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Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

b/c it was too long for a Facebook comment...

Me, demonizing.
A friend asked me what I thought of this article: The Danger in Demonizing Men's Sexuality over at The Good Men Project, a web site devoted to articles on masculinity and reframing what it means to be a good man. 

The article wouldn't load on my phone, so I responded quickly: "I'll read it when i get home and give you my thoughts. In general, the good men project makes me uneasy, but it's not written for me."

My primary response remains the same after reading the article, but since my friend asked, I began to write a response. After some time it became obvious that my response was too long for Facebook. So here we are.

So, I have a number of criticisms of this article. Some of it is small change. For instance, I don't use the term "douchebag" or "douche" as an insult. It's a bit misogynist to associate bad behavior with a product women use to clean themselves. I have actually spent way too much time arguing with other feminists about the use of this term. But essentially what you are saying when you use this term is that vaginas are unclean. Which, for the most part, they are not.

Second, the use of Dan Savage as an illustration is problematic. Royse suggests he can, by the nature
of his queerness, write about sexuality without getting called a douchebag. Dan Savage has an enormous following AND an almost equally ginormous panel of critics (both straight and queer, trans and cis). 

Next, the assumption that gay men don't desire women and are therefore safe to be around is problematic in three ways (at least). 1) Most gay men I know don't appreciate being used as the safe guy. This idea that straight women can act sexually toward a gay man and he'll just smile is really distasteful. Gay men shouldn't have to ask straight women to knock it off--nobody likes it when someone they don't desire gets in their space anyway. 2) It's just not true. Rape isn't about sex (at least not solely). Rape is a lot about power and rage. A person's sexual preference in adult, consensual relationships is no guarantee that they are not also a sexual predator who crosses sexuality lines. 3) There are plenty of men who identify as gay whose sexuality is a lot more nuanced and complicated than the term indicates. Beyond bisexuality, there is also pansexuality, queerness, asexuality, etc etc etc. It is often convenient to claim a more rigid label--if I'm in a long-term relationship with a cis-woman, do I expend a lot of effort explaining pansexuality to the people who assume I am a lesbian?

As to her main point, that "demonizing" men's sexuality is not helpful in terms of long-term societal change, I'll concede that. I think I would quibble with Royse over what constitutes demonizing. It's not inaccurate to point out that men in general are seen to do the pursuing and women the rejecting. But the reality on the ground is somewhat more complicated than that. 

This article falls in the category of "not all men are like that." (for #NotAllMen, see @sassycrass. And while you're at it, buy her book) And of course that's true. Some of my best friends are men (heh. it's trite but true). But it is not demonizing to point out that certain behaviors, often perpetrated by men, are harmful to women. In the world we live in, teaching women to protect themselves is not demonizing. 

I'd agree with Royse that women need to figure out how to say yes to sex when they want it, and that we need to do a better job of teaching both men and women about sexual pleasure. I wrote a blog post about that a while back called Yes, No, Maybe So. I still go back to that blog post when I'm thinking through how to talk with youth about sex. I still think a good ethical starting point about whether to engage in sexual activity is to ask oneself, "Does this feel good?"

About halfway through the article, Royse writes: 
I could go on and on, but that point is that popular culture sets up this idea that men are sexual predators who need to resort to trickery and cologne to fulfill their one and only mission, which is sticking their penis in a girl. It’s sad. It’s insulting. And it’s damaging.
I'm not certain whether the chicken or the egg came first here: Do men (a generalization) behave like predators because popular culture depicts them that way? Or are men depicted as predators because they behave that way (a generalization)? I suspect it's more organic and intertwined than that. If you're looking for a really good theoretical book on this, I recommend Pierre Bourdieu's Masculine Domination. My simplistic summary for you is this: Men function as predators, leading to the popular depiction of men as predators, leading to more predatory behavior, leading to more popular depictions of predatory masculinity, and on and on in a circle that has no beginning or end, until it simply seems natural that men behave this way. It almost becomes inscribed in our biology (Bourdieu would say it does), or at least this circular logic taints our ability to perceive biology to the point where it is nearly impossible to step out of this way of functioning and perceiving.

(And let me say here that if you are going to argue Bourdieu with me you must 1) read the book in it's entirety, and 2) bring me wine for the discussion.)

So back to Royse: It is indeed sad to say that men's sexual behavior is predatory. But if it is true that men's sexual behavior in general is predatory, then it is not insulting to speak truth. And if it is true, then it is far more damaging not to speak that truth.

But I do want to differentiate between men's sexual desire and men's sexual behavior, which I think we often fail to do. Desires are not inherently bad or demonic. When they are acted out, the resulting behaviors can be bad or demonic. I do not cause damage by desiring a woman. If I ignore her refusal and continued to express or act on that desire then I am behaving badly.

Next Royse calls up the spector of Stubenville and posits that the vast majority of men and boys would not act in such a manner. The definition of sexual assault and harassment is much broader than Stubenville--one need not be of the caliber of Stubenville to perpetuate predatory sexual behavior. But if you press me for my phone number and I don't want to give it, and you block the door til I give you something, anything to get you out of my way, then yeah, that's predatory behavior. Feel free to look up the statistics for the percentage of men who self-report predatory behavior. I don't think I can look at those numbers anymore--they are not insubstantial.

In other words, Stubenville is a bit of a straw man.

Royse's advice for how to be a good guy is fairly standard.

But it's this last line that confirms my uneasiness with The Good Men Project:
"I am sorry that generations of lazy storytelling and bad media have perpetuated the myths of men as predators and women as victims."
A myth? Seriously? Sexual assault is about as common place as wearing a hat. Most assaults are perpetrated by men against women. Sexual assault isn't a myth.

Jesus take the wheel. 

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