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Thursday, January 13, 2005

Another way to look at the debates over rape

Ampersand has this interesting post about the different views on rape from "gender" aka, real feminists and "equity" feminists, who are the women that would be saying that they don't really want to vote if this were 1919. Anyway, the anti-feminist view is that rape is a crime that just happens to women and can't have anything to do with sexism, because sexism isn't real.

Reading the comments, it was the same tedious deliberate misunderstandings from anti-feminists who will streeeetch really far to deny that sexism exists. In this case, the method is to distract feminists by bringing in the suffering Olympics by pointing out that if you lock up a rapist with other men and no women, he'll resort to raping men. This is true. There is a weak attempt at turning feminist arguments back on feminists by arguing that "but isn't rape about power"? (Yes. We feminists only think in slogans that are used primarily to help victims recontextualize their suffering so that they don't blame themselves. It doesn't go any deeper than that, so don't bother actually reading feminist analysis of rape.)

What I find interesting about anti-feminist apologists is that they like the prison rape better than the argument that has more teeth to it, which is that the other common victims of rape besides women are gay men and children. Rapists, as a general rule, pick their victims according to their own sexual orientation. Gay rapists will rape men. Pedophile rapists will rape children.

Mulling this over, it occurs to me that the problem with both the anti-feminist and feminist positions on rape is that we over-focus on the debate over whether our society deems certain people as appropriate victims. While there is no doubt that this is true in the case of women and gay men (who are often sexually assaulted by ostensibly straight men in hate crimes). But I think that it does well to consider our society's conception of male sexuality and why this might lead to a situation where the vast majority of sexual assailants are men.

There are a lot of cultural messages sent out that being what you might call penetrate-able is to be lowly and worthy of contempt. Homophobic rhetoric often centers directly on being on the receiving end of anal sex. Even our language about heterosexual sex views it strictly as something men do to women. Even woman-on-man oral sex is recontextualized in language to fit the notion that sex is something women have and men take, as in the phrase "to give a blow job/head". You will hear man-on-woman oral sex described as "giving head" but very rarely. Most terms to describe heterosexual sex acts assume female passivity. (I would quibble over the term "cowgirl", but in the end, we're contextualizing a position where the rider is doing actually doing most of the work by evoking a metaphor where the ridee--the horse--actually does most of the work. Tough call.)

Anyway, even when we eliminate contempt or aggression from our language about sex, we still contextualize it in active/passive terms. And, when it comes to men, there is a lot of encouragement to blur the lines between being active and being aggressive. (I defend the existence of porn, but I'm not going to deny that there is a bunch of porn that deliberately blurs the lines between rape and consensual sex.) Aggressiveness is eroticized for men in a lot of ways, so it's no wonder that a certain percentage are going to take it way too far.

By no means am I saying that most men are sexually aggressive. In fact, the dirty little secret behind all our cultural images celebrating aggressive masculinity is that many, if not most, men experience their sexuality in mostly tender terms, especially if you look over individual lifetimes. We even allow for cultural images of men being romantic and cuddly, albeit mostly in entertainment aimed at women that men are instructed to shun. (Think "chick flicks".)

Okay, so that was a really meandering post for one so short, so to sum up--I think that it is more instructive to look at how rape is caused more by gendered messages aimed at men to be aggressive rather than what people are picked out to be victims. There's no doubt that it's an uncomfortable question, but by focusing on only how women are victims and not why aggressors are overwhelmingly male, we are missing the biggest piece of the pie.

79 Comments:

Blogger Lanoire said...

Even our language about heterosexual sex views it strictly as something men do to women.Yeah. Or something women give to men.

Although this is starting to change, at least in language--people will say "she fucked him" or something like that.

1/13/2005

 
Blogger Deja Pseu said...

It's interesting to me how the same faction that argues that rape has nothing to do with sexism, would also be the first ones to ask "well, what was she wearing/doing out at night/doing to encourage him anyway?"

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Blogger james d said...

I haven't read the whole post yet, but this struck something: "Rapists, as a general rule, pick their victims according to their own sexual orientation. Gay rapists will rape men."

I'm not sure that's true. Statistically, there aren't that many gay rapists, but there are plenty of male victims of sexual assault. I think that a lot of gay men get raped by straight men as--like you said--a show of power. Kind of a "how do you like it now, faggot?" thing.

Your next sentence talked about pedophiles, but pedophilia is not actually a sexual orientation...that would definitely be giving too much legitimacy to it. I think the rape of children tends to be a lot different than the rape of adults. What use would a sexual show of power have over a child? The child is already powerless in front of adults. Maybe I watch too much SVU, but from what I know (including personal experience) raping kids is more about being sick than being angry.

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Blogger Amanda said...

James, you're right. I skidded way too close ot suggesting that pedophilia is a simple "orientation", how it's commonly used. I actually got that information out of a book written about sex crimes and behavioral crime investigation. But, while pedophiles are definitely sick, I would say all people, gay or straight, male or female, who enjoy raping, are pervese regardless of their preferred victim.

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Blogger Diane said...

Having worked for a long time with pedophiles and victims, I certainly do consider pedophilia to be a sexual orientation. Pedophiles may express a gender preference, but the bottom line is that they have no interest in sexuality as we perceive it. They are interested in children. And the rape performed by pedophiles isn't about power or anger because pedophiles do not believe they are committing rape. The mindset of the pedophile is totally outside the paradigm of sexual behavior and attitude as we think of it.

Furthermore, unless we define pedophilia as a sexual orientation, we will continue to see more gay-bashing of priests. There are gay priests, yes, but there are also pedophile priests, and those are the ones causing the problems.

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