Part 2 of 4
Fallout of the Revolution: “Date Rape”
A few years into the sexual revolution, shocking reports began to appear of vast numbers of young women—from one quarter to half—being victims of rape. Shock turned to bewilderment when the victims were brought forward to tell their stories. The “rapists,” it turns out, were never lying in wait for them in remote corners, were not armed, did not attack them. Instead, these “date rapes” occur in private places, usually college dormitory rooms, and involve no threats or violence. In fact, they little resemble what most of us think of as rape.
What was going on here?
Take a girl too young to understand what erotic desire is and subject her to several years of propaganda to the effect that she has a right to have things any way she wants them in this domain—with no corresponding duties to God, her parents, or anyone else. Do not give her any guidance as to what it might be good for her to want, how she might try to regulate her own conduct, or what qualities she ought to look for in a young man. Teach her furthermore that the notion of natural differences between the sexes is a laughable superstition that our enlightened age is gradually overcoming—with the implication that men’s sexual desires are no different from or more intense than her own. Meanwhile, as she matures physically, keep her protected in her parents’ house, sheltered from responsibility.
Then, at age seventeen or eighteen, take her suddenly away from her family and all the people she has ever known. She can stay up as late as she wants! She can decide for herself when and how much to study! She’s making new friends all the time, young women and men both. It’s no big deal having them over or going to their rooms; everybody is perfectly casual about it. What difference does it make if it’s a boy she met at a party? He seems like a nice fellow, like others she meets in class.
Now let us consider the young man she is alone with. He is neither a saint nor a criminal, but, like all normal young men of college years, he is intensely interested in sex. There are times he cannot study without getting distracted by the thought of some young woman’s body. He has had little real experience with girls, and most of that unhappy. He has been rejected a few times with little ceremony, and it was more humiliating than he cares to admit. He has the impression that for other young men things are not as difficult: “Everybody knows,” after all, that since the 1960s men get all the sex they like, right? He is bombarded with talk about sex on television, in the words to popular songs, in rumors about friends who supposedly “scored” with this or that girl. He begins to wonder if there isn’t something wrong with him.
Furthermore, he has received the same education about sex as the girl he is now with. He has learned that people have the right to do anything they want. The only exception is rape. But that is hardly even relevant to him; he is obviously incapable of doing something like that.
He has also been taught that there are no important differences between the sexes. This means, of course, that girls want sex just as badly as he does, though they slyly pretend otherwise. And are not their real desires verified by all those Cosmopolitan magazine covers he sees constantly at the grocery store? If women are so eager to read such stuff, why should it be so damned difficult to find just one girl willing to go to bed with him?
But tonight, finally, something seemed to click. He met a girl at a party. They chatted, perhaps drank a bit: all smiles, quite unlike the girls who had been so quick about rejecting him in high school. She even let him come to her room afterwards (or came to his). It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what she is thinking, he says to himself. This is a tremendously important moment for him; every ounce of his self-respect is at stake. He is confused and his heart is pounding, but he tries to act as if he knows what he is doing. She seems confused, too, and he meets no more than token resistance (or so it seems to him). He doesn’t actually enjoy it, and isn’t sure whether she does either. But that is beside the point; it only matters that he can finally consider himself a man. Later on they can talk about what terms they want to be on, whether she will be his regular girlfriend, etc. Matrimony is not exactly uppermost in his mind, but he might not rule it out—eventually. He asks her how she feels afterwards, and she mumbles that she is “okay.” This sets his mind at rest. An awkward parting follows.
Later that night or the next morning our young woman is trying to figure out what in hell has happened to her. Why had he gotten so pushy all of a sudden? Didn’t he even want to get to know her first? It was confusing, it all happened so quickly. Sex, she had always heard, was supposed to be something wonderful; but this she had not enjoyed at all. She felt somehow used.
Of course, at no point does it enter her mind to question her own right to have been intimate with the young man if she had wanted to. Moral rule number one, we all know, is that all sex between consenting adults is licit. She just isn’t sure whether she had really wanted this. In fact, the more she thinks about it, the more certain she feels that she hadn’t. But if she hadn’t wanted it, then it was against her will, wasn’t it? And if it was against her will, that means . . . she’s been raped?
I sympathize with the young woman, in view of a miseducation which might have been consciously designed to leave her unprepared for the situation she got herself into. But as to the question of whether she was raped, the answer must be a clear no.
Let me explain by means of an analogy with something less emotionally laden. Consider someone who purchases a lottery ticket which does not win the prize. Suppose he were to argue as follows: “I put my money down because I wanted the prize. I wouldn’t have paid if I had known I was going to lose; therefore I have been deprived of my money against my will; therefore I am the victim of theft.” No one would accept this argument as valid. Why shouldn’t we?
For the very good reason that it denies the fundamental principle behind all personal responsibility. Those who want to make their own choices in life must be willing to accept the consequences of those choices. Consider the alternative: If every loser in a lottery were entitled to a refund there would be no money left for the prize, and so no lottery. For similar reasons, most civilized institutions depend upon people taking responsibility for their actions, keeping agreements, and fulfilling obligations regardless of whether or not they happen to like the consequences.
The grandmother of the young woman in our story was unaware that she possessed a “right” to sleep with any boy who took her fancy—or to invite him to her bedroom and expect nothing to happen. It was the male and female sexual utopians of the postwar period who said women should be allowed unlimited freedom to choose for themselves in such matters. Unfortunately, they did not lay much stress on the need to accept the consequences of poor choices. Instead, they treated the moral and social norms women in particular had traditionally used to guide themselves as wholly irrational barriers to pleasure. Under their influence, two generations of women have been led to believe that doing as they please should lead to happiness and involve no risk. Hence the moral sophistry of “I didn’t like it; ergo I didn’t want it; ergo it was against my will.”
To anyone who believes that a society of free and responsible persons is preferable to one based on centralized control, the reasoning of the date rape movement is ominous. The demand that law rather than moral principle and common prudence should protect women in situations such as I have described could only be met by literally “putting a policeman in every bedroom.” However much we may sympathize with the misled young people involved (and I mean the men as well as the women), we must insist that it is no part of our responsibility to create an absolutely safe environment for them, nor to shield them from the consequences of their own behavior, nor to insure that sex shall be their path to happiness. Because there are some things of greater importance than the pain they have suffered, and among these are the principle of responsibility upon which the freedom of all of us depends.
It was never the traditional view that a woman’s erotic power over men was anything she possessed unconditional personal rights over. Instead, the use to which she put this natural power was understood to be freighted with extensive responsibilities—to God, her family, the man to whom she gave herself, the children produced by the union, and her own long-term well being. In order to fulfill her obligations as creature, daughter, wife, and mother she required considerable powers of self-control. This cultivated and socially reinforced sexual self-control was known as modesty. It required chiefly the duty of chastity before marriage and fidelity within marriage; secondarily, it involved maintaining a certain demeanor toward men—polite but reserved.
Now, every duty does imply a right: If we have a duty to provide for our children or defend our country we necessarily possess the right to do so as well. Formerly, insofar as sexual rights were recognized, they were understood to have this character of resting upon duties. Thus, a woman did indeed have the right to refuse the sexual advances of any man not her husband. But this was only because she was not understood to have any moral right to accept a proposal of fornication or adultery (even in the absence of legal sanctions therefore).
The reason rape was regarded as a particularly odious form of assault is that it violated this superpersonal moral principle by which a woman subordinated her momentary private desires to the well-being of those closest to her. Modesty had to be respected, or else protected, if it was to perform its essential social function of guarding the integrity of families.
Under Roman law it was not considered a serious crime to rape a prostitute: A man could not violate the modesty of a woman who had none to violate. In later European law it was made criminal to rape even prostitutes. But this does not mean that the concept of rape had been divorced from that of feminine modesty; it was rather that the law now recognized and protected the possibility of repentance for immodesty. (Christianity is relevant here.)
The sexual revolution asserted the right of each individual to sex on his or her own terms—in other words, a right of perfect selfishness in erotic matters. One effect of this change was to eliminate the moral dignity of feminine modesty. It was not to be forbidden, of course, but was henceforward to be understood as no more than a personal taste, like anchovies or homosexuality. When the initial excitement of abandoned restraint had died down it was noticed that the promised felicity had not arrived. And one reason, it was soon realized, was that the terms men wished to set for sexual conduct were not identical to those desired by women. This being so, the granting to men of a right to sex on their own terms necessarily involved the denial of such a right to women. The anarchy with which the sexual revolution began was necessarily a passing phase.
From Sexual Anarchy to Sexual Terror
It is a cliché of political philosophy that the less self-restraint citizens are able to exercise, the more they must be constrained from without. The practical necessity of such a trade-off can be seen in such extraordinary upheavals as the French and Russian revolutions. First, old and habitual patterns and norms are thrown aside in the name of freedom. When the ensuing chaos becomes intolerable, some group with the requisite ambition, self-assurance, and ruthlessness succeeds in forcibly imposing its own order on the weakened society. This is what gradually happened in the case of the sexual revolution also, with the role of Jacobins/Bolsheviks being assumed by the feminists.
Human beings cannot do without some social norms to guide them in their personal relations. Young women cannot be expected to work out a personal system of sexual ethics in the manner of Descartes reconstructing the universe in his own mind. If you cease to prepare them for marriage, they will seek guidance wherever they can find it. In the past thirty years they have found it in feminism, simply because the feminists have outshouted everyone else.
After helping to encourage sexual experimentation by young women, feminism found itself able to capitalize on the unhappiness which resulted. Their program for rewriting the rules of human sexual behavior is in one way a continuation of the liberationists’ utopian program and in another way a reaction against it. The feminists approve the notion of a right to do as one pleases without responsibilities toward others; they merely insist that only women have this right.
Looking about them for some legal and moral basis for enforcing this novel claim, they hit upon the age-old prohibition against rape. Feminists understand rape, however, not as a violation of a woman’s chastity or marital fidelity, but of her merely personal wishes. They are making use of the ancient law against rape to enforce not respect for feminine modesty but obedience to female whims. Their ideal is not the man whose self-control permits a woman to exercise her own, but the man who is subservient to a woman’s good pleasure—the man who behaves, not like a gentleman, but like a dildo.
But mere disregard of a woman’s personal wishes is manifestly not the reason men have been disgraced, imprisoned, in some societies even put to death for the crime of rape. On the new view, in which consent rather than the marriage bond is the issue, the same sexual act may be a crime on Monday or Wednesday and a right on Tuesday or Thursday, according to the shifts in a woman’s mood. Feminists claim rape is not taken seriously enough; perhaps it would be better to ask how it could be taken seriously at all once we begin defining it as they do. If women want to be free to do as they please with men, after all, why should not men be free to do as they please with women?
Indeed, the date rape campaign owes its success only to the lingering effect of older views. Feminists themselves are not confused about this; they write openly of “redefining rape.” Of course, for those of us who still speak traditional English, this amounts to an admission that they are falsely accusing men.
One might have more sympathy for the “date rape victims” if they wanted the men to marry them, feared they were “ruined” for other suitors, and were prepared to assume their own obligations as wives and mothers. But this is simply not the case. The date rape campaigners, if not the confused young women themselves, are hostile to the very idea of matrimony, and never propose it as a solution. They want to jail men, not make responsible husbands of them. This is far worse than shotgun marriage, which at least allowed the man to act as father to the child he had engendered.
And what benefit do women derive from imprisoning men as date rapists apart from gratification of a desire for revenge? Seeing men punished may even confirm morally confused women in their mistaken sense of victimhood—resentment tends to feed upon itself, like an itch that worsens with scratching. Women are reinforced in the belief that it is their right for men’s behavior to be anything they would like it to be. They become less inclined to treat men with respect or to try to learn to understand or compromise with them. In a word, they learn to think and behave like spoiled children, expecting everything and willing to give nothing.
Men, meanwhile, respond to this in ways that are not difficult to predict. They may not (at first) decline sexual liaisons with such women, because the woman’s moral shortcomings do not have too great an effect upon the sexual act itself. But, quite rationally, they will avoid any deeper involvement with them. So women experience fewer, shorter, and worse marriages and “relationships” with men. But they do not blame themselves for the predicament they are in; they refuse to see any connection between their own behavior and their loneliness and frustration. Thus we get ever more frequent characterizations of men as rapists and predators who mysteriously refuse to commit.
Indeed, the only people profiting from the imposition of the new standards are the feminists who invented them. The survival of their movement depends on a continuing supply of resentful women who believe their rights are being violated; one can only admit that the principles which undergird the date rape campaign are admirably designed to guarantee such a supply. Feminism is a movement that thrives on its own failures; hence, it is very difficult to reverse.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, eleventh edition, lists the first recorded use of the term “date rape” as 1975. Within a few years we find so thoroughgoing a traditionalist as Thomas Fleming of Chronicles using the expression as matter-of-factly as any feminist zealot. A second instrument of the feminist reign of sexual terror, “sexual harassment,” similarly made its first appearance in 1975. In less than a generation this has become a national industry providing a comfortable living for many people. Yet again we find this revolutionary concept blithely accepted by many conservatives. They are content to accept without argument that there exists a widespread problem of men “harassing” women, and that “something must be done about it.” My first thought would be: What did the Romans do about it? What did the Christian Church do about it? How about the Chinese or the Aztecs? The obvious answer is that none of them did anything about it, because the concept has only recently developed within the context of the feminist movement. Is this not cause for suspicion? Why are men so quick to adopt the language of their declared enemies?
The thinking behind the sexual harassment movement is that women are entitled to “an environment free from unwanted sexual advances”—meaning, in plain English, romantic overtures from unattractive men. Anyone who has been forced to endure a corporate antiharassment video can see that what is being condemned is merely traditional male courtship behavior.
The introduction of harassment law was accompanied by a campaign to inform young women of the new entitlement. Colleges, for example, instituted harassment committees one of whose stated purposes was “to encourage victims to come forward.” (I saw this happening up close.) The agitators wanted as many young women as possible accusing unsuccessful suitors of wrongdoing. And they had considerable success; many women unhesitatingly availed themselves of the new dispensation. Young men found they risked visits from the police for flirting or inviting women on dates.
This female bullying should be contrasted with traditional male chivalry. Men, at least within Western civilization, have been socialized into extreme reluctance to use force against women. This is not an absolute principle: Few would deny that a man has a right of self-defense against a woman attempting to kill him. But many men will refuse to retaliate against a woman under almost any lesser threat. This attitude is far removed from the feminist principle of equality between the sexes. Indeed, it seems to imply a view of men as naturally dominant: It is a form of noblesse oblige. And it is not, so far as I can see, reducible to any long-term self-interest on the part of a man; in other words, it is a principle of honor. The code of chivalry holds that a man has no moral right to use force against women simply because he can do so.
An obvious difficulty with such a code is that it is vulnerable to abuse by its beneficiaries. I had a classmate in grade school who had heard it said somewhere that “boys are not supposed to hit girls.” Unfortunately, she interpreted this to mean that it was acceptable for girls to hit boys, which she then proceeded to do. She became genuinely indignant when she found that they usually hit back.
The special character of noblesse oblige is that it does not involve a corresponding entitlement on the part of the beneficiary. On the traditional view, a man should indeed be reluctant to use force against women, but women have no right to presume upon this. The reluctance is elicited by a recognition of women’s weakness, not commanded as a recognition of their rights.
Perhaps because women are the weaker sex, they have never developed any similar inhibitions about using force against men. In a traditionally ordered society, this does not present difficulties, because a woman’s obligations to her husband are clearly understood and socially enforced. But the situation changes when millions of spoiled, impressionable young women have been convinced men are “harassing” them and that the proper response is to appeal to force of law and the police powers of the state. Indeed, the system is now set up to reward them for doing so.
Men, on the other hand, are frequently denied due process, ruined professionally, and threatened with particularly harsh punishments for any retaliation against the women accusing them of a newly invented and ill-defined crime. For prudential reasons, some men will outwardly conform to the new rules. But it is unlikely that the traditional reluctance in foro interno to use force against women can long survive the present pattern of female behavior. If I were a woman, I would be worried about this.
1. “Beware of What You Pray For,” Chronicles, February 11, 2005, and elsewhere.