June 16, 2005

Real sexual frustration

That is, frustration at the way our society handles sexuality, and how it in turn fosters a culture of rape. Go read Amanda, then come back.

Men can help stop rape by actively resisting this stereotype and getting up in other men's shit when they say things like this. Get offended! I would, if I were told I have no self-control.

All this leads me to another point--the discussion as such was based on the false model of sexual relations as something men do to women. That women somehow own sex (usually phrased as 'have all the pussy') and men have to trick us into handing it over or take it by force. That's ridiculous. Sex takes two--men fuck women and women fuck right back, or something's not right. Men and women both can help reform the way we speak about these things to reflect the reality--that women desire, too, that men have to consent, too.

Lakoff's theory of frames is useful--replacing metaphors of speech that regard sex as male conquest of women--I hit that, I nailed her, I fucked her--with frames that emphasize mutuality--We fucked, we hooked up--can't hurt and will probably do a lot to undermine the widespread cultural belief that women are objects to be taken, by force if necessary.

My fellow Loggers, especially those of us who worked Orientation a year or two, might remember the "date rape awareness" segment. Twenty or so freshmen from the same dorm would be in a classroom with a pair of orientation leaders, one male and one female. The leaders would take turns reading a short essay written by a man reflecting on how he raped a woman, manipulating her to get her back to his apartment then forcing himself on her. Even though she never said 'no', never actively fought back, and he didn't explicitly threaten her, he raped her, and only realized it years later. In the essay, he talks about how he felt entitled to sex, had exactly the sort of attitude Amanda describes in the middle paragraph of that quotation.

If I'm remembering right, one thing that always bothered me about the essay was that the author didn't explain how he came to realize he'd raped this woman; or if it did, much more time was devoted to a painstaking account of the evening leading up to the rape. The result, I think, is that the essay stresses the connection between a certain view of sex and rape, but can't present a real alternative beyond 'make sure she wants it, too'.

The followup to the essay didn't help, either: a series of vapid, leading statements was read, and students positioned themselves around the room depending on how strongly they agreed or disagreed. Leaders were allowed to do nothing more than call on students to explain why they (dis)agreed, and in a room full of strangers the conversations were pretty empty. The freshmen were lead to earthshattering conclusions like 'girls who dress *that way* are not, in fact, asking for it' and 'guys aren't entitled to sex'.

I participated in this program twice, and ran it two or three times, and only once did a genuinely useful discussion of rape and sexuality break out: when all the orientation leaders -- sophomores, juniors, and seniors in college, who mostly knew each other -- were participants. More thoughtful and more comfortable than the incoming freshmen, they were able to actually deconstruct and challenge the questions, getting at the more important issues the program avoided.

This, I think, is the most important thing: to build a culture where sex is first and foremost a collaborative act, an expression of one's sensuality and eros to be shared with another, not the empty, narcissistic pleasure of getting off our culture takes it to be today. In the latter, one's partner is nothing more than a sophisticated masturbatory tool, and rape 'is' a slightly more violent means to the same end. But in the former, rape and sex are essentially incompatible.

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