Let's set the scene. For those of you who don't know, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is being charged in Sweden with two counts of some sexual assault-like crime. In the first case, Assange and a woman were having sex, and the condom Assange was wearing broke; when the woman asked Assange to stop, he kept going. In the second case, Assange didn't bother to wear a condom at all despite the fact that the woman expressly asked for one. Jill Filipovic of Feministe, in response, makes what should be a relatively non-controversial point:
If you consent to having sex with someone and part of the way through you say to stop and the person you’re having sex with continues to have sex with you against your wishes, that’s rape.No shit, right? Kinda obvious... but apparently not to Mr. Other McCain:
In an era when some 40% of U.S. births are to unmarried women, in a culture where “Girls Gone Wild” and “hook-ups” are normative, where threesomes, bisexual experimentation and amateur video-porn orgies have become a virtual rite of passage for many young Americans, where chlamydia and herpes are pandemic — in this era of rampant sexual decadence, I say, does Jill Filipovic (J.D., NYU) seriously expect horny strangers to negotiate consent calmly on an act-by-act basis while they’re knocking boots, making the beast with two backs, in flagrante delicto?Oy.
Listen up, sweetheart: You buy the ticket, you take the ride.
If you tumble into a random hook-up with no prior knowledge of the guy’s reputation and he turns out to be a selfish brute whose standard modus operandi is repulsive, dangerous or painful, in what sense are you a victim of anything except your own stupidity?
Mr. McCain and Assange are two sides of the same coin. Both feel very little need to respect the decisions of women regarding their own bodies. Assange went ahead with whatever he wanted to do without paying any attention to what the women wanted; McCain thinks that women don't have a right to make decisions beyond a certain point. These are equally disgusting viewpoints. Assange's disrespect is likely a figment of his narcissism, so we can expect that. I'm at a loss to explain McCain, though. I have a hard time believing that, in this day and age, anyone can believe that there's a point where women lose the right to consent to sex. And I'm even more baffled that there are people out there like Mr. McCain that enjoy explicitly blaming women for their own rape.
So it's a little startling that McCain, when he finally comes down from his victim-blaming high-horse, attempts to make something resembling a legitimate point in an update to his post:
I am not endorsing, advocating or defending Julian Assange’s behavior. He is a bad person, what he did was clearly wrong, and whatever harm befalls him, he most certainly deserves. But Assange’s wrongs were perpetrated in an environment of casual promiscuity. It is in just such an environment that lowlifes like Assange thrive and flourish, and if we refuse to criticize promiscuity — if we never point out to women that, in sleeping around, they are playing a game in which they are vulnerable to exploitation — then we are not-so-innocent bystanders.Let's ignore the insulting paternalism here for a moment and address what might be the kernel of an actual reasonable thought. Perhaps McCain isn't really blaming Assange's victims here, but is rather blaming a culture of promiscuity for rape. This is an idea worth addressing, though I still think it's a wrongheaded idea.
If we imagine a society where sex is reserved only for the most meaningful relationships, we can understand how sexual assault cases like this would be all but non-existent, since strangers wouldn't be having sex. But we cannot assume that this would eliminate sexual assault; partner rape is depressingly common. Furthermore, one could also easily imagine a culture where casual sex is the norm and where all sex is consensual and mutually wanted; one-night stands are quite often mutually wanted. So a "culture of promiscuity" clearly isn't responsible for sexual assault.
So what is? McCain backs into the answer by using the crap "but they can't help it" defense: "in this era of rampant sexual decadence, I say, does Jill Filipovic (J.D., NYU) seriously expect horny strangers to negotiate consent calmly on an act-by-act basis while they’re knocking boots, making the beast with two backs, in flagrante delicto?" The answer, of course, is absolutely yes. I've dealt with previously. Despite all the sexual messages in our society, I somehow avoid going around raping people, and so do most of the men I know. This is because I was raised to respect women, and so were my friends.
And that's the key. The prevalence of sexual assault against women is not correlated to the sexualization of our society; rather, it is correlated to the respect our society has for women. The lesson that Assange and McCain refuse to learn is that a woman's choice to not have sex or to stop having sex is one that must be respected if we are to consider ourselves moral beings. Furthermore, this respect cannot be conditional. If one partner doesn't want to continue having sex, the other partner should respect that and stop (regardless of whether or not he/she likes it). It really doesn't matter what happened before.
You'd think this would be easy to grasp. Respecting the wishes of others isn't that hard. Right?