In a post about the consistency of maintaining equal rights for men and women while calling women to live decently , Laurence Thomas raises some further issues about a moral power of women that men don't have. He says that, because of the difference between a man raping a woman and a woman raping a man, women have a moral power that men don't have. This is a curious statement, and I can see what he might be getting at, but I'd need to see a little more to be sure. Since he didn't enable comments on that one post, I'll raise my questions here.
I agree with the claim that rape of a man by a woman and rape of a woman by a man are not equivalent. There's clearly a kind of rape that a woman cannot do to a man that a man can do to a woman, and that is to have sex when the other party is not aroused at all. There are purely biological reasons for this. There can be sexual assault of some sort, but it won't be outright rape of a man by a woman unless he is aroused enough that the act can even take place. That's a real disanalogy, and I think it has severe consequences for how we think about rape of a man by a woman as opposed to rape of a woman by a man. Men can rape women in ways that women can't rape men.
I'm not entirely sure that Laurence's next step is correct. He points out that a sexual act can be rape even if the woman being raped enjoys it or desires it at some level. This is the very heart of what sometimes happens in date rape cases. She does not consent to sex. He presses and succeeds. This can happen even if on some level she does desire the sexual interaction, as long as she doesn't rationally consent. This is especially the case when she's unable to give rational consent due to what's commonly called the date rape drug or even just a high blood alcohol level. Her desire is perfectly compatible with lack of consent, and it is indeed rape in such cases. But Laurence doesn't apply the same reasoning to men, and I'm not fully clear on why.
I'm not sure why the argument he gives doesn't apply whether it is a man or a woman being pressured into sex. If someone does not consent to sex and happens to be a man, he may still be aroused, and it may still be possible for a woman to take advantage of that arousal and in fact have sex with him. I'm not sure why this isn't as much rape as when a man does the same thing to a woman. Both involve lack of consent, and both involve strong desire.
It's true that raping a woman when she has no desire is a very different sort of thing than anyone could possibly due to a man (at least restricting ourselves to heterosexual sex, as Laurence is doing, though I don't think anal rape of a man is on the same level as vaginal rape of a woman, so I don't think we even need this restriction). But how does that justify saying that it's not rape of a man when he doesn't consent but desires the sex when we do say it's rape of a woman when she doesn't consent but desires the sex? I'm just not sure what's supposed to justify that step. I'm not assuming there's no argument for this, and I'm open to seeing a difference between the two cases, but I don't see the argument for it in the post that asserts such a difference. It has something to do with the existence of these other cases where men can take advantage of women who don't desire at all, but why does that mean that in cases where men do desire that it's not like cases where women do? The relevant feature that creates the differential (lack of desire) just isn't there in the cases where there is desire.
The only thing I can think of is that general power differentials in society make the difference, though I wonder if that's enough. I don't want to say that they're merely contingent and could be missing in some societies. That's true of some elements of the power differential, but it's not true of the power differential with respect to raping someone who has no desire. But to motivate the claim in question I think we need a further premise, that a power differential with respect to something irrelevant to a case in question can make an action worse against someone who is on the less empowered end of that power differential, even though the thing that generates the power differential is irrelevant to this case. Or does Laurence want to say that it's somehow not irrelevant that other cases involve lack of desire for women but not for men? Exactly what makes it relevant? That's where I'm just not sure how the extra step in the argument gets motivated.
I agree with Laurence's general points in the post, and I think I agree that women have a moral power that men lack, but I'm not sure this is the justification for it. If it is, I need a further step in the argument that I'm not seeing. I'm not sure how better to motivate it, though, because I share his intuition that it's worse for a man to take advantage of a woman who desires sex than it is for a woman to do so with a man. I'm just not sure how to motivate it philosophically given the premise that men and women have equal rights in general.
Update: Laurence has responded. I'm not coherent enough right now to read it carefully, so I'm not even going to read it until I'm less out of it.