An English Lesson on What “I Wouldn’t Even” Means

OK, I gotta address this — not just for the sake of my background as a blogger who primarily focuses on social justice issues, but also as an English professor. Both sides of my psyche are a bit offended.

So, infamously, at the Mythicist Milwaukee conference (click here for context) YouTuber Sargon of Akkad, whose real name is Carl Benjamin, defended his infamous “I wouldn’t even rape you” statement, which he made to a member of parliament in the UK. This was the exchange, which he had with Thomas Smith:

Thomas Smith: So this is someone who’s a woman — a sexual assault survivor — someone that we all know (like, she was public it), and [what you said is] in response to her campaign to try to fight online harassment and you saw fit to to tweet at her “I wouldn’t even rape you.”

*crowd cheers loudly in support of the “I wouldn’t even rape you” statement”*

Carl Benjamin: Yep.

*crowd continues cheering, Carl turns to crowd, points, then turns back and smiles at Thomas Smith*

Carl Benjamin: Do you understand why your moral outrage about that is something I just don’t care about?

Thomas Smith: Because you’re awful.

Carl Benjamin: Well, that’s it [as if assessing Thomas Smith’s claim, not as dismissal].

Thomas Smith: You’re awful.

Carl Benjamin: That’s exactly —

Thomas Smith: That is an unacceptable thing to say to somebody.

*crowd protests*

Thomas Smith (addresses crowd): To tell a rape victim, a sexual assault victim, “I wouldn’t even rape you,” is DISGUSTING —

Carl Benjamin (crosstalk, as Thomas Smith continues): Why?

Thomas Smith: — that’s behavior that should be beyond the pale —

Carl Benjamin (crosstalk): Why?

Thomas Smith: — and everyone everybody cheering, and everybody who is a part of inviting you —

Carl Benjamin (crosstalk): It’s not an insult. It’s not a threat.

Thomas Smith: — you have signaled to the women in the movement: you do not give a shit about using rape as a threat to bully somebody. So that’s what you have signaled.

*scattered claps in support of Thomas Smith*

Carl Benjamin: It’s not a threat. It’s the antithesis of a threat. That’s the point — the whole point of it was to demonstrate that I would say “I won’t do something” and you will say. “That’s a threat.”

So, who’s right? Is the phrase “I wouldn’t even rape you” performing the function of, in Thomas Smith’s words, “using rape as a threat to bully somebody,” or not?

I hate that this is even a question. The answer is obvious — of course it’s a threat. It is a terrible threat, a damaging threat, an odious threat, and it is nearly beyond me how anyone could pretend not to know that. But, just the same, I’ll break it down, because it seems to me like a lot of people are being gaslighted.

Let’s go to the dictionary.

The key word in “I wouldn’t even rape you” is “even” — without that word, the phrase wouldn’t be disputed. “I wouldn’t rape you” means exactly that.

But, to hear Carl and his Sargoons talk, “I wouldn’t rape you” and “I wouldn’t even rape you” are equivalent.

Let’s consult Merriam Webster for the definition of “even” here. “Even rape” is using “even” as an adverb, so we’ll go down to the adverb definition:

1. Used to emphasize something surprising or extreme.

‘they have never even heard of the United States’

So “even” is meant to point out something surprising or something extreme.

In other words, if someone hasn’t even heard of the United States (which is shocking in many contexts — I mean, you’d usually expect that most people have heard of the United States), then you’re implying that most people have actually heard, or logically should have heard, about the United States. Otherwise, the fact that “they” haven’t wouldn’t be surprising. 

Also, the “even” indicates the extent of what they haven’t heard of in relation to that geographical category. They might have heard of North America, or the Western Hemisphere. That’s all available knowledge for them, as not hearing of the United States is the extreme of what they haven’t heard of; beyond that boundary, everything is fair game for their knowledge.

So, when Carl Benjamin says “I wouldn’t even rape you” he’s saying both of those things.

First, he’s saying that rape would, in other analogous instances, be the expected course of events. Otherwise, the act of rape wouldn’t be surprising. The implication is a classic Carl Benjamin move, several have claimed — he wouldn’t rape her himself, which is surprising…why? Because he would rape other women or (more disturbingly, considering his hundreds of thousands of avid followers) because it would be normal or expected for other people to rape the MP (or other women)? He has to mean the first or the second of those options for the refusal to rape to be surprising and thus warrant the “even.”

Second, he’s saying that rape is the extreme of what he wouldn’t do; beyond that, everything else is fair game. Sexual assault up to rape is fair game; if the extreme of what he wouldn’t do was touch her, he would say that, because he’s talking about the extremes of behavior that he wouldn’t perform. If he didn’t mean to invoke rape as the extreme (leaving everything else in the category of sexual assault, which is the category invoked when you use “rape,” as something that he might do), then he should not have used the word “even.”

Obviously, what he’s saying is a textbook example of a threat. A sexual assault threat. Is it a rape threat? No. But that’s not what Thomas said. He said Carl was using rape as a threat to bully somebody.

Which he was. He used the concept of rape, clearly, in the form of threat towards any form of abuse short of rape, which is clearly a bullying move.

Duh.

And that “duh” brings me to a final point: Why do I have to talk about this obvious meaning in the English language?

Because there is a large group of people that wants to threaten women, and get away with it while making these women look illogical for protesting, because they think it is fun and it gives them a power trip. In their minds, Carl Benjamin is a genius because he accomplished this by using “I wouldn’t even rape you” and then gaslighting as nonsensical everyone who points out the clear meaning of that phrase…all the while smugly repeating it.

They knew it was abusive from the start; they just wanted the added abuse of trying to make women doubt the basics of the English language and thus silence their protests in the face of clear abuse. Not only do the women live in fear of sexual assault; they also are pressured to be confused and doubt their valid concerns are valid. And the people making them feel this way think it’s hilarious and awesome.

When Thomas Smith called Carl and his followers “awful,” he was being polite.

Thanks for reading.

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