Women, Feminism and Fear, #10

Dear Nancy:

Good to be yakking with you about this again!

I read both the articles that you linked to, and want to deal with them separately, in separate posts.

First, Angier’s article. Very interesting, and it makes sense that men who are more easily sexually aroused would be more easily aroused by violent sex. What the article doesn’t say (and therefore I don’t know if the question was even considered in study design) is how distressed by their responses were the men who were aroused by coercive and violent sex. (In other words, rape, because let’s call a spade a spade.)

We know that women have all kinds of fantasies that they enjoy intensely, might enjoy acting act out, but would be devastated if they were imposed upon them: the rape fantasy is just that. Is a similar disconnect working in guys who enjoy rape fantasies, might enjoy acting out with a partner who shares those fantasies and with whom they’ve worked out protocols to minimize the possibility that this is anything but mutually pleasurable—but would never impose them upon anyone?

I think by now, it should be a given at all men are not the same. What I would propose though is that the difference is less a matter of high and low sex drives, or more or less inhibition in allowing yourself to feel sexual desire, than having (or not) a moral compass that applies to sex.

The research I have seen into sexual assault is that, whatever men and boys might say they think is justified (“If I take a woman to dinner or spend money on her, she owes me sex”), most sexual assaults are perpetrated by repeat offenders. We are really reluctant to face the fact that whatever else they like sexually, sexual predators also like rape.

Two reasons.

The first is that evil really scares people. Not just women, but also men. Anyone who thinks men are naturally fearless and aggressive doesn’t understand just how hard militaries have to work to get young men to kill, deliberately and purposefully, much less at close range. (Every single advance in military technology is driven by the desire to do it at a distance, preferably without seeing what you’re doing.)

Second, sex killed women in huge numbers in the “developed world” until well into the 20th Century, and still does in the developing world. Not until 1940 did American maternal mortality rates drop below one woman in a hundred dying in childbirth; in modern Afghanistan one woman in six dies in childbirth, which may be close to the historical human norm. (These figures exclude deaths due to delayed complications.)

The fact that sex led to pregnancy and pregnancy was all too often a death sentence meant that it was folly to see women as having the same human worth as men. And because it was sex-even with the most loving, careful, responsible man, even if only for the purposes of giving a woman a child she herself wanted-that killed women in these huge numbers, we did two things. Conflated death and sex, and inured ourselves to the fact that some men use sex to hurt, even kill women.

I believe the human species (men and women alike, albeit to different extents and in different ways) deliberately destroyed much of our moral compass when it came to sexual violence. The tolerance for sexual violence is all the more striking for the fact that many people have a very low tolerance for violence against women in any context but the sexual or domestic, and in any civilized culture, most men are not sexually violent against women. A man threatens to punch a woman he doesn’t like, that’s one thing. A man threatens to rape a woman he doesn’t like, that’s something else.

I have come to believe that we didn’t dare take rape seriously because if we did, we would have to take maternal mortality seriously, as a species of murder. And no one could afford to do that: it hurt too much.

I also think that while this biological background is interesting and even important, it is not to the point. Not for those of us who are feminists, who believe that while “humanism” is a nice idea, feminism’s work is not quite yet done in this country, much less in the world today.

I will turn to what is the point in my next post, dealing with the Washington Post article on “cyber-stalking.”



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