Locker room talk

Locker room dystopias

Recently, presidential candidate Donald Trump made the news because he was caught on tape bragging about how women let him get away with sexually assaulting them because he is a star. He and his supporters have defended him on the basis of this being ordinary locker room banter. Part of what I think is important to me about this is that I perceive Trump and his supporters are making a threat-of-isolation power play. The implied threat is:

If you complain about this sort of behavior, you will be alone. There are no allies to be found. Any group of men you appeal to will back up your abuser. Every woman you know has already accepted her place in this game.

This helps explain why there has been such strong pushback against Trump's comments (e.g. professional athletes saying they've never heard anything like this in their locker rooms), and why this is important. In an interview with Trump supporter Rudy Giuliani, journalist Jake Tapper responds with incredulity at Giuliani's claim that this is a normal way for a man to talk:

JAKE TAPPER (HOST): Right, but I guess the question is he's talking about actions that are sexual assault. And he was 59 or 60 years old when he said it. This wasn't something that he said when he was 18 years old. He is talking about a feeling of entitlement because he's a star. He can go up to women and grab them by the vagina and it's OK, he won't get in trouble for it. It's really offensive on just a basic human level. Who did he do that to?

RUDY GIULIANI: Yes. Well, first of all, I don't know that he did it to anyone. This is talk. Gosh all mighty, he who hasn't sin throw the first stone here. I know some of these people dropping their support --

TAPPER: I will gladly tell you -- Mr. Mayor, I have never said that. I have never done that. I'm happy to throw a stone. I don't know any man, I've been in locker rooms, I've been a member of a fraternity, I have never heard any man ever brag about being able to maul women because they get away with it, never.

GIULIANI: We've taken it to an extra degree of what he said. But the fact is that men at times talk like that, not all men, but men do.

TAPPER: You’ve talked like that?

GIULIANI: He was wrong for doing it. I am not justifying it. I believe it’s wrong. I know he believes it's wrong. I believe that this is not the man that we're talking about today.

Some of the incredulity has extended to claiming that Trump's behavior is an extreme outlier. That no one talks this way. This seems not obviously true to me, given how frequently women report such experiences.

Of course, Giuliani could be lying to provide cover for Trump. Or Tapper could be overstating his experience to make a point. But I want us to seriously consider the hypothesis that, in the exchange I quoted, both men are honestly reporting their experience of the world, and each is surprised that the other one's experience exists.

My current model is something like this: Some people are living in a Trumpian dystopia, but every such dystopia is local. It's very hard to see their boundaries, and very easy when you're in one to think it's the whole world, especially if you've been in one since you were a kid. These dystopias coexist side-by-side with non-dystopian worlds, so that if you don't have first-hand experience of what life is like inside a dystopia, you may be interacting with people living in one, without being aware of it.1 And if they're having a problem, they might not ask you for help, because they expect people to circle the wagons around their abuser. They may have no idea that you're different, either because you're not giving strong credible signals to this effect, or simply because they do not believe that it's ever different. Or they may have the idea that in principle you might be good - but that in practice it's never worth the risk of finding out.2

The converse is true as well. I think it's really, really important to communicate that the world is not entirely composed of the dystopia they'd have you believe. You are not utterly devoid of potential allies. Many subcultures will circle the wagons around men who sexually assault women (or more broadly, central people abusing less central ones). But many others will not, at least sometimes. Parts of the world are already better than that, and other parts would be better if you took the risk of giving them a chance. It is still a risk, and I'm not judging victims of abuse, assault, and harassment who don't choose to take that risk.

It's also really important to communicate, to people who are fortunate enough not to have to deal with this stuff, to whom it is invisible, that these things happen, that in many places this behavior seems so normal that those men sincerely believe that it is universally accepted, so that if someone accuses your very decent seeming friend of something that sounds pretty bad in this vein, you should not necessarily dismiss it as absurd, as a thing only monsters, and extreme outliers, and gross violators of social norms do. Saying "this sort of thing never happens" can read as gaslighting (because sometimes it is), rather than genuine naivete. When someone who thinks that their dystopia is the world hears you say that, they won't even generate the hypothesis that you could sincerely believe it because in your experience it's true.

It's important to be able to believe all these things at once.

Think about Beszel and Ul Qoma, from China Mieville's excellent The City & the City:

The cities occupy the same physical grid of streets with borders and "shared" areas crisscrossing the literal topographical ("grosstopic") area. Only some unfathomed and possibly unfathomable force prevents the citizens of each city from perceiving and interacting with each other.

Imagine that half of your city is the gender-dystopic Trumptown, and half the world is egalitarian Clintonville. It's interspersed block-by-block, with no simple contiguous border - so in principle, a Trumptown citizen could easily run across the street to escape their dystopia, but they have no way of knowing this. People from Trumptown don't talk to people from Clintonville. They don't know Clintontown is a thing. And if they're sure not going to ask some random passerby for help if they're being abused, because all their experience is that such behavior, towards anyone they know, doesn't give them recourse to justice - it just leads to a lecture about how you have to put up with the current social order because "all men are like that."

There are more dystopias than the gendered ones, and different risk of rape or sexual assault without recourse. There are people - people in the developed world - who don't perceive the police as a plausible source of protection from any crime, who don't perceive themselves have any recourse if anyone hurts them. Who, if they try and defend their property, perceive themselves as more likely to be shot by a police officer than helped by one. This is part of what Black Lives Matter is about. And there are probably others, that I still don't know about.

Someone can legitimately perceive no means of escape, and therefore have no accessible means of escape - but maybe this trap is fragile. Maybe we can do something about it. Maybe we're near a tipping point. Maybe if we just share the information we have, honestly, we can do better. The world's not always this convenient - but sometimes it is. It would be very good if we could figure out how to find this out, without imposing undue risks on people who don't know how big their dystopia really is.

I don't know what to do next here, except to try to take this moment to point out that it can be better. That not all parts of the world are equally dystopic, that some of us do care about justice.

My current favorite poem is W.H. Auden's The Shield of Achilles. It is a description of a very particular sort of dystopia, one that cuts to the core of everything I am against, everything that makes my soul burn with moral outrage. Part of it is especially relevant here:

A ragged urchin, aimless and alone,

  Loitered about that vacancy; a bird

Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:

  That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,

  Were axioms to him, who’d never heard

Of any world where promises were kept,

Or one could weep because another wept.

I think that some people, and I suspect even some people I've met - though I don't know who - live in that world. I don't know what to do to repair this. I don't know what promises I can honestly make to help. I don't know what sort of help is needed. But I do know where to start: by telling the truth.

If you weep, I weep with you. If I am hurting you, I want to know, so that I have a chance to stop it. If my friend is hurting you, I want to know, so that I have a chance to tell them to stop.

I want you to hold me to my word. If I seem to be breaking or forgetting a promise, please remind me. I will try to make you glad you did. It's possible that we will honestly fail to resolve a misunderstanding - but I will honestly try.


There's a second sort of threat that I think Trump and his supporters are making: That any woman who wants to work to build a better world has to condemn all the men in her life, every man she's ever loved, cared for, or respected, as a moral monster. That if you're not willing to do that, then this "locker room banter" stays - because those men can't change. He's trying to hold all men hostage.

It's important to communicate that men can manage not to do this sort of thing. Some, I think most, already do. If you work to make a better world, you do not necessarily have to pay the price of condemning all the men you know as monsters. You will likely have to pay the price of making some of them uncomfortable from time to time. This seems very bearable.

This is why I think the headlines describing Trump's comments as merely lewd were actively harmful here, harmful in the same way that categorizing them with other "locker room banter" is. Mixing the language used to describe common and somewhat bad behavior with the language used to describe uncommon and very bad behavior makes it harder to clearly identify the former or punish the latter.

Broken stairs and the flow of information

Cliff Pervocracy talks about acting on shared information to fix long-run problems with bad actors, and calls it fixing the broken stair:

Have you ever been in a house that had something just egregiously wrong with it?  Something massively unsafe and uncomfortable and against code, but everyone in the house had been there a long time and was used to it?  "Oh yeah, I almost forgot to tell you, there's a missing step on the unlit staircase with no railings.  But it's okay because we all just remember to jump over it."

Some people are like that missing stair.

When I posted about a rapist in a community I belonged to, although I gave almost no details about the guy except "he's a rapist," I immediately got several emails from other members of that community saying "oh, you must mean X."  Everyone knew who he was!  Tons of people, including several in the leadership, instantly knew who I meant.  The reaction wasn't "there's a rapist among us!?!" but "oh hey, I bet you're talking about our local rapist."  Several of them expressed regret that I hadn't been warned about him beforehand, because they tried to discreetly tell new people about this guy.  Others talked about how they tried to make sure there was someone keeping an eye on him at parties, because he was fine so long as someone remembered to assign him a Rape Babysitter.

People had gotten so used to working around this guy, to accommodating his "special requirements," that they didn't feel like there was an urgent problem in their community.  They did eventually expel him, but it was after months of it being widely shared knowledge that he was a rapist and had done other unethical sexual things as well.

I think there were some people in the community who were intentionally protecting him, but there were more who were de facto protecting him by treating him like a missing stair.  Like something you're so used to working around, you never stop to ask "what if we actually fixed this?"  Eventually you take it for granted that working around this guy is just a fact of life, and if he hurts someone, that's the fault of whoever didn't apply the workarounds correctly.

"Fixing" doesn't always mean throwing someone out. (Although in the case of sex groups I think people are way too timid about that.  Being invited to sex parties should be a positive show of confidence in your character, not some sort of default human right.)  Sometimes a person can be "fixed" by talking with them bluntly about their behavior, giving them specific rules to follow, or putting them on notice that they have one strike left.  You don't always have to get rid of "missing stair" people, but you do have to work with the person, not around them.


This isn't just about individuals, either.  Everyone who says "I don't want to be a victim-blamer, but girls should know frat parties aren't safe places" is treating rape culture like a missing stair.  Everyone who says "it's an ugly fact, but only women who don't make trouble make it in this business" is treating sexual harassment like a missing stair.  Everyone who says "I don't like it either, but that's the way things are," and makes no move to question the way things are, is jumping over a missing stair somewhere.

Fixing "broken stairs" once they've been clearly identified is important. But understanding the reasons why this hasn't already happened is important.

A friend of mine recently caused a community I'm a part of to fix a "broken stair" situation, and their first step was to get people openly talking to each other about the problems. As soon as that happened, someone else stepped forward and fixed things. But why was talking about problems the bottleneck? Why weren't people already doing it?

I talked with a few friends about this, and and one thing we realized was that if we had ambiguous information about someone, we didn't trust others in our community to receive this information without automatically acting on it. I observed that I was worried that if I passed along adverse information about someone, those who heard it would do one of two things:

  1. Assume I had a vendetta against the person, and try to punish me for disturbing the peace.
  2. Assume I had a vendetta against the person, and try to help me by joining the vendetta.

This resonated with the other people in the conversation.

Describing problem behavior in plain, precise, nonmoralizing language is helpful for a couple of reasons. It helps make it possible to blame someone for an action without permanently characterizing them as a monster in every way. This means that others don't have to choose between deciding that the person is bad, and deciding that the accusation is false - they can, at least potentially, think seriously about mitigating harms and risks. This also helps good actors verify that they haven't accidentally violated some important local norm. But in the case of habitual boundary-pushers who in each case manage to hold onto some sort of plausible deniability, no one person may have enough info to justify any action at all - often the story itself may not be obviously bad at all, except that the person ended up with a bad feeling about the whole thing. It would be nice to be able to share this sort of information, and trust that it won't cause people to be unfairly punished - and that it won't be unfairly slapped down as an unfair criticism - but instead, actually processed as information.

What I want people to do is receive the information, and then, if it's not enough to act, just sit on it, and use it or pass it along if and when it becomes relevant. What I want is for people to process the information as information about the facts of the situation, and take responsibility for judging on the basis of the facts, judging what harm has actually occurred and taking responsibility for acting if and only if they can make it better, instead of parsing it as nothing but an interpersonal conflict where you have to take sides. What I want is justice, and the ability to rightly presume that others want justice.

I'm not sure what to do next on this, but the first step is to tell the truth.

References   [ + ]

1. This is what people in the social justice world sometimes but not always mean by "privilege."
2. That attitude of learned helplessness - that asking for justice is never worth the risk - could be called savviness, or "getting it."

15 thoughts on “Locker room talk

  1. Anon

    Have you considered the possibility that trump supporters don't see a problem with what he said is that they simply interpret what he means differently? Maybe when he says "let" and you hear "didn't want but don't feel safe refusing" they hear "the women like it and have made their openness to it clear (perhaps non-verbally)"?

    1. Benquo Post author

      That's definitely possible, but seems to me to be inconsistent with (a) the "don't even wait" part of his comments, and (b) the multiple accusations of sexual coercion by women who've interacted with him.

  2. Anon

    Okay, so you have considered that possibility and just didn’t see it as plausible. Interesting.

    While I see (a) and (b) as indicating… let’s call it “less than perfect consent”, I don’t see it at all inconsistent with the idea that Trump supporters (and Trump himself) feel like he was on the right side of consent (or at least, that there needs to be better evidence than the tape alone before concluding that he’s *necessarily* guilty of sexual assault). Furthermore, I *certainly* don’t see it as inconsistent with the idea that Trump supporters think that Trump thought that he was on the right side of consent at the time. People really do have quite varied views on what women are likely to consent to in which circumstances.

    This post seems to take as a given that Trump and his supporters share the view that his actions were sexual assault and was bragging about it because he doesn’t give a shit about sexual assault. If that were true and they were brushing it off as “locker room banter” then this would indeed be terrifying and imply the things you describe in the post.

    I just don’t think that’s a given. I think you should take the possibility very seriously that they think he had a lot more consent than you think he had, and certainly that he thinks he did. Because I think those are both true and that it makes Trump supporters a whole lot less evil (even if still dumb/deluded/etc).

    1. Benquo Post author

      Here's what I think is actually going on:

      I think it's obvious to anyone who is genuinely curious and has been following the news that Trump has in fact sexually assaulted and probably raped multiple women, and that it is genuinely scandalizing that he is not already in prison. To the extent that this is due to women not reporting his crimes, this doesn't let society off the hook, since they're responding to incentives. I haven't heard anyone claim that we have a similarly large problem of not reporting burglaries, at least among white people.

      What comes next is conjecture about subcultures I am not a part of, but it seems backed up by lots of anecdotes.

      There is plausibly a substantial subculture of uncertain size in the US, in which the Trump tape taken in isolation could plausibly describe normal and expected sexual behavior and doesn't register as especially coercive to the women involved (though I think this interpretation of the tape is still a stretch). Let's call this R-Culture. There is a substantial amount of hypocrisy built into R-Culture, to make having sex at all compatible with nominal sexual conservatism and gender roles in which women are not supposed to favor sexual contact, and men are always supposed to favor it. In R-Culture, women exhibiting no more than mild resistance means consent. This imposes a substantial cost on any woman interacting with a man she genuinely doesn't want sexual contact with, who wants sexual contact with her.

      People in this R-Culture think that their sexual folkways are more prevalent than they are in the West. Another prevalent culture is C-Culture, in which sexual hypocrisy does not extent to the private sphere; verbal rejection or mild physical resistance is taken literally, and means lack of consent. (This is my culture and I am proud of it.) When men from R-Culture interact with women from C-Culture the same behavior has very different effects in ways that are hard for them to directly observe, because normal R-Culture behavior for men reads to women in C-Culture as extreme, dangerous aggression, and they're intimidated into playing along because further escalating the conflict is terrifying.

      I personally find R-Culture's risk-reward tradeoff unacceptable, but many women as well as men are acculturated to expect it, and I am reluctant to say that a different subculture's ordinary accepted sexual practices ought to be felonies effectively punishable by expulsion from society. (This doesn't excuse police departments that seem culpably lax in enforcement of laws against rape.) However, I also find it unacceptable that women often aren't able to opt out of R-Culture if they want to. I don't know how to fix this.

      Incidentally, I notice that I expect some probability of being socially punished for this comment, because it involves openly describing violence committed by one group on another, without uniformly adopting the shibboleths of one side. I don't particularly want to discourage anyone from trying to punish me for this by yelling at me, since that reveals useful info too - I just want to register this prediction in advance. Most likely almost no one reads the comments, though.

      1. Anon

        Interesting. Punished by which side? Both?

        If you’re open to being yelled at (which is really cool, by the way), I’ll worry less about you taking offense if I’m blunt. Of course, no offense or hostility meant still.

        You try to model the alternative to your “C-Culture” (which you call “R-Culture)” and say that you have anecdotes to support it working the way you say but the issue isn’t so much that the things that you’re pointing at don’t ever happen, but that I don’t think you really understand what it’s like to be in the shoes of someone who sees your “C-Culture” as horribly naive. From the inside the only way your model can stand is through a lack of introspection or awareness of the “C-Culture” alternative. I won’t argue that there aren’t people for whom this fits, but there’s a hell of a lot more to the story than that.

        For example, your model seems to predict that people like my girlfriend do not exist. After hearing everyone (including people from the same “culture” as her by all measures that I can think of) talking about it as a rapey thing, my girlfriend’s response to hearing the tape was to smile and laugh. As in “This is it? This is what they’re freaking out over and are taking as ‘bragging about committing sexual assault’? Jesus Christ, these people just do not get it”. At the same time, she does not think “mild resistance or less” constitutes consent, and if Trump tried to “just start kissing her” or “grab her by the pussy” she would *absolutely* consider that sexual assault (and considers the guy to be a total buffoon, FWIW).

        It’s not that the other side just has never heard of the insights from C-Culture, it’s that C-Culture misses some important things and that trying to enforce it without understanding and taking into account those nuances is fucked up and hurts women and men both. My very close friend was raped in what was basically the canonical “here’s why R-Culture is bad” case, and it wasn’t because there was no C-Culture to be found. C-Culture ideals were everywhere around her and actually made it a lot harder for her to understand and come to terms with what happened. The intentions behind it may be good, but I’d be very very careful being proud of C-Culture. Sex is complicated ( and if you try to shoehorn nice sounding ideals on it you often end up hurting who you set out to help.

        1. Benquo Post author

          Thanks for the response. I'm having trouble using it, because you're telling me that there are things I'm not getting, but not telling me what it is that I'm not getting. Can you try to explain what the content is that people in C-Culture are missing? In particular, this tells me that your girlfriend thinks I'm wrong, but not in a way that helps me believe the right thing:

          “This is it? This is what they’re freaking out over and are taking as ‘bragging about committing sexual assault’? Jesus Christ, these people just do not get it”.

          Similarly, I feel frustrated reading this, because again, you're telling me that I'm missing something, but not what it is that I'm missing:

          It’s not that the other side just has never heard of the insights from C-Culture, it’s that C-Culture misses some important things and that trying to enforce it without understanding and taking into account those nuances is fucked up and hurts women and men both. My very close friend was raped in what was basically the canonical “here’s why R-Culture is bad” case, and it wasn’t because there was no C-Culture to be found. C-Culture ideals were everywhere around her and actually made it a lot harder for her to understand and come to terms with what happened.

          My current best guess, which I think is likely wrong in some important way, is that you're interpreting me as saying: If we just tell people about consent, the problem's solved. I do not think this, but I can see how you might think so. I am not saying that "locker room dystopias" / "Trump dystopias" are always fragile - I am saying that they are likely to be fragile in a substantial fraction of cases.

          I have personal experience with this, though in what seems to me like a fairly mild case.

          In a meetup group I was part of in the past, a woman ("Alice") who was a regular attendee mentioned to a man in the group ("Bob"), privately, that another man in the group in the group ("Charlie") was persistently harassing her. Bob recruited a couple other leaders of the meetup to help figure out how to respond to this, including me and Alice. Charlie's behavior was not the sort of cartoonishly bad behavior Trump is accused of - he had a habit of entering conversations she was a part of and talking over her in a belittling way, following her around when she'd asked him not to, and arguing with her when she asked him not to do these things. We ended up deciding that the right thing to do was to ask Charlie to respect Alice's stated boundaries even if he didn't think that they were reasonable, and to tell him that if he couldn't do that, he wouldn't be welcome back. We considered adopting a formal harassment policy for the meetup, to make expectations more explicit.

          Alice later mentioned that she was astonished - not by the fact that we took initiative to address her concerns - but by the fact that we took her seriously at all and didn't dismiss her concerns out of hand. That she didn't have to push, finagle, negotiate, to get us to take it seriously that she was discomfited by the behavior towards her of someone in the group. That we didn't start from the assumption that she was an irrational woman making a big deal out of nothing. Probably there are cases that start out like this, except that the person in distress never speaks up, because they share that expectation, and are not up for the work of fighting to be heard.

          I'm not claiming to have the full answer. I am saying that part of the answer is simply noticing that there are multiple subcultures with different attitudes towards sex and consent, which seem largely unaware of each other. When I say "I am proud of C-Culture," I don't mean that C-Culture is currently totally dominant, or that we should pretend it is. I am saying that part of the way people do harm is by being unaware of how their actions and words will be parsed by someone in a different subculture.

          Speaking the truth about how our experiences differ is the first step. This includes being honest about the ways in which we're proud of our own subcultures and think other subcultures are worse. It's important to be able to acknowledge different perspectives, and it's important to be able to do so without pretending that everything is equal.

          The next step is using this information to figure out what effects our actions are likely to have, and how we can actually make things better.

          1. Anon

            First of all, thank you for being so reasonable in all of this. I didn’t really expect less of you, but I am always very hesitant to get involved in these kinds of conversations because reasonableness is the exception. I also want to go out of my way to clarify that I’m not intending to accuse you of anything. I have my suspicions of what you get and what you’re saying, but they’re just suspicions and it’s not my place to declare them to be true. I also do not see you as trying to declare your side to be right either or making overly broad claims that all the connotations that follow with C-Culture are right.

            I also absolutely agree that you did the right thing in that example, and that too many people would have been dismissive of Alice’s complaints instead. I agree that we need to be able to discuss different perspectives without pretending they’re necessarily “equally valid” because that’s rather unlikely to be true. Even so I’d be very wary of pride in the situation. I’d also be quite wary of declaring one to be better than the other, not because you shouldn’t see one as better but because there is so much harm done by needlessly (even partially, unnoticably) closing one’s mind to the alternative being better and no tangible benefit to doing so. Again, not an accusation, just something that I think needs saying.

            Addressing the main point, I am aware that I did not even attempt to explain *what* I think you’re missing. I wanted to first make the point that there *are* women and men who empathize with women who genuinely believe that the “Trump is bragging about sexual assault!” people are missing it. Explaining the missing piece itself is harder in part because I’m not even sure what it is. I can easily imagine disingenuously *accusing* trump of bragging about committing sexual assault (because that requires very little internal consistency) but I struggle to see how someone can have that viewpoint *genuinely*. Which of the following statements, if any, do you agree with?

            * It’s unrealistic to think that trump is exaggerating, talking non-literally, or speaking strictly hypothetically. He definitely means that he just starts kissing women and grabbing them by the pussy on impulse as if there is zero chance that anything bad could happen from it. To the extent that he sounds non-literal, he’s using it as plausible deniability to hide behind.

            *It is unrealistic to think that any significant fraction of women would want or not be opposed to trump doing things that could even be non-literally described in the words he used.

            *Even if the women want trump to do these things, it’s unrealistic to think he could *know* this with justifiable certainty to act on it.

            *Even if we allow for sake of argument that many women would want him to do these things, we know from how Trump presents himself that the part he’d brag about isn’t that women want him but that he can get away with forcing himself on those who don’t want him.

            *The women that he does this to likely have conflicting feelings and he’s ignoring the “no” part in favor of the “yes” part, which is just as bad as ignoring a pure and firm no.

          2. Benquo Post author

            I think I believe some combination of the first and the third. The first seems like a true description of the underlying situation, given additional context. The third seems true based on the comment alone, and Trump should have known this, to the point of culpability for not knowing.

            I believe the first claim, in the sense that I think the behavior he described actually happened, and was almost certainly nonconsensual groping in at least some cases. The first claim doesn't seem justified based on the tape alone, but when combined with actual accusations that he's done the thing (some predating the publication of the recording), it seems pretty likely true.

            I basically endorse Virginia Postrel's read of it: If it were just the tape, he could plausibly be joking/exaggerating. If it were just a few accusations, some people still have a high prior that accusers are lying, though I don't. But the combination seems harder not to take at face value.

            It's plausible to me that the third claim is true on the basis of the recording alone; perhaps Trump wasn't thinking about the possibility of lack of consent when he made the comment. Perhaps his early experiences groping women he was attracted to were welcomed, or seemed welcomed to him. However, the way Trump describes women's reactions (letting him do it) suggests pretty strongly to me that he's not going to be attentive to the difference between consent and freezing up.

            This seems like the sort of thing that, taken in isolation, could be the result of different sexual subcultures mixing. It's plausible to me that in some subcultures this actually is normative sexually aggressive behavior, and doing less is inconsistent with getting laid. I wouldn't be comfortable condemning someone in their early 20s based on such a recording in the terms I'm using, or an exceptionally inexperienced and privileged 59-year-old, but Trump has had the opportunity to meet and interact sexually with a lot of women in his life. He's been pretty happy to talk about this. By now, if he were interested in what kind of track record he had, he'd already know that his sexual strategy carries a very high risk of nonconsensual sexual groping.

          3. Anon the 2nd

            "Alice later mentioned that she was astonished - not by the fact that we took initiative to address her concerns - but by the fact that we took her seriously at all and didn't dismiss her concerns out of hand. That she didn't have to push, finagle, negotiate, to get us to take it seriously that she was discomfited by the behavior towards her of someone in the group. That we didn't start from the assumption that she was an irrational woman making a big deal out of nothing. Probably there are cases that start out like this, except that the person in distress never speaks up, because they share that expectation, and are not up for the work of fighting to be heard."

            This is another interesting example of how it's possible to worsen a problem by fighting it in a naive way. It wouldn't surprise me if Alice got this impression by reading activist feminist blogs that exaggerate how terrible everything is in order to "further the cause".

          4. Anon

            Okay cool, I think I better understand where you’re coming from now.

            To rephrase, it seems there’s two questions at hand here. The first is over whether it’s even possible that Trump can be expected to read the situation clearly enough. This further breaks down into the question of how clearly Trump can read the situation and how clear is clear *enough*. The second is whether the way he talked about it is decent evidence against the idea that he can and cares to discriminate between consent and freezing up.

            It seems like the risk model you’re using is that it’s more or less russian roulette. In other words, 1) the risk on a per encounter basis is extraordinarily high and the chance of failure is at least on the same order of magnitude of the chance of success, 2) any attempt to do it “safely” (e.g. by listening to the cylinder and trying to guess which one the live round is in) cannot eliminate enough uncertainty to make the danger more “skill based” than “luck based”, and 3) all failures are usefully modeled as equally bad and completely unacceptable (“fatal”). Or as the Louie C.K. rape bit portrays, “kinda getting a rapey vibe from this chick” and deciding to take the risk thinking “oh what the hell! What’s the *worst* that could happen?”.

            I don’t think any of those assumptions are actually true. In some instances people don’t really give much in the way of clear signals, but in other cases they really do. I do not think it is at all uncommon for guys to be able to know with negligible false positives when a girl is tentatively interested. There is still a step between “tentatively interested” and “consent”, of course, but there is also a step between there and “non-consent” and “sexual assault”.

            I’ll explain what it’s like for me as an example. Getting very clear and undeniable consent is very important to me, but mostly *not* because I want to make sure they want it. It’s nice as a safety check for that, of course, but in the cases in which I’m interested, I already know that beyond reasonable doubt. The *main* reason I stop and ask for clear consent is because I need to make sure *they* know that they want it and so that they know that I know and care that they want it. Without that, it’s possible to have *both* them wanting it *and* them not-consenting, freezing up, and feeling violated afterwards if you press on. However, that’s very very noticeable too. I hit that *all the time* in safe/controlled environments, and then just stop and check in instead of pressing on. I prefer to play it safe, but if for some reason I wasn’t allowed to point attention to the topic of consent and make it explicit, I’m still pretty darn confident that I could get it right the vast majority of times, and that any misses would be minor brushes against boundaries without ever really crashing, burning and getting someone hurt.

            Okay, so maybe *I* care about consent, but he phrased it as “let”, not “want” or “consent to” or the like. The word “let” is one I’d be very careful about using in wider circles, but if I were to brag to people who’d understand, “let” is exactly the word I’d use as well. It’s not about getting to do said act regardless of how they feel about it and it’s not a strange way of bragging that they consent to it. It’s that they want it so bad that they’re willing to do it *despite* the fact that it’s not something they’d normally allow (for whatever reason). Consider the difference between “I’ve been hooking up with this girl who has a facial fetish so I get to finish on her face” and “I’ve been hooking up with this girl who is so into me that she even lets me finish on her face. You can tell she doesn’t like having cum on her face, but she just loves to please me (you know, because of how awesome I am)”, and “I’ve been hooking up with this girl who lets me finish on her face because she’s afraid to say no”. In those kinds of circles, you aren’t going to get much props for the first, you will for the second, and the third will get you horrified looks of “this guy doesn’t realize that’s not fucking okay”. The word “let”, to me, and to every guy I’ve ever known to speak like that, means “because she wants to say yes” rather than “because she’s afraid to say no”. It’s unspoken because it doesn’t *need* to be spoken as it’s common-knowledge that intimidating girls into saying yes is fucked up and abusive. It’s not just that there are other circles who will care and find it not-okay if you’re being sexually assaulted, it’s that *Billy Bush and the rest of that bus would too*.

            Hearing that tape and concluding “Trump is bragging about committing sexual assault” is a bit like sneaking into a BDSM munch, hearing someone casually mention to his friend “so I was whipping my sub…” and then freaking out screaming “This guy is bragging about battering women! And these people don’t see a problem with it!”. If you’re not part of the culture you might not see that some women are actually into that, that the audience is assuming he had consent, and that it is common-knowledge that if he said “oh no, she didn’t like it. She just couldn’t say ‘no’ because I had the whip” that he would be shamed with full force. Even if it later turns out that he *didn’t* have consent and that he knew it, it still wouldn’t have been him bragging about battering women because the picture he was painting them was one where she consented. He wouldn’t try to defend himself with “what, I never said she was *consenting*!”, he’d try to defend himself by saying “she *was* consenting” or “that never happened”.

            Does that make sense?

  3. Anon the 2nd

    >The converse is true as well. I think it's really, really important to communicate that the world is not entirely composed of the dystopia they'd have you believe.

    Some of the most feminist places (e.g. the SF bay area) have reputations as being terribly bad for women, because they are saturated with feminists who will write articles complaining about every little thing and not be scope-sensitive or put things in perspective. This contributes to the problem of people believing that the entire world is a dystopia.

    >I'm not sure what to do next on this, but the first step is to tell the truth.

    Maybe what's needed is a "gossip Schelling point". A trustworthy person to hear everyone's gossip about everyone else so they can accumulate evidence and make judgements about who needs to be kicked out.

    1. Benquo Post author

      I think that in a civilized society this would be law enforcement - a judge, police officer, detective, or something like that.

      I've heard it suggested that we need a community Trustee, for exactly this reason. Probably if so there should be more than one, in case of conflict of interest.

      I'd want more remedies than "kicked out," though - milder arbitration also seems important.

  4. Michael Vassar

    My guess is that there are approximately three modal shades, not two, at play here. I have encountered people who I would consider to be mildly part of R culture who consider Trump's comment outrageous. It's plausible to me that the three modes correspond to something like 5-10%, 80-90%, and 5-10% of the population, and each side thinks it has a supermajority because the moderate supermajority generally tolerates and locally appears to accept either set of norms depending on the situation. In the absence of extreme R-culture, it's highly plausible that the best thing to do would be to refrain from social engineering. Given extreme R-culture, and given that it takes succor from the intermediate culture, it's unclear what to do. In other words, the situation is exactly analogous to that with Atheism as expressed by Sam Harris.

    A superset of R culture and of religion, in fact, might be called hypocrisy-culture. Plausibly, the situation is as Robin Hanson presents it. Society is hopelessly overwhelmingly ruled by a culture that deeply values hypocrisy. Such a courier might constitute only a majority of the population, but an overwhelming majority of power, validation, recognition, whatever. Most of the population lives in fear of being called out by anti-hypocrisy efforts, which are sincerely believed to be hypocritical, and which are in fact hypocritical by the time they become legal or mass efforts rather than marginalzed, youth or fringe efforts. A given manifestation of hypocrisy might be ruled out by social reform, but only to be replaced by another. The same saavy people will always stay on top, and will assimilate ambitious and intelligent young blood into the belief that change is only possible from the inside.

    In this scenario, it's clear that there are three critical questions.

    A) is it actually so terrible to join H culture? (I think yes)
    B) are other cultures in charge anywhere (I think yes, but maybe only via the combination of harsh environment, threatening enemies and ethnic homogeneity. This suggests moving to Japan, Finland or Israel if you would fit in, or Mars)
    C) how does one mark ones self as an outsider from H culture with a large enough unassimilated community to defend yourself if you are persecuted. I think that this avenue is being actively worked on.


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