I know the principle that rape is about power is not totally accurate, but I would definitely say that sex based on power is rape.
There is an assumption, probably helped by the evolutionary psychology mythos propagating in the general population, that relationships and sex are a power struggle.
Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.
This quote (supposedly by Oscar Wilde, but everything’s attributed to Oscar Wilde) is perhaps unwittingly the most elegant statement about genderism ever written. Two basic premises of genderism are that humans, men especially, are solely driven by reproductive advantage (including our highest pursuits), and that our sexuality is always a power play between men (who want to spread their genes) and women (who want a faithful partner to raise children). Everything is about sex, but sex is about power.
From a feminist perspective, this is absolutely and completely incorrect: sex that is “about power” is not sex, it’s rape. In fact it has become a bromide that rape is about power, but yet people fail to recognize this in most instances because we are trained to believe that power is desirable and commands respect, or is at least “superior” and justified in its sexual abuse.
Now, if you take hierarchy and if you take sex and if you understand that hierarchy is very sexy, then what you have is a situation in which people are exploited systematically; and they are exploited in such a way that everyone thinks it’s normal.
Given what’s already been covered, I think our first stop should be traditional genderism. Marriage was framed in the West as a form of sexual ownership of women. Nowadays this unilateralism is frowned upon, and we’ve made it a form of mutual sexual ownership. This, of course, is considered progress.
But whether it’s unilateral or mutual, the fact remains that under traditional genderism women are under obligation to satisfy their husbands by providing sexual services, and that their sexuality are under the purview of the husband. The fact remains that we live in a heteronormative system where heterosexual sex is the only “real” form of sex that exists, and that all women should, in theory, be available for men to exploit. The fact also remains that women are generally in more precarious financial situations than men and that they often financially depend on their husbands. While spousal rape is now illegal in Western countries, it had been legal up to the latter part of the 20th century.
This is what feminists (and when I say feminists, I mean radical feminists) are talking about when they discuss the ethicality of intercourse, not simple-minded propositions like “all heterosexual sex is rape” (or its preposterous liberal reverse, that no pseudo-consensual sex can possibly be rape), which no feminist has ever said anyway. The problem with heterosexual sex is its hierarchical nature, the fact that it involves a superior and an inferior on the gender hierarchy, unlike homosexual sex. But homosexual sex often apes the hierarchical elements of heterosexuality because those are seen as normal in a heteronormative society.
Instead of remaining in generalities, we can look at more specific cases. Pornography, prostitution and BDSM are cases where the abuse of power is very clear. In all three cases we have a clear imbalance of power (between corporation and employee, between johns/pimps and prostituted women, and between doms and subs) which form the basis for sexual activity.
In prostitution and pornography (which is, after all, organized prostitution), the imbalance is, at least on the surface, financial in nature; johns and porn directors trade money for sex, either with themselves or other people (and for those who object that pornography cannot be prostitution because porn directors don’t make actresses have sex with them, some johns have prostituted women have sex with each other too). Prostituted women and porn actresses are often coerced into unwanted sexual acts so they can get the money they need, and are exposed to high risks of sexually transmitted diseases, extremely high death rates, and extremely high percentages of PTSD (equal or higher to that of war veterans).
As has been pointed out by feminists, making women have sex with you by giving them money means they wouldn’t want to have sex with you in the first place. They’re doing it because they need the money, which makes it non-consensual. Furthermore, if consent is granted beforehand, and cannot be given or revoked for specific sexual acts as they happen, then it’s not consensual either, simply because it’s then very easy for a john or a porn director to decide to add new sexual acts and force the woman to do them under the threat of not getting paid.
And all of that is predicated on a capitalist society which makes work contracts and organized prostitution possible, as well as normalize the position that everything is potential property, including people’s sexuality.
But the more profound power imbalance, I think, is psychological: psychologically healthy men who have no qualms exploiting women who have been abused in childhood and devalue their own sexuality, or otherwise have bought into their “womanly” duty.
I can already hear the pro-prostitution advocates hissing like the snakes that they are, “see, you do hate sex workers!” I don’t hate prostituted women, I listen to the voices of ex-prostituted women who speak up about their experiences and who tell us that it was their devaluation of their own sexuality that led them to accept prostitution as a way of life. Pro-prostitution advocates tell us to listen to the voices of prostituted women, but they want you only to listen to the privileged white women who got what they wanted out of prostitution and then joined pimp-led advocacy groups. Of course such women have a vested interest in hiding the truth.
But to pro-prostitution advocates, anyone who disagrees must hate “sex workers.” To pro-pornography advocates, anyone who disagrees must hate porn actresses. As if hating an industry means hating the people who work at the lower echelons! Hating capitalism has never meant hating the workers, it means hating the institutions that exploit the workers. I hate prostitution and pornography and the people who defend those institutions, not the women whose sexuality is exploited by them. The power is generated by those institutions, not by a woman taking her clothes off.
Unlike prostitution and pornography, BDSM is not a commercial hierarchy but a relational one. There is a dom and a sub, and the sub not only “consents” to coercive acts but is said to be the one with the real power in the relationship. The imbalance is not based on any pre-existing form of power but is completely manufactured by the two participants.
As for pornography and prostitution, the use of power in sex in BDSM is considered edgy and liberatory, in this case because the acts committed are transgressive (and cross not only one gray area, but a whole forty of them). Likewise, BDSMers have complained that radfems are against BDSM because of the transgressive nature of the sexual acts in BDSM.
But this is a straw womyn. Transgression is not the issue, the pseudo-consent to sexual abuse and violence is the issue. There is nothing particularly edgy about rape, violence and abuse against women: women are subject to these things every day. Likewise, reproducing rape, violence and abuse against women is not edgy either, it’s fairly commonplace in the mass media.
Again the same story repeats: the inferior is supposedly the one with the power because they control the sexual act. This is tied with the notion of women as gatekeepers for sex. Obviously not all subs are women, but, according to studies done on the largest samples of women, women in BDSM are three to four times more likely to be sub than to be dom, while men have a roughly equal ratio. This is not a coincidence. Take away the premise of women as gatekeepers and the whole concept of the inferior having the “real” power dissipates.
Orgasm is one of the most powerful conditioning devices that exist. Associate your orgasms with a hierarchical relationship and you will come to not only see that relationship as normal, but you will defend it with all your strength. How could you not defend your capacity to get orgasms? This is what gives BDSM subs such vigor in defending their own exploitation, and pornography and prostitution users their relentless drive to attack radical feminism. Any debate no these topics cannot take place unless the addict is detoxified first: otherwise you might as well “debate” with a heroin addict whether ey should get more heroin.
I want to end on the instances of power used in sex, that is to say rape, against children: pedophilia (esp. parental incest), spanking and genital mutilation (although the latter is not sex as such, but an attack against sex organs).
The parental relation is the prototype of power relations. This is not by far a novel insight: it’s been made many times, many ways about the relation between God and man, the State and its citizens, husbands and wives. It is only because we are all raised on brain-warping pedagogy (as Alice Miller would say, all pedagogy is bad pedagogy) that we are susceptible to fall prey to these other forms of power relations. It is perhaps in this context that we can agree with Theophile de Giraud (in his antinatalist book L’Art de Guillotiner Les Procréateurs) that parenting is a form of sado-masochism.
The less damaged people are from pedagogy, the more difficult it is for them to invest themselves into becoming inferiors and superiors. Voluntarily joining BDSM, pornography, prostitution, or becoming a child abuser are not hallmarks of healthy minds. Conditioning, indoctrination and brainwashing (or if you prefer, thought control) are necessary to turn a baby into this sort of person, or indeed any sort of slavish follower.
People may balk at me calling spanking children a form of rape. And yet spanking does bring sexual pleasure. It is a sexual act. So when it’s done as punishment to a child, how can it not be rape? I see no way to defeat this argument.
Although people do try to deny it quite strenuously, in Western societies we accept that the parents of a child have near-total ownership of that child (only specific, “really real” kinds of rape, serious physical abuse and murder are frowned upon). This is predicated on the notion that children are not full human beings and therefore do not deserve human rights (a bizarre notion, but no more bizarre than the notion that women, POC, “immigrants” or “criminals” are not full human beings).
The reason why I point to parental incest and spanking specifically is because they both emerge from the familial hierarchy. Parents can (legally) use a wide array of intensive manipulation techniques against the child, including physical and mental isolation, conditioning, indoctrination and brainwashing (as previously mentioned), verbal and physical violence, deprivation of property, emotional and material blackmail, and so on.
There is no point in listing them all because everyone has been through many or most of them and knows what they are very well. There is a strong similarity between being a child and being a cult member (with the exception that the child is dependent upon its parents to a degree that no cult leader has ever been able to emulate).
Pedophiles have tried to position themselves lately as another “edgy” sexual orientation, insisting on a demarcation between ephebophiles (the good guys) who want to fuck teenagers and the really real pedophiles (boo hiss) who want to fuck little children, and arguing that ephebophiles have a long hallowed historical tradition. Well sure, we already know that men as a class are pedophilic, this is not exactly news, but how does that make it edgy and cutting edge? All these forms of rape have a long hallowed historical tradition going back to ancient civilization and so on, a history long enough to bore anyone to tears. So what?