Archive for February, 2009

Can We Talk About Rape? – Part Two

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

This is the second part about rape, if you haven’t already read part one, then please do so first.

Cultural Forces

Male culture is often held culpable for glorifying sexual conquests, and this is said to be a precursor to rape, or at the very least a contributing factor to rape happening. That is an incorrect or at least incomplete claim for two reasons:

  1. The overwhelming majority of men pursue women without ever raping a single woman. In fact, many men would risk their own life or health by trying to save a woman if they ever witnessed a rape.
  2. Female culture tends to glorify man as predator just as much, or even more, than male culture does.

So what kind of female culture am I talking about? Harlequin novels, and similar examples of romantic and erotic literature for women, often describe sex scenes that would legally be considered rape in real life. A very common theme is that the man initiates sex, and even though the woman lets him know that she is unwilling (using her voice and body language), he proceeds to have sex with her, and then she changes her mind along the way.

For example, in Laura Taylor’s romance novel Anticipation, the hero scoops up the heroine, carries her to her bed, and then takes off all his clothes. The story continues:

Leaning over her, he efficiently jerked the front of her caftan apart, sending dozens of buttons flying every which way, then stripped it off her body.

‘What do you think you are doing?’ she demanded as she glared at him.

He watched her nipples tighten into mauve nuggets that invited his mouth. ‘Easing your tension,’ he announced in a matter of fact tone, despite the heat flooding his loins and engorging his sex. He came down over her, his hips lodging between her thighs, his upper body weight braced by his arms. ‘As sexist as that probably sounds.’

She squirmed, trying to free herself, and a sound of fury burst out of her when she failed to budge him.

In this quote (obtained from Taking Sex Differences Seriously), the man strips off their clothes, and then presses his naked body against her, while she is actively resisting what he is doing. The man does not rape her but he is clearly sexually assaulting her. Later in the passage the woman changes her mind and they proceed to have sex. However, since the episode starts off with coercion, it’s doubtful whether the consent can truly be trusted.

This is literature written by women for women to achieve pleasure and arousal in the reader! And the passage above is not an isolated example; a very common theme in romance novels for women is rough sex, and sex where the woman only gives consent half-way or even after the act has ended.

Romance fiction has the largest share of the consumer book market in the US, with an estimated $1.375 billion revenue in 2007. Please don’t tell me that female culture does not do its share to glorify and help legitimize rape.

Legal Aspects

I certainly agree with the sentiment that it would be desirable to be able to put more rapists in jail, since that is where rapists belong. However, we need to apply the same legal principles in rape trials as in other trials, i.e. you are innocent until proven guilty.

No person deserves to be convicted solely based on the victims’s account of events. Word against word is too uncertain a method used on its own; we need additional evidence or testimony if we are to deprive a person of his or her freedom.

Feminists sometimes claim that a believable account of rape by a woman should be enough for a conviction, since no woman would ever go through the hassle and trauma of reporting a rape that didn’t take place. This may sound plausible, but research informs us that false rape allegations are a very real phenomenon, so we cannot simply assume that every woman who steps forward is telling the truth.

The most thorough research reports available indicate that 25 percent or more of rape allegations are false, which is much higher than for other crimes (source and source). Regardless of what the exact numbers turn out to be, we have enough information to dismiss the claim that women don’t make false rape allegations, and therefore we can never let word against word be enough to warrant a conviction in rape trials.

Another common perspective when discussing rape trials is that the woman’s sexual history should be inadmissible, since she is not the one on trial. Many countries have Rape Shield laws to ensure that women are protected from questions concerning their sexual past. As much as I empathize with the woman’s right to privacy, and the exceedingly difficult situation she is in during a rape trial, there is also another person to consider.

The accused man must be given the right to defend himself, how could he otherwise possibly prove his innocence? The woman is publicly claiming that he is a man who includes rape in his sex life, but he is not allowed to talk about known facts about her sex life in order to defend himself? That is a ludicrous double standard that has no place in a fair legal system.

Similarly, we need to accept testimony regarding previous rape claims by the woman, and previous rape allegations towards the man. All relevant facts need to be admissible in order to have a fair trial.

Is This Rape?

Let’s have a look at a range of sexual scenarios, to see if it’s rape or not. I’ll offer my own opinion and you can offer yours in the comments.

You want to have sex, and have sex. This is obviously not rape.

You don’t want to have sex, but your partner does, and you choose to have sex to keep your partner happy. As far as I’m concerned this is not even nearly rape, since there is no coercion involved.

You want to have sex, but your judgment is clouded by alcohol. This is not rape in my opinion, though some feminists claim that it’s date rape – but only if the woman is drunk. I’ve yet to hear a feminist claim that it’s date rape if a drunk man has sex with a sober woman.

You are seduced, or talked into having sex. Some extreme branches of feminism consider this to be a form of rape, but most people would just call it courtship, and I agree with the latter sentiment.

Your partner threatens to leave you if you don’t agree to have sex. This is certainly a nasty situation, and a dysfunctional relationship, but I don’t consider it to be rape. You choose yourself whether to stay in the relationship, and if you really don’t want to have sex you are free to leave.

You are intoxicated to the point that you are unconscious, and somebody has sex with you. This is rape by definition, since an unconscious person is physically incapable of consent. However, these kinds of rape cases are extremely difficult to prove, since an unconscious person doesn’t fight back, so there won’t be any physical scars to support a rape case. Teenagers of either gender need to be taught not to put themselves in such a vulnerable position. If you pass out from being drunk, then you are not taking care of your own health and safety in a good way, and it is naive to think that nothing could happen.

You are physically overpowered, or physically threatened, and thereby forced to have sex. This is 100 percent rape, whether it’s a stranger or someone you know forces you to have sex against your will.

Can We Talk About Rape? – Part One

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Rape is a horrible thing. It is one of the worst boundary violations known to humankind, and the victim is often left with substantial psychological damage that can take months, years or even a lifetime to repair. If you rape someone, you deserve to go to jail for a very long time.

It is precisely because rape is such a serious offense, that we need to discuss it in a calm way, while bringing in a multitude of perspectives. And it is because we recognize the horror that is rape, that we need to have as exact a definition as possible, and not let that definition slide for ideological reasons.

Defining Rape

If you look up the word rape in various dictionaries, you’ll see that the definitions vary quite a bit. Different countries also have different legal criteria for defining what is and isn’t rape. I believe that the following criteria represent a fairly neutral and reasonable definition of rape:

  • Person A acts intentionally
  • Person B does not consent or is incapable of giving consent or is beneath a certain age 
  • Person A does not reasonably believe that person B consents

Some people believe that all sex that is not prefaced by explicit verbal consent should be considered rape. However, legislating that all sexual consent must be explicit would basically turn the whole adult population into a bunch of rapists, men and women alike. 

Most people simply don’t have this kind of conversation before having sex:

“Would you like to have sex with me?”
“Yes, I would like to have sex with you. Would you like to have sex with me?”
“Yes, I would, so let’s get started”

What Constitutes Consent?

Most of you have probably heard the expression “a no is always a no”, or some variant of the same. Such a phrase may be useful when teaching young women and men to connect to their own will, and learn how to turn down an offer of sex in no uncertain terms. However, when discussing what constitutes rape that kind of phrase may prevent us from seeing how complicated sexual scenarios can be.

Sexual consent is far from always given using your voice. As we all know sex is usually initiated through body language, and a gradual increase in physical intimacy. Therefore, any discussion of consent must deal not only with what was and wasn’t said, but body language too.

There are at least three different categories of body language:

  1. Actively participating, e.g. removing your partner’s pants or putting on a condom. Your body language is then saying that you consent.
  2. Actively resisting, for example pushing the other person away or blocking your own genitals. Your body language is turning down the offer to have sex.
  3. Tensing up or freezing also indicates that the person does not want to have sex.

What is being said is very easy to classify:

  1. Saying no is a good indication that a person refuses to have sex
  2. Saying “oh yes” or “more” very likely indicates consent and active participation

As long as the body language and what is being said are congruent, it’s usually easy to pass judgment on whether a person consented or not. For example, if you say no and also push the other person a way, you are clearly turning down the proposal to have sex, while if you spread your legs and say “take me” you are giving consent in no uncertain terms.

The tricky scenarios arise when body language and what a person says contradict each other. If you are pulling down your partner’s pants, while simultaneously saying “no, we shouldn’t be doing this, no, we can’t have sex” then what message are you really transmitting? In my opinion your body language is saying yes in such a strong way that you have consented to have sex. This simple example indicates that a no is not always a no, far from it.

Date Rape

A special category of rape that is interesting because of the media attention it has received, is date rape.

The original definition of date rape, as stated by Wikipedia, is the following:

Date rape is non-consensual sexual activity between people who are known to each other platonically or sexually.

So far so good; this is a very reasonable definition of a social phenomenon that has been shown to exist.

However, the definition of date rape has begun to slide significantly in many modern countries, and the tendency to allow any drunk woman to claim rape the next morning – even if the sex was consensual – is downright scary. Here is a quote from About.com, a well known and well respected resource, where the author of the article is addressing teenage guys:

Another area of confusion on the date rape topic is intoxication. Bottom line, if a girl is intoxicated she cannot consent to sex and you could be charged with rape. It does not matter whether you knew she was intoxicated, it doesn’t matter if you were intoxicated too, all that matters is that she was not in a state of mind to consent and therefore it is rape. If you get a girl drunk or high and then “get together” with her you have committed a sexual assault. Again, it doesn’t matter if you are drunk or high as well. Your diminished abilities do not negate your responsibilities.

In other words, men are expected to be responsible and aware at all times, even if they are wasted, while women have no responsibilities whatsoever the moment they start drinking alcohol. In my mind this kind of reasoning is very problematic, since it treats men as adults and assumes that women are like irresponsible children. In my opinion “man-as-adult” and “woman-as-child” are neither useful nor accurate lenses for describing interactions between the sexes.

If we agree with this kind of reasoning around drinking alcohol and having sex (a sexual behavior that is considered normal in many countries), then we criminalize a large portion of all men, but none of the women! Giving women the power to label any sexual activity when they are drunk as rape, means that any guy who has consensual sex with his girlfriend after sharing a bottle of wine can go to jail for years. If that’s not insane I don’t know what is.

(More about the difficult subject of rape in my next post.)

The Culture of Victimhood

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

Once upon a time it was considered morally desirable to be a person who took responsibility for your own actions. This was before we reached a cultural awareness of how prejudices, roles and external structures affect the lives of different groups of people. Once we gained insight into the ubiquity of these external structures, and how we are all influenced by them in different ways, we seemed to forget the concept of personal accountability.

Contemporary culture has a real tendency to assume everyone to be a victim, in some way or other. We live in a veritable age of victimhood, where people portray themselves as hapless and powerless individuals who don’t have any impact on their own lives.

“I cannot be successful at work because I’m a woman”
“I’m too old to be hired”
“I get bad grades because my teachers don’t understand me”
“My upbringing prevents me from having a good relationship”
“My genes prevent me from losing weight”

As you can see, victimhood goes way beyond being the victim of cultural structures, you can also be the victim of parents, genes, teachers, etc.

What to Do?

I believe that it’s fully possible to reclaim our lost sense of individual responsibility, while still seeing how we’re affected by cultural constructions and external circumstances. In fact, I believe it’s vital that we do this, since being stuck in a victim mentality means that we become passive and increasingly bitter about the perceived injustices surrounding us.

Individual responsibility does not mean that we are to be blamed for the existing external structures and prejudices! Being responsible is simply a recognition that all human beings are moral agents, who influence the world according to their own standards and beliefs. The world may influence you, but you also influence the world.

Regardless of what societal patterns are holding you down or working against you, you have the potential to implement change, and to do the best you can in any situation.

I’m not specifically talking about people who truly are victims of irreversible conditions, such as being born with a physical handicap. Still, you can always do your best given the circumstances you’ve been given, and within those limits you are completely responsible for your own life.

Feminism and Personal Accountability

So how is all of this related to the gender debate? The most obvious connection is the claimed victimhood of women that feminist discourse has never been able to transcend. Perhaps more than any other group, feminist women talk about how victimhood is at the core of their experience.

Somehow feminists haven’t been able to reconcile the claim that women are victims, and the claim that women are strong and perfectly capable individuals. I believe that this internal contradiction of feminism is due to two factors:

1. Feminism fails to distinguish between the personal and the political, instead claiming that “the personal is political”. However, this stance makes it difficult to see that you are always accountable and have significant power on a personal level, even if societal structures limit you in certain ways.

2. Feminism holds men personally responsible for the structures that oppress women, instead of recognizing that these structures have crystallized into being due to survival instincts and biological differences between the sexes. This second failure to see the difference between the personal and structural, leads to women feeling like victims on a personal level. After all, if men are personally responsible for having oppressed women, are women then not personally responsible for having accepted this oppression?

The feminist conflation of the personal and the political, keeps a lot of women from seeing what I believe to be a core truth: there is no contradiction between fully exploring how your gender role has kept you from living the life you want, and accepting full responsibility for your own life!

Future Gender Warriors

It’s also very important for men not to fall into the “victim trap”, once we start seeing and exploring how societal structures and our gender role have constricted or even oppressed us, simply because we are men. Even as we are mapping out how the traditional male gender role is limiting, and how feminist theory has added new ways of keeping men down, we can still retain our sense of agency and trust in our ability to effect change.

Men and women alike who are aspiring to move beyond the rhetoric of feminism, need to avoid making the mistake that feminism made regarding personal accountability and victimhood.

As long as you’re accountable you can also change your circumstances, but as soon as you label yourself a victim you can only endure your circumstances. This is a key distinction! Needless to say, no constructive social change has ever been implemented by people who act or think like victims.

Financial and Social Capital

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

In the current gender debate, feminism often highlights how men tend to work more in the public sphere, and thereby earn more money. Men are said to be powerful since men are usually the primary or only breadwinner of the household, and therefore in control of the financial capital of the family.

While there is certainly some truth in this way of looking at things, feminism completely ignores the corresponding power that women have. Men may be in control of the financial capital, but women are completely dominant when it comes to social capital. So what do I mean by social capital?

Social Capital

In your average human family, the woman is the adult who forms close and loving relationships with the children, since she is the primary caretaker. The man’s relationship to the children very often goes through the mother, since he spends a lot of time away from home and also does not have the skills necessary to form these kinds of connections.

Women are also much more likely to have a circle of close friends; friendships that aren’t dependent on having the same hobby or the same job. All in all women are better at forming and maintaining nurturing relationships, as well as having the emotional self-awareness and ability to express emotions that are necessary within close relationships.

Women get to learn and practice these relationship skills within the traditional female gender role, while men do not get this practice within their gender role, so we need to acknowledge that women very often wield significant power through these close bonds to children and friends. Feminism often emphasizes how the female gender role disempowers women in various ways, while conveniently forgetting all the examples of how women are empowered by their role – and social capital is indeed one way that women are empowered.

What Happens After a Divorce?

In a traditional couple, the man thus has better access to financial capital, whereas the woman has better access to social capital. As long as the couple stays married, the man will share his financial resources with the woman, and she will share her social resources with him. This way a reasonable balance is achieved that benefits both partners.

But what happens after a divorce? Does each partner take his or her resources and leave, or are they obligated to share some of their resources with their partner?

In all modern countries that I know of, the financial resources are split evenly in case of divorce, and in some countries the man is also obligated to pay monthly alimony to support his previous wife. It’s safe to say that there is a real transfer of financial capital from the man to the woman, though the exact amount will depend on the laws of a certain country.

However, in no country that I know of is the woman obligated to share any of her social capital with the man! One could of course argue that it’s impossible to legislate anything about human relationships, but even culturally speaking, outside the legal arena, there is no moral agreement that financial resources should be matched by social capital.

If children are part of the equation, the scenario usually becomes even more unfair from the perspective of the man. Whenever there is a custody dispute, courts tend to favor the mother, since she is the primary caregiver. This leads to yet another example of the man having to pay money without getting any social capital back.

A man who pays child support without having regular access to his children, is giving up part of his income but not getting any social capital in return. The woman, on the other hand, gets to keep all of her social capital (her connections to her children), while still getting financial capital from her former husband.

What Happens When We Help Only Women?

As we just saw, most modern countries have laws that protect women after a divorce, whereas men have no safety net. What are the consequences of only caring for women?

The message that is sent to men is that men are only valued according to how they perform in the public sphere, i.e. how much money they can earn for themselves and their (ex-)family. When there are no legal or cultural codes that defend men’s rights to have access to the social capital created by the family before the divorce, we tell men that their role as father and loving parent is not valued or important.

During the past few decades women have been taught how to make a living in the public sphere, and cultural and legal changes have been made to accommodate this transition. If we want men to not only be silent providers without an emotional connection to their children and spouse, then we need to teach men how to form and maintain close, nurturing bonds. Furthermore, on a societal level we need to make the cultural – and perhaps legal – changes necessary to support men in navigating this transition.

For example, one legal change that would be perfectly plausible is to always connect child support to shared custody rights, unless it is demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that the father is unsuitable to be a parent.

I’m not saying that men will necessarily choose to stay home with their children to the extent that women do, or that women will choose to work as much outside the home as men do, since those choices rest with the individual. But what is clear to me is that overly polarized gender roles have become outdated, and when we transcend these outdated gender roles, we need to help both sexes, and understand where each sex is coming from.

Why Feminism Came First

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Feminism is a well-established movement around the world, and particularly strong in the most developed parts. In many European and North American countries, feminism is present in the media, in politics, in schools and in legislation. So not only did feminism manage to arise back in the 18th century, but it’s also been hugely successful at spreading its message and implementing change.

However, the masculist movement is conspicuously absent, as is a gender liberation movement that cares about both sexes. Why is this? Why did feminism come first?

The mainstream explanation is of course that women were oppressed while men were not, and therefore the need for feminism was pressing and the need for masculism was non-existent. I believe that explanation to be both simplistic and incorrect, since it is obvious that men too had a constricted gender role and very little real freedom.

I can see five important reasons as to why feminism arose first, and why men’s voices have been more or less completely absent from the gender debate:

1. The Female Value Sphere

Due to the very different gender roles of men and women throughout history, men’s and women’s value spheres have evolved very differently. I won’t describe the male and female value sphere in any detail, but what’s interesting for our purposes is that the female value sphere includes focusing on rights, care, nurturing – and dare I say it: complaining. Women have always been responsible for making sure that enough resources are available to raise a baby, and to do that you need to focus on your rights and complain when your needs are not being met.

This means that while women may not have had any official positions in the public sphere at the time that feminism arose, they were used to complaining when they weren’t happy about their situation. And to start a movement that protests against a perceived injustice, you need to be ready to complain.

2. Having Time To Analyze

In the 18th century, when feminism arose, upper and middle class women were the only group in society that had time to analyze their own situation, especially the ones with grown-up children or or no children at all. So the wealth created by men in the public sphere allowed women to start thinking beyond survival, while men were still preoccupied with performing and bringing in resources.

Similarly, in the 1960s, when feminism exploded into mainstream consciousness, the driving force was a large group of middle class women who had been well educated and also had a lot of free time to think about their own situation.

Having the time to think about one’s own situation, is obviously a prerequisite for becoming dissatisfied and wanting to implement change.

3. The Male Value Sphere

The male value sphere arose from men’s roles and responsibilities in the public sphere, and is thus very different from the female value sphere. The male value sphere focuses on getting things done and not complaining, preferably while being silent. These characteristics were essential to be efficient in the public sphere, especially when many men had to work together.

However, this means that men simply don’t have the instinct to complain, or to speak up about a perceived injustice. Men tend to know their place in the male hierarchy, and if they’re not happy about their personal circumstances, the solution has always been to work harder or work smarter, while complaining is generally seen as “unmanly” and as something that will expose one’s weakness.

4. In-Depth Analysis

The limitations of the male gender role are more subtle and covert than the limitations of the female gender role – and are thus harder to spot, unless our analysis is both wide and deep. Men have traditionally had access to money, which is something very tangible, as opposed to the more intangible social connections and social capital that women have access to. Men’s power in the public sphere has been visible, while women’s power in the private sphere has been invisible.

The feminist way of framing things has also made it harder to spot the constrictions of the male gender role, by turning the spotlight away from the plight of men. We all know about men’s dominance of the public sphere, but not men’s expendability in the public and private sphere. Men working long days away from home is considered a privilege, and not a sad story that prevents you from spending time with your children and getting to know them.

Not only did feminism come first, but once the feminist rhetoric was it place, it became very hard to even think the thought that men may be struggling within an impossible gender role.

5. Male Change Is Scary

We are so used to men building civilization and building wealth, that the very thought of changing the male gender role scares a lot of people, or perhaps it scares culture as a whole. I believe this is why the male gender role is even more narrow than the female gender role (which research indicates), and why we have so many ways of keeping men “manly” and keeping men in their performing role.

Who will take care of us if men aren’t there to risk their lives to save us from a fire, or if men aren’t ready to devote their lives to their careers for the benefit of society? We all depend on men to feel safe, and to have the wheels of civilization keep on turning.

In popular culture women are often portrayed as being dissappointed that men take them for granted. However, as a culture we probably take male sacrifice and male expendability more for granted than anything else.

What Now?

The image that emerges is one of men that are focused on performing and working, while not being used to complaining or thinking about the role they have. Women however, have no trouble complaining, and once history gave them the time to think about their own situation there were obvious examples available of how they were being shortchanged.

Furthermore, changing the male gender role is plain scary, because male expendability and male sacrifice make people feel safe. All in all this made feminism come first, before any masculism or neutral gender liberation movement.

Most men still have to pause and reflect upon their own situation, in part due to the male value sphere, but especially as feminism and the media tell them that they have all the advantages. I dearly hope that this is changing now, and that men are waking up and starting to find their authentic voices. Not only will this be good for men, but I suspect women are longing to connect to men who have this kind of self-awareness, and who can stand up for their own rights.


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