual abuse. Otherwise, they’d use the more figuratively understood figures of speech, like “killing”. Soave knows this, for roughly the same reason he speaks English and not Russian.
But really the crux of his argument is the same assumption that McElroy’s making: That people aren’t influenced by culture, because for some fucking reason, that idea bothers libertarians.
These reactions had one thing in common: disdain for McElroy’s perspective that rape is the work of a small number of serial predators, rather than a cultural phenomenon.
Let’s think very carefully about the idea that if only a few people do something, that means there can’t be any cultural messaging suggesting that thing is cool or edgy. I thought of some examples:
- Only a small number of people are in rock bands. Therefore, there’s no cultural messaging that being a rock star is cool.
- The NFL is the work of only a small number of people, thus professional football is an obscure hobby.
- Only 8 percent of Americans use Twitter daily, therefore Twitter is not a social phenomenon.
Yeah, the logic doesn’t gel. But this should be common sense. No, most men aren’t rapists. It’s actually very hard for human beings to stifle our basic reluctance to commit violence against innocent people, so much so that even when violent behavior is glamorized, most people won’t engage in it. But for a certain number of men who are narcissistic assholes, hearing other men joke around about rape and otherwise compete with each other to demonstrate the most brotastic disdain for women, yes, that reads like cultural endorsement of rape. This isn’t some kind of speculation. As Lisak said, rapists he interviewed were proud of themselves and sure that other men would be interested in hearing how wild and daring they are when they force sex on women, especially if you didn’t call it “rape”. And yes, having to explain this is exhausting, because I am firmly convinced the people are lying when they claim that they have no knowledge of how many men think putting women in their place is both a way to feel powerful and to show off for other men. Dealing with liars is very tiring, y’all.