Trigger warnings: rape
I had other plans for this post. The more academic instalment I have in the works has been delayed by the discovery that the little snowdrift I'd been planning to dismantle turned out to be masking a glacier. But am I working on that post, which appeals to my own non-feminism-related interests, enjoying my research while covering some serious topics? No. Because of another uneducated (and I'm not taking a dig at non-academics, here - you can have a PhD and still be ignorant) wanker, I'm fuming over my keyboard, derailing all my other projects with this. I am, frankly, worried what condensation damage will result from the steam boiling out of my ears.
It begins with this article. For those not checking it out in another tab right now, it covers a fairly anecdotal study that suggests most men cannot distinguish between interviews with convicted rapists and quotes from 'lad mags'. Nothing wrong with the piece to my mind, except that the content makes my head hurt and, honestly, makes me a little more scared of men in general. My problem isn't with the article itself, though Jezebel and I have decency-related issues that are subject enough for another day; it's with something I came across in the comments. I often lament the fact that I continue to read comments on on-line articles. It almost never does me any good. His screen name says it all, really...
“I'm going to address another issue raised by this article. Obviously forcing sex on a woman who is unwilling is wrong, but are any of the acts done by the woman that have an effect on men wrong? I'm not saying they cause rape or make them responsible for being raped, but do they bear any responsibility in society at all for intentionally turning men on?
What is the reason for the short-short skirts, they may not be "asking for it," but they are turning men on. Why? What are average, non-rapist men supposed to do about that? Just ignore their natural instincts to want it? What is the reason for the statement, "what burns me up sometimes about girls is dick-teasers. They lead a man on and then shut him off right there." We all know that does happen, so is it right or wrong for women to do? If not, why do they do it? Why do we allow them to do it?
Finally, some of the statements clearly go too far, but there are some acts listed that are part of normal sex between consenting partners. "Girls love being tied up . . . it gives them the chance to be the helpless victim." That's true of some women. Some women will go to bed with a man on the first date and like this kind of thing. "Filthy talk can be such a turn on for a girl . . . no one wants to be shagged by a mouse . . . A few compliments won't do any harm either . . . ‘I bet you want it from behind you dirty whore' . . ." That's also true of some women. I've been with several different women in my life and most of them have liked things dirty or rough or wild, not all the time of course, but it's part of a normal sexual relationship with most women. Other times these same women want things gentle or affectionate or comforting.
How do you reconcile normal sexual behavior with the same exact words or acts being used in a way that makes women think you are objectifying them or encouraging non-consensual sex?” - In-Informed
Deep breaths, everyone. We’re taking the plunge.
“Obviously forcing sex on a woman who is unwilling is wrong…”
Maybe this is a candidate for ‘taking unnecessary offence’ on my part, but I doubt I'm the only one whose first reaction is, “Well, thank you for bestowing your superior male confirmation of this fact. We hysterical wimminz thought rape wasn't really on, but you've given us a whole new level of confidence in our convictions.” It’s possible that I have a sarcasm problem, but it’s equally possible that this guy has an unconscious male privilege problem.
I'm going to have to break the next bit up a whole lot, so that I don’t choke on my rage and pass out at my computer.
“…are any of the acts done by the woman that have an effect on men wrong? I'm not saying they cause rape or make them responsible for being raped, but do they bear any responsibility in society at all for intentionally turning men on?”
Let me get this straight, you’re considering ‘being inconveniently turned on’ and ‘being raped’ in the same breath? I'm not saying the former isn't a problem but it’s very much like a journalist reporting “Millions of people were massacred in their homes, but let’s not forget to feel sorry for the ones who had penises drawn on their foreheads.” isn't it?
Obviously, some women dress provocatively with the express intention of drawing reactions from men. I make no judgement about those women at all. It’s just a fact. Crucially, the reaction they are after is not To. Get. Fucking. Raped. Think a woman is dressing deliberately to attract you? Fine, go start a conversation. Ask her out. Exchange numbers. Go home with her if that's what you both want. And if you have trouble working out via one of the first two options whether she does indeed want to go any further with you, which you might – social interactions are a bloody minefield, you may find a respectful way to ask. Or you could try holding off on kissing her, or groping her, or having sex with her until you are sure.
You might also stop to entertain the possibility that she is dressed that way because she likes the way she looks in those clothes, because she's comfortable in them or any other reason that shockingly has nothing to do with you? Maybe she’s a lesbian/bisexual trying to attract other women? Maybe the world doesn't actually revolve around you and women think about something other than attracting a sexual partner from time to time?
Are you really trying to tell me men never intentionally try to turn women on? Do we expect them to ‘bear any responsibility’ for that? What the hell does ‘bear responsibility’ even mean in this context? It seems to me that, for all you might not think of yourself as a victim-blamer, you really are.
I’ll point out right now that if you (male or female or however else you identify) deliberately go out of your way to lead someone on and then tell them ‘no’, because it’s a laugh, you’re messing with their feelings for your own amusement. I, personally, don’t find that okay. That doesn't mean that you can’t or shouldn't say ‘no’ at whatever point you feel uncomfortable continuing. What I'm talking about is a form of sexual bullying, because your intention was to play with them and make them expect something there was never any possibility of them getting. That's my opinion. I'm genuinely interested to hear whether others agree with me on this, or if you think I'm being unreasonable.
“What are average, non-rapist men supposed to do about that? Just ignore their natural instincts to want it?”
Actually, that’s exactly what I expect. I don’t think it’s in any way unreasonable to expect it. My dog can overrule her natural instinct to eat anything that’s dropped on the floor near her and to chase any small furry thing that moves. I don’t understand why men continue to imply that they are just animals who can’t possibly be expected to control the urge to mate. I know this is a feminist blog, but I'm not in favour of dehumanising any group of people and I just don’t get why men do it to themselves with this argument.
Of course you’re allowed to be turned on by a pretty (whatever your definition of pretty may be) woman. If you weren't the human race would be in serious trouble. People get turned on by people. Not all people but the majority. I don’t expect you to be asexual. What I do think I and every other human being deserve from you is the ability to control how you act on that attraction. Do I punch misogynists in the face when I get the urge? No, I don’t. See? I didn't allow my anger to result in a violent reaction. So why is it okay for men to shirk any responsibility not to damage their fellow human beings because of a primitive instinct?
“Why do we allow them to do it?”
Oh. My. God. Someone's about to choke on his own privilege. It baffles me that men can talk this way without hearing the superiority they're awarding themselves. You know what? You 'allow' it because you have zero right to control it. Zero. None. We don't try to tell you how you may dress; no way is it your call to tell women what we can wear or in what circumstances to wear it. Unless she's wearing a top with chariot-style blades attached to the shoulders or a miniskirt made of buzzsaws, I don't believe the way a woman dresses can possibly have any violent effect on you. Dressing provocatively is not, or should not be, a crime. I don't think men realise how much control they already have over the way women dress, even unintentionally. Think about it: men are free to wander around the streets topless all summer long, with absolutely no thought as to whether they're making anyone else uncomfortable. If a woman did the same, how long do you think it would be before she was either assaulted or arrested for public indecency? And why do you think that is? Is it because other women can't handle the sight of breasts? I don't think so somehow. We somehow manage not to tackle you to the ground in public when you take your shirts off*. Why can't we ask the same of you?
"...there are some acts listed that are part of normal sex between consenting partners. "Girls love being tied up . . . it gives them the chance to be the helpless victim." That's true of some women. Some women will go to bed with a man on the first date and like this kind of thing."
First, yes, there are all sorts of rough, even violent, practices that can be part of enjoyable, consensual sex. I make no pretence of understanding the attractions of all of them, but - hey, I don't need to. It's none of my business. Whatever floats your boat. That said, I do have a couple of problems here.
One problem is the implication that if some girls like being tied up, we all do - maybe the rest of us are just too frigid to bring it up? Okay, that was me unfairly putting words in the commenter's mouth. But the point remains, that several of these statements are promoting an image of women that suggests all women want to be treated roughly at least some of the time. And that's just not true. And it's a much more damaging assumption than the opposite.
What's this 'chance to be the helpless victim' thing all about? Is that a thing? Maybe it is. I obviously can't speak for anyone's kinks but mine.
I just don't want to go home with a guy and have him immediately assume that I'm okay with being tied up. Bondage requires trust. How much trust does a guy think he deserves on a first date?
"How do you reconcile normal sexual behaviour with the same exact words or acts being used in a way that makes women think you are objectifying them or encouraging non-consensual sex?”
Yeah, it's a problem, isn't it? This is one of the ways misogyny screws everyone, not just women. It can be very difficult not to be defensive and mistrustful when you're so used to being objectified and treated as though men have a right to expect what they want of you. It's difficult to negotiate functional social interactions against that backdrop and there isn't an easy over-night, one-size-fits-all solution. The answer, as best as I can suggest, is to be sensitive to the feelings of the women you interact with.Get to know whether they enjoy dirty talk and rough sex before engaging in it. Don't objectify. Don't slut-shame. Or prude-shame. Treat women as humans and equals rather than tools for your sexual gratification. And confront other men when you see or hear them doing it. That way, we can gradually develop an environment where women, and everyone else for that matter, can feel safe to express their sexual preferences and we don't need to fear misunderstandings resulting in assault. If that sounds like too much effort, you may need to re-evaluate your own attitudes.
* I need to state for the record that I am well aware that men are sometimes raped by women. I don't mean to trivialise or artificially rarefy that fact. It remains the case, however, that the vast majority of rapes and sexual assaults are perpetrated by men against women.