I want to rebut a recent piece in which Scott Alexander, a widely read blogger, criticizes the focus on sexual assaults committed by powerful men (as opposed to assaults committed by women). I think this post is worth responding to because Alexander's blog is incredibly widely read among computer scientists and my other analytical friends -- it may be the most widely-read blog in my social circle -- and I don't think it covers gender issues fairly, and this post is an example of that.
There are a couple important things Alexander gets right. He's right that society decides not to care about certain classes of sexual assaults; there's probably been more coverage this year of Taylor Swift getting groped than all prison rape combined. He's right that society is wrong to make fun of men who are assaulted by women, and I agree the media should seek out reports from men as well. Reading his post and some of his references increased my already-held belief that we should take men more seriously when they are harassed or assaulted by women, so credit to him for that. He makes a thought-provoking argument that men might care more about assault if they believed it could happen to them too and they'd be taken seriously if it did.
But then the post says a bunch of things that are less reasonable.
First, he repeatedly implies that the current conversation is only about men assaulting women. This is factually incorrect; plenty of men have also gotten in trouble over accusations of assaulting men -- Kevin Spacey, George Takei, James Levine, we could go on.
Then he says that the focus on male assaulters is "a hit job on the outgroup [men]. Do I think that sexual harassment is being used this way? I have no other explanation for the utter predominance of genderedness in the conversation."
Here's another explanation: it's extremely obvious that male-on-female assault, a very common and damaging kind, has some unique characteristics worth discussing -- like the fact that men are generally physically, professionally, and economically more powerful, which fundamentally changes the dynamic of the assault. This discussion is long overdue, and we're having it now. Another reason the assaults of powerful men are worth discussing specifically is that it's a very bad idea to give assaulters, who definitionally don’t have enough regard for others' suffering, access to, say, America's entire nuclear arsenal. So the fact that two of America's last four presidents have been accused of assault or harassment by multiple people is worth talking about. When there are credible allegations of assault against female presidents, senators, media moguls, etc, we should absolutely talk about those those too.
(Note, incidentally, that there are many other ways in which the current conversation is biased and incomplete: other groups being largely left out of the headlines are prisoners, people of color, transgender people, and people whose abusers aren't famous, but somehow his hypothesized "hit job" is against men only. This is odd.)
Alexander also says that focusing on male-on-female assault is like talking only about black-on-white crime or Muslim-on-Christian terrorism: it implies you have an insidious agenda, like Richard Spencer. (Comparing feminists to Nazis is a very tired rhetorical tactic -- feminazis, anyone? -- but let's move on.) These comparisons are wrong for three reasons. First, as explained above, the current conversation isn't just about female victims, though it does focus on male crimes. Second, it's entirely reasonable to have a conversation specifically about the crimes committed by one group. The media has been running non-stop articles about white supremacists, and that is not "a hit job on whites" but an analysis of an important social phenomenon. I don’t feel attacked when people complain about white supremacists; similarly, criticism of male assaulters isn't criticism of all men.
The third reason his examples are bad is that, in both his examples, the group being blamed is a non-dominant group that's been discriminated against for centuries. Contrast this with the group he's comparing to, men. A negative consequence of obsessing about black-on-white crime is a system of mass incarceration that wrecks millions of lives a year. A negative consequence of obsessing about Muslim-on-Christian terrorism was a war that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians. In contrast, a negative consequence of obsessing about assaults committed by powerful men is...I'm not sure what it is, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't involve hundreds of thousands of dead people. It would've been easy for him to flip his examples around, which would have made them more apt but less persuasive, so this choice seems like sophistry here.
These counter-arguments are obvious, and Scott Alexander is smart and thorough, so the fact that he doesn't rebut or even mention them is worrisome to me. I think when it comes to gender issues and feminism, he has biases, perhaps driven in part by what happened to Scott Aaronson, and I've had this feeling reading his blog before. And of course we all have biases, certainly I do, but I'm not the main source on gender issues for eight gajillion rationalists. (His post has been shared on several men's rights subreddits, so he's a source for other demographics as well.) So my request is -- please don't take Slate Star Codex as a definitive source on gender issues. He's smart and provocative and I read him, but please read people who disagree with him too.