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Warren Farrell’s notorious comments on date rape: Not any more defensible in context than out of it

WArren Farrell ponders (possibly) the mysteries of consent.
Warren Farrell, possibly pondering the mysteries of consent.

NOTE: This is the second installment of The Myth of Warren Farrell, a continuing series examining Farrell’s The Myth of Male Power, the most influential book in the Men’s Rights canon. You can see the first post here.

Men’s Rights elder Warren Farrell has been accused of being a “rape apologist,” largely because of one now-notorious sentence he wrote in The Myth of Male Power:

We have forgotten that before we began calling this date rape and date fraud, we called it exciting.

This sentence is at least as puzzling as it is disturbing. Calling date rape “exciting” is pretty foul. But what on earth is “date fraud?”

To find out, let’s do what Farrell’s supporters insist we always do with his more troubling remarks: look at it in context to see if it is somehow more defensible – or, at the very least, to see if we can discern what exactly is is he even meant.

Looking at the sentence in context in  The Myth of Male Power, we find that it appears in the midst of a long discussion not only of date rape but also of a number of other dating-related behaviors that Farrell claims traumatize men in the same way date rape traumatizes women. So let’s back up a bit to let him spell out his basic premises — and define what “date fraud” is in the first place:

While the label “date rape” has helped women articulate the most dramatic aspect of dating from women’s perspective, men have no labels to help them articulate the most traumatic aspects of dating from their perspective. Now, of course, the most traumatic aspect is the possibility of being accused of date rape by a woman to whom he thought he was making love. If men did label the worst aspects of the traditional male role, though, they might label them “date robbery,” “date rejection,” “date responsibility,” “date fraud,” and “date lying.” (p.313, The Myth of Male Power, 1993 hardcover edition)

He proceeds from here to some Men’s Rights subreddit-style man-whinging:

The worst aspect of dating from the perspective of many men is how dating can feel to a man like robbery by social custom – the social custom of him taking money out of his pocket, giving it to her, and calling it a date. To a young man, the worst dates feel like being robbed and rejected. Boys risk death to avoid rejection (e.g., by joining the Army).(p. 314)

I think Farrell is confusing “the Army” with “the French Foreign Legion” and real life with Laurel and Hardy movies.

Evenings of paying to be rejected can feel like a male version of date rape. (p. 314)

Yep. Paying for a woman’s dinner and having a pleasant conversation with her, only to have her refuse to have sex with you, is in Farrell’s mind just like being raped.

Having dealt with date robbery and rejection, Farrell  moves on to date fraud and lying:

If a man ignoring a woman’s verbal “no” is committing date rape, then a woman who says “no” with her verbal language but “yes” with her body language is committing date fraud. And a woman who continues to be sexual even after she says “no” is committing date lying.

Do women still do this? Two feminists found the answer is yes. Nearly 40 percent of college women acknowledged they had said “no” to sex even “when they meant yes.” In my own work with over 150,000 men and women – about half of whom are single – the answer is also yes. Almost all single women acknowledge they have agreed to go back to a guy’s place “just to talk” but were nevertheless responsive to his first kiss. Almost all acknowledge they’ve recently said something like “That’s far enough for now,” even as her lips are still kissing and her tongue is still touching his. (P 314)

Uh, Dr. Farrell, I’m pretty sure that women are still allowed to say no to sex even if they are kissing a man. Either partner, of whatever gender, is allowed to stop sexual activity at whatever point they want to, for whatever reason they want to. That how consent works.

And now we come to Farrell’s famous quote:

We have forgotten that before we began calling this date rape and date fraud, we called it exciting. (pp. 314-315)

It still doesn’t make sense to me, but that combination of “date rape” and “exciting” makes me queasy.

Perhaps the rest of Farrell’s paragraph will help to elucidate what he means:

Somehow, women’s romance novels are not titled He Stopped When I Said “No”. They are, though, titled Sweet Savage Love, in which the woman rejects the hand of her gentler lover who saves her from the rapist and marries the man who repeatedly and savagely rapes her. It is this “marry the rapist” theme that not only turned Sweet Savage Love into a best-seller but also into one of women’s most enduring romance novels. (p. 315) 

Oh, so because some women enjoy fictionalized rape fantasies, real non-fictional date rape is therefore “exciting?”

Farrell follows this up, confusingly, with two sentences that utterly contradict one another:

It is important that a woman’s “noes” be respected and her “yeses” be respected. And it is also important when her nonverbal “yeses” (tongues still touching) conflict with those verbal “noes” that the man not be put in jail for choosing the “yes” over the “no.”  He might just be trying to become her fantasy. (p. 315)

Three things. First: If the “conflict” is as Farrell sketched it out above — a woman saying “that’s far enough for now,” while kissing with “tongues still touching” — there is no conflict. Kissing, with tongues or without, does not give a man permission to put his penis in a woman. Reciprocal kissing gives you permission for … reciprocal kissing.

Second: when the alleged nonverbal “yeses” and the verbal “noes” conflict – or you think they do – here’s an idea: RESPECT THE VERBAL NOES. Err on the side of NOT-RAPE. If she says no, assume she means no, until she uses ACTUAL WORDS to say yes. Strange but true: woman can actually USE HUMAN LANGUAGE to express what they want. If a guy doesn’t respect a woman’s verbal “noes” because he thinks — or pretends to himself — that she’s saying “yes” with her body, how exactly can the law distinguish this from rape?

“Your honor, it’s true she told me no, but her elbows were saying “yes.””

Also: if your gal and you want to play out “nonconsensual” fantasies, that’s fine; lots of people do that — consensually. You just need to work out the basic rules and safewords in advance. There are entire subcultures of people devoted to this who will be happy to fill you in on the details. Really. They are very chatty.

Third: Do you all find it as creepy as I do that Farrell tends to sketch out these various rapey scenarios in the steamy prose of a second-rate romance novelist?

If you’re an MRA convinced I’m somehow misquoting Farrell here, here’s a screencap of most of the passages I just quoted which someone on the Men’s Rights subreddit helpfully posted some time ago. Or you could get hold of Farrell’s book and check for yourself.

Oh, but I’m not done yet. I’ve got even more context to provide.

Farrell tries his best to draw some sort of distinction between date rape and stranger-with-a-knife-rape:

We often hear, “Rape is rape, right?” No. A stranger forcing himself on a woman at knife point is different from a man and woman having sex while drunk and having regrets the morning. What is different? When a woman agrees to a date, she does not make a choice to be sexual, but she does make a choice to explore sexual possibilities. The woman makes no such choice with a stranger or an acquaintance. (p. 315)

So going on a date with someone and ostensibly making a “choice to explore sexual possibilities” means that it’s ok for people to force sex on you against your will later in the evening? Uh, Dr. Farrell, how exactly is this not rape? How does the fact that two people went to a movie beforehand turn coerced sex into not-real-rape?

You’ll have to ask Dr. Farrell that question, as his explanation makes no sense whatsoever to me.

A few pages down the road, Farrell warns about the dangers of “date rape” legislation in hyperbolic terms, arguing, bizarrely, that it will lead to more rape.

If the law tries to legislate our “yeses” and “noes” it will produce “the straitjacket generation” – a generation afraid to flirt, fearful of finding its love notes in a court suit. Date rape legislation will force suitors and courting to give way to courts and suing.

The empowerment of women lies not in the protection of females from date rape, but in resocializing both sexes to share date initiative taking and date paying so that both date rape and date fraud are minimized. We cannot end date rape by calling men “wimps” when they don’t initiate quickly enough, “rapists” when they do it too quickly, and “jerks” when they do it badly. If we increase the performance pressure only for men, we will reinforce men’s need to objectify women – which will lead to more rape. Men will be our rapists as long as men are our initiators.…

Laws on date rape create a climate of date hate. (p.340)

I don’t even know where to start with all that. That is just one giant steaming heap of nonsense. To put it as politely as I can.

Oh, in case you’re wondering, Farrell also thinks that a lot of  what’s called spousal rape is really “mercy sex,” because people who are married to one another often have sex when they don’t want to — and that’s the way it should be, since “all good relationships require ‘giving in,’ especially when our partner feels strongly.” Sex you don’t want is just part of what makes a happy marriage happy!

The Ms. survey can call it a rape; a relationship counselor will call it a relationship.

Spousal rape legislation is blackmail waiting to happen. (p. 338)

So, does putting Farrell’s “we called it exciting” quote in context transform it into something innocent and understandable and not-rapey?

I think it’s pretty clear that the answer is no.

But not everyone agrees with me on that. When someone on the Man’s Rights subreddit recently provided some of the context for Farrell’s quote, the assembled Men’s Righsters mostly thought what he was saying sounded fine to them, arguing that he brings up some very legitimate points, attacking feminists for quote mining, suggesting that “feminists don’t reality” and that the Feminist machine slanders anyone who gets in their way. Heck, one fellow even suggested that he had gotten the distinct impression that Feminists want to create more instances of “rape-by-misunderstanding” in order to punish men. Oh, and then one of them attacked my previous post on Farrell’s disturbing views on incest.

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cassandrakitty
cassandrakitty
6 years ago

A friend of mine once asked a dude who she was on a very awkward date with what he was doing (in an attempt to shame him into knocking it off) and he straight-up said “I’m staring at your tits”. So, hey, some guys are willing to be honest about how little interest they have in the actual date if asked!

Seriously, that must have been so uncomfortable. I got a text from her while they were still eating that simply read “WTF???”.

kittehserf
6 years ago

My first thought there would have been, “Oh, fine. Now you can watch me working out how many tines of this fork will fit up your nose.”

Alex
6 years ago

That reminds me of a date I had once, where afterward he texted me to tell me he’d had a hard time not staring at my cleavage. I told him I didn’t really care as long as he looked at my face while I was talking (I’m too damn nice). And this idiot goes on to say, “Well if I didn’t, it would be your fault! :D” I told him, “And that’s where you go splat”. And that was that. :/

jungermann
jungermann
6 years ago

I’m still young yet, not three and thirty and my stock just started rising in the world, though it’s been pretty low before, but it should have been higher I felt because of the- well it’s ridiculous to say, my grandparents were really successful, though not necessarily my parents- they just looked it, and my mother is so morally concerned about everything and everyone and she lives in a bundle of fear and guilty conscience, and she mutilated me as a boy and I don’t think breastfed me but the worst is her projections into me, but yesterday we were out eating together, because i’m back in town before heading out for a high paying job that I just won, and I ate with my grandparents and I felt more immune to her unconscious tricks and ways and one of the things I think now is that no matter how you try to escape, your views as a man and abilities to interact with women are so much shaped by the idiosyncracies and views of your mother, momma, etc. You can overcome this I think- or overcome is maybe not the right word- you can process this or work through it and heal your injuries as you build a healthy protective armor that doesn’t block vulnerability with other women. How- I think for me, working hard and becoming financially independent and successful (traditional shit) helps me become ego-independent and emotionally independent. Anyway I was reading on another male blog- heartiste, that one commenter- a woman, said that most nice guys are not nice- they are just bad caracatures of women (her words) that have been raised by man hating women. I don’t blame my mother or if I do, I take responsibility for my own personal growth and self-correction, but I see the way she or anyone I hang around with can influence me for the better or worse. People have this ability to get inside ones head and alter one’s worldview. It can almost be like an infection or a taint, because of their negativity, doubt or fear. As long as I”m busy or doing something productive, I feel immune, so I can’t let anyone keep me from that. I feel potent also. But mothers bother me, because they are like that in part probably because they don’t have strong husbands, and my dad is anything but. HE’s an early retiree who just waters the plants at the house and goes to church and to the lake and is wrongfully content with life, in my opinion, but anyways he didn’t help his sons become men, nor did the education system. I’m not blaming because it’s my responsibility for self-correction but I have to identify the influences as part of that process. If I was raised in the south, maybe I’d have learned to be a southern gentleman. Anyway I’m on the right path. It’s just that with people you have to either assert yourself and defend your boundaries- and mothers have too much knowledge, or you have to cut rotten fruit from your life. Oh maybe that’s it because I’ also hang out with an old friend on a camping-job hunting trip and we were around each other so much. He knew too much. I find in dealing with people, to avoid giving out too much personal information unless you really trust them or need to. I had a habit of volunteering information and these people had a habit of seeking it and extracting it like oil from the ground, which is evil, which is a transfer of power. I don’t know why my mother is so greedy for information about me or konwledge. I”d readily give it to a woman who delighted me and even her if she delighted me, but like i saId it’s their idiosyncracies. Sometimes I see a natural type mother, but rarely in these parts, and I get this warm feeling for the child but also a little envy, and also a hope that my future wife will be like that. Not a cold guilt ridden panicky woman who is too clever, but anyways money helps a man become free, it really does. the path to manhood is hard or to success in the world but I don’t think it has to be. As Thomas Jefferson said, the harder I work the luckier I get.

emilygoddess
emilygoddess
6 years ago

Did anyone actually read Jungermann’s wall of text?

weirwoodtreehugger
6 years ago

I made it through the first 2/3. It kind of sounds like Undies got really high and drunk, made a sock and started rambling.

In other words, you didn’t miss anything.

Lea
Lea
6 years ago

emilygoddess,
I skimmed it. He doesn’t like his mom, reads Fartiste and when men are awful it’s their moms’ fault and maybe the fault of weak dads. One day he’ll be a real boy or something. My eyes were glazing over by the end.

I honestly thought I was reading a parody for the first few lines of the wall-o-text.

andymbrice
andymbrice
5 years ago

I think the worst part is where he equates spending too much on dates with the feeling of having been raped.

Though he does also raise some important points about people deliberately giving ambiguous consent. We’re never going to be able to move to a healthy model of explicit, affirmative consent all the time that’s a social norm.

JerseyShortie
JerseyShortie
4 years ago

Did anyone actually read Jungermann’s wall of text?

I think him and Thomas Jefferson are friends who brunch and talk about their feelings. Which has really helped Jungermann get intouch with himself on a completely different level then the usual way humans tend to get ‘intouch’ with themselves.

Fluffula
Fluffula
4 years ago

Andy there is no such thing as deliberately giving ambitious consent, it’s an excuse used by some men when they are ignoring signals

Mast
Mast
3 years ago

You don’t need to look at context. The statement itself doesn’t express approval of date rape. It says BEFORE WE called it date rape, WE CALLED it exciting. He’s not saying we call date rape exciting. It’s not put in the present tense you moron. Do you even understand tense? he’s saying we called someone one thing before, and now we call it another thing. We don’t call the same thing two different things. Fucking idiot.

Tizio
Tizio
3 years ago

The context is that:
> Farrell equated a man paying for dates and not receiving sex in return to be equivalent to date rape.
> He blamed a woman sexually rejecting a man for causing the man’s death.
> He equated a woman saying “no” to sex verbally but “yes” “with her body language” (read: having an appearance that is considered “sexy”) twith a man committing date rape, as if both were on the same level of wrongness.
> He says that men are not to blame if they ignore verbal “no”, because they thought there was a body “yes”. (Because of course, kissing is totally consent to sex!)
> He outright says that a rape at knifepoint is different than a date rape because in the latter case, by accepting the date, the woman “consented” to the possibility of sexual acts.

So, yeah, he not only said that what we now call “date rape” was called “exciting” (mostly by rape apologists); he outrights believes that we’re wrong in calling it “date rape”, and in considering it rape instead of a normal relationship.
Now fuck off.

Christopher Johnson
Christopher Johnson
1 year ago

Hi David,

Just an FYI, the link to Part 1 leads to a 404 page at an odd-sounding domain (ropesupplement.com?)

Was directed here by the “Men’s Right Reditor…” post of 6/22/2019, btw. Good stuff, as always.

cheers
Chris

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