Archive for rape

Rape Fantasies: Why Consent Isn’t Sexy, and Why You’re Not a Bad Feminist for Enjoying It

Posted in Ramblings with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 27, 2013 by KarenElizabeth

TRIGGER WARNING – obviously.  Don’t read this post if you’re upset by analytical discussions of rape.

 

I’ll admit it:  I’m a fan of smutty literature.  Romance novels, Internet slash-fiction, even just regular old books with well-written sex scenes thrown in there.  I started swiping my mom’s Harlequin romances in my early teens, keeping favourite ones hidden in between the mattress and the bedframe for late-night reading.  Female friends and I would find books at the library with good sex scenes and share them, often reading the steamiest passages aloud and giggling at our own fascination with sex.  As I got older and became sexually active, those books served as guides — how to touch, how to talk, what to expect.  They taught me the words for what I wanted, how to ask my partners for things, and how to enjoy myself doing it.  In many ways, romance novels were what taught me to be a feminist, because it was from them that I learned the sex-positive and body-positive attitudes that my adolescence would not otherwise have provided.

 

But there was always one thing that puzzled me.  Why did so many of these books contain — and even romanticize — rape?

 

 

It’s a question that’s come up a lot in recent years, especially with the popularization of Twilight, Game of Thrones, and 50 Shades.  These are things marketed to women, popular among women, and yet they show women accepting, and even sometimes enjoying, being raped and abused.  It’s not a new phenomenon — I can remember Game of Thrones being among those books my friends and I found at the library, and heck, even 3onguochildhood fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty contain questionable ideas about consent — but it leaves a lot of us conflicted.  At least 50% of women will experience sexual violence at some point in their lives.  I’m certainly not the only one of my friends who has experienced sexual assault and rape.  And yet many of us still find something attractive, something undeniably sexy, about scenes like the ones between Danerys and Drogo in GoT.  While the reality of rape is abhorrent and terrifying, there is still something about the fantasy that has the power to turn us on.

 

What really got me thinking about it, though, was when one of my friends called herself a “bad feminist” for enjoying that fantasy.  And I immediately felt like she was wrong.  But it took me some time to define exactly why I feel that rape fantasies are not, inherently, an “unfeminist” thing to have.

 

Why We Enjoy the Fantasy

The first thing that I had to question, of course, was where this fantasy comes from, and why we have it.  In the end, I decided that there are a multitude of factors in play, here — and that’s really not surprising.  Culturally, we are pretty obsessed with sex, and both sex and gender play a huge role in almost every aspect of our society.  These are deeply ingrained things that we’re dealing with, here.  And there are likely more reasons than just the ones that I’m listing (feel free to bring up others in the comments, if you like).

  1. Puritanical attitudes towards sex.  If we believe that sex is bad or “dirty”, as many of us have been raised to think, then saying “yes” is an impure act.  This is especially true when you’re talking about premarital sex, casual sex, or pretty much any sex that is not purely for the purposes of procreation.  Women, especially, are often told that good girls don’t have (or at least, don’t enjoy) sex, and that we must always be careful to not act “slutty”.  Women who do openly enjoy sex are often punished by society for doing so.  As a result, saying “no” seems like a virtuous, positive thing to do.  The rape fantasy then becomes, somewhat perversely, a way of indulging in a sexual fantasy wherein you don’t have to say “yes” (thus becoming a “slut” and damning yourself).  In such a fantasy, you can maintain your “purity” while still engaging in the act.  Of course, such a fantasy is problematic — and it doesn’t line up with reality.  Victim-blaming and the idea that rape victims somehow “asked for it” means that in reality, a woman who has gone through rape is usually stigmatized as a “slut” anyhow.  But a fantasy world where you can escape from such stigmatization and abuse, and enjoy sex without feeling guilt about it, is actually a pretty sex-positive thing, when you get right down to it.  Especially for younger women or those from particularly sheltered, puritanical upbringings, the rape fantasy may actually be an avenue towards more sex-positive attitudes in their lives in general.
  2. Conventional ideals of “manliness”.   The knight in shining armor.  The dashing pirate/outlaw.  The lone wolf, or the rebel who plays by his own rules.  The millionaire playboy.  The mystery, wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in a vest.  What do all of these “romantic ideals” have in common?  Power.  Whether it be money, fame, good looks, the power of the unknown, or just raw muscle and steel, men are expected by society to wield power if they want to be attractive.  And that, of course, is what rape is all about:  it’s about power.  This is why rape occurs across all demographics, and doesn’t depend on a victim’s attractiveness or age or place within society.  And so for women, having been raised being told that the best man to have is the most powerful one — well, what’s more powerful than a rapist?
  3. The other side of power and control.  Jumping off from #2, we come to the other side of power:  being powerless.  A lack of control.  It’s something that many of us seek out quite actively, as a form of escape from our daily lives and the demands of mature adulthood.  We enjoy getting “swept up in the moment” and being able to just go along with things, no decision-making required.  We escape into books and media, into drunken nights with friends, into cruise vacations where the biggest choice you have to make is “chicken or fish?”.  Sex can be a terrifying thing to be in control of, especially if you’re inexperienced or not confident in your abilities.  The rape fantasy takes away the need to be “good” at what you’re doing.  It takes away the responsibility of pleasing your partner.  It allows you to simply receive, without having to give anything back.  For the neophyte, this sort of fantasy can take away some of the anxieties surrounding sex, actually encouraging more sex-positive attitudes because it frees them up to simply enjoy, without worrying about their skill level.
  4. A female sort of power.  There is another way to interpret the power relationship in rape fantasies:  in the concept of the male as a stupid, insatiable animal, unable to resist a woman’s sexy wiles.  This particular fantasy stems from right-wing, conservative attitudes towards rape, which are unfortunately quite pervasive in our society.  When victims are blamed for being raped because they were “acting slutty” or “dressed inappropriately”, and when rapists are excused because “boys will be boys”, it’s an incredibly sexist and sex-negative thing.  But if you take that particular fantasy, and examine it purely as fantasy, it becomes the victim who holds the power.  For women, raised in a society where power tends to be tied to male privilege, the idea of being able to drive a man to unspeakable acts just by looking really, really good?  That’s a pretty cool power fantasy right there.  And it’s also a body-positive sort of fantasy, too, because it requires that the victim be not just desirable, but VERY desirable.  It lets you feel wanted, and in a world where the media regularly tells us that our body is not good enough just as it is?  That can be a very positive feeling.
  5. Exposure.  Like me, many women had some of their first encounters with the concept of enjoyable sex through romance novels.  And a lot of romance novels contain depictions of rape — maybe as many as half of them.  Most such depictions aren’t terribly realistic (usually the men involved are ridiculously good looking and are experienced sexual gods capable of giving multiple, mind-blowing orgasms, and the sex itself isn’t in any way violent or taboo — just non-consensual, because the woman is protesting even as she enjoys it).  We also see depictions of rape in plenty of other media — mainstream TV, movies, books, and porn all contain it with some frequency.  With such fuel for our imaginations, it’s not surprising that our fantasy lives also contain depictions of rape.
  6. Fear.  There’s a fine line between fear and excitement.  It’s why we enjoy roller coasters, horror movies, and skydiving.  Fear gets your heart pumping and your adrenaline rushing.  It does, in some sense, turn you on.  The fear associated with the idea of rape can do exactly the same thing — especially when, just like with a roller coaster or a horror movie, we know we’re in no real danger.  When it’s all a fantasy, you can experience that fear in a controlled and safe fashion.  This is also a common theory as to why some victims of actual rape may afterwards enjoy rape fantasies, while still hating and fearing what truly happened to them:  it’s a way of controlling and “taking back” the power of the experience.
  7. Exploring the taboo.  This one links back to #1 in many ways, because we live in a society with a lot of taboos — especially when it comes to sex and sexuality.  A part of figuring out your own sexuality is in exploring those various taboos, and finding out which ones are fun and which are scary.  Rape is a taboo that most people would never want to explore outside of the realm of pure fantasy, but considering it as fantasy can definitely be a part of healthy sexual exploration, because doing so can help you to define your limits and your desires.

 

Why it’s Not “Unfeminist” to Like It

I touched on a few of the reasons in my list up there — depending on the context of your particular fantasy, rape fantasies may include aspects that are decidedly sex-positive and body-positive, and they can certainly be a part of  a healthy fantasy life.

 

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More important, though, is the fact that rape fantasies are just that:  fantasies.  And fantasies, by their very nature, really can’t be non-consensual.  The one doing the fantasizing is always in control, and can stop things whenever they want to.  This is why in BDSM, “rape play” or “consensual non-consent” can be enjoyed:  because the “victim” in this case has a safe-word and can stop things at any time if it becomes too frightening or painful.  They are completely in control, even if it seems to be otherwise.  And of course, taking back control of traumatizing, terrifying things like rape is a part of what feminism is all about.  It’s about taking and enjoying your individual power as a human being.

 

Of course, finding an actual partner to engage in such fantasies with is a problematic thing in and of itself.  Fantasizing about being raped is a very different thing from fantasizing about being a rapist.  So taking this kind of a fantasy from your mind into the bedroom is something to be done with a lot of caution, and only with a partner who you very deeply trust.  Someone who’s immediately eager to try it probably isn’t the safest person to play with (better to choose someone who’s uncomfortable, but willing to do it because it’s something you want), and while it may be a very private and intimate fantasy, it’s something perhaps better kept to a public dungeon or play space, where there will be others around to ensure that your safe words are heeded if they must be used.  It wouldn’t be fun for “play rape” to turn into the actual thing.

Women in Elevators, Stray Dogs, and the Privileged White Male Delusion

Posted in Ramblings, Rants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 5, 2011 by KarenElizabeth

As I’m sure all of my regular readers are well aware, I am far from being a delicate flower of dainty, ineffectual womanhood.  I don’t expect men to open doors for me, carry heavy bags, or take the driver’s seat when we go out (unless it’s their car, in which case I’ll probably still ask if they want me to drive; or I’m drunk, in which case I’ll make sure they’re sober before crawling into the back seat and falling asleep for the ride).  I don’t want them to walk me home late at night, or defend my honor when I get hit on at the bar.  I am deeply hostile to anyone who insinuates that there are things men can do which I cannot (unless those things involve physically having a penis, in which case just let me get my strap-on and we’ll just see how much I can’t do).  When it comes to traditionally “masculine” pursuits, I’m often far ahead of my male friends:  I own my own power tools, am pretty good with carpentry, can manage basic plumbing and electrics with ease, drive a standard, can carry my own body weight, spent nine years training and competing in martial arts, and regularly handle animals (snakes, lizards, rats, etc) that send a lot of men running and squealing pathetically.

I’ve also been the victim of multiple sexual assaults and attempted sexual assaults, and am continually harassed and accosted by men who don’t seem to know what is socially appropriate and what is just plain threatening and creepy.  Just being capable of defending yourself doesn’t make you immune — being female and attractive (in that order; there are plenty of men who only look at the first criteria) means that it doesn’t matter how capable you are, you’re going to be a victim at some point in your life.

So when I read about Rebecca Watson‘s encounter in an elevator with a creepy dude who didn’t know where the line was, I thought, “yeah, that guy was totally out of line.”  I didn’t have to consider it:  I know what it’s like to be stuck in a small space with an unfamiliar man who clearly finds you attractive and might or might not want to do something awful because of it.  Nevermind that I’m a black belt in karate and 90% of men, even if bigger and stronger than me, wouldn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of successfully defeating me in an even fight — the fear is always there, because it’s impossible to know if this particular guy happens to also be a trained martial artist, or maybe he’s too drugged up to notice if I kick him in the balls, or maybe he’s got a gun tucked into his pocket, or maybe he’s got five friends waiting just around the corner to help him out.  It’s impossible to know, and the unknown is scary.

So I empathized with Rebecca’s situation, and figured that most other people would, too.  Elevator Guy was out of line, and everyone should understand that — right?

Well, apparently not.  The blogosphere has exploded with commentary on the incident, with many people (even women!) saying that Rebecca’s uneasiness about the situation was misplaced, that she had no reason to be afraid, and that she’s maligning the poor guy, who was just trying to be “friendly”.  (A side note to the men here:  it’s never “friendly” to approach a woman you don’t know at 4am and ask her out.  Especially in a small, confined space).  Richard Dawkins (yes, author of “The God Delusion”) has even said that she shouldn’t have been worried, because it’s easy to just push a button and get off the elevator at the next floor — threat averted, nothing to worry about.

Yes, really.

So I was getting all ready to write a long and rambling post, trying to explain to the unenlightened just what it is like to be in that sort of a situation.  Trying to think of some analogous situation that a male might find himself in, where he would feel threatened and unsure of what to do.  Trying to explain just *why*, in an enlightened society where we try to treat everyone as equals, regardless of gender, men should go out of their way to make women feel unthreatened by them.

And then I went on Scienceblogs and realized that Greg Laden had already written such a post, so I’m simply going to link to his example.

The most important point that needs to be made here, I think, is that for all that we want to believe that we live in a society of equals, we really don’t.  The white, heterosexual male is still the privileged “norm”, while anything else is subject to discrimination and abuse in varying shapes and forms.  And for every enlightened, completely non-threatening man out there, there are many who still subscribe to a belief that women are fundamentally different, lesser, and exist solely for male pleasure — even if they protest otherwise and, intellectually, can find no logical basis for such behaviours.  Media brainwashing and centuries of social conditioning aren’t overcome in a single generation, and it’s going to take a long time before equality truly exists (if it even can be achieved).

I’m not even saying that men who would sexually harass, assault, or rape a woman are in the majority.  In fact, I think the opposite — it’s only a small percentage of men who constitute enough of a problem to be an annoyance (people like Dawkins, perhaps, who might make sexist comments now and then, but aren’t truly bad people or prone to doing anything violent), and an even smaller percentage who could be considered a real threat (the sort who might actually grope, threaten, or attempt to rape a woman).  But considering that we might encounter dozens of different people on any given day, the laws of probability suggest that we’ll eventually encounter one of those truly dangerous elements.  And so we must always be on our guard, always prepared against the day when that guy in the elevator with us isn’t just going to make an awkward pass, he’s going to actually try to do something.  And by the same token, men must always be prepared to prove that they’re NOT a part of that tiny percentage of whom we should be afraid.

While I’m on the topic, guys:  here’s a handy list of a few things that women (especially the attractive ones) find incredibly annoying and/or threatening and creepy:

  • Staring.  If you want to look, be discreet about it.  Staring directly at a woman will make her feel threatened, as though you’re watching her and possibly planning to do something nasty.
  • Catcalling and whistling.  It’s demeaning, not complimentary.  It turns the woman into an object, valued only for her physical attractiveness.  Being constantly reminded that society views you as only a pair of boobs with legs attached is not a nice thing.  Catcalling is especially annoying when done from a moving vehicle, because there’s no chance for the victim to respond with a satisfying “fuck off, asshole”.
  • Approaching a woman just to tell her she looks pretty.  This includes telling her you like her hair, that she has the prettiest eyes, etc.  Attractive women get this ALL. THE. TIME.  Chances are you’re not the first — nor even the second or the third — guy to do this to her today.  And no, she doesn’t want to talk to you.  If she wanted to talk to you, she’d walk up and start the conversation.  The only exception to this rule is if you’re in a bar, nightclub, or other “singles’ spot” where women might conceivably be going to meet new people.  In that case, make eye contact and smile from a safe distance away.  If she responds positively, then move in with a compliment.
  • Standing too close.  Unless you’re in a situation where it’s totally unavoidable (really crowded bus, etc), don’t stand any closer to a woman than you would to an unfamiliar man at the urinal.  If you’d feel uncomfortable standing that close to a pantsless man while you’re both peeing, she probably feels uncomfortable standing that close to you when you’re fully clothed.  If you were pantsless she’d run screaming.
  • Walking too close.  Similarly to above: if you’re walking and find yourself falling into step with a nearby woman, either speed up to get ahead of her, or slow down and let her go on alone.  If you’re overtaking a slow-walking woman, leave plenty of space when you pass (crossing to the other side of the street is an option to consider if you’re in a situation that seems to have especial potential for creepiness, such as late at night on an otherwise quiet street).
  • Making a pass at a woman while she’s working.  Waitresses, saleswomen, baristas, female police officers, librarians, etc.  It doesn’t matter what her job is.  She’s at work, and is probably only smiling at you because she gets paid to be nice to the customers.  If you want to strike up a conversation with her, pick a neutral topic — the weather, or some piece of local news.  See how she responds to that, and let *her* guide the conversation to other topics, if she wants to.  She’s at a serious disadvantage in this social encounter, because being dismissive towards you might get her disciplined or fired for being “rude” to the customers.  Respect that and don’t be pushy.
  • Blocking the exit.  Even in a situation where it’s socially acceptable to approach a woman (a bar, for example), never corner her.  Leave her with at least one direction (better if you can leave more than one) in which she can simply walk away, without having to squeeze past you.  The same goes for situations where you’re not approaching and talking to her — if she’s standing in the bus shelter, don’t stand blocking the door, or if she’s sitting in the back of the train car, don’t stand blocking the aisle.
  • Following.  If you notice that you seem to be taking all the same turns as a woman, try to find an alternate route, or just wait a minute and let her get a little ways ahead of you.  If you got off the bus at the same stop, went left, and then turned down the exact same side street?  Stop and pretend to tie your shoelace or something so that she can put a “safe” distance between you.