Saturday, September 19, 2015

Susan Brownmiller's Refreshing Views On Rape Prevention

Susan Brownmiller long ago wrote Against Our Will, a largely fact-free jeremiad that has since informed modern feminism's belief in rape as a political tool. That this is true only in distant lands populated principally by itinerant goat herders has not much changed the canon; if anything, it's gotten shriller and even more untethered from reality. Yet, despite her book's foundational status, Brownmiller seems to have views on rape that diverge wildly from modern feminist orthodoxy. Uncovered in a recent interview in New York magazine, they come as an utter shock to anyone aware of her earlier work. She recoils from developments in the theory she originated (emboldening in Brownmiller's responses are due to me):

I was wondering if you have been following the discussions of rape activism on college campuses.
Yes, very closely. In the 1970s we had an extraordinary movement against sexual assault in this country and changed the laws. They [the campus activists] don't seem to know that. They think they are the first people to discover rape, and the problem of consent, and they are not.

They have been tremendously influenced by the idea that "You can drink as much as you want because you are the equal of a guy," and it is not true. They don't accept the fact there are predators out there, and that all women have to take special precautions. They think they can drink as much as men, which is crazy because they can't drink as much as men. I find the position "Don't blame us, we're survivors" to be appalling.

Also, they [college women] are not the chief targets of rapists. Young women and all women in housing projects and ghettos are still in far greater danger than college girls.
Holy smoke, did you hear that? Men and women are different! Yikes! And the last, at least,  comports with empirical Bureau of Justice Statistics data showing young women off campus are much more likely to be raped than college students. And then, this:
And my feeling about young women trapped in sex situations that they don’t want is: "Didn’t you see the warning signs? Who do you expect to do your fighting for you?" It is a little late, after you are both undressed, to say "I don’t want this."
Interviewer Katie Van Syckle makes a weak attempt at a late save:
I guess the hope is that young men would respect [a naked woman in bed telling them "no"].
That would be nice. There is not much attention on them is there?
Predictably, Amanda Marcotte tars her with the epithet "former feminist hero". Break out the popcorn:
There's a real irony here, because our cultural allergy to focusing on men who actually rape also prevents us from having a productive conversation: one that should be had with both men and women—ideally starting when they are boys and girls—about why rapists rape. We would talk about how our culture valorizes male domination. How some men learn to feel big by putting women down. How both men and women often stand aside and let some men express toxic views about women without being challenged.
 This is, of course, the purest bullshit, because she's been one of the principle drivers pushing for an expansion of rape away from coercive sex. That is to say, while she presumably cares about men who actually rape, she's also eager to inflate the charge to include regetted and even imaginary sexual encounters, despite her own denials. Whether it's the Rolling Stone hoax set at the University of Virginia or Emma Sulkowicz's sordid lies ("rape apologists", LOL), she's only ever prepared to believe the "victim", even if the accuser has but a fleeting grasp of reality. To force everyone else to adopt the correct, guilt-stricken pose, she plans on "having a productive conversation", which we assume starts young and is indistinguishable from harangue.

She goes on to discuss the Steubenville rape case, which is rather atypical for her because it has actual perpetrators, clear evidence (along with video confessions), and a real victim.
If you want to see the cause, you have to look at the culture around the assault: the guys who made a video laughing about it, the spreading of the images, the unwillingness of anyone to interfere, the congratulations for domineering, abusive behavior. That is why assault happens, not because some girls drink too much. We need to help young people, both men and women, spot predatory behavior for what it is, and to push against it instead of laughing it off.

But having that conversation requires talking with and about men. As the Brownmiller interview shows, even for feminists, policing women and talking about their choices is just a lot easier to do. It's comfortable, like an old nightgown (one that hopefully doesn't show off too much thigh!). We've tried the woman-policing route for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years now. It's time to switch it up and start focusing on male choices instead.
 A number points worth mentioning here:
  1. The sort of "culture" she describes derives from a number of poor choices by men. This is an ancient problem, and one that appears to have no ready solution, despite it being of obvious import. No OECD country has a per-capita rape rate of zero, though they vary quite a bit. This suggests the "just teach men not to rape" silver bullet beloved of modern feminists has been tried everywhere and found wanting. While she doesn't come out and say it, that's the only solution she appears to know.
  2. I suppose we should be grateful she wants to talk to men at all.
  3. The large majority of men do not, in fact rape. So her "don't rape" message there will do no good. In fact, it is liable to result in the opposite: contempt. This will likely have negative consequences in the jury box.
  4. For the minority that does commit rape due to some combination of hormones, alcohol, drugs, poor impulse control, and misplaced or nonexistent empathy, this message will fall on deaf ears.
Because she does not understand male behavior and its underlying driving factors, she cannot reasonably prescribe preventative courses of action. (Indeed, it's unclear that there is much that can be done, outside of women taking defensive measures.) It has nothing to do with idiotic "men are taught to" nonsense, and everything to do with male nature. This is, of course, no excuse for rape, but modern feminists seem utterly incapable of distinguishing advice to minimize exposure to potential rapists from victim-blaming. That Marcotte savages the iconic Brownmiller for suggesting otherwise signals just how unhinged from reality she and her fellow third-wave sisters have become.


  1. My "fact-free jeremiad"? Why don't you read Against Our Will?

  2. And, hullo, Ms. Brownmiller! My major complaint in characterizing your book with that adjective is that you spend no time actually researching real-life rapists (or finding others who have done so), per the Wendy McElroy essay.