The Male-Female Differential and Rape

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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.

12 Comments

I thought when you started there you were going to bring up men being raped by men, which could also work against Mr Thomas's point, if I understand things correctly.

I would also think that a lot more could be said about the less strictly biological aspects of the question. I've been thinking lately about the oft-repeated mantra about "blaming the victim", and how that phrase obscures the fact that people who are on the receiving end of violence sometimes do in fact engage in behavior which helps bring that violence about.

On that subject (forgive me if I mentioned it recently), Richard Rhodes' book Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist is amazingly inciteful. In surveying many of the specific cases of violence by convicted criminals, Lonnie Athens (the subject of the book) showed that many times the immediate motivation for an act of violence was some sort of taunting or insult or even the criminal witnessing another person committing a criminal act.

So while there are certainly many cases of rape where the victim had no previous relationship of any kind with the rapist, there are also cases where the (perhaps morally unacceptible) behavior of the victim precipitated the attack.

Just something I've been thinking about.

He explicitly says he's just comparing the differential between men being raped by women and women being raped by men. He admits that men being raped by men would throw some wrinkles into the discussion that he didn't think were relevant to the point he made. I'm not sure he's wrong on that, but if you have an argument it might help him if you clarify why you think this would undermine his point. He told me he understood my point and would have think about how to respond, so I expect him to return, and I imagine he'll be reading the comments.

I'm not sure how the issue of prior conduct that motivated the rapist affects the male-female differential. If the rape is an attack rather than just an unwillingness to control oneself in the heat of the moment despite a clear no from the woman, then it's the kind of rape that women can't do to men. In that case, it's in the category that I'm less sure is relevant. If the rape isn't an attack but is just unwillingness to abide by lack of consent, then how is prior behavior going to affect anything? Maybe you had more in mind, but I'm not able to see what it might be.

By the way, Laurence has a Ph.D. and is probably more respectfully referred to as Dr. Thomas or Prof. Thomas than Mr. Thomas.

I know that women are the ones getting rape.
But, there are some men who are also getting rape.

If, Women don't want to have sex with a certain men. Men shouldn't force themselves upon
women. If, men are not invited into theirlives.

Men should repect that right with women. Men
should give all women space, and breathing room in
time to think, that if I want that person in my life or not. Men should also, be kind and give respect to women, who can't make up their minds at
the moment.

Women in general are at different levels of thinking because some women have gotten four year at a University somewhere, or some women just gotten high school diplomas.

But, I feel that men should take the time to
get to know a women at a one to one bases.

From the point of view from a male who was raped by a women I would like to point out a couple of things. Males get morning wood for no reason, so the fact that a male can get hard means NOTHING. If the proper stimuls is applied its not hard to get the male hard. Also, if the woman is bigger than the man and when the man says no again and again.. and they don't stop.. I don't care if the guy is hard or NOT its RAPE. Men can be raped.. its rather easy to be blunt about it.... The reason for my name is because I'm not ready to come out in the open about this.. but the thing is.. my rapist had been raped themselves..and after the event I have to comfort them. (apologize for the spelling.. I'm not that great a speller.)

No one here denied that men can be raped by women. I was just arguing that there are differences that sometimes are important enough that not everything you say about one will apply to the other.

i can think of this because i have been rape about 4 time once was when i was 6 year old i keep it to myself for about 14 year becaue i told my boyfriend and he want to kill the guy becasue he was my dad drinking friends

actually women rape men. the more handsome and goodlooking the man is , the easier it is for him to be raped. Laws that says men cannot be raped are only being myopic. Arousals in men cn be caused by purely mechanial means. A man can be aroused against his will and then he will have an erection which will make a woman too rape him. Most men have erections while asleep - purely biological requirement. Some unscrupoulous women have been known who made love to men while they are asleep. Again, many women make love to little boys. infact for every little girl raped and injured; ten little boys have been raped and serious , delbilitating wounds etched in their subconciousness

Augustine, nothing you say in your comment touches anything I said in my post. I did not deny that women can rape men. I in fact stated that they can. What I said is that there are some elements of men's raping of women that cannot occur in women's raping of men.

"Non statutory female on male rape is widely, but incorrectly, considered impossible because male erectile response is seen as voluntary, when, in fact, it is involuntary. Fear, anger, anxiety, and non-arousal have been cited as factors in being unable to obtain an erection. Therefore, male victims of rape by females often face social, political, and legal double standards. Female rapists are usually seen as less culpable than male rapists by the courts due to these misunderstandings."

The body lies.

The moral issue isn't whether there's arousal. It's whether there's consent. Someone can be fully aroused and enjoy the pleasure of sex without having consented to it.

But as I've had to keep saying, that issue is irrelevant to my point in the post, which is that things aren't always parallel between rape of men and rape of women. There are things that occur with the rape of a woman that don't occur with the rape of a man, and some of those have moral significance.

I only said that, because people keep saying it is impossible to rape a man...

I don't see anyone saying that here, though.

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