Tuesday, February 12, 2013


A friend posted the above image. A conversation arose which so disturbed me that I know my mind's teeth won't let go of it until I write about it.

I'll begin with full disclosure. Much of what follows arises from bitterness. I'm bitter over not having better defended myself against the misandry that passed for feminism while I was at Cornell twenty years ago, and over not having defended myself against an emotionally abusive woman whose idea of feminism was to hurt me as much as she could, because she could.

But I wouldn't be writing this if it were merely, or even mostly, about my own discomfort. I'm not that small. I'm writing this because I'm terrified that my culture so fears sexual desire that it's warped itself beyond all hope of useful dialectic. And that's exactly what I saw in the conversation that unfolded around this image. My comments are in bold. My friend's comments are italicized.

Oh god, the ambivalence I am feeling.

Ambivilence? (spock eyebrow)

Two voices in my head jockeying for position: 

1. Wow. I'd hit that like a depleted uranium rod dropped from an orbiting tactical satellite. 

2. Wow. What an inspiring and thought-provoking image of empowerment.

Wowzers!!!Not the phrasing I'd use but yeah, she's enticingly audacious in her declaration of her right to be safe in her own skin.

(continued conversation)

... If you detected a hint of criticism in my statement above it's because "I'd hit that" is an objectifying phrasing that was not what I thought you intended to convey.

...Yes, I thought I heard criticism, but it wasn't unwarranted. People who don't know me could well misunderstand my intent in choosing an expression that implies militaristic violence, so at the very least it bore elaboration...

(much more conversation between my friend and some other folks)

May I say though, libertarian theory aside, I'm a little disturbed that I couldn't post this pic without the subject of her desirability, looks, "fuckability" etc... being brought up, even lightheartedly so.

Something wrong with that.

Jay, why do you think there's something wrong with her desirability, looks and fuckability being brought up?

She went out to make a statement about her rights. Seems like discussing how desirable she is kinda missing the point.

On the contrary, it *is* the point. We can't discuss the vital distinction between my desire for her, and my right--or lack thereof--to act upon my desire, without acknowledging the former.

It's a difference between the abstract and the personal.

Agreeing with her by saying, "No matter how naked she is or how men may feel when seeing her, she has a right to be safe and unmolested." Versus us talking about how desirable we find her to be but conceding her point.

It's too much akin to sizing up a rape victim to try to judge if she was really attractive enough to have been assaulted for me to NOT be disquieted about it.

By this point, I knew I was compromised. I was so disturbed by the implications of the conversation that I doubted my ability to continue it usefully. This is my attempt to do so.

Take another look at the image above. Are you shocked? I believe that woman wanted you to be shocked. She had a message to convey, and she knew people would respond viscerally to that message if her naked skin were the medium. She knew some would see her act as needlessly provocative and indecent, and that she would alienate those people. She also knew that some, like me, would see her choices as legitimate.

"Still not asking for it" say the words framing her near-naked breasts. The meaning is clear: "Rape is wrong regardless of how much or how little the victim wears. No matter how much skin I expose, it's still my skin."

Her message derives its power from the tension between a man's desire for her, and her right to control her body. The tension could not exist without both elements, and my response spoke to them. Here it is again.

1. Wow. I'd hit that like a depleted uranium rod dropped from an orbiting tactical satellite. 

2. Wow. What an inspiring and thought-provoking image of empowerment.

Not only is my first sentiment relevant to any conversation about this woman's act, but any such conversation that does not acknowledge this sentiment is worse than useless. I'll explain. But first I need to address some troublesome terminology.

Some folks don't like sentences like "I'd hit that." Well, tough shit.

Adults know that consensual sex ranges along a spectrum of physical roughness; sometimes we're gloriously relaxed afterward, and sometimes we're gloriously sore. When we're sore, we're not sore because anyone was doing anything we didn't want them to do. We're sore because friction exists and because the thing that happens when a pelvis whacks against another pelvis is called an impact, otherwise known as hitting. We all know what "I'd hit that" means. Grow up.

Now, let's talk about the word "objectify".

I am done with the word "objectify".

"Objectify" is a nonsense word. No. That's not true. If only that were true! No, "objectify" is worse than a nonsense word. It's a code word. It means "I don't like what you're saying, and because you're a man, I get to make you shut up now without even considering the merit of your words."

I am not objectifying that woman, because she is already an object. Women are objects. Men are objects. I am an object. Every human on this earth is an object. We each have a corporeal aspect. It's called a body. And my body, like every other body, is programmed with sexual desires. When I see a face like that, and shoulders like those, and breasts like those, and an abdomen like that, and hips like that, I want to fuck the person attached to them.

Do you think there is "something wrong with that"? Do you think I am "missing the point"?

I am missing nothing.

You want to talk about rape? Fine. Let's talk about it. Given the incredible statements by political figures during the months leading up to the presidential election, there's probably never been a better time to talk about it. And by "talk", I don't mean "spout feel-good talking points". I mean "dialectic". Dialectic is never comfortable, and dialectic about rape is bound to be damned uncomfortable. Let's accept that discomfort. Let's be adults.

People wouldn't be sharing the image above if the woman were less physically attractive. The conveyance of her message depends upon her desirability. Her fuckability is not beside the point. Her fuckability is the point.

I am in a twelve-year monogamous relationship with a woman I love more than ever, so I wouldn't fuck the woman in the picture, despite my desire. And even if I weren't spoken for, and even if I somehow found myself alone with with this woman, I wouldn't fuck her unless we each wanted it.

You may understand why I wouldn't fuck her. You may believe, as I do, that my reaction to her state of undress is my problem. You may understand that my desire does not give me sanction over her, regardless of what she's wearing. But statistics tell us that a terrifying percentage of men don't understand that. That's worth talking about. So let's talk about it!

This woman has a right not to be raped. To put it another way, no man has a right to rape her, regardless of how much skin she shows. And if our conversation is limited to congratulatory platitudes about her being comfortable in her own skin, we're missing half of the equation. We have to talk about the reasons why she's bloody well not comfortable in the first place. If we don't, the conversation ends there, in solipsism.

I want to fuck this woman, and I'm not saying a damned thing that the vast majority of adults have not thought. At some point in your life you've almost certainly seen a scantily-clad human and felt a similar desire. Maybe you didn't use those words, but the feeling was commensurable. There is nothing shameful about that feeling.

I want to fuck her. I have no right to fuck her. There is a world of dialectic between those statements, and it's a world we'd damned well better be comfortable in. Because that world is the only natural habitat of a distinction that we absolutely cannot live without. It's the distinction between a man's desires and his rights, and a lot of people seem unable to see it. So we'd better make like David Attenborough and get down on our bellies in the foliage and examine that little son of a bitch.

The men who say "She was asking for it" don't see the distinction between their desires and their rights, or they don't want to see it. We need to show young men that distinction. We need to teach them that our desires are not shameful. Only then can we teach them how wrong it can be to act on our desires.

I want to fuck her; I have no right to fuck her. I own my desire; I do not own her skin. We cannot talk usefully about the latter if we shy away from the former.

No comments: