Sunday, May 23, 2010

Feminist rape culture, Part 2

This post is a continuation of Feminist rape culture, Part 1. I recommend reading that first. Be aware that this post and it's predecessor both contain discussions of sexual abuse. For those interested in this topic, a listing of all posts at The Superfluous Man concerning sexual violence and related issues can be found by clicking here.

It may seem like I'm placing an inordinate amount of attention on the reaction of a few bloggers to a minor news story. However, I think it's worth shining a spotlight on, because of both the importance (and near-invisibility) of the issue itself and because it provides an extremely useful and unusually explicit illustration of the way important ideological strains within feminism look at sexual violence committed against men and boys. The latter, in turn, points to a good deal more.

On the one hand, some of of the people most conspicuous for treating the issue as relevant and meaningful and addressing it in a serious, sympathetic, and respectful way
are feminists, such as Wendy McElroy. The same is true of other harms against men, especially those that are systemic in nature and/or generally thought of as "women's issues." And, more generally, there are some ideas and insights originating or primarily associated with feminism that are quite valuable when examining this issue. The implications of this school of thought are quite radical and strike at the heart of the fundamental traditionalist assumptions and prejudices about the sexes. Within that traditional framework, serious treatment of the issue is simply not feasible.

On the other hand, these figures are almost invariably quite heterodox and often estranged from and rejected by the rest of the modern feminist movement. Most explicit references to and discussions of male victims by both mainstream left-liberal and radical feminists (and virtually all of their oblique and probably often unwitting references as well, which are ubiquitous in feminist rhetoric) assuredly do not involve "treating the issue as relevant and meaningful and addressing it in a serious, sympathetic, and respectful way." Many of them, I'm sure, genuinely believe that they are; the fact that their system of beliefs encourages that delusion is a large part of the problem.

Once you peel away the Marxoid paint job, it's a lot harder than one might expect to find a whole lot of feminists who give much sign of actually disagreeing with most of the fundamental traditionalist assumptions and prejudices about the sexes. Within that framework... Well, let's recap our story so far.

Pal Sarkozy, father of the current President of France, recounts how, when he was 11 years old, his nanny repeatedly let him put his hand up her skirt and touch her privates, and encouraged the behavior with displays of affection . A feminist blogger who has subsequently taken the post in question down (see Part 1 for relevant quotes, along with an explanation of why her name is not included here) decides to use this story of a woman in a position of power over a prepubescent child repeatedly sexually molesting that child to launch a what amounts to a preemptive strike against any boy who has been sexually abused by a woman by holding the story up as an example of how prepubescent children (or boys, anyway) can be sexually "predatory" towards adults, and suggesting that "our laws, judgments and our most basic moral beliefs" concerning things like sexual encounters between 11-year-olds and grown women should be "reexamined."

It's an incredibly sordid display of rape apologism, victim blaming, and sexism that, if heeded, would make male victims of female rapists and abusers even less likely to come forward then they are now. Which is not at all uncommon, though it's not usually quite so ham-fisted when the victim is this young.

On to the post by Hugo Schwyzer. I was unfamiliar with the subject of my previous post until this came up, but Schwyzer is a figure of some prominence, one of the better-known male feminist bloggers.

There's something worth emphasizing before I continue. Victims of abuse, be it sexual, physical, or emotional, routinely blame themselves for it by convincing themselves that the way they were treated wasn't abusive, or was something they deserved or brought upon themselves, or hasn't contributed to the psychological pain or dysfunction they've experienced, or must have been something they actually wanted. One thing feminists frequently talk about, quite rightly, 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 encourage and facilitate this denial, as well as discouraging women who do identify what was done to them as criminal from speaking about it. It shouldn't be necessary to point out that this is true of males as well as females, but thanks to the way both feminists and traditionalists discuss and conceptualize sexual violence it frequently is.

One of the common ways male abuse and rape survivors try to shut out trauma or (if speaking to others about it) protect themselves from ridicule and contempt is by reframing the incident to portray themselves as the initiator. Nevertheless, perhaps it really was Sarkozy who initiated sexual contact with his nurse, and perhaps it really was an unambiguously positive experience for him, thought that still wouldn't excuse the nanny's behavior, and it still wouldn't excuse using Sarkozy's story for a grotesquely victim-blaming exercise in poisoning the well against children (or at least against boys) who have been sexually abused by women and fail to keep their mouths shut. It's possible, but I take the idea with a boulder of salt, and feminists who take their own ideas about sexual violence seriously and who actually mean it when they say they oppose essentialist 19th-century sex stereotypes should do likewise. The fact that Schwyzer never even hints at this issue and immediately takes Sarkozy's account at face value is telling.

Schwyzer says of the post I commented on in Part 1:

Christine is struck by the circumstances of the encounter that Pal relates. Though only eleven, the father of the French president recalls himself as the initiator, and the nanny as silently acquiescent. Lots of power dynamics are at play. She is older, but he is male. She is his nanny, but he is the son of her employers. She is an adult, he a child — but he is the aggressor. Christine notes that today, we might charge the nanny with a crime for failing to stop Pal’s overtures. But the story raises the troubling reminder that aggressive sexual behavior, and a disdain for consent, is not limited to adolescents or adults.

Credit where it's due: Schwyzer puts himself a notch above my previous post's foil with his gracious willingness to admit the possibility that, in a sexually inappropriate relationship between an 11-year-old boy and an adult female entrusted with caring for that child, the boy is not entirely to blame. That's mighty white of him.

On the other hand, Schwyzer provides no reason whatsoever to presume that Sarkozy was showing a “disdain for consent;" there is nothing in the excerpts from the book quoted to support this claim. On the contrary, the nanny's response was to kiss him on the forehead. (Which, as I said last time, is precisely what one would expect from a child molester exploiting a child who trusts her.) Likewise, there is no justification in the source for referring to Sarkozy as the "aggressor." This is sheer sexist bigotry on Schwyzer's part.
It is not hard to imagine that Pal’s nanny weighed the cost of resisting the boy’s advances. He wasn’t an infant; if he made his displeasure known in one way or another, she might well have feared for her job.
As discussed last time, the idea that an 11-year old would actually have this kind of leverage over his nanny is dubious. But if we entertain Schwyzer's scenario, the more important point is that "I was worried I might lose my job if I didn't" is not an adequate excuse for repeatedly sexually abusing an 11-year old. At least, it's not an adequate excuse if you're a mentally competent adult.

Schwyzer continues:
His capacity to consent was vitiated by his age, but hers was no less vitiated by her subordinate economic status.
Emphasis mine. You know, I'm accustomed to people of liberal/progressive inclinations talking about their favorite pity-objects as if they were children, but they're usually a little more tactful.

An 11-year old's capacity to give meaningful consent to sexual activities with an adult, and especially an adult in a position of authority and parental trust, is not "vitiated." It is nonexistent. Even if we (unwisely) take Sarkozy's story fully at face value and accept Schwyzer's questionable assumptions about the supposed pressure placed on the nanny, there is a difference between having to choose between undesirable options because of one's social or economic status and lacking the rational faculties to give meaningful consent to sex at all. This usually isn't a concept feminists have trouble with, at least when it's a woman being attacked by a man. Hence the dearth of feminist essays with titles like "Men Who Rape Unconscious Women So Their Meatheaded Friends Don't Accuse Them of Being Gay and Kick Them Out of the Frat: Patriarchy's Forgotten Victims."

The fact that there is even any need for me to mention anything this basic is a testament to how twisted our society's attitudes are. It's like participating in a discussion on police treatment of racial minorities where people need concepts like "Black people are not invulnerable to bullets" carefully spelled out, over and over. The only way to salvage the supposed equivalence is by assuming that employees or- much more likely, unless you believe Schwyzer would make these kinds of excuses for men who molest young girls- women are literally at the mental level of children (or people who are mentally ill, mentally retarded, or otherwise incompetent in the legal sense of the term) and thus not responsible for their actions.

Much of what I said last time applies here as well. Imagine an adult male in a quasi-parental position of supervision and care of an 11-year-old girl engaging in repeated sexual acts with that girl, involving the girl touching the man's genitals. Next, imagine a commentator describing the girl, on the basis of nothing, as an "aggressor" showing a "disdain for consent," despite a total absence of anything to indicate the man was unwilling- indeed, despite a clear indication that when the girl was done masturbating him, the man responded with the sort of positive reinforcement that child molesters routinely use to manipulate their victims.

Imagine this commentator making some entirely speculative (and implausible) claims about how the poor, victimized man was too terrified to resist the girl's "aggression." Imagine that he draws the conclusion that the grown man was just as coerced, just as much the victim, as the 11-year old girl, and that the girl is at least just as much a victimizer as the grown man, while describing the 11-year old as predatory and never even raising the possibility that the man's motivation for repeatedly letting a preteen fondle his genitals and encouraging the behavior with displays of "affection" was unwholesome.

Reverse the sexes in Sarkozy's story, and anyone who tried to make these excuses on behalf of a grown man and redirect blame to the 11-year-old girl in his care would be considered an appalling figure not only by feminists, but by virtually everyone in the Western world, aside from psychotic George Sodini-level misogynists and guys who hang out in elementary school parking lots wearing trench coats.
Instead, criticism of Schwyzer- who is not an obscure figure, by blogger standards- is minimal and, aside from some dissent in Schwyzer's comments and this rather gentle rebuke from a minor feminist blog, limited to people for whom sexual violence against males, the marginalizing, shaming, and silencing of male victims and feminist complicity therein is already of especial interest.

It's not as if the feminist blogosphere is averse to policing it's own, especially where male feminists are concerned. If Schwyzer's topic had been something beyond the pale of decency, like "Perhaps male rape and abuse survivors would be more likely to support feminism if feminists used victim-blaming slogans like 'Men can stop rape' less often" or "I like to approach female strangers and tell them they should smile more,"
the reaction would have turned Schwyzer's site into the online equivalent of a smoldering radioactive crater.

Fortunate for him, then, that he stuck to the more acceptable thesis, "Blame sexually abused 11-year-old boys for their own victimization, call them sexual predators, and sympathize with the abuser instead." I don't ask or expect the mainline feminist movement to oppose sexual violence against men and boys in any serious or meaningful way, but less outright complicity with it is probably an achievable goal..

What I said last time of my previous post's foil is true of Schwyzer as well: He may take things a bit farther than most would, but there is nothing in the essential assumptions of his post that conflicts with traditionalist attitudes about men and women- which, individualist feminists and a few other outliers notwithstanding, is exactly what I've come to expect from feminism on this subject. To be continued.

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JdL said...

Isn't it possible that no one is a "victim" here? Exactly who was harmed by Pal Sarkozy's relationship with his nanny?

Anonymous said...

First of all I think that women have rights to defend themselves when they know what they have been accused of did not really happen. There are so many innocent people sitting in prison. In your story you act as though all women are rapists.