James Taranto, Louis C.K., and The Brand New War On Men
James Taranto is angry. Lt. General Susan Helms has had her promotion held up by Missouri’s recently re-elected Senator Claire McCaskill. Taranto doesn’t like this; he views it as a salvo in what he’s describing as a “War On Men.” Let’s do the details first.
In 2012, Helms granted clemency to Matthew Herrera, an Air Force Captain who had previously been both accused and found guilty of aggravated sexual assault. Because he had received his guilty verdict via a Court-Martial, Helms had the ability to unilaterally change its outcome, which she did, commuting his sentence from one in which Herrera would have served time to one in which he was simply involuntarily discharged from the Air Force. He also escaped sex-offender registries. This was actually Herrera’s second bit of good fortune; he’d also been accused of a second sexual assault, one that a second court-martial had decided was consensual. Taranto is below, describing both assaults:
The trial was a he-said/she-said dispute between Capt. Herrera and a female second lieutenant about a drunken October 2009 sexual advance in the back seat of a moving car. The accuser testified that she fell asleep, then awoke to find her pants undone and Capt. Herrera touching her genitals. He testified that she was awake, undid her own pants, and responded to his touching by resting her head on his shoulder…In the interim, another servicewoman, Staff Sgt. Jennifer Robinson, had come forward to accuse Capt. Herrera of sexual assault. In her case, the incident had occurred in his bedroom, where she voluntarily accompanied him. The court-martial acquitted him of that charge on the ground that she had consented.
The following should be made clear: Herrera was found guilty of one assault and innocent of another. Herrera was sentenced to 60 days in jail, loss of pay, and dismissal. Helms decided after losing his job, no further action was necessary. Enter McCaskill. She objects to Helms’s promotion on the grounds that, given the military’s horrifying sexual assault problem (there were 26,000 alleged assaults in 2012 alone), promoting anybody who’d excused at least one sexual assault sends precisely the wrong message at precisely the wrong time.
Taranto, a conservative, is outraged by McCaskill’s hold on Helm’s promotion. As far as he’s concerned, Herrera was convicted on faulty evidence and Helms’s lesser sentence was perfectly sufficient. It is hard to understand why Herrera deserved any punishment at all if he’d been innocent of the crime he’d been accused of, but Taranto doesn’t bother with this, choosing to describe Herrera’s behavior as “sexual recklessness.” But the bigger issue is Taranto’s summation of the entire situation, one in which he describes in the following way:
Lt. Gen. Susan Helms is a pioneering woman who finds her career stalled because of a war on men—a political campaign against sexual assault in the military that shows signs of becoming an effort to criminalize male sexuality.
The internet exploded in outrage at Taranto’s claims. That article describes Taranto’s work nothing more than rape apologia and it’s hard to disagree, especially given the defense he himself offered later in the day, one in which he repeatedly blames women for the military’s sexual assault problem:
TARANTO: Well, it all goes back to the beginning of contemporary feminism in the early ’60s. You know, women wanted to be equal to men, they wanted to be able to do all the sort of professional things including the military that men could do, and —
KISSEL: Was there anything wrong with that, though, James? I mean, that sounds —
TARANTO: Well, that’s too long to go into now, the question of what’s wrong with that, but in addition they wanted sexual freedom. Well what is female sexual freedom? It means, for this woman, that she had the freedom to get drunk, and to get in the backseat of the car with this guy. There was another woman who accused him, he was acquitted in this case, of sexual assault. This so-called assault happened in his bedroom, to which she voluntarily accompanied him, even the jury said that was consensual.
The problem isn’t men you see. It’s that women have freedom, and with that freedom, they aren’t making good decisions. They’re getting into cars with men. They’re going into bedrooms with men. In Taranto’s world, this apparently amounts to explicit consent, a convenience for somebody whose worldview equates feminism and rape. Lest anybody think that last part is a joke, reread his introduction to his column, one in which he explicitly describes Herrera’s behavior as being nothing more than the expression of male sexuality.
Got that? Here it is again, just to hammer home the point:
…becoming an effort to criminalize male sexuality.
Because what some women (of questionable decision making ability) call rape is actually just a totally normal sexual expression; they just don’t understand the nuances. But these nuances are what Taranto wants people to understand. Which leads us to the video I posted above. It’s Louis C.K., telling a joke about a make-out session that didn’t lead to sex, mostly owing to his own skittishness and his partner’s apparent interest in something that sounds like a rape scenario.
“I remember one night I was with a girl, I was like 20 years old, I was already doing standup, and I did a show in Washington D.C. And after the show, one of the waitresses came back to my hotel. She was really cute. And we’re making out, in my hotel, and uh, she’s into it, she’s humping me, so I start putting my hand up her shirt and she stops me and I’m like, ‘Hmm, okay?’ So then we’re making out more and I put my hand on her ass and she stops me. So after awhile, she went home and nothing happened. And then the next night I saw her at the club, she went ‘Hey, so what happened last night?’ and I was like, ‘what?’ and she goes, ‘How come we didn’t have sex?’ and I was like, ‘Cause you didn’t want to.’ and she said, ‘Yes I did, I was really into it.’ and I was like, ‘Why did you keep stopping me?’ and she goes, ‘Cause I wanted you to just go for it.’ And I was like, ‘What does that mean?’
She says, ‘I’m kinda weird, I get turned on when a guy just gets frustrated and holds me down and f-cks me. Like, that’s a big turn-on for me.’ And I was like, ‘You should have told me. I would have happily done that for you.’ And she says, ‘No, it has to feel real and dangerous.’ And I’m like, ‘WHAT ARE YOU, OUT OF YOUR F-CKING MIND? You think I’m just gonna rape you on the off-chance you’re into that shit?”
The joke doesn’t need to be explained. C.K. didn’t do the thing that the waitress wanted because he didn’t know that the waitress wanted it; without explicit consent, nothing happened, and C.K.’s bewildered reaction to his partner’s apparent fantasy is entirely reasonable. It is the perfect illustration of how things would ideally work. But not to Taranto. Per his brutish invocation of male sexuality, Taranto surely believes that C.K. had already received something akin to consent: the waitress was back in his room. And if there was confusion after the fact -- confusion that C.K. rightly feared, recognizing that he wanted consent before doing anything -- then Taranto’s got words to describe that: he-said/she-said dispute, hanky-panky, her world against his, and the aforementioned sexual recklessness.
Not rape though. Not assault either. What Herrera was doing? That was just a totally normal expression of male sexuality. And any attempt to make even a dent in that expression -- whether it’s 60 days in jail or a stalled professional promotion -- creates a “War On Men” absolutely worse than the behavior itself. As but one example of the toll such a war could take, imagine a nation of C.K.’s, all of requiring consent before engaging in any sort of sexual behavior. It’s precisely that nightmare which boils Taranto’s blood.