22 January 2013

What does our gut reaction to the word "rape" say about our subconscious beliefs about women's agency?

[NOTE: This article is longer than the typical blog post.  As an MS Word document it comes to about 30 pages.  Much shorter than a book, but longer than a magazine article.  Its probably better to think of it as an internet based paper, and not expect to read the entire thing straight through in one sitting.  I have broke it into 5 parts to facilitate that.
Also, if it isn't obvious enough from the title, its a very sensitive subject.  I am definitely not trying to offend or upset, but I am deliberately trying to be real, which means not being "politically correct" or sensitive for the sake of sensitivity.]

A friend of mine sent me a link to an internet blog article recently:


I read it, it was interesting and insightful and honest and unfortunately rare in its open-mindedness and candor.  I didn’t know when I read it,  but apparently it was read by a great many people, many of whom did not share that opinion of it. 
It was reasonably infamous among feminist bloggers, and induced quite a number of responses - none of which I’ve read. 
I did, however, take several days to go back and read the comment thread in its entirety.  The comment thread was surprisingly thoughtful for an internet discussion on a topic that causes intense negative gut reactions and has generated plenty of controversy, one which people are passionate and angry about. 
So much of the discussion was so good already that I had nothing to add.  
The first three pages are almost entirely filled with reasonable, open-minded people having a back and forth conversation on really difficult topics.  From all appearances these are regulars to the site, readers and contributors.  On page three the sort of knee-jerk responses that you would expect for the topic finally begin appearing, and it appears as though few of the new commenters took the time to read the existing comments before adding their own.  Not to say that intelligent conversation does not continue, it does all the way to the end, only that the ‘TL;DR – still have an opinion’ comments start becoming more common, - no doubt as the article began to be read and popularized more and more.
If you are interested in the topic, and have a few hours to kill, I recommend reading all of the comments from the beginning.

Though much of what I would have said was addressed, some very important things weren’t, and that’s what inspired this essay that you are reading right now.

One of the most important things I got out of reading the comments was seeing how strongly and instantly so many people made absolute judgments against the protagonist of the story, without needing to know any of the untold details of the situation. 
Even those that pointed out potential mitigating factors always went of their way to say “but, obviously, it was still totally wrong”.  Then someone else would come along and say “this is cut and dry – this guy is a selfish creep, he knew what he was doing, end of story.” 
Maybe they just have very poor imaginations. 
But I don’t think that’s it.  I think its really more that we have all been socially conditioned to have certain absolute reactions to certain topics, and that those reactions aren’t based so much on logic or reality or harm to others, they are just based on drilling a message into each person at a young age, lifelong repetition, and the fact that everyone around us acts horrified at the same thing.

In fact what I found most interesting, most inspiring of a response, was not the original article at all.  The most interesting thing is the commenters themselves. 
The possibilities I’ll point out a bit later seemed fairly obvious to me, at least as possibilities, on first reading.  Yet for so very many others these possibilities did not even cross their minds.  Is it merely a lack of imagination?  Well, even among the reasonable, thoughtful, open-minded commenters who had long back and forth dialogue, only one, it seems, considered any such possibilities… and even when that person suggested it, no one, not even the people involved in a conversation with him, ever acknowledged it.  Other than that one, even though we were never told as much, everyone assumed the protagonist was fully conscious and aware of his actions, and aware of the lack of consciousness of the woman he was with.  The author, without ever confirming to us that he knew (or even that she believed he did), spoke about it as if it were a given, after having skipped over the crucial few moments preceding the event in question in the story.  And on the basis of that assumption, most felt justified in drawing absolute conclusions. 
And these were the GOOD comments.  The bad ones occurred on other blog posts written in response to this one, and they included multiple death threats against the author of the post, who was not only not there when it happened, but unambiguously condemned her friend’s actions from the moment she heard of them and without exception ever after.  She was condemned for even asking the question of why he did it, and for humanizing a person who is, in fact, a human.


Most American’s eat mammals, yet most will be horrified at the thought of eating a dog or cat.  Few will change their opinion of which animals are ok to eat even after having been informed that pigs are actually more intelligent than either of our usual pets.
Most people feel incest is immoral between two fully consenting adults, even if they are careful about birth control or are of the same gender.

People find anyone interested in viewing child porn to be morally detestable, even if that person never acts on that interest, even if they do not film it, do not pay for it (thereby encouraging its production), and do not share it (thereby supposedly spreading the interest).  The mere fact that they own and view it in the privacy of their own home, which does not affect any other person in any way, is both legally, and in the minds of many, morally, a crime.
There are a great many people who find the suggestion that, in order to avoid overpopulation (which will likely cause all surviving humans to have excruciatingly horrible lives someday), we may have to find a way to limit individuals ability to reproduce at will.  Having children should be a right, most say, end of story.  
Well, any time anything seems that cut and dry to you, any time your immediate reaction is righteous indignation or moral outrage, there is a very high chance that you are at least partially wrong, that you have blinders put up. 
When you have a strong and immediate reaction, and form an opinion which is unchangeable even in the light of new information or new possibilities, that opinion is not actually coming from the situation at hand. It is coming from something in your past, be it an experience or something taught to you.

A whole lot of people see it as morally unacceptable for one person to initiate sex with the other if one is asleep even if the sleeping partner has EXPLICITLY given permission beforehand.  They feel this strongly and without any room for flexibility.  Now granted, that is most certainly not what happened in the case of the blog article.  But having this opinion makes it impossible to even talk about implied consent, and whether getting into bed naked with a person you have been verbally and physically suggestive and seductive with might constitute it. 

So the very first thing that has to be established, before a sane discussion can go any further, is what morality actually means.  If you are religious, and morality is something you get word-for-word out of a book, we will just have to agree to disagree, and that’s that.  For the rest of us, hopefully we can agree that morality is rooted in harm or help done to sentient beings.  That can get complex, but in order for something to be “wrong”, someone or something has to be getting harmed in someway.  If there are things you have accepted as wrong as a given, this may mean needing to reevaluate some long-held-but-never-questioned beliefs.

All throughout this essay you are going to notice a common theme.  We, society, have all sorts of implicit and explicit rules and beliefs and patterns of interaction, and they generally apply to similar situations even if the specifics change.  But nearly anytime the topic is sex, the things which would otherwise apply all get thrown out.  Sex is always supposed to be a special case.  No one ever says this.  They don’t have to.  It apparently goes without saying.  Everyone learns it subconsciously, implicitly, and it is so universal as to be completely invisible.

For thousands of years, sex in all but the most carefully controlled circumstances – one man, one woman, in a religiously or government sanctioned committed partnership, for the express purpose of reproduction – was considered sinful.
Fortunately, times have changed, and many now accept the legitimate (non-religious) version of morality I mentioned above, and that means that pretty much anything people choose to do is ok, so long as no one gets hurt (unless everyone involved is into BDSM, in which case even that might not apply!)

But humanities collective conscious had been convinced that sex was a Really Big Freggin Deal, and the emergence of atheism and birth control couldn’t very well change that overnight (or even in 60 years), so in order to reconcile sex not being a Sin with it still being a RBFD, in many minds it became Sacred instead. 
Even those who don’t consciously think it must be either Sin or Sacred, still – apparently – hold that it is a RBFD, an act for which, by virtue of its Big Deal-ness, things that apply to every other area of life don’t apply.

As one commenter pointed out, a stranger coming up and kissing you at a bus stop would be considered sexual assault.  Kissing someone you have recently starting dating while they are asleep might be a bit creepy.  Kissing a spouse while they were asleep would universally be regarded as perfectly ok.  One act which, when done in one context without consent is assault, but that same exact action, done within another context – even though one party is unable to give consent - is considered ok. 
Change the word “kiss” to “sex”, suddenly all of the rules change.

For this particular case, the one described in the blog post, there have been a few possibilities suggested in the comments which, if they happen to be true, would change the context of the events we do know about.  Because “rape” and “rapist” are such charged words, as soon as people hear them they have already formed an opinion.  When an opinion gets formed in advance, if details get left out, people will automatically fill in those details to fit the story they made up in advance.  And so quite a few people in the comments are able to say with absolute confidence things like ‘he knew it wasn’t ok while he was doing it, he just didn’t care’, when none of us were there, not even the author, and lots of details were left out on purpose. 

I’m not saying any of these things actually happened.  But nothing in the story suggests them to be at all unlikely either. 

  • It is entirely possible that they had begun to have sex before either passed out – and that, due to their intoxication, neither remembered it.  Or they could have woken up at some point, begun having sex, and one (or both) passed back out.  It is easy to forget things that you do in between sleeps. 
    Surely it is not uncommon to, for example, mention to your partner (or they mention to you) something about a brief conversation you had after one of you got up to use the restroom at night, and the other doesn’t remember it?  And that’s without any drugs or alcohol. Similarly, it is even entirely possible that there was verbal consent, but again, that neither remembers it, given the situation of mutual intoxication.

  • It is entirely possible that the two of them were completely naked, both aroused, and spooning, and he was in a position to get inside of her, either before or during sleep, without actively trying to. 

  • It is possible that he was not aware that she was unconscious – anyone who has slept with another person more than a few times has thought the other person was awake because of the way they turned over, or moved or breathed, and it turned out they were asleep, or thought they were asleep because they were perfectly still, but it turned out they were awake.  Again, that mistake is easy to make when you are not intoxicated.  It would be a lot easier to make when you are drunk.

We don’t know what happened right before they lost consciousness, we don’t know how physically the act began, we don’t know how long they were out in between. 
Before passing an absolute judgment, on not just what term to use to describe the act, but also on the person who committed it, there are a lot of questions that have to be asked.

What we know of the situation is one side of the story, told from someone who was drunk when it happened, possibly days, possibly weeks after the fact.  Of his side, we only know those details he shared with his friend. Then, that second hand story was deliberately filtered further by her as an author, to make a particular point in a socio-political essay. 
Not only do we not know whether any of the possibilities above might be true or partially true, we don’t even know if the author knows the answer to those questions to begin with. The author never answered the question of whether or not he may have had reason to think that she was awake.  We don’t even know if the two people involved know the details of what happened immediately before.  Both were some level of intoxicated and semi-conscious in the moments immediately preceding actual sex.

Aside from the validity (or lack there of) of the 3 possibilities raised above, before making any judgment on anyone involved, I would really like to know who took off her clothes, and ideally, when and why.  This did not take place in a nudist colony.  One could make an argument that nudity shouldn’t have anything to do with sexuality, but this is the society and culture we live in, and the reality is that it does.  If she went to sleep wearing jeans, and she was so deeply passed out that he was able to take her jeans off without that waking her, then yes, it would be a clear cut case of deliberate rape.  But if she, having basically told him she wanted to have sex with him at some point, made out with him, took off all of her clothes, got in bed with him, put herself in a position that would facilitate intercourse, that could very reasonbly be construed as implied consent. Then, say, at some point she moved and pressed herself against him - maybe she does this in her sleep, maybe she wakes up and does it but falls back asleep right after and doesn’t remember doing it.  It doesn’t matter, because she is facing away from him anyway, not to mention its probably dark and he wouldn’t be able to see if her eyes were open even if they were.  This action on her part wakes him up, and, given that this position is a potential intercourse position, he thinks this is her non-verbal way of saying she’s finally ready. It is really not a stretch to say he could have considered that non-verbal consent.  He discovers that she is already wet, and she reacts to his touch, which confirms his understanding.  This whole scenario could play out between any two people anytime, but considering he is drunk, making the mistake of assuming these actions were implied consent seems practically inevitable.

In fact, almost any living human would understand those actions – if she had in fact been awake – to be very clear non-verbal communication. Even if one has learned and chosen to apply the rule of not acting without explicit verbal communication to avoid misunderstandings, the meaning of those actions would still be understood.

There is NOTHING in the story, as we are told it, to make it seem an unlikely possibility.  In fact, the way I read it, it sounds like a very likely possibility.  Obviously I don’t know, I wasn’t there, just like the other commenters passing judgment, just like the author of the article.  It is absolutely realistic to think that that did happen that way.

What does it say about us, about our assumptions around gender and sexuality, that (with one exception) these possibilities did not even occur to anyone? 
What does it mean imply about society that no one even thought to ask the question?

It is possible that he intended to wake her up BY having sex with her.  One would have to be pretty far gone for something like that to not wake you up. 
In which case, if she wasn’t into it, she could tell him right at that moment to stop, which means she maintains the ability to withdraw the implicit consent given earlier at any time.  That standard is met.  There is nothing in the story to indicate that he was trying to move as slowly and quietly as possible in order to prevent waking her up. 
Not surprisingly, she did wake up, and in the original post we don’t know whether she got into it and continued or not.
In the comments the author does eventually say that the woman in the story, upon waking up, did not resist nor verbally ask him to stop.
This is relevant! 
Because if she didn’t say no even after she woke up, that means he could reasonably have believed it was confirmation of his interpretation of her implicit consent. 

Anyone who has read the comments – not to mention pretty much everyone who has had sex at least once or twice in their life – knows that the standard of "explicit verbal consent made immediately preceding each instance of escalation of physical intimacy" is fairly ridiculous and absolutely unrealistic. 
Nobody, if they stop and think about it, actually believes that this will ever happen, or even should.  There’s this thing called “non-verbal communication”.  I’m not talking about “signals” as in extended eye contact or flirtatiousness; I’m talking about making out with someone, and then taking off all of your clothes and gesturing toward the bed.  Any normal human would understand that.  At that point, if you mean anything other than the obvious, it is on you to verbalize what you don’t want to happen.

We are all adults here.  At some point it becomes a little immature to expect that you can do anything you want and rely on those around you to take responsibility for taking care of you.  
Combining the standard that it is the responsibility of the proactive partner to obtain consent, along with the standard that the person granting it may retract it at any time, taken to its logical conclusion, this would suggest that whichever person is currently “doing the work” is obligated to check in literally constantly with a question along the lines of “is this still ok?”  That is obviously ludicrous – everyone can accept that at the point where the activity has already begun, if one partner changes their mind, it is their responsibility to clearly communicate that they want to stop.  It is not their partner’s responsibility to take care of them by reading their mind; it is their own responsibility to take care of themselves.  If, and only if, the partner willfully ignored an explicit request to stop could they be accused of doing something wrong.  Why, if it is the non-consenting partner’s responsibility to communicate their desires clearly during the act, would we expect any less before hand?

That whole last paragraph was somewhat abstract.

Lets say a person is standing on the freeway off ramp with a hand made cardboard sign about being on hard times. You are the first driver in line at the red light, and you reach into your wallet, roll down your window and hold out a $5 bill.  Would you expect the homeless person to be responsible to say the words “are you intending to give me this money?” before they took it?  Would you accuse them of theft, for taking your $5?  Or is it reasonable for the person to figure out from the situational cues that your non-verbal actions constituted consent for them to take the money out of your hands? 
If you were just getting money out because you were going to pay for parking in a few blocks, and you put your hand out the window because you wanted to feel the breeze, it would have been on YOU to make a point of saying to the person that you were not offering it to them.
Why should the rules be any different if the context is sex instead of money?

Consider this story from the comments:

Honest Questions says:
… I knew this guy once, he told the following horror story: Most fucked up encounter he ever had… met a girl at a bar. They go home. Both drunk. She says clearly before they start fooling around they can do everything except intercourse, and he says yes. They start fooling around. She starts doing whatever, getting him more and more excited, still all the while saying I don’t want sex (intercourse), I don’t want sex. He says yeah, it’s all right. She’s on top. She’s got ahold of his dick, manipulating it against herself (yes, “right down there on that spot” if you know what I mean) and she’s screaming and fucked up and drunk saying “I don’t want sex!” and he’s like Well what the fuck then? And then SHE pushes it into HER. This story ends with HER bouncing up and down on HIM screaming all the while I don’t want sex, i don’t want sex!
Now is it possible he’s totally fucking lying? Yeah. I’m not friends with the dude anymore for unrelated reasons. But the story stands out. Whenever he told it, he was never braggin about it–i could see that clearly. He was fuckin disturbed by this. Scared, you know? Not terrified or anything but the kind of fear that gives you pause–what was the right move here? Fuck if he knew. Fuck if *I* know. The easy answer is stay out of bars. Let’s all pause and sit back and see how many people reading this are gonna follow THAT advice…

I’m not a betting person, but I’d put down money that not only is this a true story, but it is not entirely uncommon. 
By the standards of many of the commenters (and possibly the law) – of needing explicit verbal consent and that “no means no”, then the guy in the story above raped her.  Both this, and the outraged reactions, the willingness to condemn someone as a rapist while knowing extremely little about the details, they are both symptoms of the same cultural repression we have around sex.  As far as we have come, we still have a very, very, long way to go. 

Anytime we want to effectively make changes to anything, we have to really understand the way things are currently first, and to understand that, we need to know the history of how it came to be.  If you don’t look at what is, you won’t be able to figure out the best approach for creating what you want to be.  Sometimes that means looking at something with as little prejudice as possible, and admitting things that you would really prefer not to be true, would rather not have to admit.

Most people alive today never lived in a world without the technical innovations of effective birth control methods and safe abortion. 
This allows us to imagine that sexuality is a matter of pleasure and/or love first and foremost, which just happens to also have the side effect of reproduction.  Our culture and even language reinforce this idea.  For example, we refer to any pleasurable genital contact as forms of “sex”, when, technically, sex is a process of allowing the two complementary gamete cells a chance to come together.  Anything which could not result in pregnancy is, in the strictest, most literal sense of the word, not actually sex at all.  The entire reason sexual contact is pleasurable is because without incentive to engage in it, nobody would.  Any specie which did not have a drive toward reproduction would die out in a single generation. 
This is in no way to suggest that people “should” only have sex for reproduction.  It is just an observation of biological fact.  And its important to keep that fundamental fact in mind when considering any of the more complex areas of human sexuality. Otherwise one may come to conclusions which don’t make sense, and that can lead to action plans that are not effective in the real world.  One example of this is abstinence-only sex-ed, or a complete lack of sex-ed all together.  Some people choose to believe that the only reason teens are interested in sex is because they are told that they should be, that they wouldn’t even think of it on their own. 

On the flip side, the author of the blog post that inspired me to write actually expresses a similar opinion in suggesting that its because of “generations of training” that individuals hold “the goal of getting dressed and going out is to get the guy or get the girl and hook up or get lucky.”  Later, she implies that culture is the reason “…that we sell sex as the reason for everything—from what car to buy, to why to work out to what clothes will help us ‘get ahead’. In our world, sex is the end game. Period.” … “We need to teach people that sex, as awesome as it is, is not the goal.

All of these quotes are, of course, taken from the context of the events in the story.  But they are still illustrative of this idea that individuals are obsessed with sex because of something taught to them by peers and media. 
People aren’t obsessed with sex because of images in media, or because of cultural bias.  Pretending that means any theories or strategies for combating sexual violence are guaranteed to fail.  Men see sex as a goal, or women’s bodies as prizes, because without sex with women, the DNA which makes them who they are dies with them, and even though they may have no conscious awareness of it, ultimately everyone’s genes has the final say in their most underlying motivations. 
We can’t “teach” people that sex isn’t the goal, any more than we can teach people that eating food isn’t a goal when we are hungry.  We have come preprogrammed by nature to feel instinctively that it is a goal.  We, as a specie, would not be here to think about it and have this discussion if we weren’t preprogrammed to feel it was a goal.  And if 2000+ years of repression by the Christian church never succeeded in eliminating the human sex drive, there is really zero hope of moving in that direction in the modern world.

The belief that an interest in sex is something cultural, rather than natural, is perhaps one of the larger factors behind the almost universal (but completely wrong) view that rape is not actually about sex for the perpetrator, but purely about power, dominance and control, and that the violence accompanying it is necessarily part of the appeal.  The author gets it right on this one: “The question is, why is it happening?  In order to get to that answer we need to first abolish the idea that all rape is about power and violence. It’s not.” 
In some cases, it certainly is true that violence and dominance add something positive to the experience for a rapist. In a great many cases, probably not.  If it were actually true that it the only appeal was forcing one's will upon another, then any time a potential victim consented to sex, the potential rapist would lose all interest.  That obviously doesn't happen.  People have sex drives.  Some (especially males) have very strong sex drives.    To those whose isn’t so strong, sex may seem like just a pleasant thing to do now and then.  To others, it may feel like a necessity.  If it were easy for some people (mostly, but not exclusively, men) to take it or leave it, prostitution as an industry would barely exist, if at all.  Gathering food, protecting one’s body from harm, and having sex, are the most fundamental drives of any multicellular organism.
In order to understand rape, we first have to admit to ourselves that at some point in our lives we have felt a desire for sex.  Not just a desire for human contact, or for love or acceptance.  It’s not a desire to “express your feelings physically”.  It’s horniness.  It’s natural.  

Today almost everyone will object to that claim, they will insist both that it is about power and control, and that it isn't about sex.  If that was true, then why would sex be a part of it at all?  If one person were to assault or kidnap another, or wrestle them to the ground and hold them there for 20 minutes, or twist their arm and make them say "uncle", then they have established dominance over another human being.  That doesn't happen. 
In the vast majority of cases where a potential victim used any form of physical resistance, whether punching, kicking, or biting, or simply running away, the resistance is effective in preventing the rape from occurring.  Given that the average man is stronger than the average woman, one might expect physical resistance to make little difference.  Given the additional factors that most rapes occur by someone known to the victim, in one of their homes, there are frequently psychological reasons why women submit.  Given that in over half of all rapes the victim was intoxicated, attempts at resistance might be less effective.  However, even considering those factors, when the victim fights back, it is effective 85% of the time. If it was about really about violence and proving dominance, then you would expect that the victim fighting back would add to the appeal of the experience - a cat doesn't play with a dead mouse because its no fun if the mouse doesn't try to get away.
The rapist, however, is not looking for a fight.  They are looking for easy sex. 

Most of us would never consider raping someone, no matter how horny we got.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t imagine what it might feel like to be someone who would.  Most people would never punch someone in the face either.  Most wouldn’t break into someone else’s house or mug them at gunpoint.  But I can understand why some people do. 
When someone breaks into another person’s house and steals their TV, nobody claims that the real reason they did it is because they wanted to establish dominance over the person who lived there.  The motivation for stealing is obvious – they want the material value of something that someone else has.  They believe it will be easier to take it from someone else rather than to earn it themselves.  If, for whatever reason, a person felt like getting another person to voluntarily have sex with them was not a realistic option, that person might be tempted to try to get it by whatever means necessary, up to and including by force. 
Don’t misunderstand me.  The fact that something is rooted in nature does not make it inevitable that it be acted out.  Violence is natural, and we as a society have decided it is beneficial to everyone to take proactive steps to reduce it.  That means billions of people all individually repressing any violent instincts they may have.  And, though there are exceptions, for the most part it works.  The vast majority of humans in the modern world are not violent.  All throughout history the rates of violence have dropped, they are currently at an all time low, and are likely to continue dropping.  This isn’t something that has just happened, it’s something that we collectively have made happen.  In-group loyalty is completely natural, and when people are thinking about family or neighbors, they imagine it to be a good thing, but it is the basis for nationalistic wars, racism, anti-immigrant sentiments, all forms of thought where some people are “other”, and “other” is ok to harm.  But over time America, and (I believe(?)) the world have been on a trajectory of increased tolerance and acceptance, in direct defiance of our natural prejudices. 
To admit something is natural, or may be based on instincts, is not to condone it.  The first step is to acknowledge what is, if you want to effectively change the world into what it should be.  Sometimes that means admitting something that we really don’t want to be true – like, for example, that maybe the reason some people commit rape is the same reason a person takes anything without permission: because they really really want sex, right in the moment, and it isn’t being given to them willingly. 
Nobody wants to believe that because it “reduces” sex to an animalistic behavior, when we want to think of it – of ourselves as humans – as “higher”, more meaningful, more beautiful, more noble.  But to admit that sex is a basic instinctual behavior doesn’t cheapen sex or deny its ties to the feeling of love anymore than admitting we need calories to prevent dieing denies the culinary arts its place.  Sex is neither sinful nor sacred.  If we can stop pretending that it has to be at least one of those things, we can look at what the most realistic likely motivator for taking it without asking might be.  We don’t have to come up with justifications of “rape culture” or sexism or privilege, just like there is no need to invoke capitalism to try to explain why some people steal, or to point to video games and movies as the cause of violence.
These instincts are in all of us, and the only difference is some of us do a better job repressing them than others.  Aside from true sociopaths, everyone tries to repress them.  Aside from the occasional saint, nobody succeeds 100% of the time.

This seems intuitively obvious, but we don’t want to admit it to ourselves, because we have all felt horny at some point in our lives.  If that is the driving force behind rape, then that would imply that we ourselves could be a potential rapist!  That makes it much harder to divide people into distinct categories of “good” and “evil”, which is a very comforting way to look at the world.  To admit that on some level every human (including one’s self) has a physical craving for sex challenges the notion that sex is sacred, not merely a biological act, but something with a spiritual component. Something tied to love not just via oxytocin and vasopressin, but by something more meaningful.  If sex is just sex, then that reduces us to level of “mere” animals, and we want to believe that we are more important than that, more special.  And if sex is sacred, then that means that anyone who would “take” it without permission is not merely selfish and criminal, as the burglar is, but fundamentally an evil person.

Rape is almost universally considered the worst possible crime.  Only it and murder are potentially capital offenses – which means a rape like the one is the blog post could be punished more harshly than an act of assault and battery so serve that it left the victim permanently paralyzed.  I doubt any serious argument can be made that the physical or emotional trauma of the events in the blog post come remotely close to the physical and emotional trauma of being beaten to within an inch of your life and being left permanently disabled, and yet, while people will condemn both, the latter rarely generates nearly as strong of a response.
The reason the woman in the story quoted just above behaved so irrationally, and the reason why we automatically consider rape in any degree worse than any other crime, are both due to the collective sub-conscious belief that a woman’s sexual purity is her most valuable asset, both to herself, as well as being what makes her valuable to others.

On a basic primal level this is understandable.  It is not due to a history of patriarchy.  It predates patriarchy, by a whole lot. It is due to the fact that humans take 9 months to gestate, they are produced one at a time, and after birth they require an absolute minimum of one year of nursing, and then more than a dozens years of continued care before they are able to be independent.  No other animal requires as much investment for each individual off-spring.  Given how much investment human reproduction requires, in a world without birth control a fertile female needs to be extremely selective about who she mates with.  Since she only gets a few shots at reproduction, she has to make every single mating count.  Human males, while in most cultures having a tendency to stick around and help raise their off-spring, don’t necessarily have any minimum commitment to prevent their child from dying.  They can count on the mother to do that.  And from this biological fact lies the origin of the classic “double standard”.  Of almost all sex based double standards.  It also explains why the word “rape” even exists, as a very specific sub-category of assault.  It is not merely assault which in someway involves sexuality.  Rape classically refers only to a male putting his penis inside of a female’s vagina against her will.  Forcing someone to have anal sex is not rape (it’s forced sodomy).  Drugging, threatening, or tying down a male, and enveloping him with ones genitals against his will constitutes felony sexual assault, but it is not “rape”.  We are not consciously aware of it, but the historical/subconscious reason for the distinction is because having anal sex with someone, or forcing a man to have sex, will not result in the victim having to deal with 9 months of unintended pregnancy and then either abandoning the child, or raising a child whose genetics were not custom chosen.

The legal concept of rape, though, wasn't designed to protect women.  By the time of formal law, marriage as an institution had been invented.  Instead of two people choosing to stay together out of mutual affection and/or benefit, marriage means that some external authority, be it religious or government, both officially sanctions the relationship, and mandates that it continue.
This forced commitment creates a similar risk for males that exists due to biology for females – unintended pregnancy can obligate him to waste resources on raising children – only in his case, in addition to not being able to choose the timing of them, if his partner has sex with someone else, he may be duped into raising children which don’t even share his DNA.
When laws were being created, the concept of "rights" hadn't been conceived of yet, and women were not really considered to be people.  The rape laws dating back at least to the Old Testament were explicit in defining rape as a property crime against a woman's father or husband, for making his property (her) worthless (not a virgin; i.e. potentially carrying another man's child).  The only role her apparent consent or lack there of played (and this was determined by whether she screamed loud enough) was in determining whether or not she should be executed along with the rapist.  Any restitution for the crime though, was strictly to the father or husband.  Times have changed, but the special legal category which has no equivalent for any other aspect of life remains. 

These factors explain the ultimate root of much of our collective bias and beliefs, patterns and behaviors around sexuality, but understanding it does not make anything more or less right.

Because it isn’t ancient times.  It is today.  Birth control does exist.  Abortions do exist.  And having successfully decoupled sex from reproduction we can and do use it for our own pleasure – no different from how we have been able to decouple food from nutrition by inventing things like ice cream.  In addition to using it for pleasure, we use sex for various social reasons, manipulating in both ourselves and our partners the release of love-and-commitment-enhancing hormones oxytocin and vasopressin.  So long as nobody gets hurt, there is nothing wrong with any of that.

But culture progresses much more slowly than technology, and somewhere in the very back of all of our minds, we are still thinking that rape is destroying a woman’s most valuable asset – that of not being pregnant.

In order to move past that ingrained belief, we first have to acknowledge that its there, and then we have to figure out all of the other faulty beliefs that are based on it.


(This essay is long by internet standards.  I believe that these issues are so deeply ingrained that they are invisible, and therefore exposing them requires a lot of background, a lot of examples, a lot of data, and consequently a lot of writing.  But I also feel it is extremely important. Feel free to bookmark it, and come back and read more another time.  To help make up for the length, I have broken it up into 5 separate pages.  To continue on, please click "PAGE 2", just below. Comments are allowed - encouraged!- on the final page, but only if you actually read everything up to there.)

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