My goodness me. I think in all the time I have been writing my blog, I may never have picked on a subject more contentious than yesterday's.
Ken Clarke is of course not really the issue being discussed - he is a symptom, if you like, of a male-centric attitude that sees the victims of rape crudely classified into true victims and those who, if they didn't ask for it, could certainly have done more to prevent it. The calls for Clarke's resignation will go on, and he will remain steadfastly unmoved. He did, finally and belatedly, apologise. The political commentators quickly shifted to Ed Miliband's adenoids and his clumsy call for Clarke to resign.
Ed, as he is wont to do, missed the boat. A thoughtful opponent would not have attacked Clarke himself but rather the snide, unspoken Tory cabinet view that the real business in the world is done by tall, masterful men in sharp suits, while the little women decorate the homes, bear the children and suffer their anxieties in private. The very attitudes, in short, that feminists so vehemently oppose.
Truthfully (and there are certainly those who will mock me for stating this openly) the more I read about feminism, the more I am becoming impressed with the arguments it presents. It would simply not have occurred to me as a man that a woman might feel the need to plan a route through a crowded shopping centre to avoid large groups of young men who might harass her. Until it was pointed out to me, it did not occur to me that the issue of how rape is treated in law is a reflection of society's attitude - and not to rapists, but to victims.
I mentioned the subject of rape in the context of Ken Clarke's comments to friends today, a group made up mostly of women, and it prompted a debate that I could scarcely believe I was hearing. There were those who thought that modern men couldn't be expected to know better. Those who thought that testosterone was an excuse for aggressive sexual behaviour. Women, unbelievably, who thought that other women should 'expect to be raped if they behave like sluts.'
I did my best to contribute, stating my belief that there was a clear separation of a woman's need to take responsibility for her personal safety and the responsibility of a man to know that what he is doing is fundamentally wrong. But the discussion continued and the consensus was clear - they felt that 'true' rape (or 'serious', as we have seen it described by Clarke) is a term that should only apply when a victim and assailant are strangers. In familial or date rape, it was felt that there must have been circumstances that caused the man's behaviour.
I was, and remain, astounded and sickened.
One of the more canny people who discussed the subject with me gave me his opinion and then slyly asked me if I would state my own opinion on my blog. I quickly said no; I couldn't have hoped, with the stream of new perspectives I have been offered in the last twenty-four hours, to have an informed opinion on the subject. But reading what I have read since, I have tried my best.
Rape is a horrific crime, and this is reflected in British law by the maximum possible tariff of a life sentence. While there is a difference between constitutional rape and rape, the need for a definition of constitutional rape demonstrates a clear need for the protection of those who are underage, so we cannot get away from the issue of consent. As men, we have to accept the responsibility for our actions regardless of what drives the people we interact with; so yes, a girl is entitled to tease you, show you every aspect of herself physically and then still say no to you. We simply need to accept that. You can make all the arguments you like about men being wired differently to women, but it makes no difference. Simply, we do this by demonstrating maturity and having confidence in our masculinity.
Finally, and no less importantly, we have to challenge the prejudices of those around us in the same way that we would for any other injustice. Victims of rape deserve our support and empathy. The manner in which they have conducted themselves up to that point should not be a concern in our minds.