Monday, 11 August 2014

So Everything Equals Rape Culture Then? Another response to Oolon.

So Oolon graciously responded to my last blog, ending with the following glorious salvo:

Thanks for the laughs anyway, as “takedown” posts of my challenge go this has set a very very low bar for anyone else taking it up

Setting a very very low bar is something I have specialised in for many years (usually in the spheres of religion and philosophy) and hardly worthy of note. What is worthy of note is the ease with which Oolon managed to limbo underneath it. Inches to spare.
Oolon goes on to say: 

What a brave hero you are, risking being called a rape apologist. I’m sure rape victims around the world will be appreciative of your dispensation of THE TRUTH in the face of such potential adversity.

A shamefully low blow Oolon, that one is right in the balls. Nothing I have written has taken one iota away from any victim of rape, nor any other crime against the person. "Either accept rape culture exists or stick a knife through the heart of all rape victims" may impress the radical crackpot social justice wankers you spend most of your time bleating with but out in the real world it just shows as the political trickery that it is. I think this is the lowest I have seen you stoop.

Ok, I plan to address Oolon's criticisms and comments in the following order

1) Criticisms pertaining to definitions of normalisation and rape culture used in my response
2) Criticism that I lacked citations and didn't debunk statistics he feels I need to debunk before questioning the usage and appropriateness of the term rape culture to describe our societies.
3) Some rather cryptic responses he made to the couple of my points he actually bothered to address.

Issues of definition


So one of Oolon's primary concerns was of my use of the term "normalisation". This was part of what he had to say: 

I guess I’ll have to do some work for you. Now how hard would it have been to just Google some feminist arguments for what “normalisation” means, in context here. Not even academic ones. Then actually address those not your Wikipedia definition alone? Such as …
(confusingly Oolon then goes on to quote an example that uses the word "normalisation" to describe rape culture, rather than actually defining the word)

So there you have it.
The definition I linked to was What I was most happy about was that, for once, the definition used in the academic field (sociology) mirrored our everyday understanding the word. Happy days.... or so I thought.

But we have been here before, haven't we Oolon? It was over a year ago now I asked for a source other than a feminist (or mra) source for the definition of sexism as prejudice plus power. Still waiting on that.
So here we are again. Another word to add to sexism and misogyny that has some special feminist definition as an aid to political gamesmanship. The only difference this time is that you don't even tell me what that definition is! What is this definition of normalisation that is so different from common usage and general usage within sociology as to render my comments without foundation?

.....Or perhaps that was not your point? Perhaps, instead, your issue was with what I expect to be normalised within something called a rape culture? Perhaps that was your issue with the wikipedia definition too (to which I will turn to in due course)? Perhaps we need to rewrite (from wikipedia's definition):

Rape culture is a phrase used to describe a culture in which rape is pervasive and normalized .......
Rape culture is a phrase used to describe a culture in which rape isn't pervasive and normalized but lots of sundry tenuously related shit is.....

Is that the issue Oolon? That I was applying the idea of normalisation to attitudes to rape itself? That I am making rape culture too much about rape and not enough about bikini clad women being used to advertise exotic cruises and brickies wolf-whistling at passing women?

If that is the case Oolon then I call bullshit. That society normalises men as more sexually aggressive and women as sexually passive may well be true but that is as far away from demonstrating societal acceptance of rape as the acceptance of juvenile males greater physical aggression and strength is from demonstrating societal acceptance of murder. Not close at all: not even the sniff of a cigar there.

Rape culture

So here we have an interesting little set of circumstances. In Oolon's original piece he criticised some arguments against rape culture on the grounds that they were arguing against a straw-definition (…hypothesis of a systematically-endemic effort to rape women native to the culture…). He then demonstrated that this definition was false by showing wikipedia's definition. At the time he wrote this about the wikipedia entry:

Please, find me a definition of rape culture that comes close to this! I guess taking the top Google search result will suffice, even if it is Wikipedia and not necessarily what feminists themselves actually say

Okay, so it is not *necessarily* what feminists say. That was his criticism. He must have thought the definition was pretty good, however, because his challenge to critics of the idea, at the end of his blog, was based on this wikipedia definition!

So given that this was the definition he used and the definition he based his challenge on, this was the definition I worked with. Sounds reasonable? Apparently not, silly me - Oolon again:

Nope, oh dear, failed to follow my instructions then? I thought they were pretty clear … I pointed at the Wikipedia definition and criticised it as *not* matching what feminists say about rape culture. So you decide to use Wikipedia, seems legit, which is actually just defining the word there in very general sociological terms not in context of rape culture. Skeptic fail
Something of a change of heart, then, from Oolon. So this is what we now have to believe:

1) Oolon wanted to criticise someone for using an inaccurate definition of rape culture so-
2) Oolon attempts to demonstrate the inaccuracy of the individual's definition by contrasting it with another definition which he acknowledges isn't accurate either (yes, really).
3) Oolon then carries on throughout his blog based on this definition he himself says is inaccurate.

You really couldn't make this shit up, could you?

What I really love is the nonsensical part in the quote above. Yes, Oolon objects to me using wikipedia on the grounds it defines rape culture in general terms and not in the context of rape culture. Is it just me, or is that one of the most bullshit marinaded sentences known to humankind?

Maybe Oolon has been at the sherry again? (Sherry fail?)

Confused yet? Prepare to be!

So if we are looking to unearth one of these secret feminist definitions we don't have to look far. Oolon links to one (then totally ignores it) in his original blog piece. The piece is by "Shakesville" (Melissa McEwan), a feminist and promoter of fat acceptance (occasionally bordering on morbid-obesity advocacy on the bits i've read) so shall we take a look at what Shakesville has to say?

Frequently, I receive requests to provide a definition of the term "rape culture." I've referred people to the Wikipedia entry on rape culture, which is pretty good, and I like the definition provided in Transforming a Rape Culture:

Wait, so Melissa thinks the wikipedia entry is pretty good? Hmm, so the wikipedia entry is NOT what feminists in general mean by rape culture (according to Ool's) but Oolon's chosen example of a typical feminist likes it.

Confused now surely? Incredibly, it gets worse:

Whilst Shakesville's Melissa likes the wikipedia definition she also likes another definition and this is where we run into more than a bit of an issue. Here is that other definition:

A rape culture is a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm.

In a rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable as death or taxes. This violence, however, is neither biologically nor divinely ordained. Much of what we accept as inevitable is in fact the expression of values and attitudes that can change.

Interestingly, according to this definition, rape culture need not actually be about rape at all. A bit like murder culture only requiring a good kicking, rape culture could conceivably be about as little as 'sexual remarks' it seems.

This is also a definition that, to its discredit, seems to rely heavily on equivocation. That we see "violence as sexy" is undoubtedly true. However, the sexy violence of the Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels variety is decidedly of the non-sexual variety and the usage of the word sexy here clearly means something more akin to cool and glamorous than anything related to the levels of tumescence going on in one's pants. Contrast that to the portrayal of King Joffrey (Game of Thrones) being shown getting his sexual thrills murdering a tied up prostitute by shooting crossbow bolts into her - a scene we are shown in the very expectation we will recoil in disgust and hate his (already hated) character even more (number 2 on this list). Sexy does not mean "sexually stimulating" and nine out of ten times the sexy violence is resolutely non-sexual in its nature. Another example of equivocation is between "inevitability" as an understanding of likelihood as things stand versus "inevitability" as something which is simply a fact of the universe outside of our influence. That we accept rape (feel free to insert any other well known crime here) as an inevitability in no way implies anything other than a rational analysis of the statistics: crimes DO happen. In no way does it suggest a passive acceptance that nothing can, or should, be done about it; in no way does it demonstrate an endorsement of the status quo.

However, the real issue at hand is how different this definition is to the wikipedia definition. To be working by two such disparate definitions makes the whole concept so woolly and ill defined that it becomes worthless. I worry about anyone who so happily accepts both as definitions of the same thing and doesn't find that bothersome. It is deeply unscientific. It should bother Oolon too. It bothers me it doesn't bother him. It should bother everyone.

Issues of Citations and Statistics

So the major bone of contention Oolon had with my response to him was that I didn't cite enough feminist statistics and tackle them.

I had hoped I'd made my stance sufficiently clear in the last blog. Statistics require tackling when they are relevant. If your case is that the statistics are not germane to what is under consideration then what is to be gained here? My primary contention was that many of the things listed as forming "part of rape culture" are nonsensical or obviously wrong-headed. My argument was NEVER with the existence of sexual objectification, for example, but that the presence or absence of objectification (sexual AND otherwise) tells us precisely nothing about whether our culture has accepted and normalised rape any more than it informs us about the price of fish.

However, Oolon, bless him, really wants to trade a few stats and sources so I'll humour him.

How about we kick off with an example of really objectionable and cynical misuse of statistics?

So, in 2010 Neil M Malamuth published "Rape Proclivity Amongst Males" in the Journal of Social Issues. You can download it here. Bear in mind, this is a study which Oolon cites via an intermediary "very good post on rape culture".

So Malamuth quote various studies he and his colleagues carried out, almost exclusively on (male) college students, around 1980-81. In these studies the students were asked to rank their perceived likelihood that they might rape were they to know in advance they would not get caught. The subjects were expected to rank the likelihood on a scale of 1-5, 1 equating to a zero likelihood all the way up to 5. Mahamuth reports that 35% of the subjects gave scores 2-5, ie non-zero likelihoods (in other words, they didn't feel able to totally rule out the possibility that they would rape).(As an aside, given the way people quite openly admit they would murder person x or y, were they assured to get away with it; given that 36% of young british muslims, in a survey, agreed with the statement that the penalty for apostasy from Islam should be death - given these things, I find the statistic unremarkable in the extreme.)

So how did Oolon report this statistic? Here he is demonstrating just how capable he is of limbo'ing under the very lowest of bars:

Highlights (?) include “1 in 3 (30-35%) of men would rape if they knew they’d get away with it.

You see, it is very hard to discuss statistics at the best of times, especially with people who so willfully misreport them. In this case reporting any expression of possibility, however fractional, as copper-bottomed certainty (as if all those who put a 2-4's had put 5's) whilst simultaneously assuming north american college students = all men (SJW's would call this 'erasing' middle-aged and elderly men).

Oolon asked me to view a specific piece entitled:
“Normalizing Sexual Violence, Young Women Account for Harassment and Abuse”

Some very interesting material in the link and I can see why Oolon feels this is some kind of killer blow..... but only because he seems to have forgotten what exactly it is that we are discussing here. Recall: we are discussing a concept called RAPE culture.

I am sure if I tried to demonstrate murder culture by citing analyses of societies views of macho posturing and/or a bop on the nose people would, quite rightly, point out that neither of those things say a damned thing about how we view murder. Murder is not either of those things.

Throughout the vast majority of the study Oolon waves in my face it doesn't say a damned thing about rape. It says much about societal acceptance to many things, a great many of them potentially problematic in their own right, but only towards the end, in the confused accounts of a number of minors, do we actually talk about rape. Even then, the study, by treating crimes of sexual violence entirely apart from other crimes of violence, seems to infer things which may simply not be true. How many young boys fail to correctly attribute a punch in the face from a peer as a serious, potentially criminal, physical assault? Instead, just regarding it as part and parcel of growing up as a young man (as we all did at school). In other words, what is the evidence that these problematic phenomena are exclusive to the realm of sexual assaults (which always seems to be the implication of these studies that only ever seem to concern themselves with sexual crimes) as opposed to simply reflecting attitudes that span the whole gamut of assaults and violent behaviours?
Perhaps I am being really radical here Oolon but surely if you'd quoted me a report looking at how seriously we regard rape that may have been ever so slightly more relevant to any claim that ours is a rape culture? A report such as this one perhaps, where rape ranks as the second worst crime in the perception of those questioned. Hell, almost 18% of respondents even ranked it as worse than murder!

Of course, if your goal from the outset is to make the case that our society is rape cultured then you are far better off skirting round the periphery and looking at societal attitudes to anything BUT rape. Make the same tenuous linkages that we heard earlier (violence is sexy) and claim that as somehow implicating society as accepting of rape and rapists but, whatever you do.......

Or how about this very recent submission by RAINN (Rape Abuse and Incest National Network), the largest organisation tackling these issues in the USA. Recommendations to the White House Task Force (pdf)
From the submission (highlighting is mine):

In the last few years, there has been an unfortunate trend towards blaming 'rape culture' for the extensive problem of sexual violence on campuses. While it is helpful to point out the systemic barriers to addressing the problem, it is important to not lose sight of a simple fact: Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime. 

While that may seem an obvious point, it has tended to get lost in recent debates. This has led to an inclination to focus on particular segments of the student population (eg athletes), particular aspects of campus culture (eg, the Greek system), or traits that are common in millions of law-abiding Americans (eg, masculinity), raher than on the sub-population at fault: those who choose to commit rape. This trend has the paradoxical effect of making it harder to stop sexual violence, since it removes the focus from the individual at fault, and seemingly mitigates responsibility for his or her own actions.

By the time they reach college, most students have been exposed to 18 years of prevention messages, in one form or another. Thanks to repeated messages from parents, religious leaders, teachers, coaches, the media and, yes, culture at large, the overwhelming majority of these young adults have learned right from wrong, and enter college knowing that rape falls squarely in the latter category.

Research supports the view that to focus solely on certain social groups or “types” of students in the effort to end campus sexual violence is a mistake. Dr. David Lisak estimates that three percent of college men are responsible for more than 90% of rapes. Other studies suggest that between 3-7% of college men have committed an act of sexual violence or would consider doing so. It is this relatively small percentage of the population, which has proven itself immune to years of prevention messages, that we must address in other ways. (Unfortunately, we are not aware of reliable research on female college perpetrators.)

(As you can well imagine, this submission led to a significant amount of defensiveness and doubling down by a number of feminist writers. Obviously RAINN, previously seen as an 'ally', has suddenly been hi-jacked entirely by misogynistic dudebros high-fiving one another at striking a blow against the womynz or something.... anyway, back in reality...) 

Firstly, note, I will try and be consistent. I won't start waving around the 3% commit 90% figure because, as interesting as that figure may be, like so many other figures mentioned, I don't see that it is relevant to societal attitudes to rape and rape perpetrators. See that Oolon? If it isn't relevant it doesn't have to be debunked nor can it be lauded as prima facie evidence.
What I think is relevant is the highlighted portions. That culture is not what is responsible for these sexual assaults and that culture, by and large (both generally and through the specific instruments listed here, amongst others) consistently and repeatedly affirms that rape and sexual violence are amongst the worst of crimes to which one person can subject another.

I will leave that one with you Oolon.

The Points Oolon Actually Addressed

This has taken some getting to.

.......your Lara Croft controversy, stirred up by a feminist! What irony, feminists fight rape culture and in your eyes that means it doesn’t exist. This would be funny if not so tragically, obviously, fractally wrong.

I will be honest, I can't really parse Oolon's response here and work out what his point is. I thought mine was clear enough. In video games acts of non-sexual violence occur by the truckload - and they are well and truly normalised within the context of the medium - but acts of sexual violence are seen as taboo and steered clear of the vast majority of the time.
I mentioned the huge amounts of non-sexual violence in Lara Croft/ Tomb Raider games and the controversy stirred up at the prospect of one solitary act of sexual violence amongst the entire series. Oolon's response appears to be that clearly one act of sexual violence would be evidence of rape culture to such an extent that he cannot comprehend how my knowledge of the Lara Croft controversy has not thoroughly convinced me that rape culture exists. I suppose if rape culture was defined as "a culture that treats rape and sexual crimes very seriously and trivialises non-sexual violent crimes" then I'd take his point.

A question for Oolon: In the game "Skyrim" your charcter is able to perpetrate almost every crime ever devised on the poor unsuspecting npc's. Feel free to rob them, burgle them, punch them, disembowel them, murder them...... anything you like as long as there is no sexual aspect to the crime. So my question is whether you regard this as evidence for, or against, rape culture? And why?

You really think your “murder culture”, “theft culture” etc stuff is a killah argument, don’t you? Does it even occur that if you were correct, so what? Observing some of the same attitudes and behaviours serve to minimise other crimes doesn’t in any way detract from the observation that in rape culture they work to minimise rape sometimes too.

I want to make a general suggestion. It is that if you want to talk about x culture, regardless of what that x may be, there should be some expectation of something anomolous, different or outside of the general scope of things. Every society eats food, lots of it, but would that then make it sensible to label every single culture a food culture, or would it make more sense to reserve that term purely for cultures that went over and above the gastronomic norms? I suggest to you, the latter.
So my suggestion here is that for the label rape culture to have any meaning it needs to be applied to cultures whose attitudes to and prevalence of rape and sexual violence are markedly different in one of three ways:
i) different, in ways we would regard as negative, to the majority of contemporary cultures.
ii) different, in ways we would regard as negative, to how that society had operated generally throughout history.
iii) different, in ways we would regard as negative, to how that society regards and deals with other crimes, especially crimes of violence.

It is with respect to (iii) above that I contend my argument, whilst not necessarily a killer argument, is one worthy of consideration. If these factors trumpeted as evidence of rape culture apply equally (or to an even greater extent) across the spectrum of crimes then that removes one of the three ways that we could suggest that the treatment of rape and sexual violence, by that culture, is in any way out of the ordinary (in terms of permissivemness or pervasiveness).

By your statement you think differently. You clearly think that a society that minimises ALL crimes is best labelled a rape culture, though it isn't immediately obvious to me why. Wouldn't crime culture be a better term in this instance?

Oh, two last things:

I’ve seen this myself (he refers to arguments that men cannot control themselves and so are absolved of blame), the ever popular Evolutionary Psychology argument that rape is “natural”, men cannot help themselves.

Not sure whether this is deliberate dishonesty on your your part or whether I should cut you some slack and assume scientific ignorance? 
- Firstly, you are either implying a fallacious appeal to nature on the part of the evo-psych proponents or mischeviously conflating the evo-psych arguments of genetic predisposition with the idea of biological determinism. Either way, it is a cunt's trick you are trying to pull.
- Secondly, what is of greater relevance to the accusation of rape culture is societal attitudes to rape not individual predisposition to offend. So how come you are happy to mention that some evo-psych proponents make evolutionary arguments showing how rape my be an effective genetic strategy (for some) but don't mention the corollary they make which is their evo-psych argument for why cultures, societies and individuals hold rapists in such contempt and hold rape to be such a serious crime?  

Ignorance on your part Oolon or intellectual dishonesty? 

I am starting to suspect the latter.

it’s much easier to opine about what a brave hero you are for standing up to the feminazis 

Fuck you for putting words in my mouth Oolon. In 42 years I have never used the term Feminazis in either my written exchanges nor my verbal ones. If using such terminology is bad (as per the Dawkins/Benson accord, perhaps) then surely such false attributions are equally unacceptable.

Thanks for reading,


  1. Well done, Noel!

  2. Oolon is a twat. That's all there is left to say at this point.

  3. Hi Noel,

    I am Bill from the United States. I just want you to know that I agree with you on rape culture. I do not think that rape is normalized in the general population and people who are arguing that you are using a straw definition are changing their definitions because new research on rapists seemed to raise some questions about their old definitions of rape culture. They change their definitions in response to new data so they can continue their abusive name calling.
    I am not a victim of child molestation or a victim of rape. However, I am a victim of sexual harassment which is not well understood by many people who make sexual harassment policies. Sexual harassment is not a mere insult like calling me a pussy because I cannot bench press 300 lbs. It also is not the sex joke that goes a little too far and offends somebody. Nor is it really a sexist joke made be someone who is unaware of gender issues. It is also not a joke that is done for shock value. Instead sexual harassment is an angry dominating sexual advance that is done to make you their bitch and is more like a threat to rape you than it is an insult.
    Sexual harassment is sexist and gendered but it is more of a gendered threat as apposed to a gendered insult like cunt, twat, bitch, or ho.
    To properly understand sexual harassment, think of a prison environment where new inmates who are timid and scared are coming going to prison for the first time and they are shackled and cuffed. The men inside the prison yard pretend to slobber over them and give them cat calls and call them sweetheart. The key misunderstanding by many (but certainly not all) feminists is that WHAT you say that is sexually harassing. That is not true. There is a difference between calling someone a sweetheart (loving) and calling someone a sweetheart (scary). It is not what you say to a woman when making a sexual advance, it is WHY you say it that makes it sexual harassment. It is also different from a gendered insult. Calling a woman a bitch is not sexual harassment even though I said that sexual harassment is done to make people their bitch. Sexual harassment goes further. It implies that the perpetrator actually wants to do something to the victim (rape). It is better understood as a gendered threat as apposed to a gendered insult. Or simply put, the threat that occurs before the assault.
    Sexual harassers do what they do because they are angry and want to dominate people they don't like. It establishes a pecking order. Rapists operate in environments were sexual harassment is common hence there is a lot of rape in prison. Rapists on college campuses rape for the same reasons as the men in prison and are ordinarily violent and abusive men. They tend to have several victims which account for one in five women raped. Yes 3% do commit 90% of the rapes.
    When I have seen sexual harassment portrayed in movies correctly, the harasser is always portrayed as abusive. There is a sexual harassment seen in the movie Cinderella Man and I have also seen sexual harassment portrayed correctly in horror films. Our culture does not know what sexual harassment is, not because it is normalized but because it is NOT normalized. When I was sexually harassed I was angry and scared but I did not call it sexual harassment because I did not know what to label it. I did get the idea he wanted to rape me which is what scared me. Many women who are raped do not consider what they experienced rape much like I did not know that what I experienced was sexual harassment. But they are traumatized by it. This is precisely because rape is not normalized in our culture and women are traumatized but do not know what to label their experience. When people see abusive behavior they correctly call it abusive but they do not know what to label it.

    I hope this helps.