Steven Landsburg Is a Menace to Society, Part 2: It’s my body, not an asset to be exploited.

[Warning: rape triggers.]


There is a misguided belief out there that anything can be questioned if it is done in the name of academic enquiry.  Wrong.

There are questions that, simply by the asking, demonstrate callousness or disregard for others. There are questions that, simply by the asking, show an almost pathological lack of empathy. There are concepts that should be givens, that should be beyond debate.

Bodily integrity and the right to feel safe from rape should be one of those.

Many women – maybe most – don’t have those as a matter of course.  We live in a culture which often excuses or minimizes rape.  See the Steubenville case – and the bemoaning afterwards about how these nice boys had trashed their futures, as if that was more important than the damage done to the victim.

This is the world we live in.  We deal with it.  We do not need some “intellectually bold” economics professor asking “So, what’s the problem here?”

On his personal blog, Landsberg wrote a post titled “Censorship, Environmentalism and Steubenville,” discussing the philosophical issues of restrictions on porn, environmental damage and… being raped while passed out.

“Let’s suppose that you, or I, or someone we love, or someone we care about from afar, is raped while unconscious in a way that causes no direct physical harm — no injury, no pregnancy, no disease transmission. (Note: The Steubenville rape victim, according to all the accounts I’ve read, was not even aware that she’d been sexually assaulted until she learned about it from the Internet some days later.) Despite the lack of physical damage, we are shocked, appalled and horrified at the thought of being treated in this way, and suffer deep trauma as a result. Ought the law discourage such acts of rape? Should they be illegal?” [emphasis mine]

…. I’m having trouble articulating any good reason why [rape of the unconscious] is substantially different from [pornography and environmentalism]. As long as I’m safely unconsious and therefore shielded from the costs of an assault, why SHOULDN’T the rest of the world (or more specifically my attackers) be allowed to reap the benefits? [emphasis mine] …. We’re still talking about strictly psychic harm, right?

It is, I think, a red herring to say that there’s something peculiarly sacred about the boundaries of our bodies. Every time someone on my street turns on a porch light, trillions of photons penetrate my body. They cause me no physical harm and therefore the law does nothing to restrain them. Even if those trillions of tiny penetrations caused me deep psychic distress, the law would continue to ignore them, and I think there’s a case for that (it’s the same as the case for ignoring Bob McCrankypants’s porn aversion). So for the issues we’re discussing here, bodily penetration does not seem to be in some sort of special protected category.

One could of course raise a variety of practical issues. If we legalize the rape of unconscious people, we will create an incentive to render people unconscious. If you answered Question 3 differently than you answered Questions 1 and 2, was it because of this sort of thing? Or do you see some more fundamental difference among the three cases?

Follow up question… would you be willing to legalize the rape of the unconscious in cases where the perpetrators take precautions to ensure the victim never learns about it?*

Scott Lemieux over at Lawyers, Guns and Money is smart and articulate, and was reduced to saying “I…Jesus.”  Which was pretty much my reaction.

To view the rape of the unconscious as an issue of utilitarian economic rights … obscene is the word that comes to mind. I wish I could be more articulate here, but the horridness of someone postulating this hypothetical just outrages me. To say that everything boils down to economics in this case is akin to the Old Testament view that the rape of a virgin was acceptable as long as the rapist paid her father off.

The hypothetical Landsburg raises never happens.  His blithe dismissal of the fact that the young woman in the Steubenville case did not find out until days later – creating only “psychic harm” – ignores just how deep that psychic harm goes.  His further analogizing rape to being bombarded by light against your will shows a man who absolutely no understanding of rape.

If anything, finding out that you were raped while you were unconscious might make it worse. Having dreams about your rapist is horrible – how much worse might it be to be afraid to go to sleep at all because part of your brain fears being raped again?

And that little “practical issue” of the incentive to render people unconscious?  This happens to many young women who happen into college parties, or who go out drinking with men they don’t know.  It crosses the mind of every woman who accepts a drink from a strange man in a bar.

Women are constantly told that our safety is our own responsibility. That strange man may drop rohypnol or GHB in your drink and you’d end up unconscious.  Your male escort may get completely shit-faced at that frat party, but you’d better not, or if you pass out you might get raped. And here is a respected intellectual saying that that should be just fine – it’s not like you were using your body at the time anyway.

Those are the cases where women’s actions led to their states of unconsciousness.  What about a woman in a coma? Should society have no problem with her  being raped? At least, if the rapist used a condom?

I feel for the students in Landsburg’s class, that “Teacher of The Year” award he won a few years back notwithstanding.  I especially feel for any young women (or young men, since men are subject to sexual assault as well) who have been raped – and given the statistics on sexual assault, there are sure to be a few of them.  I worry as well about any student who fails to see through this piece of intellectual assault.  There are bound to be many of those, as well.  I fear for the pain they might inflict on the world around them.

My body is my own.  I have – or should have, and do have under the law – to consent to having sex, and to withhold that consent where I want to.  That consent is not a property right to be exploited by anyone who finds me unconscious and therefore supposedly not exercising that property right.

I am not an object; my sexuality is not a natural resource for anyone else who wants it.

*This is from the actual post, not news stories about it.  Reading the actual post is worse, because of the number of commenters who treat the rape hypothetical as being acceptable.  It is not until comment 17 that someone calls this as being the outrage that it is.

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2 Responses to Steven Landsburg Is a Menace to Society, Part 2: It’s my body, not an asset to be exploited.

  1. Sarah says:

    I read posts on this and sit here like a fish, opening and closing my mouth. ( also crossed my feeds today.)

    There’s a reason laws about property damage and bodily harm are different. I…. gah. just. gah. *fish mouth*

  2. Pingback: Steve Landsburg is a Menace to Society, Part 3: Dying. | The Wild Winds of Fortune

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