In July, 2013, The Oxford Journal of Legal Studies published an article called Myths about rape myths by Helen Reece, Reader at Law. The paper was soon followed by a debate called “Is Rape Different?” hosted by the London School of Economics (LSE) Department of Law. The debate resulted in quick condemnation by feminists who felt that people like Helen Reece should be banned from public platforms.
Feminists were infuriated by having their research and scholarship challenged by an academic and the response to Helen’s work on “rape myth myths” took until March, 2014 to compose, but it was worth the wait.
The main criticism in J. Conaghan and Y. Russell’s thirty five page response  is that Helen unfairly frames the discussion in terms of logic. Their complaints are fairly straightforward, predictably ridiculous, and the rebuttal finally descends into streams of feminist phrases and rhetoric that amount to the usual meaningless drivel. But, it’s good for entertainment.
Conaghan and Russell are outraged that “Reece comes across as the voice of common sense, drawing on scientific facts and hard evidence rather than ideology or dogma to support her stance.” How dare she?! How were they to have predicted such an underhanded tactic?
After asserting, on their own merit, that feminist scholarship has created “a backdrop of an empirically verifiable social understanding” they are disturbed that Reece debunks that scholarship by “reduc[ing] to questions of empirical fact” and that “[t]his is done through the use of an analysis contained by dichotomized concepts like truth/falsity and sameness/difference”.
Since when does the law care about truth? Surely it’s a conspiracy against feminist scholars.
This truth versus falsity discussion continues to cause the authors much distress. They refute accusations of confirmation bias by asserting that all the feminist scholars agree. They argue that rape myths can still be held by people who don’t consciously hold them, because they are actually subconscious. We are to believe that unconsciously held rape myths (which can’t be tested) are empirically proven and, in turn, provide the “scaffolding for a rape culture.” Rape culture, of course, also has a mountain of evidence: many feminist scholars say they’ve seen it.
Feeling disadvantaged by frameworks of logic and common sense, the authors quickly move to criticism of Helen’s language. Accusing Reece of using words with “emotive potency” they take issue with rape researchers being called “’elite’” or “’super-elite”. Other words they claim are emotionally manipulative are: “stigmatizing”, “smuggling”, “manipulating”,“dripping”, “galloping”, “body politic”, “quarantine”, and “clean”.
Let’s compare the language used by Conaghan and Russell in their reply.
After the condescending preamble, “[g]ranted her intentions appear to be good,” we are soon told that “beneath the surface neutrality of Reece’s presentation, we would argue, lie murky, agenda-filled depths.” To most people, that sounds a little emotive. Hyperbolic, even.
To appear generous and compassionate, they state that Reece’s work is “timely and provocative,” but Conaghan and Russell immediately go on to characterize Helen Reece with words including, but not limited to, “crude,” “simplistic,” “convoluted,” “scathing,” “seductive,” yet “rigid,” “unhelpful,” “hoisted on her own petard,” “covert,” “sleights of hand are deployed,” using “tactics” with “partiality” and a “failure to engage” which are “sadly emblematic,” “subtly executed” attempts to create a “binary” “dichotomy” where “good (necessarily) triumphs over bad and right (necessarily) prevails over wrong.”
In a truly astounding sentence, given the pretence of non-emotive scholarship, Conaghan and Russell tell us “[i]t is difficult to gauge from a close reading of the text to what extent Reece consciously resorts to legerdemain to bolster her position.” If it’s difficult to gauge, why bring it up? Surely, not to manipulate the audience!
Conversely, of their feminist scholar friends they say there is “a mountain of evidence” and a “harmonious backdrop” with much “consensus” in the “feminist discursive space.” So Helen should just butt out.
Putting emotive words into her mouth, Conaghan and Russell tell us of Helen’s work, “[w]hat is unstated but, we would argue, implicit, is a resolve to free rape discourse from the tentacles of a perceived political correctness, to dislodge it from the hegemonic grip of a regime of permissible and impermissible views prescribed and patrolled by feminist researchers and policy-makers.”
The authors feel that feminists should answer these difficult questions themselves. Presumably in their safe spaces. They admit that “[o]f course, few feminists would deny that the sphere of public discussion is always politically and culturally imbued in ways which limit and constrict the discursive possibilities”, but that opening up debate to the general public will result in wrongful expectations of simple logic. Feminists have worked long and hard to change what comprises science and they aren’t about to lose all of that hard won ground.
As a sacrificial peace offering, they throw two of their own scholars under the bus.
Helen Reece uses quotes from the feminist narrative work of Mary Koss and Donald Dripps. Conaghan and Russell discount Dripps as “crude” and having made “casual, unsubstantiated claims” – unlike the rest of them. Their treatment of Koss is somewhat more hysterical.
They claim Reece took Koss’s “extreme statement,” that the public condones sexual violence, out of context. They ask “who, other than (apparently) Koss, actually labels public attitudes in this way?” In addition to Conaghan and Russell themselves asserting in the same paper that “rape culture” exists (“rape culture” being a phrase describing an entire fictional culture which has rape supportive attitudes) the answer to their question is that almost every feminist believes the “extreme” statement of Mary Koss. That’s why the authors keep telling us rape myth attitudes exist and are based on “a mountain” of empirical evidence.
Conaghan and Russell then decide that if they can’t beat us with logic, they’ll baffle us with bullshit. They proceed to explain that Koss was doing “multi-jurisdictional” surveys spanning diverse populations and that “it becomes clear that her comments are directed not at any particular population but at the challenge of rape supportive attitudes – wherever they exist” and that “Koss’s remarks are insufficiently targeted” to justify being quoted.
Well. That’s good to know. Feminists should stop quoting her and referencing her work.
After all the vitriol and the squirrel factory is done manufacturing their rhetoric with which to build a rape-culture-vanquishing-empire made of straw, the authors gift us with a moment of frustration towards Helen Reece. “This insistence upon a firm distinction between sex and rape is curious”.
Curious, indeed. The feminist aversion to common sense and logic isn’t unusual or surprising for most of us, but it is delightful when they stop hiding that fact.
- Conaghan J, Russell Y. Rape Myths, Law, and Feminist Research: ‘Myths About Myths?’.Feminist Legal Studies. 2014;22(1). Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10691-014-9259-z