Conversations About Consent with a Very Old Friend pt. 1

Posted: May 18, 2014 in Uncategorized




I have slightly off-topic feelings about [this article] so you will have to bare with me.

This guy is saying that because some men are rapists, and because it’s difficult or impossible to discern which are and which aren’t, it behooves women to be cautious around men. That’s fine. But Schroedingers Rapist (as it was explained to me) means something else: It refers to the idea that (because of a complex and highly contentious swirl of capital R Reasons) all men are potential rapists. Sort of like, even if you spent your entire life walking on the sidewalk, you could get drunk at your 45th birthday party, go outside, see a particularly good-looking ice cream truck across the street, and in that moment there is nothing tangible stopping you from becoming an actual jaywalker. It’s an uncomfortable thought and all the backlash is understandable to a degree.

All the stuff about behavior modification to make women more comfortable both in this article and the original post is nice and all, but to me, it misses the point because the perspective is misplaced. Discussions about making women comfortable are meaningless if you aren’t explicitly accounting for your role in their safety. In other words, before I invert my rape-joke t-shirt and start minding my eye contact, I better make damn sure I’m not ACTUALLY going to go assault anyone today.

I am the first to admit I don’t read too good sometimes. Let me tell you how I read this guy’s blog post: “Sexism-racism-string quartet-PhD-I am a SAFE GUY with NO POTENTIAL for violence towards women! My UPPER-CRUST background precludes it!”

I think Schroedinger’s Rapist ought to be about understanding your own potential to do violence, not some facile discussion about oppressive/not oppressive elements of things that are self-evident.



I think most people totally fail to grok the thing you’ve articulated here, much less articulate it this clearly and succinctly. (I may steal this at some point, ’cause I’m not good at articulating it succinctly either. :P)

For what it’s worth, I think the original Schröedinger’s Rapist article by someone with the pen name “Phaedra Starling” actually is a bit closer to the “SAFE GUY with NO POTENTIAL” for violence’s interpretation i.e. that all men are “Schroedinger’s Rapist” not because it’s unknowable whether or not any given man is a rapist until he commits rape but, rather, because it’s unknowable to any given woman whether or not a particular man is a rapist. Starling still hews to the emotionally-easier-to-deal-with idea that there are “good men” who would never rape under and circumstances and “bad men” who would happily rape with impunity if they thought they could get away with it, you just can’t tell the difference by looking at them. (And that one way to prove you’re a “good man” is not to get all het up about people not realizing you’re a “good man”.)

Whereas, I think the argument you’re making is closer to a more traditionally radical feminist position. (If we update that position to jive with contemporary gender politics instead of being stuck in the 70s — which contemporary “radical feminists” seemingly fail to have done, hence rampant transphobia in the “RadFem” community.) That argument is that any men (and, arguably, ANYBODY of any gender) always and already has the potential commit rape, possibly without even realizing it, because we’ve all been socialized in a culture that normalizes coercion and sexual violence.

(Actually, taken to its logical conclusion, I think the radical feminist argument is not only that everybody always-and-already has the *potential* to commit rape but, rather, that everybody who participates in sex within rape culture is, in some ways, perpetuating rape culture. Sometimes this gets bumperstickerized as “All Sex is Rape” although Snopes points out that nobody ever actually said that.)

Ethically and intellectually speaking, I tend to lean more towards the latter interpretation, too. But I think there’s some value in the former interpration, too, in moderation. Like, practically speaking, believing that we live in a world in which it’s impossible to be intimate without violating someone’s consent/having our consent violated — and that there’s just nothing we can do about that short of, maybe, taking the whole culture apart and starting from scratch — seems likely to cause most people to just throw up their hands and say, “Fuck it. If doing the right thing is logically impossible, I guess I’ll just be unethical then. Whatever.” Whereas a world in which there’s some formula for “how to be a good person,” even if it’s kind of a…rough approximation only…seems more likely to generate ethical behavior in practice. Maybe that doesn’t actually make any sense? I dunno.

There’s this thing that Sartre says about how, essentially, there’s no such thing as “free will” metaphysically speaking, since we live in a mechanistic universe, but we have to live as if we have free will anyway because the act of making choices is the only way to be ethical. Trying to find a balance between being honest with ourselves about the fact that we live in a mechanistic universe and yet taking the act of choicemaking seriously enough to be meaningful anyway is, like, the crux of the problem of being human. That’s probably a massive oversimplification.  That’s how I understand it anyway, filtered through [my favorite college Philosophy professor], and Cliff’s Notes, and a lot of rambling pseudointellectual conversations, beer, and the Internet. 😛

Okay, I shouldn’t do this all day. Thanks for letting me braindump at you and for writing awesome stuff that makes me think. Love.

Part 2 is here.

  1. AgeVitam says:

    “Let me tell you how I read this guy’s blog post: ‘Sexism-racism-string quartet-PhD-I am a SAFE GUY with NO POTENTIAL for violence towards women! My UPPER-CRUST background precludes it!'”

    See also: “Real men objectify women with dignity and decorum.” –

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