Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Catherine Comins' actual quote about the falsely accused may be worse than most of us thought

Catherine Comins' famous "quote" about falsely accused men gaining from the experience was, in reality, a Time Magazine writer's characterization of what she said. What Comins actually said may be worse than what is attributed to her. This is from a 2001 Time Magazine article about rape:

"Catherine Comins, assistant dean of student life at Vassar, also sees some value in this loose use of 'rape.' She says angry victims of various forms of sexual intimidation cry rape to regain their sense of power. 'To use the word carefully would be to be careful for the sake of the violator, and the survivors don't care a hoot about him.' Comins argues that men who are unjustly accused can sometimes gain from the experience. 'They have a lot of pain, but it is not a pain that I would necessarily have spared them. I think it ideally initiates a process of self-exploration. 'How do I see women?' 'If I didn't violate her, could I have?' 'Do I have the potential to do to her what they say I did?' Those are good questions.'"

The "loose use" of the term "rape," of course, has done grave injustices to innumerable innocent men and boys.  Encouraging it is almost indescribably evil.  We could read most of the stories we report on in this website as manifestations of the "loose use" of the term "rape."  Contrary to Comins' statement, "rape" is a word that should be treated as sacred. It should never be used lightly, and it should only be uttered when an actual rape occurred.  Anything less not only serves up a grave injustice to the man or boy who is the alleged rapist, it also trivializes actual rape.

The term "rape" has been devalued over the past several decades because it has been trivialized by talk of "rape continuums" and all manner of efforts to engorge its definition to include garden variety male sexual conduct.  Comins' clarion call to use the term loosely is emblematic of this devaluation.

Comins suggested that women who unilaterally declare themselves to be "victims" of a vast array of purported offenses falling under the rubric of sexual intimidation (which, I assume, includes sex as a result of perceived psychological coercion -- including "oh, come on, you're always too tired") are justified in fastening the "rapist" label -- with all its heinous implications and permanent stain -- on their "intimidators."

This entire blog is replete with reports of the reputational and other harm that result from a society that tolerates, and by tolerating, implicitly encourages, women to unilaterally label a presumptively innocent male a "rapist."  If the accused male has a contrary account of the facts, it's not worth listening to.  The only thing that matters is that women are empowered to cry "rape" whenever they feel like it, even when it's not justified.

Comins is usually quoted as saying that falsely accused men "can gain from the experience."  In the article, that "quote" is not in quotation marks and might be the Time author's characterization of what Comins said.  But it's what follows that is infinitely worse: Men who are unjustly accused "have a lot of pain, but it is not a pain that I would necessarily have spared them." 

Did you get that?  The men's pain can serve as an indoctrination into a sort of feminist Nirvana, molding males to be more respectful of, and more user-friendly to, women.  Taking this attitude to its logical extreme, every male would benefit from, and should have, a false rape claim lodged against him.  Underlying Comins' comment is a twisted and vile gynocentric worldview that is misandric at its core. It regards rape as rampant and men as inherently flawed because they are predisposed -- by socialization, I am sure -- to rape.  One clever way to make them respectful of women is to falsely accuse them of rape.

Except that, judging from the falsely accused we hear from and the falsely accused we report on, a false rape claim is among the last things that make men respectful of women.  In fact, false rape claims have exactly the opposite effect: they often foment long-lasting distrust, even hatred, of women.

It is bad enough when ignorant and uneducated women and girls destroy men and boys with vile false rape claims. It is altogether unforgivable when an apparently educated woman in a responsible position with a major university thinks that false rape claims are not just acceptable but beneficial.  Comins, of course, should have been fired on the spot when this issue of Time hit the stands.

Time seems to have appreciated the over-the-top quality of Comins' statement.  The paragraph immediately after Comins' vile quote is as follows: 

"Taken to extremes, there is an ugly element of vengeance at work here. Rape , is an abuse of power. But so are false accusations of rape, and to suggest that men whose reputations are destroyed might benefit because it will make them more sensitive is an attitude that is sure to backfire on women who are seeking justice for all victims. On campuses where the issue is most inflamed, male students are outraged that their names can be scrawled on a bathroom-wall list of rapists and they have no chance to tell their side of the story."

That males accused of rape might have their own "side of the story" is what is thoroughly lacking from the present public discourse about rape.  Funny, but for a nation that cherishes the concept of due process, we are quick to toss even the suggestion that the male's story should be heard onto an ash heap of indifference when it comes to rape.

From Time again:

"It would be easy to accuse feminists of being too quick to classify sex as rape, but feminists are to be found on all sides of the debate, and many protest the idea that all the onus is on the man. It demeans women to suggest that they are so vulnerable to coercion or emotional manipulation that they must always be escorted by the strong arm of the law. 'You can't solve society's ills by making everything a crime,' says Albuquerque attorney Nancy Hollander. 'That comes out of the sense of overprotection of women, and in the long run that is going to be harmful to us.'"

I agree, Ms. Hollander.  But the primary victims of that sense of over-protection are the falsely accused for whom this blog is dedicated.