In comments, there was quite a bit of back and forth, first between ASP and myself, then between ASP and Richard, and then between ASP and Jack, and eventually I started feeling really bad that it seemed like an argument between ASP on one side and a bunch of dudes on the other. Of course the only person who really got argumentative in the whole thing was me, and that was because a) I was tired and b) I unfortunately conflated what silly Jenny was saying with what sensible ASP was saying, which, sorry about that.
Uh, anyway, now that my absorbing summary of the comment thread is done, what I want to point out is that out of the exchange between Jack and ASP came this statement of Jack's, in response to a summary of a study of rapists:
It contains the beginning of the answer of how to "handle" rapists.No one, I think, could disagree with this. The disagreement arose when ASP responded, quite accurately, that feminists have been working on this for quite some time. And it is true, and no matter how minor any individual example may seem, I do think it's valuable to point out examples of how our mass culture reinforces the attitudes that lead to so many men thinking it's perfectly OK for them to do as they please with women, regardless of how the women might feel about it. On all this, I agree with ASP 100%.
Don't make them.
These efforts, particularly as I see them at Shakesville but also in other places (and I am not accusing ASP of doing this herself; this is simply a response set off by what she said, hopefully not to be taken as a criticism of her herself), often seem to come hand in hand with the kind of punitive impulse, and the kind of deference to power, that I was clumsily attempting to criticize in my original post (I realized later that I should have split it into two posts, one discussing the ruling itself, one discussing the reaction to it, but my own navel gazing self-criticism is neither here nor there right now).
The problem is that these attitudes, the deference to power and the impulse to punish, are in themselves extremely powerful drivers of the rape culture.
The problem with the deference to power, expressed here by McEwan's bizarrely trusting "sure, there's potential for abuse, but..." framing, expressed elsewhere in her fawning admiration for people like Hillary Clinton and Al Gore, surely needs no explanation. Rape is in large part about expressing power, the rapist declaring his total dominion over the body of the victim. A society with entrenched power structures such as we have, in which we are expected to subsume ourselves to the individuals at the top who present themselves as speaking for us, by its very nature encourages other, violent expressions of power. And this is all without even mentioning the fact that the wielders of American power have encouraged and instituted regimes of systemic rape as a means of control, around the world.
(Another aspect of the power-worship--passively allowing huge corporations to define culture for you--was ably demolished by Jack in the original comments.)
The problem with the punitive impulse as a response to rape should be even more obvious, but somehow it doesn't seem to be. I mentioned in comments to my original post that "rape is itself rampant in prisons." Your good liberal thinks that this is something that could be regulated away; of course I think differently. Rape, as far as I'm concerned, is an integral part of the prison system, a way of ensuring that the power structures that prison serves to reinforce are perpetuated on every level. But even if it's not--even if we could somehow eliminate all traces of rape and sexual assault from prisons--even in this hypothetical (if you ask me, impossible) world, the prison system, and the punitive impulse that leads almost everyone, no matter where they fall on the limited spectrum allowed in mainstream thought, to encourage it, would still reinforce the rape culture.
Opposition to the death penalty is thankfully common among liberals. In discussing it, they often rightly point out the hypocrisy inherent in killing someone as punishment for killing someone. That the implications of this line of reasoning are never explored any further is an indication, again, of how limited the range of mainstream, allowable thought is.
Because surely a moment's reflection would make anyone realize that imprisoning someone (i.e., the use of power to remove someone's agency) as punishment for raping someone (i.e., the use of power to remove someone's agency) is just as hypocritical. And if one's goal is changing the culture that creates rapists, it can only be counterproductive.
I hope it is clear that none of this should be taken as a defense of rapists, nor as an erasure of the fact that, as things stand, rape is a largely consequence-free act as far as the rapist is concerned. And no, I don't have a solution for what we should do with rapists, given that we obviously have a culture that creates them in large numbers. I do know, however, that what we currently do with them, both when we let them go free and when we do punish them, only contributes to creating more and more of them.
UPDATE I'm kind of an asshole. See comments.