Entry from December 23, 2014

Leftie Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post’s amusingly named "Post-Partisan" blog is all in a lather because the wife of the national president of Phi Kappa Psi has written a letter to the fraternity at large, members of which at the University of Virginia have been falsely accused of gang rape by Rolling Stone magazine, telling them that "it’s the perfect time to focus our efforts on being gentlemen who are courteous and cultured and showing respect to others." Who, you might ask, could find fault with that? Come to think of it, you probably wouldn’t ask, since it’s no surprise to find that Mr Capehart does. He claims to have been reminded by the word "gentlemen" in conjunction with this non-rape of a rape that actually did take place by a member of the same fraternity 30 years ago. When the perpetrator came to trial for it 20 years later, his lawyer tried to excuse him by saying that he had been guilty only of "a thoughtless college sex encounter during which he acted ungentlemanly."

"Rape," thunders Mr Capehart is beyond ‘ungentlemanly.’" Well, yes it is, and it was the height of disingenuousness on the part of that lawyer thus to suggest that rape was only a social faux pas. But it’s also that, and within living memory it has been the case that a powerful understanding of rape’s ungentlemanliness has arguably been more efficacious in preventing that crime than any sense of its immorality or criminality. When James Stewart’s character in The Philadelphia Story, explaining that nothing happened between him and Katherine Hepburn’s very drunk Tracy Lord on the night before her wedding, said, "There are rules about that kind of thing," he wasn’t referring to moral rules. Of humble origins himself, he looked down on the aristocratic pretensions of the Lord family, yet he never for a moment doubted that the "rules" of gentlemanly behavior applied to him as much as they did to any Main Line toffee nose.

Obviously, it would be great if hormonal young men were imbued with a moral sense so strong that it would be enough by itself to restrain them from sexual violence, but surely we have learned by now that that is by no means the result of our abandoning the former and additional sanction of ungentlemanliness. Far from it. The young man who has learned not to care anymore whether or not he is regarded as a gentleman by his peers is not thereby any more likely to care if he is regarded as a criminal by the law. If, as must be the case with frat-boy rapists, they are prepared to do anything they can get away with sexually, they are also sure to understand how much more likely they are to be able to avoid detection by the law than by their fraternity brothers. And if the fraternity cares about being gentlemen, so will he.

Even if he doesn’t accept this reasoning, however, why should Mr Capehart be hostile to the idea of being "courteous and cultured and showing respect to others"? If even one rape is prevented by teaching young men to care about being known for such a standard of behavior, isn’t that a good thing? Apparently not. You might almost suppose that your doctrinaire feminist and her sympathizers in the media believe some kinds of rape-prevention measures — such as warning young women not to drink too much or not to wear sexually provocative clothing — to be worse than rape itself. That is also the impression given by the behavior of the "slut-walkers" of a few years ago who took such offense at giving even the most obvious and basic of prudential advice on the avoidance of sexual assault to young girls.

It’s shocking to think that people calling themselves feminists would rather have such girls dress as sluts and be assaulted than avoid being assaulted by not dressing as sluts, but isn’t that the logical implication of those protests? So too, I think, Mr Capehart may be construed as implying that if rape could be prevented only by teaching young men to be gentlemen, then it would not be worth preventing. Or, to put it another way, it seems that gentlemen are simply not wanted in the brave new feminist world, even if their presence there would result in fewer rapes and sexual assaults. Such absurdities are examples of what Harvey Mansfield calls the contradiction of feminism, or "presuming women as both equal and unequal to men, and as both lacking a definition and having one."

What he means, I think, is that feminists both refuse to be limited by what society thinks appropriate to being a woman while at the same time insisting that society protect them from the unique vulnerability of womanhood — as if "society" were something quite apart from and unconnected with the ladies and gentlemen to whom they are insisting, out of the other side of their mouths, that the very idea of ladies and gentlemen is an outdated and worthless concept, as offensive to them as rape itself. But that idea and the manners that go with it are the only ways — apart from the law’s uncertain deterrent effect in the occasional catching and punishing of rapists — that society has ever found to afford them a measure of the protection they demand. If their ideology requires that that protection be removed, you’ve got to wonder how useful or valuable it is, even as ideology, let alone as a practical guide to life.

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