Don’t Be Afraid to Challenge Sexism

When I hear the words “Political correctness,” I think about pointless exercises in choosing the precise word and mannerisms to use in every situation, elevated above substance. James Dickson’s Michigan Daily article about feminism certainly lowers the bar; to Dickson, political correctness includes saying that when a woman says no to sex she means no and that people shouldn’t excuse sexual assault on the flimsy excuse that boys will be boys. Dickson complains,

In their laudable desire to eliminate rape, campus feminists have created a climate of fear that doesn’t acknowledge that no one supports rape besides rapists. To shift the blame from rapists to some supposed rape culture is an act of magic, not logic.

The climate of fear he talks about isn’t some “Every man is a rapist” trope or even a guilt-based campaign treating men as five-year-olds. The poster he complains about is, by his own admission,

“If you do one or more of the following things:

� use words like ‘pimp’ and ‘player’ to praise sexually exploitative men

� blame women who have experienced sexual assault for indecency, stupidity, for ‘asking for it’

� think ‘no’ means ‘yes’

� excuse sexual violence because ‘men can’t control themselves’


In trying to sound like a serious rape fighter who happens to emphasize its nature as a crime, Dickson manages to miss the mark almost every sentence. He talks about how rapists and sex criminals are reviled; but that holds only in stereotypical cases where it’s impossible to accuse the victim of having consented. In all other cases, “She asked for it” can be used effectively as a defense in criminal trials (see e.g. here).

Dickson further manages to mangle his own anti-rape proposal by calling for installing more street lighting throughout Ann Arbor. It’s not hard to find statistics about where women get sexually assaulted and their relationship to the perpetrator; in the US, the NCVS has fairly thorough data. Averaging the surveys from 2003 through 2005 reveals that 5.1% of sexual assaults in the US occur on the street, compared with 62.7% that occur at or near the victim’s home or the home of an acquaintance of hers.

One of the advantages of campaigns encouraging women to speak out is that causing women to report rape more is likely to help in two ways. First, as far as I can tell, the reporting rate for rape is negatively correlated with the rape rate, probably due to a deterrence effect. And second, the more rapes are known, the more political capital there is for other anti-rape policies.

Dickson’s article is one that makes a lot of sense, if you accept certain premises about rape that, while common among conservatives and plain old sexists, are not true. The premises’ centerfold is the stereotypical rape, which features a victim who’s very clearly more a virgin than a whore and a perpetrator who barely knew her if at all and is not considered a good guy in general. That rape is the easiest to come down against both in the media and in court, but is a fairly rare specimen.

In all other cases, a lot of things that should be too irrelevant to note are considered mitigating circumstances. If the perpetrator knew the victim well, especially if he’s a partner or former partner, people such as Dickson are likely to consider it within his rights to demand sex. If the victim was drunk, they consider the rape her fault. If the victim has a history of consensual sex – or, more precisely, if the defense manages to make such a history public – they consider her a tramp. At the end, they firmly oppose a small minority of rapes and excuse the rest.

That, ultimately, is what is called the rape culture. It’s not so much rape itself as the barrage of ifs and buts coming from people like Dickson, for whom the mildest campus activism is extreme political correctness. Dickson himself manages to avoid saying such phrases as “She asked for it,” but still can’t help deriding a poster attacking that attitudes.

There are two kinds of people who use the words “Extreme rhetoric” to refer to posters attacking attitudes that apologize for rape. One is rank misogynists, who blame working women for every social problem and think rape is bad except when it happens in real life rather than in the media. The other is radical feminists, who would like you to believe the jump from mild anti-rape rhetoric to refusing to have sex with men as a matter of principle is smaller than it actually is. And Dickson doesn’t at all strike me as a radical feminist.

14 Responses to Don’t Be Afraid to Challenge Sexism

  1. Phil says:

    In the past, many women depended on a man for their livelihood (that isn’t the case today, right?), and perhaps many felt compelled to have sex with him when he ‘wanted it’. Would you call that rape?

  2. muppt says:

    mua ha ha, Wikipedia is being duplicated

  3. muppt says:

    http:/ /

  4. Lynet says:

    “Feeling compelled” does not, in my opinion, automatically constitute rape.

    On the other hand, as soon as a man starts to try to use the fact that she might feel compelled, or tries to make her feel compelled, you’re getting into a grey area. Legally, it might be difficult to place the bar at this point; morally, it’s definitely wrong to try to use these sorts of feelings to make a woman have sex.

    Moreover, there’s no doubt that feeling compelled to have sex can seriously hurt a woman, whether the man is aware of it or not. As such, people in general ought to try to avoid situations where this is the case.

  5. SLC says:

    Unfortunately, like most discussions of the crime of rape, this one overlooks the occurrence of false charges or wrongly accused alleged perpetrators. Just this morning, the Washington Post had a story about a man who was accused of a rape last September who was just exonerated by DNA evidence and eyewitness alibi evidence. Of course, he has spent 6 months in jail awaiting trial for a crime he didn’t commit. Who is going to give him his life back?

    Then there are the high profile cases of the 3 Duke lacrosse players and Kobe Bryant in which there is evidence of deception by the accusers.

  6. Lynet says:

    Setting aside statistics which suggest that most reported rapes are not lies, allow me to point out that ‘rape’ in general is not the topic of this post. The post is a reaction to a reaction to a statement about rape culture. Apart from the possibility that your post might perpetuate the myth that most rape allegations are lies, what on Earth does your statement have to do with the problem of glorifying men who have sex with women without asking whether the women consented, or the problem of blaming women who are sexually assaulted because you think their behaviour ‘asked for it’, or any of the other things brought up by the flier that Dickson criticizes?

    False charges is a completely different issue.

    Wrongly accused perpetrators of a real crime is yet another different issue that does not deserve to be conflated with the possibility of false charges.

    These issues are not particularly relevant to the topic under discussion.

  7. Alon Levy says:

    The problem with the false charges is that they’re man bites dog stories. An analysis of New York’s rape reports from the 1980s reveals that while 12.5% of rape reports are unfounded, only in 0.25% are they real false accusations. Although the standard of false accusations is very stringent – for example, Tawana Brawley wouldn’t be counted because she didn’t finger a specific culprit, but rather the prosecutor was under pressure to find someone to throw in jail – even by a laxer standard, only 2.5% of rape reports were false.

    Part of the rape culture involves playing up those few false accusations, precisely in order to discredit any rape victim who doesn’t conform to the stereotype of how rape must go. This also plays into the stereotype that a woman who was drunk or had previously had consensual sex with the perpetrator must not be a real rape victim. That way, any woman who’s not what someone like Dickson would like to believe a rape victim looks like can be branded as a lying whore.

  8. SLC says:

    Unfortunately every time a false accusation or incorrect identification is made, it becomes harder for women who have been the victims to come forward and harder for prosecutors to believe them. This is not aided by people like former sex crimes prosecutor Wendy Murphy who believes that never in the history of the world has a false accusation of rape been made.

  9. mythago says:

    Unfortunately, SLC, it wouldn’t matter if there were never another genuinely false rape accusation again; people like the posters here will scream about past accusations every time the subject of rape comes up in any way, shape or form.

    Alon’s not talking about the credibility of rape accusations. He’s talking about an editorial that whines it’s PC to suggest that, perhaps, some particularly idiotic comments and attitudes contribute to the problem of rape.

  10. stellar1 says:

    When both man and woman decide to have sex because they both want it – not because one person wants it and the other is giving in – is in my own opinion the only legal way it should be.

  11. Lynet says:

    “Unfortunately, every time a false accusation or incorrect identification is made…”

    SLC, are you suggesting that the 2.5% of accusations that are false are the main things that make it hard for women to come forward, or that mean that sometimes rape victims are not believed?

    If so, why do you think that false burglary reports are not having the same effect on the extent to which we are likely to believe someone if they say their house was broken into, and on the reporting rate of burglaries?

  12. Lynet says:

    Bother, I haven’t made that link properly. It’s here, for what it’s worth:

  13. SLC says:

    Re Mythego and Lynet

    1. The comparison of rape with burglary is nonsense. Rape is a serious violent crime while burglary is generally non-violent and hence far less serious. I say that as someone who has been burglarized twice. As upset as I was, I would far prefer that law enforcement and prosecutors place their emphasis on violent crimes.

    2. The other issue is that burglary is rarely a high profile event. On the other hand, rape is ofter a high profile event (see Kobe Bryant, Michael Jackson, the three Duke lacrosse players, etc.). The news media doesn’t print stories about false burglary reports; it does print stories about false rape accusations and incorrect alleged perpetrator identifications.

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