feminist issues

Dating while feminist

Relevant to some of y’all’s interests!

For those that enjoy my various and sundry social justice-y thoughts on dating, and especially online dating, check out datingwhilefeminist, which is written by past (and hopefully future) Valprehension guest blogger Spice.

You can also follow her general awesomeness on the Twitter @thepurplecoffee

On inclusive and exclusive spaces, and why actively cultivating “safe” exclusionary spaces is vital

I am inherently suspicious of any group of community or event that claims to be broadly inclusive. Or more specifically, I know that attempts to be equally inclusive of everyone will always, always result in exclusionary spaces where the least privileged perspectives are the most marginalized.

In speaking about why I distrust the very concept of ‘the GSM community’ (or ‘the LGBTQIA+ community’), I recently wrote:

I am far, far more interested in hearing from communities of black trans folk, or autistic queer people, or fat femmes, than in listening to anything that can be credited to ‘the GSM community’ at large.

This is in part because I acknowledge that it is important and vital for me to continue to listen to and make space for the voices of people who experience oppressions that I do not. I cannot help but be complicit in oppressions if I do not even know they exist, and so I feel a deep responsibility to be always learning about others’ experiences of marginalization.

It as also because I know the power of groups that are deliberately and mindfully exclusionary of relatively privileged people. I know the power of explicitly and actively centering and amplifying marginalized voices above all others.

There are things that marginalized people are reluctant to say in the presence of the privileged, in the presence of their oppressors. There are things that need to be said, truths that burn inside of hurting people, that cannot be adequately addressed when the perpetrators of that hurt are listening.

For example: most women experience varying forms of harassment, objectification, or other forms of dehumanization or humiliation on a fairly regular basis, simply for being in public where there are men. Women can, and do, talk about these things publicly of course, and it is important that all of us who see this happening refuse to be silent.

However, when a woman is processing the trauma of a new, particular, experience of dehumanization at the hands of a man, it is often important for her to find a space to do so where there are no men. The reason for this is simple and terrible: because we live in the kind of patriarchal world that teaches men to dehumanize women, woman can’t even speak out and describe their experiences without having men use those experiences as fodder for their own prurient dehumanizing interests.

I’m going to say that again, actually: any time a woman speaks out publicly against her own dehumanization, and especially when she describes in detail how she was dehumanized, there are people who will use that information to further dehumanize her. It is that fucking awful. It is that fucking inescapable.

The only way that many marginalized people can even begin to process their victimization without being actively re-victimized by their effort, is by doing so in a space that excludes their oppressors.

But it’s not just that, even.

In addition to allowing for healing and processing, smaller groups and communities focusing on particular oppressions, or better yet on particular intersecting oppressions are far and away more likely to be able to get shit done.

There is this thing about public conversation about oppression; I’m sure you’ve seen it many times. When someone tries to start a broadly public conversation about what might be done about some particular form of oppression they experience, that conversation will almost without fail be derailed into a conversation all about convincing those who don’t experience that form of oppression that it does actually exist, and that it is, in fact, a problem.

By simply excluding people who don’t experience that form of oppression, or by allowing them to attend only as long as they understand that their role is only to listen and support, we allow the conversation to move past proving the existence of oppression into actually planning movements to improve the lives of people facing that oppression.

Exclusive spaces are absolutely necessary because there are some things that oppressed people only learn to name and recognize in the safety of their own communities. Exclusive spaces are necessary to have the occasional opportunity to escape from our oppressors and process our experiences.

The converse of this a weird one, though: inclusive spaces that claim to value everyone equally are never truly inclusive; they will always alienate the people most in need of community. The only truly inclusive space is a space that works actively to undermine the power and voices of its privileged participants, and to bolster the power and voices of those who are traditionally silenced.

If you aren’t actively dismantling the existing power hierarchies, you will always wind up reproducing them.

Sexual agency and bafflement

I had some weird, not-really-the-point reactions to a recent Captain Awkward letter (TL;DR is that the letter writer is in a romantic and sexual relationship with a woman who does not engage in any kind of penetrative sex, and is averse to semen generally. Their sex life involves him getting her off usually without reciprocation.) The actual advice and comments provided to the letter writer are great (she gets to have her boundaries, but you also get to leave if you’re not happy and that’s ok) and I have nothing to add.

But.

But the thing that really strikes me, hard, when reading this letter (and I have read things like this before and had a similar reaction) is how completely impossible it seems to me that anyone could ever possibly have the wherewithal to express the kinds of preferences and boundaries this person’s girlfriend has put in place. If it was me, I would have never felt like I had the right to expect these kinds of needs or preferences to be respected. I would have assumed that I was the problem and compromised the shit out of my boundaries and suffered quietly and tried to suck it up.

Because I was raised to believe that there are certain things you just have to do if you are going to date a man. Because I was raised to believe that if you dared to ask for a compromise or to slow down on those things, and if the man involved was gracious enough to grant you their patience, they were going above and beyond the call of duty, and you probably owed them one to be honest.

This is a key part of rape culture, for the record, and it is something I was very clearly and explicitly indoctrinated into.

I was fortunate, therefore, that my first sexual relationship was with a woman, because that messaging didn’t come into play for me there. I am sure that foundation is part of what prevented me from being sexually traumatized by my relationship with my first boyfriend, to be honest.

Because that, as I have written about before, was something else. With him, it was all about the explicit pressure. But to be honest, he didn’t need to work all that hard – a little hinting was all it took for me feel like I was being unfair or unreasonable or that I was over-stepping my rights to agency. So when we made out for the first time, and didn’t go an further, and he said “You can’t keep doing this to me” (the *first time* we made out!), I didn’t run away or tell him off or anything. I just let him go further than I was ready to next time.

And thus was our pattern established.

It’s been a long time since then, of course, and it’s been a *very* long time since I had a partner who had also internalized these toxic ideas about what is simply required in a sexual relationship. It is intuitively obvious to me now that people get to have and express whatever boundaries they want. And I’ve learned to set my own boundaries somewhat, though I’ve also just had partners who are caring and attentive and able to read me well enough that those things haven’t always needed to be explicit.

I do still sometimes have to fight an uphill battle against myself, and the fact that I still instinctively respond to my own awareness of my partners’ desires with an internal pressure to perform. It is sometimes difficult to pull apart my genuine drive and desire to please other people because I enjoy it a fuck of a lot from the more damaging drive to self-obliterate against other people’s desires. I have to remember to stay in tune with myself, and that is easier some days than others, but I am honestly really good at it now.

But still, reading something like this letter, from a person whose attitude is so naturally “well, is the person I’m with doesn’t want the thing, then we don’t do the thing” that it doesn’t even need to be explicitly stated, when that attitude is just the way he seems to live and breathe his approach to relating sexually to other people, it actually kind of blows my mind a little.

Because, of course, that should be obvious. But to so many people, it really, really isn’t.

The real reason I love gender fuckery

Well, the 30-week genderqueer challenge is working for me! This post is inspired by last week’s prompt/post!

Really, the reason I love gender fuckery (and especially the reason why it’s so important to me sexually, sometimes) is as a means to an end.

I want for my body to just be my body, as it is. I want to be able to just be, without the pressure of all of the meanings and value that other people insist on putting on it, and on forcibly making me acknowledge those meanings and values (this is what sexual harassment usually is – not just objectifying a person, but actively making sure they know you are doing it, and trying to elicit a response from them, thus forcing them to participate. It’s disgusting.)

I hate that because I live in a world where this shit is so pervasive that it is is sometimes hard for me to see my own body without seeing it through the lens of cisheteropatriarchy. I hate how hard it is for me to be free of that.

What I really want it to see myself and my body on my own terms. But before I can do that, I need to fuck up the existing scripts I have for understanding my own body.

I need to take what I have been taught – both explicitly and implicitly – about my value and about what having certain body parts (or not) means about who I am as a person and how I am valued by others, and I need to twist it around, and shake it up and tear it to pieces and put it back together again, in every way I can think to. I need to pull the pieces apart and put them back together in impossible, unrecognizable configurations. I need to make new shapes out of the old meanings, over and over and over, until it all stops meaning anything at all, like a word repeated until it is nothing but a series of arbitrary sounds.

I need to fuck with gender, so that gender will stop fucking with me.

“Consent is sexy” is an insidious message

Look, I get the point of saying “consent is sexy”. I get that it became a thing in direct response to naysayers of the importance of consent who insist that asking before touching someone (especially sexually) is somehow inherently unsexy or a turn-off. I also get that we are living in a culture that seriously does sexualize and eroticize female non-consent and just violence against women generally, and that it is important to try to fight back against those forces as they continue to form so many people’s sexualities, sometimes in very dangerous ways.

“Consent is sexy” is and always has been at *best* a band-aid solution to some specific aspects of rape culture. And it has always been clear to me that we shouldn’t need to sell consent in this way, or call it anything other than right, or the only non-evil way to interact with other people. The fact that anyone thinks that the message is necessary tells us how much work still needs to be done, if nothing else.

But. It needs to stop now. We need to stop actively promoting the idea that consent is sexy. Because there are ways in which it is actively harmful and helps rapists.

I don’t think it’ll be surprising or revelatory to anyone if I point out that many people (read: most women) feel an awful lot of pressure to be “sexy” in accordance with what their culture tells them is sexy, regardless of whether they enjoy those things, or particularly want to have sex. Heck, women are told they need to be conventionally attractive in order to be perceived as professional (or, y’know, even just worthy of being treated with the most basic respect), as if those things have anything to do with one another.

Women are taught to model the behaviours that the culture they grow up in declares to be sexy. Naturally, as the idea that consent (and especially enthusiastic consent) is sexy gains more traction, this means that women are feeling and will feel more pressure to model the appearance of said enthusiastic consent regardless of their actual desires.

By framing consent as “sexy”, we are making it harder for people, and women especially, to feel like they have the freedom to decide whether to consent or not. Not because it’s bad to find consent sexy – I do still agree that finding consent sexy should be and will be a sign of the death of rape culture if that ever comes – but because we are still living in a misogynist world, and because we are still living in a rape culture, and this particular attempt at combating that culture is far too easily turned against itself.

Consent is necessary and important, regardless of whether it is sexy. It is mandatory even if it is inconvenient, even if it is a turn-off. And deciding not to consent to anything, at any time, is not unsexy, either.

“Rape isn’t about sex; it’s about power”… except for when it really is just about sex

[TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of rape, both in abstract generalities and of my own specific experiences]

I was amazed recently to see the responses to this article about rape, and the idea that for many rapists, the fact that they know their victim doesn’t want to have sex is the turn-on. Which, this just seems obvious to me.

But, on facebook where I saw it shared, comment after comment poured in to correct the author on their understanding, because obviously “Rape is NOT about sex it’s about power and control.” Some people couched this in somewhat more nuanced ways, such as claiming that “It’s a sexual crime that is not sexual in nature,” or that “It is very much sexual. But it has nothing to do with sexual pleasure.”

The message here is: rapists don’t rape because they enjoy it sexually, or because doing so turns them on. They do it to feel powerful and/or to enact the power that they already have in society. And the thing is, sometimes this is exactly what rape is: when it is used as a tool of violence in war, very often when it occurs in prison, and also very often in abusive interpersonal relationships, rape is a symbolic way of claiming ownership and control over another human being, and often a way of communicating that that the rapist doesn’t consider them to be human, and sometimes that is the primary motivation for rape. And it is important to acknowledge this aspect of sexual/sexualized violence.

But that doesn’t even begin to cover the full range of non-consensual sexual activities. It completely elides the fact that we live in a society that does actively sexualize violence against women, and that generations of men have grown being taught to be turned on by sexual violence, just as the Ms. Magazine article describes.

In fact, the description of rape as always about power doesn’t even remotely apply to my own experience of rape.

There are some things that I’ve only just recently put together in my head, that explain my own experience of rape and how it happened in a much more solid way than I have ever before been able to articulate.

The thing about my abusive ex? One of the main things that I led to things going the way they did with us? His primary sexual fantasy was for one person to start off not wanting to have sex, but to change their mind once things started and wind up enjoying it.

Like, he told me this at one point. And I’ve only just now realized just how strong a thing this was and how much it coloured so many of our sexual interactions.

Because the thing that this did, in our relationship? It meant that if he wanted to have sex and my initial position was a no, not just that he didn’t accept that answer (which is the first and most obvious problem), but that he was actually *more* turned on once I’d said no, because this was now a chance for him to enact his fantasy. From his perspective, when I said no, the stakes actually got higher.

I didn’t realize this at all at the time, but it makes his behaviour make way more sense to me now. Not in a way that makes it somehow less reprehensible, for the record; just in a way that makes it easier for me to remember things more clearly, because the motivation tying together his actions has made the narrative easier to hold in my head.

This also explains some other things that for years left me confused and unable to name my experiences as rape. The thing about it all is that my rapist isn’t a person who got off specifically on non-consent – he doesn’t quite fit the model described in the Ms. article that started me down the road to figuring this out. What he was looking for wasn’t violent all the way through. It was slightly murkier than that.

And so there are facts like, I learned how and when to vocalize fake enjoyment to make things go faster, and to get him to finish more quickly. Because, of course, his fantasy wouldn’t be complete without it.

Though, I also have to admit that it’s not as if me never coming around to vocal enjoyment ever stopped him, either. It just made things take longer, and often involved him tapping into his other major turn-ons, which were just generally more physically demanding for me – though I also knew to pull them out when I didn’t have the energy for play-acting (you see how I gave myself the illusion of choice and control, there?)

The truth is, my abuser was a deeply, overwhelmingly selfish person. He was entitled, in ways that pervaded all of his interactions with other people, and the ways he would push to get his way in all things. But his impulses were never intended to be violent. He didn’t really understand what he was doing to me, but that doesn’t make it any better for me that I went through it.

For him, it was definitely, unquestioningly, and always about sex. About his sexual fantasies, and turn-ons, and pleasure. And he failed to see the implications of his actions, and he failed to really care about my boundaries, ever. It wasn’t ever really about dehumanizing me, or anything remotely like that.

But it was definitely rape.

So, to the people who insist that rape is never about sex: you are allowing your political position and perhaps your personal experience to override and delegitimize the lived experiences of many rape survivors. Your shitty hard line stance made it harder for me to identify my experience as rape and has made my healing process unnecessarily difficult. Stop it.

First Dates, Hetero Dating, and Double Standards

I had a really depressing revelation about the hetero dating world today. I was thinking about the ridiculous double standard many straight men hold wherein they will happily have sex with someone they just met, but will harshly judge the women who have that sex with them, or who do the same with other men.

This attitude always particularly astonishes and confuses me because engaging in slut-shaming is precisely counter-productive to these men’s desires to have sex with women. And so I tossed a question about it into a dating-oriented facebook community I’m a member of. Among the many thoughtful and thought-provoking responses I got, one in particular is sticking with me.

A common theme in shaming women for having first-date sex is the idea that it displays poor judgment on their part, thus revealing to be lacking in long-term potential. Which, initially this seems an absurd judgment to make against someone without also making the same claim about men – it’s an obvious double standard.

Until you remember that women are, of course, at far greater risk of sexual violence, and that going back to a mostly strange man’s house is more likely to end badly for her than it would be for a man going to a strange woman’s house. For that matter, it is statistically more dangerous for a woman to invite a man back to her place, too.

To be clear, I don’t think that deciding to have sex with someone, on a first date or at any other time, tells you much about that person’s judgment – and I definitely don’t think it’s okay to chalk up women’s victimization at the hands of misogynists to their poor judgment. But it is interesting(?) to consider these men’s perspectives on the situation.

From the perspective of the kind of man who holds the kinds of attitudes that lead him to devalue women who actively seek out sex, there a number of additional things that might cause him to look down on a woman who slept with him on a first date, specifically. If we’re being totally honest, this dude is probably employing deliberate manipulation tactics to “seduce” his partners: he may lie to them about his long-term intentions/what he is looking for or wants from the relationship; he may pretend to be more compatible with her than he really is; he may pay compliments we doesn’t really mean.

Moreover, the kind of man who behaves this way usually has a peer group that shares his attitudes and behaviours toward women – which means that he believes this behaviour is even more common than it actually is. He may believe that it is just how all men are, making it *always* a bad idea for a woman to have sex with man pretty much, um, ever.

And then I realized that at some point, many misogynist men, when they do manage to get sex on the first date, might genuinely be left with the feeling that they can’t believe they got away with it. As in, they can’t believe she fell for it.

And that somehow, in their minds, that entire interaction reflects more poorly on her than it does on them.

Which, that is such an awful thing to realize about the way other people probably see the world. And it makes me feel exhausted and wonder how things will ever get better. I don’t know how to combat the self-fulfilling prophecy of actively and deliberately trying to get the better of a woman’s best intentions and judgment, and then blaming them when you succeed. I don’t know how to make this stop, except that I guess as the proportion of non-assholes to assholes among straight men increases, more straight women will become accustomed to being treated well and with respect, and it will be easier to spot the assholes as they stand out more?

Because holy fuck I hope so.

Back to basics: questions from the search terms, vol. 2

This edition of “questions from the search terms” covers some 101-ish topics!

“why is victim blaming wrong”?

Ok, I totally remember a time when I didn’t really understand the problems with victim-blaming. Some of the underlying theory is not inherently obvious, and it is often talked about as if it is, so I’m going to try to make it all explicit here.

The main reason that victim-blaming is wrong is that it involves placing responsibility on Person A for the fact that Person B decided, of their own accord, and for their own purposes, to do something bad to Person A. This actually means removing some of the blame from the person who did the bad thing, and suggesting they are not fully responsible for their actions, which is problematic. Very often victim-blaming takes the form of suggesting that Person A wanted whatever terrible thing to happen, that they “asked for it” and brought in on themself, and that’s just not how things work.

But, the counter-argument goes, people need to take precautions to protect themselves from bad people. We encourage people to have strong internet passwords and to never share them, and that’s generally considered ok. People keep their houses and cars locked so they won’t be robbed, and these kinds of recommendations don’t get the same reactions from feminists as suggestions that women should dress more modestly, or that they should never go anywhere alone ever.

There’s… a lot going on here. I can’t unpack it all, but there are specific reasons why victim-blaming in cases of abuse or sexual assault can be particularly damaging, and counter-productive. There are multiple reasons for this, including these:

  • A lot of the advice on “how to avoid rape” is just plain wrong, in some sense. It mostly only applies to cases of stranger rape, which is a pretty small subset of actual rapes. Most abuse, both sexual and otherwise, is perpetrated by people close to and trusted by the victims.
  • Victim-blaming in cases of abuse/sexual assault teaches abusers and rapists what circumstances will allow them to get away with their abuse (because it lets them know what circumstances will cause others to blame their victims instead of them).
  • Reinforcing the idea that an abuse or sexual assault survivor is responsible for the abuse they experienced only adds to the self-blame that they are almost inevitably already inflicting on themselves. We already know all of your bad advice; we already know all of the reasons why it was our fault, and trust me, we’ve been even more creative about it and found reasons you probably never even thought of. We don’t need your “help” here.

There is so much more to say about this, but I will leave it here for now.

“why is it bad to say ‘not all men'”?

A couple of things, here.

Firstly, a lot of the time, people feel the need to jump to the defense of men as a group, and declare that “not all men” do whatever thing, in conversations that are explicitly about the behaviours of some men. And usually, the people in these conversations know that not all men are terrible, that not all men are rapists, that not all men do whatever thing is being complained about. And the conversation isn’t about all men. It’s about the things that some men do, it’s about how hard it is to be affected by those things, it’s very often about the real lived experiences and hardships of women (yes, all women) and/or people who aren’t men and/or people who aren’t cis men. And by stepping in and making it about whether “all men” do the thing misses the point of the conversation entirely. Don’t do that.

Secondly, it is very important to note that to some extent, regardless of whether all men do x thing, all men need to be a part of these conversations. All men benefit from male privilege in various ways. And this is not a fault, or a flaw, or something to be guilty about. But it is something to be aware of, and it is something you have a certain amount of responsibility to use for the good of those who do not have that privilege. So yes, all men.

“can i omit parts of consent”?

I… um, I don’t know exactly what this question is supposed to mean, but it is very concerning. I’m going to try to address a couple of different interpretations here.

I suspect that the “parts of consent” here refers to something like the “enthusiasm” required by the standard of “enthusiastic consent”. Enthusiasm is a great ideal in many situations, but requiring enthusiastic consent in order for a sexual interaction to be considered truly consensual ignores the actual lived experiences of many people, particularly asexual people and sex workers, both groups for whom sexual interactions may very well be genuinely consented to, without there necessarily being any enthusiasm about the interaction itself. So, yes, there are some situations in which true enthusiasm is not strictly necessary, though it’s a vital touchstone to aim for, in developing any sort of ongoing sexual relationship.

Really, I think the concept people are aiming for in pushing enthusiastic consent, is “non-coerced” consent. This may not always be easy to identify, because often the coercion that causes people to “consent” to sex they don’t want is cultural rather than something that comes directly from their partner. Asexual people are pressured into giving sex a try, or are repeatedly told that if they want to be loved, they’re going to have to have sex. And women generally receive similar sorts of messages about obligations to have sex. Being aware of these things, and explicitly reassuring your partner that they are under no obligation to do anything they don’t want to do, will make it easier of you to make sure your partner is comfortable, and to actually figure out what they want. It is better for everyone, in the long run.

I am struggling to fully nail down all that I want to say here, really, but this post from the Asexual Agenda has a great, nuanced exploration of some alternate models of consent. It is very worth reading.

Alternatively, though, the “parts of consent” in question here might be indirectly referring to the idea that consent needs to be acquired for some things, but not others. All I will say is this: the standard of non-coercion should apply to all interactions you have with all people at all times (yes, sometimes coercive force is necessary in self-defense, or defense of others, but these sorts of situations are definitely not what we’re talking about here).

“Hidden” sexual violence in the media: or, this is one of the reasons it is so hard to get people to see rape as rape

[This piece was originally written for a online course I am taking at Coursera, “Understanding Violence” (hence the noted difference in tone to my normal writing here). It relates back to a post a wrote a long time ago about scenes that turn up in movies and tv that are clearly intended to be innocent or seductive, but that actually portray coercion, assault, and/or rape. Trigger warning for descriptions of fictional scenes of sexual violence.]

In the media today, sexual violence is often portrayed in ways that are not intended to be sexual violence. That is to say that quite frequently, I see scenes in movies and television that are intended to be non-violent sexual content, but that in reality portray sexual violence that goes unrecognized by the writer and much of the audience. Moreover, the ways in which this happens differs significantly depending upon the gender of the person against whom the sexual violence is being perpetrated.

A very common trope in supposed seduction scenes in movies and television is the portrayal of men ignoring women’s displeasure with their advances, of continuing to behave sexually toward women despite their protests, until eventually the women suddenly change their minds and decide they want to have sex after all.

One of the most blatant examples of this trope is in the movie Blade Runner. The ‘seduction’ of Rachael (Sean Young) by the protagonist Deckard (Harrison Ford) plays out as follows: Deckard kisses Rachael. She responds with discomfort and tried to leave. He physically forces her against a wall, and commands her to kiss him. She complies. He commands her to tell him to kiss her (i.e. he coerces her into giving false verbal consent, or to falsely express desire). She does so. They continue to kiss, and now Rachael appears to begin to enjoy herself.

In this case, it is unclear whether the scene was intended to portray dubious consent. It should be noted that Rachael is an android, and that she was in fact designed to serve humans wants and needs, a detail which complicates the story and raises questions about the meaning of consent, and some people have argued that this scene is made to be deliberately ambiguous on this point. What is clear, however, is that regardless of the director’s intent, many people who watch the movie do not see this scene as coercion.

There is a long-standing debate on Wikpedia, for instance, on whether this scene is more accurately described as rape or seduction. The “Rape/Seduces” section of the “Talk” page about the movie opens by very clearly stating “[Rachael] does consent” (“Talk: Blade Runner” 2013). Although these is rich discussion about the issue, the actual Blade Runner entry shows that the consensus on the issue is that this scene portrays Deckard “forc[ing] her to acknowledge and trust her feelings” (i.e. that he forces her to admit that despite her protests she secretly does want him.) This is an extremely dangerous way of discussing the use of coercive force in sexual encounters, to say the least.

A more contemporary example of this form of coercive ‘seduction’ appears in Tyler Perry’s Temptation. This movie includes a scene in which Harley (Robbie Jones) expresses a desire to have sex with Judith (Jurnee Smollet). She does not reciprocate. He physically grabs her, and she resists, repeatedly telling him “No.” He appears to become even more turned on, and pauses only for a moment to reassure her (“Okay, now you can say you resisted”) before continuing the physical assault.

At no point in this scene does Judith give any appearance of consenting to this activity. What is shown is very clearly a sexual assault. But later in movie, this scene retroactively cleaned up in a flashback sequence that confirms that at some point Judith changed her mind and stopped resisting, and the couple made love.

Generally speaking this scenes are considered to be unproblematic and entirely acceptable, because ultimately the women succumb and consent to the men’s advances. However, regardless of the fact that the women change their minds, during the period of time that the men continue to pressure the women, and continue to try to kiss or undress them against their clearly stated wishes, up until the point where the women begin to consent they are committing sexual violence.

There is a serious misunderstanding in these scenes about what constitutes consent, and at what point you need to have consent in order to not be committing sexual assault. Of course, in reality, you need consent for every part of the interaction, from the first kiss or touch, onwards. And if at any point that consent is not present, than sexual violence is occurring,
I do think it’s important to note that in these fictional scenes, the women in question are not harmed, and end up having (presumably) fond memories of the encounters. What is concerning about these portrayals, more than anything else, is the message they send to men that if you keep pushing back against women’s resistance to your advantage, they will eventually change their. When men in real life attempt this tactic, they can and do frequently wind up committing sexual assault or even rape, depending on how committed they are to continuing to try to “seduce” a woman who does not want to be seduced.

To make matters more disturbing, it is important to note that part of the mechanism that creates such a preponderance of scenes of questionable consent in the mainstream is the ratings board. There are numerous reported cases in which filmmakers have been required to remove evidence of female sexual desire and pleasure in order to avoid an R rating.

A recent example of this is the movie Sucker Punch. The movie originally contained a brief, fairly tame sex scene. Emily Browning’s description of what happened to the scene speaks volumes. According to her report, in order to get a PG-13 rating, Zack Snyder reportedly had to edit the scene in a way that ultimately eliminated any sign of agency or desire on the part of the female character. Rather than replace a consensual sex scene with one that played as an assault, Snyder decided to cut the scene entirely.

What is extremely important to note here is that while the ratings board was ready to slap an R rating on a consensual sex scene, they were willing to drop that rating to a PG-13 is the consensual sex was changed into a coercive ‘seduction’.

In the same vein, Boys Don’t Cry director Kimberly Pierce has spoken at length about the problems she had with even acquiring an R rating for her movie (it was originally granted an NC-17). To be sure, Boys Don’t Cry deals with a great deal of sensitive and disturbing subject matter – based on a true story, it follows a short period in the life of Brendon Teena, a trans man trying to escape his past a forge a life in his male identity. He briefly finds love, before his girlfriend’s family discovers that he is trans. This revelation culminates in his being gang raped, (when he reports the rape to the police, he is subjected to further humiliation), and eventually murdered.

But none of this is what bothered the ratings board. As Pierce reports it (you can hear her telling of the story in This Film is Not Yet Rated), in order to get the rating dropped to an R, she was required to repeatedly trim down and re-edit the consensual sex scene in the film. This scene is not explicit, and shows no nudity. It was simply a long shot of Brendan’s girlfriend’s face showing clear sexual pleasure. And this was repeatedly deemed unacceptable.

The brutal rape scene however, garnered no comment, and required no editing.

In part because of the lesser cultural hang-ups around portrayals of male desire, the ways in which the media seemingly unconsciously portrays and normalizes sexual violence against men is very different than the treatment of women. Rather than displaying a poor understanding of consent, or a preference for coercion over portrayals of genuine female sexual pleasure, there is a disturbing tendency to completely disregard altogether the concept of male consent (or, rather, the possibility that a man might refuse to consent to anything.) Consider the following examples from popular television shows.

In the first episode of the show Californication, the protagonist Hank Moody (David Duchovny) has sex with a number of women (always with their clear consent). However, there is this extremely strange and disturbing thing that happens in one of the sex scenes. When he is in the middle of having sex with one of these women, very suddenly and without warning, she hauls off and punches him in the face. He is clearly shocked, though not upset. She punches him once more before simply leaving him, bewildered. For the remainder of the episode, he has a black eye from this encounter.

Now, as in the examples of sexual violence against women, Moody is not particularly upset by this incident, and his feelings about it seem to lean more toward bemusement than anything else. Regardless, it is very important to look objectively at what happened here – a woman physically assaulted him apparently for her own sexual gratification, without first acquiring his consent to do so.

A more extreme example of this occurs in the fifth episode of season five Doctor Who. In this episode Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) attempts to seduce the Doctor (Matt Smith) in much the same way that the men in above examples try to seduce women. She kisses him, and when he pushes her away, she continues to advance, kissing him more even as protests verbally, and struggles and to get away from her. She tries to remove his clothes, while he continues to try to stop her. At no point is it implied that there is anything wrong with her behaviour, and in fact it is played for laughs – as if the Doctor is somehow oblivious to her desire, despite the fact that it is clear that he knows exactly what is going on and does not want it.

The main difference between this scene and the male-driven seductions described above is that the Doctor does not change his mind, and eventually simply escapes. It is clear the Amy had no intention of stopping and things would have only gotten worse if he had not gotten away. And yet somehow, this scene is still generally considered a light-hearted one.

Once again, here, the male character’s lack of consent for the sexual activities the woman forces upon him is apparently irrelevant. The clear message is that male non-consent does not matter, is not important, and somehow doesn’t count.

The people who write these scenes that unintentionally portray sexual violence, when they seem to intend only to depict sexual seduction, display a clear lack of understanding of consent, and of sexual violence itself. And this lack of understanding is reflected in the ways in which audiences tend to receive these scenes (largely they read in the way the writers intended them to, as seduction). Ultimately, this becomes a self-reinforcing cycle, wherein these kinds of images and behaviours are normalized and not recognized as sexual violence by audiences (which include future screenwriters, who will re-enact these problematic models of seduction for the next generation).

In many ways these kinds of unintentional, and largely unrecognized, forms of violence in the media are more dangerous than the overt depictions, which are more often accompanied with some sense of immorality. Thus, the way in which some kinds of sexual violence are portrayed as acceptable and even normal is one of the most disturbing trends in media today.

“Not all men!”: redirecting defensive energy

not all menIt’s a really common derailment in conversations about rape culture: the clarion call of men who would totally never rape a woman, and definitely think rape is bad, and want to make sure that you know that not all men are like that. Not all men, they say, rape, harass, or otherwise demean and objectify women.

Which, um, I mean, the reason this is a derailment is that it is not helpful in addressing the very real problems of rape and harassment. The thing is that regardless of whether this is a problem with all men or just a few (and yes, I know that it is just a minority of men that rape women, ok?), it is a real problem and it needs to be talked about. It is, in fact, more important to stay on topic in discussion about rape and harassment than it is to waste time soothing feelings and reassuring individual men that we don’t think they are personally rapists.

Ok, ok, it is actually possible to tell jokes that have rape in their content without making rapists feel like their attitudes toward women are normal. I don't 100% endorse this flowchart, but it's a pretty nice starting point.

Ok, ok, it is actually possible to tell jokes that have rape in their content without making rapists feel like their attitudes toward women are normal. I don’t 100% endorse this flowchart, but it’s a pretty nice starting point. Click through to the source for full size, y’all.

The thing that really gets me about the not all men defense, though, is that it’s being directed at the wrong audience. Because yes, it’s true that not all men are predatory rapists, harassers, and general objectifiers as women. And I mean, I’m super glad that’s the case, because the world would be a whole hell of a lot worse if they were.

But the thing is, dudes, feminists know you’re not all like that. Women, be they feminist or not, who complain about harassment and predatory behaviour, know you’re not all like that. Most women have positive relationships with men; friends, partners, co-workers, family members, whatever. Women have met men that aren’t awful people. And thus, they know you’re not all awful. You don’t need to tell them that.

But you know who doesn’t know you’re not all like that? Rapists. And harassers. And general objectifiers of women. Misogynist men genuinely believe that all men see women the way they do. The really do. And when you make “jokes” about raping, harassing or objectifying women, they take that as proof that you are like them. When you laugh at their jokes, they definitely think you’re on their side.

And I’d really like to think that it’s important to you that rapists don’t think you’re one of them. Like, at least as important as your clear need to make sure that women know you’re not.

So, dudes, the next time you see a discussion about rape culture, or about harassment, and you feel yourself getting defensive, and worrying that people don’t know that you’re not like that, do me a giant favour. Don’t tell that to the women who already know that. Take that energy, that desire you have to communicate a thing, and to do something, and use it to do something worthwhile.

Use it to criticize your friend when he demeans, harasses or objectifies a woman in your presence. Make it clear to *him* that you’re not like that, and that that behaviour is not acceptable. Make it clear to *him* that the world isn’t men vs. women, and that there are men in the world who don’t think it’s ok to talk about women like their only worth lies in their appearance, and that women’s desires are important, and they don’t just exist to fulfill men’s fantasies.

Stop telling us these things. We know these things. Tell the dudes who treat women like shit that their attitudes are not universally shared by men, and that their behaviour toward women is unacceptable.