Browsing Tag

consent

Feminism

Redeeming Love Review: Non-consensual Marriage

Plot summary:

  • Michael gives in to “God,” goes back to Pair-a-Dice for Angel.
  • He discovers that she’s been beaten.
  • Marries her while she’s nearly unconscious and delirious.
  • Then he takes her back to the farm, where she recuperates.
  • Angel tries to learn how to cook and lay a fire, but fails.
  • She tries to seduce him, but he refuses.

***

I’m going to skip most of chapter six, which is mostly just Francine getting Michael back to Pair-a-Dice and the Palace to “get” Angel, where he finds her beaten and nearly unconscious. This firms up his belief that he’s been ordered by God to take her away, but he decides they have to get married before they leave town.

Right now I’m wondering why on earth Francine thinks they have to get married right then. The next few chapters reveals that he’s not intending to have sex with her until she’s not doing it as a “chore,” so there’s no motivation to marry her for that reason. Everyone knows she’s a prostitute, so it’s not to “protect her reputation” (like what frequently happens in other Christian romance novels). So why marry her right this instant, when it’s absolutely clear that she’s in no state to consent to being married and he knows that she wants nothing to do with him?

I don’t want to be so cynical to assume that Francine has these two get married at this point so that Angel is trapped in a marriage she doesn’t want, but there’s no other narrative reason I can see that makes sense. It’s possible she has them get married so that she doesn’t offend the delicate sensibilities of the modern conservative evangelical reader, but as far as story telling goes this is pretty horrible. It’s especially horrible considering the fact that laws of coverture where still in place. By marrying her, knowing that if she knew what was going on she never would have even said “why not?” (note there: she doesn’t say “yes,” and Michael is such an abominable monster where that is good enough for him), he now actually, literally, legally owns a woman he knows doesn’t want to be married to him.

And that’s how this whole situation starts.

There’s one significant issue being woven into these chapters that needs to be highlighted. At several points, Francine gives us something like this:

Angel couldn’t tell whether her sarcasm had gotten to him or not. It occurred to her belatedly that she might anger him and this wasn’t the best time to do so. She swallowed more soup and tried not to show her fear. (105)

and this:

What did he want from her? And why did she sense he was more dangerous than all the other men she had ever known? (110)

Angel’s backstory has made it clear that she’s experienced a lifetime of abuse, and people like me see Angel’s reactions to Michael’s every facial expression and vocal tone as hypervigilance, but frustratingly that’s not an interpretation we can take for granted in Redeeming Love. People like Francine aren’t entirely ignorant about what some of the consequences of abuse might be, it’s just that they look at something like hypervigilance and see bitterness instead. In this story, the reader “understands” that Michael is nothing like the abusive men Angel’s experienced. We’re supposed to take him at his word when he says he’ll never hurt her, that he loves her. Instead, we’re supposed to look at Angel’s mental commentary as a sign that she is bitter, and her own understanding of the situation isn’t to be trusted. She’s over-reacting.

The reality is that the opposite of this is true. In my experience, many Christians, especially those who ascribe to “nouthetic” or “biblical” counseling, take Francine’s point of view: trauma can result in bitterness, and that bitterness can poison a victim’s entire way of thinking … but they couldn’t be more wrong. In reality, victims are usually more capable of spotting abuse than people who haven’t been traumatized. Couple this over-writing of how victimhood is typically experienced with the fact that this section is called “Defiant” and she starts these chapters with quotations like “I am dying of thirst by the side of a fountain,” it’s clear that the reader is supposed to see Angel as stubborn, bitter, and inherently untrustworthy as a narrator.

What makes it worse is that Michael is doing things that are abusive.

“By the way. My name isn’t Mara. It’s Angel. …”
“The name Mara comes from the Bible,” he said, “It’s in the book of Ruth.”
“And being a Bible-reading man, you figure Angel is too good a name for me.”
“Good’s got nothing to do with it. Angel isn’t your real name.”
“Angel is who I am.”
His face hardened. “Angel was a prostitute in Pair-a-Dice, and she doesn’t exist anymore.” (105)

One of the first things an abuser has to do is erase their victim’s innate sense of personhood and their right to their own sense of self. They intentionally strip their victim of their own identity, and replace it with what they want their victim to be.

Then this happens:

“Look,” she said tightly, “I want to start getting up and about on my own. With something on.”
“I’ll provide what you need when you need it.”
“I need it now.” (113)

He does give her clothes to wear in this scene, but it’s brutally clear that he did it because he decided she needed them, not because she said she needed them. Another thing abusers have to do is make sure their victims are dependent on them. Sometimes this takes the form of financial abuse, sometimes they make their victims feel that they’re incapable and incompetent, but it’s all about making sure they can’t leave you. This particular scene is troubling because it’s one of the ones that connects Michael’s character to God’s: a common Christian concept is that God provides us exactly what we need when They decide we need it, and not a second earlier.

Oh, and then this:

Michael studied her with patience. She was small and weak but possesed and iron will. It shone from her defiant blue eyes and the rigid way she was holding herself. She thought she had enough to overcome him. She was wrong. He was doing God’s will, and he had plans of his own, plans that kept growing, but he had said all he was going to say for a while. Let her think on it.

“You’re right,” he said. “I don’t own you, but you’re not running away from this.”

He’s saying he doesn’t own her, but he does feel entitled to her. He explains his “plans” in a bit– additions to the house, watching their children grow up– but at this moment there’s something missing from his statement: she’s not running away because he won’t let her. If you’ve read Redeeming Love before, you know that the implied threat there is ultimately carried out.

This is what makes me say that Michael is an abuser: his overwhelming sense of entitlement. That is the single biggest problem that all abusers share. Universally, abusers feel entitled to their victim. They believe that they have the absolute right to marry a woman who’s been beaten into delirium and rename her and threaten her and tell her she’s going to have his kids while she is vocally objecting the entire time. Can you even picture a man who you barely know sitting across from you on a coffee date telling you that you’re going to marry him and have his children and oh, by the way, you keep saying you want to leave but I’m not going to let you?

The fact that Francine and a vast majority of the people who read Redeeming Love think that Michael is an excellent stand-in for God is detestable and horrifying.

Feminism

all complementarian sex is rape

Yes, I’m leading with that because I might as well– it’s what the naysayers will swear up and down I’m arguing for in this post anyway, and I’ve already made my peace with it. Several men from inside my own progressive Christian camp have already tried to misrepresent my argument this way, and I know that it’s what the complementarians will start screaming if they even read it. So, I’m Andrea Dworkin-ing it up and owning it. My argument has already been labeled “unproductive” and “pointless” (by “feminist” men– are you surprised? I’m not), but I believe that what I’m about to lay out for you is critically important.

I think that it’s common sense for all of us to view sex on a spectrum. Many people don’t– even and possibly especially in feminist discourse there’s a tendency to mock and belittle “gray rape,” and for all the reasons for why they argue there isn’t such a thing, I tend to agree. But in many/most of the spaces I frequent, there’s a tendency to create a harsh and impassable divide between sex and rape, and it leads to this idea that what makes rape rape is obvious to anyone, and all those people out there who are “confused” are merely rapists-in-sheep’s-clothing or people who are aiding-and-abetting rape culture.

Except a look at the world around us tells us that isn’t true. A conversation with any of my womanly friends tells us that isn’t true. As much as I don’t think that the differences between sex and rape are murky, those differences don’t seem clearly apparent to an awful lot of people, rape victims included.

Why is that?

Because, when it comes right down to the bare bones of it, most of a woman’s sexual encounters with men are unhealthy, abusive, coercive, or, yes, even rape. And it is hard, and mind-numblingly terrifying, to stare at a world where most of our sexual encounters are not fully consensual and not be sucked into a soul-drowning abyss. So I’m going to lay out this spectrum and hopefully make the world a little bit brighter.

On the extreme end of the consensual side of the sex spectrum is “take-me-now-I-must-have-your-body-rip-all-my-clothes-off-and-fuck-me” sex. Consent is verbally given by all parties, it is communicated through body-language by everyone, and it is re-affirmed at each stage. It is obvious, and it is glorious, visceral, full-bodied consensual sex. No one at any point could even have doubts about whether or not they’re interested in sex right the fuck now.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is “stranger-danger-ski-masked-man-in-the-bushes-actual-cannibal-Shia-LeBeouf-look-he’s-got-a-knife” rape. The victim bites and claws and kicks and screams, but the rapist still brutally and violently rapes them, leaving them at the point of death. The victim immediately has zero doubts about whether or not what just happened is rape, so they go to a hospital, and in this perfect-victim story the staff finds all sorts of evidence and the DA presses charges and they’re locked away forever.

(Let’s just leave aside for the moment that even this undeniable example there are still cases where the victim is disbelieved, threatened, and even charged with making a false accusation. Rape culture is a bitch.)

Clearly, we all know that most sex and most rape does not look like these extremes. Most consensual sex does not look like the lead-up to a fade-to-black-scene in a romcom. Any person in a long-term relationship can tell you that. Sure, some sex is of that hot-and-heavy variety, but everyday average sex falls somewhere else on the spectrum.

In much the same way, the vast majority of rape isn’t even remotely like the “stranger in the bushes” scenario described above. It isn’t even usually committed by strangers, but by people the victim knows, and it usually isn’t violent in the way that leaves bruising or other visible marks.

For the rest, us sexually active folks can probably fill out the consensual side of the spectrum for ourselves. We’ve probably all had our “eh, why not, sure” moments when it comes to sex. I’m not arguing that all sex must be of the bodice-ripping variety for it not to be rape. Sex can be ordinary and ho-hum and still be perfectly consensual. I can’t get into all the varieties of what consensual sex can look like (especially inside a long-term trust-based relationship), or this will turn into a book.

However, I think a lot of the sex American women are having is not consensual. I’ve talked some about this idea before, but I want to introduce what I think could be a helpful term into the discussion:

Cultural Coercion.

I am far from the first feminist to propose this idea (see, notably, Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse). However, I want to take this idea and apply it specifically to complementarian marriages– that’s the background I come from, and in my opinion complementarianism is the most pernicious, poisonous theology gaining steam in America. It is hell-bent on destroying women through stealing away their right to self-determination. Most importantly, the ideas they promote about sex are, and are intended to be, sexual cultural coercion.

I want to highlight this difference between personal coercion and cultural coercion  because sex that is personally  coerced is always rape, but sex that is culturally  coerced is not rape in the same way.

I say this because “rape,” while absolutely a phenomenon that is (at least partly) created and sustained through culture, is not an act committed by some nebulous, abstract force. Criminally-prosecutable rape requires a rapist. In order for a sexual act to be rape, it must be committed by someone who overruled or ignored another person’s bodily autonomy.

For example, the first time he raped me, it was of the clear-cut variety (although, thanks to G.R.R. Martin, I now know that there are plenty of people who think saying “no, no, no please stop, no” can be “complicated consensual sex”). I said no. I said no repeatedly. Even though I spent the next three years utterly convinced that I must have done something to deserve it, that it was all my fault, that I didn’t know that saying no meant it was rape, supposedly the golden standard is “no means no,” right?

However, the second time he raped me, it was not that clear-cut. I said no. Initially. And then he badgered me and begged and whined and eventually threatened me … so I stopped actively fighting him off. I simply didn’t have the wherewithal to continue resisting, and I was horribly afraid of his threats. He’d hurt me in the past– I still have the scars to prove it– and my fear immobilized me.

He is a rapist. The first time he used physical force to rape me, the second time he used coercion (constant pressure, threats, emotional manipulation, verbal abuse). That second time is an example of personal coercion.

But what about cultural coercion? What does that look like?

A husband opens his bedroom and sees his lovely wife, the mother of his children, in their marriage bed reading a book. Her lamp is on, the light shining on her sunlight-made-corporeal-hair, her lips pursed in that adorable way she has when she’s reading a book she loves. He smiles, gets under the covers, and pulls her into his arms.

He kisses her neck and she laughingly bats him off. “I’m reading,” she says, but he can hear the smile in her voice. He nuzzles that spot right behind her ear that– yep, there it is. She giggles. “Oh, you, stop it.”

“But you’re just so beautiful. Sitting there reading your book.”

She huffs and turns to him, a smile twisting her lips. “I’m not going to finish this chapter, am I?”

“Nope.” He grins.

He pulls her to him, and she responds …

Yes. Yes, I am absolutely saying that right there could be culturally coerced, non-consensual sex.

However, what I am not saying is that having sex with his wife in this circumstance makes this husband a rapist. It makes him the beneficiary of cultural coercion, which is a stark — and incredibly important– distinction.

In the scene I’ve laid out above, this husband and wife are complementarian. They attend a complementarian church, and she attends a weekly Bible study where they read books like Captivating and Lies Women Believe and Me, Obey Him? and Love and Respect and Real Marriage and all these books have told her the same thing: men, because they are men, require sex more often than women do. It is her wifely obligation, her duty to make sure that his sexual needs are fulfilled. If she does not meet his sexual needs, then any resulting pornography addiction, adultery, or any other sexual sin (and yes, horrifyingly, in complementarian culture this can include things like child sexual assault) is her responsibility. If he leaves her for a more sexually available woman, then the destruction of her marriage is her fault for not having sex with him often enough.

This cultural coerction– this pressure– is constant and unyielding. It follows her through every moment of her life, and it is present every single time she has sex. It is always there, always manipulating her, forcing her into sex she wouldn’t ordinarily have. Maybe that night she really wanted to finish her book– maybe it was an especially exciting battle scene that had her on the edge of her seat… but, instead, she does what she’s supposed to do. Sometimes, she’s willing and enthusiastic. But sometimes …. she’s badgered by an ideology into having sex she doesn’t want.

Her husband isn’t a rapist. But it doesn’t mean that the sex they’re having is consensual.

***

And this is where descriptors like “unproductive” and “unhelpful” started getting thrown around.

But — but … but that means that almost all sex that any man is having could be non-consensual! This is so broad it’s useless! You’re making a mockery of real rape!

In response, I shrug. Yes, it is broad. Sweepingly broad. Trust me, I am just as horrified and sickened at the prospect as you. However, our mutual disgust at the idea doesn’t make it any less true. If a woman is being compelled, against her will, by an abusive system like complementarian theology (and, let’s face it, American cisheteropatriarchy), then she is absolutely experiencing something that is emotionally indistinguishable from rape. It’s not criminal, and I don’t think complementarian men are all monsters (not that I think any rapist is a “monster“): however, it doesn’t make what is happening any less wrong.

And just because the sheer breadth of what I’m describing is utterly mind-boggling doesn’t mean that it’s “unhelpful” to talk about it. It just makes talking about it immediately and emphatically necessary. It’s buried bone-deep in our Christian culture. Removing it demands the fervent dedication of all of us to oppose it with all our righteous, soul-of-a-dragon fire and bedrock-steady resolve.

Sex in a complementarian marriage can be culturally coerced, and at those times is therefore indistinguishable from rape. The only difference is that instead of a mythical  man leaping out of a bushes with a knife, the “rapist” is the collective force of complementarian theology.

I’m not backing down from that.

Neither should you.

Photo by mutator
Feminism

consent isn’t enough

This is a concept I’ve been wrestling with for a long, long time. In a way, I’ve written about it a few times, most directly here and here. I’ve heard similar thoughts from many women– in comments, in letters, in real-life conversations. Ever since I heard the term enthusiastic consent I’ve latched on to it as my basis for sexual ethics, as I strongly believe that the only sex that should ever happen is sex that all parties definitely and enthusiastically want. The only times I have sex with my partner are times when we both very much want it.

Because, honestly, I’ve always known that simply “giving consent” isn’t enough. There were plenty of times in my abusive relationship where I’d technically consented. Technically, what he did wasn’t a crime. But most of the time, when I technically said yes, everything inside of me was screaming no, no I don’t want this. Afterwards, I’d be left feeling used. Manipulated. Torn.

But … I’d said yes. So, that meant that everything was ok, right?

Last week, though, I read an article titled “Let’s Talk about ‘Consent‘” by Freya Brown. It’s long, and slightly academic, and I’m not sure I agree with all of her conclusions (and am also frustrated by the fact that she never offers an alternative model), but something she said in the middle section got me thinking. She’s discussing how some studies indicate that many women feel sadness, depression, or regret after sex, and that it happens often enough for us to ask why.

Growing up in the purity culture camp, I already knew what studies she was referencing. They’ve been cited in practically every sermon or book on the subject, and used to prove that sex outside of marriage is intrinsically bad for women– that without the comfort and security of marriage, a woman will not to be able to fully enjoy sex, and in fact, could suffer emotional and psychological harm. This interpretation has always set wrong with me, because I always thought why do these studies only show that it’s bad for women? Why do the same studies say that the only regret men have is not having sex more often?

Of course, the gender essentialist answer will be something along the lines of “duh.”

But that’s a blithe answer, and gender essentialism doesn’t really stand up under a microscope. So … why?

The answer Freya Brown gives is “patriarchy,” in a similar sense of how I think of makeup and shaving. I like wearing makeup– I enjoy the experience, the artistry. But one of the reasons why I like it is that it helps my face conform to Western beauty standards just a tad more; my eyes appear larger, my lips poutier, my cheekbones and jawline sharper.

In my life, I rarely wear makeup. I don’t feel any pressure at all to wear makeup when I leave my house, and anyone who thinks I look sick or dowdy or tired or unprofessional can go fuck themselves with a cheese grater. Same thing with shaving– sometimes I like the feel of smooth legs, but if I want to go the beach with hairy armpits and legs, then that’s what I’m going to do.

Sex, just like everything else, takes place in a culture, a system– a system dominated by misogyny and the subjugation of women to male desire and expectation. Personally, I only have it when I want it, but just like many women don’t feel comfortable leaving their home without “war paint” on (or are punished at work for not appearing “professional”), many women have sex under pressured circumstances.

For example, a little while ago I was reading a webcomic, and two of the characters started having PIV sex. It had been established that these two had an ongoing sexual relationship and that she’d happily consented to everything they’d done prior. In this scene, though, he initiated anal without asking (similar to what Danny did to Mindy in a Mindy Project episode). The character seemed hesitant at first, but then went along with it after some cajoling.

The comment section exploded into a discussion of whether or not what happened was technically rape. With all the givens, some said absolutely yes it was rape, and some said hell no it wasn’t. What bothered me about that whole fiasco was that it happened along such divided lines– to these commenters, there seemed to be a mile-wide gap between sex and rape.

An article on a sex-ed website calls “grey rape” a “myth,” and says that “consent or lack thereof is really clear and intuitive.” In a sense, I agree. The difference between legal consensual sex and what will get you thrown in prison (if you’re reported and convicted, a big If) is clear. Couldn’t be clearer. If they didn’t agree, then you’re raping them and you’re committing a felony.

But there’s plenty of other times where someone says “yes,” especially in the bounds of a long-term relationship, but the sex that happens isn’t ideal, healthy, or what it should be. The biggest example that comes to mind is pretty much any woman in a typical Christian marriage.

One of the consistent messages evangelical women get is that they owe their husband sex, that his sex drive must be satisfied at any and all costs– that if she doesn’t fulfill her “wifely duties” her husband could fall into sin, either through pornography or adultery. She must give him sex under pain of a ruined marriage and destroyed family.

Even if any particular woman living under this framework says yes, and even seems to have a healthy, enjoyable sex life … how consensual is it, really? Under these circumstances, does she have an unfettered choice? Could she say “no” and escape the consequences of a manufactured penalty? Could she refuse without pangs of guilt, making her wonder if she had any right to say no?

Maybe. Maybe once, or twice, or rarely, or as long as he still seemed reasonably satisfied. As long as she felt assured she was performing her “duties.”

That is not what sex should look like. A long time ago, I watched a movie (I think it might have been Sunshine Cleaning?) where one of the main characters has sex with her boyfriend, and eventually gets so bored that she flips on the TV and starts watching something banal until he finishes. What I saw happening there wasn’t rape, but what I did see was a guy being a complete and total asshole.

Our culture, and especially Christian culture, is set up to make it deadly certain that male sexual needs and fantasies are consistently gratified. Female pleasure, and even female consent is broadly secondary– making sure we want it, that we’re invested, that we’re enjoying it, that we’re having orgasms, that we don’t feel pressured or coerced in any way … is immaterial to an awful lot of people. As long as he gets to orgasm, as long as she’s willing to “go along with it,” there are a staggering number of men willing to accept that. In fact, some numbers say that 58% of men would “force women to have sex.”

Sex should not be a “duty.” It shouldn’t be an act we feel obligated to perform for other people. It should never be manipulated or coerced. It’s hard for each woman, individually, to operate inside this system where we’re beaten down into thinking things like I have to have sex with him or he’ll leave me.

But we shouldn’t accept this status quo. As the magnificent and wonderful Nicki Minaj put it: “I demand that I climax. I think women should demand that.” That’s the attitude that should be accepted and normal. Consent is only the absolute minimum baseline, not the goal. It should be so commonplace for women to be comfortable, and happy, and trusting, and respected during sex that anything else would be as incomprehensible to us as building a bicycle seat out of a cactus.

Update 9/8/15: There has been some confusion over the term enthusiastic consent. As a concept, it is not a description of a person’s emotional state or libido, it is intended only to describe the nature of the consent given. Enthusiastic consent is consent given without any pressure or coercion, that’s all. The opposite of enthusiastic consent would be “grudging consent.”

All individuals have autonomy. This means that it is possible to give unpressed, uncoerced consent no matter your libido or current level of arousal. This applies to anyone on the asexual spectrum, as well. The point of the post is simply to examine some of the various ways our misogynistic culture or unhealthy relationships can apply pressure and make it harder for uncoerced consent to be possible.

I believe it is important for every woman to examine the reasons why she has sex, and if “because I’ll ruin my marriage if I don’t” or “he’ll leave me” or “he’ll make me miserable” or “it’s my duty” or “I owe it to him” are among those reasons, than that is something we should actively fight– in our own relationships and more broadly in our culture.

Photo by Darin Kim
Feminism

on rape fantasies and BDSM

[content note: discussions of sexual violence]

I grew up loving 80s sci-fi movies. From The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension to Enemy Mine, the more cheesy and outlandish the more I love it. Movies like Back to the Future and Ghostbusters were staples in our house. So, you can imagine I’ve seen the Mad Max films more than once (and yes, Beyond Thunderdome is as hilariously bad and wonderful as it sounds). When I first saw the trailer for Fury Road, though, I was all “meh” because I want my 80s sci-fi to be 80s sci-fi and it looked like they were making it all artistic and drama-y, which doesn’t really float my boat (the gender-flipped Ghostbusters, though, that looks like it is going to be awesome).

I was planning on eventually renting Fury Road, but when the MRA corners of the internet completely lost their shit over how feminist it was, I told my partner we had to go see it. I’m not usually one for post-apocalyptic car-chase movies, but Fury Road surprised me with how much I enjoyed it. There’s a lot of good things about it, and if movies about dystopian societies that feature flame-throwing guitars are your thing, you should watch it at some point.

There’s been a lot of interesting conversations happening on tumblr about Fury Road– like the fact that both of the main characters are disabled, or that it focuses on women saving and protecting women— and I’ve enjoyed them. However, after a bit, I started noticing a particular fandom spring up around the character of Immortan Joe.

If you don’t know anything about the movie, the following contains some insignificant spoilers:

Immortan Joe is an abusive, narcissistic, tyrannical, disgusting rapist. He created a religion where obeying him and glorifying him earn you a place in “Valhalla,” and he is completely obsessed with producing healthy offspring. He keeps a harem of slaves that he rapes anytime they are ovulating, and that’s the main plot of the movie. Furiosa is trying to get these women away from him, and they are willing to risk everything to escape. They refused to be a part of Immortan Joe’s “vision.”

The fandom centered on his character features artwork (like the one shown above by Mirva Pohjonen) and fanfiction, which is usually (from the things I’ve seen float through my feed) dubcon or noncon one-shots that feature humiliation/degradation and brutal abuse. One story that passed through my feed featured Joe fucking a woman’s face so hard he knocks her teeth out. Many people have already gotten Immortan Joe’s brand tattooed on the back of their neck.

Needless to say, this started a bit of a ruckus. One women condemned the entire fandom as being completely fucked up and offensive to all rape victims, which, of course, brought the response that there were rape survivors in the fandom and how dare anyone tell them how to “cope with their trauma.”

I’m not entirely sure where I stand on this issue, mostly because I think this depends on the people involved and where they are in their healing. Personally, I find noncon/rape fantasy stories disturbing, but I can understand how working through those emotions in the controlled environment of writing or reading fiction can be a constructive, healing process. I think that it could be similar to combat veterans playing through video games to treat PTSD.

However, I think there needs to be a stage when a victim moves past that, and I think it needs to be something we engage in critically. If you’re enjoying a story about a rape so brutal the victim’s teeth get knocked out, I think there needs to be a moment where you sit back and ask yourself why that is.

This matters to me especially because I’m kinky, and I enjoy all sorts of BDSM things in the bedroom.

I can understand why a lot of people, feminists included, don’t think of any BDSM activity as healthy. I’d challenge them on that, especially since there’s so many kinky elements in pretty ordinary “vanilla” sex (digging your nails into his back? pinning hands above your head?), but from a superficial perspective, I get it. Any time I’ve seen BDSM porn, I walk away feeling a little sick even if I’d be willing to do some of those things with my partner. Devoid of context, removing any aspect of relationship or trust, BDSM can seem … weird, even icky.

Me and my partner have conversations about this all the time. We engage in BDSM critically, and we involve more than just the “do you think this would be fun or feel good?” in our discussions about it. For me, personally, I enjoy sensation and impact play because of my experiences with chronic pain. To me, these types of play allow me to enjoy and appreciate my body in a way that no other activity can. I am in consistent pain on a daily basis, and as anyone who deals with some kind of chronic illness can tell you, that sort of reality can make you hate your body. BDSM helps me overcome that, because in a certain context (a loving and trusting relationship with my partner), I can overcome that hatred and depression. In play, my body becomes a wonderland (to quote John Mayer).

I didn’t just realize “huh! I like being spanked during sex!” and run with it. I asked myself why. Why would I want to be hit during such a loving, intimate moment? Why do I get off on that? The answer was the above: because it doesn’t register as pain, necessarily. It is transcendent and freeing, and helps me to escape the daily drudgery of chronic illness. I love what my body is capable of doing, of experiencing.

This may not be true of every person– some people might be attracted to impact play because they have some internalized messaging about sex being “bad” and they have to be “punished” for having it. I’ve spoken with some people for who that’s true, so they decided to explore sensation and bondage play, but avoid things that are reminiscent of childhood discipline.

I’m also capable of getting off on power play. This is the “domination/submission” aspect, and is why I usually refer to myself as a bottom, not a sub. While it’s true that in a healthy, consensual BDSM scene the submissive retains complete control and power over what actually happens, on a personal level I don’t pursue that sort of dynamic in my relationship. When I asked “why am I turned on by domination?” I realized the answer wasn’t healthy– I was turned on by it because of how I react to being controlled. Domination and power play speaks to my personality, which is naturally fairly compliant with authority, and to how I was raised in an environment that demanded total obedience to men.

In short, the reason why domination would be attractive to me is that it reminds me of patriarchy, sexism, and religious totalitarianism. A therapist once told my mother that sometimes abusive dynamics can “feel like riding a bike” to survivors. Because it feels familiar and easy, we can be susceptible to further abuse without necessarily recognizing it. Domination is like that– it feels familiar, and therefore comfortable.

Which is why my partner and I agreed that it would not be a dynamic we explored. However, the same may not be true for every kinky relationship– without my particular set of baggage, domination may not be a problem for you. It could be simply another form of role play, something fun and sexy.

In the same way, the fandom surrounding Immortan Joe isn’t necessarily completely unhealthy. It could be a normal and productive part of someone’s fantasy life, but I feel that it’s important to be aware of ourselves when we’re attracted to characters like Loki or James from Twilight or Voldemort or Immortan Joe (or, for me, any villain played by Gary Oldman). We have to ask ourselves why.

Artwork by Mirva Pohjonen

Feminism

is it possible to be a sex-positive Christian? [part three]

This post is the last of three posts in this series. You can fine part one here, and part two here.

IV. Do No Harm

The benefit of framing my sense of ethics around questions such as “is this loving?” and “could this cause harm?” is that many things in my life have become simpler. My life is less fraught with that catch I used to feel when I’d wonder “is this a sin? how can I know if this is a sin? God– will I die if I take communion while not realizing that there’s sin I haven’t repented of because I didn’t realize it was a sin at all?”

Verses like James 4:17 were small comfort when God could strike me down for eating a cracker. I can get the anxiety that prompts a lot of the Boundless reader questions about “CAN I HAVE THE SEX?! CAN WE DO THE KISSING?! OMG HAND HOLDING MAY I TOUCH THEM?!”

However, in some ways, things have gotten a lot more complicated. When the answer to “is this moral?” is no longer an unequivocal “yes” or “no,” but “it depends,” there’s a lot more reflection, self-examination, and attentiveness required of me. However, that is exactly what I love about these questions in regard to a sexual ethic: in order to answer the question I posed in my first post (“could having sex cause harm?”) I have to know myself, I have to understand the situation, and I have to be aware of the other people involved, who may not be just the person I want to have sex with. All of this perhaps conflicting information has to be weighed and balanced.

For me, one of the most important responsibilities of being a sex-positive Christian feminist is education. I believe in giving young people and adults the abilities, information, and tools to make responsible and loving decisions regarding sex.

The most important idea to understand, of course, is consent. I believe in enthusiastic consent, specifically. Someone may be technically consenting, but if they do not seem engaged and willing– even eager and aroused– then I think pursuing sex should be very carefully re-evaluated. Sex should take place between people who want it to happen, not just between someone who wants it and someone who feels ambivalent. There will always be exceptions– libidos don’t always match up; sometimes an asexual person may agree to sex because they like doing that for their partner, even if they’re not particularly interested in sex. I believe that it is eminently loving to prioritize enthusiastic participation all around, but that can be weighed in balance with another person wanting to show love by having sex regardless of how they feel about it.

There’s also other considerations, most of which I believe are rooted in where you are and who you are as a person.

Example: I am extremely monogamous. Every time I enter the mental place of “I am in a committed relationship,” it’s like other people drop off the face of the planet. I can still notice when someone is attractive, of course, or if I find them desirable, but it’s nothing like when I’m single. When I’m in a relationship, entertaining the thought of being in a relationship with someone else is … just bizarre. I can’t even picture it. It’s why I have trouble reading books and watching movies about affairs, or sympathizing with those characters. I loved The Duchess, but even though she’s in a loveless marriage with an asshole, I still couldn’t really wrap my brain around her falling in love with someone else. Or Outlander. I tried reading it and just … couldn’t.

This is something I have always understood about myself, and it is the reason why I am just not interested in casual sex. Depending on the people and the situation, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, I just don’t want to experience it. I want sex to take place inside the fence of a monogamous relationship, and would feel weird and uncomfortable with anything else. If you’re the sort of person that doesn’t need the intimate connection of a long-term relationship, awesome, but that should be something you decide by yourself, away from the pressures of hormones and people.

There are other things that need to be thought through and discussed with your potential partner, as well. Timing is an important thing to get right for you, I think, and there’s other extremely realistic questions about contraception and risk and trust. It’s impossible to predict how you or anyone else will respond to any particular event, like sex, until it happens, but it’s still important to evaluate what you think could happen and if you’re ok with those consequences.

There’s a lot of overblown “information” about sex and the effects it can have thanks to purity culture, and that needs to be hashed out, too. Nothing about you can be altered by having sex anymore than eating chocolate cake for the first time changes you as a person. It’s one more experience that makes up who you are, and that’s really it. You’re not guaranteed to be forever in love, it can’t affect your value and worth, and it probably won’t change the course of history, either.

That’s not to say it won’t change anything. You just have to figure out what they could be and if you think those changes are good and loving for you and your partner. There isn’t only one model for this– it could like waiting for marriage to have sex. It could be waiting until you’re engaged, or exclusive, or just in love– or not in love at all. As long as you’re not causing harm and you believe that having sex would be good, beneficial, loving, enjoyable … then in my book, you’re golden.

Feminism

is it possible to be a sex-positive Christian? [part one]

If you’ve spent any time in feminist circles, you’ve probably bumped into the term sex-positive. It gets thrown around a bit, and one thing I’ve noticed is that it can occasionally be difficult to nail down what the writer/speaker means when they use it, so I’m going to offer a definition for what I mean when I use it.

To me, being sex-positive means that sex can be a good and healthy part of human experience. Not everyone wants sex a lot — or at all — and that is also good and healthy. Being sex-positive means I believe in educating people about sex, about safe sex, about contraception, about STIs, about how to give and experience sexual pleasure, and I believe in removing stigmas and myths from sex (such as “virgin women bleed the first time“). Being sex-positive means that I believe in seeking enthusiastic consent, and that consent is the most basic, fundamental, necessary part of sex, as it is the only thing that separates sex from rape. I believe in educating people about being a responsible sex partner, giving young people especially the tools to make complicated, nuanced decisions regarding sex.

It also means that I don’t shame, judge, or condemn those who are (or are not) having sex, regardless of their life circumstances.

Including whether or not they are married.

And that is where I and probably most Christians part ways. To many Christians, the only conversation to be had about sex is in the context of heterosexual (and, in same cases, such as Matthew Vines, homosexual) marriage. The gold standard in evangelical conversations about sex is abstinence, and it is typically the only information and encouragement unmarried people receive.

However, just because I disagree with many (if not most) Christians about this doesn’t mean that I don’t have access to either Christian tradition or the Bible to make my argument. I’m going to lay out my argument in a few posts, with today’s focusing on laying some groundwork.

A note before I begin: I am a progressive Christian, and that does mean I interact with Scripture differently than an evangelical who believes in inerrancy and takes a literalist approach. I don’t want to hash that all out, so if you’re curious about how I see the Bible, Peter Enns’ The Bible Tells Me So is a good book to start with. For more controversial reading, Forged by Bart Ehrman was interesting.

~~~~~~~~~~

I. Sin

The question that I have to start with, as a Christian, is “is pre-marital sex a sin?”, but the most relevant part of that question is our definition of sin. In many Christian conversations about what sin is, it seems to be assumed that “sin is a transgression of the law of God.” In a sense, I agree with this definition, but it’s because I believe that “the law of God” can be summed up in “to love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.” Where I disagree with this definition is in its common application: many Christians preach and act as though “sin” is “doing something that God says you’re not allowed to do.”

That application is non-sensical to me because the Bible doesn’t cover that much ground, really, and there’s a whole lot of things we can do that is never addressed– so how are we supposed to know God’s stance on it? Especially when what we do have in the Bible has God apparently telling people to commit genocide and infanticide … repeatedly. I think we’d all agree that genocide is a moral evil, but the Bible shows God commanding it, which is disturbing. Personally, I believe that either a) the people who wrote the Old Testament believed that God told them to do that, regardless of whether or not he did, or b) they said God had commanded it to justify it. “B” makes the most sense to me, as people have used their deity to justify all sorts of evil things through history.

This is why I believe that it’s important to have a more consistent sense of ethics than my deity (dis)approves of this action. Personally, my ethics and morals are guided by the question could this action or inaction cause harm? This aligns with my understanding of “love your neighbor as yourself,” and “they shall know you be how you love one another.” This question allows a lot of room for nuance and complexity, as not every situation and person is going to require the same response from me. Does my deity approve of this action? is very black-and-white and does not allow for circumstance, but could this cause harm? does.

So, for me, the question “is pre-marital sex a sin?” becomes “will having sex cause harm?” It’s extremely important to note that this question applies inside of marriage, as well as out of it. This is not a question we can stop asking just because we signed a piece of paper.

~~~~~~~~~~

II. Rejecting the Premise

The Bible is a very old collection of books. I wish that’s something that didn’t need to be mentioned, but it is. It is very old. Ancient, in fact. Directions in Deuteronomy about stoning women who didn’t bleed on their wedding night are from 700 BCE, possibly. Conversations about “fornication” or “sexual immorality” from the Pauline epistles are from the first century. These facts mean that there is some historical context we have to situate ourselves in before we can even begin having a biblically-based conversation about sex.

On its face, it seems as though the New Testament consistently condemns all forms of extra-marital sex, but I think it’s important to ask the question why? It’s also important to address the problem that what the New Testament writers had in mind may not be a 1-for-1 correlation to our modern-day situation, and for us to seek the “eternal principle” that can apply to us. I believe that the consistent morality presented in Scripture is rooted in love and not causing harm to others, and I’ll get to why I believe that specifically applies to sex on Friday.

For today, the most important idea to keep in front of us is that the New Testament does not reject the practice of owning people as property. Property law, it can be argued, was the foundation of Roman society (and, by influence, Western civilization. See: white police officers being more concerned with the destruction of property than the destruction of human life in places like Ferguson). At the time St. Paul was writing, the paterfamilias, the head of the household, was able to order his life and by extension society because he owned people. He owned his wife, he owned his children, he owned his slaves. We see this in the way that several biblical passages are organized around the Greco-Roman Household Codes.

Paul doesn’t directly challenge this system in his epistle to Philemon, although he doesn’t exactly endorse it, either. Owning people as property just … existed. Paul might not have been happy with it, but it was there. The NT almost seems to shrug it off in some ways– explaining to Christians how to live in this system while practicing love and doing no harm. Paul even made the shocking suggestion to the paterfamilias that he was morally obligated to take good care of his property. For its time, these letters were progressive. However, we’ve gone farther. Most of us have decided that slavery is a moral evil and that, specifically, women are capable people and are not possessions attached to their husbands.

In this system, in a society where women are either the property of their fathers, husbands, the government, or religion, we could be damaged. If we “lost” our virginity, we were quite literally worth less, and, as such, had been harmed. The fathers who owned us were also harmed because they’d lost their ability to sell us for an ‘unsullied’ price. Because of this, it’s easy to see why the NT seems to so roundly condemn extra-marital sex. When a woman’s value is directly attached to whether or not she’s had sex with or been raped by a man, having sex with her is harmful, and should not be done.

However, that’s not where we are today. Today, women aren’t property. Marriage isn’t about a sale. We don’t care about things like dowries and ensuring the existence of legal heirs. The context has changed, although the basic question (“would having sex be harmful?”) hasn’t.

Photo by Sarah Reid
Feminism

"he doesn’t mean anything by it" is a horrible lie

I ran into an aquaintance– a man that given the social context that we met in knows that I’m a hugger and open to hugs. We’ve hugged before when saying hello, which is something that I’m almost always comfortable with. However, this time, he kissed me. It took me completely by surprise– and I couldn’t shake the twisting, nauseating feeling I had all night because of it.

I was also infuriated with myself for the rest of the week because my reaction afterwards was to silently move away and completely ignore what he’d done. I, like pretty much every single woman in the history of ever … let it go. And letting it slide like that made me feel horribly guilty, like I’d “failed” in some way, that I wasn’t a “good feminist” if I couldn’t even call out the behavior that’s happening to me. Here I am, babbling away on the internet about consent and boundaries and safe spaces and then something like this happens and I freeze.

I’m not saying that a man’s boundaries can never be crossed or that it’s only women who freeze up when someone does something to us that we don’t like or don’t want– there are some don’t ever make a scene! dynamics to what is considered “good manners” in our culture, regardless of gender.

However, women are socialized to accept things that men don’t have to live with, such as the above example. I asked Handsome, and having to put up with people grabbing, touching, slapping, pinching, groping, hugging, or kissing him isn’t something he has to deal with when he goes out. However, many social functions I’ve been to involves surviving an obstacle course of men trying to do all that, and me having very little recourse.

A few years ago I was at a birthday party, and one of the men there got very drunk and groped my ass. I reacted to this with the absolutely suitable “hey! I don’t appreciate that, don’t touch me again” and every single last man in that room poo-pooed me with “oh, that’s just the way he is, he doesn’t mean anything by it” and him walking around like a kicked puppy for the rest of the night … and I felt horrible, like I had done something wrong by standing up for myself and asking for a pretty basic physical boundary to be respected.

The same thing happened when that man kissed me without my permission– even though I didn’t visibly react, or do or say anything, I walked around for the next few days second-guessing myself. It’s just the way he is. He didn’t mean anything by it looped around my head. I felt that I didn’t have the “right” to feel the way I did about it, that the sick feeling in my stomach was me making a big deal out of nothing.

In retrospect, obviously, I have every right to feel violated by being kissed without my permission. That I felt gross and dirty afterwards is a feeling I should respect and trust– it’s my body and mind trying to tell me something about what had happened, and no amount of “it was nothing” was going to be able to take that away.

Women spend a lot of time telling ourselves it was nothing, and that is a monstrously difficult lie to overcome. It’s a lie we’re told by no one– and everyone. It’s the lie we believe when we’re at a party and we’re suddenly A Raging Bitch because we dared to say something when we were assaulted. It’s the lie in the back of our head when a man is acting in a way that sets every alarm we have to screaming, but we force ourselves to ignore it because it couldn’t be that big a deal, right?

My big take-away from all that is this: not being able to say “don’t do that” isn’t a failure on my part. Standing up to the near-overwhelming pressure to not be that bitch and enforce our physical boundaries isn’t something that should always and forever be shouldered by women. I wish it didn’t feel like such a monumental thing to ask of men not to be that guy, but it is. Why should it always be our responsibility to tell men that they’ve been a dick? It should be the responsibility of every decent human being to enforce a social code like don’t kiss people without their permission, instead of the misogynistic code we have right now that reads don’t make a man feel bad about acting like a dick.

Photo by Craig Sunter
Feminism

"Real Marriage" review: 156-176, "Selfish Lovers and Servant Lovers"

[note: this post inspired some swearing]

This chapter seems to be laying all the necessary groundwork for the last chapter in the “Sex” section of the book, and from the title (“Can We ____?”) I’m guessing that’s the one that caused some of the firestorm around it. Honestly, unless he does something drastic in that last chapter, I’m going to be a little confused as to why people were so bothered, since he hasn’t said too much at this point that I haven’t heard echoed in plenty of other corners.

But, I think “Can We ___?” Is going to finally define what Mark means by “having sex freely,” since this chapter focuses on the “frequency” half of his definition of a healthy sex life. If you’re having sex a lot, and you’re having it “freely,” you’re golden in Mark’s book.

There are two over-arching problems with this chapter: he does not address communication in any form until he’s nine pages into the chapter, and then he only really talks about it for a single paragraph. The second problem is that while he’s couched most of the discussion in this chapter in gender-neutral terms (you, spouse, they, him or her, etc), the vast majority of the potential bars to a “healthy” sex life he address are typically considered female problems, and his attempt to make it seem as though he’s being “gender neutral” falls flat.

Obviously I don’t agree with the gendered way most evangelicals talk about sex. Women are just as visual as men. Women can want sex more often than their male partners. Gender and sex don’t matter anywhere near as much as the people in the relationship and what they want– which is a fantastic reason for why communication is so important. Evangelicals like to assume a lot of things based on nothing more than their Western, American, White Supremacist conceptualizations of gender.

However, while Mark is superficially trying to get away from that by using gender-neutral terms, he can’t get away from the fact that he really hates women:

She was a virgin on her wedding night and had grown up in a fairly religious home … She had some anxiety regarding their first night together that made her body tense up … As a result, they were unable to experience intercourse and without putting in too much effort to overcome their obstacle, she instead gave him a helping hand …

He felt embarrassed … that they had intercourse so infrequently that she usually experienced discomfort, as her body had not adjusted to being sexually active. (156)

See what happens? That she’s having problems overcoming the messages of purity culture is all her fault. It’s not “their” problem– it’s her problem. Also, Mark is working under one of the worst lies of our culture: that people with vaginas will experience pain during penetration until they get used to it, which is total bullshit.

The rest of the chapter has a similar focus; for example, in a list of “Ways we are Selfish Lovers,” six out of the nine ways are typically associated with women– like “letting ourselves go” (165-66). Considering that Mark blamed Gayle Haggard for her husband’s adultery because of this very reason, he’s made it clear that he thinks this is something that women struggle with.

So those are the two big over-arching problems of this chapter, so now I’d like to address some of the more particular ones.

On page 160, we run into yet another way that they minimize abuse:

Foxes in our vineyard for me (Grace [referring to Mark’s behavior]) include name-calling, strong language … using discouraging words …

This really breaks my heart for Grace. She’s been married to an abuser for so long and has been taught to see his abuse as normal. Not necessarily acceptable, but normal. Another problem with this whole section is that Grace gets six lines to talk about Mark’s verbal abuse while they dedicate twenty-two to Mark ranting about how he hates it that Grace isn’t as punctual as he is, and Grace acknowledging that this was a “sin issue.”

Because verbal abuse and different perspectives of “being on time” are totally the same thing. By the way, Mark has not once referred to any of his abuse as a “sin issue.” He’s exclusively talked about other people having sin issues, or Grace has talked about her own.

Another big problem is when Mark uses I Corinthians 7:3-5 (the “you don’t have authority over your own body” passage) to support the argument of this chapter. I don’t have the space to talk about why this way of thinking is a problem, so instead I’ll direct you to these resources:

A World Without Consent” by Jeff Eaton.
I Belong to Me: Learning Agency and Consent Outside Christianity” by Dani Kelley
Sarah Moon‘s series You Are not Your Own.

Honestly, passages like that one are the biggest reasons why I have problems with the “high view of Scripture” perspective, because I read things like “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” and everything inside of me starts screaming run away. Also fuck this bullshit starts repeating on an endless loop. I’ve read the arguments that this is a passage about mutuality and such, but I don’t find that a compelling enough explanation to get around “you do not have authority over your own body.” Because to me, there’s no way for this not to be incredibly harmful and dangerous.

Anyway, I’d appreciate all ya’ll thoughts on that passage, cause I got nothin.

The last and most glaring problem with this chapter is that there is not a single word about consent. Not a single one. In fact, he does something worse than not talking about it:

People have explained this [referring to putting in “too little effort”] as a gross feeling, where their spouses simply lie there, looking away disinterested and disconnected, making them feel as if they are basically using their spouses’ bodies.

Aish. I’m writing this in a Starbucks, or the book would have gone flying. Instead I just sat and stared into space while the red faded from my vision.

People: if you are having sex with someone and this is their reaction, you are probably having sex with someone who is disassociating. There are many reasons why someone might respond that way, but the biggest one would be you are raping them. And these people fucking know that— they feel “gross” and like they’re doing something wrong. Because they are. Because we know that having sex with an unresponsive person is a fucking bad idea.

Anyway. This chapter was bad. I don’t have high hopes for the next one.

Feminism

when speaking to men about false accusations

[content note: sexual violence]

I want to preface today’s post with a few things: first, I’m going to be talking about my own personal experiences online and off, and I’m not going to be arguing about absolutes, or saying that what I’ve observed is the way it always is with no exceptions. However, I’ve noticed a pattern, and I think it’s happened often enough that it warrants a post.

Also, I have been the victim of a false accusation. My accuser did not go to the police to file a report; instead, he convinced many people– all of whom I had considered friends– that I was an abuser and a rapist, which made my life hellishly difficult. It was miserable– and one of the worst periods in my life for a variety of reasons; being ostracized by people I had once trusted was excruciating. So I do understand the pain this causes. I’ve been there. It should never happen to anyone, and I understand that.

I also want to make it abundantly clear that I am not talking about those who have been falsely convicted of rape, which is completely and totally different.

All of that being said, I’ve noticed a few things when I’ve talked to men about being “falsely accused.”

The first time I noticed this was a little over a year ago. At that point I was still really new to feminist conversations about rape culture and I was just beginning to familiarize myself with the data, and was sharing what I’d been learning. He brought up how he’d been “falsely accused” of raping a woman he’d been dating for a short time, and I did my best to not minimize what I saw as legitimate pain.

But, the conversation continued, and as he kept talking I realized something: the “false accusation” he felt so victimized by wasn’t actually false. In this particular case she hadn’t actually said he’d raped her, but that he’d assaulted her– and he had, by his own admission to me. He didn’t see it as assault; to him it was a small thing that he described with phrases like “being a little pushy.”

I didn’t have the chutzpah at the time to call him on it, but that conversation stuck with me.

Since then, I’ve noticed that when men bring up their personal experience with “false accusations,” they tend to be exaggerating, or omitting the fact that they’ve been accused of assault, not rape. In those particular cases, when I’ve been able to hear “their side of the story,” so far without exception they actually have assaulted a woman, but they’re such magnificent douchebags that they refuse to even recognize that’s what they’ve done. Instead they go on gigantic screeds about how much they’ve suffered. And, trust me, I know what it’s like to have people think that you’re capable of assault or rape. It’s worse than unpleasant.

However, most of the time, the only consequences these men have suffered is losing access to some of their victim’s friends. Their employment is completely unaffected. Most of the people in their friend groups support them. Their “suffering” is usually limited to not being able to bang a few women who’ve decided they’re a jerk– almost always because they are.

In the cases when they actually have been accused of rape, it’s unusual for their victim to have gone to the police and for them to have been investigated, much less charged with anything. These men—who have not been investigated, charged, tried, or convicted– go on and on about how much their lives have been destroyed and ruined, and I’m left scratching my head because I’ve been through this. I know what it’s like to have most of the people around you believe that you’re a rapist. It’s horrible in a way that few things in my life have been, and I’ve been through some tough shit.

But life-destroying? How about no.

I graduated. I got a job as a graduate assistant. I got a Master’s degree. I’m now happily married to one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met. My family supports me. I have a few very good friends. Despite the hundreds of people who still believe I’m a rapist, I have a just-beginning-t0-bud career as a writer and activist. My life, overall, is pretty sweet. It hurts when I think that some of the people I thought were my friend believe me capable of rape, and I would do anything to help an innocent person escape that same burden– but my life is anything but ruined.

What I am not saying is that being falsely accused is something to laugh at or no big deal. However, from personal experience I know that the typical rhetoric surrounding “false accusations” is more than just a little overblown. I have had men look me in the eye and tell me that being falsely accused is worse than being raped, and in my experience that is ridiculously untrue. Even being a convicted rapist doesn’t necessarily result in having their lives destroyed: look no further than Ma’lik Richmond, one of the Stuebenville rapists, who got right back on the football team after serving out his sentence.

It’s also usually played out that these men who are talking about being “falsely accused” of rape actually are rapists. They have a lot of justifications for why what they did wasn’t rape, I’ve found out. There are multiple communities dedicated to convincing men that forcing a woman who is saying “no” isn’t actually rape, it’s just them “asserting their male dominance” and other such bullshit. I’ve had posts and articles mailed to me by MRAs who believe all of that to their core. I’ve talked to people that see no means yes and yes means anal as a legitimate statement. There are so many places online that are filled to the eyeballs-floating-in-shit brim with rape myths– they preach tactics like “those bitches actually do want your cock, you just have to convince them by giving it to them.”

We see these sorts of rape myths played out on a daily basis in our popular culture– Cersei and Jaime Lannister, for example. What many people saw as a “gray area” or “dubious consent” was actually just a rape myth. Cersei said “No” seven times, but Jaime assaulted her into shutting up and then raped her until she gave up being such a bitch and just admitted she actually did want it.

These are the sorts of things the men I’ve talked to who say they’ve been “falsely accused” tend to believe. There are victims of false accusations– I’m one of them. It should never happen to anyone.

However, I have yet to speak to a rapist– not even once– who see that what they did was rape. They are delusional, but they have huge communities backing them up online, telling them all of the things they want to hear. It wasn’t rape– it was rough sex. It wasn’t rape– I just knew that she didn’t actually mean “no.” It wasn’t rape– I just got her drunk enough. It wasn’t rape– she was just unresponsive. It wasn’t rape– she was just crying because she was a virgin.

And on and on it goes.

So, basically, anytime a man says “I’ve been falsely accused,” I give them the side-eye accompanied by a heavy dose of skepticism, because every single rapist who’s been accused is going to say the same exact thing. I believe in the prudence of trusting victims—and I can say that, because I’m in the somewhat unique position of being both a rape victim and being falsely accused. But it’s important to highlight the fact that believing victims comes with the flipside of understanding that rapists will lie.

We can’t afford to take “I’ve been falsely accused” at face value.

edit 11/25/14: For those who are new here, please read my comment policy. I especially do not tolerate rape apologia– and if you make any sort of statement or argument that defends rapists or blames victims or in any way minimizes rape, your comment will not published and you will be immediately banned.

edit 12/9/14: this post has been changed slightly for clarity.

Photo by Marc Smith
Feminism

"Real Marriage" review: 107-122, "Sex: God, Gross, or Gift?"

This chapter seems to be Mark and Grace’s attempt at establishing a historical context for arguments they’ll make later; it’s basically nothing more than an extremely truncated and condensed version of how sex has been viewed in Ancient Near Eastern (“biblical”) and Christian cultures. The unfortunate thing is that their history lesson is … well, I think it’s deceptive. Mark seems principally in control of this chapter, and he makes a lot of unsubstantiated claims, or he makes claims based on debunked arguments, or he omits relevant information because it would destroy his argument.

Perhaps most of this is due to inept research and ignorance, but … I don’t think so.

Ideologically, the biggest problem I have with this chapter is that Mark is demonstrating a concerning lack of empathy.

He dismisses whole groups of people who approach human relationships more analytically. I’m a hopeless romantic in pretty much every way that term applies, but I’ve had many friends who interact with their significant others primarily on a rational level, and who aren’t overly given to emotional displays, who don’t have the “sense of poetry and passion” which Mark says is “required” for people to “be any good at [marriage]” (108).

He talks a lot about people who view “sex as gross” for a variety of reasons (including referencing sexual abuse as a possibility multiple times), and then he says stuff like “Are either of you prone to view sex as god [meaning idolatry] or gross? If so, you are in danger” (121). He repeats this sentiment all the way through this chapter– if you don’t have sex frequently enough, or “freely” enough (I’m guessing his definition of “freely” is where some of the controversy around this book comes from), your marriage is in terrible danger to all sorts of outside threats– adultery, pornography … the usual boogie men of conservative screeds on marital “responsibilities.”

In short, the message seems to be: “have sex as often as I think is ‘often’ and as uninhibited as I think counts as ‘freely enough,’ or one of you is going to cheat or end up addicted to porn. I don’t really care if you’re an abuse victim. You need to get over it in order to protect your marriage” (120).

~~~~~~~~~

I’m going to take the time to examine where I think Mark has either omitted or misrepresented key facts as I think this re-envisioning of history is going to play a part in arguments he makes later. I can’t address every single claim he makes without support or with misleading support, though, because there were just too many. I’ll keep it to what I think were the biggies.

Claim 1: Porneia means “sexual immorality” and encompasses all sorts of sexual sins. It is a “junk drawer term.” (109)

According to pretty much every concordance American protestants use, Mark’s not wrong. However, he doesn’t even address the full meaning of the term– porneia can also mean “the worship of idols, especially animal sacrifice,” and its principal historical meaning is prostitution. This linguistic history is even evidenced in the Bible; many times when the word porneia appears, the surrounding context references prostitution or idol worship either singularly or principally (Acts 15 and 21, I Corinthians 6 and 10, Ephesians 5 …). Considering that prostitution as usually practiced in the ancient world is much more like sex trafficking than it is modern consensual prostitution, it seems obvious why biblical writers might have had a problem with it.

However, if Mark admits to this linguistic history in porneia, he might have to start talking about concepts like consent, and he doesn’t want to go anywhere near that because he needs to maintain the belief that sex acts are right or wrong because God Said So and not because there’s any holistic ethic surrounding sex.

Claim (by omission) 2: Sexual incompatibility does not exist. (110)

He describes a husband who wanted certain “sexual experiences” that his wife was not interested in because it “violated her conscience.” This husband cheated, a choice he rationalized because the other woman was willing to engage in those activities. I have absolute zero judgment for the wife in this situation: if she wasn’t interested in certain sex acts, that is her decision and her husband should have respected that.

I believe that many couples through communication and research and love and trust can overcome some issues surrounding sexual incompatibilities– two people who got married not really understanding what they wanted out of sex (so, pretty much every Christian person who “saved themselves”) will probably encounter some unexpected hiccups, and that’s ok. A lot of those can be worked through with graciousness and understanding.

Some of them can’t.

I’ve known women who cannot have PIV sex with their husbands because his penis is just too big and no matter how slowly they go or how aroused she is intercourse is excruciating for them. I’ve known women who needed certain stimulation (anything from oral to kink) to orgasm and even after trying to work it out for over a decade their husbands were totally unwilling to provide it, preferring to think of their wives as crazy, broken, deranged, or sick. Some of these couples have remained married and chose to focus on building strong lives together based on friendship, some have given up on vaginal intercourse, and some have gotten divorced. They all chose the best path for their lives, but it’s sad that sexual incompatibility played a part.

In Mark’s wold, though, concerns like this don’t seem to exist.

Claim 3: Adultery is wrong because God Said So. (111).

Adultery is wrong because it is a violation of consent. When people marry with the understanding that they will remain romantically and sexually exclusive, violating that expectation without the consent or their partner is wrong. It is a breach of trust, a betrayal.

However, if Mark were to say that instead “adultery happens because of idolatry,” he’d have to address things like polyamory more honestly instead of just dismissing it in a gigantic list of evil things (109).

Claim 4: Porn addiction is real. (113)

No research exists to support this claim. Researchers have noticed that some people experience problems with “excessive use,” but that doesn’t seem to be the case with the vast majority of people who watch pornography. I have issues with some porn– namely, the kind that features rape, non-consensual pain, degradation, and humiliation. That many women in the porn industry face contract and verbal agreement violations near constantly is also a problem. However, Mark doesn’t talk about that at all– and I’m wondering if it’s because of where he’s going to go with the “freely” definition.

Claim 5: Church Fathers got their “sex is gross” idea from Plato. (115-16)

Well, yes. Also, they got it from the Bible: I Corinthians 7:8. Pro-tip, Mark: if it’s in the Bible, you shouldn’t ignore it.

Through these pages he also grossly misrepresents modern Catholic teachings about marital intimacy. I have my own problems with Catholic teachings about contraception, but you can’t assert that the Catholic ethic surrounding intimacy is completely and totally wrong without explaining what it actually is. Straw men do no good, and that’s all he builds up.

He also pissed me off when he said that the clerical practice of celibacy “has, at least in part, resulted in a global scandal.” This is why I believe that feminists think better of men than anti-feminists do: I believe that men can be celibate without resorting to rape or pedophilia.

There were a lot of other claims– about Hinduism, about the temple prostitution at Corinth, about connections between the sexual revolution and porn … all of which were made with absolutely no support whatsoever. He just said them like we were supposed to believe him, but he was almost always just baldly wrong.

That should be concerning, because a man who can’t be trusted to get that many basic facts straight shouldn’t be trusted with your sex life.