Jerry Coyne says “rape culture” doesn’t actually exist.

I have never heard of Jerry Coyne before, but he is apparently a well-known proponent of atheism and evolution. His blog is called Why Evolution is True. His article on the rape culture, called Author claims that ALL men are “unsafe” enablers of rape culture—even her own sons, ironically, shows that his reasoning has not evolved. He’s responding to an article written by a liberal feminist called Jody Allard (I can’t imagine what nonsense he’d have come up with if he was answering an actual feminist).

This woman was reasonably pointing out that all men are potential rapists and that men are not “safe” for women to be around. This is demonstrated by crime rates by gender, the incidence of rape, as well as the profound sense of entitlement that men display. Coyne’s response is… not very serious:

Now, I don’t know exactly what people mean by a “rape culture”. Rape is a serious crime in the U.S., nobody I know takes it lightly, its incidence has been falling (85% since 1980, according to government statistics [and a drop of more than 50% for college-aged women since 1996]), and, at least from my own experience, I’ve never heard a man say anything about rape other than it’s horrible and offenders should be punished severely.

I don’t understand why Coyne thought he should write an article about a concept he doesn’t even understand, but this demonstrates that he didn’t even bother to research anything, which is not a good sign for a scientist. Perhaps he thought a feminist issue was below his level, and that he could just say whatever came to his head.

Unfortunately, what came to his head was not convincing. Of course rape is a crime and men will publicly declare that they are against it. Traditionally, rape has been a crime because wives were considered to be the property of their husbands. Nowadays, we distinguish between “good women” and “bad women,” with “good women” (usually defined as “your mother, your wife, your daughter,” basically anyone you care about) not “deserving” to be raped, while “bad women” (prostituted women, promiscuous women, women of color, lesbians, and so on) “deserve” to be raped.

In my entry on the subject of rape culture, I addressed the misconception that opposition to rape means there is no rape culture. In order to create a culture of rape, in order to keep women in line and ensure that women are groomed for male abuse, you only need a small percentage of men to actively rape. As we see with actual rape cases, most men may profess to be against rape, but they trip over each other to make excuses and justify another man’s rape. Rape culture means that we live in a society (and a world) where women are persecuted for calling out rapists. Rape culture means that men feel entitled to women’s sexuality, and that women are kept in their place as providers of sexuality (through pornography, prostitution, “sex work,” and to a lesser extent mainstream media).

Of course I don’t inhabit all American cultures, but Allard’s sons, as white, educated middle-class males, can’t live in a milieu much different from the one live in. But I hasten to add that rape is still far too common, with roughly 15% of women experiencing it at least once in their lives. That horrifyingly common! But if we do live in a “rape culture,” then we live even more in a “robbery” and “aggravated assault” culture, with the rate of the former four times higher and the latter nine times higher than the rate of rape.

This is an absurd statement. People who claim to have been robbed or assaulted are not publicly demeaned, and it is not assumed that they are in the wrong. Their claims are taken seriously. There is no one complaining about “false robbery claims,” although such claims do exist (as they do for all crimes). There is no culture pushing people to rob others as a part of their identity. So where is the evidence for this “robbery culture”? On this, Coyne has nothing to say except that the rate is higher. The fact that the rate of a crime is high, in itself, shows that this crime is being reported. Most women are afraid of reporting their rape, because they know the consequences for speaking up. So Coyne’s argument is not only specious, but also profoundly offensive. Being a man means that he doesn’t have to confront that fact.

The need to reduce the rate of sexual assault, catch more offenders, and punish them severely should not, however, mean that all men should be demonized as potential rapists and/or misogynists. Yet that’s exactly what Allard has done in her article. She says there is no such thing as a “safe” man—even her own sons.

How is it “demonizing” to call men potential rapists? 90%+ of rapists are men, across the board. So unless Coyne is saying that men are literally demons, this argument makes no sense, since men definitely are potential rapists. Not all men actually are rapists, but a woman really can’t tell by looking at any individual man whether he is a rapist or not, simply because the risk is great.

Coyne then quotes from Allard about how men absorb sexism from their socialization, and that men aren’t safe. His reply is this:

It may be true that all men absorb sexist ideas, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t try to root those ideas out, or, more important, act on those ideas and treat women as inferiors or sexual objects. Allard doesn’t think her sons will be rapists, but for some reason she doesn’t feel “safe” around them

Allard nowhere states in the quote that she doesn’t feel safe around her sons. What she does say is that men aren’t safe. Coyne perhaps does not understand the difference, or perhaps he’s being disingenuous here. The point is that he wants us to imagine Allard cowering in front of her sons, not the more accurate view that her sons, like all other individuals raised in masculinity, may become rapists and cannot be automatically exonerated for being “good guys.” It seems Coyne wants us to believe some people should be exonerated, but he doesn’t tell us how we can make that judgment call. We already know some men don’t treat women as sex objects (although subconsciously all men do), but how are we supposed to tell, apart from knowing a man personally and intensively? Unless Coyne can tell us this, his argument is utterly pointless.

Why? Because, like all men, they don’t believe everything women (and rape victims). That kind of doubt is in fact embedded in our legal system when it adjudicates rape, as it does all crimes, by looking at all the facts and convicting only when the evidence is beyond reasonable doubt.

Coyne is definitely being disingenuous here, since he knows very well the difference between a man listening to a woman in a casual setting and the setting of a court case. We don’t talk to other people in our daily lives as if we were a judge. If Coyne acts like this, then I doubt he has any friends. It is completely unscientific and irrational to treat what a woman says with the same epistemic standard as that of a court case. And yet this is an attitude that “skeptic” misogynists adopt to justify their misogyny: “women don’t provide the evidence they need to prove their claim, so I don’t have to believe them!”

One final part I want to examine is one where he quotes Allard on the fact that men don’t believe female lived experience, and that she doesn’t want to waste her time on people who are more interested in ideas than feelings. Coyne, the scientist, is annoyed by theis demand that people stop ignoring the evidence:

What bothers me here are the notions that feelings always trump ideas, that someone’s feelings are not just to be taken seriously, but believed absolutely, that those who don’t accept every word are rape-enablers, and that all men are not just tinged with sexism, but dyed with it to a degree that their actions enable “rape culture.”

But that’s not the point Allard was raising. Her point was not that men are looking at evidence instead of feelings, but rather that men refuse to look at the actual evidence of what women experience, preferring to take refuge behind slogans and bizarre belief systems. Feelings do not trump ideas, but one should not disbelieve someone’s lived experience merely on the basis of an idea. One good example of this is homophobia. Homophobes reject homosexual individuals’ lived experience because of ideas like “homosexuality is a sin” and “homosexuals are pedophiles.” Coyne’s beliefs that we should not believe women and that rape culture is a myth serve the same general purpose: reassure the bigot that he’s in the right regardless of what anyone experiences, lower the importance of “feelings,” and hold women to a higher standard than men hold themselves to. There is also the added disincentive that “feelings” are associated with femininity, thus making men reject them wholesale because listening to your feelings is “faggy.”

Does anyone who refuses to accept a woman’s every word a rape enabler? No, clearly. But men do refuse to accept women’s rape testimonies because they are rape enablers, by and large. Whether they are consciously in favour of rape, or they simply want to ignore testimonies because it’s more convenient for them, or because they are covering for other men, that’s another issue, one which should not overly concern us.

And I wonder whether teaching all boys that they’re perpetrators of “toxic masculinity” doesn’t demonize them without justification, and represents the wrong way to educate people how to treat each other as moral equals.

Equality is a liberal concern. Feminism is defined not as a demand for equality or “treating each other as moral equals,” not even for equity, but rather for liberation. Equality rhetoric assumes that everyone has the same needs and can equally flourish under the same conditions, but this is absurd from a feminist perspective. Because we live in patriarchal societies and we live in rape cultures where women’s well-being is always endangered, women do not have the same needs as men, and cannot equally flourish under the same conditions. Educating people on how to treat each other as moral equals just teaches them to ignore systemic oppression against specific groups of people… which is exactly what Coyne does in this entry.

As for toxic masculinity, I have no idea who Coyne thinks is teaching boys that they are “perpetrators of toxic masculinity.” Children are the victims of gender, not the perpetrators. To accuse children of something adults do betrays childism on Coyne’s part, but that’s par for the course.

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