This Ruthless World

Adventures in absurdity

A Curious Presumption

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, "The Dutch Proverbs" (1559)One of the most mystifying things people say about rape is that being raped by a stranger is “worse” than date rape or any other kind of acquaintance rape. Richard Dawkins (whom I have long believed to be a passive-aggressive misogynist) is getting some well-deserved flogging as we speak for lecturing women on how trivializing “lesser rape” isn’t tantamount to endorsing it. There is a whole series of smarmy, condescending tweets, but what caught my eye in particular was this:

As I said, this is not the first time I’ve heard an anti-feminist present it as an unassailable fact that (save, perhaps, for a few extreme exceptions), stranger rape is worse than acquaintance rape. What I can’t understand is how Dawkins and those who think like him have arrived at such a conclusion. Is it because going on a date with someone implies that you are considering having sex with them at some point in the future, so we can infer consent? Or do they believe women should perceive stranger dick as inherently eekier than non-stranger dick, even in the absence of consent? Or is stranger rape worse because at least some women raped by strangers — unlike single women who date — have rightful owners, and those are the people with whom Dawkins’ sympathies really lie? Or is this a class/race thing? Or do they assume that stranger rapists are inherently violent and murder-y, while date rapists are loving and gentle? That stranger rape is a real crime, while date rape is a mere misunderstanding?

Given that Dawkins prides himself on knowing how to think, I assume he has what he believes to be a rational basis for this assertion. I’d like to know what that is. Help me out here, anti-feminists, because I’m confused. Mansplain it to me in a way that my intellectually feeble ladybrain can understand. Because as I see the issue now, rapes differ in “severity” only in terms of physical damage. That aside, a rape is fundamentally a crime of violence. To say that some kinds are better than others isn’t merely insensitive or misguided; it’s idiotic. It’s like saying that being punched in the face by your boyfriend is “better” than being punched in the face by a stranger (and incidentally, if one can break your nose, so can the other).

So go ahead, make your case. But before you do, consider the following:

Being raped by an acquaintance involves a betrayal of trust that being raped by a stranger does not. It throws your judgment — of people, not just situations — into dramatic doubt in a way that being assaulted by a stereotypical villain from behind the dumpster doesn’t. Being raped by a stranger may make you paranoid about dark alleys or deserted parking garages; being raped by one’s date will make you paranoid about men, even likeable ones, the ones that seem worthy of dating. Avoiding deserted places is hard; avoiding interaction with men is impossible. Being raped by someone you considered trustworthy will make it impossible to trust people for a long, long time; and for many victims, the damage is permanent. None of this is to trivialize stranger rape; but it seems to me that it’s easier to detach from a stereotypical stranger rapist, to avoid later seeing the nicest of men as potential attackers and to interpret the most innocent comment or request as something that has an ulterior motive behind it. Incidentally, the same is true of observers commenting on rape: people easily conceptualize a stereotypical stranger rapist as being separate from society, NOT LIKE THEM, but if the accused is someone they can generally identify with — a well-respected professional, for instance — they react, and the reaction is downright scary.

I’ve always felt that rape isn’t just a crime; it’s a process with many participants, with the criminal act itself being merely the first phase. The second phase is what comes after, when the survivor is revictimized all over again by an inquiry into what she has done to bring the rape on herself, and by being held up as an example of how not to live. Regardless of the circumstances of the rape, the victim will always find herself blamed to some extent. But victims of acquaintance rape get particularly savaged; and victims of date rape — whoa, mama, brace yourself, because the rape was only a warm-up. The real fucking is administered by your family, your so-called friends, and the officious public, all of which will work you over in a way the rapist couldn’t dream of.

Victims of stranger rape get at least some sympathy. Victims of date rape are derided as lying, conniving bitches; as hypersensitive cry-babies; as egotists who ruin a good man’s life over a “misunderstanding”. The fact that they were raped — even if proven beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law, which is a rare occurrence indeed — is always called into question. Even if people believe that you were raped, they are likely to pity your “nice” rapist more — for the loss of his career and good name, as if your own humanity doesn’t matter, as if the rape is something that happened to him, rather than something he perpetrated against you. They will crucify you for what you were wearing, for your lifestyle, for your sexual history, your make-up, your intellectual or professional ambition, for the fact that you had the temerity to date, for your failure to foresee the future “poor judgment”, implicit in going on a date with a man who ended up raping you. If you avoid becoming a dysfunctional, suicidal, substance-addled mess in the wake of your rape, if you go on being a productive member of society, if you still pursue your dreams and desires, your very resilience will be held up as proof that you weren’t actually raped, or that it wasn’t “that bad”. People will talk down to you, lecture you on the facts of life, and treat you like an idiot. They will cavalierly compare your body — the temple that houses your mind and soul, and a big part of who you are — to some mundane, insignificant, replaceable piece of property, such as a car, a necklace or a wallet; and they will dismiss you as irrational if you tell them that such comparisons are nonsensical and offensive. Bottom line, family, friends and society will all come down much, much harder on you if you are raped by an acquaintance, especially a date, than if you are raped by a stranger.

As I’ve mentioned, date rapists are rarely convicted (or prosecuted, even). If you get pregnant, and your rapist gets off, you have a choice: abort, and be called a slut murderer, while your rapist is pitied, or have the baby and face having your rapist sue you for shared custody. Again. And again. And again.

And if ever in your later life you are involved in a long-term relationship, there is a strong chance that the toxic atmosphere that surrounds the subject of acquaintance rape will erode it; that your significant other will always harbor some doubt in the back of his mind as to whether you were really raped or just used a rape accusation to cover up an infidelity.

Is being held at knifepoint for half an hour worse than being dragged through the mud for the rest of your life? I don’t know. But it seems to me, the comparison between stranger rape and date rape isn’t quite as clear-cut as Dawkins and those who “know how to think” seem to believe. At least in some respects — significant respects, I’d say — it’s seems like being raped by an acquaintance is way worse. And that’s without even exploring the lack of any rational basis for assuming that stranger rape is, as a rule, more physically damaging than acquaintance rape.

But hey, I’m open to discussion here. Go ahead and tell me why being raped by one’s date is less of a big deal. I’m all eyes.


Three unmistakable markers of a lousy thinker:

(1) Mischaracterizing values one doesn’t accept as “emotion”;
(2) Mischaracterizing one’s own values as “logic”; and
(3) Treating moral/ethical values as incompatible with reason.

It’s almost as if Richard Dawkins never took a break from self-admiration to follow his own advice about learning how to think. That whole Twitter stream would earn him a solid “D” in rhetoric.

UPDATE: In the comments, Leslie Welsh Robinson provides a link to Dawkin’s follow-up piece, “I Am An Even Bigger Fuckwad Than You Thought I Was”, in which he is wondering ruefully Why Bitchez Be Emotional. What irritates me more than anything in this whole affair isn’t Dawkins’ retrograde beliefs (as my great-grandmother used to say, you can’t put a gag of wisdom in every fool mouth), but how readily Dawkins’ detractors are willing to concede that he is being logical.

Truth is, he isn’t. In fact, over the past few days he has demonstrated with ample clarity that he doesn’t comprehend what logic is, has no grasp of the most elementary principles of reasoning and lacks consistency. This isn’t even about the objectionable content of his views, it’s about his utter, miserable failure to lay a rational foundation for those views.

Let’s start with the assertion that I focused on in my main entry, that stranger rape is worse than date rape. That is not an inference within the meaning of logic, nor is it an assumption upon which an argument can be built (to be that, it has to be something that everyone in the debate agrees on, something unassailable, like “the Earth orbits the Sun”), nor is it a scientific theory constructed on the basis of unbiased observation and testing. No, what this claim is, is a value judgment based on Dawkins’ personal, subjective understanding of the rape experience. In other words, based on Dawkins’ own expansive conception of “emotion”, the claim that stranger rape is worse than date rape is an emotional one.

This isn’t a problem limited to rape. Virtually any statement along the lines of “X is worse than Y” is a value judgment; that is because the very idea of “better” or “worse” addresses an individual’s subjective, personal experience, not some universal truth. Is death worse than a severe disability? Was Stalin really worse than Hitler? Are brussel sprouts more repugnant than duryan? I don’t know; it depends on numerous relevant criteria. And if you rely on just one criterion to make the ruling (death is worse because you don’t get to see how The Sons of Anarchy ends; Stalin is worse because he killed more people; brussel sprouts are worse because they don’t even make you high) you aren’t being logical, you are being arbitrary, which is pretty much the antithesis of logical.

Then comes the next prong, whether saying “X is worse than Y” constitutes an endorsement of Y. Again, I question the supposedly unassailable logic of Dawkins’ statement. DOES saying that constitute an endorsement of Y? I dont’ know. It may or may not, depending on the context. It may — again, depending on the context — constitute a trivialization of Y, while stopping short of endorsing it (which is pretty clearly what Dawkins is doing). What I suspect is happening is that people, including Dawkins, fallaciously identify logic with reductionism.

Finally, there is rank intellectual dishonesty here. Or idiocy. Or both. Logic and emotion aren’t opposites. Emotion is an integral part of virtually every human experience, and you can approach emotion logically. In composing those asinine tweets, Dawkins was actually attempting to apply logic to a fundamentally emotional issue. I mean, when he says that stranger rape is worse than date rape, he refers to psychological consequences — right? But then, once he is criticized, he turns around and slams the critics for supposedly bringing emotion into it, as in, how dare you talk about the relative degrees of psychological damage. At the very least, this is logically inconsistent. Consistency is one of those basic requirements of sound reasoning — you have to reconcile all the elements in your argument, including the elements that form your rebuttals. If you can’t, you are being illogical.

In sum, it’s about time people stopped pandering to Dawkins’ supposed reasoning abilities. His thinking is sloppy, inconsistent and so thoroughly lacking in rigor, it would have embarrassed a mere lawyer, to say nothing of an academic. Fact is, he’s an intellectual lightweight who’s built a following by spewing pugnacious talking points and ponderous fifty-cent words whose meaning he does not even begin to comprehend. It’s time to stop taking him seriously.


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3 thoughts on “A Curious Presumption

  1. well, it’s like, you can’t really be raped by your spouse, clearly, since a ring means consent… and if you’re on a date, well, you were probably at some point thinking about having sex with him so in a way you were being an accessory to your own rape… and uh, well strangers with knives are on SVU a lot. way scarrier stuff than like roofies or whatever, right? so right. yup.

  2. Pingback: When workers get paid less, they win! | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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