Sex, Marriage, and Sexuality: March 2006 Archives

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.

Last week, I picked up a copy of the Syracuse University Daily Orange, and it had an interesting article [registration may be required] about some students who wanted to start a chapter of N.O.W. on campus but decided against it because N.O.W. is a top-down organization that wouldn't let them promote the issues as they wanted to promote them, and there was also some hesitation related to the perception that N.O.W. consists largely of rich, white women. That was an interesting enough issue, but I have little to say about it. I do have something to say about one thing in the article, however. They include a quote from Marcia Pappas, president of the New York State division of N.O.W. Pappas says, "If you can't control your own reproductive system, you can't control anything."

Really? I'd like to see some evidence that societies that illegalize abortion are forced to prevent women from having jobs or to decide what kind of car they'd like to have. Show me even just a strong correlation between restricting contraception and removal of things like freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and other freedoms that someone who can't control anything wouldn't possess. I'd be interested in any sign that those whose reproductive choices are restricted will somehow lose control of all their limbs and be unable to control what words come out of their mouths. That's what her statement implies. She probably just meant that those without good control over their reproductive options have far fewer options on matters of great importance, but her way of saying it makes it sound as if she can't distinguish between having fewer options on matters of great importance and not being able to control anything in your life. Probably even worse is that she's insulted anyone who struggles with fertility issues. Her statement implies that their lives are completely out of their control simply because they can't control their reproductive system.

Whatever you think of the views N.O.W. puts forth, this sort of ridiculous overstatement does not in any way serve their purposes, because it just makes her sound really stupid. People are then going to associate stupidity with the agenda of N.O.W. On one level I have welcome this sort of rhetorical blunder, because I think the N.O.W. agenda is ultimately evil, even if most of the people promoting it have good intentions. Still, I regret that anyone would say such foolish things and thus bring the entire public debate over abortion down to this kind of idiocy. It's bad enough that both sides ignore some important philosophical issues that aren't always obvious. It's much worse if we support our views with statements that are this obviously false while also insulting to a significant enough portion of the population.

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