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The mindset in question.

A confession: I’ve never been a huge fan of Spider Robinson.

A fan favorite, and something of an acolyte of Robert Heinlein, he’s most famous for his short stories (and the occasional novel) set in and around Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon—a genial sort of place: the best bar near the big SF convention after the floor has closed; a sort of Northern Exposure-ish utopia small enough so that everybody knows your name, but big enough (in heart) that everybody can be his or her respective self, warts and all. (With SF puzzles, tropes, allusions, convoluted in-jokes, and horrible, horrible puns.) —Robinson is more naïve than he thinks he is, a raging sentimentalist operating under the mistaken assumption that he’s hard-boiled, but he’s got a way with words, and a more inclusive than not view of humanity, which excuses a lot in my book. “Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased—thus do we refute entropy”; and if celebrating that is hokey, well, we could all do with a little more hoke around here, from time to time.

But. And even though I knew he comes by a great many of his ideals via the aforementioned Heinlein (let’s just note I’m more partial to Disch and Delany and leave it at that), and that those ideals include more than a dollop of that attitude towards women mistaken by some as feminism but more usually noted as pedestalization—I was still taken aback to discover this particular Robinson quote:

Darling, all men think about rape, at least once in their lives. Women have an inexhaustible supply of something we’ve got to have, more precious to us than heroin… and most of you rank the business as pleasant enough, but significantly less important than food, shopping or talking about feelings. Or you go to great lengths to seem like you do—because that’s your correct biological strategy. But some of you charge all the market will bear, in one coin or another, and all of you award the prize, when you do, for what seem to us like arbitrary and baffling reasons. Our single most urgent need—and the best we can hope for—is to get lucky. We’re all descended from two million years of rapists, every race and tribe of us, and we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t sometimes fantasize about just knocking you down and taking it. The truly astonishing thing is how seldom we do. I can only speculate that most of us must love you a lot.

Now, there’s—largely speaking—two responses to this kernel:

(No points for guessing where I stand. Biology is not destiny, muthafuckah.)

Those two (largely speaking) responses help determine how people respond in turn to the news that Illinois has modified its definition of rape to include the following:

c) A person who initially consents to sexual penetration or sexual conduct is not deemed to have consented to any sexual penetration or sexual conduct that occurs after he or she withdraws consent during the course of that sexual penetration or sexual conduct.

Either: the stuff is more precious than heroin, and if she’s said “yes” there’s no use changing her mind, as that poor addled rapist-man couldn’t stop if his life depended on it; or good God, of course No means No, decent sex means being attuned to what your partner’s up to as well as yourself, and consent is not a binding oral contract, for fuck’s sake. (As it were.)

Do note we haven’t winnowed all the chaff by any means. There’s still grey areas a-plenty—the pedestalization that underlies l’difference that’s vived in the quote above has more than enough room for the concept of the chivalrous gentleman who damn well stops when his partner says whoa, and I’d never dream of suggesting that Robinson, say, would decry the Illinois law merely on the basis of said quote. (And on the other hand, there’s room enough for concern about the possibilities of abuse in the “what a fuckin’ cop out” camp. —And yet: even here, we find grey, we find fuzz, we find fog.)

But I now find myself in the need of fresh coffee. So.

  1. julia    Aug 4, 07:41 AM    #
    Robert Heinlein = Robert Crumb + ray guns.

    At least latter-day Heinlein. Podkayne was an OK book. The girl character was something like a girl.

    We wacky women. All worried about survival and shit. Shame we have all the pussy.

  2. Camilo    Aug 6, 02:48 AM    #
    Yes, and you have to take into account what the current cultural sensitivity was at the moment from which that particular quote was. Yet, to argue in favor of the rapist seems too far fetched an excuse. Sociobiology can be and has been used to explain all kinds of behaviors, but in this case is an extreme and pointless argument: what is the quote implying? Some sort of dominance and submission game? Be thankful you are alive? We men dream of sex with every women all day long, as some studies suggest. But there is a long stretch from daydream to violence.

  3. Prentiss Riddle    Aug 6, 07:22 AM    #
    God, that quote reeks of Heinlein. Are we sure Robinson isn't just some stochastic program? Input a few million words of Heinlein, output any number of words desired that meet the same statistical parameters.

    As for the substance of the argument -- well, biology both is and isn't destiny, of course. Biology says we're not going to flap our wings and fly, because we haven't got any, but then again biology doesn't seem to have precluded our inventing airplanes or frequent flyer miles.

    People (not just men) dream about murder, too, and only a few of us ever do it. I'd guess that a lot of men (and not a few women) fantasize at one time or another about rape but that fact alone is a poor predictor of who rapes or gets raped.

    "We're all descended from two million years of rapists" -- I haven't heard any anthropological evidence suggesting that rape was more common among our hunter-gatherer ancestors than it is today. Does Robinson offer any? I can't figure out whether this speech implies (a) that all sex before the invention of soap and breath mints was rape or (b) that all sex is rape regardless, a la Andrea Dworkin.

    Funny thing is that Robinson doesn't seem to appeal to the more plausible argument for the "most/all sex is/was rape" claim: the patriarchy. There are still some places on earth where women don't have any say about sex, those decisions being made for them by religious authorities, fathers and husbands. One might make the claim that that represents some sort of norm for our species, although again the anthropological evidence is lacking. But in Robinson's world the women hold all the cards, unless men suspend the rules of the game and "knock [them] down and take it". Oh, Robinson comes close to saying, those poor underdog rapists!

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