I know. Putting the words “nuance” and “rape” in the same headline is dangerous. I’m probably stepping in a hornet’s nest. But, I have been pretty harsh toward Shia LaBeouf as an artist. I’ve ridiculed his reaction to being called out on plagiarism, I’ve tied him to cultural forces threatening to destroy art and civilization, and … yes … I’ve even dragged the discussion to argumentum ad Nazium.
So, I feel I owe him some decent human perspective. I need to say something about his claim that a woman raped him during his #IAMSORRY exhibit.
I wrote up a 3400-word essay about the subject. But, to avoid TL;DR, I pared it down to four bullet points:
- Yes, women do rape men, by the most reliable analyses at “virtually the same rates” as men rape women. The fact that this isn’t commonly known (or believed) is a serious problem in our culture. There are a lot of myths and discriminatory narratives flying around, skewing attitudes and policies.
- LaBeouf’s accusation is being taken far less seriously than the claims of Lena Dunham or Rolling Stone‘s Jackie, even though the latter two accounts fell apart under the most meager fact-checking. Discriminatory narratives drive prejudicial credulity. (However, see my last point below.)
- Nevertheless, I would not want LaBeouf’s claims to be presumed true the way theirs were, because presuming a victim requires that you presume a villain. Decent, honest people do not presume guilt. I would want all allegations of sexual assault to be treated the same way, regardless of the gender of the parties involved: with respect in case they are true, yet measured skepticism lest they prove false. And, the idea that you can’t be skeptical and respectful is a false dilemma. There’s a huge gulf between categorically presuming the guilt of the accused and categorically dismissing allegations; genuine justice is found in that gulf.
- Moreover, I would not want to use LaBeouf as a male control example against female cases like Jackie’s because he, as an individual human being, has a long history of being an untrustworthy source. That doesn’t mean I think his claims should be brushed off. After all, even the Boy Who Cried Wolf was telling the truth at the end. LaBeouf’s claims should be treated with the same due diligence as anyone else’s. But, those of us outside of law enforcement are justified in taking those claims with more than a few grains of salt. And, if they prove to be merely his latest “performance art” stunt, we are justified in being outraged at him for misleading us about such a serious issue. As we are justified at being outraged about Jackie’s accomplices in politics and the media, few of whom seem intellectually or morally capable of disassociating themselves from the discriminatory narrative that enabled Jackie’s false account and led them to participate in slandering innocent people in the first place.