Feminazis Insist Sex Be Consensual, Frighten Boyz

October 17, 2014, 10:57 am

schonberg-fish-nakedA friend of mine observed recently that the heightened attention to campus rape has a familiar pattern: when it’s time to take action, suddenly women drop out of the conversation.  How do men feel? How will men be newly victimized by women? Will California’s new “Yes Means Yes” policy for its public higher ed system make men frightened to initiate sexual relations for fear they will be driven from campus by feminazis on the march?

I read these things and think: imagine what heterosexual life — or any other aspect of higher education — might be like if feminists really were in charge! Wouldn’t it be cool to find out, even for a day?

But no. Conservative pundits predict that putting women in charge of anything, except for child-rearing, only brings out the worst in the menz. As conservative journalist Ross Douthat puts it in a blog post about “Yes Means Yes,” or what are now called “affirmative consent” policies (New York Times, October 16 2014):

 rather than being a spur to some sort of reborn chivalry or new-model code of male decency, it will mostly encourage the kind of toxic persecution fantasies that already circulate in the more misogynistic reaches of male culture. See, the feminazis really are out to get us, the argument will go, and in bro lore the stories of men railroaded off campus won’t be seen as cautionary tales; they’ll be seen as war stories, martyrologies (in which even actual, clear-as-day predators are given the benefit of the doubt), the latest battle in the endless struggle between the Animal House gang and Dean Wormer … reincarnated now, in our more egalitarian feminist era, as a castrating Nurse Ratched.

The new standard of consent, in this scenario, will be neither reasonable enough to be embraced as a model nor consistently punitive enough to scare men away from drunken wooing. Instead, it will be have a randomness, an arbitrariness, and an occasional absurdity that will encourage a mix of resentment and resistance. And as such, it will lock in an aspect of contemporary sexual culture that social conservatives probably don’t talk enough about:The kind of toxic misogyny that feminists rightly call out and critique, but that also exists in a kind of twisted symbiosis with certain aspects of feminist ideology – answering overzealous political correctness with reactionary transgressiveness, bureaucratic pieties with deliberate blasphemy, ideologies of gender with performative machismo.

A “twisted symbiosis”: ah yes. Vagina dentata — yep, I know you. We do want to end sexual assault, but not unless it upsets the bros even more than they are upset now. Once again, it is not what men do, but what women say — with their bodies, their clothes, their lying vocal cords — that is the focus of conversations about rape. The fact that universities and their lawyers, in a perpetual panic about being sued by the menz, have brought us to a point where we need to modify the word “consent” with the almost perfect synonym “affirmative” is not something that gets discussed much by conservatives, is it? Which is odd, because in my experience conservatives have an enormous zeal for grammar and word use.

But why would conservatives pause on that, since their main concerns about  ”Yes Means Yes” are:

  • Teenaged johnsons will remain in a state of chronic shrivel before the specter of feminist revenge, regardless of how noble and well controlled the bodies attached to them are;
  • College men will be in a state of permanent, pre-emptive rage because said johnsons must be checked at the door, resulting in intensified efforts to subjugate women (in other words, there will be even more rapists);
  • Weeping bros, who wanted nothing more than they thought they were being offered by the sexual revolution and the callous, indecisive sexpot women transformed by it, will be escorted off campus in chains. In droves.

If there is anything that conservatives resent more than feminism it is the many changes in the sex/gender order that they associate with the sexual revolution. As a group, they seem not to get it that radical feminism was, in part, a reaction to the misogyny of the sexual revolution as it existed in New Left movements (the link is to Robin Morgan’s 1970 essay “Goodbye to All That,” one of many essays that pointed this out.)

Here’s the thing: feminists didn’t invent sex, nor did we make the rules. Nor is sex itself the thing that is at issue. It is violence that feminists are concerned about, and the use of sex as a way to dominate and punish. And, as Tufts College journalist Miranda Willson points out in a kick-a$$ opinion piece, if feminists are making the menz uncomfortable, isn’t that too. Damn. Bad.

Cultural conservatives who center sex itself as “the problem” are constantly seeking a road back to a pre-sexual revolution world where, because sex before marriage was a shameful act, it didn’t happen, and rape was an easily recognizable act of deviance. No sex problem, no rape problem, right? Except that sex-free world never existed. As Alfred Kinsey reported in 1948, broken out by socioeconomic level, between 67% and 98% of men had sexual intercourse prior to marriage, and only about 10% of them paid for it. Among women, premarital sex was still a robust 50% (can we say “underreporting”? Because otherwise the disparity makes little sense.) The sexual revolution had many merits: one of them was permitting both men and women to be more honest about the sex they were already having. Another was a political movement that allowed men and women to legally control the birth of children that might be conceived through these liaisons without putting women’s health at risk. Arguably a third merit was the idea that children deserved some integrity as wanted and desirable people on their own, rather than being responsible for putting their mothers, and sometimes their fathers, in the penalty box.

But as numerous historical studies show, contra Douthat and the conservatives he quotes, the sexual revolution did not elevate rape from an occasional thing to an endemic problem. Nor is a “Yes Means Yes” policy going to make things even worse for women and men stumbling their beery way across a campus with no moral signposts or aid stations.

In fact, conservative responses to “Yes Means Yes” are not about the safety of women or men on campus: they are about championing public morality as the answer to all social problems. Nothing if not consistent, Douthat and his fellow travelers believe that all top-down policies (except those issued by churches, whose concerns are primarily moral) hurt the people they are designed to help. Policymaking always creates a lot of collateral damage, in their view, which can be fully anticipated. Think of some other conservative truisms that are unsupported by research or historical fact: welfare causes poverty; federal loans make college tuition more expensive; economic regulation raises prices; a higher minimum wage will cause unemployment.

None of these principles are true, except in the Ayn Randean dreamscape these folks live in, but it doesn’t stop them from making the wrong argument every time. Under the “pink police state” as one of Douthat’s colleagues calls the “Yes Means Yes” campus, even more men will be suspended and expelled for sex crimes than are now. This would not be hard, of course. If you look at reports from campuses that have student populations into five figures, expulsions and suspensions are in the single digits, even though the Department of Justice estimates that as many as one-fifth of students, well over 90% women, are sexually assaulted while at college.

In other words, conservatives don’t like “Yes Means Yes” because, by in large, women own the yes, not because it represents a clear and present danger for the civil rights of men in any provable way.

That doesn’t mean that I think “Yes Means Yes” is actually going to change the state of play for campus rape. Differently from the Douthat gang, I think women are going to see enhanced rape penalties, in the absence of more professional rape investigations, as a barrier to reporting, fearing that draconian penalties will trigger enhanced harassment and social stigma of the woman who reports.

Here you will see that my argument bears some similarity to Douthat’s argument, with one key difference. Douthat sees men becoming preemptively enraged at women, but he seems unaware that this rage already exists and is quickly activated in the event of a rape being reported. My central concern is stopping what already happens under the old policies: male rage against women who do not consent to sex on demand, and the subsequent harassment that is already aimed at women who report. In locker rooms and frat houses, the bros are already mobilized and have strategies for expressing their rage at women. After their first semester on campus, everyone knows — men and women —  how a woman’s life turns into a living hell should she report that she has been raped.

That is what we are dealing with, in addition to the rapes: a social aftermath that does its own violence, even as university administrators deliver false reassurances  to those who have been raped that campus disciplinary procedures will heal them. This impossible promise, and everything that leads up to that moment, is not an effect of the sexual revolution. It is an effect of a calculated decision on the part of universities that the parents of expelled and suspended men are more likely to sue than the parents of students who have been raped. Furthermore, in my experience, on campuses where feminist academic programs no longer do grassroots organizing as they did in the 1970s, female students still often wrongly blame themselves for putting themselves in a position to have been raped by a fellow student or a professor. They parse their memories endlessly to try to figure out whether they actually did say yes to being raped in some way: whether they sent the wrong signals, or whether the rapist just misunderstood them. It is so much easier to imagine that it was all a mistake than it is to grapple with how cruel people can be.

You would think that a clearly articulated “yes” would solve the problem, but it won’t: after all, the words “no,” “don’t” and “stop,” which seem pretty clear to me, have not. Worst case scenario is that the beatings, chokings, drugging and forceful restraint that often accompany a rape will be intensified until the required “yes” is said, in front of witnesses, some of whom will be taping the “yes” for “evidence.” Yes can be misunderstood, deliberately misheard, compelled — or lied about.

Just like no.

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