26 June 2014

An email response on feminism

Glad I met you, glad you followed up.
There's nothing makes me respect someone more than when they make counter-points, I have to concede some of them :)

First of all, I don't really disagree with anything you said.  I make this disclaimer cause I know that sometimes the way I frame discussions comes across as argumentative.  I mean it more as dialogue - its just that the most interesting and useful revelations generally come from hashing out the details of conflict.  Where two people agree, there isn't much more to talk about.

So, that being said - when I spoke of the woman as victim meme, I wasn't referring specifically to violence or any specific thing.  It comes up everywhere that gender is an issue.  This most recently came up in a discussion of a case where two college students were both extremely drunk, had consensual sex, and a week later the female was convinced by a older school staff member to file rape charges against her partner.  Of course, this isn't particularly unusual, but in this particular case, she had told a friend, as well as texting another friend and the male partner her explicit intentions to have sex with him just minutes before hand.  So there was actual documented evidence  a) of her intent/consent b) that she was conscious, knew what was happening, and coherent enough to write intelligible texts .  There were also multiple witnesses, including older staff, who saw the male partner moments earlier and confirmed that he was drunk enough to meet the standards of unable to consent.  The police dropped the charges, but the college's standard was that a drunk person can not consent, (therefor her consent was invalid), and at the same time that being drunk does not remove responsibility to not commit sexual assault (which it automatically was since she couldn't legally consent), and he was expelled from school.   
The problem is, by their own standards she was also guilty of raping him, but pressing charges against her for it was never even a consideration by anyone involved.

And this is pretty much the default, everywhere.  If two people both voluntarily get drunk and have consensual sex, this is almost universally seen as the male statutory raping the female.  I could be mistaken, but I am fairly certain the grand total cases of a woman being convicted of having sex with a drunk man is zero.  Ever.  Which means either men never have heterosexual sex after drinking, or we (society) has never fully let go of the deep seated assumption that every sex act is one that a man does to a woman.
You see the same thing just in our language - you don't say that food "penetrates" your mouth, or a bird "penetrating" the hand is worth two "penetrating" the bush, you don't penetrate your house or car when you go inside them.  The word penetration means something forcing its way in where it doesn't belong: a needle penetrates the skin, a spy penetrates the castle's defenses.  
But there is absolutely no reason we couldn't frame the sex act as the female enveloping the male - as something she is actively doing to him.
You can see this sexist assumption in the genre of femdom porm.  Instead of the dominate female tying the guy down, blindfold and gagging him, and riding him for her own enjoyment, she invariably dons a strap-on and gives him anal.  In other words, the actual physical act of "penetration" is taken as default interchangeable with "dominant".  But this comes from culture, not from biology.

I think when we start with that as the basis of understanding and framing sex itself, that the physical, biological reality automatically implies a dominance / submission relationship, that it is inherently him fucking her, literally everything else stems from that.  All the rest of our assumptions and beliefs, about gender relations, about violence, about porn, about prostitution, about harassment, about age of consent, about intoxicated consent, all of it has that underlying assumption as its basis, and I think it is just as influential in the beliefs and arguments of feminists as it is in the most misogynistic - possibly more; at least the guy who thinks women are evil succubi seductresses assigns them full agency!

So, yeah, long explanation to say I wasn't speaking specifically to rape victims.  

I get what you are saying about instinct.
That part, about fighting back, is directed at anti-rape activists, not the victims themselves.  For many years (and probably still) many have actively, explicitly, discouraged women from fighting back on the grounds that they are "more likely to get hurt" by escalating the situation.  This belief doesn't stem from statistics though - the statistics clearly and consistently say that those who fight are both less likely to get raped AND less likely to get physically hurt.
I think the reason they don't want to promote that knowledge is that it conflicts with the story that "rapists don't want sex as much as they are sadists who crave power".  They want to promote that idea because its easier to say "those people over there" are sick people, to frame it as good and evil, then it is to admit that humans are animals, we are driven by food sex safety and social contact and we all have the capacity to do hurtful things. 
No different from how we universally revile Nazi's, even though the Stanford Prison Experiment and the Milgram electroshock experiment taught us without a doubt that the same could happen anywhere, that the majority of any population will be "evil" under the right conditions.  The activists like to overlook, ignore, or explain away that rapists unconsciously target women who are ovulating, implying that there is an evolutionary force at work, or that by far the greatest drops in rape Nationwide (probably worldwide, but I don't have that data) occurred concurrently with the rise of porn (first in the 80s with the VCR, then again in the 00s with the internet), clearly implying that some form of sexual release dulls the desire - both strong evidence that rape isn't about control, its actually about sex.  We (collectively) still want to believe that humans are created in the image of God, that we are better than animals, and that sex is something spiritual and holy and meaningful.  And, of course, we also don't want to have to reconsider the core of our gender roles.
Ugh, I am getting so off topic.  The topic is just so BIG!  

OK, my point was, "No means no" is disempowering.  It means that the potential rapist has the responsibility to choose not to act.  The victim's only power is verbal, and it is the potential rapist who is supposed to abide by it.  
As troubling as that is, there is another side to it.  It is false.  In one survey some years back, more than half of college age women admitted to saying "no" when they really wanted to proceed.  Most said that it gave them plausible deniability, that it was a way to avoid slut shaming (not necessarily in those words, but very clearly the meaning).  A number explicitly said they wanted their (male) partner to ignore their words, because they enjoyed the idea of him over powering her, or being too lustful to control himself.  Of course no one wants to literally be raped - but the fantasy of it is extremely common among women (some reports I've seen suggest being dominated is one of, if not the most common fantasy scenario among women - see the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey), and many want to set conditions to make it seem/feel that way.  I know this both from reading, and from personal experience (which I found incredibly creepy, incidentally!).  But no one wants to admit it or talk about it.  I don't believe society can make any progress until it does.  Its like southern states trying to avoid teen sex by avoiding talking about it.  It doesn't work.  It makes it worse.  
It doesn't matter how many times a college frat boy hears "no means no" from public service messages, if the message he's getting from his real life sex partners is "no is a yes that needs a little more convincing".  And sooner or later he's gonna encounter a woman who doesn't mean that, and that's when the problems occur.

Re: women being valued - I wasn't saying that society does value women. I was saying society doesn't value men either.  I was saying no individual is valued by "society".  In the big picture we are all expendable.  When people say society doesn't value women, the fact of specifying, of saying it that way, implies that society does value men, so that's where I point out that every able bodied man is potential cannon fodder as soon as a country or kingdom is threatened.  Men are expected to work at jobs they hate for the vast majority of hours they are awake in their lifetime to take care of their families - it was always a source of social stigma if they didn't, but now that we have the means it is legally enforced.  Just as easily as one can say (as they often do) that women are only "valued" for their role in making and raising babies, so too could you assert that men are only valued for their role in impregnating women and providing for offspring.  After all, at least as many women want children and grandchildren as men do.  
"Society" doesn't care about individual stuff like happiness or equality.  It just is.  Its a collection of millions of individuals, with their own self-interests - and half of them are female.  

Ultimately, there is no society without both sexes, not only existing, but meeting and coupling up. One thing I've noticed recently is that while many people are actively concerned with tempering hetero male aggressive behavior in seeking sex partners (buying free drinks with a plan, being generally manipulative, hitting on coworkers in the workplace, catcalling on the street, persistence in any context in the face of initial rejection) there isn't any effort to temper hetero female submissive behavior.  What is seen as overly aggressive is just a point on a scale of assertive.  There is no universal standard, and what one finds offensive or harassing another finds flattering or seductive.  And the majority of women, even feminists and activists, still expect the man to be assertive.  They expect him to ask her out, to move for the first kiss, to be dominate in bed.  And no one seems to see the correlation.  If men all stopped being assertive, and women don't start, then no one hooks up at all, and in a few decades there are no more humans.  As long as being assertive is the only way for sex to happen, men are going to keep doing it, and as long as that is the expectation and standard there are going to be some individuals who take things too far, who cross the blurred lines and move into the dark side of the grey area.

On a mostly unrelated note: I don't subscribe to the common notion that only people who are within a particular group can have useful insight into that group.  I strongly oppose it.  I will always listen to a white person's thoughts on race relations.  I would never try to shut them up on the grounds that they haven't personally experienced what they are talking about.  That's an ad hominem argument. A statement or argument is either valid or invalid, and the same statement made by a person of different demographics is equally as valid or not.  It doesn't become more or less accurate or profound or reasonable because of the speaker.  I think that's a bullshit cop-out that people who are wrong use to try to gain credibility.  I find that argument used almost exclusively along side righteous-indignation; and I believe that the mere feeling of righteous-indignation is a strong sign that a person is being highly biased and subjective, and has closed themself off to considering contradictory evidence.  The feeling of self-righteous indignation is the most extreme manifestation of the back-fire effect - it is the mind's defense against evidence that challenges the roots of an ideology that a person has adopted so completely that it has become a part of their own personal identity.  
I think when a person accepts that argument used against them (i.e. I'm white/male/cis, therefore "its not my place"), it stems from a combination of internalized guilt (by association) and sympathy for the strength of feeling being expressed by the person saying it to them.  But the strength of emotion has exactly zero correlation with likelihood of accuracy, and I think addressing hard issues often has to mean hurting people's feelings.

That said, I totally acknowledge your point about taking the reality of emotion into account in order to maximize effectiveness.
I try to take that into account, to an extent, and what I say in the moment, in person, with a person who is going through something is different from what I will say in a theoretical political conversation.  As far as what I write in my blog, I'm not good at being manipulative, and since nobody at all is saying some of the stuff I'm saying, or even anything similar, I feel like my best role is to just put the ideas out there, direct and complete as possible.  Many people will be offended, and/or will ignore it.  Hell, most won't read it to begin with.  And maybe now and then someone open-minded will stumble across it, and even if they don't accept it at first, maybe the seeds have been planted, and maybe they will look at things differently, if only a little.  That's the most I dream of accomplishing.  I have gotten a comment that I have completely changed someone's view on capitalism.  I am getting more and more hits from google from the keywords "femdom" and "feminism".  And occasionally people even read all 5 parts of my essay on societies perception of rape and its implications for societies view of female agency.  I don't know who, and no one comments, but I can see in the back-end data that some people read it to the end.  The people who would object most strongly would never read to the end - if they did I'd be getting hate mail.  So I think I may well be influencing people, even though my style is direct and harsh and unapologetic.  

But don't get me wrong - your words gave me pause.  I need to remember and keep in mind, and tweak where I can, to stay direct but be less harsh, to acknowledge emotions, in all their illogical power.  Its hard to do, and reminders are good for me.

lastly - for future reference: if you get me started on a topic, sometimes I write really long emails.  

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