Schrodingers Rapist

By , January 14, 2011 10:14 pm

Way back in December, when a post of mine on consent was linked to by a mens rights site, I linked to a post called Schrodinger’s Rapist. Very briefly:

When you approach me in public, you are Schrödinger’s Rapist. You may or may not be a man who would commit rape. I won’t know for sure unless you start sexually assaulting me. I can’t see inside your head, and I don’t know your intentions. If you expect me to trust you—to accept you at face value as a nice sort of guy—you are not only failing to respect my reasonable caution, you are being cavalier about my personal safety.

And a response on the mens rights site:

I want you to do me a favor and go re-read that link you posted, but when you read it, I’d like you to imagine it’s a police officer explaining to a black man why they get hassled a lot, or that it’s a TSA agent explaining to a Muslim why they get pulled out of line and searched a lot.

Imagine that instead of the title of the article being “Schrödinger’s Rapist: or a guy’s guide to approaching strange women without being maced” it was “Schrödinger’s Felon: or a black male’s guide to walking down the street without being questioned by the police” or instead was “Schrödinger’s Terrorist: or a Muslim’s guide to going through airport security without getting strip searched”. Would those be articles you’d be proud to circulate?

Is there something morally OK with gender profiling that is not OK with racial profiling?

Since then I’ve been thinking about just that: is gender profiling of men fundamentally different than racial or religious profiling?

My immediate reaction is yes, it’s different: men are still, culturally and socially, primary holders of power in Western society. Not as much as they were fifty (or one hundred, or two hundred) years ago, but legal equality has not made men and women socially, financially, or sexually equal in America. (Yes, it’s helped. I’m not dismissing legal equality as unimportant.)

At the same time, Starling (the post’s author) is talking about how all men should modify their behavior, lest they be taken for a specific minority of men (rapists). I’d say that idea is patently offensive when applied to religious minorities, racial minorities, gender nonconforming individuals, whomever. I would be horribly offended if someone said “You know, you should really just try to look more like a woman, and give people a chance to see how great you are!”

Of course, not all rape is committed by men. I think it’s kind of unfortunate the post is directed at men because, in the end, I think the post is applicable to everyone. It shouldn’t be “A guys’ guy to approaching strange women without being maced” it should be “a guide to approaching strangers without being a douche.” The rules Starling lays out, with the gendered language stripped:

  1. Everyone is allowed to set their own risk tolerances
  2. You must be aware of what signals you are sending, and in what environment
  3. Learn to understand and respect nonverbal and verbal communication
  4. If you fail to respect what someone says, you label yourself a problem
  5. Don’t rape

These shouldn’t be about how men deal with women, they should be about how anyone deals with everyone. These are simple issues of respect that, yes, culturally seem more lost on men than women, for whatever the reason. Or, if not lost, more culturally charged when it comes to men interacting with women. But it doesn’t magically become OK for a man to ignore another man’s nonverbal signals, or a woman to ignore a man’s, or whomever to ignore whomever.

And, of course, don’t rape anyone.

So I do think the mens rights poster has a point: the post, as written, is problematic. But I don’t think the information contained is actually sexist, just written from a specific (again, somewhat problematic) point of view.

Thoughts?

32 Responses to “Schrodingers Rapist”

  1. nix says:

    Thoughts, in a nutshell: CRY MOAR, MRA.

    Thoughts, expanded:

    Most rapists are cis men, most victims are not cis men. Rape culture (which is heteronormative) is one in which men are encouraged to believe that they are entitled to the time, energy, conversations and bodies of other people – particularly women (and children). You must be aware of what signals you are sending, and in what environment is right – and if men don’t want to be assumed to be rapists then they/we need to actively combat rape culture, and make sure they/we are not acting in ways that presume entitlement. Unlike the “Muslims” or “black men” in the alternative situations outlined, in the situation of rape men are the privileged ones in the position of power.

    So, OK, create a set of “non-gendered” “equal” rules so as not to hurt straight cis men’s feelings, but we do not live in a “non-gendered” “equal” society, and that is something that the comment fails to acknowledge.

    I do think that there needs to be (more) acknowledgement that not all rape is of (cis) women by (cis) men. I’ve posted about one good campaign here, if you’re interested.

    • Rebecca says:

      As I said, rape culture is different than those other situations because men are in the position of power in America. However, I’d rather see rape-prevention language phrased in a gender neutral way, and include rape statistics reminding audience members about the breakdown of rapists. That would seem to A) not assume all rapists are men while still acknowledging that B) most rapists are men.

    • Nix,

      Use of non-gendered language is not about not hurting men’s feelings. As a male rape survivor of a female rapist, I find that statement highly minimizing and almost mocking of male survivors.

      Far more than my “feelings” were hurt when she raped me. My trust, my sense of self ownership and part of my soul died that day.

      Please try to remember that real people are involved, not just social and political points on a metaphorical scoreboard.

      • Rebecca says:

        Thanks for sharing, James, and well said. I’m sorry for your experiences, but really appreciate you chiming in. Likewise (as you say on your blog) Oppression Olympics style ‘who has it worse’ discussions distract from actual victims.

  2. auraesque says:

    I think it is important to note that racial profiling and a systematic impediment to a person’s rights. Schroedinger’s Rapist brings to light the protection of a person’s safety with little to no harm to the possible perpetrator. It is an attack on privilege, not person-hood.

    In sum, what nix said.

  3. Kris says:

    I think they have it completely backwards.

    With black people and police, in my opinion, black people must assume that all police are considering arrest-not the other way around-because it is the police with the position of power.

    The men are definitely not the victims, nor are the police or the TSA. That’s just ridiculous.

  4. piny says:

    Nobody is tasing you, bro.

    The situations aren’t the same for three reasons. First, women do face a high likelihood of attempted sexual assault by men. Even if that were true of all these scenarios, which it is not, there are two other reasons that make this situation qualitatively different.

    Women have no other way to protect themselves or investigate threats. They generally can’t defend against an attacker, they have little social support as potential victims, they have zero social support when it comes to stigmatizing rapists, and legal recourse in the aftermath of rape is at best unlikely.

    Women also have no power to harm these strangers; the worst they can do is leave. They can’t imprison or torture anyone, or even restrain them in the name of their own personal safety. Neither of these things is true of the government. Police officers and security agents have social legitimacy, support, and power. The former can search with reasonable suspicion, and the latter can search everybody; women can’t insist that all men be patted down before hailing a taxi. That’s why officers and agents have an obligation to treat all citizens and passengers as equals, whereas women don’t have an obligation to treat men without suspicion.

    I do agree that implicit cis/hetero/sexism in discussions of rape is a problem; I stuck with the original terms here, but “people” and “people” works well, too. I also feel for men who are not rapists, but I don’t see why potential sexism on the part of potential rape victims is very important. I also think that a man who sees himself as a Gitmo internee is not acknowledging the seriousness of rape or the relative helplessness of victims.

    • Rebecca says:

      I do agree that implicit cis/hetero/sexism in discussions of rape is a problem; I stuck with the original terms here, but “people” and “people” works well, too. I also feel for men who are not rapists, but I don’t see why potential sexism on the part of potential rape victims is very important.

      Well, I think potential (and/or actual) sexism is always worth discussing. That’s why I posted this. I think it’s a distant second to the importance of protecting potential rape victims from potential rapists, but I don’t think the discussion should be totally off the table.

      I also think that a man who sees himself as a Gitmo internee is not acknowledging the seriousness of rape or the relative helplessness of victims.

      Absolutely no argument there!

  5. Suzan says:

    Prior to coming out as transsexual I was thrown into cell block in SF City jail where the cops knew I would be gang raped. When I was raped it was treated as though I asked for it by being physically feminine.

    Later after I had sex reassignment surgery I was raped and nearly murdered. It was more a question as to whether or not I was legitimately female than if I had been raped.

    Gender neutral rape prevention laws need be more gender neutral on the victim side rather than on the perpetrator side. Rape is an act of the more powerful forcing the weaker to submit to penetration of mouth, anus or vagina by a penis.

    Therefore the perpetrator being male is a given. the victim being female, not so much as male on male rape is also common.

    • Rebecca says:

      Thank you for sharing, Suzan. I agree that every instance of rape is criminal, and attacks ignored or glossed over (or condoned!) by those who are supposed to help – medical professionals, police, etc – are that much more tragic. I won’t pretend I understand what you went through, but really appreciate your honesty. Likewise, I absolutely agree that not all victims are male.

      That said, I really have to disagree with your definition of rape:

      Rape is an act of the more powerful forcing the weaker to submit to penetration of mouth, anus or vagina by a penis. (Emphasis added)

      I much prefer the definition from the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN):

      Rape is forced sexual intercourse, including vaginal, anal, or oral penetration. Penetration may be by a body part or an object.

      That definition allows for the possibility of a woman to rape another woman, or for a woman to rape a man. I admit, those occur much less often than male-on-female or male-on-male rape. But from what I could find, between one and two percent of reported rape cases were committed by women. On top of that, the FBI’s definition of rape only includes male-on-female rape, meaning additional instances of rape committed by women may go unreported.

      Now, one to two percent may seem pretty small. And, compared to the overwhelming number of male rapists, it is. But saying “the perpetrator [of rape] being male is a given” denies the experience of people who were raped by women, and makes their finding support that much more difficult.

      • Suzan says:

        Admittedly much of my analysis is Susan Brownmiller based and perhaps not in line with more modern writings.

      • MalkuthSephira says:

        I guess this doesn’t really fall under the main topic of this post and its comments, so if it’s too much of a derail, I apologize. I just wanted to mention that I find the idea that traumatizing sexual experiences can only be called rape if they involve some kind of penetration to be really troubling. While I’m not about to comment on what should or shouldn’t legally be considered rape, since that strikes me as kind of a tangled issue, I felt it necessary to say that in my opinion, a pretty solid definition for rape is “A non-consensual sexual experience resulting in trauma, which the survivor calls or considers to be rape.” I think ultimately if someone’s been physically violated and has lingering trauma, and for whatever reason they want or need to be able to call it rape, they should be able to. I’m not sure that anyone was intending to argue otherwise here, but (due in part to my own experiences) I think a lot of things which legally tend to fall under the umbrella of sexual assault should be considered rape if that identification is useful to the survivor. Reading rape defined in a limiting way for any reason tends to leave me with a bad feeling down in my gut.

  6. zes says:

    The MRA poster’s analogy is off, even before you address the male/female power dynamic. The TSA and police are the state. The state is (or should be) legally obliged to treat all people the same. Private citizens have means of redress against the government when it breaches this standard. Women are private citizens. They are obliged not to infringe others’ individual legal rights (eg by fair hiring practices, not stealing/murdering). They are not obliged to be polite, nice, or trusting, or even to be fair in choosing who to be polite, nice, or trusting toward.

    Also, being black or Arab is not a choice. Therefore it doesn’t tell you whether someone is dangerous. Being a rapey bully or even a rapist, is a choice. Therefore people are entitled to react accordingly. Schrodinger’s Rapist is designed to help decent, non-rapist men who don’t want to come over as rapey bullies or rapists because that’s not who they are.

    Schrodinger’s Rapist is about a private citizen potentially not trusting another person based on that person’s behavior. The MRA poster’s analogy is about the state potentially infringing a person’s rights based on that person’s physical characteristics. Unless we grant to men the legal right to talk to whoever they like, women (and other men) are not obliged to listen. Under free speech, men have the right to SAY what they like (within certain clear limits), but nobody is obliged to listen. The MRA guy is effectively comparing a blogger banning a troll for being rude, to the state banning a book because of the writer’s ethnicity. The first is two people who happen not to get on, the second is a serious affront to free speech. Much more comparable would be whether a black person should reasonably assume that any white person they encounter is Schrodinger’s Racist.

    • Rebecca says:

      Thanks for chiming in.

      Much more comparable would be whether a black person should reasonably assume that any white person they encounter is Schrodinger’s Racist.

      I think that’s a useful way of re-framing the issue. You’re absolutely right about differences between how the state treats individuals, and how those individuals treat each other.

      • zes says:

        Thank you for your kind reply! I agree the MRA poster analogy appears very reasonable, I had to think at length about it. Indeed I Googled Schrodinger’s Racist and it seems a fair few bloggers have addressed this very same issue.

    • April says:

      Also, being black or Arab is not a choice. Therefore it doesn’t tell you whether someone is dangerous. Being a rapey bully or even a rapist, is a choice. Therefore people are entitled to react accordingly. Schrodinger’s Rapist is designed to help decent, non-rapist men who don’t want to come over as rapey bullies or rapists because that’s not who they are.

      In all fairness, your analogy is off. Black people and Arab people are not being targeted by the State and TSA agents because they’r suspected of being black and Arab; they are targeted because, since their skin color corresponds to that of the perceived or real majority of criminals and terrorists, they are suspected of being criminals and terrorists. Even though only a small percentage of Arabs are terrorists, and a small percentage of African American men are criminals.

      Of course being a rapey bully is a choice, but being a male is not. And being a male does not make one a rapey bully. Not by a long shot. And men don’t deserve to be considered a rapist by women until they take the effort to prove otherwise. Just like black people and people of Middle Eastern descent don’t deserve to be targeted by government and police as criminals and terrorists until they make the effort to prove otherwise.

      The majority of rapes may be committed by men, but the majority of men are not rapists.

      • piny says:

        That should be, “Even though there is no correlation between being Arab and being a terrorist.” The majority of terrorist acts are not committed by Arabs. Profiling is unjust, but it’s also counterproductive even if you set aside the massive human-rights problems that arise upon treating POC like criminals. It doesn’t just lead to a lot of unwarranted police abuse; it creates a culture of impunity for the privileged group. That is exactly the situation America has with terrorism now–and other kinds of criminal behavior, most notably drug use.

        But anyway! Sexism is bad in and of itself, but this situation just is not comparable to racial profiling. Women are not the police. Men who don’t get laid as easily are not internees.

        Moreover, I am skeptical of the idea that this man is objecting to prejudicial treatment per se. I think it’s about something else: the unwillingness to accept that a woman might view him as a potential rapist, or see him as indistinguishable from a rapist. I think that even if every woman in America lived in judicious fear of every stranger, he would still feel very uncomfortable about the implication that, for all any of us know, he could be the kind of stranger who drugs women senseless in order to rape them. It’s an uncomfortable thought.

  7. Factory says:

    ….yeah, because the problem was all in the PHRASING you used….

    (facepalm)

    I find the Feminist ( actually, frankly, the female) lack of willingness to accept that men are humans too quite….hypocritical.

    But then, without “Rape Culture” to demonize men with, what reason to exist could Feminism possibly have?

    • Rebecca says:

      But then, without “Rape Culture” to demonize men with, what reason to exist could Feminism possibly have?

      Wow. I don’t know. Equal rights, including property, voting, parental, and more? Equal pay? Personal and legal autonomy? There are absolutely self-labeled feminists out there who are man-haters. They give feminism a bad name, and I regret their volume. But your self-righteous denial that feminism could have any purpose beyond belittling or dismissing men is just embarrassing.

      • Dustin says:

        Equal pay is an interesting point to bring up, given that when all choice factors are controlled for the gap almost completely disappears. Do women have the right to vote now? Yes. Do they have parental rights? Arguably they have more favorable parental rights than men do. Do women have legal autonomy now? Yes. The movements that created many of these rights were many decades ago, yet there seems to be an incentive to continue to change the system after equality has been reached.

        The scales are tipping well and away from equality. The number of men entering college is decreasing, as is the number graduating. The number of boys and young men dropping out of school is increasing. The number of imprisonments is increasing. The number of male role models in everyday life is decreasing. Men are repeatedly vilified for the actions of the few. Studies on the subjects of rape, sexual assault and other areas are not questioned, but those regarding false rape claims are ripped apart.

        There is a double standard in society now. One that is commonly pushed forward in the news, and media. It creates a picture of men as bumbling idiots that have little or no control over their base urges. Fluid definitions and the ease at which individuals can be vilified and targeted has turned much of our society on its ear. A fair trial now seems to only occur when there is definite and absolute proof that something happened. Unfortunately, in many cases evidence can be fabricated, or simply doesn’t exist beyond the word of the accuser.

        • Rebecca says:

          The movements that created many of these rights were many decades ago, yet there seems to be an incentive to continue to change the system after equality has been reached.

          I’d say legal equality and actual equality are not the same things. People of color have legal equality with whites, but much higher incarceration rates and lower rates of being elected to public office. (That latter one is also true of women.)

          The scales are tipping well and away from equality. The number of men entering college is decreasing, as is the number graduating. The number of boys and young men dropping out of school is increasing. The number of imprisonments is increasing.

          See, I’m not trying to live in a black-and-white world. High male incarceration rates are absolutely a problem, and one that society needs to address. Likewise for college numbers. But, on the whole, you’re going to have a difficult time convincing me that women are more powerful and have more opportunities in America than men. I’m open to arguments, but I admit I’m going in skeptical.

          There is a double standard in society now. One that is commonly pushed forward in the news, and media. It creates a picture of men as bumbling idiots that have little or no control over their base urges.

          I actually agree that there’s a double standard, and don’t like the media portraying men as unable to control their sexual urges. Linked with that, though, I also don’t like the media portraying women as being sluts for embracing their sexual urges. Again, I think both are problematic, and both men and women get judged differently. (Which is a bad thing!)

          Fluid definitions and the ease at which individuals can be vilified and targeted has turned much of our society on its ear. A fair trial now seems to only occur when there is definite and absolute proof that something happened. Unfortunately, in many cases evidence can be fabricated, or simply doesn’t exist beyond the word of the accuser.

          I’m confused at what you mean here. What has been turned on its ear?

    • r. says:

      geez, ain’t you a charmer?

    • piny says:

      Women are all so fucking sexist.

  8. Joe says:

    This article doesn’t exactly cover what we’re talking about here but is along the same lines: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703779704576073752925629440.html?mod=wsj_share_facebook
    Now I understand those are just a few specific cases and in some ways it’s better to be proactive in protecting your children rather than leaving things to chance, but the author does seem to have a good point.

    On this specific issue, my first inclination on hearing about a rape is to believe the victim and I think that’s important so that the victims feel safe and not ashamed and know that it’s not their fault. There is absolutely a “Rape Culture” problem when studies show that a significant (I can’t remember the exact number) number of male college students think that it’s ok to rape someone and would if they had the opportunity. That being said, I am absolutely terrified (perhaps irrationally so) that someone is going to falsely accuse me, whether by mistake or otherwise, and ruin my reputation. Perhaps that fear is something that is necessary to ensure the safety of the overall public, in which case it’s a small price to pay. But I would still rather not have to pay it if possible.

    If it’s the dead of night and I’m walking down an empty street and a woman is walking toward me, I’m not going to take offence if she decides to cross the road. She has absolutely no idea who I am or what I may or may not do and is playing it safe. But if I accidentally trip in her direction and she overreacts and starts running and screaming rape, I don’t find that acceptable.

    I don’t know if all that rambling had a point except maybe to say that there isn’t a perfect solution unless we stopped all rapes. Changing the mindset of “Rape Culture” is a good start though and will go a long way.

    • Rebecca says:

      Thanks for the link. I think part of what’s tricky with discussing (and litigating) rape cases is the conflict between emotional and legal responsibilities. From a moral perspective, I absolutely think rape reports should be treated as real. From a legal perspective, tho, it becomes much tricker since (at least in the US) there’s the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise. (Which I also think is, all in all, a good thing.) I don’t know how to reconcile those two, even though I definitely wish I did.

  9. Tara says:

    The thing about gendering this issue is that you’re basing this all on stats that are inaccurate. How do you know for certain that men rape more than women. You don’t. It is a lot more difficult to report a rape committed by a woman because it goes against social norms. This thread only highlights how strongly people believe the men are the rapists and women the weaker gender whom are preyed upon.

    It’s time we all joined together against rape, RAPE; not a gender or an ethnicity. It’s a global, human issue not one to be used as a feministic or otherwise soapbox as a means of scoring points against each other. Discussing which gender or race is worse detracts from the actual issue in hand. The sooner people realise that the better we will all be.

    • Rebecca says:

      Thanks for chiming in. I absolutely agree that rape prevention and education should not be focused on the “men rape women” narrative, but acknowledge that A) men can be raped and B) women can be rapists.

      That said, while rapes committed by women are undoubtedly under-reported, I have difficulty believing that a full 99% of them are unreported. (To get that 99% I’m somewhat misusing the “Forcible Rape” row in this FBI data showing ~12,000 men arrested for forcible rape in 2009 versus 148 women). So I’m skeptical of the idea I (or anyone) doesn’t know that more men are rapists than women. You’re right in that I don’t have har data, due to underreporting, but I think the reporting that is done is still pretty indicative.

  10. James says:

    As mentioned before, the MRA analogy is off because the Police and TSA both have legal authority and are representatives of the state. A much better analogy would be the following:

    You are a white individual in a high crime predominantly black neighborhood. You are walking alone, and see a young black male walking toward you (or possibly multiple). Is it reasonable to regard this individual as Schrodinger’s Mugger?

    Now I’m not here to say one or the other is the correct response (as a poker player I’m apt to side with the use of probabilistic decision making myself, but that’s just me) but I do think that saying that either Schrodinger’s Rapist or Schrodinger’s Mugger is valid, but not both, is hypocritical. They are essentially the same argument.

    • Rebecca says:

      While I think it’s worth examining both situations, and agree there are similarities between the two, I don’t agree that they’re identical, or that to be OK with one and not the other is hypocritical. Specifically, white people – at a cultural level – have power and privilege. Women – again, at a cultural level – do not have that same level of power and privilege.

      • James says:

        But you’re not operating at a societal level, you’re operating at an individual level. Does white privilege conjure up police presence in a neighborhood that doesn’t have it? Do socioeconomic advantages render one invulnerable to bullets and knives? Is there anything about being white in this particular scenario that would prevent you from being mugged?

        When you talk about societal power and privilege, you can only apply it to problems and situations at the societal level. In a specific circumstance, you can’t pretend that a generalized white privilege matters more than the exact dynamics of the present situation.

  11. Adrenalectomized Mutant says:

    Well done to these stupid MRAs for pissing me right off.

    How hard is it to understand that someone who is SMALLER and WEAKER and whose entire morphology is different to yours meaning she is weaker and less able to defend herself, HAS GOOD REASON TO FEAR A LARGER STRONGER PERSON SHE DOESN’T KNOW?

    I’m a moderately tall, light WOMAN and I understand this! If I’m around a much smaller woman I try and make sure my body language is not threatening the way I wouldn’t bother doing around my large and powerfully built male friends. Because guess what, someone 7″ taller and 10kg heavier who you DO NOT KNOW may well be a threat. They could be perfectly nice, but you don’t know that. How damn hard is that to understand?

    In addition, it’s about more than rape. It’s about a generalized attitude that a woman in public must be available. No…just because she’s female does not mean she owes you her attention.

    But yes, those rules apply to everyone regardless of gender. It’s never appropriate to ignore someone’s refusal and keep demanding something from them, whether it’s their time and attention or physical affection or sex. Never.

    I guess you could boil it down to one thing. Always respect NO. Whether it’s a literal NO or a refusal to make eye contact or ‘Sorry, can’t talk’. Happy?

    • Rebecca says:

      While I appreciate you weighing in, I don’t think size is the only issue here. Likewise, as I’ve said elsewhere in this thread (and you touch on yourself) I’d like to try and stay away from assuming that the only type of sexual/physical assault is “man attacks woman.”

      I guess you could boil it down to one thing. Always respect NO. Whether it’s a literal NO or a refusal to make eye contact or ‘Sorry, can’t talk’. Happy?

      Couldn’t agree more.

Leave a Reply

Panorama Theme by Themocracy