March 21, 2014
The principal point of contention, it seemed, was that the club is set to host a men’s issues talk next week that will feature Janice Fiamengo, a University of Ottawa English professor. Prof. Fiamengo has contested the existence of “rape culture” at Canadian university campuses.
Here’s a quote from the story: “In 2013, Fiamengo wrote in FrontPage Magazine that the campaign is ‘unsettling for its insistence that no matter what a woman does — no matter how careless and irresponsible — she is always innocent.’”
The quote startled me. I had read Prof. Fiamengo’s original article when it was published but when I saw the quote could not recall what it said. Was Prof. Fiamengo saying that women who drink themselves into oblivion are fair game to be raped? That quote, hanging by itself, seemed to say that. If so, any such suggestion is an affront to every civilized notion of decency. I sought out the quote in its original source, and was fully prepared to take issue with it in this blog in the strongest possible terms.
I found the original source, and the news story is misleading. What the news story left out, among other things, was this sentence immediately following the sentence it quoted: “While every reasonable person would agree that an unconscious woman cannot consent to sex, the various drunken scenarios raise complex issues of accountability.”
Let’s put the whole thing in context. Prof. Fiamengo was taking issue with the “Don’t Be That Guy” poster campaign. Among other things, she wrote:
Despite the almost jocular wording in some of the posters, the insulting message is clear: young white men are so morally obtuse about sex and so prone to commit assault as to require a public finger wagging and calling-out: Don’t be that guy! Don’t be the guy who violates an unconscious or unwilling victim. The average white man is presumed to need elementary instruction in how to treat a woman.
As a sexual assault prevention strategy, the posters’ efficacy is dubious—would a hardened rapist reform after seeing them? It seems unlikely—but they are undoubtedly effective in libeling all men as potential abusers despite the fact that the vast majority of men (94-95% according to feminist statistics) bear no blame for sexual assault.
The poster campaign is unsettling for its insistence that no matter what a woman does—no matter how careless and irresponsible—she is always innocent. While every reasonable person would agree that an unconscious woman cannot consent to sex, the various drunken scenarios raise complex issues of accountability. One is not supposed to ask what a girl is doing getting herself so drunk that she needs assistance home (in fact, of course, part of the posters’ message is that such questioning is itself quasi-criminal—that encouraging women to take responsibility for their safety is misogynistic).
The “anti-rape culture” of these posters is about prohibiting all such questions. One is not supposed to ask how, if a girl is so drunk that she needs help getting home, she will not be too drunk to remember that she did not consent. One is not supposed to ask how her drunken memories of what happened to her will be more reliable than the defendant’s report of what happened. Her drinking doesn’t mean anything, according to these posters, other than greater-than-usual vulnerability and greater-than-usual exemption. And what of the young man who is probably also drinking too much: does he not receive any exemption from responsibility? Apparently not. Although the posters squarely target the “guy” in question—whose guilt is the whole point—the creators of the posters aren’t interested in his feelings and responses, and certainly not in his potential difficulty in ascertaining consent.
Prof. Fiamengo ends her piece with the following:
Can you imagine “Don’t be that Muslim” in a campaign about Islamic jihad? Or “Don’t be that Aboriginal Mother” in a campaign about fetal alcohol syndrome? Or a poster campaign about black rapists? Critics would charge that an entire group of people was being unfairly targeted for the actions of a few—and in a manner more likely to induce public humiliation than behavioral change. The same is true of the image of white men promoted in “Don’t Be That Guy,” and yet men are not even allowed to say so without incurring further outrageous accusations.
It’s time for frank discussion and an end to the knee-jerk stigmatization of male sexuality.
Prof. Fiamengo’s views on the non-existence of rape culture seem to be consistent with the views of Dr. David Lisak and RAINN and many, many others. Rape is the product of a criminal mind, not a guy acting out traditional notions of masculinity. Rapists are the problem, not “men.” Masculinity needs no reconstruction, and to suggest that ours is a culture that tolerates, legitimizes, or engenders rape turns reality on its head. Ours is far more an anti-rape culture than a rape culture, and we have such an aversion to sexual violence that the typical masculine instinct is to punish — and punish without mercy — first, on the basis of nothing more than an accusation, and ask questions about guilt or innocence later. (We happen to be experts on that subject at this blog.) John Leo recently wrote this about “rape culture”: “Stupid ideas spread when people who know better refuse to confront them.”
The motion to de-ratify the club failed, as was proper. As if to prove the point that rape culture warriors are extremists whose views are not merely erroneous but irrational, the co-organizer of the group that wants to oust the men’s club, Ashley Burnie, talked as if she were a character in an Onion lampoon of feminism. She accused the assembly of acting in accordance with “systemic oppression.” And here’s a quote: “It’s built into the institution itself, so it’s not surprising,” she said. “It’s not outside of that oppression.”
From the “rape culture” silliness, to the conniptions over the sleepwalking man statue and snow penises, to accusing people of “rape apology” when they want to keep an open mind in rape cases, to the college administrator who wants to expel on the basis of a sex accusation — is is any wonder that so few people, including so few women, identify as feminist? The more these loony ideas are held up to the light, the quicker they unravel. Where are the rational voices in that movement? Or do we ask too much?