Saturday, 8 November 2014

Rape Culture: Affirmative Consent, Hookup Culture, And The Madonna/Whore Dichotomy

I have already dealt with the most obvious aspects of rape culture; stereotypes, patriarchal hypocrisy, cultural expectations, and the sexual imperative double standard. Today I'm going to discuss how efforts to tackle it are guaranteed to fail until they fully address our attitudes to sexuality and social standards. And I'm not going to pull my punches.

As I have said many times before I'm basically conservative. I firmly believe in and adhere to Judeo-Christian values, and by "believe in and adhere to" I mean "put them into practice in my own life." As a woman, I'm often at odds with current conservative thought because it treats me as a second-class citizen whose gender has retarded her mental facilities. That, and the fact that conservatives aren't doing much to tackle rape culture (what, are they going to deny women justice because they weren't packing heat?!) means that we have to rely on the left/liberals for help — which causes problems of its own because left/liberalism tends towards authoritarianism and ideological blindness stops them seeing things as they really are. Let's have a look at the pillars holding rape culture up and how to knock them down.


What's wrong with this picture? This person seems to think that slut-shaming ALONE underpins rape culture and that rapists rape slutty women. This is not true. As I've already pointed out, they don't give a damn what you're wearing. You could be covered head-to-toe in a burqa, wearing a long skirt or trousers, or even be (gasp!) male, but none of that will save you. Rapists gonna rape and they go after people who seem to be vulnerable, whatever they do to make themselves less attractive. You really want to make yourself less vulnerable, but rapists are opportunists. Even if you live in a concrete bunker, hire a troop of heavily-armed heavies to guard you day and night, and drive a tank to work, the shops, and everything else, they'll get you when you're going to the flippin' toilet... and they'll still find an excuse for attacking you, believe me.

The stereotype of the hooded stranger who leaps out from behind the bushes or breaks into your home in the dead of night persists even though the majority of rapes are perpetrated by people known to the victim.

Don't get me started on "real rape." While conservative women, who should know better, vehemently decry the expansion of the definition of rape as somehow devaluing the sufferers of what they consider to be real rape, they're downplaying and downgrading those who suffer abuse in other ways. The trouble with this approach is that there's no saying how far the man who pinched your bum is going to go when he finds you in the stationery room by yourself until your ordeal is over.

Takeaway: rape is not about what you're wearing, or even about sex. It's about power and ownership of the psychological and social narrative. That's why all sexual assaults should be treated seriously. Abuse is abuse and it's always wrong.

Patriarchal hypocrisy

Our patriarchal society has a lot to answer for. As I've pointed out before, it downgrades women to sexual objects for the gratification of men. The Madonna/Whore dichotomy, as illustrated in this image, portrays women as being in one of two groups: the Madonnna, who drives the Humdrum-vee and takes responsibility for pleasing her husband and raising their family. She dresses modestly and keeps her head down. Meanwhile, the carefree Whore drives the Fun-vee and makes her lovers pay for the petrol. Responsibility is an alien concept to her. She wants men to please her in the name of equality, dresses in tight, revealing clothes, and is generally vulgar and loud.

The hypocrisy kicks in when the Madonna is portrayed as being jealous of the Whore's fun-loving lifestyle and secretly wanting to enjoy it. At this point, you done been ho-zoned, hun. Let's talk about the OTHER elephant in the room, shall we?

One of the reasons conservatives can't let go of slut-shaming as a response to rape is that they see sexual gratification as a man's perogative and satisfying that as a woman's sacred duty. The Madonna is bound to a life of monogamous subservience, looking the other way when her husband strays. Women aren't supposed to express themselves sexually except as a man's detachable appendage. To this end, they created the Whore to provide the pleasure denied them by quiet domesticity. And when they find they want a woman who doesn't fit naturally into the Whore stereotype, they ho-zone her, pretending that while she might have all the outward trappings of modesty, inwardly she's a sexually voracious tigress, or something. So at the police station and after the event, a victim of rape may find herself being asked what she did to entice her attacker and thereby provoke the rape, and even whether or not she merely regretted an brief encounter because she's not covered in bruises or whatever.

Takeaway: The Madonna/Whore dichotomy plays into rape culture, creating more victims by shaming them into compliance — and silence.

The socio-sexual imperative

As I pointed out before, virgin-shaming is a thing that has always been around for men but more recently it has become a problem for women. The pressures of the hookup culture can't be overstated, either. The point is, the messy results of living in a cultural landscape where people are expected to have sex or be treated like freaks has meant that a solution to multiple sex scandals has had to be found. Since the Right dropped the ball, only the Left/Liberals would make an effort, and like every policy based on ideologies rooted in best-case scenarios, the result is an unwieldy authoritarian ocean of epic failure. People simply don't behave like that.

The trouble is the OTHER OTHER elephant in the room, shall we? The ho-zone is a thing, whether we like it or not, and as the correspondent reported to Friedersdorf in The Atlantic, women still fear being labeled sluts even as they frantically try to avoid being prudish virgins, too.

One night I ended up back in a girl’s room after a first date (those do happen in college). She had invited me in and was clearly attracted to me. We were kissing on her bed, outer layers of clothing removed, but when my hands wandered downward she said, “No, wait.” I waited. She began kissing me again, passionately, so again I moved to remove her underwear. “Stop,” she said, “this is too fast.” I stopped.
“That’s fine,” I said. I kissed her again and left soon after, looking forward to seeing her again.
But my text messages received only cold, vaguely angry replies, and then silence. I was rather confused. Only many weeks later did I find out the truth from one of her close friends: “She really wanted you, but you didn’t make it happen. She was pretty upset that you didn’t really want her.”
“Why didn’t she just say so then, why did she say we were moving too fast?”
“Of course she said that, you dumbass. She didn’t want you to think she was a slut.”
Talk about confusing. Apparently in this case even no didn’t mean no. It wasn’t the last time I've come across “token resistance” that is intended to be overcome either. But that’s a line that I am still uncomfortable with testing, for obvious reasons. - Why One Male College Student Abandoned Affirmative Consent - The Atlantic

Token resistance is the result of trying to please both the slut-shamers and the virgin-shamers. It's also a product of hookup culture and it's not fair on either partner. These Kafka-esque scenarios only result in frustration and make rape claims even harder to prove. When granting consent is flippin' hard to prove, how in the world do you prove withheld consent?

The struggle to avoid being ho-zoned is fraught enough for women but in the hookup culture how do you avoid becoming a mere one-night stand?

One freshman woman explained the complicated dynamic by telling me about another freshman-orientation workshop, this one on intimacy. She was startled to hear several men say that they found holding hands more intimate than getting a hand job. The male students I talked with pointed out that holding hands, especially in public, is something you do when you are in a relationship, while a hand job could happen during a hookup. In theory, when it comes to sex, it might make sense to talk about what the other person wants as it’s happening. But to do so, you might have to be a little bit tender, a little bit vulnerable. It’s hard to have that sort of conversation if there’s no intimacy. - Hooking Up at an Affirmative-Consent Campus? It’s Complicated - New York Times

While the underlying purpose of Affirmative Consent is noble and good, the way it's being rolled out as a law will surely create more problems than it solves, mostly because of the grey areas created by hookup culture and the Madonna/Whore dichotomy.

Takeaway: Affirmative Consent does nothing to address the social pressures to have sex whether you actually want it or not; it just turns bedrooms into potential crime scenes.

So what can we do?

I could finish this post with the above tweet but the truth is I haven't fully got to the bottom of how we women often connive at our own objectification, usually in the name of empowerment, though Heaven knows I tried. The fact is that, by giving sex unwarranted prominence, we've dug a great big slimy pit for ourselves and the only people actively trying to solve the problem of rape culture have proposed giving everybody shovels as the answer.

Slut- and virgin-shaming is the result of the Madonna/Whore dichotomy, and if you really, truly want to end rape culture we are going to have to stop relating to ourselves and each other in terms of whether or not we're walking in the well-manicured gardens of the Madonna, or lounging in the living room in the penthouse of the Whore.

Treating all women as people whose value extends beyond their bodies would make it harder to conceive of abusing them in the first place AND harder to excuse those who abuse them. However, making that happen is going to be hard in a world where some people find it easier to have sex with a stranger than to talk to her. Where women are obliged to make themselves attractive and available, to seek sexual pleasure as proof of their personal freedom while avoiding the ho-zone, and to negotiate this Kafka-esque maze without falling foul of the rules. Where women who do obey the rules get beaten, raped, and blamed for it anyway because they didn't do enough to prevent the attack and they must have done SOMETHING to attract their rapists' attention.

Finally, we've got to take all kinds of abuse seriously and deal with it appropriately. An authoritarian top-down approach is the wrong way to go. We need to be talking to each other and discussing the attitudes that underpin rape culture if we're going to undo it. We need to let go of stereotypes and the concept of "real rape." And for the love of God, we need to stop getting in the way of reasoned debate by repeating ideological diatribes against imaginary boogeymen instead of actively working towards a solution. Can we do it now, please?

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