Saturday, January 3, 2009

Dispatches from the Universe Where All Men Are Rapists

Oh dear. With friends like this, feminism doesn't need enemies. Thanks to this sharp takedown by Natalia Antonova, I checked out Maggie Hays' thoughts on rape, and I left with the feeling that Ms. Hays is living in a parallel universe to mine - one where men are the enemy and any woman who loves men is a traitor to the cause.

Did you know rape is the same as seduction? Here's what Ms. Hays originally wrote under the headline "Rape can take different forms":
- seduction: when a man persuades a woman to have sex with him, often subtly, through being kind, polite, chivalrous, etc.

- rape of our souls: when we, women, are not allowed to be ourselves because of having to conform to patriarchal feminine gender 'norms'. Whether we do it to "be liked" or not to be criticized, most of the time, we conform.
In response to comments - and after she'd apparently had a chance to think it over again, which is maybe scariest of all - Ms. Hays added:
Seduction is a form of male sexual exploitation of women. And I certainly do not condone when men screw women over, whether in an individual case or culturally. I will need to get back to this somehow, sometime: seduction does not feel like rape at all when a woman has fully accepted to submit to the patriarchy; that does not change the fact that patriarchal masochism is a destroyer of inner female energy. I think I should have called seduction 'a form of male sexual exploitation that intends to destroy female energy', but I will surely go back to that in a future post. ...

Seduction may not be exactly called rape, but it still generally does involve a man fucking a woman over and deceiving her. Damn! I've seen this happen to me and women friends so many times, I'm not crazy: I have heard them complaining about what assholes often men can be... Any form of sexual exploitation (even a subtler one) you don't really want to happen to you or that you feel shitty or depressed about the fact it has happened to you is a form of rape or male sexual exploitation of women somehow.
That's only adding nuance if you distinguish "rape" from "male sexual exploitation," which both the original post and her update gleefully fail to do. By the way, she does not use "seduction" as shorthand for "getting a woman shitty drunk so she can no longer consent to sex or say no." She includes kindness and politeness under its banner, for fuck's sake.

Now, if like me you think conflating all these things trivializes rape almost beyond recognition, you should go read Maggie Hays' original post (so you can see I'm not taking things out of context) and then check out Natalia's wonderful dissection of it. Here are a few of Natalia's juiciest bits:

The thing about seduction is - of course it can end up with you making choices that you may later regret. This goes for men and women. How many of us haven’t been charmed by a person who turned out to be a scumbag or asshole in one way or another? But the key word here is “choice.” I’m sorry, but the very definition of rape implies the absence of choice, one way or another.

Seduction is not coercion. A man who makes you feel like wringing out your panties is not a rapist by definition. Why the hell do I even need to point this out to anyone? ...

It’s true that women are supposed to regret their bad choices much more than men. What Maggie Hays is doing is essentially perpetuating this idiotic double standard, and turning around and calling it feminist.

The other ridiculous assumption being made here is that a woman couldn’t possibly go out of her way to seduce a man.

That’s right. The many times that you and I have done this, girls, we were:

a) Blinded by the Patriarchy’s shiny penis and unable to understand what it was we were doing, b) We were, in fact, raping ourselves, or c) Unknowingly replicating the evil behaviour of evil, dirty males, forever compromising our precious purity. Well, I’m glad all of that has been cleared up!

This is disgusting, because it’s a huge trivialization of rape. It’s like those people you sometimes meet, the people who can’t handle anyone disagreeing with them ever, so they say things like: “Stop talking to me! Stop assaulting me with your disagreeable rhetoric! You’re no better than a rapist!”

(But really, go read the whole thing here.)
I especially appreciate that last point because it reminds me of Elaine Scarry's argument (in The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World) that using the word "torture" figuratively minimizes the horror of actual torture. Since I read that book, I've been pretty scrupulous about reserving "torture" for the kind of shit that's gone down in Guantanamo Bay.

If you don't want to follow me on that tangent, though, consider this item from today's Columbus Dispatch, which is just logically impossible in Maggie Hays' parallel universe:
The Scioto County sheriff's office is investigating two separate cases of young boys being sexually assaulted by older boys.

Three juveniles have been charged with rape in the first case, in which a 7-year-old boy was sexually assaulted in a West Portsmouth neighborhood. Detective Jodi Conkel said the assault occurred on Dec. 15 in a vacant building that is being renovated into a church.

Conkel said the boy often hung around with the juveniles, and detectives think the boy could have been assaulted more than once. Two of the suspects are 12 years old and the third is 14.

In a second case reported Wednesday, a 16-year-old Wheelersburg resident is accused of raping three young boys, ages 3, 5 and 10, while they were visiting his home.

The teen has a juvenile record and is being held in a detention center pending a court appearance, Conkel said.

Conkel and Scioto County Prosecutor Mark Kuhn refused to release the names of the juvenile defendants in each case.

This is just horrifying. I have two young sons. One is five, the other nine. At the risk of sounding like someone who's watched too much Faux News: the law would have to protect the perp from me if anyone harmed my boys.

Maggie Hays would have me believe that only women are victims of The Patriarchy. The victimization of boys is simply impossible and incoherent in the framework she presents: All men are assholes, assholes = rapists, and all women are victims. She has no way to even recognize the existence of boys as victims. In comments, she makes clear that she'd been a victim of rape (and I am deeply, sincerely sorry to hear that). Her experience does not, however, give her the right to nullify the equally valid experiences of others.

I'm hoping someone will plug the wormhole between Maggie Hays' universe and mine. Of course, if hers is a female universe, she might call that rape, too. (And yes, I realize that's a juvenile remark, but I'm gonna make it anyway.)


figleaf said...

Hi Sungold,

As you know I rant a bit about the "no-sex" class paradigm where men indoctrinate ourselves to believe women aren't naturally interested in sex and, therefore, that the only way we're going to "get" sex from women is to use some kind of leverage. Inside that paradigm there just isn't that much distinction between seduction and rape except for the matter of violence and, maybe, the absence or presence of "good form."

See, for instance, my post about Scott Adam's black-humored low-blood-sugar/dieting/shopping "seduction" technique -- where "seduction" in that case means "deliberately weakening willpower till someone has sex with you who (you *believe,* rightly or *wrongly!*) otherwise wouldn't give you the time of day."

The trick, of course, is that Hays's isn't the only definition of seduction. Because, as Natalia and others have noted, "seduction" can also mean the interplay between two people who are already inclined, but not necessarily decided, to have sex together.

Failing to distinguish *that,* I think, is the source of her problem and ours.

Anyway, I'm definitely not defending *her,* as I think she's pretty mistaken. I am defending the issue I think she's trying to raise though.

Hope that makes sense,


Sungold said...

Hi figleaf! Very nice of you to stop by. As always, I'm glad to get your thoughts.

I always love it when someone says to me, "Hey, it's more complicated" - and frankly, this was not one of my deeper posts. I mostly was just feeling outraged at the cartoonish images of men and women in Hays' post, which is actually harmful to rape victims in the end. I mean - if all men are rapists, then what can we do? Shoot them all? I'm being polemical again, but it's hard not to when that's the tone of the original post.

And yeah, Hays raises an important issue but in such a way as to shut down discussion. To be fair, I don't know how trollish the comments were that she deleted, so maybe it's possible to raise reasonable objections and still have a conversation with her.

Anyway, I think it's legitimate and even important to say there's a continuum on which coercion exists, and that rape is at one end of that continuum. Your thoughts on men's indoctrination shed light on why that continuum exists - why some men's attitudes support it. That continuum also *really* helps sustain a rape culture.

However - it's not a matter of violence and good/poor form. It's a question of consent. Hays' post doesn't leave any room for consent. Also, she uses the term "rape" refer to everything on the continuum, and that dangerously trivializes actual rape.

In this post, I didn't really address the question of what *is* seduction anyway - since Natalia did that so nicely - but I now I think I might have to sketch out a few thoughts on it. I see that Hays has another post up - more nuanced - on the question of "seduction." I'm still not convinced but I'd like to engage with it if I get a chance this evening.

Thanks again, figleaf. Oh, one last thing - you phrased the alternative, "nice" definition of seduction quite eloquently. Almost seductively eloquent, I'd say. :-)

Reg said...

Thank you for this post and this blog. I like a good polemic. People should express their passion as well as their carefully filtered notions I think.

Since Ms Hays effectively trivialises rape as you say, by drawing the definition so wide as to be meaningless, does she think that she herself is no more a victim than some woman who just had sex with some guy? It would seem from her article that the scars run considerably deeper than those born by someone raped when they themselves thought it was consensual.

This kind of thinking could take us to a place where the whole of biology was a crime perpetrated against the whole of female creation. Would this prove that God is in fact a man, since only a man could perpetrate such a crime?

If anyone gains access to Ms Hays' universe, please plug the worm hole behind you. I'd hate to end up there unwittingly. Who knows what crimes I might commit while I and someone else simply thought we were having a good time.


Sungold said...

Hi Reg, and thanks for your comment. Polemic is not my usual approach; I usually aim for more nuance than what's in this post. I was, frankly, pretty annoyed at the conflation of a man's politeness with rape, and with its logical implication: that all men must be rapists, and all women, victims. So the side of me that expects nuance and reasoned discourse got indignant and ... pretty much abandoned my own usual polite tone.

If I had to rewrite this post, I'd make the same points. I don't think I was wrong. But I'd ditch at least half of the polemic, because subsequent reactions (see the followup posts to this one) met me on an even more overheated level. So it was ultimately unfruitful.

I don't want to get into Maggie Hays' scars and experiences. Her posts indicate clearly that she's been through some tough times, and it sure sounds like her anger is justified. The question is where to aim it: against men in general, or against the particular men who harmed her?

That said, I should repeat that in any purportedly romantic encounter, *both* parties have a responsibility to continually check in with each other. In an ideal world, a fair amount of this checking-in would be verbal. The ideal remains ensuring not just consent, but *enthusiastic* consent. If two people are diligent about this - and there are very sexy ways to do it - their odds of staying away from the wormhole are very good indeed.