Browsing Tag

rape culture


it’s not about you: feminism and men

One of the workshops I attended at the Gay Christian Network Conference was led by Emmy Kegler (who is a solidly good human being and I adore her). During the “workshop” bit of her presentation, she asked us to split into groups and identify characters from the Bible who were marginalized in some way, and then pick one to share with everyone. I loved the conversation I had with my group, and we decided on Veronica, the Woman with the Issue of Blood– as y’all could probably have guessed, if I had anything to do with the decision.

The first person to share his group’s character started by saying “at first, the only people we listed were women until one of us asked but what about the men? There are plenty of marginalized men, why don’t we talk about them?” and he went on to share a list of different oppressed and marginalized men.

I was up next, and as you can probably imagine was feeling just a teensy bit bellicose: “Well, the only people my group talked about were women, but I’m a feminist so I don’t have a problem with that,” and then attempted to talk about Veronica.

Oh, but that wasn’t going to happen so easily. The man who’d spoken before me shouted “hey, I’m a feminist!”

Right, buddy. Sure you are. Because shouting at a woman and interrupting her presentation is totally what a feminist man does. Unfortunately (and imagine me saying this infused with as much exhaustion as is possible), this is exactly what “feminist” men usually do. After my post on complementarianism as a form of sexual coercion went up, I spent over half an hour arguing with a “feminist ally” about a conjunction I’d used in the post. A conjunction, my hand to God. Eventually, after I asked him to stop talking to me, his response was, and I quote: “Block all dissenting views. Create the perfect echo chamber. Do what you feel you need to do. I’ve got no qualms.” Hilariously, he’s since blocked me. Shocker.

But what about the men?

I used to take that question seriously. I’ve spent hours upon hours responding to e-mails and comments– on my blog and elsewhere. Using every fact and every shred of research at my disposal, I’ve constructed responses that were full-blown essays personalized to the individual man with his individual questions. Over time I realized how incredibly fruitless those efforts almost always were, so I ended up turning to pieces other people had already put together, like these:

There are even entire books dedicated to this! I’ve got The Macho Paradox, Angry White Men, and Man Enough sitting on my bookshelf. However, as even more time has passed, when I get the “but what about teh menz?!” question I realize a) it’s a derailing tactic and b) I cannot be called upon to give any more fucks.

Behold! The field in which I grow my fucks. Lay thine eyes upon it and thou shall see that it is barren.

I do not care about men (especially cis, straight men) in my feminism.

Oh, I care about men generally and especially in specific instances, like friends and partners and family. I care when you’re hurting, when you’ve been shamed, when you’ve been victimized. I care about your lives. It matters to me if I’ve done something to harm you, if other people have stomped on you, if random events occur that makes things stressful or disappointing or horrific. I care about you as people, and I will do my best to be kind.

However, the question of whether or not, or how, the patriarchy affects men no longer matters to me. Sure, it “affects” men … just like it’s illegal for both rich people and poor people to beg. Technically, rich people and poor people are equal in the eyes of the law and society when it comes to whether or not we approve of panhandling. However, we all know exactly how laughable it is for rich people to be legally prevented from panhandling. They wouldn’t do it anyway (this, obviously, does not include all the other ways rich people and corporations can legally obtain funds that really amount to nothing more than highbrow begging).

The same thing applies to cis, straight men (and trans men and gay/bi men, in limited ways).

With vanishingly few exceptions, all the ways that men are “hurt” by patriarchy are not directed at men. Men are not the targets, even when they’re being affected. Women are the only target of patriarchy, and sometimes there’s the occasional splash over onto men. In all those “__ Ways Patriarchy Hurts Men” pieces, the “ways” are driven by misogyny and femmephobia.

For example, recently a young man was sent home from school because the principal said his hair was too long. That was certainly not a good thing to have happen to him, and the principal was obviously wrong for doing that. However, this was not “sexism against men,” as one Facebook commenter put it. He was being sent home because he was perceived by his principal as womanly. The principal was so offended by the idea of any man appearing “feminine” that he banned this young man from his sight. That’s how big of an insult femininity is to men. Our womanly existence with all its trappings and constructs is, by its nature, offensive to men.

Should this man have been sent away from school? Of course not. However, he can chop his hair off and come back. I will never be able to chop off my womanhood. I will never escape my female body. There is no way I can do my hair that isn’t “wrong” to somebody, somewhere. If its short and easy to maintain, I’m clearly damaged and insane (and no, I’m not linking to the “articles” that say so). If it’s long and styled the way I like, I’m clearly just trying to be a sex kitten, so I’m a slut and men can say/do anything they want to, including following me all over the metro or saying I “look like a woman who has a lot of sex” behind my back.

There are no clothes I can wear that can be perceived as neutral. If I wear jeans an oversized hoodie, like I am today, then I’m dowdy and lazy (forget that it’s cold and rainy outside and I just want to be comfortable). If I wear a short skirt with a sweater, tights, boots, and accessories then I’m obviously gunning for attention. If I wear a blousy, floral shirt with a big chunky cardigan on top of my flair jeans, then gawd I’m a pothead hippie. Skinny jeans and chucks? What are you, some sort of fucking hipster? (And yes, that last has been said to my face.) A boxy suit, with plain black shoes and hose? Well, would you look at that bitchy businesswoman. A stylish pantsuit? You’re not being serious enough.

But my partner can wear dress pants with an Oxford, and as long as it’s clean and relatively unrumpled, no one ever thinks anything about him besides the fact that’s he’s a complicated human being who probably has an office job. He overslept and didn’t trim his beard this morning? Would anyone even freaking notice? However, if I walk outside without any makeup or doing something with my hair, then people will frown at me at the check-out counter and wonder why I’m “letting myself go.”

And all those other things that “hurt men” in the patriarchy, like having your claims of woman-on-man sexual assault or domestic violence dismissed? It’s horrible that happens, but it happens because it’s just not possible for a mere, pathetic, weak and insipid woman to have hurt a man. Any woman, any man. If a man has been victimized, then he’s been womanized, and that’s the problem with that scenario. Not that his bodily autonomy has been violated, his agency violently discarded– it’s that he’s allowed himself to be treated like a man treats a woman.

Feminism can’t get anywhere if we center men. Helping men is a side effect of feminism, not its goal.

Photo by Rosa y Dani
Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones

Jaime Lannister is a rapist, and let’s not forget it

[This is an edited and slightly updated version of the post I wrote after Game of Thrones’ “Breaker of Chains” aired.]

[content note for sexual violence]

I’ve read G. R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, which are now airing as the HBO series Game of Thrones. I enjoyed them, although I caution people to engage with Martin’s world critically. He’s been hailed by a lot of people as a “feminist” writer, but I am extremely hesitant to think of him in those terms (read Sady Doyle’s piece there– it’s both hysterically funny and insightful).

Since the beginning, I have appreciated both Sansa Stark and Cersei Lannister as characters. Cersei, up until Storm of Swords, was a relatable character for me– she was forced into a difficult position by the expectations of her father, of her culture, and of her husband, but she did what she could to find happiness in the midst of an abusive marriage and constant rape. There isn’t a lot about her that I would describe as noble, or perhaps even likable– but she felt realistic to me, and I found myself grudgingly admiring her.

And then Storm of Swords happened, and Martin makes it blatantly obvious that we’re all supposed to hate her now because she’s ridiculously incompetent. She’s completely robbed of all sense because, well, the only explanation he offers for this drastic departure is lady-hormones. I don’t follow Game of Thrones as a show, but I’m a part of online nerd/geek communities, so I have a passing familiarity with what the show is like.

Last year, everything in that part of my internet circles exploded because of the rape scene, which a lot of people insisted diverges from the books. I find that accusation amusing because Robb Stark doesn’t even marry the same woman in the show, but this scene seems to matter to people. I wouldn’t be bothered by the scene diverging from the book, since as television it is a completely different medium, and the artists — the writers, the directors, the actors, the editors– are already telling an entirely different story than the one Martin originally penned. In many ways I think the direction they’ve taken is intriguing.

However, in this one scene they stayed true to the book.

Jaime does, in fact, rape Cersei in the sept next to Joffrey’s dead body.

She kissed him. A light kiss, the merest brush of her lips on his, but he could feel her tremble as he slid his arms around her. “I am not whole without you.”

There was no tenderness in the kiss he returned to her, only hunger. Her mouth opened for his tongue.


she said weakly when his lips moved down her neck, “not here. The septons…”

“The Others can take the septons.” He kissed her again, kissed her silent, kissed her until she moaned. Then he knocked the candles aside and lifted her up onto the Mother’s altar, pushing up her skirts and the silken shift beneath.

She pounded on his chest with feeble fists, murmuring about the risk, the danger, about their father, about the septons, about the wrath of gods.

He never heard her.

He undid his breeches and climbed up and pushed her bare white legs apart. One hand slid up her thigh and underneath her smallclothes. When he tore them away, he saw that her moon’s blood was on her, but it made no difference.

That is rape. There is no other word for this scene. Jaime raped Cersei, full stop.

And, honestly, by this point in the books a rape scene would cause me to think yawn, well of course a woman got raped it’s Martin writing this for heaven’s sake what did I think would happen? There are various things to be said about how often people are raped in Martin’s fantasy world, but I’m not really here to critique the existence of rape in his books. It’s what he does with it, and this scene in particular, that deeply, deeply troubles me, because of what happens next:

“Hurry,” she was whispering now, “quickly, quickly, now, do it now, do me now. Jaime Jaime Jaime.” Her hands helped guide him. “Yes,” Cersei said as he thrust, “my brother, sweet brother, yes, like that, yes, I have you, you’re home now, you’re home now, you’re home.”

This, I have a problem with– because this is a rape myth. It actually gets a fucking number on the Women Against Violence’s list of “Rape Myths”– it’s #17:

“When a woman says no, she really means maybe or yes.”

It’s the idea that women secretly all want it, they just have to be persuadedHorrifically, “with my dick” can finish that sentence without the person immediately retching at the utterly revolting idea just expressed.

In Martin’s world, hysterical shrew-bitch women like Cersei Lannister do not get to have their “no” listened to (and we get to say “no” for whatever the HELL reason we want), and strong, handsome, virile, maiden-of-Tarth-defending men like Jaime get to fuck them anyway because actually, she really does want it and I just know because . . . well, no reason– and look, see, she’s getting off on my awesome manly ravishing of her!

But, horrifyingly, this isn’t a rape scene to a disturbing number of people. Chris Ostendorf described it as “complicated consensual sex.” To a lot of people, that she’s saying no to the circumstances somehow makes it not real rape. She would have had sex with him, if it wasn’t for his hand, or where they were, or the septons, or their father somehow finding out, etc.

I have a gigantic– no, colossal— rage-inducing problem with this for the simple reason that when I told my rapist “no,” this is exactly what I sounded like. I couldn’t physically stop someone almost twice my weight, and so I did everything within my power to persuade him to stop. I told him it hurt– he did not stop. I told him “no,” he did not stop. I told him “please, not now,” he did not stop. I said “what if your parents come home?” but he did not stop. I told him I didn’t think it was right (ie, “wrath of the gods,”) and he did not stop.

Finally, I gave up and tried not to let him see me cry because I knew he would hurt me even more if he did. When he assaulted me again, and again, and again, and again, and Again, and AGAIN, I learned that it would all just be over if he got what he wanted. He would eventually leave me alone and go and play Halo if I didn’t fight him. He didn’t care about how much he hurt me, or about how often I vomited after because what forced me do to him disgusted me.

So, for all of you people who argued that Jaime didn’t rape Cersei:


To George R. R. Martin, the twisted fuck who wrote this scene and is perpetuating the exact rape myth that has caused me unending agony: fuck you. To Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (who plays Jaime), who thinks because “it wasn’t just [rape]” it’s somehow justifiable: fuck you. To Sonia Saraiya who thinks there’s “wiggle room” in whether or not we think Cersei “enthusiastically consented”: fuck you. To Chris Ostendorf, who given the chance would describe my rape as “complicated consensual sex”– fuck you, too. Fuck you all.


I want to be crystal clear that my problem with this scene in the book (for this post, at least) isn’t that Martin has written yet another rape scene. It’s that what he’s written is a rape myth— a chauvinistic fantasy about male-centric sex that ignores or denies women the ability to consent. Cersei told Jaime no seven different ways, but then suddenly starts begging for it– literally. This is an extremely dominant myth about the difference between rape and consensual sex. In order for something to be considered “legitimate” rape, the victim has to fight tooth and nail until the bitter end. In order for it to be real rape, the victim could never– not once not ever— have consented to sex. If they consented to sex once, well, they’re only saying no for inconsequential reasons and they should just get over it, it’s not that bad.

Martin believes that this is not rape because of the rape myth he believes in– that our culture believes in. Cersei’s apparent enjoyment of her rape (and remember, this scene is written from the rapist’s point of view, not the victim’s, and most rapists think that their behavior is acceptable and normal) in the real world of modern America could be a survival mechanism for an abuse victim– and usually is. Sometimes victims freeze up. Sometimes they, like me, try to resist but then give up because it’s useless and we just want it to fucking end.

Martin does not think that Jaime raped Cersei here, because he believes that women can be manipulative whores who say no in order to be “hard to get,” but in reality really just need to be sexually assaulted into silence and then fucked into realizing what the rapist knew all along– that she actually wanted it.

This is one of the most grievous lies of rape culture– and the actors, the directors, and the writers all used it.

Keep that in mind as you enjoy the season premier tomorrow.


I Kissed Dating Goodbye review: 49-56

“Counterculture Romance”

What I’ve been trying to keep in front of me as I’ve been reading is that Joshua was 23, and on top of being really young he grew up in the same homeschooling culture I did– and at this point in his life was being inducted into the cult-like atmosphere of C.J. Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace Ministries. If you’re wondering why SGM is ringing a bell, it’s because they’re the folks that spent a lot of time and energy covering up the fact that children were being raped and molested in their churches in order to protect the abusers.

That’s where Joshua was at this point in his life. He was being instructed by Mahaney, a man whose leadership is utterly void of any form of Christian love or compassion. So, I have a lot of empathy for what he was going through … but he was still disastrously wrong in writing IKDG.

The first thing I want to highlight is in the differences Joshua and I have toward the Bible– and it’s more than just our differences on inspiration. He opens chapter four by referencing Ephesians 4, where Paul encourages us to “throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life, which is rotten through and through … instead there must be a spiritual renewal” (49).

When people like Joshua read these passages, it’s in the context of individualism and the sorts of “evil” that conservative evangelicals point to … like rebellion in children or watching R-rated films. However, I don’t think a word like phtheirō which means utterly corrupted, destroyed, ruined— is an appropriate term to describe two teenagers fooling around in a parked car (53). However, phteirō is properly rendered in something that destroys as many human lives as misogyny or white supremacy have. I do believe in “throwing off your old evil nature.” But, because conservative evangelicals like Joshua are trapped in seeing sin as individual and not communal, they’re inevitably going to arrive at interpretations of Ephesians 4 that apply it to ordinary human behavior.

But, let’s move into the steps Joshua lays out for how Christians can “renew” their dating life:

1. Every relationship is an opportunity to model Christ’s love.

Yes, of course. Joshua even harkens back to Jesus’ proclamation they shall know you by how you love one another— a standard Christians don’t have the reputation of living up to. But, that’s not what I want to talk about:

Unfortunately, much of her interaction with guys is fake–it focuses on attracting attention to herself … (50)

And now contrast that with:

He still operates from the old dating mindset that he’s incomplete without a girlfriend. (51)

We could also contrast this statement about a young woman with how he described his own motivations for dating “selfishly” in the first chapter– according to him, he was seeking emotional gratification and avoiding loneliness. But the young woman he describes isn’t dating around for a sympathetic reason, no, she’s doing it to get attention. Because of course that’s all women really want, right? We’re not motivated by anything less vapid or shallow like “loneliness” or “cultural pressure.”

I’m positive this was unintentional. Joshua doesn’t strike me as an active misogynist; he’s not deliberately trying to make women look horrible. It just happened because, unfortunately, he was brought up to believe sexist things about women, like that we’re attention-seeking fake liars. He’s hardly alone.

2. My unmarried years are a gift from God.

He’s recycling the familiar message that you can get more done when you’re single:

As a single you have the freedom right now to explore, study, and tackle the world. No other time in your life will offer these chances. (51)

Granted, I’ve only been married for three years and I don’t have kids (which is still more experience than him) but so far the opposite of this has been true. Having Handsome as a partner has enabled me to do so much more than I was capable of producing by myself. I have his support and encouragement backing me up, I have him to bounce ideas and arguments around with, I have him to be inspired by. I also think it’s possible to experience these sorts of thing with people you don’t ultimately marry, too. Any good relationship should leave you feeling stronger and braver, I think.

It’s important to note that buried under the assumption that married people don’t have “freedom” is the belief that married people always have children. This is most definitely not true, but the expectation is still there.

3. I don’t need to pursue a romantic relationship before I’m ready for marriage.

Two things to highlight:

Both [Jenny and her boyfriend] have specific things to accomplish for God before they can take that step [toward marriage]. (51)

These things they’re supposed to “accomplish for God” are almost always described in classist, sexist terms. Complete a college education, have a 9-to-5 job, own a home, be able to support a middle-class suburban lifestyle … take your pick, the whole “white picket fence with 2.5 kids” is what you’re supposed to be able to “accomplish” in Joshua’s world. Maybe not to Joshua, personally, he doesn’t really say, but every preacher in our common backgrounds cited “able to attain a middle class life” as the only thing you really needed to be able to do before you get married.

Highlight Number Two:

If you’re not ready to consider marriage or you’re not truly interested in marrying a specific person, it’s selfish and potentially very harmful to encourage that person to need you, or ask him or her to gratify you emotionally or physically. (52)

See, Joshua, this sort of thing is why a bunch of the people who read IKDG walked away with the notion that they could only date people they already knew they wanted to marry, which ended up making “hey would you like to grab coffee sometimes” basically an offer of marriage.

4. I cannot “own” someone outside of marriage.

Ai yi yi. You cannot “own” someone inside of marriage, either. Marriage is not slavery. Marriage should be an equal partnership of people. It can challenge us, it can ask us to sacrifice sometimes, but it should never make us slaves to our spouses.

It honestly makes me ill that Joshua was taught to believe that getting married entitled him to own a woman. He says how bad it is for us to seriously date someone without marrying them because we “would have made unwarranted claims,” but he doesn’t challenge the idea that supposedly marriage is a “warranted claim” to another human being. That’s disturbing.

But we also get this:

Even though they hadn’t had sex, they constantly struggle with going too far. (53)

“Too far,” of course, is “penetrative intercourse.” This definition prioritizes men and the male orgasm; it also completely erases non-heteronormative sex. Even cisgender heterosexual couples are capable of having a completely satisfactory sexual experience, orgasms and all, mutual pleasure and all, without anyone’s penis going into anyone’s vagina.

5. I will avoid situations that could compromise the purity of my body or mind.

This chapter is where we get our first incidence of rape culture peeking through:

She thinks it’s very romantic, and it gives her a feeling of control over her boyfriend, who, to be quite honest, will go as far in their physical relationship as Jessica will allow. (53)

Firstly, men are not sex-craved beasts. If men exist in the default state of “going as far as their girlfriends allow,” that makes male rape impossible. Except, men aren’t permanently consenting to any and all sex acts available to them. This statement is also steeped in rape culture because it contains the dangerous idea that women are the “sexual gatekeepers.” We’re not– and treating us like we are makes rape our fault. We “allowed” it to happen … through kissing him, or being alone with him, or “leading him on” in a thousand indefinable ways that are constantly shifting.

But now I have a question for purity culture advocates: why is “purity” always about what you do (or want to do) with your genitals? Why couldn’t it be a call for us to abstain from greed? Greed can cause far more devastation– on people, on our planet, on our society– than having sex ever could, so why are we so obsessed with fornication rather than avarice?

Making the Trade

This is his conclusion to the chapter, and it asks us to think about giving God our best, instead of being “plagued by the question ‘Has God given me His best?'” It’s a Christian rendition of ask not what your country can do for you. This is the core of his argument:

You and I will never experience God’s best … until we give God our all. (55)

In my opinion, this makes God incredibly petty. Traditionally, they created us as inferior creatures. We’re not as wise or as powerful as themself, so why is an all-powerful and utterly sovereign deity dependent on us to “give our all” before they’ll allow us to experience their “best”? That just seems capricious and juvenile.


Joshua does seem like a genuinely sweet and sincere person, but I have a feeling that the implicit sexism, the subtle jabs at women, and the appearances of rape culture are going to be a continual problem.

Social Issues

what I’ve been into: spring 2016 edition

I’m coming down with some sort of stomach bug today, so I’m doing a fluffy post. Back on Defeating the Dragons, I used a few WordPress plugin features that let me feature blogs and articles I found interesting, but I don’t have access to those plugins anymore and I haven’t found a replacement I like yet. So I’ll hit you up with some of the things I’ve found interesting and helpful recently — and, importantly, if you could let me know if you’ve seen most or all of it already. That way I know whether linking y’all to things is helpful or just a waste of time.



I haven’t been doing that much fiction reading lately, but I wanted to talk about one I just finished. I’ve been reading through the Honor Harrington series –there’s a huge galaxy of characters, so Weber has written a few spin-offs from the main series, and Crown of Slaves is, so far, the best of those that I’ve read.

One thing about Crown of Slaves: I wasn’t initially interested in reading it because my favorite thing about the Honor Harrington books is that they’re about an amazing woman. The back cover for Crown of Slaves only mentions three men, leading one to think those are the main characters. They’re not. Zilwicki’s character disappears a few chapters in, Victor Cachet’s storyline is really about his love interest, not him (and it’s told largely through her POV), and Jeremy X (yes, a reference to Malcolm X) doesn’t even show up until the last few pages.

The book is really about Berry Zilwicki, Ruth Winton, and Thandi Palane– all women. There’s so many women in this book it’s amazing. Berry’s character is especially interesting because it takes things that are stereotypically feminine and makes them incredibly powerful for the plot of the book. The one downside is that Crown of Slaves introduces the first LGBT character I’ve seen in the Honorverse– a bisexual woman– and she’s … ugh. She’s awful. Shallow and manipulative and greedy and and blah. Not the villain, thank God, but still.


I’ve mentioned this a few times, but my small group is reading Mark, and the parables have been giving us some trouble. Not reading them the same way we’ve always read them and interpreting the same way … well, it’s like being in a rut. So, of course, my solution was books.

Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi is written by Amy-Jill Levine, who is a Jewish woman and an expert scholar in New Testament studies. I cannot overstate how important a Judaic understanding of the Bible has helped me immensely in my faith– both in trying to understand the culture biblical writers were speaking from, and in seeing this sacred book as something human as well as divine.

Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary by Marcus Borg. Apparently Borg is a big name in progressive Christianity, but I’m actually fairly new to that sphere so this is the first book I’ve read by him. Bart Ehrman in Jesus, Interrupted challenged me quite a bit by asking me to see Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet which … both reframes and recolors the way you read Jesus’ teachings. I’d never thought of Jesus as a political figure until I encountered Ehrman and Borg, and that’s been an interesting journey.


What I Learned From Dating Women Who Have Been Raped” by Emma Lindsay is an excellent discussion of sexual coercion. Best quote:

A man wants gratification at my expense, but he tries to convince me that he cares about me so I won’t bail. He sees that I am suffering, I know he sees that I am suffering, but if we talk about it he will pretend he didn’t know. He will keep up the pretense that I matter to him so I will not cut off his access to my body.

The Sugar Sphinx” by Hilton Als. I read this when it came out two years ago, but I return to it occasionally because it is just such a good examination of the continued oppression black people face.

Do Multicultural Churches Reinforce Racism?” by Daniel José Camacho. Salient quote:

Astonishingly, multicultural churches have been better at making people of color approximate white attitudes and perspectives on race than challenging Whiteness itself … Like popular reconciliation paradigms, multicultural paradigms mistake racial separation and lack of diversity as the heart of racism when these, in fact, are symptoms.

Against Humanism” by Megan Garber, is the best breakdown I’ve read of why using “humanist” or “egalitarian” instead of Feminist is a problem.

Against Selflessness” by Ozy at Thing of Things. This post was the background to my thinking on abnegation in my review of I Kissed Dating Goodbye on Monday. Also, Thing of Things is a really, really interesting blog.

Trump is Gaslighting America” by Nicole Hemmer. I read this piece the day after I’d argued that Trump’s behavior is a lot like an abuser’s and got called “ridiculous” and told I was “over-reacting.” So, that was very validating.

Tabletop Gaming has a White Male Terrorism Problem” at Latining. She is specifically a tabletop gamer, but I think this discussion can (and should) be more broadly applied to geek and gaming cultures in general.

I’m Not Your Token” by Toni Bell. Salient quote:

As I’ve worked to dismantle my own internalized racism and the ways that I privilege whiteness, I’ve learned to resist being “othered” through the use of language. So when someone says, “Oh, they did that to you because you’re black,” I quickly correct them with, “No, they did that because they are bigots.” This often shocks people. I can see the panic in their eyes. Sometimes, their eyes dart about. If there are lot of people, they may get quiet.


The second season of Daredevil was utterly magnificent. The combination of gothic elements, religious imagery and themes, and comic book superheroes is my jam. It was more gruesome than the first season, but not too much so– and unlike most gratuitous violence, the violence in Daredevil absolutely served the story’s purpose.

We’re also re-watching The West Wing, because politics this year suck. I’ve always been heavily invested in the political process– one of the things that hasn’t changed at all since becoming progressive/liberal– and this electoral cycle is driving me batty. I’ve been a voting adult for three presidential elections now and I know, factually, that it’s been at least as bad, perhaps worse, in our history– even recent history … but that doesn’t help. Because Trump. And Cruz. Ugh.

Anyway, Handsome termed The West Wing my “happy Democrat show” the first time we watched it, and I’m enjoying it even more the second time around. The first time, I identified strongly with Sam. This time, though … I’m totally Josh. So, if you’ve seen The West Wing, who do you think you’d be? If you haven’t seen The West Wing— what have you been doing with your life?


So, that’s me. What have you been watching and reading?

Photo by Brian Donovan

IKDG review: “So This is Love” (11-24)

I haven’t read this book since I was in college, so reading it again almost a decade later is an … interesting experience. I was honestly expecting to be more annoyed than I currently am, so finding myself genuinely understanding where Joshua is coming from and even empathizing with him a great deal is surprising. I still strongly disagree with him (and probably will be horribly annoyed at him later), but I’ve been in the ideological place he was at 23 (and 28, when he updated IKDG), so I get it.

As I read the opening chapters, I realized that Joshua is working with two basic, under-girding assumptions and one unexamined problem. First, he essentially believes in the same general ideas that led people to found the monastic orders and that abnegation is always morally good.

The monastic orders drew their justification for existence primarily from I Corinthians 7. Early in the chapter, Paul bemoans the fact that people have to get married “because it is better to marry than to burn,” but nevertheless he wishes “all men could be like as I am.” In a word, he’s traditionally been taken to mean “single,” but queer theology posits he meant asexual. Later he argues that married people’s attention is “divided” but a single person can be “devoted” to God. The early church got really caught up in this idea, some people even possibly taking it to self-castrating extremes. Lots of people in those days gave up families and marriages (possible and existing), and the impulse toward monasticism remains today in attempts to redeem singleness from the marry-or-else attitude in Christian culture — arguing for it as “a time when you can commit completely to serving God.”

This impulse comes out a few times in IKDG:

We were violating each other’s purity, and our spiritual lives were stagnant as a result (17).

Instead, by avoiding romantic, one-on-one relationships before God tells me I’m ready, I can better serve girls as a friend, and I can remain free to keep my focus on the Lord. (20)

I’m not going to waste your time rehashing why gnostic dualism = bad, but it should become apparent that it’s one of the driving forces behind monasticism and this book. When you’re convinced that “wanting things that feel good” is inherently a problem, then you’re inevitably going to have issues with dating simply because it’s fun. According to Joshua’s ability to weigh risks and reward in this ascetic system, the fun of dating and fooling around is extremely outweighed by the “danger” of heartbreak and possibly becoming “spiritually stagnant.”

Which leads us to his second assumption: that abnegation is always morally good.

If you haven’t read the Divergent series yet, I’m going to be horrible and spoil some of it for you #SorryNotSorry. In the series, the main character Tris is raised in a “Faction” called “Abnegation.” In short, this faction sees selfishness as responsible for all the world’s ills, so they totally reject it … and Joshua does the same thing:

But I’m still aware of the consequences of my selfishness (14).

My own self-centered approach to romance started young (15).

I was still very immature and selfish. (16)

…we can no longer live for ourselves–we now live for God and for the good of others (19).

And not with the selfish kind of love I practiced so often in the past (20).

I believe the time has come for Christians, male and female, to own up to the mess we’ve left behind in our selfish pursuit of short-term romance (23).

This first chapter gives us the contextual insight to show us what he means by selfish— a term he uses on nearly every page. Most of us define selfish as “placing personal desire over the good of others”; in a way, he is working with this idea, but he’s taking it one step further: the opposite of selfishness isn’t merely consideration for others, but abnegation:

Every relationship for a Christian is an opportunity to love another person like God has loved us. To lay down our desires and do what’s in his or her best interest. To care for him or her even when there’s nothing in it for us. To want that person’s purity and holiness because it pleases God and protects him or her. (19)

On its face, I don’t really disagree. I do believe in loving others as God loves us, to put others first, to care for others without needing something in return … but only to a point. At some point, the need for self-protection and boundaries becomes necessary. Like that old adage “put on your own oxygen mask first,” we can only be helpful and good to others when we are helpful and good to ourselves. However, that gets a bit lost in this chapter.

Now for the unexamined problem I mentioned earlier:

When I stopped seeing girls as potential girlfriends and started treating them as sisters in Christ, I discovered the richness of true friendship. (21)

Replace “potential girlfriends” with “objects” and “sisters in Christ” with “people,” and you’ll have a better understanding of what Joshua means, I think. A few times so far he has actually admitted that he saw women as objects (15), and part of his motivation for rejecting dating seems to be a rejection of misogyny. He’s still sexist as hell, but the descriptions he gives of his dating life as a teenager made me think wow you were a real sonuhfagun. He was cavalier, narcissistic, and horribly entitled. It’s good that he rejected that … but he’s swung too far in the opposite direction because he went from a misogynistic point of view to a benevolently sexist one.

That’s totally unsurprisingly considering the circles he travels in– benevolent sexism is one of the hallmarks of complementarianism and conservative evangelicalism. However, the problem is that while he stopped trying to use the women he viewed as objects … he never really stops viewing them as objects. They’re just on a pedestal now and off-limits, instead of something he feels entitled to.

The biggest thing that bothered me about this first chapter is that he never actually encourages you to think about what the other person wants. He swears up and down that he is, that “thinking about others” is what’s compelling him to give up dating, but he presumes to know better than women about what’s good for them and what they want. If she wants to kiss you, or sleep with you … well, the implication is that she’s a hussy, but mostly that possibility just doesn’t enter into the equation.

I’m all for deciding for yourself whether or not dating or sex is something you want. If you feel that not dating or having sex casually will be the best thing for your own mental or emotional health, then I support you 100%. However, what you do not get to do is decide that for other people, especially women. In IKDG, though, Joshua is pretty emphatic about “protecting” other people, and takes the stance that rejecting dating is the “mature” and “godly” position … and that people who haven’t similarly rejected dating or physical intimacy are immature and ungodly, so you have to remove the stumbling block from your weaker sibling’s path.

That’s incredibly patronizing. Considering this was all coming from an unmarried 23-year-old, I feel especially patronized. It’s all covered over with a grimy layer of sexism, too, so there’s that as well. One chapter in, and we’re already off to a somewhat bumpy start. And I didn’t even touch that horrible six-former-girlfriends-at-the-altar-nightmare.


purity culture and the wedding night

I’ve written a lot about purity culture. I plan to write even more on it in the future, considering that I want to write a book on the subject (I have three books planned at the moment, which is the biggest reason why I’m going to seminary. Research is hard and expensive outside of academia, y’all). But, for now, I’m limited to giving snap-shots of what it’s like to grow up in purity culture (and, of course, reviewing I Kissed Dating Goodbye).

I’ve spent most of my time railing against it because I believe that purity culture was the #1 reason why I remained in an abusive relationship and was raped repeatedly. If I hadn’t believed to the very core of myself that my “impurity” made me ineligible to be married to anyone else, then I probably wouldn’t have been so viscerally terrified at the idea of losing him, as awful as the relationship was and as miserable and broken as I was.

But, there were other effects of purity culture. It built up a lot of funny notions over the years, and I’d like to talk about one in particular, mostly because I’m curious to see how wide-spread of a concept it was. I encountered it in lots of Christian romance novels, primarily, and it was a concept fairly widely embraced by my peer groups in high school and college. I’m especially curious to know if there were any men in purity culture who had similar conversations.

For a long time I planned not  to have sex on my wedding night.

In retrospect it seems funny (as in both humorous and odd), but I was dead serious back then. I knew that if I had a “godly courtship” we wouldn’t have the time or space for any canoodling, so we would enter our marriage with no sexual experience whatsoever. None. No kissing, no hand holding, no cuddling, no hugs. If the first time we ever kissed was at the altar, leaping from that to full-on coitus was terrifying.

Now that I’m outside of my own particular fundamentalist sub-culture (and there are many flavors. The differences between IFB and Plymouth Brethren are deep), I’ve seen conversations happening about the correctly-criticized ridiculous expectation for women to go from innocent virgin to sex pot in one day with the flick of a switch. I received that message loud and clear from a variety of sources– once I was married, that was it. My husband would have spent all those years fighting off his beastly urges and that, on the wedding night, I was primarily there so that he could unleash himself for the first time. All that pent-up frustration from all those years of never being able to even masturbate was to going to create a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am situation.

Hence why I was horrified, and had every intention of talking to whoever my intended was and convincing him to wait just a little big longer so I could get used to the idea of having a man touch me. Complicated with all of that was a deep-seated fear that I was actually a lesbian and that was why the thought of sex was repulsive. Turns out, no, I’m bisexual and it was just that all the men I’d ever known were repulsive.

Heterosexual vaginal intercourse and everything that went with it just sounded messy and gross and a little scary. Men were scary. So, I fervently hoped that I’d end up courting a sweet and equally innocent boy that thought waiting until we’d gotten used to each other was a good idea. As did every woman I talked with. With no clear idea of what goes into sex besides “Tab A and Slot B”-level knowledge, and the fact that it supposedly hurts, all I knew was that it wasn’t something I was willing to leap into.

But … ultimately I believed it wasn’t my choice. Which was why I hoped that I’d be lucky enough to marry a man “willing to wait.” Who, after he heard me say “I don’t really want to have sex tonight, I just want to cuddle and kiss and maybe see where it goes over our honeymoon,” wouldn’t ignore me, but respect me. In retrospect, that’s the most stomach-churning thing I’ve ever heard.

I thought I’d be lucky  not to marry a rapist.

I wasn’t alone. My best friend was just as scared of the wedding night as I was. As was the first roommate that I talked with about it in college. As was a girl I bunked with at camp. It was a fairly consistent pattern with my girlfriends: we were, essentially, convinced that “wedding night” equaled “possible rape.” In the end, purity culture amounts to really nothing more than rape culture taken to an extreme.

The Christian romance novels I read portrayed it as helpfully and optimistically as possible– scared, innocent virgins would marry sweet men who cherished just how precious and adorable their fear was (patronizing much?) and over the course of many nights would gently and lovingly and compassionately draw her out of her shell. It was, in fact, my favorite plot. If the couple got married at the start of the book instead of at the end, I ate it up.

In retrospect, it’s obvious why. Those books helped me believe that not all men were rapists, basically. If all these women authors thought up this situation, they must have experienced something like a compassionate man who respects your boundaries, right? They exist, right?

So … how about you? Was this something you thought about? Again, I’d especially like to get the raised-as-male take on this, because obviously you’d be going into this with different expectations placed on you. If I was afraid of possibly being raped, were you afraid of not being able to be “manly” enough or something similar?

Photo by pillow of winds

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

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

the lie that made me give up

[content note for explicit discussion of rape, emotional and sexual abuse]

I was raped twice.

And that statement, right there, as straightforward as it seems, is fraught with the complexities and ambiguities and lies and mixed-up realities of living in an abusive relationship for almost three years. I say the word twice and I’m not lying but it doesn’t communicate the heavy weight of the truth. The truth is that I point to those separate instances as rape because they are, in retrospect, very clear: I said no. Repeatedly. I physically resisted. I cried. And still he didn’t stop– he did whatever he wanted and then said you Goddamn fucking bitch this is all your fucking fault when he was done.

At the time I didn’t understand that saying “no,” out loud, made it an open-shut case of rape. There was no consent. He knew there was no consent, that I did not want to have sex with him, at all. He just didn’t care. What he wanted mattered more, and he could trust that I was so entrenched in the lies of being worthless and unlovable and no good for anyone else but him that I wouldn’t tell anyone. He knew that I wouldn’t think of the word rape and apply it to what he’d done. And he was right– I didn’t realize he raped me until years later. Even though I’d said no, stop, please don’t, I don’t want this.

Until I gave up.

I gave up because I thought that if I stopped resisting it would be over faster. I gave up because I thought that maybe if I stopped being such a buzz-kill he’d be able to become fully erect and it wouldn’t hurt so goddamn much. I gave up because, really, fighting was pointless.

The reason why I knew it was pointless was all the times that came before. The times that I don’t call rape.


We’d both grown up in purity culture. We both had absorbed similar messages about sex and abstinence and while I got a lot of if you have sex you’re worthless garbage ideas, he knew that it was a moral failing for him to “take advantage” of a woman and that any sexual contact at all with any woman who wasn’t his wife was some form of sexual predation– that wanting to be sexually physical in a relationship made him a “wolf.”

It was a reality we struggled with. I thought that because I’d “surrendered my purity” in a thousand insignificant ways (wearing fitted clothing, leaning over in front of him, kissing him) I’d have to stick this relationship out, no matter what. I was done. If I didn’t marry this boy, then it was all over for me. I’d ruined any chance of happiness I had with another person. But still, the niggling thought of I shouldn’t let him kiss me anymore was a pinprick in the back of my mind.

I also loathed our physical relationship. Everything he asked me to do made me feel degraded and dirty and hardly anything felt good. I’d thought kissing and “heavy petting” and third base was supposed to be this inexorable temptation, as compelling as the Apple in Eden. Not revolting. Not repulsive. But, I figured I was just one of those women where sex would be a sacrifice for my husband.

His feelings were different: he thoroughly enjoyed everything he made us do, but occasionally would enter a fit of conscience. We can’t keep doing this, he’d say, and I’d agree, and do everything I could to keep the relief off my face. Finally, I’d think, it could stop. He wouldn’t keep badgering me into giving him a blowjob. I wouldn’t have to keep the pain off my face when I could feel his fingernails scraping inside my dry vagina. If I thought about the future, after we were married, it was always with the optimism that things would be better then. Marriage would be a magic wand and solve all these problems.

What I came to realize, eventually, was that he didn’t really want us to stop. He just wanted to think he was a good person who didn’t take advantage of women– it was me. It was my fault. I was the temptress that lured him back in, again and again.

It was a Wednesday evening, after church. I’d worn a fundamentalist-appropriate going-to-meeting skirt, but it was a nice one that I didn’t want to rumple while we watched a movie. It took me a few minutes to decide what I wanted to change into, studying a loose pair of pajama pants and my jeans. We were in the middle of one of his purity fits, and so I decided to wear the jeans. They were tight and he wouldn’t be able to get his hand down them. But as I put them on I knew — I knew— he wasn’t going to be happy. I felt choked. I couldn’t swallow around the constricted feeling, and my heart was a terrified fluttering bird inside of my chest. My fingers turned ice cold and I could feel myself shaking as I pulled on the jeans and buttoned them up.

He was waiting for me outside the room, his mouth open to say something; then he saw me, and it shut. He stared, coldly furious, at what I was wearing. And then he hissed “what the fuck are you wearing?“, grabbed my arm and hauled me back into the room. He kept his voice low– can’t have anyone overhearing what he was about to do– and I braced myself. I knew how to weather this storm, I knew what the end result would be.

“Uh … jeans?”

He rolled his eyes. “What are you, an idiot? Of course they’re jeans. Why are you wearing jeans?”

“Because they’re comfortable?”

“As comfortable as pajamas? Seriously, Sam?”

I stared at the floor.

Mercurial, he switched tactics. “Baby, baby, don’t you want to … y’know?”

I managed the smallest nod and hoped to God it was perceptible.

“Don’t you know how much I love you? Don’t you understand that I just want to be with you?”

“I know.”

And so I changed. I endured an entire film of him stuffing his fingers inside of me, scratching and clawing, and I, again, did my best to pretend that it was good, so good, for me. I think I was convincing.


It’s months later. It’s after the rapes, after so many threats and half-breaks-ups and so many pinches and so many times of being hauled out of rooms. We’ve just listened to a chapel message, and I’d learned to identify Dread curled up in the pit of my stomach. It was coming. That conversation was coming. Again. He’d have another purity fit, and I’d have to deal with the mountains of shame he’d hurl at me after it was over and he’d given up.

We were supposed to meet in one of the atriums to go to lunch. I saw him waiting for me, and it was all there: the slumped shoulders, the facial expression that I knew to be the one he put on we he wanted people to think he was convicted and sorrowful and spiritual. And we had the conversation, only this time I was done. I was done pretending. I knew how this was going to end– with him screaming at me and blaming me and mountains and mountains of goddamn you fucking bitch. So I decided to skip it. I decided that instead of agreeing, I was going to soothe his conscience. I was going to tell him that no, no it’s fine and I was going to make up some reason for him not to feel guilty anymore. I was going to smooth over whatever ruffled feathers he had and move on.

What I didn’t know at the time was that I was giving him all the ammunition he’d ever need. I gave him exactly what he wanted, actually– proof. I was the temptress, the Apple, a reincarnated Lilith. I was the problem, not him. I didn’t just soothe his conscience– I expunged it of all guilt. I gave him the power to destroy me and then abandon me and then tell everyone who would listen that it was me. I was the one to blame.


I’ve talked to many women after I put all of these pieces together, and I started seeing patterns in what he’d done. Other people have been through this, and one of the most important lessons I’ve learned since I started blogging is the breathtaking power in “me, too.” I don’t know how many people will read this and identify with it, but I hope that if you do you’ll see what I eventually saw.

This is one of the ways we are kept silent. This is one of the ways that you don’t hear us talking about what we’ve been through. Because we feel guilty, and complicated, and confused, and we don’t know how to name what happened. We feel that it’s our fault, but we also feel used and robbed of … something. For women who grow up in purity culture, it’s common to look at all of this and tell ourselves that we’re just feeling the after-effects of “losing our purity.” Next time, it will be better. Next time we won’t let this happen.

And the word for what all of this is goes ignored.


Photo by Helga Weber

despair and fury: being a woman in rape culture

[content note: rape, sexual assault, depression]

This is an extremely difficult post for me to write. The words have been simmering inside of me for a long time, and I hope that getting them out of me will … help. I wrote a post a little while ago that talked about the depression I’ve been struggling with, and as you can probably tell from my lack of regular posting, the past two weeks have been rough.

I consider myself fortunate in that my depression has always been situational– while it certainly isn’t fun, that it’s been a rather normal reaction to life events means that when life settles down, so can I. I’ve never worried about being depressed because I knew there would be a bend in the road, a light at the end of the tunnel, and I’d come out of it. Eventually. All I had to do was buckle down and muscle through it.

This time, though … I’m not sure how to get around this depression because while it’s still situational, the “situation” isn’t ever going to go away. This time, I’m depressed because rapists get away with it.

I don’t think that’s a fact that’s going to change at any point in my lifetime … and that’s just fucking depressing as shit.

I came to the realization of why I’m depressed shortly before Christmas. I was speaking with my partner about a man we both know to be a sexual predator when I just … snapped. I was remembering all of the times this person had grabbed my ass without my permission or the times I’d watched him drunkenly grope and forcefully kiss his way through a party– and the fact that he was surrounded by a community of men who find this behavior acceptable and will call any woman who complains about it a “bitch.” And, suddenly, I couldn’t handle it anymore. I’d removed myself from that group of people, but the group still exists and that behavior still happens, and nothing is ever going to happen to him.

I hid myself in the closet and beat my head into the wall until everything in my vision was a little fuzzy and dark; I wanted to claw out of my skin, to rip my heart out of my chest so it would stop hurting so badly. My rapist, the last time I heard anything about him, was a youth pastor, and married to the woman he’d cheated on me with– a woman, because of what he told me, I suspect he might have assaulted. By all accounts he’s happy and successful and chances are he will never be brought to justice for all the women he’s harmed. And that … was overwhelming in a way that I can’t put into words. That night, I hated this world and everything about it. I was hysterical with fury and pain.

Since that night I’ve been struggling to deal with this reality that I’ve been able to emotionally ignore for so many years. I can’t escape it now, and the burden of waking up to a world where the men I know to be rapists are happy and hale and will– almost absolutely– never see the inside of a prison makes me want to shrink as far into my bed as I can bury myself.

Today it took me three hours to drag myself out of bed, and all I ended up doing was moving to the couch, cuddling with Elsa, and crying myself to sleep again. I thought I might be getting better, that surrounding myself with tea and good books and good movies and cuddling with Handsome was working.

But, last Wednesday, I was riding the DC metro and I watched a man violate every single one of a woman’s boundaries while she was helplessly trapped on a train with him with no where to go. I stood there, helpless and enraged, not knowing what to do, while I watched him slowly escalate his behavior until he attacked her and she tried to fight him off and I start yelling at him to stop, but he ignored me until Handsome grabbed his shoulder. And then he spends the next five minutes yelling at every single last person on the train about the “dumb bitch” who interfered.

And I stood on that train until he got off, and I sobbed, because I saw that other people had noticed, and I and Handsome had been the only ones to even move when he attacked her. I cried harder when another passenger confronted my partner and told him that he should have “left it alone.”

I don’t know how to live on this planet. I don’t know how to live on a planet where Fifty Shades of Grey is a box-office success and women tell me that I need to take responsibility for being raped because obviously I ignored the many neon-billboard signs that my rapist was an abuser because I thought he was hot. I don’t know how to live in the same country as a woman who tells rape victims that they need to repent. I don’t know how to live in a world where it’s rare and unusual for someone to step in, even when a sexual assault is obviously happening right in front of them.

And while I know this is a bit melodramatic… I feel like Elijah saying “I am the only one left.” And of course that’s objectively ridiculous. There are so many incredible people out there fighting for the same thing I am, who speak up when they see something happening. It’s just difficult to remember that when you’re the only “bitch” at a party telling someone to quit it, or the only person on a train willing to speak up.

It makes me angry, too, because it’s not as though being a feminist takes any of my fear away. I am just as embarrassed and awkward and afraid of rocking the patriarchal party boat as anyone else. I am just as terrified of confronting someone on the train and making myself a target. The difference is that I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t do something, and it infuriates me that so many know that people around them are being harassed and assaulted, and they care … they just don’t care enough.

In the end, that is what I find truly depressing.

So, I’m throwing this post out there, hoping that it could make someone understand exactly what is at stake when they keep their head down and “mind their own business,” when they are bothered by that guy at a party who just won’t leave that woman alone but don’t want to get harassed for saying something about it. If these words do anything, I hope that it convinces at least one person that taking all the heat and flack and cursing and raging is worth it.

Art by Liza