Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hearsay and Heresy: Katie Roiphe's Patriarchal Logic is Riddled with Distortions in Katha Pollitt's Classic Feminist Essay, Not Just Bad Sex

photograph of Katie Roiphe is from here
Sometimes [Katie Roiphe] argues the women's movement has been so successful in moving women into the professions that today's feminists are whining about nothing. And sometimes she argues that men, if seriously challenged to change their ways and habits, will respond with a backlash, keeping women students at arm's length out of a fear of lawsuits, retreating into anxious nerdhood, like her male-feminist classmates, or even, like the male protagonist of David Mamet's Oleanna, becoming violent: "Feminists, Mamet warns, will conjure up the sexist beast if they push far enough."

Coming from a self-proclaimed bad girl and sexual rebel, this last bit of counsel is particularly fainthearted: now who's warning women about the dangers of provoking the savage male?
-- Katha Pollitt, excerpted from Not Just Bad Sex (1993)
Above, Mamet reveals a belief that, when spoken by women, brings scorn and terrorism to those women for allegedly being "virulent man-haters". Yet, overwhelmingly, it is politically active anti-feminists, not politically active feminists, who argue that men's rape of women is inevitable, uncontrollable, and something we ought to roll over and just accept as a part of life. Far too many men also argue that women ought to enjoy it. And their phallocratic logic is stunning: women ought to like it because it brings men to orgasm. Sometimes women argue this nonsense as well, but when they do so they maintain that there is no significant rape problem--unless the victims are all male, such as in the male-only wards of prisons. I was a bit shocked at how much Oprah Winfrey was moved to tears when she had an audience filled with male survivors of childhood sexual abuse. It's not that it wasn't touching. It's not that it wasn't heartening to see men open up about this part of the larger anti-woman atrocity. It's that I've never seen her be that profoundly moved about girls and women who have been raped.

The message to men is that when you suffer, it ought to matter. We--all of society--should weep for your pain. And perhaps we should. Human suffering is human suffering, after all. But when women suffer, well, chances are the women will be told they're exaggerating or making it all up in order to claim this as yet unstatused condition of being "just a victim". No one dared to accuse the men in Oprah's audience of having false memories, or of exaggerating something that deep down they probably really enjoyed. Or that they were just lying in order to get sympathy as "just a victim". Or that they were distorting the truth because they really hate men, or women, or just their own parents. The men were believed in ways I've rarely seen women be so thoroughly believed.

One of many messages in all of this is that shaming, dominating, terrorising, and humiliating boys or men is always wrong and must be opposed. Shaming, dominating, terrorising, and humiliating girls and women, however, is not only socially encouraged; it's practically a prerequisite for heteropatriarchal sexuality to exist at all. What would het sex be without male supremacist "conquest" and men using force to gain uninvited access to women's bodies?

If you're doubting regular het men enjoy gaining unwelcomed access to women's and girls' bodies, just note how many men think that viewing raped women's and girls' bodies online--without the expressed permission of the female humans depicted--is accepted as a normal and harmless form of sex. The harmless sex that is noticed is men masturbating. What is also self-servingly determined to be harmless by the male consumers--using no thoughtful logic at all--is what is happening between (or among) the performers in the pornography. The rape of the women who are drugged, dissociated, and displayed is allegedly unseen in that same pornography. Rape is an atrocity men pretend not to notice. I say 'pretend' because it is the force against the women (and girls) committed by men, and the incested and raped people displayed (as sexxx-things existing only for men's pleasure), and also offline, that is so incredibly and addictively arousing to the het male consumers and procurers. And if most het men who consume internet pornography want to make a case that the pornography they look at isn't of raped women and girls, I welcome them to find out if that's the case. And I'd ask them, "If it is the case, will you stop looking at them and call for an end to the pro-rape pornography industry?" Funny how men don't wish to answer that question at all directly. But not ha-ha funny.

Whenever I mention that the women in these images have been raped, the only answer is "How do you know?" It is not ever, "I ought to reconsider my actions, then." Because the former response puts the issue of truth perpetually in question--which is just how the men like it so they don't have to contend with being male supremacist schmucks for wanting to get off to images of raped women; the latter response would mean men's unjust entitlements to abuse and exploit women is no longer unquestioned and unchallenged.

The level of unqualified callousness men and some women, such as Roiphe, show women survivors of rape would be astounding if it weren't so normal, encouraged, and enforced. That men rape each other in social places where no women exist, ought to clue us into why women are so ubiquitously targeted in men's corporate media as waiting to be raped by men. As Andrea Dworkin so brilliantly determined: it is very important in a society that fuses sex with violence that homophobia be well-established. Otherwise, the men will turn on each other. The implication isn't that men can't help but rape. The message is that manly men like their sex to be forced on women, and whoever they seek it from must submit. Men, collectively, can stop rape. Men, collectively, don't want to. And one of the ways men evade admitting this is by incessantly--and quite adamantly--denying there's a rape problem at all.

Mamet and Roiphe both occupy and fuel this fantasy world where patriarchy is just a word and the rape atrocity is just a misunderstanding or a bad attitude on the part of women who don't much like violation or degradation.

As fiction-laden facts are tossed about illogically and uncompassionately by Roiphe, please keep in mind this statistic, which is only a statistic for those privileged few who don't experience rape at all: one in three Indigenous women (not one in four, five, or ten) in the US is raped, and over 80% of the rapists are white men. Colonisation, rape, and white Western cultural imperialism go together like misogyny, rape, and marriage. Is that heresy or is that truth? And what do we do when a fact is both?

There are people who mentally and sexually adhere to their ideologies in ways that make them inhumane and callous to suffering. And there are people who act out their ideologies without knowing they even have one; they cling to it, however, as a hungry infant clings to a nursing parent's bosom. The problem, in either case, is the damage done to people, animals, and the Earth. We start there--with suffering, and when looking at and responding to the social world, we notice systematically inflicted suffering in particular. But isn't "systematically inflicted suffering" already terribly mired in ideology. Yes and no, depending on what you believe reality is.

Let me demonstrate. If I promote a US axiom, one that this country holds dear as a Sacred Truth, we ought not question its veracity or wisdom, for to do so is to be caught, seemingly psychotically, in some sort of anti-US ideological extremism. There are belief systems that need protecting, and perhaps none is greater than those that comprise the philosophical underpinnings of patriarchal atrocities--rape being one of them.

So if I state that the US's Founding Fathers were not all that great and were, in some ways at least, evil, we are left to question what's wrong with me, because "Founding Fathers" are supposed to only-revered. So for some Patriarchy-worshipers, I speak heresy. And when I say "evil" what I mean is that they conducted themselves in ways that made atrocity more possible, not less.

I won't go into the evil-doings of the Founding Fathers; they are, after all, long dead. And they probably did some cool stuff along with being (which is to say: doing) evil in some regards. They hashed out a document that made some legal room for ideas of social equality, undermining that as a social reality by focusing on things like "pursuit of happiness" rather than "the realisation of a single standard of human dignity for all people". The first is something we can easily pretend exists; the latter--not so much. Unless. Unless we make comprehending atrocity--both cognitively and viscerally--impossible. This is what Roiphe attempts to do, in collusion with many misogynist men who want to rape but don't wish for it to be called that. When women call some of the sex men enjoy "rape" the women are inappropriately and disdainfully called man-haters. When men call some of the rape they want to have "sex" they are called various things, such as libertarians and fighters for freedom. These anglo-patriarchal logic-worshipers only like things to be logical when it suits their political needs, bolstering their privileges and entitlements. Their warped ideologies wrap around truth like an invasive vine, strangling the life out of it. We are left with something deadened--devoid of spirit, wisdom, or even the mere appearance of  knowledgeable intelligence.

What follows is relatively old. I mean pre-home computer old. Yes, THAT old. In my experience, and that of most other humans I know, I have come to witness how male humans are well-supported in taking out every frustration and personal grievance on women-as-a-class and on individual women too. So as a male blogger in such a world, I want to state that I don't think people like Roiphe and Hoff Sommers are worse people than any or all of the men who support rape and defend men's right to commit it as long as we don't call it "rape" (when it is, in life's experience, not in theory, "rape": traumatic, violating, and humiliating).

I don't hold either woman (Roiphe or Hoff Sommers) in high regard. I think they are pro-patriarchal sell-outs, both of 'em. I also think they are intellectually dishonest and count on men's dishonesty to prove them allegedly right. Evidence of some of that follows, regarding Roiphe. Katha Pollitt is not intellectually dishonest. She thinks with an earnest and compassionately alive mind that welcomes truth rather than seeking to evade it at all costs. She holds humanity with regard, not contempt; she's not at all like Roiphe who seems to hold as much contempt for women as she does for men, while pretending to respect both.

Pretending is a big part of living in denial. And I dare anyone to read both Roiphe's arguments and Pollitt's and come to the conclusion that Pollitt is not more humane and also much smarter. Clearly, she is both. How do I come to this conclusion? Because Pollitt can identify what's fucked up about Roiphe's arguments or "logic", while Roiphe cannot do the same with Pollitt's work.

To her credit in an era of cynicism and callousness, Katha Pollitt sees both women and men as at least potentially humane, all deserving to be treated, interpersonally and institutionally, with dignity not disdain.

Thank you, Katha.

photograph of Katha Pollitt is from here
What follows is from *here*. I don't know who Aaron is, but I'm glad he put this online, in the era of blogging. Thanks, Aaron! I did find some mistakes in the text, which I've noted by putting corrections in brackets. You may find the essay that follows, titled "Not Just Bad Sex" (1993), in her collection of essays, Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism*here*. I have checked the version typed up for the website just linked to, which is littered with typos, with the versions I could find on Google Books and Amazon.com, and made changes so the text is correct. This, below,  is currently the most accurate online version of this very important and astute essay.
Kathy [sic] Pollitt wrote this review for the 10/4/93 New Yorker about Katie Roiphe's "The Morning After: Sex, Fear and Feminism on Campus".
This is a book anyone involved in rape education should read. Roiphe runs the gamut on some of the most common arguments for victim-blaming. And because the media so embraced her book, and gave Roiphe so much publicity, some of her new arguments have been embraced by those determined to keep gender inequities at the status quo. --Aaron
_____________________________________________

Not Just Bad Sex, by Katha Pollitt

"Stick to straight liquor," my father advised me when I left for college, in the fall of 1967. "That way, you'll always know how drunk you are." I thought he was telling me that real grownups don't drink brandy Alexanders, but, of course, what he was talking about was sex. College boys could get totally plastered, and the worse that would happen to them would be hangovers and missed morning classes. But if I didn't carefully monitor my alcohol intake one of those boys might, as they used to say, take advantage of me. Or, as they say now, date-rape me.

Veiled parental warning like the one my father gave me--don't go alone to a boy's room, always carry "mad money" on a date, just in case--have gone the way of single-sex dorms, parietal hours, female-only curfews, and the three-feet-on-the-floor rule, swept away like so much Victorian bric-a-brac by the sexual revolution, the student movement, and the women's movement. The kids won; the duennas and fussbudgets lost. Or did they? In The Morning After: Sex, Fear, and Feminism on Campus (Little, Brown; $19.95) Katie Roiphe, a twenty-five-year-old Harvard alumna and graduate student of English at Princeton, argues that women's sexual freedom is being curtailed by a new set of hand-wringing fuddy-duddies: feminists. Anti-rape activists, she contends, have manipulated statistics to frighten college women with a nonexistent "epidemic" of rape, date rape, and sexual harassment, and have encouraged them to view "everyday experience"- sexist jokes, professional leers, men's straying hands and other body parts- as intolerable insults and assaults. "Stranger rape" (the intruder with a knife) is rare; true date rape (the frat boy with a fist) is even rarer.

As Roiphe sees it, most students who say they have been date raped are reinterpreting in the cold grey light of dawn the "bad sex" they were too passive to refuse and too enamored of victimhood to acknowledge as their own responsibility. Camille Paglia, move over.

These explosive charges have already made Roiphe a celebrity. The Time Magazine ran an except form her book as a cover story: "Rape Hype Betrays Feminism." Four women's glossies ran respectful prepublication interviews; in Mirabella she was giddily questioned by her own mother, the writer Anne Roiphe. Clearly, Katie Roiphe's message is one that many people want to hear: sexual violence is anomalous, not endemic to American society, and appearances to the contrary can be explained away as a kind of mass hysteria, fomented by man-hating fanatics.

How well does Roiphe support her case? "The Morning After" offers itself as a personal testimony, with Roiphe- to use her own analogy--as a spunky, commonsensical Alice at the mad women's studies-and-deconstructionism tea party familiar from the pages of Paglia and Dinesh D'Souza. As such it's hard to challenge. Maybe Roiphe's classmates really are as she portrays them--waiflike anorexics, male-feminist wimps, the kind of leftist groupthinkers who ostracize anyone who says Alice Walker is a bad writer. Maybe Roiphe was, as the claims, "date-raped" many times and none the worse for it. The general tone of her observations is unpleasantly smug, but in her depiction of a tiny subculture on a few Ivy League campuses, she may well be onto something. The troupe is that "The Morning After," although Roiphe denies this, goes beyond her own privileged experience to make general claims about rape and feminism on American campuses, and it is also, although she denies this, too, a "political polemic." In both respects, it is a careless and irresponsible performance, poorly argues and full of misrepresentations, slapdash research, and gossip. She may be, as she implies, the rare grad student who has actually read "Clarissa," but when it comes to rape and harassment she has not done her homework.

Have radical feminists inundated the nation's campuses with absurd and unfounded charges against men? Roiphe cites a few well publicized incidents: at Princeton, for example, a student told a Take Back the Night rally that she had been date-raped by a young man she eventually admitted she had never met. But Roiphe's claim that such dubious charges represent a new norm rests on hearsay and a few quotations from the wilder shores of feminist theory. "Recently," she writes, "at the University of Michigan, a female teaching assistant almost brought a male student up on charges of sexual harassment," because of some mildly sexist humor in a paper. When is "recently"? In what department of the vast University of Michigan did this incident occur? How does Roiphe know about it--after all, it only "almost" happened--and know that she got it right? Roiphe ridicules classmates for crediting and magnifying every rumor of petty sexism, but she does the same; hysterical accusations are always being made at "a prominent university." Don't they teach the students at Harvard and Princeton anyone about research anymore?

Where I was able to follow up on Roiphe's sources, I found some fairly misleading use of data. Roiphe accuses the legal scholar Susan Estrich of slipping "her ideas about the nature of sexual encounters into her legal analysis" in Real Rape, her study of acquaintance rape and the law--one such idea supposedly being that women are so powerless that even "yes" does not necessarily constitute consent to sex. In fact, in the cited passage Estrich explicitly lays that view aside to pursue her own subject, which is the legal system's victimization of women who say no. Nowhere does Roiphe acknowledge that--whatever may happen in the uncritical, emotional atmosphere of a Take Back the Night rally or a support-group meeting for rape survivors (a term she mocks)--in the real world women who have been raped face enormous obstacles in obtaining justice in the courts or sympathy from their friends and families. Nor does she seem to realize that it is the humiliation and stigmatization and disbelief reported by many rape victims, and documented in many studies, that have helped to produce the campus climate of fear and credulity she deplores. Indeed, the only time Roiphe discusses and actual court case is the argue that the law veers too far to the victim's side:
In 1992 New Jersey's Supreme Court upheld its far-reaching rape laws. Ruling against a teenager charged with raping his date, the court concluded that signs of force or the threat of force is [sic] not necessary to prove the crime of rape--no force, that is, beyond that required for the physical act of penetration. Both the plaintiff and the defendant admitted that they were sexually involved, but the two sides differed on whether what happened that night was rape. It's hard to define anything that happens in that strange, libidinous province of adolescence, but this court upheld the judgment that the girl was raped. If the defendant had been an adult he could have gone to jail for up to ten years. Susan Herman, deputy public defender in the case, remarked, "You not only have to bring a condom on a date, you have to bring a consent form as well."
Roiphe should know better than to rely on a short item in The Trenton Times for an accurate account of a complicated court case, and she misrepresents even the sketchy information the article contains: The girl was not the boy's "date," and they did not both "admit" they were "sexually involved." The two, indeed, disagreed about the central facts of the case. The article does mention something Roiphe chose to omit: the girl was fifteen years old. The Supreme Court opinion further distinguishes this case from Roiphe's general portrait of date-rape cases: the hypersensitive female charging an innocently blundering male with a terrible crime for doing what came naturally and doing it without a peep from her. The offender, it turns out, was dating another girl living in the house where the rape took place, and not the victim, who, far from passively enduring his assault, did what Roiphe implies she did not: She slapped him, demanded that he withdraw, and, in the morning, told her mother, whereupon they went immediately to the police. It is absurd to use this fifteen-year-old victim--who had surely never heard of Catharine MacKinnon or Take Back the Night--as an example of campus feminism gone mad. And it is equally absurd to suggest that the highly regarded New Jersey Supreme Court, which consists of one woman and six middle-aged men, issued a unanimous decision in the victim's favor because it had been corrupted by radical feminism.

The court did affirm that "signs of force or the threat of force"--wounds, torn clothes, the presence of a weapon--were not necessary to prove rape. This affirmation accords with the real life fact that the amount of force necessary to achieve penetration is not much. But it is not true that the court opened the door to rape convictions in the kinds of cases Roiphe takes for the date-rape norm: sex in which the woman says yes but means no, or says yes, means yes, but regrets it later. The court said that consent, which need not be verbal, must be obtained for intercourse. It's easy to parody this view, as the defense counsel did with her joke about a "consent form"--but all that it really means is that a man cannot penetrate a woman without some kind of go-ahead. Roiphe ridicules this notion as "politically correct" and objects to educational materials that remind men that "hearing a clear sober 'yes' to the question 'Do you want to make love?' is very different from thinking, 'Well, she didn't say no.'" But is that such terrible advice? Roiphe herself says she wants women to be more vocal about sex, yet here she is dismissive of the suggestion that men ought to listen to them.

Roiphe's attempt to debunk statistics on the frequency of rape is similarly illinformed. A substantial body of research, but no means all of it conducted by feminists, or even by women, supports the contention that there is a staggering amount of rape and attempted rape in the United States, and that most incidents are not reported to the police- especially when, as it usually the case, victim and offender know each other. For example, the National Women's Study, conducted by the Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center at the Medical University of South Carolina, working under a grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, which released its results last year, found that 13 percent of adult American women--one in eight--have been raped at least once, seventy-five percent by someone they knew. (The study used the conservative legal definition of rape which Roiphe favors: "an event that occurred without the woman's consent, involved the use of force or threat of force, and involved sexual penetration of the victim's vagina, mouth or rectum.") Other researchers come up with similar numbers or even higher ones, and are supported by studies querying men about their own behavior: In one such study, 15 percent of the college men sampled said they had used force at least once to obtain intercourse.

Roiphe does not even acknowledge the existence of this sizable body of work--and it seems she hasn't spent much time studying the scholarly journals in which it appears. Instead, she concentrates on a single 1985 article in Ms. magazine, which presented a preliminary journalistic account of an acquaintance-rape study conducted by Dr. Mary Koss, a clinical psychologist now at the University of Arizona. Relying on opinion pieces by Neil Gilbert, a professor of social welfare at Berkeley, Roiphe accuses Koss of inflating her findings--one in eight students raped, one in four the victims of rape or attempted rape--by including as victims women who did not describe their experience as rape--by including as victims women who did not describe their experience as rape, although it met a widely accepted legal definition. It is unclear what Roiphe's point is--that women don't mind being physically forced to have sex as long as no one tells them it's rape? Surely she would not argue that victims of other injustices--fraud, malpractice, job discrimination--have suffered no wrong as long as they are unaware of the law. Roiphe also accuses Koss of upping her numbers by asking respondents if they had ever had sex when they didn't want to because a man give them alcohol or drugs. "Why aren't college women responsible for their own intake of alcohol or drugs?" Roiphe asks, and it may be fair to say that the alcohol question in the study is ambiguously worded. But it's worth noting that the question doesn't come out of feminist fantasyland. It's keyed to a legal definition of rape which in many states includes sex obtained by intentional incapacitation of the victim with intoxicants--the scenario envisioned by my father. Be that as it may, what happens to Koss's figures if the alcohol question is dropped? The number of college women who have been victims of rape or attempted rape drops from one in four to one in five.

One in five, one in eight--what if it's "only" one in ten or twelve? Social science isn't physics. Exact numbers are important, and elusive, but surely what is significant here is that lots of different studies, with different agendas, sample populations, and methods, tend in the same direction. Rather than grapple with these inconvenient data, Roiphe retreats to her own impressions: "If I was really standing in the middle of an epidemic, a crisis, if 25 percent of my female friends were really being raped, wouldn't I know about it?" (Roiphe forgets that the one-in-four figure includes attempts, but let that pass.) As an experiment, I applied Roiphe's anecdotal method myself, and wrote down that I know about my own circle of acquaintance: eight rapes by strangers (including one on a college campus), two sexual assaults (one Central Park, one Prospect Park), one abduction (woman walking down street forced into car full of men), one date rape involving a Mickey Finn, which resulted n pregnancy and abortion, and two stalking (one ex-lover, one deranged fan); plus one brutal beating by a boyfriend, three incidents of childhood incest (none involving therapist-aided "recovered memories"), and one bizarre incident in which a friend went to a man's apartment after meeting him at a party and was forced by him to spend the night under the shower, naked, which he debated whether to kill her, rape her or let her go. The most interesting thing about this tally, however, is that when I mentioned it to a friend he was astonished--he himself knew of only one rape victim in his circle, he said--but he knows several of the women on my list.

It may be that Roiphe's friends have nothing to tell her. Or it may be that they have nothing to tell her. With her adolescent certainty that bad things don't happen, or that they happen only to weaklings, she is not likely to be on the receiving end of many painful, intimate confessions. The one time a fellow-student tells her about being raped (at knifepoint, so it counts), Roiphe cringes like a high-school vegetarian dissecting her first frog: "I was startled... I felt terrible for her, I felt like there was nothing I could say." Confronted with someone whose testimony she can't dismiss or satirize, Roiphe goes blank.

Roiphe is right to point out that cultural attitudes toward rape, harassment, coercion and consent are slowly shifting. It is certainly true that many women today, most of whom would not describe themselves as feminists, feel outraged by male behavior that previous generations--or even those women themselves not so long ago--quietly accepted as "everyday experience." Roiphe may even be right to argue that it muddies the waters when women colloquially speak of "rape" in referring to sex that is caddish or is obtained through verbal or emotional pressure or manipulation, or when they label as "harassment" the occasional leer or off-color comment. But if we lay these terms aside we still have to account for the phenomenon they point to: that women in great numbers--by no means all on elite campuses, by no means all young--feel angry at and exploited by behavior that many men assume is within bounds and no bid deal. Like many of those men, Roiphe would like to short-circuit this larger discussion, as if everything that doesn't meet the legal definition of crime were trivial, and any objection to it mere paranoia. For her, sex is basically a boys' game, with boys' rules, like football, and if a girl wants to make the team--whether by "embracing experience" in bed or by attending a formerly all-male college--she has to play along and risk taking some knocks. But why can't women change the game, and add a few rules of their own? What's so "utopian" about expecting men to act as though there are two people in bed and two sexes in the classroom and the workplace?

Roiphe gives no consistent answer to this question. Sometimes she dismisses the problems as inconsequential: coerced intercourse is bad sex, widespread sexual violence a myth. Sometimes she suggests that the problem is real, but is women's fault: They should be more feisty and vociferous, be more like her and her friends, one of whom she praises for dumping a glass of milk on a boy who grabbed her breast. (Here, in a typical muddle, Roiphe's endorsement of assertive behavior echoes the advice of the antirape education materials she excoriates.) Sometimes she argues the women's movement has been so successful in moving women into the professions that today's feminists are whining about nothing. And sometimes she argues that men, if seriously challenged to change their ways and habits, will respond with a backlash, keeping women students at arm's length out of a fear of lawsuits, retreating into anxious nerdhood, like her male-feminist classmates, or even, like the male protagonist of David Mamet's Oleanna, becoming violent: "Feminists, Mamet warns, will conjure up the sexist beast if they push far enough."

Coming from a self-proclaimed bad girl and sexual rebel, this last bit of counsel is particularly fainthearted: Now who's warning women about the dangers of provoking the savage male? When Roiphe posits a split between her mother's generation of feminists--women eager to enter the world and seize sexual freedom--and those of today, who emphasize the difficulties of doing either, she has it wrong, and not just historically. (Sexual violence was a major theme of seventies feminism, in whose consciousness-raising sessions women first realized that rape was something many of them had in common.) The point she misses is that it was not the theories of academics or of would-be Victorian maidens masquerading as Madonna fans that made sexual violence and harassment an issue. It was the movement of women into male dominated venues--universities, professions, blue-collar trades--in sufficiently great numbers to demand real accommodation from men both at work and in private life. If Roiphe's contention that focussing on "victimhood" reduces women to passivity were right, the experience of Anita Hill would have sent feminists off weeping, en masse, to a separatist commune. Instead, it sparked a wave of activism that revitalized street-level feminism and swept unprecedented numbers of women into Congress.

Roiphe is so intent on demonizing the antirape movement that she misses an an opportunity to address a real deficiency of much contemporary feminism. The problem isn't that acknowledging women's frequent victimization saps their get-up-and-go and allows them to be frail flowers; it's that the discourse about sexuality says so little about female pleasure. Unfortunately, Roiphe, too, is silent on this subject. We hear a lot about heavy drinking, late nights, parties, waking up in strange beds, but we don't hear what made those experiences worth having, except as acts of rebellion. In a revealing anecdote, she cites with approval a friend who tells off obscene phone callers by informing them that she was her high school's "blow job queen." Not to detract from that achievement, but one wonders at the unexamined equation of sexual service and sexual selfhood. Do campus bad girls still define their prowess by male orgasms rather than their own?

It's sad for Roiphe and her classmates that they are coming of age sexually at a time when sex seems more fraught with danger and anxiety than ever. Indeed, AIDS is the uneasily acknowledged spectre hovering over The Morning After: The condom, not the imaginary consent form, is what really put a damper on the campus sex scene. Certainly AIDS gives new urgency to the feminist campaign for female sexual self-determination, and has probably done a lot, at both conscious and unconscious levels, to frame that quest in negative rather than positive terms. But that's just the way we live now--and not only on campus. Rape, coercion, harassment, the man who edits his sexual history and thinks safe sex kills passion, the obscene pone call that is no longer amusing because you're not in the dorm anymore but living by yourself in a not so safe neighborhood and it's three in the morning: it's not very hard to understand why women sometimes sound rather grim about relations between the sexes.

It would be wonderful to hear more from women who are nonetheless "embracing experience," retaining the vital spark of sexual adventure. Roiphe prefers to stick to the oldest put-down of all: Problems? What problems? It's all in your head.




4 comments:

JENNIFER DREW said...

So an audience of males who had been subjected to sexual violence when they were children had their accounts immediately validated as 'true.' Yet whenever an adult female discloses having been subjected to male sexual violence when she was a child, she is immediately subjected to dismissal; told she is faking her memories; she must have 'seduced' the innocent male; it's just her word against an upstanding white powerful male; he is an outstanding athlete; he is a powerful male politician; he is her husband; male partner; he is a man!

So why then were not these males asked to produce third party evidence confirming that they had been subjected to sexual violence. Why blithely accept at face value the words of an adult male and yet adult females' testimonies are dismissed as 'lies.'

Answer is men never lie, men's reality of what they endured is 'true;' men are honourable and trustworthy. Men are respectable; men do not need to rape women because men can 'have' as many women sexually as they desire.

Women however, are manipulative, liars, deceivers, gold diggers, hate men; prudes, lesbian, frigid; scheming, dirty, s...ts, wh..res, non-human, b....ches, and yes this one - men's sexual prey.

Women and girls exist to be used by men as disposable sexual service stations irrespective of a woman's/girl's sexual autonomy and bodily rights. Men and boys however do not exist to be other males' disposable sexual service stations - therein lies the difference.

Male supremacy teaches boys 'it is your right to force your penis into any female body but don't ever thrust it into a male's body without his explicit permission and even then you must ensure the other male is not drunk or incapacitated in any way. Why? Because raping a male is a crime but forcing your penis into a female's body is never rape, particularly if you the male have taken the precaution of being seen as engaging in conversation with the woman/girl before you thrust your penis into her body.

Then you have a cast iron alibi that the woman 'wanted it.' Because it is common sense that any woman/girl who talks to a male is in effect saying 'I want your penis thrusting into my body because I do so want you to achieve your male entitled sexual pleasure by raping and/or sexually assaulting me.'

That's the reality of our white male supremacist system - a reality wherein a group of males can without any evidence state they have been subjected to sexual violence and immediately they are accorded sympathy; respect and acknowledgement that their pain and suffering is real! Would that women and girl survivors of male violence in all its forms are accorded the same dignity, respect and empathy - but that would mean men finally discarding their arrogant assumption they are the ones who define what is and is not male sexual violence against women. They not women are the ones who define what is and is not 'real human suffering' they not women get to define which human group is human and which group exist to men's sexual slaves and servants.

Since our human race is divided into two biological groups - women and men then obviously men are defining women as the non-human ones who no matter what they do can never ever achieve the status of human which continues to be male only.

theoreticalgrrrl said...

"As an experiment, I applied Roiphe's anecdotal method myself.."

Using mine, out of me and my closest female friends, I am the only one who hasn't been sexually abused. One was sexually abused by a trusted adult as a child, then an attempted gang rape at a fraternity, then raped by an ex boyfriend; another raped when she was losing consciousness by an aquaintance; another raped by a male friend who drove her home from a concert. So out of the four of us, three out of four sexually assualted, not 1 in 4.

None of these women went to the police, they didn't want to be put through another hell. One who told her school counselor about being raped was told "people make too big a deal out of sex." Another was told by her own mom it was her stupidity for trusting her adult neighbor that caused her to be molested (she was eight).


And the way they told me about their experience was in a way that seemed to be cautiously testing my reaction. I'm glad they trusted to confide in me but it was heartbreaking to think they thought I might not be supportive if they told me. Which isn't surprising given the reaction they received by others.

Katie Roiphe can go to hell. She's not a 'rebel', she is a pathetic tool the status quo.

Julian Real said...

Hi theoreticalgrrrl,

Thank you so much for this. It's heartbreaking and infuriating--how much sexual violence is visited upon women's lives by men, without anyone knowing unless someone takes the time to know and seeks to do so without victim-blaming judgment.

I completely agree with you. Anyone who is a rape apologist or who wants to blame women for being raped by men can go to hell. I get why some women do this--to pretend they are not as vulnerable--but it so adds to a hostile living environment for women and girls. And, even with the need to pretend one is safer in this world than one is, no one practices rape atrocity-denial more than men. It's despicable and outrageous how men protect one another's male supremacist entitlements to have abusive, violating, subjugating access to women.

theoreticalgrrrl said...

I just used an example of my closest friends, but I know of more women who are aquaintences who have been victims of sexual violence.

I understand a knee-jerk reaction from some women who want to believe that if they just do something different from what a victim of rape did, they can have a sense of safety and control. It's a survival tactic, but it's short-sighted because it really won't keep you safe in the long run.

Katie Roiphe had time to reflect on all this and write a whole book about it that contributes to both the denial and apology of rape culture. (She and her ilk don't see the contradiction there, most rape apologists don't). That's why I think she is a sick, contemptible human being. Sorry, Katie, but you need to grow a heart.