[This essay appeared under the title “Feminism and Rape” in the Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, Spring 1992, pp. 13-27.  The article as published contained certain additional sentences added by the editor.  Murphey doesn't find them objectionable, but has not included them here, because this is intended as an anthology of his own writing.  The published article included Endnote numbers through No. 23, but then omitted the Endnotes themselves.  Oddly, there are additional Endnotes here (in the version on Murphey's floppy disk, without our presently knowing the material to which they definitely relate.] 

 

RAPE, THE CORNERSTONE OF RADICAL FEMINISM'S 'VICTIMOLOGY'

Dwight D. Murphey

Wichita State University

 

I. Historical Perspective

            Many Americans are favorable to "feminism" in a broadly practical sense that supports, say, a right of women to equal pay for equal work or to have access to jobs and the professions. A much smaller number, however, subscribe fully to modern feminist theory as it has been proclaimed since the early 1960s, and which constitutes "feminism" as an ideological movement. As I discuss this ideological feminism, it will be worthwhile to keep it mentally separate from the attitudes of American women in general. Feminism as an ideology is part of today's intellectual culture, which seeks both to influence and to stand in opposition to mainstream America.

            It is commonplace in America's fashionable -- or, today, "politically correct" -- thinking to accept the notion that women and ethnic minorities are the continuing "victims" of a domineering, exploitive and insensitive mainstream culture. "Victimology" has become the latest variation of the Left's 170- year-old refrain about "exploitation."

            If we are to place this in historical perspective, it is essential to understand that radical feminism is yet another permutation of the Left, and that the Left, rather than being the source of progress during the past two centuries, has fundamentally been a usurper. The Left has championed a succession of underdogs, claiming credit for any improvement in their condition, during an age in which other massive forces, mostly opposed by the Left, have been at work producing the real progress. It was the Enlightenment that embodied the culmination of centuries of civilizational accretion, and that established the primary ideals for the open society that have either predominated in, or served as much of the underlay for, life in Europe and America during the modern age. But the Left has been both an heretical offshoot and a militant enemy of the Enlightenment. To see this better, it will help to trace briefly the historic origins of what we consider most progressive in modern society.

            The ancient civilizations of the Greeks and the Romans involved enormous brutality and oppression. Even Athens at its height had a slave foundation. Nevertheless, powerful ideals were formed that many centuries later fed into the Enlightenment: ideals of active, questioning intellect; of  isonomia, or equality under the law; of political participation by the members of the polity; and of heroic individual attainment.

            The brutality of human relationships continued during the anarchic dissolution of the early Middle Ages. But even there, the feudal ideal of individual rights-by-contract took hold, so that later the Magna Carta was seen as a reiteration of rights earlier assured and then lost. By the late Middle Ages, Europe enjoyed a highly cultivated civilization. The Enlightenment, which followed, would hardly have been possible without those centuries of accretion and without the Renaissance and the Reformation.

            When it did come, the Enlightenment ushered in a vast matrix of ideals on behalf of the open society which included, among other things: religious toleration; rationalism and empiricism; a growing secularism; a developing sense of compassion toward an ever-increasing circle of human beings; republicanism, with its opposition to the absolutism of kings or church; the Rule of Law, including the Athenian concept of equality under the law; Constitutionalism; individual rights; an opposition to aristocracy; and the theory and practice of the market economy. These became the basis for what is today called "classical liberalism," although the word "liberal" itself was first coined in Spain in the early nineteenth century.

            This classical liberalism was deeply committed to the dignity of individuals and to compassion toward them. It was the moral impetus, certainly, for the rising sensibility in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries against slavery and serfdom. And its impulse, too, has been to broaden the base of political and social life to include anyone who has previously been excluded. This is a process that has now gone on for centuries.

            There have admittedly been difficulties. Traditionalist conservatives are right in pointing to the unspeakable excesses committed in the name of the Enlightenment during the French Revolution, and to the intemperance of the attacks on the Old Regime. They are right, too, in pointing to the effects of the loss of the earlier consensus derived from the Christian cosmology: A secular society is, indeed, at existential loose ends, lacking final answers to the most basic questions; and the mundane preoccupations of the "bourgeoisie" (the commercial middle class) are spiritually petty, though not so much so as is commonly imagined by its critics. Moreover, the very project of the Enlightenment is placed in jeopardy if society opens its arms so broadly that it "gives away the store," so to speak, to large masses of people who perhaps have neither heard of the Enlightenment nor share its values. Still and all, the Enlightenment was a giant step forward in what many of us hope, though not with the happy confidence once felt, will be humanity's progression.

            I have made these points about the Enlightenment because I would like the reader to see, in case the obfuscations of the day have made it less than obvious, that the interests of women and of minorities--as of all others--are among those served by the major principles of mainstream Western society. The enormities of the twentieth century have in large measure been due to a vast retrograde movement, on the part of much of the intellectual culture and large pockets of humanity, away from the principles of the Enlightenment.

           In direct opposition to this insight, the Left, which includes radical feminism, claims that it, and most assuredly not the mainstream society, is what represents women's and minorities' interests. It asserts that they are victims, not beneficiaries, of our society, which it commonly pictures as a closed rather than an open society. How does the Left arrive at this?

            The Left came into existence early in the nineteenth century (though the foundation had been laid earlier by the likes of Rousseau and Babeuf) when the world intellectual community turned violently against the Enlightenment. The Romantic movement threw much of the intellectual culture into mysticism, anti-rationalism and most decidedly into anti-bourgeois and anti- liberal postures. The "alienation of the intellectual against the bourgeoisie" began, and with it the intelligentsia's search for ideological and political allies in any disaffected or unassimilated group.

            This quest for allies among the unassimilated is the reason that I say the Left constituted, in part, an heretical offshoot of the Enlightenment. Both have championed an ever-increasing participativeness. The Left's enthusiasm for "democracy" and "equality" has included, however, the elitism that is inherent in the alienated intellectual culture's feeling of moral superiority over the masses it seeks to champion. And despite the true-believer sincerity of its followers, its use of the unassimilated groups has been opportunistic; fundamentally it uses them as weapons in its on-going power-struggle with bourgeois culture.

            Claims by radical feminism, as a particular form of the Left, that the main society victimizes women and that radical feminism exclusively represents their interests are, then, seriously off the mark. They reflect the intellectual culture's own alienation, projected onto others. Far from being victims, women are among the beneficiaries of the Enlightenment and its resulting culture. This has been lost sight of in part because classical liberalism's emphasis on the family as one of the vital components of a free society makes it "culturally conservative." It is necessarily suspicious of a flight from the home and supports the traditional role-assignments of the sexes. This has had the consequence that the Left, not classical liberalism, has been at the forefront of the ideological movement that has run parallel to the shift of women into careers since World War II. Indeed, in a broader context, the Left, by virtue of its fevered search for alienated allies, has for almost two centuries preempted classical liberalism's more modulated support for both democracy and equality. The Left's lack of concern about a balance of values within a classically liberal society has allowed it to endorse methods and measures that supporters of that society could not see their way clear to advance. But for it to use that vantage point as a usurper to assert that a society informed by the Enlightenment is "anti-woman" is ludicrous.

            As another aspect of historical perspective, a matter of timing should be kept in mind: That in Europe most men were submerged under the hierarchical system of the Ancien Regime until well into the nineteenth century; in England, even the wealthiest portion of commercial middle class males didn't enjoy the right to vote until the Reform Act in the 1830s, and adult males in general didn't get the vote until successive stages in the 1860s and '80s. Within the context of the values inherited from the Englightenment, the "rights of women" have followed those of men in historically rapid succession--and most decidedly not as something "held back by men" for some interminable period, which is the impression militant feminism seeks to impart. Most Americans have no sense of how recent this historical progression has been for both men and women, and hence no frame of reference by which to judge the paranoia of militant feminism.

 

II. The Radical Feminists' Ideology of 'Victimization'

            The proletarianism of the Left grew stale and discredited as the twentieth century wore on. The Soviet Union had undergone so many shocks--the purges, the Hitler-Stalin Pact, the Hungarian Revolution, and many others--that it was no longer the magnet that it once was for starry-eyed egalitarians. Accordingly, even as early as the 1950s radicals in Europe and America cast about for an alliance with new disaffected or unassimilated groups, and for a different expression of their alienation, mainly by looking back to nineteenth century socialist thought. This marked the birth of the New Left. The cultural war now raging in the United States about virtually every aspect of our national life is a continuation of this escalation of alienation in the 1960s and '70s. One consequence has been radical feminist ideology.

            Linda Bourque tells us in a recent book that "publication of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique in 1963 and the formation of the National Organization for Women in 1966 marked the beginning of the contemporary women's movement." Within a short time thereafter, the new ideology began to focus on rape as a symbol of men's collective villainy. Bourque says that "it was with the publication in 1975 of Susan Brownmiller's book, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, that feminist psycho-social- cultural theories of rape were first set forth."1

            The rape theme proclaimed by Brownmiller has become a foundation-stone for a grand theory of victimization, according to which all women are the victims of all men. It is repeated as revealed truth today both in academic journals and the popular media. Here are its main components:

Brownmiller's rape thesis.

            Brownmiller's book chronicled many thousands of the occasions upon which men have, over history, forced themselves upon women. From this history she then took a giant inductive leap, concluding that "from prehistoric times to the present, I believe, rape has played a critical function. It is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear" (her emphasis). She explained that "a world without rapists would be a world in which women moved freely without fear of men. That some men rape provides a sufficient threat to keep all women in a constant state of intimidation.... Men who commit rape have served in effect as front-line masculine shock troops, terrorist guerrillas in the longest sustained battle the world has ever known." And again: "Rape is to women as lynching was to blacks: the ultimate physical threat by which all men keep all women in a state of psychological intimidation."2

            Her inductive leap had its origins in the radical Left, reformulating its alienation with a new cast of heroes (or, in this case, heroines) and villains. She said that "when the women's liberation movement was birthed by the radical left, the first serious struggle we faced was to free ourselves from the structures, thought processes and priorities of what we came to call the male left."3

            She related this to her own development, telling how "as a rebellious young woman during the height of McCarthyism,...I took myself down to the old Jefferson School and enrolled in a night course taught by Dr. Herbert Aptheker, the American Communist historian ...I owe a debt to Aptheker, who was the first to tell me that rape was a political crime, who taught me the tools of dialectic logic, and who shouldn't be surprised that I have carried his argument further than he intended."4

            During the years since 1975, Brownmiller's revelation that the rapist is an extension of all men has become an accepted truism to many feminist authors. (A side observation: So far as I have discerned, no one among the feminists seems bothered by the fact that it is put forth as a Truth, not merely as an hypothesis, and that even as an hypothesis it is of a nature that is not susceptible to refutation by counter-evidence, since obviously its proponents won't accept any amount of kindness by men to women as a rebuttal. Thus, it stands as one of the best examples of the intellectual vacuity of so much feminist ideology going back over the past century and a half. My impression is that, overall, the intellectual quality of feminist thought has been very poor.)

            In academic writing, we see the Brownmiller thesis echoed in Diana Scully's Understanding Violence: A Study of Convicted Rapists (1990). Scully says "Bart (1979) refers to rape as a paradigm of sexism...Feminist theorists have pointed out that, because it preserves male dominance, sexual violence benefits all men, not just those who actually rape...Herman (1984) concludes that the United States is a rape culture...."5   (We will see later that the charge against the United States is based an an egregious abuse of statistics; and we may wonder why the United States is singled out, since the thesis asserts a universal phenomenon. The answer almost certainly lies in the Left's special hatred for the United States.)

            In popular literature, Brownmiller's point often shows up as a reductionist argument that "rape doesn't have anything to do with sex; it is exclusively an assertion of power over and hatred toward women." Thus, in the May 1990 McCall's it is said that "rape has been characterized as 'an all-American crime.' Its roots are planted in the culture...Feminists have long argued that it is a crime of violence and not an act of passion...and one that reflects the sexist stratification of society." The October 1988 Ebony points out in authoritative tones that "rape is not about sex per se. Instead, rape is the sexual expression of anger or aggression. 'It's a power trip,'...." And Joan Beck, a nationally published columnist based with the Chicago Tribune, was able to say in April 1991 that "if there is still any lingering misconception that rape is a crime of sexual passion, it's important to drive a stake through the heart of that idea as quickly as possible...what it really is -- a hate crime against women."6

            A corollary expressed by Brownmiller as central to her thesis is that women live their lives subject to a brooding fear of rape and that this fear is itself a mechanism of overall male control. This is the focus of Margaret T. Gordon and Stephanie Riger's book The Female Fear (1989). "How widespread is this fear?," Gordon and Riger ask. "Every woman has it to a degree, and all women are affected by it. It 'keeps women off the streets at night. Keeps them home. Keeps women passive and modest....'" The echo in popular literature appears in Rochelle Distelheim's article in the September 1989 McCall's: "Learning to fear rape is a process that begins in childhood and continues throughout a woman's life...."7

Charges of "prevailing myths."

            Feminist theory has a low regard for virtually all the commonsense perceptions held by the public. Part of its perception of cultural sickness is a view that people in general are deluded by ubiquitous "myths." (This position reveals contempt for the average person's intelligence, and so is a good example of the Left-intelligentsia's basic elitism. By comparison, I too believe the American public lives in an ideational atmosphere of political and social fiction; but I ascribe it to the alienated intellectual culture's continuing injection of pathology into public discourse rather than to the proclivities of the public itself.)

            To cast commonsense perceptions as "myths," feminist authors often exaggerate a supposed popular belief to put it in the form of a reductionist caricature. The resulting "myth" is actually a straw-man that probably very few people would agree with in the simplistic form that is postulated. Here are some of the "myths" I have seen referred to:

                    .We have already seen Joan Beck's mention of a "misconception that rape is a crime of sexual passion."

 Critique: It is safe to say that few members of the public would deny that rape can and often does involve      elements of hostility, frustration and anger; but it is hardly a misconception for people to think that rape often has a strong sexual element. Not all rape involves a stranger's pulling a woman into a dark alley. Even in that instance, sex can be a driving urge; and there is no reason to think that the sexual urge is irrelevant in instances where the man and woman have had close contact with each other. By denying the sexual element, feminism is guilty of reductionism. It is led to this by its claim that rape is really the way all men subjugate all women. Feminist ideologues want to think of it as raw power, and the wish gives rise to their absolute.

                    . Myrne Roe, an editorial writer for the Wichita Eagle whom I know and respect, has written that "there are those who are certain any woman who is sexually harassed asks for it. (That used to be the prevailing wisdom about rape.)"8

 

Critique: Notice that to set up her straw man she adds the word "any," so that the notion she considers a myth involves an obvious overstatement. I hope she will pardon me for pointing out that her formulation isn't truly honest. Are we really to believe that very many people think, or have ever thought, that any woman who is sexually harassed or raped has "asked for it"? The exaggeration provides a handy caricature for knocking down a common perception that does make sense: that many women who are abused sexually have themselves played a role in enticing the man.

            Why is it necessary for such a writer to set up this particular caricature? Because feminism's ideology of "liberation" endorses many aspects of the permissive "do your own thing" version of freedom that has been with us since the '60s. Accordingly, it wants women to be able to act in virtually any way sexually without sharing in the responsibility. Its attitude is analogous to the Left's moral relativity about AIDS that wants homosexuals to be free of responsibility for their behavior. Both views want their subjects perceived as pure victims.

                    . Renee Turner, writing in the October 1988 Ebony, says that "the idea that all rapists are strangers is but one myth that permeates our thinking about rape."9

Critique: Note again the exaggeration injected by the word all. It's hard to imagine that anybody thinks that "all rapists are strangers." And yet, she asserts that such a proposition is part of "our thinking about rape."

                    . Christine Doudna in the May 1990 McCall's includes a belief that "when a woman says no, she means yes" as among "the kinds of myths that make up our earliest socialization."

Critique: Again, the "myth" aspect comes from the writer's asserting the proposition categorically. No doubt the common sense that most people adhere to, a mindset that is empirical rather than doctrinaire, suggests that on many occasions when a woman says no, she does indeed mean no; but the same common sense sees no reason to deny that there are also many occasions when a verbal negative, considered in the context of the behavior and emotions of the parties up to that time, doesn't really mean no.

            I hesitate to cite fiction as proof of a fact about human behavior, but here it seems to fit. The readers of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead seem to have accepted it as plausible, and not merely as a "suspension of disbelief," that Howard Roark's "rape" of Dominique Francon was not truly a rape. In the Jack Nicholson-Jessica Lange film The Postman Always Rings Twice, Lange's character starts out resisting like a tigress and winds up participating with a vigor also befitting a tigress. And the lyrics to country singer Holly Dunn's song "Maybe I Mean Yes" in early 1991 read: "When I say 'no' I mean 'maybe'/or maybe I mean 'yes.'" Feminists attacked this song and induced Dunn, as part of succumbing to "political correctness," to ask radio and video programs to stop playing it. But did the lyrics suggest something that most people would necessarily consider out of the question about at least some female conduct? I don't think so.

            A review of feminist literature reveals a seemingly endless list of "myths" that the American public is purported to entertain. People are said to believe uncritically such things as "it is impossible to rape an unwilling woman," "rape doesn't happen to good girls," "rape doesn't leave longtime scars," "all rape victims are prostitutes," "any dating implies consent to all sexual contact," and the like.

            An important practical parallel to this imputation of exaggerated opinions to the public is that feminists have felt an abiding distrust for all aspects of the American legal system so far as it operates on common sense. Police are thought to "unfound" many accusations that they should take seriously; prosecutors are said to decline cases they should try; judges are seen as predisposed; and there is no confidence that juries can assess evidence fairly. This has led to the widespread adoption of "rape shield laws" that keep the jurors from hearing evidence about the woman's own conduct prior to the rape she is alleging.

 

The Substitute Feminist Mythology

            We have seen that one of the myths embraced by feminist thought is precisely the notion that the American public clings to a variety of "myths." Feminism also postulates a number of other ideas, each of them consistent with its theory of "victimization," that deserve to be called myths in their own right.

. One of these notions is that until it was enlightened by feminism American society considered women to have less value than men. Thus, a certain Lucille Pfleeger writing a recent letter-to-the-editor about rape was able to say that "the feminist movement has attempted to teach young girls and women that they are of as much value as males." And although it is not quite the same point, Susan Brownmiller wrote that men harbor "a contempt for women."10

Critique: The ideas that "women were given less value" and "were objects of contempt" are derivatives of the idea that women are victims. As with the axiom itself, they are not propositions about which the ideologues will allow any refutation. I remember from my childhood the many women in my family--going back to a white haired great-grandmother who served cookies whenever we visited--who were wives and mothers, and I know that it never entered our minds to think of them as less than as loved ones and as vitally important people in our lives. The thought of measuring their comparative "value" would have seemed alien, even contemptible; and it was love, not disdain, that the members of the family of both sexes felt toward them. But would feminist theorists accept any of this as disproof of their theses? Certainly not.

. With reference to today's culture, many of the feminist attitudes scoff at conventional morality and justify the moral permissiveness that the intellectual culture so strongly favors as part of its long-standing "anti-bourgeois" orientation. This leads it to the fiction--which we are justified in calling a "myth" -- that there is no connection between a woman's behavior and the way she is treated sexually.

            The proposition that a woman's own behavior is irrelevant is usually put forward through a sarcastic recital of the view that it is. We see this in Sara Paretsky's April 28, 1991, piece in the New York Times: "We are also taught from childhood that victims of rape were 'asking for it.' Good girls who don't dress provocatively, get speeding tickets or go to late-night beach parties at the homes of U.S. senators won't be assaulted." In Dianne Klein's Sept. 16, 1991, column emanating from the Los Angeles Times that discussed the charge that heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson had raped a beauty contestant, she literally dripped with sarcasm: "Why would a woman agree to a date if sex were not part of her plan? And meeting someone in his hotel room? Ha! Why not just wear a sign? I mean, what did she expect? Respect?"11

            Frequently, the proposition takes refuge behind a legalism. Katie Sherrod, writing for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, put it succinctly: "No woman's behavior gives a man the right to rape."12

            Sometimes, however, there is simply an unabashed declaration that reminds me of the old saw "we're all socialists now" -- except that today it amounts to an acknowledgment that, in effect, "we're all whores now." (At least it would if the word "whore" had not quietly dropped out of our vocabulary as too much a throwback to the age of morals.) Naomi Wolf, writing for The Washington Post, spreads it out for all to see that "my other best friend...wears dangling earrings, began her sex life at 16, tried drugs, went to parties and has also had a few lovers...And me, of course...Sexually active in my teens, I went to late-night parties, had several non-marital relationships...." Her generalization: "If it is Bad to have a sexual history by your mid-20s in 1991...then let's face it: There are no good girls." (She reneged a bit by speaking of the mid-20s; we had reason to think she was talking about a girl's mid-teens.)13

Critique: These are propositions that weave such plausibility as they have out of partial truths. It is certainly true as a purely categorical matter that no man has a right to rape a woman under any circumstances; and it is also true that modern women should be able to come and go in life's many activities without that being taken as a standing invitation.

            But what it does not address is the incongruity of today's situation: a great hue and cry about "rape," including "acquaintance" and "date" rape, and about "sexual harassment," at the very same time that the culture, including the behavior of a great many women precisely like Naomi Wolf, sings the siren song of a permissiveness unlike any we've seen before in our history.

            Much of this destruction of what the Left denigrates as "bourgeois" standards has to do with manners and lifestyles that are more general than we might envision if we think simply of rape-conducive situations. We live in a time when the T-shirts worn on our campuses include slogans (which I've seen recently) that would have been unthinkable before the Berkeley "Free Speech Movement: "Shit happens" and "Fuck Me, Fuck You, Fuck Everybody." One that is now being sold in large numbers by a clothing company says "Button Your Fly." The sports section of the Wichita Eagle on November 14, 1991, featured a large photo of a sweet-looking couple sitting with a baby on the young woman's lap. The caption: "WSU's Mornay Annandale says his girlfriend, Tammy West, and son, Nathan, help keep his mind focused." Thus, the cohibitation of unmarried couples receives respectful acceptance in the popular press. If Jonathan Swift were to return today, he would no doubt be prompted to write a sequel to his story about the Yahoos. But he would have to up the ante, since to be fiction today something far more bizarre is required.

            It is in this context, strangely, that feminism presents us with the demand that men at all times remain professional, never say anything suggestive unless they are certain in advance that it is "not unwelcome" to the woman with whom they are speaking, and never take advantage of any situation sexually. At the very same time, we have the reality of women who attend class at a university wearing jeans that are purposely made (and purchased) to press up into their crotches, leaving nothing to the imagination. Any amount of tease is welcome, and any amount of actual promiscuity; but woe be it to any man who fails at any time to see the invisible line between what so many women tease for and what they, perhaps in retrospect, say they didn't want.

            The press reports of women sexually abused after putting themselves in compromising situations are endless. In one, a 32- year-old Wichita woman is said to have been "raped" by her boyfriend -- with whom she lived -- after they went out drinking. In another, "a 17-year-old reported that she was raped... at a man's home... <after they> had been drinking... When she said no, he raped her."14   In May 1991 the Michigan Court of Appeals, according to a press report, held that "a defendant should be allowed to tell the jury that the victim raised her top to expose her breasts and let a man fondle them to back up his claim that she consented to have sex." The ruling that this evidence was admissible was criticized by the executive director of the Sexual Assault Information Network of Michigan.

            The cultural incongruity is extended further by the argument, which is frequently raised in the same stream of feminist articles I've been quoting, that "no matter how consenting a woman has been, she has a right to say no at any time she wants to." Katie Sherrod quotes a young woman in a class discussion as saying: "The minute she says 'no,' and you don't stop, it's rape." Naomi Wolf refers to "everyone's right to clear consent at each stage of intimacy." In Norman Podhoretz' excellent article "Rape in Feminist Eyes" in the October 1991 Commentary, he cites a passage from Robin Warshaw's book I Never Called It Rape in which Warshaw tells of an 18-year-old woman who attended a fraternity party and, after drinking, went to bed with her date: "...just sleeping together is not what Carol's date had in mind. After they got into bed, he started kissing her, then escalated his sexual attention. Despite her repeated 'No, no, no'...."

            That such assertions can be made shows how far removed feminist ideology is from the reality of flesh-and-blood human relationships. It is pure ideology, with blacks and whites and clear lines of demarcation where none exist among real people. Only an analysis of ideological pathology can explain how it is that we have an irascible Puritanism arising from the same ideology as a near-total permissiveness. We may wonder just how sick a society is that doesn't laugh such notions into oblivion, but rather takes them seriously in terror of doing otherwise.

 

All the Accoutrements of Ideological Fashion

            Whenever in contemporary American society the Left takes up a theme, it is reverberated into every nook and cranny by repetition and by all of the organizational mechanisms that come into play spontaneously through a thousand streams. Social scientists break out surveys and questionnaires, resulting in articles and books published in the esoteric jargon of the refereed journals and university presses. Masters theses and doctoral dissertations are gotten underway. Countless columnists and feature writers, not to mention unending numbers of photo- journalists for television stations, clamor to get into the swing of things. School teachers and university professors devise assignments to "raise the consciousness" of their students about the new revelation. Such outcroppings as "Women's Opportunity and Research Centers," "Projects on the Status of Women," and the "National Center for the Prevention and Control of Rape" appear.

 

III. Feminism's Abuse of Social Science

            Given the relation of radical feminism to the intellectual culture, and in turn of the intellectual culture to American academic life as we know it, it was to be expected that Susan Brownmiller's thesis would soon be given all the trappings of "social science." In this, we see not that all social science is a sham, but that at least some significant portion of it finds it easy to connect fanciful ideology to an outward show of "science." Here are some of the abuses I've observed, starting with some committed by Brownmiller herself:

                    . We have seen that Brownmiller's own method was one of bald assertion, without consciousness of the problems of proof. Even though many of the more prominent theories (such as Freudianism) in our "age of science" have been based on bare assertion, there is nothing that is more profoundly at odds with true science.

            If Brownmiller made no effort at proof, has the later literature done so? There is a significant admission in Linda Bourque's 1989 book when she tells us that "few researchers" have "considered the relative usefulness of feminist theories in explaining rape." She adds that "few explicit tests of hypotheses reflecting a feminist perspective have been made."15    

            She cites S. S. Ageton as among the "few researchers." Ageton's 1983 study, she says, "tested hypotheses generated from feminist theory against those derived from delinquency theory." But did it confirm Brownmiller's thesis? No. Ageton "found that delinquency theory... more adequately explained adolescent participation in assaultive sex."16   So we are left with two points: that there has been little attempt at verification, and that at least one of the attempts has tended toward refutation rather than corroboration. Most of the "social science" that has been conducted has merely assumed the truth of the main tenets, and has contented itself with dealing with peripheral issues.

                    . This lack of concern about evidence is combined with a brushing aside of contradictory evidence. We see this in Brownmiller's own book where she said that "it is finally being acknowledged that one of the main problems of prison life is the assault and rape of other inmates by their fellow men." On its face, this contradicts the thesis that rape is an instrument of "man's conscious subjugation of women," since it involves men raping other men. Did this suggest to Brownmiller that she should revise her conclusion? Did she take her mind off the subjugation of women long enough to conclude from it that rape is perhaps an abuse of power in general rather than a central pillar of sexism? No; the fact she cited hardly gave her pause. She slid over the problem by simply defining the weaker inmates as stand-ins for women: "The weaker inmate...is forced to play the role that in the outside world is assigned to women."17   If this explanation seems to solve her problem, just recall that Brownmiller's main point was that rape was an action by which some men consciously subjugate all women on behalf of all other men. How would the sodomizing of a weaker male inmate tie into that? It strains credulity to think that male inmates even unconsciously, much less consciously, think of weaker male inmates as representatives of womankind in general. Clearly, they have other reasons for their atrocious conduct.

                    . Sometimes the conclusions directly contradict conflicting facts. In their book The Female Fear, Margaret Gordon and Stephanie Riger tell us on page 60 that "public perceptions reflect the underlying societal belief that the social circumstances surrounding dating imply consent to all resulting sexual contact." They are able to speak of such a "societal belief" despite the fact that on the very next page they set out a table giving the responses to a survey in Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco. Item 3 of their very own table shows that 82.5% of men and 83.4 of women responding to the survey said that they would consider "unwanted sexual intercourse on a date" to be rape.18

. Much of the social science research is based on unrepresentative sampling. Gordon and Riger tell us that "sorting out sexual from dominance motives with research on rapists is problematic, since in fewer than half of reported rape cases is anyone arrested, and only 5 percent of those arrested are convicted. Studies of rapists have always concentrated on men in prison; they may tell very little about the much larger number of rapists who are never caught or convicted" (emphasis added).19   An example of this is that Diana Scully based her book Understanding Sexual Violence: A Study of Convicted Rapists on a sample of which 46% were white and 54% black, and of which only 20% had finished high school.20

                    . Some of the studies elicit responses to "vignettes," described as "short descriptive statements of a situation." Linda Bourque's book Defining Rape, published by the Duke University Press in 1989, is of this sort. But how much do people's responses to brief stories tell us about how they think? Bourque herself reveals that the "vignettes used in Los Angeles and in the other studies reviewed were quite primitive."21   The result is almost certainly bound to be so superficial as to trivialize the research. Compare this to a jury's hearing an actual case presented in court. Even though a trial is itself at best a simplified replication of reality, the jury becomes aware of the many subtleties and nuances of situations and of motives. The jurors' perception of the case will almost certainly be very different from what it would be if they were simply handed a one- paragraph summary of it and nothing more. But it is the latter, with all its superficiality, that the vignette researchers are relying upon.

                    . A reader of the social science literature has to be on guard against the researcher's manipulation of the data. Ann Burgess, in her 1988 book Rape and Sexual Assualt II, discusses the "myth" that "women enjoy sexual violence." She cites a study by "Bond and Mosher 1986" that concludes that "not only do women not enjoy the experience of being raped, they do not even enjoy the experience of imagining being raped" (emphasis added). How had they arrived at this? Not by responses unequivocably affirming their conclusion, but by dividing the responses and disallowing those that ran counter to their conclusion. They separated "realistic fantasies of rape" from "erotic fantasies of rape." As to the latter, they admit that the "women...report some feelings of sexual pleasure, arousal, and enjoyment." We might think that this runs counter to their conclusion. But, no; women aroused by the erotic fantasies simply weren't allowed to count.

                    . Another problem is the abuse of statistics. This is apparent in such generalizations as Scully's that "the frequency of rape varies dramatically among societies, and the United States is among the most rape-prone of all"; and in Burgess's statement that "the United States has a substantially higher incidence of rape than other countries." Gordon and Riger are able to say that "women who shared their stories and fears in this book are not only living in the nation with the highest rate of rape in the world, but also in cities within that nation with higher than average rates of rape" (their emphasis).22   In such statements, the "United States," taken as a whole and without differentiation among its parts, comes out looking despicable, doesn't it?

            This damning of the United States as a whole -- a damning that not coincidentally is so characteristic of the alienated intellectual culture on all sorts of matters -- is hardly supported, though, when we consider the specifics that these writers themselves cite. From those specifics, we find that a disproportionate amount of rape is committed by young, urban, black males, and involves "lower socioeconomic status women." Thus, Gordon and Riger tell us that "of the men arrested for rape in 1986, 52 percent were white and 47 percent were black. Forty-five percent were under twenty-five years of age...These patterns also are similar to those in previous years....Figures show that the greatest number of rapes in the United States take place in the largest cities." Linda Bourque gives us the specifics that "when identified by ethnicity, 50-53 percent of men arrested for rape were white including Hispanic (until 1984 Hispanic males were not differentiated from non-Hispanic white males in rape statistics) while 46-49 percent were black. In 1984, 11 percent of the total or 20 percent of the white males arrested were identified as Hispanics." Later she says that "both the Uniform Crime Reports and the National Crime Surveys consistently find non-Anglo, lower socioeconomic status women under thirty years old at greatest risk of being victims of rape."23

            Thus we see that the United States is said to be "the most rape-prone" country in the world on the basis of behavior that is disproportionately associated with a very small minority (young, urban, black males) of the United States' (and even of the minority) population. But no one would think to say that "mammals are, among the living species, the most prone to stash away nuts for the winter" just because squirrels, who are a small subset of mammals, hide lots of nuts. There are many possible abuses of statistics. Damning an entire society for the derelictions of a small part has to rank among the more demagogic. What are we to think of a type of "social science" that lends itself to this?

                    . A final point about the feminist "social science" literature is to observe how quickly a body of "authority" is built up by the researchers' all citing each other. The writer who initiates a point often bases it on little or no evidence; but then it is picked up and cited over and over again until it is subsumed as part of the established learning. This invokes what logicians call the "material fallacy" of "arguing from authority." Social science is itself a body of human activity that is to be understood in terms of its own psychology, sociology, and the like; and one cannot help but feel that the pretentious academic trappings are welcomed at least in part for the obfuscatory purposes they serve.

 

Conclusion

            In the midst of all this militancy against both men and the United States, what is conspicuous by its absence is any mature understanding of either aggression or sexuality. The well-springs of the human psyche are mysterious and complex far beyond anything feminist philosophy, derived from Aptheker's dialectical Marxian logic, has the imagination to conceive. I see in that philosophy no attempt to understand the electricity that snaps and pops between the sexes, or the subtleties of the infinity of situations that bring the sexes together.

            To the extent the radical feminist victimology is taken seriously, it is destructive to relationships that are vital to human well-being by muddying them and making them neurotic. But there is a saving grace: One of the things I noticed as I prepared my book on the history of American liberalism was that even though liberal ideas have long filled the air, the liberal intellectual culture has felt a continuing sense of futility from the fact that the great corpus of the society, consisting of millions of people going ahead with the practicalities of their daily lives, has pretty much continued in its own direction and at its own pace. The same will be true, in the main, with radical feminism. I'll be profoundly surprised if it proves too much to assume that men and women will, in both the near and the long terms, remain attracted to each other.

 

ENDNOTES

1. Linda Brookover Bourque, Defining Rape (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1989), pp. 12, 14.

2. Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1975), pp. 15, 209, 254.

3. Brownmiller, Against Our Will, p. 391,

4. Brownmiller, Against Our Will, pp. 210-211.

5. Diana Scully, Understanding Sexual Violence: A Study of Convicted Rapists (Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990), pp. 48-50.

6. Article, "Ending the Rape of Our Liberty," by Christine Doudna, McCall's, May 1990, p. 96; Article, "Rape: the Myths and the Realities," by Renee D. Turner, Ebony, October 1988, p. 110; Joan Beck column, Wichita Eagle, April 7, 1991.

7. Margaret T. Gordon and Stephanie Riger, The Female Fear (New York: The Free Press, 1989), p. 3; Article, "A Woman's Worst Nightmare," by Rochelle Distelheim, McCall's, September 1989, p. 60.

8. Myrne Roe column, Wichita Eagle, October 24, 1991.

9. Ebony, October 1988, p. 108.

10. Doudna, McCall's, May 1990, p. 97.

11. Brownmiller, Against Our Will, p. 194.

12. Sara Paretsky column, New York Times, p. E17, April 28, 1991.

13. Dianne Klein column, Wichita Eagle, p. 11A, September 16, 1991.

14. Katie Sherrod column, Wichita Eagle, April 18, 1991.

15. Naomi Wolf column, Wichita Eagle, p. 15A, September 22, 1991.

16. Wichita Eagle, August 14, 1991; Wichita Eagle, August 10, 1991; Wichita Eagle, May 22, 1991.

17. Katie Sherrod column, Wichita Eagle, April 18, 1991; Naomi Wolf column, Wichita Eagle, p. 15A, September 22, 1991.

18. Article, "Rape in Feminist Eyes," Commentary, October 1991, p. 31.

19. Bourque, Defining Rape, p. 19.

20. Bourque, Defining Rape, p. 19.

21. Brownmiller, Against Our Will, p. 258.

22. Gordon and Riger, The Female Fear, pp. 60-1.

23. Gordon and Riger, The Female Fear, p. 45.

24. Scully, Understanding Sexual Violence, p. 64.

25. Bourque, Defining Rape, p. 298.

26. Ann Wolbert Burgess, Rape and Sexual Assault II (New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1988), p. 207.

27. Scully, Understanding Sexual Violence, p. 48; Burgess, Rape and Sexual Assault II, p. 197; Gordon and Riger, The Female Fear, p. 35.

28. Gordon and Riger, The Female Fear, pp. 34-5; Bourque, Defining Rape, pp. 35, 40.