Editor’s Note: Below is an extract from the book, The Vast and the Spurious: 25 Problems for Feminism.
Part Two – Rape Culture and Guilt
Part one of this article was about a fictional all-women country called Fecunda. Part two looks at a more serious question – are men as a class responsible for individual crimes against women, and are women entitled to hate them? It is after such crimes in my country, Australia, that feminist anger against men reaches a peak.
In June, 2018, a young woman named Eurydice Dixon was raped and murdered in a Melbourne park. This awful event stirred up a lot of anger. TV host, Lisa Wilkinson, mentioned The Handmaid’s Tale in a tearful speech. Clementine Ford wrote a newspaper column scolding men for their collective sins.
This may seem odd, given that men as a class did not murder Eurydice Dixon. In fact, she was killed by a 19 year old autistic man named Jaymes Todd. But by some interpretations of feminist theory, men as a class did murder Eurydice, at least indirectly. She was a victim of ‘rape culture’ and systemic misogyny. So, if men as a whole are part of creating rape culture, some feminists hold them accountable.
Soon after the murder, a police chief spoke out urging women to take precautions – being careful where they walked at night, for instance. This drew an angry response: Why should women change their behaviour? Men are the ones who should change their behaviour. Stop raping women!
The feminists who said this weren’t just talking to rapists, but to men as a class. The idea of ‘rape culture’ is that we live in a misogynistic society where rape becomes normalised through various attitudes toward women and sex. There’s a well known triangular diagram used to explain rape culture. It lists twenty-one type of behaviour, at four levels. On level one are rape jokes and ‘locker room banter,’ for instance. Another version I saw includes ‘sexist attitudes’ and ‘unequal pay,’ showing that the causes of rape culture don’t have to be directly sexual. Level two of the triangle has cat-calling, stalking, and revenge porn. Level three includes groping and sexual coercion, while actual rape and violence are up the top on level four.
The idea is that any act, no matter how trivial, is part of a spectrum in a general climate of misogyny. This makes rape more likely to happen, or allows its perpetrators to get away with it. That means any man committing the lower level sins – even on level one – is part of creating rape culture, so is to some degree complicit in rape itself.
Strangely, plenty of non-raping men don’t like this idea, and ‘not-all-men-are-rapists’ is a common refrain. Such protests don’t impress feminist, Clementine Ford. After the Dixon murder, Ford wrote, ‘I am increasingly disagreeing with the view that not all men are part of the problem, and it’s because I truly think most of them don’t understand that the problem is theirs to solve.’
Her column went on to berate men over what they do to stand up for women. Do they challenge sexist comments from their male friends? Do they stop their colleagues harassing women? She also asked if they do their share of housework and parenting, so perhaps failure to vacuum or do the dishes is part of rape culture too.
As for who is really to blame for the murder of Eurydice Dixon, the correct answer is Jaymes Todd, the young man who actually did it. But as the theory of rape culture tries to blame a whole class of people for the acts of individuals, it is worth pointing out some problems with the idea.
To do this, I’ll make two analogies. The first concerns our treatment of farm animals. If there is one class of beings with a genuine claim to being victims, it is the animals we raise and kill for food. The morality of killing animals is a separate argument that I won’t go into here, but just for the sake of the analogy, let’s say it is wrong. If so, then all people who eat meat are complicit in this and share whatever guilt is involved.
I’ve recently gone towards vegetarianism, but as I still sometimes eat meat, I share in the guilt. On the other hand, you can’t say vegetarians and vegans share that guilt, for the obvious reason that they don’t eat meat and actively avoid doing so.
So, going back to the murder of poor Eurydice Dixon, a feminist glaring at men and snarling you’re part of the problem is like someone scolding a group of vegans and vegetarians for their part in killing animals. Most men do not rape, and trying to smear them with some kind of collective guilt for the crimes of rogue individuals is not just unfair but absurd.
In terms of the analogy, a feminist might say being a vegan isn’t enough. You have to become a PETA activist and stop people eating meat. You can’t, for example, stand around at a BBQ while people are eating sausages. You have to call them out on it or you’re enabling ‘carnivore culture.’ But no, individuals are only responsible for their own acts. Carnivores are guilty of eating meat; vegetarians are not. Rapists are guilty of rape; non-rapists are not.
The second analogy I’ll make is with Muslims as a whole being blamed for acts of terrorism. After terror acts by Muslim extremists, some people have tried to blame all Muslims, or Islam itself. It’s a good parallel for feminist attempts to blame all men for individual crimes against women.
Suppose there are two types of Muslims – moderates and extremists. You can’t blame the moderates for acts of terror committed by extremists. The moderates would have had no idea the atrocities were being planned, let alone executed.
You could argue there’s a systemic hostility behind such acts. If – as some claim – the ideology of Islam is anti-Western, you could say the ideology is partly to blame for extremists’ acts of terror. Yet even if that were true, you still can’t blame moderate Muslims for what extremists do.
You might theorise that there’s a ‘terror culture’ made up of anti-Western attitudes. This could be a four level spectrum like the one for rape culture. On level one are trivial acts like making anti-Western jokes or disapproving comments about Western morals. Level two might be refusing to serve Westerners in Muslim shops, or forming cultural enclaves. Actual terrorists acts would be at the top on level four. By this logic, using rape culture as a parallel, moderate Muslims who make anti-Western jokes are also guilty of acts of terror. But that is absurd.
It is true systemic hostility can lead to individual crimes, just as anti-Semitism in 1930s Germany led to crimes against Jews. But there are problems with trying to push this sort of collective guilt. First, a low level offence isn’t the same as one at a high level. A Muslim tut-tutting about ‘Western morality’ isn’t as bad as one who blows up a Balinese nightclub, as happened in 2002.
Second, you could say that if ‘terror culture’ helps normalise acts of terror, then those who refrain from such acts are actually more moral than they would otherwise be. If terror is normal, it is more virtuous than usual to refrain. Likewise, if ‘rape culture’ normalises rape, those who live in a rape culture and don’t rape are more moral than those who live in a non-rape culture and don’t rape.
Suppose there’s a culture where it’s legal to take child brides, for instance. Men who could take child brides but don’t are more moral than men who can’t take them and don’t. Obviously, cultures where child marriage is legal don’t see it as immoral, but for the sake of argument let’s say there are two men who believe taking child brides is morally dubious. One of them lives in Australia, the other in Pakistan. In Australia, it is illegal and socially unacceptable to take child brides. In Pakistan it is both legal and relatively normal. If both these men find the practice morally dubious, the man from Pakistan is the more moral for refusing to do it – because he actually could, but doesn’t.
To go back to the animal analogy, it’s both legal and acceptable to eat meat. There is no moral censure for doing it, no consequences at all. As a result, the decision to abstain, by vegans and vegetarians, is admirable because they are making a moral choice in the absence of any social pressure to do so.
Therefore, if we live in this so called ‘rape culture,’ where sexual assault is somehow endorsed and enabled by misogyny, men who live in it and don’t rape it are more moral than they would be if they didn’t live in a rape culture.
It’s a strange and fairly absurd argument to make, but that’s what you get when a young woman’s death is used as an excuse to shame all men for their supposed complicity.
But why should we believe in rape culture in the first place? Taking the phrase literally for a moment, there’s no Western country where rape is permitted. Taking it more broadly, there are reasons to doubt Western culture is deeply misogynistic, as some feminists believe.
First, there’s been a big push in recent times to promote women’s interests, in a number of ways. Why would that happen if society was misogynistic? Feminists may say this is all the result of their fight for justice, but if society was misogynistic those reforms wouldn’t get through at all.
At the same time, there’s been a lot of recent anti-male sentiment. Never mind men being the butt of jokes in sitcoms, or the steady stream of anti-male ad campaigns. You actually have in our universities, the systematic denigration of men, and especially white men, as being somehow to blame for all the world’s problems. Society is misogynistic? If anything, it’s increasingly misandric. (Of course, none of this is news to readers of A Voice For Men).
Just look at the main newspaper in my city. On any given day, you’ll find several pro-female and anti-male articles. It’s surely only a matter of time before the Sydney Morning Herald renames itself the Sydney Morning Feminist.
If we believe some theorists, the murder of Eurydice Dixon is the end result of systemic misogyny. ‘Rape culture’ is a spectrum of connected behaviour, and any man who engages in a sexist act at the low level is also contributing to rape. So if we could just reform men and get rid of rape culture as a whole, acts of rape and murder will also cease.
Call me a skeptic, but if you really think calling out sexist jokes at the office Christmas party is going to stop some psychopath murdering a random woman in a city park, well, good luck with that.
Do rapist-murderers do it because they hate women? No doubt some do, but others won’t have thought it through that far. Obviously, some are immoral, acting from pure malice. Others are amoral in that they don’t care about the ethics of their actions, or the effect on others. They’re indifferent to moral questions. A third type are probably just stupid, with poor impulse control and no understanding of consequences. A fourth type are mentally ill and disturbed. The idea that all these men commit their crimes due to society-wide misogyny seems like a one-size-fits-all theory.
The real explanation of why some sick or evil men rape may be more prosaic. To put it in coldly clinical terms, rape may be a side effect of a system where supply and demand are heavily out of balance. That is, when it comes to sex, one gender can get it when they don’t want it and the other can’t get it when they do. Under those conditions, rape will sometimes occur from a minority of men who are evil, ill, or have poor impulse control. Of course, none of that is any justification for rape. But it seems a simpler, more likely reason for rape than the catch all theory of ‘misogyny.’
Those who think rape culture is the problem think stopping misogyny is the solution. This seems over idealistic. If you really want to address the threat of rape, better to acknowledge that, in those coldly clinical terms, sexual supply and demand are way out of balance. As a result, there will always be a small minority of ill or evil men who are a threat to women. That’s the reality of it. What you can do about it is a separate question.
There’s a great YouTube talk by a feminist and rape survivor, Wendy McElroy, called ‘Fallacy of the Rape Culture.’ She makes the point that if people are serious about stopping rape, it can only happen by addressing its real causes. Pushing an ideology about ‘respecting women’ is a different issue, worthy in its own right, but may not have much to do with stopping rape, at least in the Western world.
McElroy agrees there are rape cultures in some parts of the world. Cultures which permit, for example, child brides, rape within marriage, mistreatment of low caste women, and so on. You could make a case that those sort of rape cultures are tied up in misogynistic values. In comparison, claims about rape culture in the West look trivial. They insult not just Western men, but those women around the world who have a genuine claim to be living in a rape culture.
Let’s Make Murder Illegal
Some feminists have said it is the responsibility of men as a class to stop rape and murder. It is ‘their problem to solve.’ How could men actually do this? Here’s a thought to get the ball rolling – why not make murder illegal?
After the Eurydice Dixon murder, men did try one thing. The Australian Senate proposed that women carry tasers, pepper spray and mace to defend themselves. That sounds like a good, proactive strategy, but it was rejected. A leading feminist was part of a senate majority who opposed the motion. They had a better idea: teach men not to assault women.
It’s hard to believe an immediate, practical step was turned down on the basis of ideology – an ideology that believes stopping rape culture will stop rape. Even if you accept that premise, it would still take decades to achieve. In the meantime, why not carry some pepper spray?
Some women are angry at being asked to take precautions, but any person should take steps to reduce risk. Compared to women, men are far more at risk of violence in public places, so they try not to put themselves in danger. They know, for example, not to go out in King’s Cross in Sydney after 1am. In the days of football hooliganism in England, peaceful football fans knew to stay away from rival fan areas. Generally, there are certain bars, streets, or events you should avoid. The reality is some men are violent, and other men have to take whatever steps are needed: learn self defence, don’t hang out with thugs, avoid bad locations after midnight. This is all routine and commonsense advice.
As for sexual assault, men don’t face the same risks as women, but in the Me Too era some of them have adopted ‘Mike Pence Rules.’ US vice president Pence has a rule to never be alone in a room with any woman other than his wife. This is to lower the risk of a false sexual harassment allegation. High profile men would prefer the risk didn’t exist, but it does – so they take precautions.
In a YouTube talk called ‘Are Men Responsible for Ending Sexual Violence?’ Janice Fiamengo refutes the idea that men could do so even if they tried. She says the demand that men eliminate rape conflates the truth that men have the individual power and responsibility not to commit sexual assault with the false claim they can stop it in others. It’s a ‘sleight of hand’ indeed.
Fiamengo makes an analogy with parenting. There are some terrible parents out there, (a small minority) but it would be unfair to make parents-as-a-class bear responsibility for what the bad ones do, and it is useless to imply they have any power to stop it.
A Hidden Source of Misogyny
Remember that ‘rape culture’ is a set of misogynistic attitudes that makes offences against women more likely to occur. Let’s look at this idea from another angle.
To be fair, fostering an attitude of hate towards a class of people does have an effect – or rather, a number of effects. One is that you feel less sympathy for that group and their problems. Another is you may feel resentment towards them. A third is you might want to have nothing to do with them. This is true of various types of people that are antagonistic to other types.
But if it’s true a systematic dislike of one group for another has consequences, one might argue feminists are responsible for creating hostility not just towards men as a class, but towards women as a class. How so?
Not all feminists hate men, but enough do to have real world effects. The Me Too movement, for instance, began as a protest against sleazy Hollywood moguls then turned into a much wider campaign with the potential for abuse. As Fiamengo said, ‘all women have now acquired a deadly weapon… and a significant minority are willing or even eager to use it.’
No doubt some feminists are delighted to bring down as many powerful men as possible. Some of those men deserve it, others do not. Yet if some innocent men go down as collateral damage, these feminists will shrug their shoulders, talk about male tears, and see it as some kind of payback.
It’s one thing to incite resentment of men, but a side effect is you also incite resentment of women. It may seem to feminists that their efforts to help women can do nothing but good. Where their causes are just, they may be right.
They may also think they’re helping women when they lie about the gender pay gap, give a one sided view of domestic violence, or support a pro-female / anti-male agenda in the media and education. In the short term, these actions may help women, up to a point. What they also do is create a strong tide of resentment against women as a class.
Among the many fruits of this are the MGTOW movement, the refusal of some male bosses to mentor women in the wake of Me Too, less sympathy for women, strong antipathy to feminism as a cause, and less inclination to support pro-women reforms one might otherwise agree with.
Apparently, ‘rape culture’ is made of misogyny. But if misogyny means antagonism towards women, it’s likely third wave feminism has created more antagonism than anyone else ever could. Feminism at its worst is self-defeating because it doesn’t inspire either respect, or support for its causes – and feminism is at its worst all too often these days.
The movement may have begun as a just cause, but over the years it has become a hate movement. ‘Why can’t we hate men?’ says Suzanna Danuta Walters. Well, sure, you can. Just do it somewhere else.
What is feminism today? ‘Rape culture.’ Me Too. The ‘gender pay gap.’ Envy 10, Empathy 0. Men-bad-women-good. Blaming men for everything and thanking them for nothing. And let’s not forget that men as a class are complicit in the rape and murder of Eurydice Dixon, an event which could only appal any moral person.
Soon after Dixon’s death, Clementine Ford wrote an angry newspaper column berating men. As it was written in the emotional aftermath of the murder, one might forgive some over-statement. Yet the passage below is from her book, published months later, with only minor changes from the original column.
It is a mark of either immense compassion or immense foolishness that women continue to throw ourselves into the act of loving men despite amassing a lifetime of experiences that tell us how dangerous this decision can be. I am increasingly disagreeing with the view that not all men are part of the problem, and it’s because I truly think most of them don’t understand that the problem is theirs to solve…
…Women don’t need to be told to look for the goodness in men, because we try our damnedest to find it every day. We work hard to nurture it, even as we’re told to be grateful for it. For our own survival, women must believe that not all men are the enemy.
I’ve read both Ford’s books and many of her columns and was surprised by her claims about looking for men’s goodness. Perhaps in her personal life she tries her damndest to find the goodness in men, but she sure doesn’t in her published work. On the contrary, she seems to try her damnedest to find the worst in them.
Clementine Ford is entitled to her views. She’s even entitled to broadcast them through books and newspaper columns. But if she really thinks women take their lives in their hands by partnering with men, perhaps it’s time to go our separate ways.
It’s time to give feminists the space and opportunity they need. Go, and may the Goddess go with you. Goodbye Suzanna. Goodbye Amelia. Goodbye to all the feminists convinced they live in The Handmaid’s Tale. Please go – with our blessings and good wishes. We wish you well in establishing the Republic of Fecunda and creating your dream country free from our eternal sabotage. Go in peace – and good luck.