The Cerebral Male Argument against Rape Denial

These are some miscellaneous thoughts on Julian Assange’s rape allegations and the responses. I’m worried that the issues Wikileaks raises regarding US imperialism and state secrets could be reduced to a tabloid story about its founder and mouthpiece and the establishment liberals who always seem to pop out of the woodwork with excuses for rapists with politics they like, but I think any opportunity to be critical of rape apology and the culture that makes it possible shouldn’t go to waste. There have already been a few great write-ups, and you really should go read them (Sady Doyle’s, INCITE!, Update: and Kate Harding!) because they’re important.

Every trial is a state conspiracy, and this one very much so. I am uninterested in the trial and legal proceedings. I don’t care what Sweden’s laws are, I care if Assange coercively and sexually used someone’s body without her participatory consent. The recourse to legal defenses by Assange and co. indicates the lack of a solid ethical argument.

Let’s imagine a scenario, an absolutely generic rape accusation. A woman accuses a man of rape, he denies it, you have no other information. Who do you believe? This may seem like a painfully abstract question, and it is. But it is also the situation in which we often find ourselves when we hear rape accusations. The partial information that we use to make that decision in real life (what she was wearing, her reputation, his reputation, whether she reported it, their comparative size or attractiveness, whether she stayed over after or saw him again) is more confounding than helpful. Rapists, survivors, and the incidents themselves don’t share enough in common for partial specifics to be indicative. We know certain populations are more vulnerable, but the chilling truth is that rape happens so much that knowledges about what kind of person rapes or is raped and under what circumstances are more a reflection of our rape-apologizing culture than the realities of victimization.

Nate Silver argues that the circumstances around Assange’s prosecution, both the prosecution’s unusual zeal and the obvious interests that various states have in discrediting Wikileaks, suggest that we ought disbelieve the allegations, or at least be skeptical of them. But if instances of rape share the negative commonality “not circumstances,” that is, if the circumstances of rape are so varied that the only abstraction we can make is “not,” then whether or not the circumstances are convenient doesn’t tell us anything about whether or not the rape occurred. Skepticism as to the state’s motives for prosecuting so zealously? Of course. But anyone who thinks criminal prosecution is generally apolitical is delusional and naive.

I think this use of partial specifics and faulty abstractions is a really bad idea, but what else do we have? The “assumed innocent until proven guilty” line doesn’t work for me, if Wikileaks has taught us anything it’s that the state produces truths about which we should remain skeptical and vigilant. Not to mention that for survivors who allege rape, the legal standard means “assumed lying until proven otherwise.” I am not a magistrate and have no pretensions of agnosticism. I propose an answer to the abstract question above: I believe her.

I’m not talking about at the gut level; like a lot of men, at the gut level I hardly believe any rape accusations. Unless I’m there to see it or its a really obvious case, my own horrific impulse is toward denial and apology. These responses are second nature in a rape culture like ours, especially for men. Think about the depictions: no one had to stretch to imagine a CIA “honeypot” plan against Assange, we’ve probably seen more of these scenes represented in media than powerful men (who aren’t “villains”) raping women. Which do you think happens more in real life? The same thing goes for false accusations: I’ve had friends accused of rapes that I knew first-hand did not occur, it does happen. However, whenever it does happen, we hear about it a lot. False accusations always happen out loud and knowledge of them spreads quickly and widely, so if the total volume looks comparable to rapes that occur, that assessment ignores the huge iceberg below the surface of unreported or undiscussed rapes. Statistically, I have female acquaintances, friends, and family members who have been raped and not told me about it. Rape culture doesn’t only excuse sexual assault, it makes it disappear.

The question we have to ask, especially men, is why our first reaction to an instance of rape, a social phenomenon that we know to be disgustingly prevalent, would be disbelief. That question, which nags in my head rather than my gut, leads me to a place where I can answer the abstract scenario. Rape denial is an illogical proclivity that indicates a deep ideological tampering; when it comes to rape, men (at least) don’t see clearly. It is the very existence and dominance of rape denial in the face of rape’s widespread existence that should make us pause and consider why we would, as a gender, think something so clearly dumb. Sometimes this kind of counter-hegemonic thinking makes me wrong and/or beat unconscious on the street in Oakland for failing to assume that a group of young black men would jump me, but blank empiricism and the prejudices we’ve been given (more or less the same thing at the end of the day) are wrong more often.

So I tend to believe rape accusations. I believe these ones. Truths are tactical, and until we accept that rape is outrageously common and that our culture and media obscure that, we’re all helpless to stop it.

I also think it is possible for rape to occur with only one partner’s knowledge, that is, a rapist can not realize what he’s doing. That doesn’t make it less rape or even necessarily less detestable, but it does highlight the problems with locking one person up for a social crime. As Dostoevesky puts it, “We are guilty of all, before all, and on behalf of all,” and as all is the only way we can stop rape. Any society that locks someone away causes itself more damage than any criminal ever could. No bars ever. For anyone. Not for Assange, not for Bradley Manning, not even for the perpetrators of the much bigger state crimes revealed in the Wikileaks documents. It’s not worth it.

On another note, I think it’s interesting that the argument that works for me is so cerebral. I’ve had some really important conversations with female comrades about the way men use academic knowledges (to which we have more access for a number of reasons) to dominate discussions and marginalize women. Here I can certainly finish the Dostoevesky quote: “We are guilty of all, before all, and on behalf of all, and I am the guiltiest of all,” and it’s something I’m always working on, but I find it interesting on a personal level that my most radically feminist positions come through analysis (like this post) that comes off as coldly intellectual. I think this is at least partly because our society is set up to confirm sexism in men through experience. The very way we see the world is distorted, patriarchy is supposed to “feel right” or seem natural or unavoidable to men (at least), and that’s how it keeps itself around. I’ve heard the argument from women that lived experience is more important than books or philosophy in developing a feminist pattern of thought, which I certainly believe about their lives, but as a cis class-privileged white guy, my lived experience is a really faulty position from which to understand rape and rape culture.

Please Stand Up

“In Russia, that Narodnik-Anarchists would sometimes forge a ukase or manifesto in the name of the Czar; in it the Autocrat would complain that greedy lords & unfeeling officials had sealed him in his palace & cut him off from his beloved people. He would proclaim the end of serfdom & call on peasants & workers to rise in His Name against the government.

Several times this ploy actually succeeded in sparking revolts.”
– Hakim Bey, The Temporary Autonomous Zone

The Masochistic Protester or No One-Sided Fight Lasts Long

I’ve been following a familiar debate about police violence around the round of student demonstrations in the UK. Mark Fisher has got himself into a little hot-water with his fellow leftists after tweeting that police attacks on student demonstrators were “a good thing, strategically,” a position that has drawn some ire. The most pointed critique I read was from Ads w/out Products titled “fuck(t)wittery.” Ads writes, “Anyone who advocates, you know, people getting run over by police horses in the service of a cause, however just, doesn’t need to be listened to. This ain’t the Terminator, version 1 2 or 3. Spend some time at an occupation, and you’ll see that  ‘strategic victories’ are achievable without weird Accelerationist ideas.”

First of all, it’s definitely a stretch to say Fisher “advocates” police violence, he certainly never encouraged officers to beat students. I would say he probably “advocates” the police’s immediate surrender to the glorious student revolutionaries, unfortunately Mark Fisher has seemingly little-to-no control over any police department. This is what’s silly about the whole argument: riot cops don’t need the advice of a Marxist professor to attacked demonstrators. The tactics that resulted in police aggression are either strategic or not, and looking at the momentum these students have built, I’m going to have to agree with Fisher and say they have been. A blanket condemnation of tactics that lead to police confrontation would be silly and blind, and I don’t think that’s what Ads is saying. Which means Fisher is being critiqued for making the uncouth connection between success and violence, for thinking it out loud.

The intermediate value theorem states that a line connecting two points passes through every one between them. Anyone who thinks that, between the origin (current material conditions) and the goals of a revolutionary left, there is not a point of open state violence is either naive, delusional, or both. There isn’t a liberal capitalist democracy in the world that wouldn’t rather not beat its children in the street, not because they care a bit about us, but because that sort of violence is not supposed to happen here.  Beating protesters is for authoritarian regimes teetering on the edge of historical irrelevance, not for nations where history has already ended. The open use of police violence, especially against school kids, lays bare the lines of antagonism, it reveals an exteriority on the ground that’s always hard to be sure of otherwise. If they’re hitting you with sticks, it means they’re worried. If they’re worried, it means you’re doing your job well. Sure, the police’s collective surrender would be a better sign, but I don’t think today you get to one without the other.

I don’t know a committed leftist who hasn’t looked at a police line and, deep down somewhere we don’t all like to talk about, hoped it would charge. Not because of some macho desire to find a representative of capital and the state to punch in the face, but simply because it would mean you’re worth beating. Babysitter cops are usually far more demoralizing than aggressive ones, and they know it. Without confrontation, marches become pageants to the state’s security and restraint, complete with smiling police escorts. There’s nothing worse than feeling planned for, internal to the structures you protest. State violence is a sign of the struggle’s escalation, and is thereby validating.

When activists render the state’s deliberative mask unwearable, they move closer to open conflict and the possibility of bigger victories. As the comrades at the UCs have put it, “Behind every fee increase, a line of riot cops.” The connection between tuition increases and police batons already exists, and it unfortunately falls on the brave to make that relationship present in order to see it fractured. It isn’t Accelerationist to recognize this is where we are now, and as Greg Graffin might say: “It’s a dangerous stage/But the show must go on.”

Which isn’t to say anyone has to or ought to or can stand still and take it. One way or another, a one-sided fight doesn’t last long. When the reality is get knocked out or get shields and barricades, I’m all for the latter. Especially if they’re those Italian book-shields, the design for which really ought be online somewhere…

Ezra Pound: Far More Gangster Than You’d Think

Kelefa Sanneh has a piece in The New Yorker about reading (specifically gangster) rap lyrics as poetry. It’s an interesting question, but I’ve always been more captured by the opposite: reading poets as gangster rappers. Ezra Pound, for instance, is an ice-cold thug:

V

The man who fears war and squats opposing
My words for stour, hath no blood of crimson
But is fit only to rot in womanish peace
Far from where worth’s won and the swords clash
For the death of such sluts I go rejoicing;
Yea, I fill all the air with my music.

VI

Papiols, Papiols, to the music!
There’s no sound like to swords swords opposing,
No cry like the battle’s rejoicing
When our elbows and swords drip the crimson
And our charges ‘gainst The Leopard’s rush clash.
May God damn for ever all who cry “Peace!”

Sestina: Altaforte

Probably the whole deranged fascist thing. Anyone got another one?

Out The Window, Into The Sky

Leave Them Kids Alone

“Because it seems that no student can be so bad, we try to suspend judgment when we encounter a bad student—at least until the first paper is handed in. Although we believe that the student is, in fact, terrible, what if that first paper proves that he is simply not good at speaking up in class? What if it shows that she has a rich fund of ideas that she cannot articulate verbally but can pour forth onto paper?

And then the paper doesn’t show any of that. Ah, sweet reassurance. The world remains on its axis. In larger life, this feeling is called, “I told you so,” and it is always unwise to give it voice. In the privacy of your office, though, it gives immense pedagogical pleasure to know that your instincts were right.”
-“The Pleasure of Seeing the Deserving Fail” The Chronicle of Higher Education

When asked if charter schools might help solve some of the problems faced by public education, Deputy Education Secretary Anthony W. Miller told reporters the data indicated any difference they made would amount to jack shit.

‘Some charter schools perform better than their public counterparts, some don’t,’ Miller said. ‘You can’t change the fact that any school, no matter how it’s funded, is ultimately just another type of building to contain these goddamn monsters for seven hours a day.’

Miller added that more involvement from home was not the answer, either, as the little shits tend to have shithead parents who just make everything worse. The only findings from the study that provide a glimmer of hope, he said, are student absenteeism and dropout rates, which continue to increase.”
– “Department of Education Study Finds Teaching These Little Shits No Longer Worth ItThe Onion


Slate and Rape

Annie Lowery has an oh so typically Slate piece up on the site about the economics of teen dating. The article is about a recent paper from Duke researchers that found myths of teen dating were true: the researchers “found one classic economic tenet driving the byzantine high-school dating market: Scarcity determines value. Among freshman boys, what’s rare, and therefore valuable, are freshman girls willing to have a relationship and, even better, willing to have sex. Among senior girls, what’s valuable and scarce are boys willing to have a relationship without having sex.” Following in a long and noble scientific tradition, Slate is happy to publish uncomplicated stereotypes as long as they have numbers to back them up. But this article and study are more problematic than the average fare from even William Saletan; nowhere in either the study or the article do the authors mention rape.

In her excellent piece “The Boyfriend Myth,” Sady Doyle dispelled any notion that monogamous relationships are any good for young women by and large:

“According to a 2005 survey on teen dating abuse, 13 percent of girls who have been in relationships—girls, that is to say, who have had boyfriends—report being ‘physically hurt or hit.’ A startling one in four said that their boyfriends had pressured them to have sex they didn’t want. Twenty-six percent reported recurring, and severe, verbal abuse in their relationships. And then, there’s this, from a no less august source than the U.S. Department of Justice: ‘Young women between the ages of 16 and 24 in dating relationships experience the highest rate of domestic violence and sexual assault.’ The highest. What was that about Boyfriend Stories again?”

Here’s the narrative that Lowery sketches out: high school men want to have sex but don’t want relationships, the women want the opposite, a scarcity market determines their negotiation and the compromise of these interests. The assumption that everyone in this situation is an autonomous and rational economic actor pursuing different (and gendered) interests is dangerous. Lowery writes, “Though high-school girls don’t really want to have sex, many more of them end up doing so in order to ‘match’ with a high-school boy.” In economic discourse, we make these bargains to maximize our gains while minimizing our losses, and scarcity may make the trade for a relationship a good deal. The problems here are numerous; even leaving aside for a moment the writer’s blasé reaction to the conclusion that market coercion is the basis for a lot of teen sex, the words “rape” and “consent” appear nowhere in either the report or the article.

Among those girls who don’t want to have sex but do, what percentage of it was consensual? We know it’s greater than zero, would that fact damage the article’s cutesy appeal? What kind of world makes young women sacrifice in order to put themselves in situations where they’re more vulnerable to abuse and rape? This kind of micro-economic analysis can’t answer these questions, and so ignores them completely. Lowery pities the “legions of lonely 14-year-old boys,” but never mentions the 14-year old girls who are too afraid to tell their 18-year old boyfriends “no.” The sterility of economic language fails the violence of this situation. Here’s how the Austrian novelist and Nobel Laureate Elfreide Jelinek describes the same economic relationship in Women as Lovers: “brigitte has a body to offer. apart from brigitte’s body many other bodies are flooding the market at the same time. the only thing that positively stands by brigitte on this path, is the cosmetics industry. and the textile industry. brigitte has breasts, thighs, hips and a snatch. others have that too, sometimes even of a better quality.” Clothes and makeup improve a brigitte’s market position. So do starvation and submitting to her boyfriend’s violent desire. The market of bodies is not some natural equilibrium, it’s brutal and exploitative.

Without an analysis of the systems of power in which these interactions take place, without any attention to consent and violence, this article presents a disturbingly retrograde picture of high school relationships, where girls are expected to transactionally “give it up” to their boyfriends and no one concerns themselves too much with whether she went even so far as to say “yes.” An article like Doyle’s that actually interrogated the premises of the way we think about teenagers’ wants probably wouldn’t get as many hits as a cheerful validation of misogynist playground economics, but it might actually do young women and men some good.

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