Thursday, November 29, 2012

Has the Schrödinger's Rapist meme backfired?

As promised recently, I have plunged back into the fray on r/DebateAtheismPlus. So here's the question I posed:
Let me say first of all that I understand what the author of Schrödinger's Rapist is getting at - when a woman encounters a strange man, she has no idea a priori whether he is a rapist or not. And to be on the safe side, she should assume he is a rapist until proven otherwise. Let me add that I think rape is a horrible crime, and should be punished severely. (And false rape accusations, if and when they occur, should be treated proportionately seriously.)
However, a great many men (and more than a few women) have been offended by this analogy and have reacted very negatively to it - they can't help seeing it as an insinuation that all men are rapists. Or perhaps Phaedra Starling is merely saying that there is no such thing as a man who is purely and simply a non-rapist - he is at best a quantum superposition of rapist and non-rapist, until - being male - he inevitably commits rape, at which point the quantum wavefunction collapses and he becomes a fully-fledged rapist.
The situation isn't helped by Starling's smug, condescending tone. Most puzzling of all is that she starts out by addressing herself to "good guys" and non-rapists - but near the end, she writes: "Don't rape." Whatever her protestations of good will at the beginning, she seems to have the fixed idea that all men, at best, need to be reminded not to rape.
Also, given that the majority of rapes are by an acquaintance of the victim, is it really helpful to focus on rape by strangers? Or to imply that only men rape, and only women are raped?
Many feminists, seeing the resistance to SR, have responded (like PZ Myers' mini-me, Chris Clarke): "Well, this just proves that they are walnut-size-brained MRA's who are prone to rape." But remember that the ostensible purpose of SR was to reach out to potential allies among men, and try to help them see the rape situation through a woman's eyes. If you don't succeed in making the sale, do you take your ball and go home, muttering: "I knew they were all rapists anyway"? Or do you try to figure out what went wrong, and tweak the message to make it less gratuitously alienating to the people you are trying to win over?
Apparently no hard-core plussers saw it, or if they did, they didn't feel it was worthy of their time to respond. I did get this comment:
I'm not sure you do. SR is supposed to be an awareness raising idea for men. It's not that the woman walking in front of you should or will be scared of you. It's that she might. So be aware of yourself and that other people can see you as a threat.
To which I replied:
In that case, instead of telling every man, "Hey dude, you're Schrödinger's Rapist", we should just tell men that every woman is "Schrödinger's rape-phobic".
This may sound flippant, but I am trying to get at a serious weakness of the analogy - its muddled point of view. ("You can't be sure that the woman can't be sure that...") Even Phaedra Starling (who originated the meme), while lecturing men that they should adopt the woman's viewpoint, seems incapable of seeing anything through anyone else's eyes. Apart from the bizarre "BTW, don't rape" admonition, there is her insistence that she alone sets her level of risk tolerance, which then becomes unilaterally binding on everyone else. This means that if Starling has a racist fear of being mugged every time she sees a black person, too bad for black people - each and every one of them is "Schrödinger's mugger", regardless of how unreasonable her fear is.

Look, it's one thing to ask you, if you're a guy, to be sensitive to the possibility that a woman may be nervous in your presence when you are a stranger to her. I have absolutely no problem with that. Even before Elevatorgate, although I often struck up conversations with women in elevators, I never pushed if they seemed unwilling to converse, and I never tried to pick them up right there.

However, SR is about asking me as a man to debase myself solely on the basis of my gender, and accept that I am a criminal until proven otherwise, in a game that has been rigged so that such proof is impossible. This was too much for even the notorious Rhys Morgan to swallow. I am certainly not going to play that game - I have way too much self-respect.


  1. SR is not prejudice. That's just math. Okay? So, if in 2011, out of 151 million men, 11,934 were arrested for rape, which means we can reasonably be scared of .007% of men. Now, it doesn't sound like a lot, until you consider that we don't know which seven one thousandth of one percent. So, to be safe, we have to be scared of all of them.

  2. Schrodinger’s Maneater is not about “all women are evil.”
    It is not even about “all women are potentially evil.” All women are, in fact, potentially evil, in much the same sense as all men are potentially evil, and all brunettes are potentially evil. All people are potentially evil, because evil is not a function of anything about a person except the fact that they do evil things.
    It is about “a very significant proportion of men will, when you approach them, be assessing whether you are going to be That Crazy Bitch...”

    ...That Crazy Bitch makes up only a tiny percentage of women. However, she has poisoned the well for everyone else.
    I think a lot of women underestimate the fear most men have around relationships of any kind. For instance, I am the happiest little stud you could ever hope to meet. However, I would never date or have sex with a woman whom a friend, or a friend of a friend, didn’t vouch for, because she might lie about being on birth control and ding me for 18 years paying for a child I didn't want, or cry rape the next morning when her boyfriend demands to know where she was all night, or only be after my wallet, or take me for everything I have or care about--including my kids--when she's done with me. On a rational level, I know the chance of me getting screwed over in some way because I slept with or entered a relationship with a woman is about as likely as me...well, actually, it's getting likelier all the time. Huh. I mean, on an emotional level, I want intimacy with a woman, but my powers of observation and sense of self-preservation associates "sexual involvement with women, whether I know them or not", with "getting fucked over, maybe for life.”

  3. This seems strange to me. It uses basic logic to prove a general point and then assumes it as solid footing to make a very intricate conclusion. The premiss is logic 101; if all A are B and some B are C then some C are A. No one is disputing the logic, but such a basic observation cannot be used as justification for an evolved world view. I won’t get into the philosophy of the formation of personal belief, but you are not correct to assume that you should interpret a narrow factoid as compulsory means for a specific set of behaviors. Silly.

    1. I think the whole idea received so much notoriety because it was inflammatory and ridiculous without being directly refutable.