Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Elliot Rodger and the specter of Shrodinger's Rapist

A little background: a few years ago, "Skepchick" blogger Rebecca Watson became involved in what Wikipedia calls the "elevator incident" and the web quickly dubbed "Elevatorgate." Much of the ensuing ferocious debate dealt with the supposed male privilege involved in not being afraid of random people--specifically men-- sharing an elevator, speaking to you in an elevator, or inviting you to their hotel room for coffee in an elevator. I even saw one woman opine (in a comment on reddit.com that was quickly deleted) that men of color and/or of a certain stature/build (read: tall, muscular men) should actually defer to women waiting for an elevator and, out of respect for her unspoken concern about being confined in a small space for a few seconds with a larger man (especially men of color), should wait for the next elevator.

A term previously coined-- Schrodinger's rapist-- was quickly brought into wide use. The idea being, like Schrodinger's cat being in a state of unknowable life or death until one opens to box, every man is potentially a rapist, and women are behaving perfectly reasonably and justifiably-- not being sexist-- by treating them as the potential rapists they are. That behaviors such as avoiding sharing an elevator with a man, crossing the street to avoid passing a man on the sidewalk, etc. are not just reasonable and justified, but practically necessary in this dangerous world.

It's fear-mongering, ladies and gentlemen, nothing more. It's a few people who do know better and a few people who should know better blowing up a few statistics to make it sound like rapists are hiding behind every bush. Even if we accept that rape is something that is overwhelming perpetrated by men on women (it's not, more on that below), it's a classic fallacy to assume that just because all (or most) rapists are men, all (or most) men are rapists.

Here's a thought exercise-- what if we applied this logic to Muslims: because the majority of airplane-related terrorism is perpetrated by Muslims, all Muslims are potential terrorists? Or people of color: the majority of gang-related violence is perpetrated by Latinos or African-Americans, so all Latinos and African-Americans are potential gang-bangers? All murders of abortion doctors have been committed by Christians, so all Christians are potential murderers?

People who espouse the above ideas are called bigots, racists, and repudiated. They are not taken seriously, except by a small fringe minority that already agrees with them. But for some reason, when this logic is applied to men, anyone who objects risks being labeled a misogynist and a defender of rape culture.

Of course, in reality, men and women have about equal numbers of rape victims, and male rapists outnumber female ones only slightly (40/60). So the premise is faulty from the beginning-- women actually have no special reason to fear rape. Except, of course, that we've been told our whole lives that women need to be careful because it's a dangerous world out there for us-- while men are not warned at all. Even though a man statistically runs a far higher risk of being the victim of violence-- assault or homicide-- than a woman.

I've suffered from chronic anxiety my whole life, so maybe that gives me an edge of discernment? I've been dealing with irrational fears for as long as I can remember, so I've had a lot of practice at sorting reasonable fears and precautions from unreasonable ones. The sensible from the crazy. And the Schrodinger's rapist lady I linked to up there? She's a little on the crazy side. By definition, behavior becomes pathological when it starts to interfere with your everyday life. If she is feeling limited in what she can do or where she can go or with whom she can associate, she should probably consider therapy.

Anyway, fast forward to this past week, and the #yesallwomen movement. I've already covered at least some of my feelings about #yesallwomen and the rejection of #yesallpeople as somehow anti-woman or an attempt to silence women.

Slate's blogger Phil Plait, last Tuesday, posted this piece chastising the men who criticized #yesallwomen-- or worse, tried to "derail" it with #yesallpeople and the like. His message to the every-guy out there? The normal guys who don't threaten women who turn them down, who have never raped anyone, who are horrified at violence against anyone? The ones who are equal parts guilty and defensive and puzzled by all this blame being pushed at them by feminists (if they're aware of it at all)? Sit down, shut up, and accept your blame. Nobody is to blame but the rapist, when remarks are made about a woman's clothing, her drinking, her flirtations, her various decisions of the night-- but when it comes to men, all men are somehow complicit just by making the audacious claim that they, too, might understand what it's like to be attacked, or harassed, or even raped.

He says at one point:
Fourth—and this is important, so listen carefully—when a woman is walking down the street, or on a blind date, or, yes, in an elevator alone, she doesn’t know which group you’re in. You might be the potential best guy ever in the history of history, but there’s no way for her to know that. A fraction of men out there are most definitely not in that group. Which are you? Inside your head you know, but outside your head it’s impossible to. 
This is the reality women deal with all the time.
This is only "the reality that women deal with"-- a reality of fear and uncertainty, not a reality of an actual risk of being raped or attacked-- because it's a reality of their own making, born out of a fear-mongering media and an ideology that requires a male oppressor in order to work. If any of the various feminist bloggers and thinkers who are so vehemently against hearing anything a man has to say about this, other than "I'm so, so sorry for my gender," took five seconds to listen to these men, instead of just dismissing their words as "mansplaining," they might see that rape and harassment and just general human shittiness isn't a female experience, it's a human one.