The first dissenter follows up:
Thank you for publishing my email. I just wanted to clarify a couple things. First, my point was not that you had argued a discussion of male physiology should be substituted for one of rape culture. Rather, it was that this substitution was a likely rhetorical effect of your response to Bruni. I don’t think that effect was intended. But rape culture is reinforced as much by such effects as it is by explicit arguments.
To take a more obviously egregious example, when someone asks a woman who’s been raped, “Why didn’t you fight back?”, the intention of the question could be a whole range of things – curiosity, trying to elicit whether the rapist had a weapon or whether she was drugged, etc. But the effect of the question, when asked within a culture that tends to disbelieve and shame women who’ve been raped (unless the rape was committed by the near-mythical stranger in the bushes with a knife), is to dissuade her from reporting or talking about the rape.
Second, I’m increasingly unclear on the grounds of your criticism of Bruni’s op-ed. How is your call for a culture of male virtue fundamentally different from Bruni’s call for a culture of masculinity that’s not centered around the denigration and sexual conquest of women?
Both, unless I’m misunderstanding you, would make it socially unacceptable to treat women as objects for domination and violence and, as a result, would make it much harder for rapists, who rely on a culture that tacitly okays treating women that way, to get away with their crimes. So how, then, does testosterone fit it in to all this? Are you actually suggesting that not making rape jokes or calling out other men who let slip that they try to have sex with women who are too drunk to consent goes against the grain of the male psyche? If so, I suspect a lot of your male readers would take personal offense. If not, why worry about how to make this change in a way that’s compatible with testosterone – especially since scientists still know very little about how testosterone interacts with culture.
Given what a red herring male physiology has been (and often still is) among people who think men just can’t help themselves around a women who is too attractive, too drunk, etc., why not just keep the focus on telling men not to rape – and not to valorize those who do?
First point: As a writer I have long believed that my job is to express what I believe is true, and worrying about how such an argument could affect or be used by others is a very secondary mission. I cannot control what others will do with my arguments; I can only really control my own words. When you see previous controversies – race and IQ, the end of plagues, the differences between men and women, the rights of bigots to free speech – you can see where I’m coming from. I cannot write while looking over my shoulder – and won’t start now.
Second: yes, I wrote that I agreed with much of what Frank proposed. I’m just under no illusion that will “solve” the problem because cultural change can only do so much against the violence associated with testosterone. And I think it will be more successful if it comes at this issue with a positive vision of masculinity rather than an assumption that masculinity is only a social construct, and is itself the problem. The other dissenter also writes back:
I’m writing to thank you for taking my argument seriously, and for addressing it publicly. You rightly call my argument out as a liberal one. Indeed it is. My fundamental problem with the conservatism you admire is that it too often overlooks past injustices in its desire to hold on to (often worthy) older values.
While I still strongly disagree with you, I have great respect for your willingness to be open to critique, and to engage in civil discussion of difficult issues. These virtues render your blog a public asset, particularly at a time when shrieking extremism too often passes for debate. And it’s why I plan to continue reading the Dish for years to come.
I also am grateful for the sharp input and pushback from such intelligent, probing readers. It’s this civil interaction that this blog aspires to – not a final word, but a continuing conversation.