At the risk of being just another person who’s adding a few droplets to the so-called “tsunami of hate” directed at Richard Dawkins for his rape-tweet two days ago … I couldn’t resist. Dawkins is a respected scientist, and while he’s had his run-ins with feminists in the past, he’s basically a smart person, right? In this case, he was wrong, stubborn, needlessly defensive (although I understand how one might get that way when the ire of Twitter is focused on them) and surprisingly illogical.
Here’s what happened. On July 29, Dawkins tweeted the following:
Then, Twitter got really angry with him, and he wrote a response/explanation, which can be found here. I wasn’t so upset by his initial tweets as I was frustrated by the non-explanation that followed. And so, here I am, writing about it, much like I did about the Emily Yoffe incident of a few months ago.
Let’s start with the tweets. I get the point about logic that he was trying to make. Nobody actually misunderstands the “x is bad, y is worse, that is not an endorsement of x” concept. It is an obvious and easy logical concept to comprehend and we all get it.
What’s unfortunate is the example Dawkins chose. Not because rape is a taboo subject that should never be touched, but because the X and Y of his rape example are totally subjective statements. They’re not facts, or even the next best thing to facts – non-factual opinions that we can all agree on, like “Gigli is bad, but Showgirls is worse”. Just kidding, Showgirls is actually brilliant (even though it’s pretty rape-y). See how tough this is?!
My point is this: Dawkins chose a bad example to prove his point about logic, and then refused to back down.
If your goal is to enlighten the layman on Twitter about logic, use an example that is clear and will not be misunderstood or derail the conversation into something totally unrelated to your original point, such as the relative badness of rape. If the example you chose for your “x is bad, y is worse” statement could just as easily be flipped to “y is bad, x is worse”, then you’ve chosen poorly.
It’s not a poor example because it’s logically impossible for it to work both ways (which do you think is worse, really, being raped by a stranger or a trusted friend? Ok, but what if the stranger had a knife? Wait, what are we talking about? Oh yeah … logic). Nor is it poor because people are simply too dumb and emotional to understand the point. It’s poor because it took the conversation in a different direction than Dawkins intended, and he (for all his later insistence that he chose the example of rape intentionally), was not adequately prepared to respond.
Dawkins could have chosen a fact as his example. Instead, he chose a contentious opinion that was offensive to many. Everyone forgot it was supposed to be about logic. Then it turned out to maybe not be about logic after all. More on that in a moment.
People weren’t angry with Dawkins because he used rape as an example, but because by saying “one type of rape is worse than another” he was, intentionally or not, implying that the suffering of some victims is not as big a deal as the suffering of other victims. In his subsequent longer response article, Dawkins claims that he “didn’t care whether we chose to say date rape was worse than dark alley stranger rape, or vice versa” and that he “deliberately wanted to challenge the taboo against rational discussion of sensitive issues”.
Aha! Okay, so it was not just about logic. He chose a contentious opinion on purpose, in order to challenge taboos. I’m all for that! But if that’s the case, then what was his hoped-for outcome? Did he want to invite intelligent discussion on this subject – something about the way our society actually views rape, perhaps? Or was he just trying to say something taboo-bustingly controversial (which, frankly, is a bit like kids yelling swear-words because they know they’re not supposed to)?
If the whole point was to use rape as his example in order to make a larger point about a “sensitive issue”, then what was that larger point? That we should be allowed to say whatever we want without everyone getting sniffy about it on the internet? I was hoping for a smarter point from someone like Dawkins, but it does not come across clearly in his article.
My even bigger problem is with the leap Dawkins takes next:
“Rape is rape is rape.” You cannot discuss whether one kind of rape (say by a ‘friend’) is worse than another kind of rape (say by a stranger). Rape is rape and you are not allowed even to contemplate the question of whether some rape is bad but other rape is worse … There is no allowable distinction between one kind of rape and another. If that were really right, judges shouldn’t be allowed to impose harsher sentences for some rapes than for others.
For a man who started this whole storm because he was making a simple point about logic, this statement seems really illogical. Sure, you should be “allowed to contemplate” what kind of rape is worse. Personally, I think that kind of contemplation is a mug’s game, and serves no purpose – either in un-tabooing the topic or in somehow improving the discourse around it – but that’s beside the point. What I really don’t understand is why the subjective opinion that “all rapes are equally bad” should mean that courts can’t take individual circumstances into account while meting out totally different sentences for different rapists? For the record, courts don’t distinguish between assaults by a “friend” or “stranger” but since every assault is different, countless questions go into piecing together what happened and delivering a just punishment.
None of these questions affect my emotion-based opinion that all rapes are “equally bad”. “Equally bad” does not mean “equally punishable by the law” and I’m not sure how or why Dawkins justifies that leap – especially when he himself leaves the definition of “bad” vague (I assume, intentionally). There are lots of different kinds of “bad” – moral, emotional, and so on. They coexist without compromising our legal system’s ability to function.
Dawkins concludes his rebuttal to the “tsunami of hate” by saying this:
Nothing should be off limits to discussion. No, let me amend that. If you think some things should be off limits, let’s sit down together and discuss that proposition itself. Let’s not just insult each other and cut off all discussion because we rationalists have somehow wandered into a land where emotion is king.
I agree. But in this case, I don’t think the problem is actually that rape is too taboo a subject to discuss, or that we are too emotional to do so. The problem is that Dawkins chose a poor example for his logic statement, refused to back down when the Twittersphere responded emotionally, got defensive and said he did it on purpose, all without ever actually trying to start the kind of rational discussion he claims he wants. I’d love an intelligent, controversial article from Richard Dawkins on rape, and rape culture and why we should not be afraid to talk about it. But this sure wasn’t it.
Sunday May 18
Forgot to tell my fave story of Saturday in my Saturday blog post. While in a meeting with a sales agent who was showing Colin a bunch of really rapey trailers for possible Midnight Madness submissions, Colin cut him off and was like “Here’s the thing. Nobody wants to see that. There’s been a lot of discussion lately in the world and on social media about rape culture…” He went on to talk about how it’s lazy to never have other ways of threatening female characters in horror films except by victimizing them sexually, and how it’s not the kind of thing that he wants to show. If I had swooned any harder I might have hit my head and passed out. Husband/Programmer/Man of the Year.
Anywhoo, Sunday started with a meeting on a really great terrace, which is the best way to start any sunny day in Cannes.
It continued with a lovely lunch with one of our favourite sales guys, Michael Favelle of Odin’s Eye (Australia). Great chat about the realities of the market, and the extent to which prices for certain films are plummeting. It’s a bit demoralizing to talk to people who are on the front lines of film sales about how things are going. The market seems to be constantly shrinking, prices seem to be endlessly going down, and everything is getting harder and harder. Why are any of us in this business again? I guess in spite of all that, some pretty inspiring films are getting made, and that process is getting easier and easier to accomplish with fewer resources, so there is a positive flip-side.
In the afternoon we had an incredibly eye-opening meeting with a financier from the UK who laid out his theories for us on how to make a low budget film that will make money in the marketplace. According to him (and most of the sales agents we speak to tend to agree), the key is marquee value. Make your film for a million bucks, but get someone (like this guy) to give you another two mill on top of that so that you can pay Bruce Willis (or whoever) to pop in for three days. Make sure he’s in at least 30 minutes of your film, and then sell that film for the price that you’d otherwise not be able to command unless your budget was literally ten times larger.
Interesting theory, probably quite spot-on in a lot of ways, but also depends on knowing a dude like him who can bankroll your Bruce Willis cameo. And let’s face it, most indie filmmakers don’t have those connections and can’t afford to just pop over to Cannes in order to make them.
In other news: Bruce Willis is going to star in every film I ever make.
A hilarious thing happened on the way to one of our next engagements. We’re walking down the boardwalk where all the ridiculous yachts are docked, and I’m making jokes about which one I would buy, and I point to one that looks by far the most crazy – it’s all grey metal and wood and looks like a cross between an old army boat and some sort of Asian fusion restaurant. And I say “this one is definitely it”. And seconds later, someone from the deck of that very boat yells Colin’s name. Turns out to be an agent he knows. Lord knows why he was there, but we got to climb on board and hang out for a while and see their crazy hot tub and the table built from a 100 year old tree.
The agent told us that it was the boat from The Life Aquatic, which I found hard to believe because it looked so different, but I googled it and sure enough. Read “From minesweeper to superyacht, the story of Mojo“, in Super Yacht Times. The boat has a pretty interesting history.
Also: a publication called Super Yacht Times exists. Doesn’t that make you LOL till you throw up in your mouth, a little?
In the later afternoon, pulled Chad away from screenings for a few minutes in order to take him to a couple of cocktail parties. First, the annual Shoreline Entertainment wine & cheese, where the snacks are great and the company is lovely. Shoreline is a sales company that Colin deals with for TIFF, but they’re also a really fun bunch, and their team is run by a major food lover, so we’ve been lucky enough to get invited to a few really top notch dinners by them over the years. Second, a “fantastic” mixer at the same beautiful terrace where Friday’s TIFF party was held (oh god, Friday feels like it was three months ago) where festival types mingled with producers, sales agents and distributors who all work in genre film.
For dinner, we went to a place called Le Jade, which serves mind-blowingly delicious French Vietnamese food. Not a fusion of French and Vietnamese, mind you. Just “French-Vietnamese”, as in “the one good thing that came out of French colonial rule in Vietnam”. A first for me: discovering a cuisine (an amazing one) that we legitimately do not have in Toronto. Our dinner companion was Jennifer Dana, the producer of It Follows and another gem that I really liked last year, the strange doppelgänger film Coherence. I love meeting the super cool lady-producers. They inspire me.
It’s felt so good to not stay out too late or get too drunk for the past few nights that we decided to do it again! Home to bed at a reasonable-ish hour! Woo!
Yesterday, I got into a big feminist huff about this Emily Yoffe piece on preventing rape on college campuses, which was published by Slate. I rewrote the article, changing all references to gender to illustrate what it would look like if I took a headline like “College Women: Stop Getting Drunk … it’s closely associated with sexual assault, and yet we’re reluctant to tell women to stop doing it” and changed it to “College Men: Stop Raping Women … It IS sexual assault, and yet we’re reluctant to tell men to stop doing it”.
I was not trying to “write an article telling men not to rape women”. I was changing an existing article in order to illustrate what I thought was a fairly simple point about how rarely we see articles from that other point of view – the point of view that addresses men and talks to them about rape prevention, as if they have something to do with it!
The article was retweeted and shared on Facebook a number of times, and the excellent folks at rabble.ca offered to republish it on their site, which of course I said an enthusiastic “yes” to. You can find it on rabble here.
I haven’t received a crazy amount of negative response to the article but I have encountered several (tried and true – very familiar to me and probably every other vocal feminist on the internet) arguments from seemingly well meaning men whose comments fell loosely in one of these categories:
- Men who don’t see why we can’t “do both” (that is, talk to men about rape, but also tell women to protect themselves) – as if I was ever suggesting that we not do both.
- Men who feel offended that the “hey men, don’t be rapists!” message implies that all men – including themselves – are potential rapists.
- Men who feel (seriously) that society already does a lot to tell men not to rape (ha ha).
- Men who believe that non-rapists don’t need to hear this message, and that rapists will never listen anyway, so it’s probably not the best strategy for changing anything (let’s leave aside the fact that most rapists don’t actually consider themselves rapists).
One guy even commented on my original post that when both parties are drunk, it’s not rape. Or, in his words, “there is no victim”. I’m not even going to address that one, because really, where to begin?
Before I go any further, I have to point out, most of these men were not aggressively argumentative – they were trying to understand my point of view, and I appreciate that type of effort, even if it comes with a certain amount of (inevitable) mansplaining. I’d rather someone try to understand me in a clumsy way than not try at all.
Anyway. Something about the repeated return to the “why can’t we do both” argument has been really bothering me, and I wanted to articulate exactly what it is.
What bothers me is the very idea that it is important to make sure women are aware of the potential risks all around them. It bothers me because my own experience would lead me to believe that approximately 100% of women do not need any such reminder, as they are already all too aware, every day of their lives.
Sure, let’s get this out of the way first. Yes. It’s perfectly fine to tell any potential victim of any potential crime to “be aware” and “protect themselves” and “make smart decisions” and “not put themselves in high risk situations”. I’m not saying it’s bad to do that. Nobody ever said that, and it’s beside the point.
Do this as an experiment, men who doubt me when I say that women are already very aware. Ask the women in your life whether they’ve ever felt afraid when they’re alone in an elevator and a (male) stranger gets in. Or when they’re walking alone at night. Or when they’re walking alone at night and they hear footsteps behind them. Or when they’re walking alone at night on an empty stretch of road and a (male) stranger is heading straight toward them. Or when they’re walking alone at any time of day and they suddenly approach a group of more than two or three men who look at them in a leering way. Or when someone catcalls them on the street, or slows down their car next to them as they walk in order to make a lewd comment or proposition. Or when they’re walking to their car in an otherwise empty-seeming parking garage. Or when they’re in a bar and some guy won’t leave them alone even when they say “I have a boyfriend”, because the only way they feel allowed to turn the guy down is if they’re taken by some other man, because “I’m not interested in you” is not good enough, because drunk guys often can’t take no for an answer?
Ask them if they’ve ever considered carrying mace in their purses, or actually carried it, or if they ever had a “rape whistle” on their keychain, or if they ever held their keys in their hand like a weapon while walking, just in case. Or if they’ve ever pretended to be on their cell phone while walking by some (male) stranger or group of strangers in an otherwise secluded place, in order to appear as though they weren’t quite as alone. Or if they’ve ever actually phoned someone while walking home alone, so that they’d be on the line with them, just in case. Ask them if they’ve ever taken the long way home in order to avoid a usually very safe shortcut, just because they didn’t want to be in a park or a back alley by themselves.
Ask them if they’ve ever been afraid of being raped, period. I’d bet good money that you won’t be able to find a single woman who would honestly answer “nope, I’ve never felt that fear”. Most would say “of course”, because for most women, being aware of their safety and the threat of rape is as natural as getting your period every month. We don’t need to be reminded.
Now think about the fact that most women aren’t raped by a hooded stranger lurking in the bushes on their walk home. Most women are raped by someone they know. A date. A “friend”.
That means that on top of the fact that we’re already on high alert in everyday situations that might legitimately be dangerous, we also have to be on high alert at the times when we should be able to relax and not feel fear – when we’re with people we know and trust. Even in those situations – at parties, on dates, in group settings with our friends, colleagues and classmates – we are told we have to be aware – to not dress a certain way, to not drink too much, to not allow ourselves the luxury of letting our hair down (metaphorically – because if we did it literally it would probably be misinterpreted as flirtation and provoke some rapist – ha ha) the way that men can anytime they want.
And what usually happens when women do make the mistake of actually relaxing in situations in which men are allowed the same pleasure? When they have as many drinks as they want, instead of as many as they can while remaining on guard for a potential sexual attack? Well, sometimes they are lucky and nothing bad happens. And other times, they are not lucky, and someone takes advantage of their vulnerability and afterwards they are shamed and scolded for not having been more aware of their own safety. Because there is never a time when women are just allowed to let their guard down. And as a society, we don’t consider that to be enough of a problem to make us say “hey, instead of telling women to be constantly in self-protection mode, let’s try to change the way we behave and create environments where they don’t have to feel fear and anxiety, because nobody should have to be on high alert all the time”. That would be unrealistic, because rapists will be rapists, am I right?
Because this (truly hilarious image, which I got from Ella Ceron on Twitter) …
… is how our society deals with rape. Conclusion of study: sexual offenses were not victim-initiated. Recommendation: make the victims change their behaviour.
So, let me ask you this, men who say “hey, I’m all for educating men about rape prevention, but why can’t we do both? Why not teach women self defence and remind them to be aware and to protect themselves”. Did it ever occur to you that that’s pretty condescending?
FOOTNOTE: when I say “tell men not to rape”, I don’t mean that our message to men should literally be “hey, don’t be a rapist”. That’s simplistic and ridiculous and not what I was ever suggesting. As I have mentioned elsewhere before, I am using this as shorthand for the many ways in which we could creatively engage men in a real discourse about rape and rape prevention, talk to them and/or teach them how to not behave in ways that are sexually predatory, and generally make them a whole lot more aware. If men were aware the way women are constantly being asked to be aware, then perhaps they would be more sensitive to subtler signs of discomfort or fear from women around them. Perhaps they would stop their drunk pals from going too far with girls they’re out drinking with. Perhaps they’d say “hey, that’s really not cool” the next time their university’s frosh week captain tried to lead the crowd in a sexist, rape-condoning chant. Perhaps they – the ones who are proudly assured in their belief that they are not capable of ever committing a rape, and neither are any of their friends – would start to change their behaviour in all those small ways that eventually amount to a shift in the rape culture we actually live in. Perhaps they’d even think twice about arguing with women when all we want to say is “hey guys, be more aware. And also, don’t rape”.
This morning, I read and was infuriated by Emily Yoffe’s Slate article, “College Women: Stop Getting Drunk”. Just once, I’d love it if anyone – especially (radically!) a woman – actually wrote an article that tells men not to be rapists, instead of suggesting that “putting all the responsibility of preventing sexual assault on the victims” is somehow a feminist point of view. So, for fun, I rewrote her article. I did not spend a lot of time on this, because I’m trying to make a really simple point. Most of the words below are her own. I changed only references to gender. Everywhere that Ms Yoffe said something about giving “warnings to women about their behavior”, I changed it to a warning for men.
NOTE: I bolded the changes I made, to make it easier for you to see them.
That’s all I did, the rest (including all links to other articles & studies) is still in her own words. Just imagine a world in which articles like this actually got written.
College Men: Stop Raping Women
It IS sexual assault. And yet we’re reluctant to tell men to stop doing it.
In one awful high-profile case after another—the U.S. Naval Academy; Steubenville, Ohio; now the allegations in Maryville, Mo.—we read about a young man, sometimes only a boy, who goes to a party and ends up raping a girl. As soon as the school year begins, so do reports of female students sexually assaulted by their male classmates. A common denominator in these cases is alcohol, often copious amounts, enough to render the young man incapable of distinguishing right from wrong. But a misplaced fear of blaming the perpetrators has made it somehow unacceptable to warn inexperienced young men that when they get wasted, they are putting themselves at risk of becoming rapists.
A 2009 study of campus sexual assault found that by the time they are seniors, almost 20 percent of college women will become victims, overwhelmingly of a fellow classmate. Very few will ever report it to authorities. The same study states that more than 80 percent of campus sexual assaults involve alcohol. Frequently both the man and the woman have been drinking. The men tend to use the drinking to justify their behavior, as this survey of research on alcohol-related campus sexual assault by Antonia Abbey, professor of psychology at Wayne State University, illustrates, while for many of the women, having been drunk becomes a source of guilt and shame. Sometimes the woman is the only one drunk and runs into a particular type of shrewd—and sober—sexual predator who lurks where women drink like a lion at a watering hole. For these kinds of men, the rise of female binge drinking has made campuses a prey-rich environment. I’ve spoken to three recent college graduates who were the victims of such assailants, and their stories are chilling.
Let’s be totally clear: Perpetrators are the ones responsible for committing their crimes, and they should be brought to justice. But we are failing to let men know that when they drink to excess, they can end up becoming these very perpetrators. Young men are getting a distorted message that having sex with any woman they want – regardless of whether the woman consents – is their right. The real message should be that when you drink so much that you lose the ability to be responsible for actions, you drastically increase the chances that you will become a sexual predator and a threat to women around you. That’s not villainizing all men; that’s trying to prevent them from becoming rapists.
Experts I spoke to who wanted young men to get this information said they were aware of how loaded it has always been to give warnings to men about their behavior. “I’m always feeling defensive that my main advice is: ‘Don’t rape. Don’t make yourself vulnerable to the point of losing your cognitive faculties so that you think it’s ok to rape,’ ” says Anne Coughlin, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, who has written on rape and teaches feminist jurisprudence. She adds that by not telling them the truth—that they are responsible for their own actions —she worries that we are “infantilizing men.”
The “Campus Sexual Assault Study” of 2007, undertaken for the Department of Justice, found that the popular belief that many young rape victims have been slipped “date rape” drugs is false. “Most sexual assaults occur after voluntary consumption of alcohol by the victim and assailant,” the report states. But the researchers noted that this crucial point is not being articulated to young and naïve men: “Despite the link between substance abuse and sexual assault it appears that few sexual assault and/or risk reduction programs address the relationship between substance use and sexual assault.” The report added, somewhat plaintively, “Students may also be unaware of the image of predatoriness projected by a visibly intoxicated individual.”
“I’m saying that men are responsible for sexually victimizing women,” says Christopher Krebs, one of the authors of that study and others on campus sexual assault. “When your judgment is compromised, your risk of becoming a rapist is elevated.”
The culture of binge drinking—whose pinnacle is the college campus—does not just harm men. Surveys find that more than 40 percent of college students binge drink, defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as consuming five or more drinks for a man and four or more for a woman in about two hours. Of those drinkers, many end their sessions on gurneys: The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that about 600,000 students a year are injured due to their drinking, and about 700,000 are assaulted by a classmate in a drunken encounter. Some end up on slabs: About 1,800 students a year die as a consequence of alcohol intake.
The site Compelled to Act, started by the grief-stricken father of a college-student daughter who died because of a drunken snowmobile accident, keeps a tally of alcohol-related death, including reports of students who perish due to alcohol overdoses, falls, and drownings. The typical opening weeks of school (except perhaps at Brigham Young University) result in stories like this one at the University of Maryland: In the first three weeks of the semester, 24 students were taken to the hospital for alcohol-related causes. Then police were called to an off-campus bar known for serving freshman to investigate a stabbing involving underage students.
I don’t believe any of these statistics will move in the right direction until binge drinking joins smoking, drunk driving, and domestic abuse as behaviors that were once typical and are now unacceptable. Reducing binge drinking is going to require education, enforcement, and a change in campus social culture. These days the weekend stretches over half the week and front-loading and boot and rally are major extracurricular activities. Puking in your hair, peeing in your pants, and engaging in dangerous behaviors have to stop being considered hilarious escapades or proud war stories and become a source of disgust and embarrassment.
As a parent with a son heading off to college next year, I’ve noted with dismay that in some college guidebooks almost as much space is devoted to alcohol as academics. School spirit is one thing, but according to The Insider’s Guide to the Colleges, when the University of Florida plays Florida State University, “Die-hard gator fans start drinking at 8 am. No joke.” I guess I’m supposed to be reassured to read that at the University of Idaho, “Not everyone is an alcoholic.”
“High-risk alcohol use is the one thing connected to all, and I mean all, the negative impacts in higher education,” says Peter Lake, director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University College of Law and author ofThe Rights and Responsibilities of the Modern University. He cites the problems of early student attrition and perpetually disappointing graduation rates.
I’ve told my son that it’s his responsibility to take steps to ensure he does not become a sexual abuser. (“I hear you! Stop!”) The biological reality is that women do not metabolize alcohol the same way as men, and that means drink for drink women will get drunker faster. I tell him I know alcohol will be widely available (even though it’s illegal for most college students) but that he’ll have a good chance of knowing what’s going on around him if he limits himself to no more than two drinks, sipped slowly—no shots!—and stays away from notorious punch bowls. If male college students start moderating their drinking as a way of looking out for their female counterparts—and looking out for your own self-interest should be a primary human principle—I hope their restraint reduces the likelihood that they will victimize women.
If I had a daughter, I would tell her that it’s in her self-interest not to be the drunken sorority girl who finds herself accusing a classmate of raping her. Because this University of Richmond student is an example of what would probably happen. He was acquitted in one of the extremely rare cases in which a campus rape accusation led to a criminal trial.