Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Breakdown of "Girls With Short Hair Are Damaged"

When a friend of mine from work told me that she was going to send me the link to this article I recoiled from the title. When I discovered that it was written by a man I became more disturbed. Then I read it... and as upset as I was about the title, it was nothing compared to how I feel now, having read the rest of it. I'm not going to link you to the article because I don't feel comfortable contributing to his page traffic, but if you feel so inclined, you can google it.

My first thought based on the title, was that I'd really like to retort, snarkily, that Men who feel like it's possible to judge an entire group of people based on a hair cut are pretty damaged themselves.
However... I am trying really hard to not be snarky about people I disagree with (the world needs a lot more kindness and even if someone is being absolutely horrible, like this particular human is, I can still try to be kind). So, I'm going to simply break this down in the simplest, kindest terms I can manage.

In the very first line of his article this man says,
"No woman in all of human history has ever looked better with short hair than she would with a head full of healthy locks."

So, we can all agree that this is a remarkably subjective statement right? I know plenty of women who I think look quite beautiful with short hair, perhaps more beautiful that with long hair. I also know men who have told me, while I had long hair, that they preferred short hair cuts on women. Despite these bits of evidence, the writer calls his statement an "irrefutable fact" (snarky me really wants to add, "...maybe he should look up the definition of the word irrefutable").

Then, our misguided writer claims to know the "true reasons" all women have for cutting their hair short, he also makes sure his readers know that "donating their hair to sick kids or the summer weather" are not "true reasons."
The reasons, he insists, have more to do with girl hate (women telling each other that short hair is cute so they won't grow it out and become competition), and with having been "damaged." He only gives one example of being damaged when he shares an anticdote about a woman who told him she cut her hair because she needed a change after going through a breakup. She told him that she cut it so she would not be hit on so often, she said she "wanted to be alone for awhile after [her] break up." Another reason, he insists, is due to the "fact" that women have a higher "copy-cat instinct than men." He says this "fact" is "well documented," although he does not provide a source.

Okay, so lets break some of this down.

Firstly: Women and men have all kinds of reasons for doing any of the things that men and women do. If a woman cuts her hair short it could be for one of the reasons he's listed above (besides the copy-cat thing, because that is complete, ridiculous, bullshit), but it could also be because she wants to donate her hair to sick kids, or because she's sick of her head being so hot and heavy in the summer, or because she hates taking the time to do her hair in the morning, or because she wants to save money on water, hair product, and drying time. Maybe having long hair is dangerous or inconvenient for the kind of work she does, maybe.... well maybe one person can't possibly know all the reasons another person could have for cutting his/her hair.

Secondly: If a woman feels like she needs to chop all her hair off or gain a lot of weight or otherwise noticeably alter her body to stop or slow the advances of men maybe it isn't a sign that she's damaged at all. Maybe it's a sign that our society is damaged, that our society doesn't respect the autonomy of women, that society doesn't recognize women as human beings as much as it recognizes us as objects or accessories. 

Next he talks about a woman in Argentina who told him she would "rather die" than cut her hair short. She tells him about a friend who asked for two centimeters cut off her hair, when the hair-dresser took 4 centimeters the woman was devastated and cried every morning for at least ten days.
Uhm... okay? What does this have to do with women having short hair? Two women love their long hair, so there can't be a woman who doesn't want that now? I'm going to assume my readers are intelligent and will not stoop to explaining this fallacy any further.

The next paragraph starts with this:
"The truth of the matter is that long hair's almost universally attractive to men..."
And I will get snarky here because really what he's saying is that he, and most other men, think women with long hair are more attractive. So I'll just say two things to him:
1. You have no right to generalize all men.
2. Sir, I don't give a flying f*ck what you find attractive. I care about what is comfortable, functional, convenient, and attractive to ME. Because guess what??? It's MY body and MY hair; it has absolutely nothing to do with you, or any man, or any other human for that matter.

A bit later he lists some qualities women who choose short hair will have. He bases these qualities on women he's met in bars and says short hair is a "near guarantee" that a woman will be more

He takes the opportunity here to also call women with these qualities "cunts."
He also mentions that short-haired women he's encountered have used "filthy" language, using words like pussy and cock "even," *gasp* "when [their] clothes were on."

Okay... so first of all, I wonder what kind of pick up lines this guy uses... he's obviously pretty ignorant, sexist, even misogynistic. Even if I were single and this man tried to hit on me in a way that made those things clear, I would likely react to him in an abrasive and "bitchy" way. Mostly because I've encountered many situations in which a polite refusal was not respected by ignorant, sexist men. And based on this article he's written he has no issues telling a woman with short hair that she's ruined any chances of being found attractive by him. I am currently wearing my hair in a short, layered A-line, if this guy had the bad manners to inform me of his unattainable interest I would have a hard time resisting the temptation to tell him where he can shove his sexism.
Also, I'm pretty sure... okay, 100% sure, cause I just read it again, that he used the word "cunt" to describe women with "short-ass hair" but he presents it as a sign of being "damaged" that a woman would say pussy or cock outside of the bedroom. Again, I know you're intelligent, so I just won't... expect to say that who a woman is inside and outside of the bedroom shouldn't have to be different people unless she wants them to be.

He talks about another short-haired girl he dated who gave him a hand job while texting her "secret" boyfriend and another who was emotionless during sex (uhm.. red flags for anyone else??) and used racial slurs. I think this has a lot less to do with having short hair than it does with a whole lot of other issues. How is short hair not completely incidental in these examples? If this man's biggest problems here are about hair length, it makes me feel like he must not really see women as being the kind of full human beings men are... how else can these huge issues be taking a back-seat to a hair cut?

He ends this piece by writing,
"Not only is short-hair unattractive, it's one of the biggest signals a man can get that a woman is damaged beyond repair. There's no such thing as "pulling it off.""

Again, I don't care what this guy thinks is unattractive and I don't think that women have any kind of responsibility to make themselves attractive for men. I suppose that if a person really believed, as this writer seems to, that women exist mainly to be found attractive by men it would make sense that an act contrary to that obligation (like having short hair) could be seen as a "signal that a woman is damaged." However, women do not exist to be found attractive to men. The fact that this writer and many other people seems to believe this myth is troubling to me. If women only exist for the pleasure of men, and if women aren't as fully human as men, what right does a woman have to say "No" when he wants more than visual pleasure?

This also writer mentions, at one point, that there are "people who have no business commenting on the attractiveness of women, like gay men." Well, dear writer, I feel I must inform you that you are correct in assuming that there are people who have no business commenting on the attractiveness of women. YOU are one of those people. In fact, EVERYONE is one of those people unless an opinion is specifically asked of them.

Why would anyone think it was any of their business to comment on the physical ways any another person chooses to express themselves? Let's take some advice from our old friend Thumper; if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sincerely, One of Many Women Who Are Fed Up

When I started reading "Sincerely, One of Many Girls Who Care" I was optimistic. I, like the woman who wrote the piece, feel very sorry for boys growing up in our current cultural climate. I feel just as badly for them as I do for the girls. We are shown hundreds of images every week, every day sometimes, of unrealistic, exposed, and objectified women's bodies.
At the same time, we're encouraged to internalize shame associated with the exposure of our own bodies and the bodies of the people who are physically existing in our spaces. We are taught that our bodies, women's bodies particularly, are at once dirty, evil and tempting. It's no wonder that the 9 year old our caring girl talks about can't forget the first naked woman he saw, it has little to do with the woman, or even the nakedness, and a lot to do with the way our culture presents the ideas of these things.

Unfortunately, my optimism dwindled as I read,

 "When I think about the guys in my life who are striving to live with a pure and Godly mindset, it honestly breaks my heart that they’re surrounded with so much temptation."
See, when I think about the unrealistic standards for, and objectification of, women's bodies in the media and the other, varied, plentiful examples of female dehumanization, it breaks my heart to think of  the men who, in response, are made to feel that they cannot be emotional, cannot cry, that they must seem to enjoy violence and certain kinds of trauma, and that they can't like pink (because if they are anything like women, they are less than a (hu)man). It breaks my heart to think about the many, many, many women who suffer sexual violence at the hands of a person who has been told all their life that she is less than human.
The internal struggle of a young man who does, and does not want to have sex, simultaneously is, comparatively, kinda low on my metaphorical "heart-break totem pole." 

Now, don't misunderstand me, I was once very religious. During that time of my life I, and most people I associated with, believed strongly in the idea that waiting to be sexually active until marriage was the best way to live a happy, healthy, righteous life. One of these people told me once that in a relationship where one person hasn't waited, the other will always feel hurt. This made (and still makes) sense to me. The struggle associated with finding the right time to make your sexual debut is real and valid. I think about how important sex is to my relationship and how meaningful it is to be able to express my love to my companion through such intimate connection. If I had never experienced sex before being with H, I would very likely feel insecure about his having had that kind of experience with someone else before me.
That being said, because I had sexual experiences before meeting H, I understand that the sexual partners I had in my past could never diminish what I feel for and with H. I know he views his past experiences in the same way and this understanding dispels the insecurity I could feel.

But more importantly, I understand that my previous sexual experiences could never diminish ME. The young man striving to postpone his sexual debut for a single, life-long companion is choosing a perfectly valid path, but it is not a path which has the ability to diminish his value as a person in either instance.

Okay, moving on... one of the next things this "girl who cares" says, in her piece is,

"Not only are you surrounded with a world that’s obsessed with worthless, cheap sex and relationships that mean nothing outside of sexual appeal, you’re encouraged to take part in seeing women as only objects of sex and instant pleasure.... I wouldn’t be surprised if its all you can think about."
... Yeah. That is a big part of the problem. But a bigger part is the fact that many people read that and then, especially in this context of men as the primary victims of this phenomenon, interpret, mostly subconsciously, that women who engage in "cheap" or uncommitted sex or relationships, which mean little or "nothing outside of sexual appeal" are worthless. That when women seek sex for the sole purpose of sexual gratification they become "only objects of sex and instant pleasure." And instead of calling out the ridiculous notion that ANY person is less than a full human being at any time, she says, 'Oh, those poor men, they're programed to enjoy sexual gratification, how dare we make their lives so hard by exposing them to all these women!?' (I sure hope that double standard is perfectly clear).
So next, she gives a bunch of stats about pornography that I've tried to verify, but can't... likely because they are not true. Honestly, I don't know enough about the porn industry to offer any kind of insight into the way it affects the culture of sexual violence and gender inequality in our world. The sex industry is such a nuanced topic, I don't feel prepared to make any kind of statement about the pros or cons. I cannot speak to who pornography has the most occasion to harm.
Next, "Girl Who Cares" tells all those boys:
"ENOUGH to all the lies thrown your way about how you CAN’T be good enough for a Godly girl or more importantly, God’s grace."
*How about: Enough to all the lies thrown your way about "purity" and women's bodies as evil or objects?
"ENOUGH to allowing the pornography industries treating your temptations and natural desires as a way to lavish themselves in money."
*How about: Enough to allowing the media to tell you that you should not be expected to stay in control of yourself?
"ENOUGH to the petty girl who you have been beating yourself up for."
*How about: Enough to treating women as accessories?
There's a lot more article after that, but it's mostly scripture verses and as an atheist I don't feel particularly inclined to argue for or against what I believe to be pieces of a work of fiction at best, and psychological warfare at worst.
So, in conclusion, let me say again that I agree with her that we should feel sorry for our boys. We should feel sorry for our boys and our girls, our women and men. I feel bad for the woman who wrote this article too, she's as much a victim of this culture as she is a perpetrator.
Yeah.... I feel bad for her. And for other women who read this article. I mean, as a victim of sexual violence, the only conclusion to draw from this, at the end, is that women who are sexually victimized have no one to blame but themselves and/or other women. My rapist grew up seeing all these sexualized images; he was surrounded by "temptation" so when he couldn't be strong anymore, against such overwhelming odds, he had little choice but to rape me. Right? I mean, it's not really his fault, it's the fault of other women who drove him the edge. It's my fault for letting him know that I had been attracted to him and then for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. So, of course, he shouldn't be punished, I should be punished, other women should be punished, it's our fault, right?


So, to "Girl Who Cares,"

I'm a woman who cares too. I care about you. I care about the fact that you think your value and worth as a future wife and as a human being, are such precarious things that they can vanish with the removal of your clothing. I care that you see yourself and other women that way, I care enough to tell you, and them, that your value is infinite and nothing could ever change that.
But I'm also one of many women who is fed up. I am fed up with having to defend my value. I'm fed up with having to explain why my rape was not my fault. And I'm fed up with seeing your article and others like it.


A Feminist Slut 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A 6-year-old's Suspension and Rape Culture

A first grader was recently suspended from school for several days for kissing a female peer on the hand during a reading group.

Wait... what? That sounds pretty ridiculous. Like... really ridiculous. At least, that was my first thought. H (my husband) text me about it this morning and suggested I write about it so I googled it a few minutes ago. The article I found is here and it focuses on the question of whether or not we can call this incident sexual harassment and whether or not the school over reacted.
The first thing that really stood out to me was this line:

"Jennifer Saunders said her son was suspended once before for kissing the girl and had other disciplinary problems, and she was surprised to find out that he would be forced out of school again for several days."
So this kid had kissed this girl before and was told not to do it again, he was suspended, and still he doesn't respect the "No." He's six, so I can't judge him too harshly, but I do think his parents are doing him a disservice. Based on the article, it seems that his mom is really excusing the actions of her son to her son. I mean, if my kid was suspended for kissing a girl on the hand, whether it was a repeat offense or not, I would probably think the whole thing was pretty silly. But that doesn't mean I wouldn't have a serious talk with the kid about consent and appropriate boundaries.

At the same time the behavior is being excused, relevant information is also seeming to be withheld; the mom says,

"This is taking it to an extreme that doesn't need to be met with a six year old. Now my son is asking questions. What is sex mommy? That should not ever be said, sex. Not in a sentence with a six year old."
She has a right to her own ideas about when sensitive conversations need to happen, but it seems to me that this little boy might be able to understand his situation a little bit better if his questions were answered accurately, honestly, and responsibly. If he understood what sex was, why it's special, and what it has to do with kissing, he might be able to understand why people are upset by his lack of boundaries.

Now, the little girl's family didn't comment about the situation but the school policy is against "unwanted touching" and the Superintendent of the school district said,

"The focus needs to be on his behavior. We usually try to get the student to stop, but if it continues, we need to take action and it sometimes rises to the level of suspension."
It seems as if the little girl probably told him the touching was unwanted, if not at the time of this incident, at the time of a previous one. Additionally, his teacher or another adult at the school had clearly told him the touching needed to stop.

I'll be honest, I'm not really too concerned with a six year old kid kissing some other six year old kid on the hand. I am, however, concerned with the idea of who this little boy will grow into. What kind of man will he become if he is consistently being taught that other people's boundaries are unimportant and that he doesn't need to follow the rules of his society.

And what are the readers of this USA Today article going to learn?
This boy broke a rule, invading the personal space of someone else with unwanted touching.
Now there is news about it, questioning whether the boy's motive was bad and whether the consequences are too heavy.
Whether his actions caused the little girl to be uncomfortable and unfocused in her learning environment isn't even discussed.
The idea of consent being violated is simply rolled over with the phrase, "he has a crush on a girl at school and she likes him back." As if that makes it alright that he invaded her space.

Again, not really that big of a deal. I remember little boys kissing me on the hand or cheek at school in elementary school and even when I didn't like it, it didn't damage me. That being said, this format we've just explored is used really often in much more serious circumstances.

Like with Steubenville, when several boys broke some rules, invading the personal space of someone by touching her in a way she couldn't consent to.
Then there was news about it, questioning whether the boys' motives were bad and whether the consequences were too heavy.
Whether their actions cause Jane Doe tremendous pain, anxiety, depression, etc. was barely even discussed.
The idea of consent being violated was simply rolled over with phrases like, "party girl," and "drunk." As if that made it okay that they raped her.

A little boy kissing a little girl on the hand during reading group in the first grade is not a big deal. Refusing to see the patterns we, as adults, are developing and imposing on children, especially so young, IS a big deal.
I'm sure this kid is really great and awesome. He probably doesn't understand why he's been suspended for trying to make the girl he likes feel special and I do feel for him, but he still has to be taught that intent is less relevant than harm.

I've only read this one article about it and I obviously know nothing about this boy, girl, or their families. I can't possible make an accurate judgment about whether suspension was too harsh, but I do know that our culture sets kids up to continue the long tradition of rape culture and victim blaming we live with.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Common, Unintended Christmas Message - The Mary Paradox

It's becoming more and more common to hear and see examples of women being objectified, dehumanized, and held to impossible standards in today's media. As a consumer this holiday season please be conscious of the kinds of messages you support with your dollars. If the advertising is sexist (or oppressive in the form of any other "ist" or "phobic") don't buy it. There's a movement out there to use #notbuyingit in response to those kinds of ads so we can show companies that we don't respect oppressive advertising and we won't support it.
I think it is really important to let our dollars speak for us on the commercial side of Christmas as we're bombarded with marketing schemes, but there is another side of Christmas that can have some pretty negative impacts on our young women too.

Religion is a touchy subject so let me just say that I am not trying to be offensive. In fact, I'm trying really hard not to be offensive, so keep that in mind. I get that people have all kinds of personal feelings and beliefs and the only reason I'm bringing this up at all is because there are a lot of Christians in the United States and every year this story about Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus is told, which is fine, except that there is a really damaging impossible standard for women in this story and no one talks about it.

Mary is a virgin and a mother.

In many cases, culturally and religiously, women are found valuable for only three reasons: Purity, beauty, and child bearing. The more a woman has of one of these things, the more valuable she is, if she has two of these things, she's even more valuable. The catches are that without at least one of these things, no other positive qualities seem to matter, and it's impossible to have all three.

Unless you're Mary. Mary, who is a virgin and a mother, who is always depicted as young, innocent, and beautiful. Mary who was said to be "favored" and "blessed among women."

I was raised in a devout Christian home and I can testify to the heart-breaking sense of shame at knowing I would have to choose between purity and bearing children. I used to wonder what Mary had done to be worthy of such a wonderful calling and what I had or hadn't done that made me so much less special. Women feel an expectation to live up the standard this presents. We're expected to be sexy enough for a man to want to have sex with us, but we're supposed to not want to have sex ourselves; we're supposed to be striving for "virgin mother" and that's about as close as we can get.

I'm not saying that, if it's true, the story of Jesus being born of a virgin isn't miraculous and worth telling. I'm saying that the value of Mary, as a person, should be a lot more about the way she accepted the scary and dangerous calling of carrying a fatherless child during the time and in the place she did, and the overwhelming responsibility of raising the Savior of all Mankind. I'm saying that the value of Mary, as a person, should be a lot less about the fact that she'd never had sex. The virgin part seems incidental to me... in a time without birth control, choosing a virgin was a good way for God to make sure no one else claimed his kid, that's about all the value I can see in it.

Personally, I'm not a religious person so when I think about Mary now I imagine a young woman who either thought she was in love with someone she knew before she was given away to Joseph or was raped. In either situation she would have been killed as punishment, probably by stoning.Which is why, in the bible Joseph considers keeping the matter private, and simply "putting her away."

So... the difference between one of the most revered, respected women in history and a woman stoned to death in shame and disgrace, or made to disappear, comes down to whether the skin on the penis of a man had touched the skin lining the inside of her vagina. Or, if you'd like, it doesn't have to do with her at all, it's about who impregnated her- a person or the spirit of the lord. Whether she had any choice in it doesn't matter either way.

Neither of those messages is acceptable to be teaching girls and young women.
If you wait to have sex until God makes you pregnant you're awesome. If you have sex after you're married, just to have children, you're alright, and if you have sex before that, you should die horribly or at least disappear. Or:
If you're raped by someone cool, you're cool. If you're never raped you're alright. If you're raped by someone not cool you should die horribly or at least disappear.

Do I need to go into all the ways these ideas influence and support rape culture?

It seems to me that many Christian women have at least part of their sense of value tied up in Mary. Let's stop influencing that value with the idea of the pinnacle of womanhood being dependent on simultaneous virginity and motherhood. Instead it should be influenced by the ideas of courage, selflessness, strength, and grace that can just as easily accompany women without "virginity" or children. Mary displayed those characteristics and they influenced our world much more than the details of her bedroom ever could.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

"Text Before Sex" and Proving Consent

I just read the article posted by Roxanne Jones, a founding editor of ESPN, titled "Jones: Young men, text before sex" you can, and should, read it here.

This article is well intentioned - she wants sexual assault to end and she wants her son to be healthy and safe while he's at college. But her subscription to a couple of common rape myths, and ignorance of some little-known facts, makes her article just another victim blaming, convoluting, confusing, piece of rape culture.

Jones basically expresses a belief that having proof of consent (in this case, in the form of text messages) is important to protect young men from false accusations of rape.

I have mixed feeling about this tactic. On one hand, I appreciate any attempt to make discussions about sex and consent commonplace. On the other hand, I'm disgusted by the emphasis on avoiding false allegations of rape because they don't happen very often. In fact, for every unfounded report of rape there are around 15 founded reports. And guess what else? Just because a case gets recorded as being "unfounded" doesn't mean that the rape didn't happen, so there's something to think about. Honestly, it's ridiculous that people focus on protecting people from being falsely accused instead of protecting people from sexual violence considering how often each happens.

But if this texting thing can help clear the muddy waters of consent, isn't it a good thing, regardless of the ulterior motive? Well, in that one way, yes. But that isn't what ends up happening. A person who really does consent, in person and not just over a text message, will, likely, not be reporting a rape later.

On the other side of things, consider the following situation:

A man texts a woman he is friends with,
"Hey! We should hook up tonight. What do you think? Are you DTF?" (For those of you who don't know, DTF stands for "down to fuck" It's a particularly crude and casual way to ask for consent.) So the woman texts back,
"Of course! How could I resist you? ;)"

Knowing nothing else about these people there is already gray area... were either of these people being serious? Was this an inside joke? Do they both know whether the other was being serious or not?

For the sake of the argument, however, we'll assume they both understand the other and they are, in fact, consenting to sexual activity.

Now, what if the next time this man sees the woman she has had several drinks. Does the previous consent still apply?

See how the gray area just keeps popping up? 

The thing is that we already have a lot of guidelines and rules and advice out there about how to prove consent was not withheld: text messages, listening particularly for the words "No" and "Stop," making assumptions based on previous sexual partners or activities, etc. and ALL of these leave room for "gray area," for "he said - she said," for doubt and discussion.

As a culture, we need to stop focusing on whether or not consent was clearly withheld and/or granted in the past and begin to focus on the concept of whether or not consent is obvious and enthusiastic when the actual activity occurs.

The article by Jones ends with her telling her readers to stay away from the drunk, party girls; the implication is that those are the girls who are in the best position to later make a rape accusation.
I agree with her sentiment, but not with her reasoning.
Dear readers, you should stay away from sexual activity with drunk people, but not because they may later accuse you of rape, because you may be committing a rape especially considering that an intoxicated person is not, legally, capable of consenting.
The concepts Jones expresses are great, but unless it's presented in a way that doesn't slut-shame, and/or imply that false accusations are a common issue, it does more harm than good by further cementing rape myths.

A person with such a broad following should be more responsible. Better advice for young men would be to learn what consent really is. I'll end with a definition for those of you who aren't too sure:

Consent: Voluntary, positive agreement between the participants to engage in specific sexual activity.
-A person who is asleep or mentally or physically incapacitated, either through the effect of drugs or alcohol or for any other reason, is not capable of giving valid consent.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Let's Talk About Sex

Let's talk about sex. Because if you don't understand sex - what it is and what it isn't - it's a lot more difficult to understand and talk about rape.
A while ago I posted a blog called Rape is Not the Same as Next-Day-Regrets. Or is it? I mentioned my discomfort with the idea of a person's value being tied to their virginity or the amount of sexual activity he/she has engaged in.

So now, maybe, before we talk about sex, we should talk about our bodies and what they have to do with sex. First off, let's get something clear: Sexual activity does not affect a person's value, purity, worthiness, etc. It does not make you dirty (well, I mean, depending on several factors, sexual activity may necessitate a shower, but  you know what I mean) and it certainly doesn't make you "used merchandise" because guess what, YOU ARE NOT MECHANDISE.

You are a person and you deserve body autonomy. This culture can lead you to believe that your body dictates your value but really, the only reason your body has value in the first place is because you live in it.

Okay, now that that's out of the way, let's define

Sex: (chiefly with reference to people) sexual activity, including, specifically, sexual intercourse.

Okay, I feel like most of us get that right? Sex = penis in vagina. But is that all? I mean, that's what the definition implies, but we know there's a bit more too it right? Maybe we can find a better definition...

Sex: The consensual act, by two or more humans, of pleasuring each other with their bodies, specifically their genitals. The act can be physically fulfilling, through orgasm. It can also be fulfilling emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually.

This is a definition I put together from pieces of other definitions I found. I hope we can all mostly agree on this definition because we need to talk about what that means in terms of what sex IS:

1. Sex is consensual

2. Sex is about pleasure

3. Sex is fulfilling

Which means:

1. Sex isn't forced on someone else

2. Sex isn't about power, control, or manipulation

3. Sex isn't harmful

Knowing what SEX is and isn't makes it a bit easier to see through the blinders of our rape culture to understand what RAPE is.

Basically, rape is what sex isn't. When sexual activity is forced on someone, when it seems to take the power away from one of the people involved, when a person has to be manipulated, coerced, or otherwise "convinced" to participate, when it's harmful - physically, emotionally, psychologically, and/or spiritually - to one party, that ISN'T sex. It IS rape.

The thing is that if you feel ready, if you're safe and responsible (concerning STIs and pregnancy), and you are with someone(s) else who is also ready, there isn't anything wrong with sex.
*Note: I'm not saying that if you want to wait for personal or religious reasons that your choice is invalid. It's perfectly valid. If marriage is something you require to feel ready for sexual activity, that's fine.

However, this society tells us, particularly women, that sex is bad and gross and that if we participate in it we are subsequently dirty, stained, spotted, used, broken, changed... pick your descriptor... I've heard all of these and many more, while simultaneously telling us that we have to do it. Your "virginity" (btw, what the hell IS virginity anyway?) guards your intrinsic value as a person while your value as woman and your chance at love and happiness is dependent upon losing said virginity. Because a "virgin's" value, while culturally recognized, is not interesting or valuable to her male peers who have been told that women are, primarily, sex objects.

This concept creates a lot of confusion for victims of sexual violence. For someone like me, who's first experience with "penis in vagina" was when I was raped, the feelings of dirtiness, the feeling that something was horribly, horribly wrong, seemed... appropriate for any kind of first sexual experience. I had always assumed that sex would kind of feel... uhm... well, awful the first time because I would be able to feel my virtue and purity slip away, although, I did plan for that time to be with my husband who's love and commitment, I assumed, would be worth it. I just knew that sex would be, ultimately, devaluing but I didn't think it would hurt SO MUCH. Still, I barely questioned my pain for months. I thought my intense feelings of shame, worthlessness, and guilt were normal. Because of the myths of rape culture I didn't even know I had been raped.

Is there a better way to make sure sexual violence remains a low-risk, high-reward crime?

Imagine my surprise when I realized that sex was supposed to feel good for women too... No, I really didn't know that. My experiences, in conjunction with rape myths I believed, had led me to the conclusion that sex was for men. A close friend and I decided that men had made up the concept of the female orgasm in order to get more sex (interesting how we never considered that the concept of blue balls might be a lie). We concluded that sex was a thing women did for men when they loved them. They made the ultimate sacrifice - a sacrifice of self - to prove that love and they did it again and again and again throughout a relationship or marriage or whatever.

Our conclusions were the only thing that made sense to us without seeing and understanding the "purity myth," without understanding that value is not tied to sexual activity.

Sure, sex is really useful for our species, since it's the primary way we reproduce. In fact, that's WHY it feels so good, we needed to like it so we'd keep having children right? But reproduction isn't the only reason we engage in sex, especially since we can all but guarantee that sex doesn't lead to children now, if we don't want them. Sex can be connecting, stress relieving, good exercise, and just plain fun. If we, as a society, as a culture, don't start recognizing that sex is meant to be a fully positive expression we can't recognize the fully negative implications of rape.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What does a homophobic, weightist comment have to do with rape culture?

I was talking to a friend of my sister's today and he made a statement I've heard other variations of many times. He said, 

"As straight guys, we don't like to be around gay guys anyway, but especially not a fat, gay guy cause he could rape us." 

The statement made me pretty angry. I was angry as an lgbt ally. I was angry as a feminist. Statements like this are really interesting to me because they make me really angry before I can even express why. I often use my feelings of outrage as a sign that I need to dissect a statement or experience in order to understand something. Usually I end up better understanding the subtle ways rape culture slips into our common ideas and beliefs. So let's dissect this statement a little bit because I feel like there are a whole lot of things wrong with it.

Right off the bat I have to tell you that I know A LOT of straight men who don't mind being around gay men at all. In fact, most of the men I know recognize that whether a person is gay or straight or bisexual or pan sexual or asexual doesn't really have anything to do with whether or not he/she is someone they want to be around.This attitude is really, disgustingly homophobic.

Then he starts talking about rape. But what does he even mean? What was this man really trying to say?

Maybe he was implying that gay men would all be rapists if they were strong or big enough. I wish that this idea was just too outrageous to be taken seriously by any sane person, it's hard to believe someone could make such an insidious blanket statement about such a large, diverse group of people. Unfortunately, however, this belief does exist, just look at all the controversy around the issue of gay leaders in the Boy Scouts.  Just in case you actually subscribe to this bullshit - you can't take an entire demographic of people and just assume that they are all rapist or pedophiles. That. Is. Insane.

But that isn't really what this blog is about, and I don't really think that's what he was trying to say.

Maybe he's just really arrogant.  I mean, this guy really thinks that he's so attractive and witty and great that no gay man could possibly resist him? Seriously?

Actually, I don't really think that's it either. At least, I think there is more to it than that. There is this idea that if someone CAN force intercourse with a subject of desire he WILL. Let me re-word this statement a little differently and we'll see if we can make the underlying message a little more clear.

He said: As straight guys, we don't like to be around gay guys anyway, but especially not a fat, gay guy cause he could rape us.

He also said: I don't like being around people who may be attracted to me, but especially not if they are larger than I am because they could rape me.

Is it surprising that my first thought was, Well, at least you can understand how women feel all the time?

And that isn't because I hate men or I'm afraid of men or I think that all men are rapists. I know that only a very small percentage of men rape. I know and love many men. Also, I know a lot men that I could definitely beat the shit out of, if it came down to it.

So where does this idea come from? This fear that women and men have in common? Well, maybe that question is a little bit erroneous. The fact is that the fear of being raped, which is very common in women, is almost non-existent in men. On top of that, women's fear is often misplaced, we're afraid of strangers, walking home at night, etc, when statistically, very few rapes occur in these conditions.

When this statement was made, it was regarding a social setting. It was said in a tone of voice which implied "truth-in-humor."
So, somewhere, subconsciously, this man believes in the idea that "People who are attracted to me and are larger than I am are likely to rape me." But he also believes that that's funny. If he thought it was a real possibility that something so horrible could happen to him he wouldn't have said it, but he probably believes that men don't get raped; it's a common misconception. The truth is that 1 in 7 men in Utah is a victim of sexual violence. When we perpetuate the myth that men don't get raped we telling male survivors that they are alone, that they should be ashamed that they weren't "manly" (what doesn't that even mean??) enough to avoid sexual violence.

Subsequently, it implies the message that women are "meant" to be raped.

So, maybe what this statement was implying is that rapes happen often and it's funny as long as it doesn't happen to men?

The only way a person could say something like this is if he/she subconsciously carries the belief that women are less than men... less than human.

And it all comes back to objectification and how it exacerbates the epidemic of sexual violence.

Remarks like this are made often and casually. They are made as jokes. It seems to me that people don't even know what they are saying. I seriously doubt that if I asked this guy if he thought women were less valuable than men, if he thought it was funny when women were raped, or if he thought gay men were all rapists, that he would say yes. In fact, I feel fairly confident that he would say no.

But he did say all of those things. He said them with one statement he didn't even have to think about. Still think rape culture isn't a thing?