Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Alex Knepper is at it again

Alex Knepper is a provocateur whose assaults on feminsm's rhetorical excesses on campus have a no-holds-barred, in-your-face flavor. His controversial statements in a recent column that appeard in The Eagle, a student newspaper of American University, touched off a maelstrom of a gender debate, with the indignant, chronically offended, political correctness police out in full force.  I had not intended to comment on it, because so many others have already done so, and because, as with almost everything in this area, the picture is more complex, more nuanced and less exciting, than either Mr. Knepper's defenders or detractors admit. What Mr. Knepper is most "guilty" of is politically incorrect impolitenss to a group widely regarded as historically oppressed.  But the college administrators ought to listen to him, if they care about things like male enrollment, because his views are the views of a lot of young men on campus.

Now Mr. Knepper has written a new piece that I want to highlight.  Before looking at Mr. Knepper's new piece, here are the three paragraphs in his earlier piece that spurred the most controversy:

Let’s get this straight: any woman who heads to an EI party as an anonymous onlooker, drinks five cups of the jungle juice, and walks back to a boy’s room with him is indicating that she wants sex, OK? To cry “date rape” after you sober up the next morning and regret the incident is the equivalent of pulling a gun to someone’s head and then later claiming that you didn’t ever actually intend to pull the trigger.

“Date rape” is an incoherent concept. There’s rape and there’s not-rape, and we need a line of demarcation. It’s not clear enough to merely speak of consent, because the lines of consent in sex — especially anonymous sex — can become very blurry. If that bothers you, then stick with Pat Robertson and his brigade of anti-sex cavemen! Don’t jump into the sexual arena if you can’t handle the volatility of its practice!

Feminists don’t understand history, psychology, biology or sexuality. To repair this desperate situation, I have altruistically prepared a list of five favored books about sex and gender: “The Myth of Male Power” by Warren Farrell, “The Sexual Spectrum” by Olive Skene Johnson, “Vamps and Tramps” by Camille Paglia, “Philosophy In the Bedroom” by the divine Marquis de Sade, and “Who Stole Feminism?” by Christina Hoff Sommers. Put down the Andrea Dworkin and embrace the fires of sexuality!

Mr. Knepper was widely denounced in some circles as a misogynist for this language.  As for his first paragraph, it is well to note that there is no national law of rape, and states differ as to the level of intoxication that must be present to negate legal consent. The purported victim's voluntary intoxication may, depending on the jurisdiction, bar prosecution for rape.  The trend, however, is to make it more difficult to use the woman's intoxication to preclude a rape charge.  This is part of the effort stretching back to the 70s to classify more and more conduct as "rape."

But very few of the attacks on Mr. Knepper talked about silly things like, oh, the law. A lot of the criticism hurled at him seemed to denounce his audacity for suggesting that the circumstance he described in that first paragraph could ever not be date rape.  While I would have written the paragraph differently, I suspect that the everday experience of most people would agree that the scenario Knepper painted is typically a strong indicator of consent.  Remember, consent need not (and usually isn't) expressed verbally (and that might be at the core of much of the frustration over Knepper's column). Consent may be manifested by conduct, and, generally, is to be judged from the perspective of a reasonable person in the situation of the male, based on all the surrounding circumstances.  It would not be valid consent if other facts were present that are not revealed here negating a reasonable interpretation of consent.  I suspect, however, that it is an unstated assumption in Mr. Knepper's scenario that once up in the young man's room, the woman willingly participated in sex. 

Knepper's dismissal of "consent" in his second paragraph is troublesome.  Lack of consent is, in fact, the sine qua non of rape. Let me help him here: the problem isn't "consent"; the problem is that the presence or absence of consent can be difficult for third party adjudicators to discern after-the-fact, since it is often based on a host of surrounding circumstances.  Given this problem, charging for rape in "he said/she said" situations, in the absence of other clear evidence, where both parties have plausible accounts is not appropriate.  (I would go further and note that focusing on the criminality or non-criminality of the sex act is too facile, and it doesn't work. We need a national education effort to teach young people about the dangers of alcohol and sex, and about how the combination of the two often leads to rape claims and false rape claim, because men and women view one-night stands very differently -- women have much higher rates of regret after-the-fact, recent studies show).

Now Mr. Knepper has written a new piece in response to the AU president's statement condemning his earlier column. The president said: "I want to acknowledge the challenges our community faced in the wake of a provocative column in the March 31 Eagle on the topic of date rape. . . .. Date rape victims/survivors were personally affected and many were deeply offended by the column’s words. The Eagle editors have acknowledged they could have made different editorial choices that would have avoided the harm without compromising First Amendment rights."

Mr. Knepper's response is brutally honest:

Next up in the carnival of horrors: my hurtful, insensitive language. This is the essence of liberalism, really: to become disheveled every time something offends one’s fragile little sensibilities. They’re offended, so they throw papers around, or appeal to bureaucrats or administrators to pick up the pieces of their shattered egos (and such administrators respond in kind, it seems). Is this what strong women do? Apparently, they can’t help it, in the midst of a “challenge” like my column. Indeed, when a controversial conversation is started, it’s now a challenge, according to President Kerwin. When feminists place displays all over the dining hall (!) with bogus statistics — “1 in 3 women will be raped in their lifetime” — and male-bashing messages — “Rape is a Men’s Issue” — this is apparently educational; any affront to it must be considered a “challenge” to the community’s cohesion. (Then again, since, as the feminists point out, rape is a men’s issue — since most rapists are men — does this mean that we can finally admit that suicide bombing is a Muslim issue?) 

We concur with the spirit of this paragraph. This particular blog, which tries to lay out the facts in a reasonable and correct manner, is often attacked.  Feminists have wished me to be brutally raped merely for writing a post about the importance of Blackstone's formulation (which is accepted by every court in America).  The existence of this blog is deemed a "challenge" to the "truth," as they claim to know it.  They treat us with derision, and sarcasm.  When I invite them to discuss objective facts, they disappear.  So, Mr. Knepper is to be commended for daring to attack the forces of political correctness, who too often do not tell the truth and who, let us be honest, have little or no regard for persons falsely accused of rape.