So Mia Freedman (backing up someone on Slate whose name I can’t be bothered researching) thinks that part of the answer to stopping rape is to warn women about drinking to much and getting into dangerous situations. My friends Amy Gray, Clementine Ford and Karen Pickering amongst others have been ripping her (and her defender Susie O’Brien) to intellectual shreds.
I’m not going to repeat these arguments because, put simply, Clementine and Amy and Karen are right and they’re all more articulate than I am (and also women) so why waste your time reading me – go listen to them.
But there is an additional argument that I haven’t seen made very much (acknowledging of course that I might be missing cases where it has been made). It is not as important as the ones that Amy and Clementine are making. I know that Oscar Wilde, or whoever it was who said “Multiple arguments are always less convincing than one” had a point, but I find it really hard to resist getting all the arguments out there even when the strongest ones have been made. So here goes.
Let us imagine, purely as a Gedankenexperiment, that a large proportion of rapes actually do involve the sort of cases Mia and Suzy are talking about, where drunk women are raped who wouldn’t be if they were sober. In this case we could protect individual young women from being raped by telling them not to drink so much. And you would expect that this would be what parents and friends would do to the women they love.
But doing so would almost certainly not reduce the total number of rapes. Because the rapists would just go out and rape some other woman. Maybe one they found a little less attractive. Maybe one a little less drunk. Maybe they would just wait a little longer until a suitable victim came along. But the total number of rapes would not fall. Because as long as there was a sufficient number of men keen to commit rapes out there somewhere, they would find a way.
Now it is quite understandable that individuals would think “well it’s terrible that rape occurs, but if it is going to happen I’d rather it happened to some woman I have never met than my daughter/my student/my friend.” This is a normal human reaction, and I share it.
So indeed this might be what we would all do. But is it something we should advocate, Mia and Suzy style? No. If all we are doing is shifting around who gets raped, what is gained by telling people to warn the young women in their lives? Putting out this advice would just shift the women who get raped from one woman Mia has never met to another woman she has not met. Where is the gain in that?
Unless of course you believe that, out beyond those you know and love there are classes of women who are more important than other classes. That if, for example, we managed to cut the number of middle class women getting raped at the expense of increasing the number of other women who suffered exactly the same violation.
Is that what Mia and Suzy believe? I’ll leave that to you. But if it isn’t, then maybe, whatever they tell their own daughters, they should go easy on the mass media moralising.
Footnote: In the circumstances I described above there would still be a very good argument for subsidising self defense classes. Because a swift kick to the genitals of attempted rapists might not only prevent that rape, but also make the rapist disinclined to go after any other woman. Indeed if it was known that enough women were capable of doing some serious damage to a man’s nether regions rapists might be disinclined to start – at least on their own; I’m not sure this would do much about gang rape of the sort seen at Steubenville.