Lately, we’ve also heard about the war on men.
The war on men-on-women-on-men ... or something, as MSNBC’s Alex Wagner described it recently, gained fresh traction with a controversial column by The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto about campus rape.
James, honey, meet Pandora.
In full disclosure, I wrote a book called “Save the Males” (Random House, 2008), so my understanding of these issues is not vague. The title notwithstanding, my bias is toward neither sex but toward yin and yang. My central point was that relations between the sexes do not constitute a zero-sum game, and our failure to recognize the differences between men and women is undermining much of what makes us a civilized nation.
What got Taranto going was a New York Times story about bystander intervention in campus rape. Basically, if a drunk guy is getting aggressive with a girl, you’re supposed to stop him. What was once simple citizenship is now innovative behavior modification. Elsewhere the zeitgeist was buzzing about proposed legislation in California that would codify the terms of consent in sexual relations among college students. Saying “yes” apparently isn’t good enough. Now yes needs to be persistent throughout the act.
The comic possibilities are nearly irresistible, but my survival instinct prompts me to exercise restraint. Herein lies one of the problems with gender issues. Someone always takes things too far, making ridiculous what should be treated with scientific precision.
The war on men or women, take your pick, quickly morphs into a war on intelligence. “They” are winning.
Taranto may have been inartful, but he wasn’t wrong to note that the problem of campus sexual assault (or misunderstanding, as the case may be) is often, if not always, related to alcohol. Drunks misbehaving, in other words. But when two drunks have sex, who, ultimately, is responsible should one decide she didn’t really mean it? Without current data at my fingertips, I feel safe in presuming that few males charge females with rape following a sorority party.
If the female decides at any point, including the next day, that she didn’t really want to engage in sex — no matter her own behavior at the time or the fogginess of her recollection, never mind the male’s own degree of inebriation — is the male entirely to blame?
Even posing this question will get you banished from the kingdom in today’s confusing sexual arena. The National Organization for Women has called for Taranto’s firing. His error, hardly a firing offense, wasn’t in posing the question about equal drunkenness, but in comparing a sexual assault to a car wreck in which both drivers are equally drunk and the male gets blamed. The failure of this analogy should be self-evident.
In any case, these are tough questions for all fair-minded people. My own view will be repugnant to everyone. Feminists won’t like it because it runs counter to the very arguments they have advanced in their impossible pursuit of absolute equality. Men won’t like my answer because it will feel unfair even though it is born of respect for men’s unique gifts and because it contradicts what feminism has insisted for the past several decades.
Obviously, men and women (boys and girls, really) are equally to blame for getting silly-faced, but — you’d better grab a seat — men should be held to a higher standard. This is not because they’re worse people, far from it, but owing to their superior physical strength and, let’s be honest, the obvious biological and anatomical differences, including, relative to females, copious quantities of testosterone, which fuels both libido and aggression.
In any arena involving physicality, the stronger of two has the moral responsibility to protect the weaker. In heterosexual sex, barring exceptions that merely prove the rule, this will always be the male. It is for men to not take advantage of women who are bereft of their faculties no matter the state of their own.
Although we can argue women shouldn’t get drunk and convey mixed signals (try dissecting that the next day), they are functionally less able to resist the advances of a determined male.
This presumes that men should be chivalrous toward women, a concept not much in vogue these days. But worse than an old-fashioned idea is a modern state that believes it should review with whom and how you conduct your sex life.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for The Washington Post.