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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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Great conservative thinkers: Edmund Burke. Michael Oakeshott. Kim Jong Il.

There's a popular anonymous anti-immigration rant that's been popping up all over in comment sections, chain emails and the like since the controversy over Arizona's recent immigration legislation heated up that I can only describe as "stupid even by chain email ALL CAPS political rant standards." There are a few slight variants of it, but here's the most common version of it I've seen:



* A JOB,

To review, the anonymous author condemns American immigration policy by negatively comparing it to such role models as:

Three Communist dictatorships, one of which is probably the most oppressive society on the planet.

Two barely-out-of-the-Iron-Age theocracies where the governments whip, imprison, and execute gays, flog rape victims, and trap teenage girls in burning buildings so they don't appear outside with their heads exposed.

One barely-out-of-the-Bronze-Age war zone where the elites and their enforcers spend their time raping and sexually enslaving young boys with government approval.

One tottering democratic regime in a country with a history of authoritarian rule and a president who is surpressing opposition speech and media through a combination of both legal and illegal intimidation, nationalizing the economy, and accruing dictatorial powers.

I've become accustomed to hearing conservatives point out the draconian practices of some foreign country to make something the United States government has done, or that they'd like it to do, seem comparatively minor and therefore OK. It's a ridiculous argument, but at least saying things like "You act like waterboarding is such a big deal, but in Insert Hellish Despotism Here they whip and electrocute people" implies that the practices of whichever hellish despotism is being mentioned are, in fact, bad. This has has to be the first time I've seen the "what the U.S. does isn't as harsh as what Iran and North Korea do" argument used as a criticism of the United States.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Who are the ad wizards who came up with this one?

One of the things one becomes aware of as a libertarian is that most messages from politicians and government agencies are definitely not made with you in mind, because they are created to be appealing and persuasive to a public that, for the most part, is operating on ideological premises very different from your own. Nevertheless, I find it difficult to believe that I'm so out of touch that I'm unusual in being creeped out by this:

No, that's not a parody. To give credit where it's due, the production values are far superior to anything the government puts out here in Illinois.

(Hat tip: Radley Balko)

Did anyone explain to these people that the whole “omnipresent government surveillance watching your every move through its pitiless electronic eyes” motif doesn't really work when you want to portray something as, y'know, not horrifying? The fact that the voice-over is done in a creepy, soulless computerized monotone that sounds like HAL 9000's little sister makes it even better. Short of having the announcer add "AND BY 'BACK TAXES,' TOM, WE MEAN YOUR CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM, WHICH WE WILL HARVEST TO CONTINUE OUR HORRIFYING EXPERIMENTS ON THE NATURE OF HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS SO THAT WE MIGHT FURTHER EXPAND OUR GODLIKE TRANSHUMAN INTELLECTS," I'm hard-pressed to think of how this ad could be made even less likely to endear the government of Pennsylvania to me than it is already.

(An earlier draft of this post said "endear the government of Pennsylvania to anyone," but then I read the comments section of this article at Huffington Post.)

Here's what stuns me about this, even taking the frequent ineptitude of government into account: Mass media public relations material for an organization as large and bureaucratic as the government of a major U.S. state has to go past a lot of eyes before it ends up on TV. You'd think that at some point in the chain of people from the ad's creators to their superiors at the advertising agency to the people in the government who had to sign off on it that someone, somewhere, at some point would have suggested that an ad that looks like it comes from a dystopian future where mankind has been enslaved under the suffocating Orwellian rule of sinister, tax-hungry artificial intelligences might not play well.

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Monday, May 03, 2010

It's just like the time I got confused and accidentally went on an interstate bank-robbing spree

You know, the frequent attempts I see to excuse flagrant police misbehavior as honest mistakes are seldom very convincing, but at least the excuse is usually applied to acts committed in the field. It's still usually a weak and often absurd excuse, and often applied to situations where the officer's claim that he sincerely thought he was doing something necessary for his own safety, if true, is damning proof that he's either a coward or mentally unstable, but at least it's applied to an environment where situations that require quick, potentially life-or-death decisions based on limited information can and do actually occur. The "you don't know what it's like not knowing if you'll make it home alive" excuse loses whatever plausibility it had when it's applied to paperwork.

At a Critical Mass event in New York in 2008, police officer Patrick Pogan shoved Chris Long as the latter rode past on his bicycle, knocking Long to the pavement. Pogan reported that he stopped Long because was weaving dangerously through traffic, forcing cars to stop or turn to avoid him, and that Long intentionally turned to ram him with his bike and knocked him down. Long was charged with assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct.

The incident was caught on film, which exposed Pogan's entire report as a lie, as did subsequent eyewitness testimony, and stirred up public outrage when it appeared on Youtube. There was no moving car traffic, and Long was in no danger of colliding with Pogan. Pogan rushed Long without provocation, and shoved him down when Long tried to avoid a collision. Pogan remained solidly on his feet.

Last week, Pogan was acquitted of assault but convicted of filing a false police report, which has a potential sentence of up to four years. That Pogan was not convicted of anything for the attack itself is unfortunate- thought not at all surprising- and it's possible that the judge will give him a slap on the wrist during sentencing, but it's something. And all it took was hundreds of thousands of people seeing direct video proof that Pogan was lying.

I know that's a low standard. I live on the outskirts of Chicago, where a police officer getting caught (Note: Link goes to video footage showing severe violence) on video beating the shit out of a woman because she cut him off at the bar is only worth two years probation and some anger management classes. I grasp for whatever shreds of justice I can.

Pogan's defense attorney claimed that Pogan had been genuinely confused about events when he filed the false report. (Not that being genuinely confused or honestly mistaken makes a lick of difference when it's a police officer suffering harm at the hands of a civilian rather than dishing it out.) Patrolman's Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch condemned the conviction, saying, "This will have a chilling effect on every new young officer when they realize mistakes now become crimes."

I can buy the possibility of someone body-checking someone into the pavement because of a reasonable but mistaken belief that they were under attack. That's plainly not what happened in this case, where the two men would never have come within ten feet of each other if Pogan hadn't dashed from his position to intercept Long, but it could happen. That's a mistake.

Whereas Officer Pogan's "mistake" was that, entirely innocently, he rushed a man and body-checked him into the pavement without provocation and then, by mistake, filed a police report that got every salient detail of the incident wrong and, in so doing, accidentally concealed the fact that he had rushed a man and body-checked him onto the pavement without provocation and framed the man he had attacked for a crime that never happened.

There's a scene from the early 90s action movie The Last Boy Scout that comes to mind with depressing frequency when I think about American law enforcement, and this is one of those times. Bruce Willis' character has discovered that his wife has been cheating on him. Her lover says that it "just happened," to which Willis sardonically replies:

Sure, sure, I know... it just happened. Coulda happened to anybody. It was an accident, right? You tripped, slipped on the floor, and accidentally stuck your dick in my wife.
Of course, when Willis comes up with that scenario it's supposed to sound transparently ridiculous.

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