On the one hand, Donald Trump’s captured “private” chat with Billy somebody was disgusting. If misogyny alone was enough to preclude a person from being elected president, that would have been the end of things. It wasn’t. The difference in what was said, that he actually engaged in the conduct spoken, is that those actions would be illegal. On the other hand, even that wasn’t enough to stop voters from rejecting Hillary Clinton.
Well before the election of Donald J. Trump, the mainstreaming of misogyny during his campaign caused justified outrage and fear. Now, with the alarming reality of his coming presidency and his choices for a number of cabinet posts, that fear has been multiplied among the nation’s vulnerable, and those who stand to defend their most basic rights.
Of course the problem of misogyny and violence against women existed long before this election cycle. But the immediate danger that comes with raising an unrepentant misogynist to the nation’s highest office is emboldenment; the implicit condoning of degrading or violent behavior against women, and the diminished fear of punishment from authorities.
Bear in mind, she’s a philosophy professor. She’s not supposed to use words that have any meaning, and is entitled to use any adjective she wants to overwhelm nouns. But her conflation of misogyny, too obvious to be worthy of definition, with violence, once well defined but now a word tossed into the salad with abandon, is a reminder that different religious groups took away different things from the election.
That danger is especially great on college campuses, where disturbing signs of degraded attitudes toward the safety and dignity of women have been increasing over the past several years.
The list of reports of rape, sexual assault and other forms of abuse is long (a recent report counted nearly 100 campuses with more than 10 reports of rape in 2014) and studies suggest that as many as one in four women experience sexual assault at college.
Despite her infusion of weasel words, she’s got the sexual assault stats up to one in four. Which, if you’re keeping count, beats the anticipated “every women is raped at least twice in the first semester” from Clinton. But note that this is about “attitudes toward the safety and dignity of women.” The word “attitudes” bears upon whatever Oliver means by misogyny. The word “safety” bears upon physical conduct. The word “dignity” is the kicker.
Dignity is one of those vague feel-good words that’s hard to deny. Who could be against dignity? Though, when you go to its definition, “the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect,” it becomes more problematic. At the same time Oliver complains of a loss of dignity toward women, she denies the same to men, most notably the next president. Not that she’s playing to a crowd here.
But as much as she’s entitled to her own delusions, she’s not entitled to her own facts:
While rape is not new, the celebration of lack of consent at the heart of party rape is. Never before have we seen the public and open valorization of sexual assault and rape that we are seeing now. In 2014, a fraternity at Georgia Tech University was suspended for distributing an email with the subject line “Luring your rapebait,” which ended, “I want to see everyone succeed at the next couple parties.”
Trump wasn’t president in 2014. He’s not now, for that matter, but let’s not get hypertechnical. Of course, it may be asking too much of a philosophy prof to be good with dates and holders of political offices, so the confusion may be excusable. But she’s right, rape isn’t new, though the disconnection between whatever she’s talking about and rape as legal concept is. But “open valorization,” whatever that means, isn’t rape. It’s thought.
And therein lies the lie. To call for the end of violence isn’t wrong or bad, with only the proviso that violence refers to conduct that causes physical harm to someone within the parameters of rational law.
But misogyny is a thought crime. You don’t like women? You think they’re bad people? Then you’re an asshole, which is merely a personal assessment, but not a criminal one. You are allowed to think whatever you want, even if it’s wrong. So too is Oliver, even if its wrong.
The erosion of rights can happen in a variety of ways, and manipulation of language is one of them. At the root of the problem on campuses is a change in the way the word “sex” is used. While sex is considered an activity, until recently, it commonly referred to an activity shared between people, as in the familiar phrase, “having sex.” Implicit in the concept of sex is consent. Without consent, sexual activity becomes rape.
If this strikes you as bizarre, as if campus sex has suddenly changed from a wondrous consentfest to, “until recently,” rapefest, you’re not alone. But Oliver appears to be well aware of the complexities and contradictions of her position while simultaneously not letting any of this bother her. And apparently, it didn’t bother whomever accepted her op-ed either.
Rather than address sexual assault as the felony crime of rape, these campuses define it as the honor code violation of nonconsensual sex. Given that unconscious women cannot say either yes or no, they can give neither affirmative nor negative consent.
So it should be a crime, rather than an academic violation?
Some colleges have attempted to institute affirmative consent policies to deal with the problem of “nonconsensual sex.” There is even a cellphone app that records a woman’s consent, sends it to a cloud where it can’t be tampered with or even seen except by the authorities. Although affirmative consent is certainly better than no consent, there are several problems with the liberal notion of consent implicit in these policies.
So “yes means yes” is an untenable policy?
Sex is not a contract. It is a dynamic interaction. Furthermore, consent to one type of sexual activity does not imply consent to another.
Just because a woman consents to accompany a man to his apartment doesn’t mean she consents to being strangled. And just because a woman gets drunk at the party does not mean she consents to sex while she’s unconscious. Drugs and alcohol lead to “50 shades of consent.”
No, there is no requirement that philosophy profs not suck at analogies or be familiar with concepts like logic.
It is noteworthy that drunken male perpetrators of rape are held less responsible because of intoxication while drunken female victims of rape are held more responsible. Again, the problem of drunken consent points to the toxic combination of alcohol and rape myths. Moreover, it reveals the changing notions of both sex and consent implicit in nonconsensual sex.
No, I have no clue where she gets this absurd fantasy, but don’t let facts harsh her noteworthiness.
Certainly, no means no and only yes means yes, but, as we’ve seen, issues of consent and nonconsensual sex are more complicated. In addition to holding individuals responsible, we must consider the cultural ethos in which lack of consent is valorized and rape has been downgraded to nonconsensual sex, and where talk of sexual assault is considered acceptable — “boys will be boys” and “locker room talk” — by those who will lead this country. The need to be vigilant is even more urgent now.
And so the conflation comes full circle, as does the word “valorized.” No one can force you to think poorly of women. No one should be able to silence your speech that reflects your thoughts about women. To the extent anything Oliver raises reflects facts, it bears no connection to anything the incoming administration has done, because it hasn’t done anything yet and every complaint she voices happened under the most wonderful president ever (until we get one with alternative genitalia identity).
But if you thought that the voices of insanity would be reticent about spewing the party line in light of the resounding defeat of politically correct irrationality, Oliver’s op-ed proves three important points. They’re just as unhinged as ever, if not more so. They have failed to internalize the message that America still allows people to think thoughts that hurt philosophy profs’ feelings. And most importantly, the New York Times, having published this screed, has forsaken all editorial standards.
Distinguishing rape and sexual assault from vague complaints of misogyny is critical if we’re to address violence. Calling misogyny violence, however, serves only to make people stupider. Does that make me (and you, should you share my concerns) a misogynist to someone like Oliver? No doubt. But I’m constrained by facts and logic, and can be nothing else. Trump may be many things, bad things among them, but no one can make Oliver’s “facts” true or her position rational.