Over at Geek Feminism, they’re discussing resources for allies who want to know what they can do to help create a safer environment for women and others at risk of sexual assault. Mary’s post included this paragraph:
Make it not okay, really not okay around you to say the kinds of things people said to and about [redacted]. You, presumably, believe* that women can attend conferences and go to bars and have fun and have male friends and consensually touch people and have a romantic/sexual history and have photos of themselves online and be a feminist and have the absolute right to refuse consent to intimate social situations, to touching and to sexual activity. You, presumably, also believe people you personally despise, or aren’t your idea of fun, or who hold opinions you disagree with, or who have hurt you in some fashion, have the absolute right to refuse consent in the same way. You presumably believe that sexualised approaches to people, and sexualised interactions with them are harassment unless they are welcome. If you believe those, and you are around people who don’t, don’t let them believe that they are with allies, if and when you have the power for that to be safe.
Followed by this footnote:
* If you do not believe the things in that paragraph we don’t really need to know why not.
The regulars had no problem abiding by this unremarkable request. However, someone appeared who just had to ask his Very Important Question:
Note how adroitly he thinks he snuck that “our physiology” in there? Do you think he’s about to discuss female physiology here? Call me a cynical spotter-of-pseudo-evospych-from-a-mile-off, but I don’t.
This certainly is a useful post. But, there is one, very minor issue I would like to raise.
If you do not believe the things in that paragraph we don’t really need to know why not.
You are right that we probably will probably not get a useful answer from those who are attempting to justify or rationalize their own bad behavior. But, I still think that ‘why’ is a useful question. Why do people act in this manner, even if they consciously accept that their actions are wrong? Why do people who accept what you say in the abstract, but proceed to defend the these very same wrongdoings in a specific case? Answering these questions would improve humanity’s understanding of our culture and our physiology, which may very well make thing better.
I admit it, I bit, and I posted a reply, inadvertently publishing just after Mary had added a comment telling him that his suggested questions were not appropriate for that thread and would not be discussed there. I expect my comment to be deleted as a result, and I’m fine with having my contribution to a potential derail there taken out of the equation. But I’m posting an edited-for-clarity version of my comment here to stand on its own:
You are right that we probably will probably not get a useful answer from those who are attempting to justify or rationalize their own bad behavior. But, I still think that ‘why’ is a useful question.
Since the whole history of the world tells us that there is always a persistent and substantial bloc of those who view social rules and laws as simply game boundaries, where they can both despise those who get caught breaking the rules and cast themselves as special snowflakes to whom the rules do not apply, I fail to see the utility of what you propose.
The cultural aspects of these cognitively-dissonant hypocrisies have been well studied for a long time, and seem tied to status/elitism/dominance patterns – people who believe that they can get away with breaking the rules are likely to be dissonant/hypocritical about the rules – what a surprise!
Of course, whenever such rule-discounters see one of their own facing consequences, the howling begins about how it really shouldn’t count against them: because either the accused is one of the good eggs who didn’t mean any harm and thus shouldn’t be punished, or else sie’s a very bad egg indeed, not at all typical, and giving all the others a bad name. The old oligopolies were utterly outraged when anti-trust laws were brought in, for example; I doubt that many NYC landlords were ever fans of the rent-control provisions; dirty industries howled when anti-pollution standards were legislated; why? Because they saw themselves as the extra-special good guys being unfairly curtailed and judged by people who just didn’t understand.
Are dissonant/hypocritical reactions to specific accusations of sexual assault really very different in any important way to this rather common social pattern of behaviour of resenting consequences appearing when one thought one was immune?
I genuinely believe that most people who try and rationalise sexual assaults as an otherwise “good” man just falling helplessly to the irresistible temptation of a woman who happens to be breathing in the same room fall into one of two categories:
(a) the vulnerable who want to believe that so long as they follow all the rules, then they will be safe from assault, so feel a psychological need to identify what rule the victim broke so they can reinforce this belief in their own safety because they would never break that rule; and
(b) those who realise that “seduction” habits they have developed might actually lie uncomfortably close to sexual coercion, and who are worried about future consequences for themselves.
I understand class (a), I really do. We’re given all these rules about how to be the nice decent people that bad things won’t/don’t happen to, and it’s terribly confronting to realise that none of those rules actually keep you safe if you are with somebody who doesn’t respect those rules, and that there are lots of rulebreakers who get away with it time after time after time. Many people simply refuse to believe that our society winks at these things as much as it does.
Class (b) are just another example of people who thought that certain rules don’t really count, at least not for them, or for their mates, because of [insert special snowflake reason here]. Especially if one has been taught that certain others shouldn’t/cannot be taken seriously whenever they disagree with one, it’s easy to rationalise breaking the rules around sexual coercion as something that’s “for your own good” because “you’re just saying that”, “you’re just playing games”, “I know what you want better than you do” and “you’ll enjoy it, really”, because, after all, who’s going to believe “them” anyway?
Their dissonance/hypocrisy, in both classes, has got nothing to do with physiology and everything to do with hierarchies and the policing thereof, and there’s nothing especially clever about ignoring all the study of hierarchical structures that has been done. Simplistic evopsych just-so stories really are terribly tedious.