5 problems with James Taranto’s screed on sexual assault

dont-rape

Some arguments are so extreme and transparently stupid that it’s not even worth engaging with them other than to take satisfaction from our opponents’ making fools of themselves. But other times these arguments tend to be less acceptable ways of stating beliefs that many people hold and put forward in more subtle ways.

I wish James Taranto’s rage-inducing piece on the Wall Street Journal’s website yesterday entitled “Drunkenness and Double Standards” (click if you dare) were the former, but in the midst of the Woody Allen debate, in the age of Steubenville, I’m afraid it’s not. While some of what Taranto says is particularly egregious, many of the sentiments run through the current discussion about preventing sexual assault.

I could probably have titled this piece 457 problems with this piece, for the sake of relative brevity:

1. Putting sexual assault in scare quotes. You know someone is taking an issue seriously when terming it “what is called the problem of ‘sexual assault.'” It drips with dismissiveness. While I’m tempted to just dismiss him in turn, some thoughts on his “arguments.”

2. Downplaying the trauma of sexual assault. It’s not a big surprise that someone with Taranto’s agenda would start his piece with a false rape accusation story. But he then goes on to “the other end of the spectrum” to describe a vicious assault that happened at UMass Amherst. He uses that as a setup to say that the “unambiguous brutality” of that attack is “atypical.” He thus downplays the trauma that can occur from acquaintance rape, which is just boys getting drunk and doing “something stupid,” rather than a brutal assault.

3Invoking antiquated notions of chivalry. Taranto quotes Heather McDonald lamenting the loss of a “chivalric ideal,” which leads to men ignoring the “special duty to the fairer sex” and acting “boorishly” while women supposedly round up doubt and anguish to rape. Never mind the idea of refraining from sexual assault out of respect for women and human beings and the fact that it is abhorrent and wrong. Before the condescending claptrap causes you to vomit, Taranto is quick to point out that feminists don’t deserve that treatment because they act like sluts while still wanting to be seen as “vulnerable.”  Apparently the idea of women having sexual agency while expecting not to be raped produces so much cognitive dissonance for Taranto that he deems it “Orwellian.”

4. Ignoring gender and power dynamics. Throughout the piece, Taranto acts as though men and women are on equal footing in a situation that could lead to sexual assault. He emphasizes the danger men face of having their lives “disrupted” by charges brought against them by women with impaired judgment from excessive drinking, as though this is a much more rampant problem than women being assaulted.  But his complete lack of understanding really shows through in his ridiculous drunk-driving analogy:

Which points to a limitation of the drunk-driving analogy. If two drunk drivers are in a collision, one doesn’t determine fault on the basis of demographic details such as each driver’s sex. But when two drunken college students “collide,” the male one is almost always presumed to be at fault. His diminished capacity owing to alcohol is not a mitigating factor, but her diminished capacity is an aggravating factor for him.

Yes, sexual assault is just two drunken college students colliding, and we should treat them just like two drunk drivers with equal blame. He doesn’t point out that women aren’t blamed for getting hit by drunk drivers, or that women aren’t disproportionately the victims of drunk driving accidents, with a women being hit every 2 minutes.  Which leads to the key point..

5. Forgetting that rape doesn’t happen without a rapist involved. There are plenty of reasons to argue that both men and women should refrain from excessive drinking. But if I ever chose to drink that much, there are plenty of men I’d be comfortable doing so in front of because they are not rapists. No matter how much you drink, you’re not going to be assaulted without the other person actively deciding to commit sexual assault.

Taranto is an easy target for his far-out views. But there’s a thread that runs through things I and many of you I’m sure have heard from people you know, including ostensibly progressive men. Steph Guthrie gets to a key point for people to keep in mind: “When you victim-blame, be aware that in all likelihood, at least one woman you know and love silently decides she cannot trust you.”

39 comments

  1. I don’t know who this Taranto guy is but he appears to be trying to explore a male/female “double-standard” in rape. There’s nothing wrong with that as an intellectual exercise. And there must be a place for this type of discourse in society. But it’s a very delicate/sensitive topic and Taranto completely fails validate the experience of female victims in the first instance. If Taranto wants to explore the “double-standard” in rape, he must acknowledge upfront that (1) females are raped by men far more than men are raped by women and (2) this discussion applies to a small percentage of real-world scenarios. Instead, Taranto ignores reality and sets up a bunch of outlier scenarios to make his point. It’s infuriating. And it’s impossible to take him seriously because he clearly has an agenda. Another indicator of BS — Taranto claims to be offering a “balanced look at college sex offenses.” You know, “balanced” a la Fox News.

    1. ” (1) females are raped by men far more than men are raped by women and (2) this discussion applies to a small percentage of real-world scenarios. ”

      You are wrong on both counts. The CDC NISVS 2010 reports that 79% of those who forced men to penetrate were female and males forced to penetrate for 2010 totaled 2.3 million victims as compared to 2.3 million women who were raped. Men are as likely to be serious sexual assault victims by CDC’s account with nearly 80% o their perpetrators being female. If you read the studies you’d know this.

      When are we going to start validating the male experience instead of covering it up to make women happy?

      1. The executive summary at pages 1 to 2 states that approximately 1 in 5 women have been raped and 1 in 21 men have been forced to penetrate.

  2. It is disturbing to see how desperately feminists are defending their right to silence 50% of all rape victims, an to excuse 50% of all rape perpetrators, just to retain control of what they perceive as a lucrative racket of being unofficial spokespeople for all rape. The awful reality is that rape has changed, women are now as likely to be rapists as men are, and men are as likely to be victims as women are:

    1. Media Matters has a good take on Taranto’s argument and the statistics as well:

      “If Taranto is concerned about the treatment of men in such cases, he could have written about male sexual assault victims, who are a smaller but nevertheless important portion of victims. But when men are sexually assaulted the perpetrator is usually also male; in fact, 98 percent of all perpetrators are male. The ‘double standard’ Taranto is worried about, in which men are more often the accused, isn’t a double standard at all — it’s just reality.”

      http://mediamatters.org/blog/2014/02/10/wsj-editor-intoxicated-sexual-assault-victims-a/198007

      1. The CDC NISVS 2010 reports that 79% of those who ‘force men to penetrate’ (rape of man by way his penis) were FEMALE! I’m sorry journalist and activists are ignorant of these stats but it might help if feminists stopped suppressing this information. Even the CDC counts 6% of those who classically rape men (by way of penetrating orifice) as female not 2%. Stop spreading lies to protect female rapists.

    1. The source is the NIPSV report from the CDC.

      http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/NISVS_Report2010-a.pdf

      I strongly recommend you read this first.

      http://poisonedwell.wordpress.com/2013/10/19/40-of-rapists-are-women/

      As the official report uses a very sexist “definition” of rape. If you use a definition like “forced to have sex” as your definition of rape and can do some simple math 50% of rape victims in 2009 where male and 40% of rapists where female.

      1. My claims are different than the media matters piece.

        That hit job basically labels women lesser than men and asserts they’ve got agency equivalent to furniture. Because it’s the feminist propaganda doesn’t make it true.

        Reports like the one I linked intentionally use very sexist definitions of rape to perpetuate your distorted perception as to what rape is, who rapes and who are victims.

        My claims do match reality, your perception of reality does not match reality

      2. I don’t disagree that there has long been a definitional problem with rape as a “man on woman” crime. And I don’t disagree that “rape is rape” and “rape is wrong,” whether male on female or female on male. That’s a valid point. Why not leave it at that?

        To distort statistics to suggest that females rape males with a frequency even approaches the frequency that males rape females (or males rape males)…well…that is disingenuous and suggests that you have some other agenda.

        If you have personally suffered due to societal gender bias, then I am truly sorry as that is truly unfair. But there’s no need to overcompensate.

      3. Well if you agree my first point is valid, that “Rape is Rape” and there is a definitional problem defining rape as only “man on woman” crime, then I’m not distorting the statistics. The statistics are starting distorted because “Rape isn’t rape when the rapist is a woman” and “Rape is only wrong when the rapist is a man” What I’m doing is undistorting the statistics, and finding that men and women really are equals.

        Baseless accusations of “some other agenda” are just inappropriate for someone that has shown the intelligence and intellectual honesty you have. Now if you can show an actual flaw I’m open to criticism. Did I do the math wrong? If there a big problem with my definition (One problem that I know of is that by including penetration as part of the definition of rape I am excluding lesbian rapists, but this lowers the number of female rapists)

    2. Yes, Arbourist, I seem to have attracted a lot of them!

      Genderneutrallanguage- you have quite an interesting definition of agency. Not being able to stop themselves from being raped doesn’t mean women are less than furniture and have no agency.

  3. If both a man and a woman are drunk enough that neither is capable of consent and neither manifests anything other than the appearance of consent (and neither has engineered the situation to remove the other’s ability to consent), one of two things is true: (1) neither party has committed a rape; or (2) each party has committed a rape. To conclude otherwise conflicts with your third point, because each party has sexual autonomy and neither has a special duty to the other.

    I am certainly not suggesting that date rape is nonexistent or even uncommon–unfortunately, it’s relatively common. I am not arguing that a man who gets a woman drunk with the intention of removing her ability to consent is not a rapist, regardless of how drunk he himself becomes in the process–he is a rapist if he succeeds, and an attempted rapist if he does not. But what Tarantos is arguing in part–poorly, awkwardly, and with digressions into points that I do not at all agree with–is that a presumption exists that, in a situation in which a man and a woman have sex and are both drunk, the man has raped the woman. And that exists in part because the man’s diminished capacity is dismissed.

  4. Consent is a critical part of any sexual interaction, no matter the genders of the people involved (see the book Yes Means Yes for a terrific take on this issue).

    Nobody should be raped, male or female. However, this is a gendered problem in our country. 1 in 6 women have faced rape or attempted rape vs. 1 in 33 men. And our culture does not have a problem of blaming men if they are the victims of sexual assault, whereas shaming women and blaming them for assaults is incredibly common. And it’s very clear in this piece that Taranto wants victims to take the blame.

    1. It’s so sickening to see people like you posting these wildly misleading stats on male victimization just so you can make women look like greater victims. Even in the military men make up half of the sexual assault victims. You don’t like men so you ignore their sexual assaults. Feminists academics don’t like men so they relabel their ‘forced sex’ victimization something other than rape in order to fuel misleading stats for sexist to quote. This needs to stop. You people seem to have no concept of what it is to fight for equality or human rights.

      1. so you can make women look are like the greater victims.

        FIFY.

        Even in the military men make up half of the sexual assault victims.

        And the overwhelming population in the military is what of what sex? Say it with me now, “they are of the male sex”. Thus, not representative of the general population.

        You don’t like men so you ignore their sexual assaults.

        As evinced by what? Anything other than your hurt feelings and persecuted majority complex?

        You people seem to have no concept of what it is to fight for equality or human rights.

        Us ‘people’ are fighting of the liberation of women from the norms enforced by a patriarchal society. The equality bar is a little on the low side considering the present sad state of affairs.

  5. Men and women are equally likely to perpetuate rape. However, feminist bigots have redefined rape so that it is only rape when the rapist is a male. When the rapist is a female, it is called something else. Armed with this sexist definition, the same feminists proclaim that 98% of rapists are male. The reality, as I have said before, is very different, for those who have the courage to look at it:

    1. Uh, no. The historical, common law definition of rape was forcible vaginal penetration by a man who was not the victim’s husband. Whatever redefinition rape has undergone, it has certainly not been transformed from a crime that could be committed by anyone into a crime that could only be committed by a man.

  6. James Taranto did not write a “Screed”. He was trying to make a point about two drunks having sex, and why only the male is held accountable for his actions. So many commentor say he’s “blaming the victim”, but they are missing the point. In his scenario, no one is raping anyone. It only becomes “rape” when viewed as the female being intoxicated and, as such, unable to consent. This, even though she was conscious and completely Into the sex at the time. In his research, this type of “rape” accounted for over 70 percent of the sexual assault cases. Begging the politically incorrect question, why is it only men are held accountable for their actions?

  7. @Sam

    It only becomes “rape” when viewed as the female being intoxicated and, as such, unable to consent.

    So the positive lesson you could learn from this is that intoxicated people cannot give consent. So you don’t have sex with them, if you happen to be a decent human being.

    Or you can attempt to rationalize how men should be able to have the sexy time whenever they want making you not such a nice human being.

    In his research, this type of “rape” accounted for over 70 percent of the sexual assault cases.

    Oh, question answered.

    why is it only men are held accountable for their actions?

    Oh muffin, the terrible unfairness of it all – having to seek consent before pronging women. The terrible hardships that men must bear, regarding women as fully human beings with autonomy and stuff.

    This unbearable condition is a direct result of male rapetastic actions thoughout most of history and if moving away from the rape normative status quo is a bit distressing for you it seems like a small price to pay for making women safe in a civilized society.

    1. Your sarcasm duly noted, you missed the point again, or perhaps you choose not to understand. Perhaps this scenario: Woman and man are both drinking and intoxicated. Neither one is incapacitated or passed out, not is either one of them completely sober, and as such, able to make a totally rational decision. They proceed to have sex, both actively participating. In your viewpoint, the man is guilty of rape, not having obtained her “consent”, she is excused by her drinking, he is not.
      You are basically saying that when a woman drinks, she has no responsibility for her own actions. This is the double standard Taranto is speaking of.

      1. @Sam

        Perhaps this scenario:

        Don’t you think that its kinda gross that you’re looking for scenarios where its okay to rape women?

        They proceed to have sex, both actively participating.

        Okay, so now as described there is a situation where consent is getting fuzzy – it would be beholden to the dude in question to stop the proceedings if he is decent human being despite all the sexy-sex messaging going on. Or does a wiggly-peen trump the vaunted male intellect and make him prone to irrational, emotional decisions and outbursts?

        You are basically saying that when a woman drinks, she has no responsibility for her own actions.

        And you’d be right if we had an equal playing field between men and women, but we don’t. Thus, the ‘double standard’ in question is ignoring the social dynamics and realities of the situation.

        she has no responsibility for her own actions.

        So which actions, specifically, make it okay for woman to be raped?

        Oh, she got drunk therefore rape is okay?
        Oh, she wore a short skirt therefore rape is okay?
        Oh, she was flirtatious therefore rape is okay?

        No. Women are not responsible for being raped, it is fully the fault of the rapist.

        The notion that consent isrequiredhighlights the onus on men that their behaviour should respect the autonomy of women.

        Is it particularly “fair”? How does fair even enter into the equation if one values and respects the notion of female autonomy?

        If consent isn’t there, don’t have sex.
        If you’re not sure about her consent, don’t have sex.

        Is there anything particularly mysterious about this?

      2. We will never have equality if women are never held accountable for their own actions. But for you, it’s the “dudes” responsibility to remain sober and resist her sexual advances, other wise if HE give in, it’s rape.
        This is typical feminist hypocracy

  8. @Sam

    We will never have equality if women are never held accountable for their own actions.

    Which actions on a woman’s behalf make it okay to rape her?

    responsibility to remain sober and resist her sexual advances, other wise if HE give in, it’s rape.

    Wow.

    The notion of clear consent must be so very difficult for you to understand. It is his responsibility to make sure the person he is propositioning for ‘x’ is willing to be a party to it.

    Not a problem if you happen to be a decent human being.

    This is typical feminist hypocracy

    Not really.

    What is typical is the outpouring of male angst and rage that crops up when it is shown how unacceptable their rapey behaviour is and are prompted to change it for the better.

    1. @ The arbourist
      You keep assuming the woman is a victim. How do you know that SHE wasn’t propositioning him? Your insistence that women have no moral responsibility for their OWN actions, basically infantilizes women. And yes, it IS typical feminist hypocrazy.

      1. How do you know that SHE wasn’t propositioning him?

        Oh, so if she asks, then it is okay to rape her? I’m glad we are finally being specific. That’s a pretty repugnant standard for decent human beings to hold.

        Your insistence that women have no moral responsibility for their OWN actions,

        Women do not rape themselves. You place responsibility on the rapist, not the victim.

        And yes, it IS typical feminist hypocrazy.

        You keep telling yourself whatever you need to hear to keep your important opinions free from reality and the intrusion of women who would dare impose limits on your ‘right’ to prong whomever you wish.

      2. According to you, if a woman has consensual sex after having a drink, it’s rape. If that’s the case, then women should not be allowed to drink. i.e. put them in the same category as children.

  9. 2 scenarios for you, one hypothetical and one real:

    First, imagine a woman is hopeless in love with a man. She seduces him by getting him drunk. She has a few drinks too and she pushes him to have sex. The next morning she is giddy, over-the-moon-happy because she’s snagged the man of her dreams. He wakes up and says “oh my god, what have I done? I have a girlfriend!” and he swiftly leaves.

    The woman is heartbroken and vows revenge. She claims rape to get back at him. Technically she did get raped because she was drunk. Even though she’s the one who got him drunk first and pushed things sexually, based on the rules, she cannot have consented. This is “two drunk drivers colliding.” Should he go to prison?

    The second scenario is real. When I was 6 years old, I was sexually molested by a teenage girl who was charged with taking care of me. She was drunk when she did it. This case is even worse than the hypothetical because she was drunk and I was sober. Even though I was scared and she threatened me and told me to never tell anyone, since she was drunk there’s no way she could have consented. Am I a rapist? Should I be in prison?

    My point is that simply being drunk doesn’t automatically make a sexual act into rape. There should be other factors present. A husband and wife can both be drunk and have loving, caring intercourse. According to the technical definition, however, this is rape. What makes it not rape is that she doesn’t report it. Automatically defining that or any sex act as “rape” based purely on level inebriation is problematic. If you’re intellectually honest, that’s what Taranto’s saying. Respond to the argument that’s presented, not the one that’s burning in your heart.

    1. AJ, “If you’re intellectually honest, that’s what Taranto’s saying. Respond to the argument that’s presented, not the one that’s burning in your heart.”
      Well said! But I doubt someone, like the Arbourist, will ever admit it. For her, women are forever victims.

      1. @Sam

        Do try reading for comprehension.

        Rebecca Griffin said:

        But that’s the whole point. He’s interpreting sexual assault as something other than what it is, and putting motives on people.

        For her, women are forever victims.

        You mean regarding women as full human beings with bodily autonomy and stuff? That is quite the jump in reasoning to “forever victim-hood”.

        Such a strong pushback when men are required to be responsible for their actions.

    2. There isn’t a rampant problem with women entrapping men by getting drunk and sleeping with them. There is a rampant problem of sexual assault. Focusing on hypothetical scenarios rather than actual problems isn’t an argument.

      A lot of commenters say we’re not talking about Taranto’s actual argument, that what he’s talking about isn’t sexual assault. But that’s the whole point. He’s interpreting sexual assault as something other than what it is, and putting motives on people.

      It’s not taking agency away from women to say they should be victimized. In fact, we want them to have more agency by making sure they aren’t subjected to this and can seek justice when they are.

      1. @Rebecca Griffin

        There isn’t a rampant problem with women entrapping men by getting drunk and sleeping with them. There is a rampant problem of sexual assault.

        This. Forever.

        Challenging the male privileged status quo always results in dudes getting up in arms about not being able to prongtastically rape to their hearts content.

        Thank you for posting this article and the strong push back against the normative rape culture we live in.

    3. @AJ Sena

      She has a few drinks too and she pushes him to have sex.

      Did she get his consent? Without consent it is sexual assault.

      simply being drunk doesn’t automatically make a sexual act into rape.

      Agreed. When consent is not given, or not able to be given, then it is rape.

      Automatically defining that or any sex act as “rape” based purely on level inebriation is problematic.

      It certainly is “problematic” if you feel impinged upon about getting a woman’s consent before having relations with her. Whoa, treating women as if they owned their bodies and had all the rights we give full human beings.

      Respond to the argument that’s presented, not the one that’s burning in your heart.

      His argument, as noted in the OP, is shite. Why it is shite, is precisely for the reasons listed in the OP, and the ones I’ve mentioned. (drunk driving /= sexual assault etc.)

      So why are you arguing for circumstances that make it okay to rape someone? Is is really that hard to make sure that you have a person’s consent before continuing, and if unable to get that consent, waiting until it can be properly granted? This is not an onerous burden, but the most basic stance most decent human beings adopt.

      1. @The Arbourist

        You said: Did she get his consent? Without consent it is sexual assault.

        What about the converse? If she did get consent (from him), it’s not sexual assault. Now switch the genders. If HE gets consent from HER, it’s not sexual assault.

        The rules as they are written, and many times applied, are that even if he gets consent from her, it’s still sexual assault.

        You said: It certainly is “problematic” if you feel impinged upon about getting a woman’s consent before having relations with her. Whoa, treating women as if they owned their bodies and had all the rights we give full human beings.

        Okay Arbourist, I’m not criticizing you as a person. I’m sure you’re very nice. But did you even read what I wrote? The level of reading comprehension evidenced in your reply is appalling.

        You said: So why are you arguing for circumstances that make it okay to rape someone?

        Remember when I asked to please respond to the argument that’s presented and not that one that’s burning in your heart?

        I’m arguing for consent to mean consent. Non-consensual sexual assault should always be punished. I’m arguing for the side of justice. Punish the guilty, protect the innocent. A woman who is assaulted is innocent, and her attacker is guilty. A woman who consents to sex and then changes her mind due to regret is not innocent and she’s attacking the innocent man.

        I have no personal stake in this. I don’t believe in premarital sex, at least not any longer, so God willing it’ll never affect me. Even when I did engage in this behavior, I could see the capricious women prone to bad decisions, self loathing with no personal accountability coming from a mile away and I could completely avoiding them. Many other guys lack the same perception or they’re so taken in by physical beauty that they throw caution to the wind.

        You’re fooling yourself if you don’t think they’re bad women with bad intentions out there. It’s the diversity of nature – there are bad men and there are bad women.

        I think after this comment, I’m done here. I wish you all the best but this is exhausting and demoralizing. It’s demoralizing to strive to be precise with one’s words only to have strawmen thrown back at you.

        Do you understand the concept of being a truthseeker versus an advocate? I think everyone would benefit, not just humanity but ourselves (I include myself), if we strive to be truthseekers, to discuss, argue, and uncover truth rather than having an agenda that defines us and that we cling to with ego-driven determination.

        I do wish everyone the best.

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