Are we are all living in a world of mythical delusion? Is the world that you subjectively experience so far removed from reality that you can’t be trusted to sit on a jury? This is the question that vexed Helen Reece, a Reader in Law at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).
Feminist discourse asserts that “rape myths” are rampant in society to the effect that they disable the average person from being able to either understand or ascertain the seriousness of the crime of rape. According to feminists, the public is so deeply immersed in “rape culture” or “rape supportive attitudes” that we have trouble recognizing when a crime has been committed. This suggestion is a serious accusation and Helen is a very serious woman willing to tackle this question with logic instead of just agreeing for the sake of getting along.
In July, 2013, the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies published a summary article of Helen Reece’s paper entitled “Rape Myths: Is Elite Opinion Right and Popular Opinion Wrong?” In the article Helen Reece presents a challenge to how feminists are corrupting logic, law, and language.
The claim that rape myths are widespread may be challenged on three grounds: first, some of the attitudes are not myths; secondly, not all the myths are about rape; thirdly, there is little evidence that the rape myths are widespread. To a troubling extent, we are in the process of creating myths about myths, or ‘myth myths’.
While the feminist rhetoric currently shaping the existing “rape myth” studies have had significant influence upon the court system thus far, feminists simultaneously declare that their efforts have had no impact on a “rape supportive” society. By denying their results feminists are able to avoid responsibility for the negative impact that their changes may have caused and to decry anyone, like Helen Reece, who questions the reasonableness of feminist demands upon the legal system as a comprehensive institution that also has a duty to protect the accused.
When the Rape Myth Attitude (RMA) surveys were administered they did not yield the high results expected so researchers decided to “expediate” their process of proving “rape culture” by manipulating the questions. It was their assumption that people taking the test were recognizing the politically correct answers and responding in the presumed “correct” manner, thereby skewing the results. To make the test results match their expectations, RMA surveys made their questions more ambiguous and bell curved the results.
Helen points out that “This is as fallacious as making the driving test practically impossible to pass, then treating the resulting failure rate as evidence of appalling driving.” While bell curves can be useful at times they are particularly problematic in determining “the awfulness of people’s attitudes.”
Academic studies require peer review and RMA surveys have not been properly scrutinized because the manipulated results adhere to popular myths about rape myths. If we are to let these studies influence the legal system, as they demand we do, Helen presents important concerns to be addressed about the research being submitted as fact.
A specific point of RMA survey questioning involves asking people if a woman inviting a man to have coffee means sex. Not only is the wording a key element to the absurdity of this question it begs the question of what normal, every day people use as an indication of sexual receptivity.
Helen suggests that the more people who respond to state that asking someone to have coffee with you is a sign of sexual interest, the more weight it gives to the social norm of an invitation of coffee being a legitimate pickup line.
Surely Skepchick would agree.
The media attention given to “elevatorgate” and Rebecca Watson’s insistence that a man asking her to have coffee with him was sexual harassment, lends to the credibility that asking someone to have coffee with you is an understood euphemism for wanting to fuck. The public should now agree that coffee invitations are, in fact, a sexual invitation. Interestingly, the only people who agreed with Watson were the feminists, seeking to demonize the man who offered the coffee.
The public rejection of this feminist notion, that coffee equals sex, indicates that feminists are more likely to believe this rape myth than anyone else and they have projected their own absurd ideas onto the general public.
Despite the effort to make consent appear black and white, Helen argues that signs of consent in the real world are very messy and that considering the context around a person’s actions is much more important to legal analysis than we are being asked to believe. Due to a lack of proper research in what consent looks like when it goes right and exclusive focus on what it is like when it goes wrong, she feels that “participant’s answers should be treated with respect: the best evidence we have of how women show consent to sex is how people say women show consent to sex.”
Context is everything.
One of Helen’s concerns with feminist methodology in “rape myth” research is the removal of the requirement that rape myths needed to be “demonstrably false.” Without this stipulation we end up with “the oxymoronic ‘true myth’.” This is a case where something is oddly declared to be a myth but it may be factually accurate.
Problematic to the RMA studies is that the surveys purport to show how many people “blame the victim” when, in fact, none of the surveys use the word “blame”. The moral judgements inferred onto the results are actually just a result of researchers injecting their own moral values onto the responses. The only thing determined by the surveys is that a number of people, who may be factually correct, did not hold the same ethical opinions as the researchers.
The law, by design, is intended to deal with facts.
This slippery slope of interpretation by moral comparisons was tobogganed into our narrative by researchers riding on surrogate words for blame, such as “responsibility”. Helen questions whether or not “responsibility” is a good substitute for the word “blame.” Some of the public, including rape victims themselves, will attribute a portion of their actions as having contributed to the circumstances that led to a rape. This is fact. It is quite established that drinking excessively in public contributes to vulnerability. What the survey doesn’t establish is whether or not the public feels that a responsibility factor attributes blame to the victim or whether they were merely agreeing it contributed to vulnerability.
Where the studies report that people hold myths about “real rape,” defined as stranger attacks with weapons involved, Helen Reece queries “What does this even mean? Does it mean that people believe ‘real rape’ is the only sort of rape, the most common sort of rape, or the most serious type of rape? The only strong evidence for any of these propositions is that ‘real rape’ is more likely to lead to a conviction at the end of a trial. But this doesn’t mean that jurors believe the ‘real rape’ myth — they might just find it easier to convict when the evidence doesn’t boil down to whose story they believe.”
When rape attitude surveys are more interested in judging other people on their personal moral scales than in actually establishing fact for the pursuit of justice it is important for people, such as Helen Reece, to defend the institution of the law. As it currently stands, the law has an interest in making sure defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty and making sure they are granted the right to a fair trial.
These surveys declare that the public, the judges, the police, and all individuals involved in the court process are too steeped in myth to be capable of judgement due to “rape supportive attitudes.” That is a big accusation and only people within the legal system are in a position to defend against these accusations.
Helen Reece proposes that proving immorality in mass popular culture is not as cut and dried as feminists would like to pretend. If comparative analysis is done, conviction rates for rape are not actually out of scale with other crimes. She remarks that feminist studies do not even bother to compare their myth myths to attitudes about other types of violations.
The myth that many people believe “women cry rape” is unsupportable because “there needs to be a discrepancy between the proportion of women who people believe ‘cry rape’ and the proportion of women who do in fact ‘cry rape’. A problem is the lack of precision in the data on both these proportions.” Until such data is acquired, the “cry rape myth” might actually be a fact.
Quite often, and for good reason, the law is very focused on the meaning of words and how to enforce those meanings. As much as the law is designed to be followed, the law is also intended to be understandable. Feminist inspired changes to the law have introduced ambiguous words that undermine the clarity of what is expected from the public in order to comply with the law.
Feminists have succeeded in increasing reported rapes but the failure to increase convictions is not due to “rape myths” it is due to an inability to be sure “beyond a reasonable doubt” where the complex sexual behaviour of human beings meets the dubious wording of the new laws about consent.
Of the many reforms made to the legal system, rape is now defined by a lack of active consent instead of the presence of sexual rejection. These changes have been made without acknowledgement or research into how people interact with each other in real life. This does not seem either progressive or productive.
Helen Reece has expressed her concern that where the line between sex and rape in drawn is not as simple as feminists purport, not as mythical as they project, nor as dire as they propose. Her line of questioning is not misogynistic, or even anti-feminist, it is the reasonable doubt presented by people who seek to keep the legal system in line with reality. Helen Reece just seems to love the law, and what it represents.
Feminists claim we live in a rapey dystopia. If you don’t agree with them and fail to convict every man accused of a crime against women, you have an “attitude” problem.
Someone needs to explain to feminists how the legal system was designed and for what purpose. Perhaps that person will be Helen Reece.