Richard Dawkins on Date Rape vs Stranger Rape

Richard-Dawkins-slider-14Sometimes it’s hard to remember who you’re supposed to be allies with.  Richard Dawkins and Ophelia Benson released this lovely joint statement about harassment and, in a moment of severe not surprise, Dawkins proceeded to blow up Twitter by saying something he didn’t realize was quite as wrong-headed as it was.

It started with this tweet:

OK, that is perfectly logical.  Fair. Then it moved on to this example.

OK, well, this is an odd example, but considering Dawkin’s history of abuse and the probable difference he’s referring to, groping vs penetration, I can see what he’s saying here.  It’s probably a bit more subjective than that, but I see what he’s getting at: pedophilia plus violence is worse than pedophilia without violence. And then he went off the rails and Twitter exploded.

So the only way this analogy would work is if he removed date vs stranger and said rape without a knife is bad, rape with a knife is worse.  Except it’s clear that the knife thing is just a weird addendum and what he’s saying is that stranger rape is worse than date rape.

1. Responses to abuse are pretty subjective.  Different people respond differently to being harmed in different ways.  Maybe Dawkins is saying that he’d prefer to be date raped than being raped by a stranger.  But that, of course, is not what he’s saying.  He’s saying stranger rape is objectively worse.

This would be like me saying “Being stabbed in your left arm is bad.  Being stabbed in your right arm is worse.”  I will have said this for personal reasons — I am right-handed.  There are, however, a lot of people who are left-handed or ambidextrous to whom this statement would seem absurd.  Further, it’s making the assumption that the amount of damage inflicted in either case is the same.  But Dawkins is talking psychologically, not physically.

 

2. The main reason that this blew up in his face is that the majority of rapes are acquaintance rapes, so the majority of rape victims seeing this post see it as delegitimizing.  This is happening in a society that already says that date rapes don’t count the same way that stranger rapes do.  As it turns out, acquaintance rape is just a pre-meditated and intentional as acts of stranger rape.  Even if his assertion was true, it would be perpetuating the stigma that surrounds date rape survivors and paints them, inaccurately, as overreactors or people who changed their mind about sex.

 

3. What he is saying is FACTUALLY INCORRECT.  I cannot state this more clearly.  Dawkins is absolutely wrong on the fact in this case, assuming the psychological impact of the rape is what we care about.

Victims of acquaintance rape are as traumatized as victims of stranger rape. Specifically, they report equal (and high) levels of depression, anxiety, hostility, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms…” (http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1997-08362-004) and victims of acquaintance rape are more likely to be unable to reconcile what happened with their beliefs in the world and to blame themselves. (Researching Sexual Violence Against Women edited by Martin D. Schwartz).

So, to be clear here, he’s claiming subjective feelings as fact, contributing to the deligitimization of the majority of rape victims, and not even operating with correct facts.  And doing so just because he did a bad job trying to explain what a syllogism is.  He could so easily fix this if he would just do a little research and listen to criticism and acknowledge he said something hurtful.  I have no reason to think he will do this, as he never has before.  It’s a shame, too, there’s just no reason for a man of his intellect and commitment to science to be so unwilling to examine facts and accept criticism of bad ideas.

Why neutral is not the logical position on Dylan Farrow’s allegations

dylan farrow and woody allenI have actually lost a lot of Facebook friends over the Woody Allen molestation story, because I side very firmly with Dylan.  I recently shared an article about how what you believe is based on your personal experiences – people who have been mistreated by those in power, especially sexually, tend to believe Dylan; people who have been in power and fear false accusations, tend to believe Woody or claim neutrality.

Michael Hawkins offered this dismissive response to the article:

I stopped reading after the article repeated the same illogic as your last one: Saying we don’t know what happened is not also saying Farrow is lying.  It’s saying we don’t know.  That’s it.  Claiming otherwise is the same as dismissing the importance of evidence, a dismissal of the scientific view of the world.  We don’t know if her claims are true.  We don’t know if Allen’s denials are true.  That’s it.

The question is not whether we know what happened – we cannot know what happened — it’s whether we believe the claims of the victim.  We spend a great deal of time believing things that we don’t know – even in science, we operate off of assumptions and tentative conclusions about the world to be able to test claims.  Oftentimes, “knowledge” just means the claim with the best evidence.  Demands of necessary neutrality in response to a claim of sexual abuse is hyperskepticism, not scientific skepticism.

Michael makes the claim that neutrality is the only logical position.  That would only be correct if we lived in a void, where the rest of the world didn’t exist around the claims being made.  In the same way, legal language is inappropriate when discussing how people who are not judge or jury are forming opinions.  The standard for conviction is necessarily far stricter than the standard for forming rational opinions.  Let us look at the world beyond the “he said, she said.”

Woody Allen has a history of not respecting sexual boundaries and taking advantage of massive power imbalances between himself and his sexual partners – his history with his son’s sister, the child of the mother of his children, is enough to show a complete contempt for appropriate age relationships and the incest taboo.  He also has made jokes about how he has no sexual boundaries and no one would be surprised to find him in bed with several 12-year-olds.

Dylan Farrow, on the other hand, has nothing to gain from sharing this information except the chance of being believed, something that is part of the healing process for abuse victims.  Importantly, belief is all she’s asking for – not remuneration, not penalties for Woody Allen, just that people believe her.  Believing her costs Woody Allen nothing, while not believing re-victimizes her.

There are witnesses on who’ve come forward on both sides.  Those who have eye-witness testimony of inappropriate behavior from Allen to Dylan, and those who claim that Woody would never do something like that and there wasn’t sufficient opportunity.  Eye-witness testimony is imperfect, but it’s significant that there are people besides Dylan who corroborate the story.  There was also an investigation, which was inconclusive.  They were willing to prosecute Allen, but declined because they didn’t want to put Dylan through it.  This speaks to an inability to rule out that it happened, if not evidence that it did.

But even if you think that those who witnessed things and felt the case was tryable should be held in equal weight to those who deny the possibility of abuse and felt Dylan was not being honest, neutrality is still not the appropriate position.  Statistically, false accusations of sexual abuse by children are very rare.  Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence – a rape is not extraordinary, a false accusation is.  Dylan Farrow is making a claim that should only be doubted if there is good evidence that she is lying.  No such evidence exists.  Neutrality is denying the reality of how common abuse is in the world in which we live and how rare false accusations are. The default position, outside of a legal context, is believing the victim.

Furthermore, claiming neutrality is a betrayal of the victim, even if you’re not calling her a liar.  Not believing her, even if you don’t think she’s necessarily lying, is hurting her and not hurting Allen.  From a cost/benefit analysis, extending the benefit of the doubt to Dylan is the most logical conclusion, as it offers the most benefit with the least cost.

I’ve found the response to Dylan’s letter revelatory.  There are many people in the world who value skepticism over humanism; being not wrong over being probably right; being neutral over being kind.  Kind not just to Dylan, but to the many survivors of abuse who are finding it hard to see the cruel treatment of a woman who is bravely coming forward with what happened to her, something many other survivors wish they had the ability to do.  Demanding neutrality from others, many of whom may be survivors of experiences they’ve not shared with you, is neither logical nor kind.

Michael Shermer’s Note on the Legal Fund

On the legal fund set up for Michael Shermer there is now a note from Shermer himself, acknowledging the campaign.

People are asking me about this legal fund set up in my name, if I am aware of it, if it is legit, should they donate?, etc. For the record: I am aware of and completely support this legal fund and deeply appreciate Emery for setting it up and for the people who have donated thus far. I made it clear to Emery when he set it up that the money goes into an account that I have no access to, that my legal bills will be paid out of the fund directly to the law firm representing me, and that if there is any money left over after the case is finished that it be donated by Emery to a nonprofit organization of his choice. If anyone would like to email me directly for confirmation of the above, my email is [email protected], which is posted on our web page www.skeptic.com. My reputation is all I have. I did nothing wrong–legally or morally–and I intend to defend myself and prosecute Myers until he issues a retraction and apology, as stated by my attorney.

And I would say something about that, but honestly one of my commenters, imnotandrei, really nailed it.

And, as a result, he blew whatever chance he had left of regaining credibility with me.  Because at this point, whether or not he’s done as was claimed, his actions *since* have demonstrated that I shouldn’t trust him.

When your fundraiser makes a rape joke, and asserts that people are out to “do harm to the institutions” and “have set their sights on atheism”, and your response is to say you “completely support this legal fund” — well, it’s clear that you are not only aligning yourself with people defending you, but the people who think rape jokes are OK and Atheism+ is some massive blight on the face of atheism.

And if you’re allied with them, you have lost all credibility in my eyes on these issues.

Michael Shermer Legal Fund

Screen Shot 2013-08-21 at 10.43.01 AMSomeone has set up an Indiegogo campaign to raise money to help pay for Michael Shermer’s response to the unnamed first hand accuser at PZ’s site.

I actually don’t have a problem with people deciding they want to help raise money to pay for the legal fees someone else is incurring.  I think the justice system is such that that is entirely reasonable, especially if you’re a fan of the guy and think he’s being falsely accused.  It’s really no different from OJ or Michael Jackson fans wanting to financially support “their guy” through their legal troubles.  I happen to find myself on the opposite side, having heard and experienced too much behind the scenes to believe in Shermer’s innocence, but I don’t begrudge those without that knowledge for wanting fair legal representation of Shermer.

I do, however, begrudge them their inability to believe in the good intentions of others with a demonstrable history of trying to do something positive with the movement.  It seems that, to some skeptics, merely offering criticism of problems you see in the organizations, conferences, celebrities, or overall movement is tantamount to wishing to destroy skepticism, rather than an attempt to make skepticism better.

“PZ Myers and the FtB feminists have set their sights on skepticism and atheism in general. They clearly want to do harm to the institutions.”

You hear this argument a lot from Republicans, that criticizing America is anti-America or trying to destroy America, when in fact it’s trying to make America better and fix the problems within, rather than turn a blind eye.  Yes, a lot of “FTB feminists” have set their sights on skepticism and atheism in general, because we’re part of those movements and care deeply about making them better.

And, of course, it’s difficult to give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re just trying to make sure justice is served when there’s this:

A show of support will send the message that we as a community will no longer tolerate illogical attacks on people who do not condone nor support sexual harassment, sexual predation, or rape any more than we support defamation of our community members from anonymous allegations.

Ah, so donating to this is not, in fact, an attempt to help Shermer get decent representation, but rather a way to condemn unnamed victims who come forward with their stories.  Got it.  Out of curiosity, what is the appropriate way for a reporter to deal with a story from an unnamed source who is known and trusted, whose story and reputation is vouched for by multiple others?

Tonight at 7PM: The Ashley F Miller Show Episode 5

Delicious

Delicious

I feel like 5 episodes makes it seem legit.  A show in its own right, standing on two feet.  No longer a total babe in the woods, maybe more of a toddler.

Join me, Jason Thibeault of Lousy Canuck, and Heina Dadabhoy of Skepchick as we talk:

Politics: Rape in Dubai
Media: Comic Con — women and minorities in geek culture (politics of cosplay?)
Guest Choice: FreethoughtBlogs Conference and the future of online conferences

You can RSVP to the “event” here and, when the hangout is on-air, it should send you a link of the YouTube page, or just come back here at 7 and the YouTube link will be up.

This is filmed in front of a live internet audience — if you’ve got input feel free to get in touch before or during the show by commenting here, on youtube, or on the event page.

It will also be edited and released as a podcast.

Podcast website: http://ashleyfmiller.libsyn.com/webpage

Rapists are more than monsters, victims are more than victims

Steubenville RapeThere have been a few conversations going on online this week about what is and isn’t rape, who is and isn’t a rapist, and the Steubenville rape case and the HBO show Girls have been at the center of these conversations.  Obviously, the two are not equivalent in terms of moral weight, but they both illustrate the complexities of sexual relationships and ways in which people we care about can be perpetrators of crimes.

We tend to agree that “no” means “no”, but what about non-verbal non-consent?  What about inability to consent?  What about coercion?  When are these things rape?  What are the terms we have for things that are not OK, but we’re not sure if they are “rape”?  What does it mean if someone we like does them?  What does it mean to label someone we know a “rapist”?

The episode of Girls in question depicted a man relapsing into his alcohol addiction and doing things to his girlfriend sexually that she was very uncomfortable with.  It was a very graphic depiction, even for HBO, that some are calling rape.

The scene is incredibly uncomfortable, but a major contributor to the discomfort comes from the fact that the audience likes Adam and he’s doing something the audience doesn’t want him to do.  Is it rape?  Maybe not, but it’s definitely coercive and abusive.  Is it possible to acknowledge that he did it and still like him?

And then there’s Steubenville.  The level of outrage at the treatment of Jane Doe seems to be matched by the level of concern for the future of these poor boys who had such promising futures.  Leaving aside for a moment how deeply troubling the discourse about promising futures is, as though Jane Doe’s future hasn’t been damaged or was less promising because she was woman who drank and had sex, there’s something worth examining about the concern being shown for these 16 year old boys being sent to prison.

They are, after all, just kids.  Stupid kids who kidnapped and repeatedly violated a woman in need of medical attention, but entitled 16 year old kids who spent their entire lives being told they could do no wrong and worked very hard to succeed at their chosen passion.  They are not just horrible rapists, there is more to them than that, but they are also rapists.

The thing about rapists, though, is that it is never the case that “rapist” is the only term that can be used to describe them.  As easy as it is to demonize and vilify someone who commits a rape, the reality is that most rapists are friends or family of their victims.  This is one of the tragedies of the crime — “rapist” often attaches itself to people who were already “friend” “star-player” “hero” “love-interest” and “protector”.

Add to this how ineffective, violent, and, yes, full of rape our prison system is, it’s really no wonder that people are sad that two boys have been condemned to that experience when they weren’t, up til now, labelled by any of the other labels that normally go with that.  Instead of jumpstarting conversation about how we could fix the justice system or the moral complexities of dealing with young criminals, we instead have a fight about how Jane Doe is the real victim (she is), how these boys chose their own futures by committing the crime (they did), and how they should be punished so much more.  What, exactly, does punishing them more accomplish?

I think there has to be a middle ground that says rapists are people and deserve some level of sympathy and the chance to make amends and have a future.  And if we allow for that possibility, the possibility of forgiveness and a justice system that, yes, will convict rapists, but will also offer them help rather than just punishment, more victims who knew their rapists first as friends, lovers, family, and heroes could come forward with what happened knowing that three-dimensional people would be dealt with in three-dimensional ways.  Perhaps we could then see rape victims as more than just victims, not just virgins and sluts, but three-dimensional people who had been victimized but were so much more than that.  Dehumanizing rapists has the effect of distancing ourselves from the chilling reality that people who have raped aren’t uncommon, making them just monsters makes it that much harder for us to accept that “normal” people who are accused may well be guilty.

I am furious, absolutely furious, about how Jane Doe is not being treated as the victim, but the young men are.  I am furious that there are no consequences to the other young men involved who did nothing to stop the rape and, instead, filmed and photographed the violations.  I am furious that there are people who think that she deserved it because she was drunk.  There are so many things to be furious about.  But I am also furious that these boys are being sent to a prison system that will, in all likelihood, make them worse and possibly get them raped.  And I am furious that our need for moral black and whites means that many women will never come forward because they don’t want that to happen to someone they care about, even if they are a rapist, and they don’t want to spend their lives being defined as victim when that often has so little to do with their futures.

Liberal Tips to Avoid Rape: Conservatives on Twitter get nasty

A Colorado politician said:

It’s why we have call boxes, it’s why we have safe zones, it’s why we have the whistles. Because you just don’t know who you’re gonna be shooting at. And you don’t know if you feel like you’re gonna be raped, or if you feel like someone’s been following you around or if you feel like you’re in trouble when you may actually not be, that you pop out that gun and you pop … pop around at somebody. – Rep Joe Salazar

A guy on Twitter who goes by the name “Sooper Mexican” posted a joke in response:

: yell “racist” at your rapist… that’s like the worst thing ever!

I get the joke, right — blowing a whistle is like yelling racist, completely ineffective.  I have no particular great love of the rape whistle as a rape prevention tool, but the joke’s intent, apparently, was to point to the fact that guns are the only effective way to prevent rape.

The reality is that guns are dangerous and likely to get you killed, especially if you are the victim of acquaintance or partner rape, like the majority of victims are.  But if the “joke” had ended here, it would have been mildly obnoxious and problematic, but the hashtag caught on and turned incredibly ugly.

#LiberalTips2AvoidRape if you think you can stop any one by blowing a whistle then get on your knees and blow this

Ah, see, it’s not rape if you are coerced into doing it.

#LiberalTips2AvoidRape “I don’t have to fight back, I can just abort it”

Because the terrible thing about rape is that you might get pregnant, not the violent invasion of your body!  And see, while conservatives want women to have control of their bodies in a rape situation, they don’t want them to be able to control their bodies by having sex for reasons other than procreation or to have control over whether they are pregnant or not.

#LiberalTips2AvoidRape: pray to Obama extra hard, and promise to have 3 abortions in his name..

#LiberalTips2AvoidRape Go for the Democrat politician look. You definitely won’t be raped…

Rape is about power, not about sex.  And insulting how the women in the party look is about as appealing to women as… joking about them getting raped.  So fair enough.

#LiberalTips2Avoid Rape Just shag everything. When they realize you’re an aerobic activity at best, and ObamaCare looms, they’ll head for gym

People won’t want to rape you if you’re a slut? Or maybe being slutty means you can’t be raped?  Unclear.

Not all of the advice is bad:

#LiberalTips2AvoidRape Don’t rape anybody.

The Good Men Project made an excellent point: America voted against all of the conservatives who said crazy things about rape in 2012, maybe this complete inability to understand the difference between condemning violence against women and laughing at it will haunt more campaigns in 2014.

Todd Akin and how the Christian Right’s delusion of an all-powerful God hurts people

I am about as far from the Christian Right as you can get, religiously and politically, and it’s not always apparent how closely that religious fervor is related to what I think of as the most cruel and stupid of the beliefs that the right-wing clings to.

Todd Akin, current representative and Senate nominee, said one of the most offensively stupid things I’ve ever heard.  Admittedly, I am as far from him on the abortion debate as one can get, but I do have some sympathy for people who think abortion is murder without exception.  I happen to think that it doesn’t matter whether it is murder or not — in all other circumstances, people have the right to use any means necessary to protect their own body from unwanted invaders and harm, I don’t see pregnancy as different.

Regardless, his scientifically illiterate justification for allowing no exceptions for rape is rather astonishing:

People always try to make that one of those things, ‘Oh, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question.’  It seems to me, first of all, what I understand from doctors is that’s really where—if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

Todd Akin’s absurd claim that people who are “legitimately” raped can’t get pregnant is symptomatic of the larger problem of the Christian Right. When you think that there is an all-powerful God overlooking everything, it’s difficult to cope with the cognitive dissonance that bad things happen to good people and that most solutions to problems are imperfect.

The problem of evil in the world is nothing new, but it is much easier to ignore if you blame all bad things on bad actions on the part of victims rather than societal problems or true injustice.  It would be too cruel for someone to get pregnant from a rape, so she must have not been raped, not really raped, only kind of raped.  They aren’t saying these things to justify their positions, they genuinely believe them because not to would be so difficult to all of their other beliefs.

There can’t be systematic injustice — God wouldn’t allow it, so women and black people and poor people are all simply reaping what they’ve sewn or playing their appropriate role, not being hurt by unnecessary prejudice and cruelty.  Women can’t be raped, they are always asking for it.  People on welfare must be bad people, that’s why they deserve to be poor.  They are different from us.  That’s why when Rush Limbaugh takes government handouts, it is OK, because he’s really a good person, but when some black welfare queen takes it, it is not OK, because she’s really a bad person.  Limbaugh doing drugs is someone who needs counseling, inner city kids doing drugs are criminals.  Why should there be social safety nets for bad people?  Because in the mind of a Christian, the world can be broken into the good people and the bad people.  Somehow they miss that almost everyone is just a people people, not particularly good or bad.

To be a Christian, you must believe that God is all-powerful and good, and so you’re forced to believe that people have asked for their bad fates and that solutions to problems are simple, otherwise you have to start questioning the God hypothesis and admitting that the responsibility for making to world a better place for your fellow man is yours.

Gun Law Arguments/Tweet of the Day

This is Wonka meme has been going around my Facebook. I guess I’ve got a lot of FB friends who are idiots.

“Also, if you could please tell me more about why we have laws against rape, assault, murder… Actually, if you could explain the whole concept of laws to me, that might help. Because I’m an idiot.”

And, completely unrelated, here is the tweet of the day:

@beardedstoner: To everyone mad about Joe Paterno’s statue being taken down – just look the other way & pretend it’s not happening.

Wow, Richard Dawkins is Clueless

I love Richard Dawkins.  I like his books, I love watching him read his hate mail, I loved listening to him talk at TAM last year, I loved watching him smirk about everything, I loved his documentary and I just like him in general.

But he doesn’t get what it’s like to be a woman.  Not that one would expect him to have a total understanding, he is not a woman, but you would think that he’d be able to empathize just a little with women.  Apparently not.  Apparently if your genitals aren’t being mutilated and you’re complaining about creepy behavior from men at conferences, you’re just complaining about nothing.  Wow, that’s great PR from a movement trying to get more women involved.

Have some background:

  1. Rebecca Watson was part of a panel about feminism.
  2. A stranger followed her into the elevator at four in the morning, waited for the doors to be closed, and tried to get her to go back to the room with him.
  3. She was creeped out majorly by this behavior. And was bothered that her talk had apparently made no difference and that her wish to go back to her room and sleep, which she said to a large room of people that included the stranger, was being ignored by someone who thought it was his right to hit on her regardless of what she wanted.
  4. Another female blogger, Stef McGraw, said she was overreacting.
  5. Rebecca Watson mentioned Stef, by name, in another panel.
  6. Stef then said it was abuse of power for Watson to call her out in a panel.
  7. A bunch of guys in the movement started protesting that if you can’t approach a stranger in the middle of the night (in an enclosed, inescapable space) then how will you ever meet anyone in the movement??? Plus, Freedom of Speech!
  8. PZ posted about it, which garnered much response and vitriol from various people.
  9. DAWKINS came into the comment thread and said basically that it was OK for guys to be creepy because some women get their genitals mutilated. That the creepy behavior was NO DIFFERENT from someone chewing gum on an elevator. Richard Dawkins said this, PZ confirmed it was actually him.
  10. My head exploded

Here’s some advice for guys: If a woman, particularly a complete stranger, can literally not get away from you, that’s not a good time to proposition her.  If you’ve got her trapped in a small space or are between her and her escape route, don’t imply, on any level, that you’d like to do things to her body.  Just don’t.

Why?  Because she doesn’t know if you’re a good guy or not and she’s trapped in a space suddenly with someone who doesn’t care about how safe she feels, and in this particular case, has already intentionally ignored her stated wishes.  Why on earth would she think you’re not going to ignore it when she says NO?  There are lots of opportunities to express interest in ways that don’t feel incredibly dangerous to a woman — if you put yourself in her shoes and think, “Would this seem safe if I was a woman who might get raped by a strange man?”  If the answer is anything but, “Yes,” DON’T DO IT.

Here is an amazing post about how not to make women feel scared shitless when you try to hit on them.  Don’t act like a threat!  Don’t ignore what people say!  Don’t ignore body language!  And don’t accuse women of complaining about meaningless crap when they’re afraid for their safety because some people have it worse!