Thursday, December 16, 2010

Take it like a man

Warning for readers: This post discusses both acts of sexual violence and some extremely ugly attitudes concerning them. For an archive of my previous posts on this and related issues, please click here.

For reasons of length, I have split this post into sections, linked below

Part One: Introduction

I held off on posting this after my two previous posts on the subject because I didn't want to turn this blog into the Feminist Rape and Child Molestation Apologia Gazette, but this post by Meghan Murphy at The F Word: Feminist Media Collective is too fine a specimen to go to waste even if it is a few months old now. “Can women rape men? I’m not sure I care” is a true tour de force. (Originally found via Toy Soldier.)

On the one hand, there is nothing in it's basic assumptions that I haven't seen time after time from left-wing feminists, especially those of a "radical" persuasion. It merely takes some premises common in modern feminism and explicitly carries them to their pitilessly logical conclusions. And yet the ideas and attitudes about men, women, and sexual violence expressed in this post are, in all of their essentials, something that a rock-ribbed conservative circa 2010, or 1950, or 1850 could heartily agree with. It's a more literate version of some stereotypically macho meathead ranting about how Real Men don't suffer or get hurt or dominated by anything, least of all a girl.

If Meghan Murphy had referred to men and boys who had the temerity to actually complain after being raped or sexually abused by women as “pussies” or “queers” or “faggots,” it would not have seemed terribly out of place.  Luckily, with a sprinkling of lefty jargon you can do your part to encourage victims of sexual crimes to keep their mouths shut without sounding so distastefully blue-collar.

Murphy's post was written in response to this post by Cara Kulwicki at The Curvature, and this post by RMJ at TeleVism. To summarize the parts Murphy found objectionable: RMJ objects to the fact that popular media is more likely to treat sexual violence against men committed by women as cause for amusement than dismay and so further marginalizes victims of it. Similarly, Kulwicki comments critically about an incident on a late night talk show in which a male guest's sexually traumatic past was made light of, and more generally on the trivialization of sexual abuse and statutory rape committed  by women. I liked both posts (though some of Kulwicki's subsequent remarks were rather less edifying) and was happy to see two feminists in fairly well-known venues talking about the subject.

Others were less enthusiastic. Murphy, ever vigilant, is not about to let misogynistic backlash like "Marginalizing and ridiculing rape victims is bad, even if the victim has a penis" go unchallenged.

Part Two: They Don't Feel Pain Like We Do

Murphy starts off by helpfully informing us that:
In speaking to the men I know who consider themselves to have ‘lost their virginity’ at a very young age (for example Lil’ Wayne’s first sexual experience, discussed in Cara Kulwicki’s article, was at 11. That counts as very young), they have all made it clear that they consider these experiences to be consensual. They don’t call these experiences rape and they don’t remember their experiences as being rape. Instead they tend to feel proud of this early introduction to intercourse. Women, on the other hand, do not tend to share this perception of their early sexual experiences.
Murphy presumes that, if these unspecified men did have any negative feelings about their experiences, they would speak openly to her about it. The possibility that these men might be reticent when talking to someone who explodes with outraged anger and disgust at the very idea of actually giving a damn about male rape victims strikes me as a plausible alternative explanation, but considering that hypothesis would entail wasting precious empathy on Unworthy Victims I can understand her disinterest in pursuing it. Still, I'm happy for her- I wish every human being could enjoy the sort of place in society that would allow them to blithely assume that everyone they know feels free to talk about painful emotions and experiences.

But this speaks to a larger phenomenon than one woman's rampantly unexamined privilege or blackly humorous, Master Shake-esque lack of self-awareness. Victims of violence and abuse, be it sexual, physical, or emotional, routinely reframe, bend, distort, or selectively deny their own perceptions, experiences, and reasoning processes when faced with a reality that is too painful, too disturbing, or too sharply at odds with their beliefs about themselves, their friends and family, or how the world in general works, and so convince themselves that the way they were treated wasn't abusive, or wasn't harmful, or was actually beneficial, or must have been something they actually wanted, or was something they deserved or brought upon themselves

One thing feminists frequently talk about is how women who are raped or sexually abused often blame themselves for the crime or frame it as not "really" rape, and how our culture's attitudes about women and sexuality can encourage and facilitate this denial, as well as discouraging women who do identify what was done to them as criminal from speaking about it for fear of being disbelieved, despised, or humiliated. It shouldn't be necessary to point out that these psychological mechanisms and these fears are a part of human psychology in general not the result of some uniquely feminine frailty of spirit, but not infrequently it is.

Likewise, it shouldn't be necessary to point out that the social and psychological mechanisms that shape reactions to victimization are given ample material to work with in a culture where men perceived as weak are objects of contempt, ridicule, and disgust, females are thought of as too nurturing and innocent to ever want to commit sexually violent, abusive, or exploitative acts and too weak and passive to carry out such a thing out in any case, the very idea of a male not consenting to sex with a woman is dismissed because it is presumed that any and every male old enough to have two digits in his age is an indiscriminately hypersexual animal that will screw anything and everything with a vagina and a pulse, and the concept of rape itself is routinely defined and talked about in ways that implicitly or explicitly excludes the very possibility of a female perpetrator. But not infrequently, it is.

When feminists talk about men, some of them have an unfortunate habit of abruptly forgetting everything they previously knew about the way psychological coping mechanisms, social stigmas, and deeply ingrained cultural assumptions can shape the way people react to violence and exploitation. Consequently, it sometimes doesn't seem to occur to them that male victims of rape and abuse might actually act like victims of rape and abuse. This can take the overt form displayed here, or be shown in more subtle ways- for instance, uncritical acceptance of data about sex crimes against males produced by methods that they would quickly recognize as seriously flawed if used to argue that sexual violence against women was a trivial problem.

(The NIJ/CDC Violence Against Women Survey is a perennial favorite, and no wonder- unsatisfied with merely using questions worded in ways that cause male underreporting, it goes the extra mile by defining female perpetrators almost completely out of existence with a laundry list of male-female sex acts that are classified  as "rape" when the woman is unwilling but magically cease to be so if it's the man or boy who's been forced or threatened or terrorized or beaten into submission. I guess the vagina is just too inherently beneficent an organ to be used for evil.)

Of course, considering how a person's behavior might be affected by trauma and feelings like shame, shock, fear, or confusion requires at least some degree of empathy and sympathy for that person- the ability and the willingness to think of that person as vulnerable, as a being that can be weak, that can be hurt, that can suffer, and to think of that fact as something that actually matters.

Part Three: Carpet Bombing

Murphy's remarks are pretty standard so standard so far: Nothing you wouldn't find reiterated dozens of times in the comments section of any well-trafficked online news article about a female middle school teacher caught fucking a 7th grader, albeit with less excuse. Murphy continues:
I feel very strongly that, to speak as though men raping women is the same as women raping men, is both deceptive and dangerous. Men and women aren’t the same. It is because we don’t live in an equitable society that, to talk about rape happening equally or in an equally significant way between men and women, is just not ok. I get the feeling that both authors want these men’s experiences to be viewed as equal to women’s experiences. As though they are equally at risk, equally victimized, as though men, just like women, are in constant danger of being raped. Bullshit.

...why are we, feminists, talking about men and women experiencing sexual assault in the same manner. Why is it that both these writers do not (seemingly) understand why this might be something that is joked about around men whereas it is in no way, ever, acceptable to joke about women and rape?
Note the conflation: Murphy jumps from rape as it is experienced by individual rape victims to rape as it affects aggregates as if they were the same thing. The average member of women as a group is more likely to be raped than the average member of men as a group, therefore the experience of any individual women who is raped is worse than the experience of any individual man who is raped- Sort like the well-documented ability of women to rise from the dead after being torn to pieces in industrial accidents, protected from the more severe "permanently dead" male experience by the fact that women comprise only a small minority of occupational fatalities. And, therefore, expressing serious concern for male victims of rape is bad because you're giving undue attention to people who haven't been hurt badly enough to warrant it.

I will accede to this if, in the spirit of reciprocity, feminists likewise cease making any references to female victims of homicide, suicide, war-related injuries and fatalities, occupational injuries and fatalities, homelessness, and any other problems disproportionately affecting males. Or, if they absolutely must mention them, to not do so in a manner that implies that anyone should care. I confess I find the prospect of declaring millions upon millions of dead, maimed, or brutalized women to be unworthy of public mention somewhat distasteful, but apparently thinking that a woman being torn limb from limb by factory machinery or cut in half by shrapnel is just as bad as a man being torn limb from limb or cut in half is “bullshit.”

Summarizing her thoughts on the idea of taking male rape victims seriously:
Fuck off. Rape is gendered. Domestic abuse is gendered. This is not to say that men aren’t raped. It is to say that or to imply that women are capable of raping a man in the same way that men are capable of raping women is damaging and unclear. A man can penetrate a woman. A man can penetrate a man. He has that power. A woman does not.
Like many feminists, much of what Murphy says parallels traditionalist attitudes, but here mere parallel gives way to outright convergence. The only tip-off that this was written by someone who fancies herself an enemy of "Patriarchy" and not its champion is the use of the word "gendered;" that aside, it's nothing one of the right-wing hyenas at Pajamas Media who swarmed over James Landrith couldn't have written. Perhaps she and Bill Donohue have been cribbing from each other- their shared passion for discouraging people from noticing or caring about predatory sexual acts committed against boys gives them plenty of common ground.

Despite her apparent zeal to stand up for victimized women, Murphy completely throws women and girls raped or abused by other women under the bus. The conception of rape presented here, in which the badness or importance of a rape and the concern-worthiness of its victim is dependent on the sex of the perpetrator, has no more space for them than it does for males, and so they become collateral damage. Nothing sexual a female can do can matter in the way a man's actions can matter. Rape is gendered.

(Taken as written, Murphy's explanation of why her sex is entitled to the privilege of having the people they rape and abuse excluded from public awareness, concern, or sympathy also excludes female victims of men from the front of the bus in the case of rape by instrumentation. Though if one wishes to take a less literal and more charitable interpretation, perhaps a broom handle/dildo/bottle/whatever gets promoted to honorary phallus when a man holds it but loses its mana when a mere woman is forcibly shoving it into somebody's rectum or vagina.)

Murphy does not say that female victims of other females don't exist, or don't matter, or don't warrant as much sympathy or concern as other victims, or are less victimized or wronged than other victims. Instead, she defines and describes the issue in a way that logically entails these things. This sort of marginalization or outright erasure of females victimized by other females is common in both traditional and feminist discussions of sexual violence. Whether or not this further marginalization of a group of women and girls already almost totally ignored by a culture that can barely even imagine their existence is problematic depends on whether raped women and girls are of interest primarily because they are people who have suffered an injustice, or because they're a convenient blunt object to swing at the enemy. And, if the latter, how much collateral damage is acceptable.

This is the principal means by which male victims are marginalized or attacked, as well; The sort of openly expressed balls-to-the-wall loathing and abuse in something like Murphy's post, or in the Pajamas Media thread about male rape victims linked above, kicks in primarily when the primary line of defense has been breached. Defining people out of existence is effective precisely because it doesn't require that sort of unpleasant spectacle- if it's doing its job, most  people don't notice that there was ever a job for it to do. It's seldom the result of malice or ill will towards its victims; it works because it reflects, and in turn strengthens and sustains, an environment where it rarely occurs to either speaker or listener that there is a victim. It's not just who you don't talk about, it's who you talk about all the time without realizing or acknowledging it.

Part Four: It's Not "Rape-rape"

The most striking paragraph, however, is this one:
BUT when a person experiences something from a position of power and control it is different than when a person experiences something from a place where they do not have power, where they have been coerced, where their lack of power has been taken advantage of, ie. when they have been victimized. I do believe very strongly that people should be able to define their own experiences and therefore, if a man feels he has been raped by a woman, then it is rape. What I take issue with, is feminists, in particular, taking the rape conversation and applying it to men in an equal way as it as been applied to women. Are we not losing something very important when we do this? That something being GENDER?!...
So, now we know: Men and boys who are raped by females do not experience a situation where they have been coerced, or been taken advantage of, or lacked power. They do not experience being victimized. Both the forcible rape of adults and preteen boys deflowered by grown women in a position to exert a degree of quasi-parental authority are explicitly included in this.

So, the answer to the question “Can women rape men?” turns out to be: Kinda, technically, in a way that satisfies the strictly literal definition of the word “rape” but is largely devoid of the things that make rape a bad thing that people shouldn't do.

If a woman forces a man or boy to penetrate her vagina with his penis while he is being held at gunpoint, or at knife point, or while he is being held down or restrained, or is too badly injured to defend himself, or has been terrorized into submission by threats, he experiences this from a place of power. He does not experience being coerced, or being powerless, or being victimized. James Landrith, about whom I've written before, was not coerced or victimized when a woman began attacking him in his sleep and, when he woke up, extorted his submission by threatening to accuse him of rape if he resisted his rapist. When- to cite an example that was in the news a few months ago- a woman in her thirties begins sexually abusing an emotionally troubled 12-year old boy who "looked at her like a second mother” and continues to do so for a half-decade, exploits her relationship with the boy's family to have that boy move in with her as a "boarder" after her divorce, and uses threats and blackmail to squelch his attempts to escape from his role as her ambulatory sex toy, the boy is in a position of power. Rape is gendered, so man up and stop whining.

Murphy doesn't elaborate on whether she thinks the same applies to nine-year-old boys or five-year-old boys or toddlers, but it's logically entailed by all the all-consuming prominence she gives to the gender of victims and victimizers. A third-grader being sodomized with a broom handle or forced to perform cunnilingus on his mother may look like he's being horribly abused, but the very fact that you would think such a thing- or worse, think that it matters-  just goes to show that you don't understand the patriarchal context in which he's being sodomized with a broom handle or forced to perform cunnilingus on his mother.

Part Five: Mighty White of You

To give credit where it's due, Murphy magnaminously says that:
Let me be clear. I don’t think it is appropriate for anybody to have sex with anybody else without consent. But taking gender out of the equation and comparing the two situations as though they are equal to the experience of hundreds of thousands of women who are raped BY MEN every year is fucked.
A word of advice for anyone interested in writing about the issue of sexual violence: If your explanation of your thoughts and feelings on the issue requires a disclaimer clarifying that you do not consider rape and child molestation to be good things, you are doing it wrong. Show, don't tell.

Note that she conspicuously did not say that she thought it a significant moral wrong- or wrong at all, for that matter. A woman having sex with a man or boy without his consent- raping him, to use the more succinct and precise term that Murphy conspicuously avoids here- is doing something that is not "appropriate."

To not be appropriate is to be unfitting, or unsuited, or incongruous. It is not appropriate to wear flip-flops and speedos at the office, or a suit and tie at the beach, or a propeller beanie while testifying at a trial. It would not be appropriate for me to address my grandfather as "Cueball". A chemical engineering textbook is not an appropriate bedtime story for a three-year old. Fucking an unwilling man by threatening him into submission is not appropriate. It's gauche, albeit apparently less so than the man is being if he gets upset and calls attention to himself. Getting a job as a school teacher and sexually exploiting a boy in your charge is not appropriate, like running in the halls or using your outdoor voice in the library.

This is not mere semantic nitpicking. Language matters. Nevertheless, Meghan Murphy's willingness to refrain from outright endorsing the activities of rapists and child molesters is much appreciated, even if she found it necessary to immediately follow up her clarification that she does not actively support or advocate rape with another insistence that a male victim's connection to the Patriarchy Hive Mind somehow protects him from being sufficiently harmed by the experience to warrant the sort of concern Murphy considers people like herself entitled to, combined with a none-too-subtle attempt to divert attention to the vileness of the victims' sex and thereby reframe the issue in a way that discourages sympathy for those rape victims.

In the same caring spirit, let me just affirm that George Sodini's shooting spree was not polite or gentlemanly, and that he should have found a way to deal with his feelings towards women more constructive than riddling several of them with bullets. Bad form, that, even though having a bunch of holes punched through your vital organs by high-velocity metal projectiles is no doubt less unpleasant when you're a member of the sex comprising less than 1/4th of American homicide victims.

Part Six: Father's Daughter

I was taken aback when I first read this post, but I shouldn't have been- I had read its like many times before. What I said in my posts about feminist apologists for female child molesters such as Hugo Schwyzer applies here as well. Like many feminists, Murphy is saying nothing that- rebellious paintjob aside- differs significantly from the traditional conception she ostensibly opposes. (Though some heterodox feminists are also among the more conspicuous dissenters from this assumption, Wendy McElroy being probably the most prominent example.) Males are nigh-invulnerable and omnipotent, females are weak and helpless. Males sexuality is aggressive, predatory, and polluting; females are damaged by it in a way that they can never damage males. It follows that violence by the latter against the former is not a matter of serious concern, and that this is especially true of sexual violence. It further follows, naturally enough, that getting worked up about such violence and treating it as a big deal is at best ridiculous and foolish, and perhaps shameful or contemptible.

Taking the rape conversation and applying it to men in an equal way as it has been applied to women is the last thing your average traditional "Real Man," or female partisans thereof, would support. We'd be losing something very important when we do this, that something being gender. Though he'd probably replace “gender” with “sex,” and perhaps say something disparaging about what pussies modern men have become for someone to actually suggest the idea.

Does a Real Man think that men like those under discussion do not have power, or have been coerced, or been harmed because their lack of power has been taken advantage of? Certainly not. Men can't be overpowered by women that way; everyone knows that. Female aggression isn't a serious threat to a Real Man; it's irrelevant, or amusing, or at worst annoying. If our Real Man were to acknowledge that the victim really did somehow lack control in a particular situation, it's still his fault for allowing himself to be so weak as to be dominated by a woman in the first place, and thus still under his own control. And in any case, the idea that a man or boy could somehow have been victimized by sexual contact with a woman is absurd.

Does a Real Man think of these men as victimized, or believe that women are capable of raping a man in the same way that men are capable of raping women, or that men raping women is the same as women raping men? Of course not. Men and women aren’t the same. Women are damaged or diminished by sex, not men. Rape is gendered, as any of the Real Men who pop up to heap ridicule and abuse on men who come forward about being raped or abused by women will vehemently tell you.

Murphy takes it further than most, but her position differs from some much more common and typical ideas in degree, rather than in kind. It's the logical conclusion of the collectivism, myopic focus on the upper levels of male status hierarchies, and thinly disguised reiterations of traditional gender stereotypes and assumptions that pervade much of feminist thought. More next time.

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Thursday, December 02, 2010

New and upcoming changes at The Superfluous Man

I've been working on reorganizing various aspects of this blog, primarily by taking advantage of the fact that Blogger can now do stand-alone pages. One of the things I've been doing is collecting sets of posts by theme, and so I've created a page that links and briefly summarizes all posts I've done concerning rape, abuse, and related subjects that you can check out here. I originally thought of creating it mostly because I get some visitors via sites about abuse issues and wanted to make my posts on the subject easily found without needing to wade through years worth of vitriol on unrelated subjects, but hopefully it will be useful to others as well.

Other additions and changes to come soon. I'm not terribly skilled with this sort of thing, so if you swing by here over the next few days and the layout is confusing or the fonts are screwed up or spacetime has fractured and John Markley's The Superfluous Man has been replaced by an evil parallel universe blog where a suave, sharply-attired centrist named Yelkram Nhoj calmly extols the virtues of Arthur Schlesinger Jr., or whatever, please bear with me.

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