Friday, July 11, 2008


Okay, so I'm late to this Jezebel thing. Hooray for Slate, they do the searches for you.

So - apparently the founders of Jezebel were on a comedy discussion show, got drunk, and made fools of themselves. The problem, most people seem to agree, is that it's a comedy show, and suddenly it turns to the most taboo of subjects - rape.

Here's the link to the taped interview session. I'm not going to link to any other sites, just put "moe", "tracie", and "shoot the messenger" into google and you'll find the commentaries.

There is definitely something unique about the subject - and it is still taboo to talk about. But as I like to say, I'm a combat vet goddamn it, I'll do whatever the fuck I want. There was a book I read a few years ago which caused a lot of controversy, called A Natural History of Rape, which goes into the biological advantages of rape to a male who can not otherwise succeed in finding a mate. Remember, it's all about the genes, not about the organism, or about the community. Now, this book created a lot of controversy. What I found really interesting about it, though, was that the authors say they are going to use "forced sexual aggression" rather than "rape" in their discussions in order to avoid the emotionally laden term, but in their introduction conclusion, and title, they revert to the loaded term.

Returning to the Jezebels, the main disconnect (god I hate that word) - seems to be between older and younger generation feminists, with the host (wo)manning the cannons for the older feminist group. My only comment here is the truism she quotes: "Rape is not about sex, it's about power and violence." Now, I am not about to argue that the two are NOT connected, but I quote from one of my favorite talk show hosts: "Yeah, its just like every other violent act that ends with an ejaculation." Trying to deny the sexual element of rape is like trying to deny the violent element of it. At the same time, I want to stress that personally I think the act is horrible, on the same level as a life-threatening beating. I just don't think the subject, the act, of rape is a monolithic entity in which "got too drunk and didn't have the facilities to say no," "went home with a stranger who turned out to be psychotic," and "man broke into my apartment and held me at knifepoint," can all be equated. Repeating "rape is about power," leads to all sex is rape, and ends up in a big feedback loop in which since sex is rape and rape is bad, sex is bad, and we add on more negative feelings to sex, which leads to guilt about sex, which leads to guilt about rape, etc.

And I think that, speaking as a true cultural relativist, we as Westerners have such a strong response to rape, it is the after-effects which cause the greatest emotional trauma to the victim, what sets it apart from simply an act of violence. The Jezebels, in their odd drunken way, seem to be expressing a point that to them, rape is no big deal. This, of course, gets the host up in arms. But - and this is the important point - power is granted, not taken. (In case you haven't noticed before, I strongly believe in human agency.) The power which rape holds is the social power granted to it by our prudish forefathers, who said that all sex is tainted, combined with a bit of weird perverted New Age mysticism about sex being "sacred". Maybe we're just animals and sex is just sex...

Sex, rape, and power are interconnected, yes. But you can't take the sex out of the equation. Or, rather, maybe we need to put the sex back in the equation.

So - if nothing else, maybe the Jezebels, by being so flippant about the conventions of rape, and discussions about rape, signify that we might be able to separate the two ideas (rape and power) so that we can gain a better understanding of both issues. Maybe being flippant about the emotional consequences is the only way to break the power that power has over rape. Or maybe I'll just get flamed and lose all my female friends.

1 comment:

Abster said...

It is also important to consider that victims of sexual abuse will perpetuate the cycle by becoming perpetuators themselves.

We also still don't know much about sexuality and how the erotic "imprint" is formed in persons.
This may be the link between erotic
fixation and rape that you are looking for. However, I tend to put
more faith in the simple social
construction of masculine hetero-
normative accountability. Men must
be sexually aggressive, sexually
dominant. If not, you are either
a wimp or a faggot, right?

Additionally, it is important to draw attention to rape culture within systems of male dominance (aka patriarchal society). After
all, women are most likely to be
assaulted by men, specifically,
men they know. The number one cause
of maternal/fetal death is murder
not high blood pressure, etc. I don't necessarily believe (as Dworkin put forth) that all heterosexual sex is rape but I appreciate the argument as it
pushes the limits of the radical
feminist debate from a victim
rights standpoint (again, Dworkin).

There is a large amount of sociological research on specific situations (like the college fraternity) that foster environments conducive to sexual assault.

You might also enjoy reading more by John Stoltenberg and Robert Jensen who are masculinity scholars who address sexual violence from a pro-feminist perspective.

Sorry - had to comment John!