Rape Apologia Is Not a PR Problem

[CN for the post and linked pieces: rape, rape apologia, rape culture, judicial malfeasance, suicide, mental illness.]

Rape apologia is not a PR problem. Rape is not a PR problem. Sexual harassment is not a PR problem. And so on, and so forth.

It is really pretty simple. Oppression is a problem because it harms the oppressed person or people. Not because it makes an individual or group sound bad.

But apparently, this is not as self-evident as I thought. Over at Daylight Atheism, Adam Lee is appalled by Richard Dawkins' recent rape-ranking remarks (good), but then proceeds to frame his own response primarily around the harm Dawkins is doing to the reputation of atheists:

...Even if we atheists were determined to be charitable in our interpretation, we can be sure that Dawkins’ many enemies won’t be, and will use these remarks to paint both him and the larger atheist movement in a poor light, or to deflect attention from their own moral failings. As I said on Twitter, the next time a priestly pedophilia story breaks, we can be almost certain that some Catholic apologist will say, “This is no big deal, and you’re just trying to exaggerate how serious it is to embarrass the church. See, even Richard Dawkins says it’s not always so bad!”

He also has some advice for Dawkins:

When you’re under scrutiny by people who are eager for you to make a mistake, it’s vital to carefully weigh your remarks so as not to speak in ways that can easily be used against you. Dawkins doesn’t seem to understand this, and it speaks poorly of him that he keeps committing these unforced errors. I have no explanation for why he can’t see that he’s harming not just his own reputation, but the entire secular movement that, for better or for worse, he’s widely assumed to speak on behalf of.


No. The fact that Dawkins "keeps "committing these unforced errors" is not what "speaks poorly of him." Perpetuating rape apologia speaks poorly of him.

It's not that I don't sympathize with members of a marginalized group cringing at a prominent member's oppressive remarks. It's shitty when the world, the media, or whomever, judges an entire group by the words or actions of one well-known asshole; that judgement is, predictably, far harsher for atheists, people of colour, LGBT*Q folk, women, and all those in groups already under the thumb of kyriarchy. But when you centre PR, you further marginalize survivors.

If you want to be an ally, encourage others to allyship, and support those in your group who are survivors, then it's simple. BE AN ALLY. Understand that being an ally is a continuous process, not a fixed state. Keep working at it, always, and understand that there will be fuckups. Don't assume you've mastered everything, don't seek cookies, and most of all, don't further the oppression you are trying to condemn.

For example, when you're writing about Dawkins' despicable rape-ranking and auditing of survivors' responses, you should probably not write shit like this:

I’d agree that not all cases of child abuse are equally harmful, and that there should be degrees of punishment depending on the circumstances. For example, consensual sex between a teenager and an adult, like a teacher, shouldn’t be punished with the same severity as the violent rape of a child.

But again, like the last time, he’s managed to couch this point in probably the worst possible way....

See that? See what you did there, Adam? YOU JUST RANKED RAPES. You blew off age differences. You blew off power differentials. You blew off a million different factors that may affect the survivor. You assumed that you could make broad judgements about the degree of harm done based on a few mechanical facts about the act, rather than on the perspective of the survivor.

This is not incidental; it enables the Lolita narrative that remains a huge problem in our rape culture. Otherwise, judges wouldn't sentence 54 year old teachers to 30 days for raping a 14 year old student (a student who, in this case, committed suicide, a pretty good indicator of the tremendous harm done). The judge ranked this particular rape by saying that the student exercised "some control" in the situation and "It was not a violent, forcible, beat-the-victim rape, like you see in the movies." That's rape apologia in action. Need more to get the point? Then read this piece by Emily about the harm done to her by men who had "consensual sex" with her 13 year old self.

The problem is not how Dawkins couched his point. The problem IS his point. (If that's not clear to you, then this is a time to put some conscious work into the continuing process of allyship.) Rape-ranking harms survivors, putting their experiences through someone else's Validity Prism. It enables more rapes, by signaling that there is some objective rubric to judge the harm based solely on the mechanics of the crime, not the impact on the survivor. The fallacious assertion that other people are in the best position to judge a survivor's experience is not a bad way of making a good point. It is a bad way of making a garbage point. It is not a PR problem. It is another stone, strengthening the foundations of rape culture.

[With thanks to Liss and Ana for input.]

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