Category Archives: Radical feminism

Guest post: What’s so bad about rape?

Thank you to Carmen Speer, an absolutely shrewd and wonderful writer, for letting me publish this essay she just wrote. I hope you enjoy.

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Much has been written about the strange cognitive dissonance of both believing rape to be one of the most heinous crimes a man can commit and outright socially excusing and justifying it, a cognitive dissonance which as a culture we confront on a daily basis. In olden times, rape was a property crime against a father or a husband; as a woman’s body was her greatest value, she was “spoiled” by rape, no longer chaste or virtuous, her pedigree and that of her children no longer certain. In modern society this horror of rape as the ultimate property crime against another man still persists. This is why we insist that rape is always a crime of deviants in bushes, punishable by extreme sentences, when the reality is that rape is usually a crime of anger and entitlement committed by an assailant known to the victim and that often what she wants more than anything is empathy, and an apology.

I could quote to you statistics about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, cortisol suppression, flashbacks, nightmares, the terrible psychological torture of trying to come to terms with a new understanding of humanity after being hurt in such an intimate way. I could tell you stories of wartime victims of rape that remember it decades in the future and still exhibit the symptoms of rape-related PTSD while having long forgotten much of the wartime strife surrounding. I could tell you that researchers have long known rape to be an especially traumatic crime, more traumatic even absent a great deal of force than more violent non-sexual assaults; I could tell you that they cannot quite put their finger on why, except that it has something to do with the perversion of an act that one researcher has called “the single human act with the greatest capacity for both good and evil.” I could tell you that it has something to do with shame, with self-blame, with a distinct lack of social support, with not fitting the right scripts when it comes to the image of good victim. I could tell you that it has something to do with losing a sense of trust and safety in those people and institutions you have been led to believe your whole life that you should trust the most. I could tell you that as a woman it has something to do, deep down, with knowing how men really think of you, with knowing how constrained and imperfect any definition of you really is (if you perform your femininity perfectly your best reward is scorn). Yes, what it really means to be female, a condition most of us would not give up despite the constant rain of shit upon our heads.

Compounding this fundamental understanding about what it means, as a woman, to be raped, is the deep unspoken knowledge of women that translates into the ignorance of men about what it means to be raped again and again. Being pegged as bad early on becomes a kind of living death for a lot of women; throughout their lives rape is their punishment and their reward for resisting but not well enough. The cumulative weight of every sexual assault in the end holds a mirror up to your face of what these men want you to be: how diminished, how hollow, how pretty and still.

I can tell you what impact sexual assault has had on me. I can laugh off most of the men who preyed on me when I was young; little went far, and none of it seemed malicious; it would strike people mainly as “creepy” now if I told them. The man in his forties who rented me a hotel room with “three foot thick walls” when I was seventeen (I escaped him), the man in his late thirties that same year who walked me home, sobbing drunk, after our mutual friend’s funeral and went down on me on the hood of my mother’s car, another blip on the radar. A little more scary the man who molested me in the movie theater when I was thirteen, the men on the beach when I was nine, the man who gave me panties and kisses when I was six, the man who backed me into corners, snarling, when I was sixteen, backstage of the production I was assistant-directing, whenever he caught me alone, “fat assssss” hissed between his teeth as he grabbed for it; but at seventeen it was the man who flattened me to a shower wall and made me bleed in a place I’d never bled like that who made the greater impact; how much he thought it was his right. How little he cared for damaging my body. How little he cared for me as a human being when I could instead be a plaything.

There were others, after that: a boyfriend who loved me, who coerced me and hit me. A lover who put down my body while he couldn’t get enough of what he wanted from me. Men I thought were my friends who got me drunk and tried to tag-team me, and why—because who was I—this fragile, fierce, self-loathing woman, who only wanted to be taken seriously, but always fell short of that one word, “pretty?” (And why did I think that meant the same as “worthy?”)

I can tell you that, at age thirty-two, when I fell in love, all I wanted was for someone to see me, and yet still I didn’t know how: to have sex without doing it to please, to untangle my desire from my desire; to fuck and to be seen, to make love and to be a human being. And I can tell you that when I made a boundary—a clear boundary—after I grew more and more uneasy with the way that he saw me—the way he could not extricate the body he could control from the self he couldn’t—and he held me down and broke that boundary forcibly, I can tell you what it’s done to me: how hard it is for me just to wake up. How hard it is for me to put a face on it. In my daily “life” the world expands and contracts, swoops in and out of focus, cracks and refracts, kaleidoscopic and dizzy; in front of a class my students distort and waver like ghosts, but I am the ghost, or nearly, dead from a wound that’s necrotic in how my spirit fled me in the moment he had me and no begging would save me. How far away I went, and how so far there is no retrieval.

I can tell you about the waves of senseless panic that roll over me, of the fragility of a good mood these days. Of how I have hidden out from the world, of how I never want to date again for fear of becoming a painted canvas instead of a three-dimensional being. I can tell you how afraid I am now of even the gentlest man. I can tell you about how gentle he was before he did it, curled up in front of the television with his head in my lap.

I can tell you how rape has shaped my life. How impossible I find it to trust, how I drink to soothe my nerves, how much I hate myself and believe the distorted image men have created of me in the Expressionist mirror. I can tell you that real love and children now seem like a far-off dream, and I am only hoping to stumble from one day to the next and how I catch myself hoping there won’t be a next day at all. I can tell you how on a beach in Mexico I shattered my ankle rather than face the threat of rape and it’s a limp that I have still.

I could rattle off for you the laundry list of physical and mental ailments over the course of a life that might blight a rape survivor, once the more pressing fear has passed: depression, borderline, high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes, dementia, lost work, lost love, lost life. I could try to describe the cost but the closest I could really get is a grievous soul attack that some survive and others don’t. I could tell you until I’m out of time and out of line what’s so bad about rape, but because it’s simply the most intimate and visceral form of what’s so bad and so invisible—so invisibly bad—about being below in the first place, you might not understand me; because of the deliberate manner in which rape without “unnecessary violence” is an ingenious form of psychological torture, a way to kill and stay out of prison, you might not understand me. You might not understand the betrayal when it’s someone you have invited (like a vampire) past the cautious door: that sense any moment that someone who claimed to love you might kill you is what I’m left with, a sticky residue I can’t wash off long after the ceiling spins away and my mind averts its gaze from the lurid tableau.

I have dreams of smiling death and of dark water. Every night I arrive at the same conclusion, and every morning I awake in the torment of how wrong I am: that is my fault, so it’s okay then; that it is not, that I did nothing to deserve this beyond somehow, in some essential way, escape him.

I can tell you all these things, but you still wouldn’t believe me. Because for the born lucky rape’s special power is to instill the deepest sense that one is nothing in the person who has everything, and when I look in the mirror I can see that I still do: I am still attractive, I am still smart, I still have heart, I still am, I.

“You want to ban pornography!”

A very common reply to people who oppose pornography, whether men or women, is that the person is trying to oppress them by banning pornography. Usually this is accompanied by invocations of free speech. I have already debunked that particular brand of nonsense, so I will not repeat it here.

Now, I won’t deny that banning pornography would be helpful. I don’t think banning all pornography, or even most pornography, is a viable possibility. But simply making illegal the production of pornographic videos would do much in opposing this destructive and anti-social “industry.” If there are no downsides, anything that reduces the number of rapes and sexual assaults in the world is a good thing. Making the pornographic “industry” illegal would only have one major downside, and that’s on the economy: this “industry” has inserted itself into the capitalist framework, and attacking it would affect other industries as well. I don’t think economics has primary over ethics, however. An economy that is predicated on spreading violence (like military spending, luxury goods which depend on violence abroad, or pornography) needs to be attacked and converted, not sustained.

Another common reply is that banning pornography (or any other form of “sex work”) would deprive some women of income. First of all, I deny the justice of an economic system where people’s income depends on accepting shitty jobs. We should have an economic system that serves everyone’s interests equally, not just the interests of a small inbred business and political elite. And the Nordic Model, when applied in its totality, does include economic support for those women who want to leave prostitution (I don’t see why the same couldn’t be done for pornography).

Also, there’s no way banning pornography would drive incomes down because there would be replacements. Men are not going to stop wanting to exploit women simply because pornography is illegal.

This leads me to my main point: pornography is not the root problem, men wanting to exploit women is the root problem. Banning pornography will not affect men’s entitlement to women’s sexuality. So again, while I do want to emphasize that banning pornography would be a good thing, and having less pornography on the Internet would lower the chance of any man feeling entitled to women’s sexuality, it is not the solution. Men feel entitled to women’s sexuality because they are indoctrinated to believe that women exist to serve men’s needs, that men need to exploit women in order to be real men, that women are passive gatekeepers of sex and need incentives (e.g. money) to have sex with men.

I think one analogy in particular can be made with pornography. In Madison Square Garden, on Christmas 1899, approximately 10,000 poor and homeless people ate a feast which was attended by an audience of rich citizens, who attended for the thrill of watching these people eat a full meal. Today, we would decry such an event as exploitative and a sign of the growing inequality in the United States… things which we could say nowadays about the rise of hardcore pornography. The main difference is that the Christmas dinner was mostly about class superiority, while pornography is mostly about woman-hatred and racism.

Our main objective, I think, should be to make watching pornography as shameful as being a spectator at such an event. Actually, many men do feel shame when they start delving into hardcore pornography. But as they become addicted to it, they quickly lose that sense of shame. Without the addictive property of orgasms, it is unlikely that hardcore pornography would have ever taken off. And as we know, pornsick men have no shame whatsoever. Nothing, not even the realization that they could be watching a rape at any time, will stop them: some men even seek out pornography that depicts actual rapes (through the authentic portrayal of real pain).

So how can this shame be instilled? When I look at hardcore pornography, what I see is a woman being treated as little more than a fleshlight, an accessory to a penis. It goes far beyond objectification and into total dehumanization. I think it would take a great deal of hatred for women to even consider watching pornography that dehumanizes women in that way. If any myth needs to be destroyed, it’s the myth that there are “bad women” who enjoy being abused and treated like a collection of holes. Publicizing the testimony of ex-pornography actresses might be a good step in that direction, although I am not sure how much it would help. Ultimately the problem is one that needs to be addressed in the socialization of our children, but that must necessarily include the mass media, and people have little control over that.

“Agency” obscures the real issues of freedom and power.

I’m sorry I keep harping on the topic of “agency,” as I’m sure few people have any interest in such a theoretical topic, but I think there’s still something left to say about it. I’ve talked enough about how the term is used, but I want to talk about the consequences of using this term.

What is the word “agency” really supporting, when it’s used against women? If “agency” is used to blame the victims of pornography, prostitution, and other forms of exploitation of women, as I’ve written before, then “agency” rhetoric is inherently patriarchal. What it supports is men’s entitlement of women’s bodies. The only connection between “agency” and actual freedom is that the women who have “agency” are free to say “yes” to being exploited by men, but they are not free to say “no.” We know this because the liberals who talk about “agency” attack women who fight against the exploitation of women and who argue for the freedom to say “no.” There are few things entitled men hate to hear more from a woman than “no.”

Human rights are only important for people who go against the status quo, because people who say and do the same things as everyone else don’t need protecting. In a similar way, if there is such a thing as “agency,” it must be in the freedom to say “no.” If there is such a thing as “agency” for women, then it must be in the desire to resist being exploited and objectified by men, in the desire to not be beaten down by a system made for men’s pleasure and entitlement. There is no “agency” in being exploited, in being told what to do with your body, in parroting the same arguments used by men to defend their entitlement.

People try to argue for this point by saying that, because “sex work” is illegal and considered marginal, women who engage in it are rebelling against social conventions. But these people confuse illegality with acceptability. Prostitution is illegal, but the concept that men are entitled to women’s bodies is the norm, is the conventional opinion, despite the illegality of some of the more extreme forms of entitlement. This is because we have two main views: the conservative view, that only one man is entitled to a woman’s body (her husband), and the liberal view, that all men are entitled to a woman’s body. Under the former view, prostitution is unacceptable because the women who prostitute themselves are opening themselves to other men instead of keeping to proper marriage and proper sex, which makes them guilty. To them, that’s too much entitlement. The conservatives, too, believe that men are entitled to women’s bodies, just in a different way (they certainly believe men are entitled to make laws about women’s bodies).

Prostitution, pornography, burlesque, raunch culture, BDSM and other kinks, none of that is revolutionary or goes against conventions because the concept that men are entitled to women’s bodies is not revolutionary and does not go against conventions. The only revolutionary act, the only act that goes against conventions, the only act that is truly rebellious, is to say: fuck anyone who believes that men are entitled to women’s bodies, either through marriage or through “sex work” and fuckability standards. Why don’t they call THAT “agency”? But no, they attack the women who say these things as being against other women’s “agency.”

How can one person’s freedom go against the freedom of another? How can one person’s resistance prevent another person’s resistance? When you formulate it like that, it doesn’t make much sense. If one person’s rights entail the destruction of another person’s rights, then one of these “rights” is not a real right. Likewise, if one person’s freedom goes against another person’s freedom, then there’s a problem of definition: one of these is not real freedom. In my view, the “freedom” to conform to social norms is not a real freedom.

I am not saying here that people should be blamed for conforming. I have nothing at all against people who wish to engage in these things. But we have a problem when that conformity (being in favor of “sex work,” advocating for the objectification of women) is reframed as freedom (being pro-“agency”), and when opponents of conformity (radicals) are portrayed as ultra-conformists (conservatives).

Radical feminists have never denied the agency of women under conditions of oppression. But radical feminists have located women’s agency, women’s making of choices, in resistance to those oppressive institutions, not in women’s assimilation to them. Nowhere in the more “nuanced” feminist liberal literature on choice is women’s resistance to pornography and surrogacy stressed as a sign of women’s agency. What about the agency of women who have testified about their abuse in pornography, risking exposure and ridicule, and often getting it? What about the ex-surrogates who choose to fight for themselves and their children in court, against the far greater economic, legal, and psychological advantages of the sperm donor? If we want to stress women’s agency, let’s look in the right places.

When a child is involved, “no” means force.

On his blog Of Battered Aspect, Dave Hingsburger recounts a story which I think is worth looking at from the perspective of childism.

We were grabbing a bite of lunch at a small cafe, in a mall, right across from a booth that sold jewelry and where ears could be pierced for a fee. A mother approaches with a little girl of six or seven years old. The little girl is clearly stating that she doesn’t want her ears pierced, that’s she’s afraid of how much it will hurt, that she doesn’t like earrings much in the first place. Her protests, her clear ‘no’ is simply not heard. The mother and two other women, who work the booth, begin chatting and trying to engage the little girl in picking out a pair of earrings. She has to wear a particular kind when the piercing is first done but she could pick out a fun pair for later.

“I don’t want my ears pierced.”

“I don’t want any earrings.”

The three adults glance at each other conspiratorially and now the pressure really begins. She will look so nice, all the other girls she knows wear earrings, the pain isn’t bad.

She, the child, sees what’s coming and starts crying. As the adults up the volume so does she, she’s crying and emitting a low wail at the same time. “I DON’T WANT MY EARS PIERCED.”

Her mother leans down and speaks to her, quietly but strongly, the only words we could hear were ‘… embarrassing me.’

We heard, then, two small screams, when the ears were pierced.

Now, I know what the childists will say, this is just a little thing. Getting your ears pierced, all girls have to go through it, it’s not a big deal, and so on and so forth. But if it’s not a big deal, then why even bother coercing the child into doing it? If it’s not a big deal, then why did any of this happen? And I imagine that, as a bystander, I would feel the same way. I would feel like I shouldn’t intervene not only because of parental ownership (“none of your business”), but also because it’s not such a big deal. But that’s indoctrination. The proof that it’s indoctrination is that we wouldn’t feel the same way if an adult was being treated in the same way. But then, an adult would be more able to defend themselves, and would probably not be so dependent on other people’s approval that they would simply give up.

You can say, well, ultimately it did happen so the child must have at least stood still long enough for it to happen. But that’s not consent. The child very, very clearly objected to the procedure. The fact that it was browbeaten into accepting it (if it did accept it) does not mean the act was consensual. It clearly was not. A human being said no to a procedure, was under no obligation or duty to have it done, and it was forced to have it done. This is coercion. This is force. This is an application of power, just like any other application of power in a hierarchy.

Again, I know that there is a tendency to say that children’s values and desires are worthless, and that parents know what’s best. I feel it myself as I write this entry, this feeling that I’m making too big of a deal out of it (and as I do, I keep reminding myself, if it’s not a big deal, why did the mother absolutely need to coerce her own child into it?). But it is a big deal. We repeat over and over that “no means no,” and that this is a basic principle of consent that applies to all of us. But when children are concerned, no does not mean no. No means blackmail, coercion, and control. Like rapists say, “no” means “maybe,” and “maybe” means “yes.” And in any other context, we would call this the credo of a sociopath, a rapist, a monster. But it is the credo of parents, as well.

I am not saying all parents are sociopaths or monsters. I have zero doubt that the mother, in this story, meant well. She wanted her daughter to fit her gender role, as most parents do, because that’s what children must be raised to do (adapt to society’s rules and roles). That is the essence of parenting. Therefore, the mother, from her perspective, did not do anything wrong. Because we are raised to believe that children are not full human beings, we accept, as a normal part of life, that a child’s “no” is meaningless and trivial. We know that when we were children, our “no” was meaningless and trivial, and we know that the same is true for children nowadays. This is nothing anyone ever makes a fuss about.

It is a fundamental principle of all authoritarian systems (of which families are only one extreme example) that consent is always taken, never asked for. War is justified by “future consent.” State oppression is justified by “implicit consent.” Pornography and prostitution are justified by the “consent” of accepting money. Capitalism is justified by the “consent” of contracts. And so on.

What is the blackmail in this situation? We get a hint of it with the “embarassing me” part. The parent’s “reasoning” is something like this: “you are making me look bad, you are embarrassing me in front of other adults (we police each other and evaluate each other’s parenthood based on children’s behavior), therefore you should stop right now before I punish you for doing this. You should act like a ‘good child,’ that is to say, do what I want you to do so you can conform and I can look good for having a ‘good child.'”

I’m not saying she said this at all. For all we know, she may have just said “you’re embarrassing me, stop this tantrum right now,” or something of the sort. But what I’ve said is the reasoning behind it. The punishment and the “good child” role are often kept implicit, because the child has already integrated them in its understanding of its parents’ behavior. If I disobey, I will be punished. “Good children” don’t disobey. “Good children” aren’t sticks in the mud who get in the way of their parents’ fun.

The fundamental premise is that the child must put the parents’ values and desires first, not its own values and desires. This premise is irrational. The only job of a child is to be a child, socialize with other children, and develop in a healthy manner. Parents have nothing to do with any of those things, except insofar as they are ready to support the child in these tasks and otherwise leave it alone. Anything beyond that goes against the child’s rights as a full human being.

While piercing a little girl’s ears is not by far the worse form of the fuckability mandate that is enforced on women, it is still gross and disgusting that a seven year old would be seen by her mother in that way. But this is not the mother’s fault: women do not make the rules. If they did, women wouldn’t have to wear high heels, which deform your feet and spine, makeup, which is impractical and has carcinogen ingredients, or shave their pubic hair, which leads to rashes, infections, and makes STD rates higher.

And piercing one’s ears can cause infections as well, which are wholly unnecessary since a seven year old should not get their ears pierced, and anyone who says otherwise is a fucking lunatic. A seven year old has no social need to look fuckable, unless you’re a pedophile. A seven year old has no social need to look like anything but themselves. What a parent thinks about that is completely irrelevant. If, once fully informed of the risks and the possible reasons why they want to do so, a seven year old wants to get its ears pierced, I wouldn’t object to it. But this is very, very clearly not the case here.

What should the mother have done? She should have apologized to her daughter for going against her desire not to get the procedure done, and both should have left the store politely. That was the only right thing to do. But not many mothers would do that, because it means “losing face”: most parents see parenting as a struggle for control (and they are taught to view it that way, as well), and they hate to lose.

Since most people have no problem coercing their children, what should bystanders do? Well, first of all, there are very few people in our society who would see anything wrong with this situation at all. I read this story in radical circles, which are rather different from the general population. And a radical in this situation would probably doubt themselves like I do. And even if they did speak up, the most that would happen is that mall cops would be called, and then you get into trouble for basically no good reason, because the mother has no reason whatsoever to listen to you. I just don’t see what good intervening would do. What we need is public shaming. And I suppose this story being told is a good beginning, although we don’t know the name of the mother and can’t shame her properly. Even then, the sense of entitlement that parents have is so high that I don’t know if shaming would do that much good.

BDSM is not “edgy.” It’s just society magnified.

BDSM is being sold to us as an “edgy” form of sex, as opposed to the boring “vanilla” forms of sex used by most people. BDSM is said to be outrageous, transgressive, psychologically healing. But at the same time, we are told that BDSM is a perfectly valid, consensual way of exploring sexuality, so it’s not so transgressive that it becomes outright illegal.

But if you look at the theory of BDSM, you find that BDSM is actually not really “edgy” or transgressive. It is really nothing but another reflection of how our societies work. The monogamous family structure is one reflection of society, in that it posits a hierarchical framework where men dominate women and children, centered around property rights (the inviolability of the home).

BDSM is a different kind of reflection. While the monogamous family is a reflection of the conservative elements of society (and conservatives invoke it at any opportunity), BDSM is a reflection of the liberal elements of society. The liberal view of sex is one where women are not owned by one man, but indirectly by all men (through fuckability standards, the double standard, pornography and prostitution), and where ownership is generalized (where men own women’s sexuality, and women own men’s sexuality). BDSM is a codified, rationalized way of doing sex in accordance with these principles.

The main characteristics of BDSM are:

1. The dom/sub dynamic. This is a straightforward reproduction of the domination and submission dynamic that exists in all hierarchies, simply making it clearer than it usually is. While in most hierarchies the realization that one is dominating others, or is submitting to others, is hidden or repressed through various mechanisms of control, in BDSM that realization is the basis of the performance.

2. Hierarchies are structures of directed control (directed from the dominants to the submissives). The dom/sub dynamic is no different. BDSM “scenes” are frameworks for control flowing from doms to subs. Hierarchies enforce their control through violence or the threat of violence. In “scenes,” there is, likewise, violence and threats of violence.

Now, whenever you say this, BDSM advocates pipe up and say “it’s the sub who is really in control.” Right, like we don’t hear that sort of rationalization all the time. The doms are the one inflicting the violence, not the subs: that’s what they’re there for, and that’s why they’re called “dominants,” because they have the power. Now, I am not saying that all sexual violence is necessarily bad, although I definitely think they should be consensual. Which brings me to the next point…

3. BDSM is based on “consensual non-consent.” What does that mean? It means that you consent beforehand, either by verbal negotiations or through a contract, and that you have a safe word to use in order to stop a scene when it goes too far. But this is not consent, only the appearance of consent. Likewise, hierarchies are greatly concerned about maintaining the appearance of consent while not actually enforcing consent.

The best example of this is contracts. In capitalism, contracts are used to extract surplus value from workers in exchange for financial security (and in many jobs, not even that). In BDSM, contracts are used to normalize future sex acts. They are both form of ritual admission of dominance/submission which aim at providing the appearance of consent. But in reality, the worker has no more consented to obeying future orders than the sub has consented to the future sex acts.

BDSM advocates also say that safe words provide a clear way to prevent abuse. However, we know in practice that it does not, because of the high percentages of people who are abused in BDSM. There are many reasons why safe words can fail: because subs cannot form words due to trauma (or as they euphemistically call it, “subspace”), because subs forget their safe words, because subs don’t want to get disapproval from their doms, because doms don’t hear the word correctly, or because they simply ignore it. Superiors in our hierarchies also have all sorts of reasons not to care about the rights or desires of those they give orders to, all sorts of rationalizations explaining why they don’t have to care at all. We want to believe that we’re all safe from abuse, that the laws protect us, but this is just as delusional.

Through these three points, BDSM encapsulates the rules of universal exploitation. In theory, anyone can decide to be a dom or a sub. A sub can have different doms, and a dom can have different subs. They codify their social relations with contracts (like the work contract and the marriage contract). These relations are ostensibly based on “the consent of governed.”

BDSM’s sole function is to reproduce all the hierarchies and inequalities that have existed in our societies for centuries: sexism, racism, childism (through infantilism/DD and lg). There’s also nothing “edgy” about ritualized submission: religion has been doing it for millennia. Likewise, a relationship between two people sealed by mutual control and ritual is nothing new: we “vanilla” people call it “marriage.”

If you’re into race play you’re a racist. You’re getting off on perpetuating harmful, dehumanizing stereotypes that people live with everyday. If you weren’t racist you wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it, let alone enjoy doing it.

If you’re into rape play you condone and normalize rape, and may be a rapist. You are literally getting off on and enjoying the simulated act of raping someone. You’re aroused by their nonconsent (feigned or otherwise). You derive pleasure from forced sexual violation.

If you’re into age play sexually, you are a pedophile. You are achieving sexual gratification from the image of a child. It doesn’t matter that the ‘child’ in question is a consenting adult, the image they are displaying to you is that of a child. If you’re fucking someone who is pretending to be 5 it’s because you’re socially aware enough to know you couldn’t get away with fucking an actual 5 year old and are fucking a substitute instead. That doesn’t make you less of a pedophile.

The only thing that could be said to be “new” about BDSM is the drive to rationalize it as psychologically healing and a form of sexual freedom, claims which have rarely been made about bigotry, religion, or marriage. It is the application of all these old concepts to sexuality that makes BDSM a distinctive ideology: applying bigotry, ritualized submission, and control and ritual, to people’s sex lives. But none of these things are desirable in the first place. We don’t need to keep reproducing bigotry. We don’t need ritualized submission, not to a god, not to a king, not to each other. We don’t need to keep controlling each other. None of this adds up to better sex. None of this adds up to any sort of challenge or even difference from our mainstream, abusive conceptions of sexuality and relationships.

Many BDSM advocates think they have a good argument against us when they say “mainstream heterosexual relationships are abusive too!” But in saying this, they admit that they’re just the same as the mainstream. This is not a revolutionary argument, or even a good argument. It’s just another tu quoque fallacy… terrible logic and even worse life advice.

Some people try to argue that there’s no contradiction between BDSM and feminism. I’ve debunked one such attempt in this entry. I won’t repeat myself here: if you’re interested in my arguments about that, read that entry. I have nothing against people who want to take charge of their sexuality and explore something different. But BDSM is not the way to go. Its explicit, strident anti-egalitarianism, its deliberate lies about “consent,” the fact that it’s aiding and abetting abusers and rapists (both within the community and without), are just disgusting. We don’t need that shit.

A new, exciting play: Agency Man Saves Women.

Theater is having a sort of renewal right now, especially with the influx of Hollywood franchises and talent. However, the indie theater is also doing well. Since this is relevant to my interests on this blog, I wanted to transcribe for you a little bit of a new play that is probably going to be a big hit. It’s called Agency Man Saves Women, and is a really wonderful story about agency, being personified into this superhero-type character, saves women who are in precarious situations. Have a read.

***

(A dilapidated room in the basement of a house. There are naked women posters, sexual paraphernalia, and torture equipment all over the walls. Upstage left, a desk with a computer open to a porn site and various recording equipment. Center, Gloria is lying down on a bare mattress and shackled to a post behind the mattress, struggling. She is still wearing her streetwalking clothes. To the left, there is a camera on a tripod aimed at the mattress.)

GLORIA
Help! Someone help! Anybody! HELP!

(Gloria continues to struggle for a few seconds, then AGENCY MAN appears from right and walks to Gloria, who is surprised.)

AGENCY MAN
Ah, do not fret! AGENCY MAN is here! I will “save” you from this predicament!

GLORIA
AGENCY MAN! Get me out of here!

AGENCY MAN
No.

GLORIA
WHAT?

AGENCY MAN
That’s not what I’m here for at all. Getting you out of here? That’s nonsense.

GLORIA
But you gotta get me out! I’ve been kidnapped by this john, and he’s gonna rape me on film!

AGENCY MAN
Whoa there, let me correct you. What you’re talking about is porn. Women voluntarily participate in porn of their own free will, and I feel that you’re insulting their choices by associating porn with rape. Having sex on camera is not rape.

GLORIA
I don’t give a shit! I didn’t choose to be here!

AGENCY MAN
(Laughing.)
So you’re saying that you don’t have agency? That doesn’t make any sense! You chose to be a sex worker, and you’re going to have sex.

GLORIA
He’s going to rape me!

AGENCY MAN
(Very serious.)
Are you denying the choices of sex workers to be in porn shoots?

GLORIA
NO! I just want you to get me out of here!

AGENCY MAN
That’s not what I’m here for. I’m here to stop you from disempowering yourself. You are a human being with the capacity to choose. You should never forget that. You should celebrate your agency, not scream against it. You are a strong woman, and I hear you roar!

GLORIA
I’M ROARING BECAUSE I WANT TO GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!

AGENCY MAN
I feel like you’re muddling the line between prostitution and sex trafficking. You’re not from another country, so it’s really not a big deal. In this economy, you should thank God you have a job that makes this much money.

GLORIA
I don’t want to be a prostitute, I just need the cash! And I don’t want to be here!

AGENCY MAN
First of all, it’s “sex worker,” not prostitute. Using the correct term is very important. It seems to me that you just don’t care about your fellow sex workers. You’re not one of those SWERFs, are you? Because if you are, forget about me ever reblogging you.

GLORIA
WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN? WHAT THE FUCK IS A SWERF?

AGENCY MAN
It means Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminist. One of those old, hairy, ugly feminists who are against sex workers. You don’t look old, hairy or ugly, so you must not be one. They are all really bitter that they aren’t pretty enough to be successful sex workers, so they turn against them. Typical female jealousy. All they talk about is how sex workers are not safe, saying that “if sex work is a form of work, then why don’t work safety laws apply to it too?”, talking about how women’s choices are influenced by this or that factor, that sort of bullshit. They hate the fact that women can choose to do sex work so they attack their agency… which is silly because we all have agency! And that’s why-

GLORIA
Shut the fuck up and help me! I am a victim of kidnapping! Get me outta here!

AGENCY MAN
HEY! I told you to watch your language.

GLORIA
WHAT?? WHAT DID I SAY?

AGENCY MAN
We don’t say the v-word. That’s a denial of agency. You’re not a v-word, you’re a thriver.

GLORIA
I’M NOT GONNA BE A FUCKING THRIVER IF YOU DON’T HELP ME GET OUT!

AGENCY MAN
(Ignoring what Gloria just said.)
As for the “kidnapping” part, well, obviously kidnapping is not a good thing. But that’s why we need to legalize sex work. Legalization will allow women to make their choices without the threat of getting arrested hanging over them. But you know, from a sex work standpoint, it’s not kidnapping. Your body is a tool of production, so really this is just workplace pilfering, like an office worker stealing a stapler or some pens. It’s not that big of a deal.
(A loud noise comes from off right, both Gloria and Agency Man look in that direction while Agency Man says the next two lines.)
Well, it seems like your performance is about to begin. I’m going to leave now.

GLORIA
WAIT! YOU WERE GOING TO SAVE ME!

AGENCY MAN
That’s right, and I did. I saved you from being disempowered. Now you know that you have the agency needed to do whatever you want to do. If you want to free yourself from this situation, simply negotiate terms with your john. That’s how workplace disputes are resolved. Also, you really need to read more about feminism, real feminism, not the hairy man-hating kind of feminism, which is misandry and just as bad as misogyny. There’s no need to hate anyone in this world. Remember, you have agency, you are empowered. Make the choices YOU want to make. Also, I just want to say, I love women. I’m glad I was able to be a small part of your process. Goodbye!

(Agency Man exits stage left while Gloria struggles vigorously and footsteps can be heard coming from off right.)

***

This reads like a great play. I heard they’re trying to get Lin-Manuel Miranda to play Agency Man. I’m sure it’s gonna be the next Hamilton.

“You’re just trying to turn everyone into victims.”

For more than a century now, there has been a rising awareness of the need for universal human rights: first for the workers of the world, then for women and people of color, then for many other groups. This has led to many different waves of backlash, all tied to the specific movement they are going against.

In this era of continued growing awareness, it seems to some people that there’s no end to the complaints about subgroups being exploited or mistreated, which is why they use the term “political correctness” derisively. They are trying to reduce these movements to demands about words, when the use of words is only a symptom of the greater problems. Calling a black person a “nigger” is not the root of the problem. It is a symptom of the underlying racism that made that person say it. Wanting white people to stop saying “nigger” is an attempt to get white people to see black people in a more respectful light. People who object to such “correctness” only see the word, not the causes of the use of the word, or they are racists and simply don’t care if people use that word.

But there is a more sophisticated strategy that they can take here. Instead of just objecting to the “correctness,” they sometimes say something like, “so you think [oppressed group] is so fragile that they can’t stand hearing the word [slur]? I think you need to start treating [oppressed group] like adults who can stand up to a simple word.” Here is a real life example of a misogynist commenting on the “ban bossy” campaign:

The biggest level of cognitive dissonance is – this is a campaign that is done in solidarity of young women and girls, yet it is making it sound like they are so fragile that they can’t handle being called a word. I mean, really? Are we really making that argument? Cause if we are, then you are tacitly admitting that they shouldn’t be holding positions of power. Reason – because they can’t take criticism.

This is an insidious tactic because it claims to be on the side of the oppressed, that the oppressed are not weak and can take the abuse, so it’s not really abusive. This particular example is even better because it creates a double bind: either women are too weak to be called “bossy,” in which case they don’t deserve power (as if men can take criticism any better), or they are strong enough to be called “bossy,” in which case we should continue to insult them. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Inevitably this tactic is framed in terms of “fragility” or “weakness.” The implication is that if members of an oppressed group are offended by a certain word, then they must be “fragile” or “weak,” and (at least in the case of the example I quoted) therefore unable to withstand serious human interactions. This is, of course, disingenuous and hypocritical: when people in power are offended, they don’t conclude that they are too “fragile” or “weak” to keep holding power. It is therefore purely a matter of self-interest, and the end goal of the maneuver is to shut people up.

I’m talking about tactics based on arguing that the person defending a given group is trying to turn the people of that group into victims. This particular argument is just a specific instance of that category, since it contends that the people trying to abolish slurs are implying that the oppressed people are weak. In general, though, the rationalization used is not that the oppressed people are “weak,” but rather that they have “agency” or “choice,” which is even more insidious because it seems to “empower” oppressed people with the ability to decide their destiny. The argument goes something like this:

1. You claim that a group of people P is oppressed.
2. But such a statement denies that people P have agency and (have chosen the life situation that you decry/need to choose a better life situation and “life themselves by their bootstraps.”)
3. Therefore you are denying people P agency, portraying them as victims when they actually (are/should be) empowered.

There are two branches to this argument, and they switch from one to the other depending on whether they find the oppression desirable or not. So for instance, homemaking, pornography or prostitution get the “they’ve chosen the life situation that you decry” branch, while poverty or police harassment get the “need to choose a better life situation” branch.

One major problem with this argument, however, is that it does not apply to bigotry, which is the foundation of the oppressions they are trying to rationalize. So for example the following argument makes sense to them:

Women in pornography and prostitution have agency and have chosen the life situation that you decry. Therefore you are denying women in pornography and prostitution their agency, portraying them as victims when they actually are empowered.

But once you start trying to address sexism itself, neither branch of the argument makes sense. While genderists do believe that various parts of sexism are empowering (such as the fuckability mandate or rigid gender roles), sexism itself is still not considered “empowering,” and it makes no sense to say that women who are victim of sexism need to choose a better life situation, since they can’t change being a woman (genderist blathering notwithstanding). The “agency” ploy only works on the oppressed’ reactions to bigotry. It doesn’t work on the bigotry itself.

That’s obvious if you understand what “agency” is really all about, and that’s victim-blaming, more specifically, defending evil institutions by claiming the victims’ participation is justified by “agency.” But obviously victims of bigotry do not participate in it, they only participate to their own reactions to the bigotry.

But this is a major flaw of the argument, as it doesn’t actually explain the oppression itself. Homemaking, pornography, prostitution, poverty and police harassment are effects of misogyny and racism, which are the root causes. The latter cannot be addressed without also addressing the former. Therefore any argument which justifies one without justifying the other is logically flawed. If the existence of those effects is justified by “agency,” then misogyny and racism must also be justified by “agency,” otherwise neither can be justified by “agency.”

Is identifying oppression the same as turning people into victims? Well, I think there is a problem with the question, insofar as a belief in “agency” seems to preclude any victimhood whatsoever. How can anyone be a victim if everyone has the “agency” to “choose” their oppression or to leave it? Take a very clear-cut example of oppression: a mother is beaten by her husband but does not want to leave him because of the children. According to the argument, the mother is not being oppressed because she has the “agency” to leave him, so the fact that she’s not leaving is actually “her choice” (they would never say that last part, but it is implied). Things like financial dependence or fear never factor in “agency” explanations (they never count against prostitution or pornography, for example), so we can’t let them factor in here either.

Such arguments reduce victimhood to a matter of subjectivity, whether a person feels “empowered” or not, whether they are said to have “chosen” where they ended up. This is generally not based on any facts or statistics. Every case is treated as a separate entity, and institutions are portrayed as being somewhat fluid, not quite real. Coercion and exploitation is obscured by the stories of the happy homemakers, the happy hookers, the happy actresses. Poverty and lower social status are portrayed as a sort of laziness, reserved for people who don’t work hard enough to get themselves free of it. There is a great deal of vagueness, of ambiguity, projected upon the whole thing, following the principle of inserting a “shadow of a doubt” in order to secure innocence. If some people aren’t victims, then none really are.

I like to think of this as “eracism.” It’s become fashionable to deny the existence of racism, while hiding it behind codewords and dogwhistles. A racist candidate is now a “law and order” candidate. A racist policy against blacks is now targeting “welfare queens” or “urban crime.” One erases racism by turning victims into miscreants. It is a high priority of anyone who supports the status quo to deny that anyone is being victimized by the system, that it’s all fair and just part of the game.

Eracism is necessarily victim-blaming, and I would include the “you’re turning everyone into victims” argument in that category, because it seeks to cloak oppression with “empowerment.” When people treat victims of sexist or racist oppression as “empowered,” they are hiding the victimhood, and they are also hiding their own role in the process as social agents. By projecting blame on the victims, they exculpate themselves. This is a comforting thought, if you don’t care at all for truth or justice.

The catharsis theory used to defend pornography.

There is a fairly common argument for pornography that I haven’t addressed before, simply because it didn’t cross my mind. But it is something that I used to agree with, politically. The catharsis theory is basically the belief that when people are exposed to a representation of violence or sex, they will have a lower desire to perform violent or sexual actions.

There is scientific evidence behind this theory (here is an example of discussion of that evidence). I don’t have any qualms against these studies (except about the founding study of catharsis theory, based on post-WW2 Denmark, which was proven wrong). However, the problem is that pornography advocates draw ridiculously overinflated conclusions from those studies. For instance, the article I linked to is entitled “How the Web Prevents Rape.” And yes, they are talking about Internet pornography here.

And we know factually that this grandiose conclusion is nor true. We know that pornography usage is linked to objectification of women, support for rape, and a greater likelihood of rape and pedophilia. The difference is that the studies that pornography advocates use to make their point are about the immediate consequences of pornography-watching, while the other studies are mostly about the medium and long-term.

I find that their arguments rely on a certain, bizarre model of indoctrination. For lack of a better term, I will call this the no-subconscious model, because its primary feature is the complete absence of the subconscious. According to this model, every message we receive is immediately analyzed by our rational, conscious mind. First, it goes through a filter, which only lets in messages which appeal to the identities that the recipient identifies with. So for example, a man would not internalize the misogyny in a beer ad if he does not identify as a beer drinker. Then, those messages which have not been filtered out are analyzed rationally by the recipient, who decides to accept or reject the message. Finally, action is taken immediately on the basis of that message: either rational acceptance (accepting a message and immediately acting on it), or reject the message altogether.

This model explains the two major areas where liberal feminists reject indoctrination: pornography and transgenderism. They argue that pornography cannot possibly create more rape if studies show that men who watch pornography do not immediately go out and rape. They argue that men do not internalize the messages of pornography because those messages are not rational. They argue that toddlers and young children do not internalize messages addressed to a gender they don’t identify with. These views are completely nonsensical from any even remotely realistic point of view, but they hold a powerful attraction to the people who believe them: I think this is because of their bizarre folk model of indoctrination. But that model was probably adopted in order to fit their beliefs, and not the reverse. By pointing out how ridiculous the model is, we’re really only showing how ridiculous the beliefs in pornography and transgenderism are, because they depend on this model in order to make any sense.

The reality is that internalization of media messages is not mediated by rationality or filtered by identification. Everyone is affected by those messages, no matter who they are or how they identify. One thing that does have some impact on their effect is the recipient’s level of media literacy: a person who has high media literacy is less likely to change their behavior, as long as they maintain an active questioning of the messages they’re being given. But we all internalize the messages we’re given. The transgender activist’s belief in immunity to messages due to identity, or the pornography advocate’s belief that the pornography user can rationally refuse to integrate a desire for violent sex, are fictions, especially since both categories of people have zero interest in advocating for actual media literacy. Neither of them want you to think very deeply about their messages, just to accept them passively.

Internalization is also not an instantaneous event, but a medium and long-term event. The false corollary given to us (as a result of the no-unconscious model) is that if a man watches pornography videos and does not immediately go out there and rape a woman, that means he did not integrate the message. But internalization comes from repetition and reinforcement from the wider society, and that takes some time. It takes time to integrate a belief within our mental framework, as long as it takes to chip a belief out of it.

Pornsick men are pornsick because they have become addicted to pornography for their arousal. And this is the result of watching pornography again and again and again, escalating the violence and objectification of the videos until they have no more connection to actual sex. This process changes a person’s framework about women, about sex, about relationships, and about rape. And yes, it does mean that they are more likely to rape and get off on rape, whether it’s the rape of prostituted women, pornographic rape, or the rape of “good women.”

Transgender children become transgender, not because of some pseudo-scientific “innate gender,” but because of two repetitions. The first is the repetition of gender dogma, which constantly hammers home the fact that their behavior is “wrong” and “unnatural”; the second is the repetition of talking to other children on social media who have assimilated trans dogma, which gives them a simplistic and comforting explanation for their struggles with gender. These are two mutually reinforcing systems of thought which partake of the same logic: the enforcement of gender roles leads gender non-conforming children to feel alienated, which leads them to the company of like-minded children, who tell them that gender must be enforced through surgery and social approval, which leads them to look to gender roles as the blueprint of how they should be. They are both based on the notion that gender is ingrained and must be followed at all costs, including at the cost of your own life. This gives a particular urgency to the victims of the transgender cause.

Finally, internalization mostly takes place at the level of the subconscious. The subconscious makes people uncomfortable because it’s harder to measure (although psychologists use techniques like priming to try to get to it). Liberal feminists are unlikely to take the subconscious seriously because it goes against their fundamental premise of “agency”; other belief systems, like Objectivism, which are based around Reason Triumphant, also reject the subconscious’ importance because of its irrationality. Either way, if the very basis of your worldview is that your life is entirely in your hands and that you can be blamed for every single bad decision you make, then the last thing you’d want to do is believe there is a part of your mind that is outside of your conscious control (although cults like Scientology can use that excuse to punish you whenever they want). The concept of “empowerment” is completely at odds with the reality of internalization.