Here’s a modest proposal that might help us bridge some differences: an avoidance of arguments in the gender debate that there is no legitimate debate to be had. There is always a debate to be had in any area of human inquiry or life – because most social and political questions weigh one good against another. So, to take an obvious example, the fight over “affirmative consent” balances the security of women from assault and rape against the due process rights of the accused. These things conflict in a liberal polity – because in a liberal world, moral, collective imperatives cannot properly come at the expense of individual injustice.
And it is simply a fact that there are cases of false allegations of rape, just as there are false accusations of every sort of crime. They’re very small in number, and we may exaggerate the problem, but they do exist. My instinct, for what it’s worth, in almost all these cases is to believe the woman. That goes for most alleged crimes and offenses regarding gender, including harassment in the workplace. Readers may have gotten the wrong impression from me about this, but from Anita Hill to Paula Jones, I’ve long supported the women’s side in some of these high profile cases. But there is always another side, and that requires some consideration. Even Bill Clinton deserved that. And what troubles me is the assertion by some on the fem-left side that there is only one side ever. And that even questioning that assertion is a sign of moral failure.
Take this piece from the Guardian today, lambasting Jed Rubenfeld’s nuanced take on the question in Sunday’s NYT. And notice not the engagement with another point of view, but a blanket dismissal of its right even to exist:
You might think that someone given a platform at the New York Times, like Yale law professor Jed Rubenfeld was in Sunday’s paper, might have done more than simply note that women are attacked “in appalling numbers” and colleges mishandle rape cases … The worst offense is Rubenfeld’s apparent belief that there is a “debate” to be had – as if there are two equal sides, both with reasonable and legitimate points. There are not. On the one side, there are the 20% of college women who can expect to be victimized by rapists and would-be rapists; on the other side is a bunch of adult men (and a few women) worrying themselves to death that a few college-aged men might have to find a new college to attend.
That echoes Ezra Klein’s endorsement of expelling male students accused of rape without due process. The contention is that it is neither legitimate nor reasonable to worry about someone being punished for a terrible crime he did not commit. And if this is something that worries you, then you really need to be educated by those more informed on the issue before you open your mouth:
If you can’t talk about rape without blaming victims, don’t talk about rape.
If you do happen to express concern about individuals losing due process in defending themselves from a charge that will follow them their entire life, you are one of the following: a male (ugh); a rapist-excuser; a rapist-enabler; or a “regressive rape apologist.” Or even worse, you are a “rape-truther” even if you cite three actual cases of alleged false accusations. The TPM piece that used that term did not prove that those cases didn’t exist, it merely insisted that they cannot exist. Remember “trutherism” was coined to describe delusional maniacs who believed the US government was behind the 9/11 attacks, despite massive, voluminous, unimpeachable evidence that this was not the case. But a college rape case we don’t even know the details of? This is a way not of engaging in debate, but of shutting it down.
Over the years, I’ve learned the various tricks to prevent free and open discussion: you’re not educated enough to talk about it; you’re male/female/black/white/gay/straight/Jewish/gentile or whatever and that disqualifies you from an opinion; you’re irresponsible even to raise the issue. But the over-arching theme is simply describing an argument as a moral delinquency rather than an intellectual mistake. If that is the nature of our public discourse, we are no longer in a discourse at all. We are in a church.