BBC has estimated that, in the UK, about 85.000 women were raped in the year 2006. In the US, during the same year, 92.455 rapes were reported to law-enforcement officers and we know that there were far more unreported cases than that. These sorts of numbers support the feminist view that we are dealing with a wide-spread social practice rather than merely with discrete acts of individuals who are morally corrupt and perhaps mentally ill.
I find the feminist analyses of rape appealing even if I want to try to amend them in one respect. Many feminist philosophers claim that it is not only the raped women who are harmed by this practice. Instead, all women suffer as a group because of it. This seems plausible. However, the feminists then go on to argue that it is not only the rapist men who benefit. Rather, all non-rapist men benefit. It is this claim that I want to challenge. I want to also suggest that even the rapists themselves are worse off for raping women whether they get caught or not. If this is right, then rape is a deeply irrational practice even before we get to the moral considerations – it harms all of us.
I take it that the ways in which rapists harm their victims physically and psychologically are clear. It is unfortunate that, in addition, there is sometimes a further social stigma attached to rape victims which burdens them too. But, what are the ways in which the women who are not raped themselves are harmed?
Anita Superson provides the following list in her new book The Moral Sceptic (p. 114-115):
“[Rape] stifles women’s freedom to do simple things such as go out alone, at night, in strange places, or even to respond to assaults on their dignity that come by the way catcalls. It makes women live in fear of men, since men can use rape as a weapon against women who “get out of line.” … It forces women to seek protection from “good” men and increases their dependence on them. Rape makes women suffer degradation by perpetuating sexist stereotypes of women as passive, weak, in need of protection, and as sexually available to all men. Rape costs women money, making them select better neighborhoods to live in, buy cars instead of using public transportation, buy locks for their windows and doors, and take self-defence classes.”
Likewise, Susan Griffin claims that “rape is a kind of terrorism which severely limits the freedom of women and makes women dependent on men…The threat of rape is used to deny women employment… The fear of rape keeps women off the streets at night. Keeps women at home. Keeps women passive and modest for the fear that they be thought provocative.”
That there are these kinds of costs to all women from the practice of rape seems plausible. It is also somewhat plausible that there are some benefits from rape to the rapists – sexual gratification at least. However, Superson, like many other feminists, then assume that “men who never rape women still enjoy the systematic benefits of the existence of the practice of rape, which are directly proportional to the harms that women suffer as a group”. This, I think, is a mistaken assumption. There are no grounds for assuming that we are dealing with a zero-sum game here.
What are the supposed benefits for the non-raping men? Superson provides the following list: “Men benefit socially and economically from the practice of rape: they enjoy (i) freedom of movement, (ii) power over women, (iii) independence, (iv) the ability to move ahead in the workplace uninhibited by fears and economic burdens that rape imposes on women, (v) a positive image as full human beings, and (vi) a peace of mind”. In order to assess whether these are benefits that men get from the practice of rape, we should assess whether men would lose these goods in circumstances in which women are never raped. I would think that men would still have the same amount of freedom of movement and independence, a positive image of themselves as full human beings, and a peace of mind.
So, (i), (iii), (v), and (vi) are not goods that men get from the practice of rape. This leaves (ii) and (iv). Are they goods that men get from the practice? I’m not sure. In one way, it’s true that if there were no rapes, men would still be able to ‘move ahead in the workplace uninhibited by fears and economic burdens that rape imposes on women’. True, some individual men get better jobs because their women competitors are currently disadvantaged by the burdens that the practice of rape creates. However, economy is not a zero-sum game either. If women were able to take part in it in equal terms, more economic activity would take place over-all, and thus more opportunities would be created for men as well.
This leaves us with (ii) – men’s power over women. This is the one I have most difficulties with – I cannot see it as a benefit. The idea is, I take it, that rape makes women afraid, dependent, weak, submissive, and keeps them at home. But, how is this a good thing? Wouldn’t any man be far better off if women were (are!) independent, strong, assertive, and up and about? Maybe I am just missing something here – it just seems very odd to say that this is a benefit.
This makes me suspect that, if rape has the kind of consequences that the feminists claim it does, then the non-rapist men too are worse off because of this practice. And, I’m starting to think that, given that the rapists themselves have to bear the same costs, they too are harmed by the practice if all they get from it is some sexual pleasure. This would mean that rape is an irrational practice that harms everyone. It is motivated by brute sexual desires rather than by reason. However, this means that it is just plain stupid. Irrationality should not be understood to here mean malfunctioning of mental facilities in a way that would undermine the moral responsibility which men bear on this issue.