Because We Want What We Want?

Today I’ve seen a number of people posting this article on Jezebel about rape and the reasons why people do it. It was originally a long thread on Reddit and you can link to that through the Jezebel piece.

I read the Jezebel take on it and I did indeed read through much of the commentary on Reddit, though it was hard to do and this is my initial reaction to it (aside from nausea and sadness).

There are a lot of people in the world who have a limited level of compassion and empathy. Like, probably more than we think. This could be because they have not been taught it, exposed to it, shown how to think about other’s feelings. And these people, men and women both, perhaps don’t feel a lot of remorse or guilt when they take things they want. These are the people who wouldn’t feel bad about falsely accusing a man or raping a woman, either direction. Or stealing, perhaps. Or cheating on a test. Or infringing on other’s boundaries in any other way.

Some are careless about it. Like…I’m hungry so I’m gonna get food, food is there for me to eat and to hell with people who try to make me feel bad about eating it. Only maybe they think about their sex drives like that too.

And I honestly don’t think they’d think of themselves as rapists. They might be influenced by cultural stuff (if she’s acting horny, she is horny, or…all women want it…or all men want it so what I did can’t be rape…or what have you). They might find themselves in situational positions involving a lot of miscommunication, lack of education on limits and compassion, youthful hormones and alcohol. Or they might just feel entitled once they are turned on.

Some of them are sociopathic about it and simply don’t care that it’s a breach. I’d say the “power” rapists fall into that category, where the power play is as important, if not more, than the act.

I think that if one is talking about what makes a person a good person and we look to things like empathy, altruism, patience, stalwartness, boundaries, compassion, ability to reflect on actions, delaying gratification, courage and so forth, then rape and sexual assault (or sexual carelessness, sexual boundary ignorance) does not a good person make. And what’s odd though is that people can live a number of ways in the same body. Perhaps that person is good to animals but not to people, who knows. I’m more concerned with where this desire to breach the boundaries comes from.

I’ve written a bit about rape at The Good Men Project, and I’ve appreciated posts there from men on rape and assault, both from the perspective of men who are against sexual assault, but also those who bring up that men can be victims. What I’ve noticed though is when we as women write about it, no matter how measured or how many caveats we’d put in their about women and how they can assault (and there were comments in the Reddit thread from women wondering if they’d raped someone), it turns into that we are saying that male sexuality is toxic.

And then the question becomes…is it? Is the sexuality described by the men on Reddit toxic. Is it toxic because it’s male? Or is it toxic for other reasons.

I do not think that male sexuality is inherently toxic. Nor do I think female sexuality is either. I think that our sexuality takes on components and flavors (good and bad) of the cultures we are brought up in, components WE MAY NOT EVEN BE AWARE OF like water we swim in unaware that over time the composition of the water is changing and thus changing ups. I’m seeing in that thread are examples of how our culture is layering toxicity on sexuality all the way round.

I would argue it’s toxic reasons-including but not limited to-a culture that creates virgin/whore and knight/beast binaries, a culture that places an emphasis on consumption and commodification and that all needs/wants need to be packaged and bought easily and satisfied quickly, lack of sex ed in general, cultural shame surrounding sexuality and a strange love of violence in general, a repression of “health = pleasure” and vice versa.

I’d say women and the current paradigm of survivor and victim have a role in this shadow world as well, not that they are asking to be raped, not at all, but that we’ve been placed willingly or not in the role of victim and policeman of male sexuality, and that if rape happens it’s immediately viewed as the worst trauma (which yes it often is) rather than something else as well.

And Live Through This, an essay by Charlotte Shane has much to say about the paradigm in which rape is the worst thing that can happen to a person. I’m not even going to begin to deconstruct her words, they are still simmering, but I do think our current cultural relationship to sexuality and to gender + that article’s provocation = so very very much to think about for men and women both about sex, sex as communication and language, sex as symbol and gateway, sex as everyday activity vs sex as holy act vs either or.

This is, as I mentioned, provocative. And incendiary. And I’m not at all advocating for people assaulted to blithely laugh it off. I’m aware that fundamentally how we view sex and assault (for men, for women, for all) affects how we react to such a boundary being violated for a violation is what it is. But I find her essay to be worth looking at.

And there are toxic cycles at work here. How many of these people commenting at Reddit were taught love and compassion and empathy vs taking what is wanted (and how many had things taken from them). I don’t know that we can overestimate emotional abuse or physical abuse. Richard Davidson, a neurobiologist focused on contemplative practices and their impact on the brain, noted in his recent turn on On Being that much like language development, compassion development has to occur early on in human primates.

Children raised without language are hindered throughout their lives. So too are children raised without the skills needed to experience empathy, and regard for others.

In the end though, this business we are talking about here, the end result? It’s about justifying one’s desires (whatever they are) and placing them in a higher place than the partner’s “No.”

Thus this (NSFW) comment in the Reddit thread from a woman, “‘Fuck, this is good. Heh, he’s playing with me, he likes being dominated. So hot’. At that moment in time, I felt fucking great. I ignore him, outright. That’s all… It’s not that I didn’t hear that no. There, in the heat of the moment, I just assumed he was into it. At that moment in time, I really believed my own justifications. I told myself he was enjoying it, really. Screw his ‘no’.”

Screw his no. Or her no. Or the rules. Or the boundaries. Because this feeling is huge and it’s intense and it feels so powerful that I can’t fight it, or don’t want to fight it.

And who wants to believe they might have ignored the no? Who wants to believe they very well might have breached that boundary and raped someone?

Or that they were raped and no one believed them. And I figure that’s part of the pathology and it’s mirrored in the world in what we call rape culture (and it’s not really so much a rape culture as it is a culture that glorifies getting what we want no matter what).

And this is why I figure every culture places so much pressure on sexual rules. Because the feelings of desire and lust (in women too) are so big that it takes an extreme amount of Super Ego (or whatever one wants to call it) to stop the Id. But do those rules only create problematic conditions as well? Because problems are still happening.

The comments on that thread are rough stuff. I think back to my life, watching my kids try to get out of doing more dishes than the other one, or get more cookies than their friend. Or seeing people cut corners. Or break really super lenient rules in order to get something really silly, just one little thing we want. Why? Because we want what we want so bad…and we separate ourselves from how we know the other would feel if they knew what we were doing…and then we project that guilt back at them. “How dare they keep me from what I want! What a stupid rule!”

(To be connected to the other, truly connected means we could feel as they feel and thus cannot break that rule easily. Perhaps that connection is too much to bear, but so too is the breaking of it.)

And that little kernal, that entitled sensibility at the cost of the other’s safety or needs, or rules, or boundaries. At what point is exerting your will upon mine or mine upon yours, (whether in an elevator, or the water cooler, or on the street, or after a date, and no matter the gender combination) seriously totally and universally uncool? At what point did you or I NOT learn to think of how another person would feel? To imagine what that other person’s needs might be and ask about your impact?

At what point does our primate self, the one that responds to dominance, evolve more and more (even as chimps do) to consider impact and delaying gratification for the group. Empathy and compassion are built ins just like competition and vengeance. We have to teach our children though, about joy and pleasure, and listening, and other’s feelings. It’s got to be taught-for civil rights, for sexual rights, for health.

How can we go about teaching this in a culture that is stripping resources from schools and families and focused on all of us being good widgets fitting into corporate jobs which are focused on consumption and not reflection?

I don’t think these questions are being asked well, in America, as we hold on tightly to our position as global dominator. And the desire to stay on top trickles down. And then the answer to the question on Reddit (regardless of what it is we are doing) becomes…because I wanted to. And that’s not a good answer. We are and we can be better than that.

We need to ask those questions every day and find better answers.


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