Sunday, December 30, 2012

A puppy, and maybe-jokes.

I just got back from Christmas with Rowdy's family!  It was happy and cozy and his parents cooked like they were fattening us up to eat us.  And Rowdy gave me a 350-million-year-old fossil trilobite for a present. It was good times. I hope you all had good times in your own ways as well.

Rowdy's sister and her husband stayed with the family as well, and they brought a puppy with them!  An adorable, hyperactive, cuddlywuddly, toe-nipping little puppy!  (They were claiming it was an "Olde English Bulldogge," but it was clearly not.  We're guessing boxer-pitbull mix.  Cute, whatever it was.)  This struck Rowdy a little bit odd, because his sister never liked dogs.

So Rowdy asked his brother-in-law what was up.  He said, laughing, "Your sister said the only way we'd ever have a dog is if I'd already brought one home and she had no choice.  The next day, I brought home the puppy!"


Concerned, Rowdy asked his sister about this, and she said, "Oh, we talked for a long time about getting a dog and we agreed we'd do it around now.  I didn't use to be a dog person, but I love this puppy!"


The brother-in-law had been kidding, but the weird thing is, he was kidding in a way that made him sound like a kinda scary asshole.  He would've come off as a much better person if he'd told the truth.  So why did he make up this story about forcing an unwanted burden on his wife?  And why, on some level, does the fact that he made up the story not really bother me, but strike me as a pretty ordinary bit of humor?

There's this widely told jokey narrative that marriage is a state of passive-aggressive warfare where the wife has to be pressured into allowing fun things and the husband has to be nagged into doing responsible things.  People in relationships, good and bad, joke about getting along like the Lockhorns.  See also: every sitcom ever, every issue of Cosmo ever, every social gathering where "my husband is such a manchild/my wife is such a ball-and-chain" is a joke about as edgy as "airline food tastes bad."

The problem is, it's not a joke for everyone.  It's one of those insidious things that hits some people as "ha ha, yeah, I kid about him being a manchild, but really we talk stuff out," and hits others as "so I see, husbands are supposed to be irresponsible and you're supposed to berate them for it."  Even though Rowdy's brother-in-law wasn't really coercing his wife into a major responsibility she didn't want, he was cheerfully playing into a story created by, and validating for, men who really would.

Credit where credit's due, this is Rowdy's theory: One of the major steps toward creating a consent culture is making consent look different from coercion.  It's making a man who respects his wife's right to participate in decisions sound so different in casual conversation from a man who doesn't, that no one could confuse them.

Because our values aren't that screwed up, really.  If you ask people, point-blank and not-joking, if a man should listen to his wife when making a decision that affects her life, people are going to say yes.  Most people--even most not-at-all-feminist people--are going to say, yeah, of course that's basic respect.

So imagine a world where it was really, really obvious who respected their wife (husband, partner) and who didn't.  If people who respected their partners never told these maybe-jokes, people who didn't wouldn't have that maybe-joke plausible-deniability to hide behind.  They'd either have to tell outright lies (which some would, but it would require them to be consciously aware that they had something to lie about) or their "she didn't want it, but I did it anyway" story wouldn't be jokey, it would be a straight-up confession of evil.

Making the distinction between respectful and abusive relationships blunt wouldn't end abusive relationships.  But it sure as hell would make them a whole lot less popular at parties.

Friday, December 14, 2012

We are the 95%.

TRIGGER WARNING FOR RAPE on all that follows, including all links.

[I wasn't going to write this post today. Believe it or not, I really don't like writing about rape so much. I want to write more about good happy kinky sex. But then all that stuff with the Good Men Project kinda blew up in my face, and this is the post you got.]

There's one big lie that rapists tell.  Most of the other lies are just part of it.  "Consent is complicated and confusing and there are a lot of gray areas."  "She dressed/acted/talked like she wanted it."  "She never said no; how was I supposed to know?"  "She just regrets having sex."  "We were both drunk and the alcohol muddied things."  "He sure seemed like he was enjoying it."  "I guess I just got caught up in the heat of the moment."  "People do this all the time and only paranoid feminists call it rape."

The one big lie at the center of all these little lies is: "If you were in my place, you could have done the same."

I mean, who among us has not been confused in the process of sexual communication?  Who has not thought someone was interested in them and then found out they read the signals wrong?  Who has not had a partner enjoy sex less than they'd hoped?  Who has not felt "swept away" at some point during sex?  Who has not done something stupid while drunk?  Who has not felt that the things their ex said after the breakup were awfully unfair? The rape-apologist narrative taps into some nearly universal experiences.

And then, in that one big lie, pretends that these everyday insecurities and disappointments could lead anyone to rape.  "It could have happened to anyone," say the rapists.  Especially to men.  And to themselves.

Here's the truth, though, from some pretty major studies:
Between 6% and 13% of men have attempted or completed rape.  4-8% of men are serial offenders, and responsible for the vast majority (90-95%) of all rapes.

I realize these numbers are still uncomfortably high, especially if you have twenty male friends.  But they also mean that 94-87% of men are not rapists.  Add in women (who do rape, but at a lower rate), put in some fuzzy math and broad guesses to get a good-enough ballpark, and roughly 95% of people never attempt or commit rape.

So when you hear all the totally plausible ways it could have been you, realize: nope, probably couldn't have been.  Most people don't struggle not to commit rape.  Most people don't have trouble understanding sexual refusal.  The vast majority of people go through drunken blunders and miscommunication and bad breakups without committing or being accused of rape, just as the vast majority of people don't have trouble restraining themselves from torture or murder.

And forget the numbers for a second.  If you, personally, make a commitment to never have sex without unambiguous consent, your odds of being a not-rapist are 100%.  It can't "happen to you" if you decide not to do it.

This is part of why I talk about consent so much.  It's not just to keep well-intentioned guys from accidentally raping.  Most well-intentioned guys don't really have that problem.  It's to help well-intentioned guys (and girls, and everyone else) see how vast the gulf is between them and rapists.

If affirmative, negotiated, freely given consent is the norm, then rapists lose the ability to say "I just didn't know."  They can no longer make anyone think "but regular sex looks practically the same."  If romance doesn't work a damn thing like rape, rapists can't hide behind "I was trying to be romantic."

Clear consent does make sex better, and it does prevent legitimate-yet-horrific misunderstandings. But that's not all of what it's for.  It's also so that rapists can't say--to us or to themselves--"I thought we were just having sex."

Only 5% of people commit it, but everyone lives with the effects of rape.  Because of this small minority of predators, everyone has to live in a world where they will have a sibling, spouse, child, parent, friend who's a survivor of sexual assault.  Everyone has to live in a world where women are told to live in fear of rape.  Everyone has to know a family, social group, school, political party that's been torn apart by bitter hostility between survivors and their supporters and predators and their defenders.

Because a lot more than 5% of people have been suckered in by the rapists' big lie.  A lot more than 5% of people talking about any case of rape in the media or their social circle start saying "sounds like a grey area to me," and "she really did send some mixed signals" and "do we have to be so hard on the guy?"  A lot more than 5% of people treat rapists with sympathy and survivors with skepticism, because they're thinking "shit, in a situation that confusing, it could have been any guy; it could have been me."

But 95% of the time, it couldn't have been.

We are the non-rapists, the people who will never commit rape and who suffer from the actions of those who do.  Imagine what we could get done if we presented a united front, and the rapists had no one but other rapists to defend and enable them.  We are the 95%.  Let's fuckin' act like it.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Everyone else is doing it... right?

Now someone, somewhere, thinks it's
normal to slut-shame a steak.
Rowdy and I watched porn together last night.  Because Rowdy is a gentle soul in ways I am not, I tend to watch hardcore kinky porn and he tends to watch porn of real couples having sweet lovey sex.  We were watching his porn.

The woman in the video had sex the way I do.  When she was on top, she didn't pump her whole body up and down, she just moved her hips rhythmically.  And she didn't stay on top forever going poundpoundpound like a champ; she did it for a few minutes and then switched positions.  I think that's the first time I've seen a woman in porn do that.

The part that blew my mind: the guy in the video was way into that.  And Rowdy was way into that. And it was in porn, which gave it the official stamp of People Think This Is A Sexy Thing.  I was astonished, because I always thought wiggling my hips on top meant I was incompetent at sex.  I thought you were supposed to bounce full-length on a guy until he came, and since my thigh muscles can't do that, I thought I was too weak to do me-on-top sex correctly.  It was amazing to see people accepting a less athletic method as a totally valid, hot way to have sex.  Hell, it was amazing just to find out that I wasn't the only person on Earth who has sex that way.

It was also amazing, although it probably shouldn't have been, to voice these thoughts to Rowdy and have him reply basically "you think there's a wrong way to ride my dick? and you've been doing it less because of this?" *facepalm* (He was more polite than that.)  A few minutes later, we were having delightful sex with considerably better understanding of each other.

The point of this story is not "if you see something in porn then it's good sex."  Oh god no.  The point is that it's easy-- especially in areas as private and emotionally loaded as sex--to have a totally skewed idea of what everyone else is doing, and to try to conform to that skewed idea.  (Not that conformity is a great thing.  But being able to make realistic comparisons to others, then decide whether you want to emulate them or not, is still useful.)

And I'm probably going to make a whole post about this so I won't belabor the point right now, but this is why feminists care about media and memes that normalize rape.  (Or that stigmatize the words "rape" and "rapist," but enthusiastically normalize the act of forcing sex on people, as long as you don't call it that.)  Because it tells people that rape  is normal, that it's a popular and accepted way to express romance and/or dominance, and we can't assume that everyone absorbing this culture knows "of course that's not how it really works."

It's easy to look around your little corner of the world, and the bits of patchy evidence you get from other places, and think that you know how the world is.  It's easy to conclude on the most threadbare evidence that you're hideously abnormal or that the suffering you're enduring or causing is normal.  The ultimate solution to this is to transcend "normal" and replace it with "good."  But the proximate solution is to be conscious and careful of what we normalize.

Being imperfect is normal.  Being miserable is not.  Being a predator is not.  As long as "normal" is a thing that people care about, we need to get this news out.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Cosmocking: January '13!

[Wow, already? Is it just me or is this one really early?  I know Cosmo always runs a couple weeks ahead of the title date, but this seems extra soon.  Maybe they're trying to get their ads out in time for the shopping season.]

Purple cover!  Carly Rae Jepson!  "Call Me Maybe" written next to her head in case you've already forgotten who Carly Rae Jepson is!  "Epic Sex!"  Wow, so that's how long it takes a meme to trickle down from World of Warcraft to Cosmopolitan!
I joined a social bowling team--mostly for the cheap beer and the girls--and this one guy was super-competitive. He'd make fun of the girls, in a mean way, whenever their balls went in the gutter. One day while he was in the bathroom, I replaced his ball with an exact replica that was twice as heavy.  When he came back, all his shots went into the gutter.
Okay, I guess we can add "bowling balls" to the increasingly enormous list of commonplace subjects Cosmo is not good at lying about.  (Hint: Adult sizes range from 10 to 16 pounds.)
[Woman finds out her boyfriend is cheating on her using hookup websites, which for some reason he's paying for.] Luckily, I also happened to see that his credit-card number was saved in his account info on one of those sites. So, to get back at him, I upgraded his monthly membership to the most expensive plan, the Platinum Membership.  Then I dumped him.
•Bowling balls
•Identity theft law
He texted: "Hey, what are you doing?"  He means: If he doesn't follow up with an invite, he's just checking to see if you're available. This is a text guys use to keep you interested without expending time or energy. 
He texted: "Out at a party; I'll see you later."  He means: He has no real intention of seeing you later, and if he does, it'll be on his terms only.
Aaaand suddenly Cosmo is the mean girl in high school trying to break up relationships by telling both partners, "Oh my god, did you hear what Jesse is saying about you behind your back?  I'm only telling you this because I care about you and I think you ought to know..."

For shame, Cosmo.  Even if he dumps me, he'll never ask you to prom.  You're just not his type.
Cerebral dirty talk (say he's "too big to fail" and watch his "NASDAQ" skyrocket)
Oh baby.  Don't you want to diversify that big, aggressive portfolio with my liquid assets?  Tickle my small-caps, and I'll lick your FDIC.  I'll never short-sell you as long as you can handle my back-end load.
Take your love to an epic level [...] upgrade your love.
I can't do justice to it in quotes, but this is a whole article about how the hot new love is "epic love," and you are currently not having epic love and you must have epic love. The whole thing is written like a fashion piece--here's how to style your emotions like the stars, just in time for the holiday season!  (I'm not kidding, they have celebrity photographs modeling appropriately epic love.) You don't want to be the last one on the block still in regular love!

"Honey, we're loving wrong.  It's no good.  We have to love harder.  The magazine said so.  I'd say we need to love... about twenty percent harder."
Q: I am traditional and won't have sex until things are really serious. How do I handle the third (or fourth or fifth) date and let him know that even though I'm really attracted to him, I'm not there yet? 
A: Drop not-so-subtle hints, and avoid situations that'll make him think sex is imminent. [...]  Or just come out and say, "I'm pretty traditional when it comes to waiting to have sex."  Now, it's very likely that initially he'll think he'll be able to turn you into a sex fiend by date three--it's that kind of bravado that allows men to charge into battle during war and approach women in bars during happy hour--which is why you then need to back up your words with action.  Or really, a lack of action.  Cut off make-out sessions at a point when most of your clothes are still on so that things never come to a head, so to speak, and so that it doesn't seem like you're torturing him just for fun.
Okay, this shit is normalizing rape.  Quietly.  It's just gently implying that if you get in too sexy a situation, well, your wishes regarding when to have sex might not get respected.  Because guys have a lot of bravado and all.  Things might come to a head, so to speak.

Yeah, they're kinda just referring to her getting horny and agreeing to sex before she planned to, but... they're also kinda not.  They're telling her to expect guys to try to violate her boundaries, and not even in a "if you date a bad guy and don't spot the warning signs" way--in a "every guy does this, you'll just have to live with it" way.  Like it's just another wacky part of the dating game to keep your date from pushing you into sex.

In a weird way, this upsets me more than when Cosmo publishes generic "don't go outdoors without a male escort" rape-prevention advice.  Because even though that's misogynistic and victim-blamey, at least it admits that what they're preventing is rape.  Here, it's just... you know, sex you didn't plan to have.  And that's normal. Fuck, Cosmo.
Q: On a first date, I'll always do the wallet grab, even though I'd be turned off if he wanted me to pay.  Do guys know it's an act? 
A: Yes... but that doesn't mean you should stop doing it. [...] There is a trick to doing the wallet grab without giving him the wrong idea that you actually want to split the bill.  [...] Let him make the first move for his wallet. When he does, reach for yours, and silently continue going through the motions of paying until he stops you.
Every time people tell me that explicit communication between partners seems like it would be awkward or not spontaneous, I'm linking them to this quote.  I'll show you awkward and non-spontaneous.

Also, just throw in half, cheapskate.  The rule is halfsies on the first date, alternate on subsequent dates, pay proportionate to your incomes in a long-term relationship.  I'm sorry if this impedes your dinner-check-related arousal, but hey, my rule's better because it also works for gay people and people who aren't sexists.
I Fell for a Woman--While I Was Engaged to a Man
To end things on a not-completely-terrible note, hey, Cosmo published an article by a bisexual woman!  So that's progress I guess.  It's all about her cheating on her partner with a partner of the opposite gender, so not amazing progress, but I, mean, they're trying here.