Comments sections on the Internet have a strange sort of entropy, in the literal sense of reverting to lower and lower states unless they receive a constant input of energy. And if the lowest state is a seething morass of "FIRST" and "TL;DR TROLOLOL", the second lowest is the tendency of comment arguments, no matter the original subject, to revert to one of just a handfull of perpetual controversies.
Any article on science, for instance, can be relied upon to spawn one commenter who argues young-Earth evolution, fifteen who disagree but don't actually understand evolution, ten who disagree by saying "see, religion makes you stupid," and it goes on merrily from there. Any article involving a crime committed by someone with a non-white-sounding name will provoke an immigration and racial debate regardless of the actual citizenship/race of the person in question. Any article touching on sexuality or sexual health will quickly become a seething morass of "gay people: are we going to just let them get away with that?" and/or "in my day girls kept their legs shut and we didn't have all these problems."
And any article on rape will attract the predictable victim-questioning, victim-blaming, and rapist-sympathizing reactions. And this is not just on the Internet--the Internet produces easily referenced written records of these arguments, but I hear them at work and from family and some of my crappier friends and sometimes on the freakin' bus. I've written before about what these reactions are. Now I'm wondering why they are.
Most of the people expressing the "that poor accused rapist, this must be so hard for him" and "you know she acted very provocatively" viewpoints are not rapists themselves. Most of them aren't knowingly friends with rapists. They're not exactly pro-rape itself. But they have this tenacious, surprisingly emotional attachment to, if not precisely defending rape, enforcing the narrowest and most skeptical view of rape. Why is this? We'd expect rapists to be emotionally invested in this debate, and rape survivors and their loved ones, but why do apparent third parties get worked up? What's in it for them?
I have some theories. And a "bullet point" hotkey. (Alt-8.)
• The Just World Fallacy.
This is the idea that everyone gets what they deserve, good things happen to good people, and bad things only happen to bad people. This is crucially emotionally important because it means that people have complete control over their destinies. Or more specifically, that if I am pure of heart and say my prayers by night, nothing bad can happen to me. Unfortunately, to maintain this feeling of safety, you have to insist that anyone who did suffer a bad thing must've done something terrible.
An important feature of this fallacy I noted when I wrote about bullying earlier this week: the idea that these totally fair punishments and rewards are handed out by the universe itself, and are entirely based on the victims' choices. This means that any choices that the attackers may have made aren't significant, and the attackers can't really be blamed for doing the universe's dirty work.
• The Male Gaze.
This is the way our society tends to lock us into seeing things from the point of view of a heterosexual male. It's sort of assumed that you'll find "sexy" women appealing and "sexy" men funny or gross, that anyone will want to follow male role models but female ones are only for girls, and that the public discourse in general is aimed at straight men unless specified otherwise. And of course all this is tremendously magnified if you are a heterosexual man; with an effort a woman can find female perspectives, but men are almost never forced to take on a female viewpoint. Marie Curie and Amelia Earhart are never held up as heroes for little boys.
The relevant end result of this is that when someone--particularly straight men, but not only them--sees a story about a woman accusing a man of rape, they put themselves in the place of the man. They don't think "wow, what would it be like if I were raped?", but "wow, what would it be like if I were accused of rape?"
Well, I certainly wouldn't commit rape! So if I assume that this person I'm empathizing with acts the same way I would have, he must be innocent, and dealing with this false accusation must be tremendously frightening and frustrating for him. As long as you see the alleged rapist as the protagonist, the "you" of the story, the furthest you're able to stretch is "maybe he raped her for a really good reason?"
• The "Consent as Contract" Model.
I believe that consent consists of wanting to have sex or do another activity. In practical terms, when you're with a non-telepath, consent requires expressing that desire, but the expression still isn't the important part; the desire is.
Unfortunately, a lot of people don't seem to see consent this way. Instead, it's a binding contract: generally in exchange for something, a woman commits her pussy as payment. She isn't really expected to enjoy the sex; she's expected to tolerate it, and enjoy the dinner or jewelry or hugs or however the fuck this is supposed to work. Therefore, a woman in a situation that seems to be leading up to sex who then refuses to have sex is in breach of contract (and frankly being a little unreasonable), and letting her off the hook is an act of grudging generosity on the man's part. And a woman having sex without making the consent contract is being ripped off, but not really violated, because pussy is just a tool women wield dispassionately anyway.
This mindset doesn't just justify and trivialize rape; it also makes for some really shitty consensual sex, based on the "you're not supposed to like this part, you're supposed to like the dinner and this part is for me" mindset. Which ultimately doesn't even work out that great for guys, because "here, fine, have my pussy, you've earned it" isn't exactly a recipe for brutally passionate lovemaking.
• The Plain Old Fashioned Assholery.
There's also a certain contingent of people, both on the Internet and sadly also in reality, who think that being mean and narrow-minded makes them totally cool hardasses. (One of a billion examples: the recent Twitter trend #waystopissoffafatperson, in which "pissing off" is somehow equated with "winning victory over," as if simply showing aggression to someone proves your superiority to them.) There's nothing to be done for these people except hope they grow the fuck up one of these decades, and try not to give them any money or attention--or God help us, votes--until they do.