Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Chris Osborn and Julian Real: On Confronting Sexism in Friendships with Men

[image of book cover for a great book on confronting sexism, found here. Note: this book includes Michael Flood's critique of Father's Rights Groups, recently posted to this blog here]

Chris O.:
I will let my closest friends know if they have said something ignorant or sexist, but I am afraid of how some of my other friends might respond. I used to be "one of the guys" in that whole party scene, and some of my friends still want to identify me as such. I am open about my beliefs though, and anyone who knows me well knows that I am passionate about feminism. 

Julian R.:
I hear what you're saying there. And that, I find, is the trickiest matter. I haven't had to contend with it quite so much as I've never been part of any party scene where the behavior playing out is in blatant conflict with my values and politics. (Well, maybe it's happened a bit!) I guess what I mean to say is that I'm not a drinker or a smoker (of anything), and while I've been to many parties, I think if someone is behaving in an awful manner, there are several people who will likely reign him in, and also if some guy is being misogynistic in front of me they are likely too drunk to notice, or to even really track what they are doing. Often the most helpful thing to do is NOT to confront the man, but rather to check in with the woman who was just called the b word or the c word, or whatever. And to validate that I found his comment completely inappropriate and disgustingly woman-hating, and that I think he's a prick and I support her never speaking with him again, if she can help it.

Like you say, anyone who knows me well, or even a bit, knows my politics and knows I'm not fond of being meek when racist shit or misogynistic shit is going down near me. And I say that with not much sense of bravado or pride. I grew up feeling very unable to speak out or speak up about certain things, mostly about how I felt about something. I'd gauge what to say based on comments and body language of those around me. I felt like I was such a chameleon, and wondered for a very long time if there even was such a thing as "integrity". (The internal jury's still out on that one.) What I've come to is whether or not there is such a thing, there is the matter of addressing what's happening in the present, however or whoever I am at that time, with whomever I am with at any given time. I would say that if I know an event or party is going to have misogynistic men there, or racist whites, I won't go.

I remember a good white hetmale friend of mine--a few years ago--had a white hetmale friend who was grossly misogynistic in some ways. His sister and his female roommate didn't like being around him AT ALL. But this dude would stop by on occasion, or he would call and my friend would invite him to come along over, not wanting him to feel left out. I think his sister, his roommate, and I each had a separate talk with him about how his welcoming of this man into his life, when any of us are present, is making a decision to disrespect us, and, in all our cases, to potentially subject us to harm. This guy, after I called him out on something misogynistic at a party, proceeded to push into me and call me a f*ggot or f*g... you know the deal. So I told my friend that you are more than welcome to invite him over, but any time he's here and I'm here, I'm leaving. So if you want to spend time with me, don't expect that to happen if you invite the asshole over. I think his sister and his lesbian roommate said similar things, and from then on he only met with the guy outside where he (and his roommate) lived.

Rapism is Normal: Get Profeminism

There's more than one version of this quote, and I'll try and find the actual one, but the wording of this one best applies here:
"As Andrea Dworkin once famously said about date-rape victims: 
the punishment for getting drunk with a frat boy and taking him to your room should be a hangover, not rape."

[top image is from the website for the London Feminist Network, here]

Chris Osborn and I have been engaging in one dynamic conversation about society, politics, misogyny, and racism.

Here's a paragraph he wrote to me that I'm sure many people who have experienced college dorm and  frat life (and life beyond college where there are gatherings of people that include men with lots of alcohol) can identify with and will recognise as utterly normal and socially acceptable. This is what I'd written to him about it: May I publish that paragraph to my blog? I just think there are too few men telling the truth about our lives and the lives of men around us. He welcomed me to do so, and to put his name with the passage he wrote:
Unfortunately most of the parties I have attended reek of misogyny. Men are there to score drunk fucks, and I don't know why many of the women are there. Some are there for the same reason, some are simply naive. I started partying in Michigan, where this was not an issue. My usual party location was a house rented by anarchist punks, and they made sure that no one was taken advantage of. There was always a sober housemate there to enforce this policy. When I came home, I continued partying. The parties here are the nasty sort. I do not have much sexual experience, and I am proud of this. I have not been in a relationship or situation where it would be appropriate. The experience that I do have has given me all the more reason to stop partying and drinking in general. Many people are unaware of the rapes that occur at parties. I was too, until I accidentally drank a cup of beer with GHB in it. The story is actually kind of funny, considering I woke up in detox, but that is for another time. What isn't funny is the fact that that cup was meant for a woman. While being arrested was not a pleasant experience, I do not regret drinking that drink because I likely prevented a woman from being raped- though inadvertently. That really hit me, though not until a year after. I rarely drink anymore, and hardly ever get drunk. I don't like the loss of control, and I really don't like the macho behavior that seems to accompany drunkenness. -- Chris Osborn (2009)
I noted that I didn't see much that was funny about being drugged that way, but acknowledged that him drinking that beverage probably did prevent a woman from being raped that night.

Rapism is normal. So what are YOU going to do about it, fellas?

Compulsory Sexuality and Asexual Existence

by Julian Real, copyrighted 2009. All Rights Reserved. Excerpting passages addressed in context of its overall meaning below is fine with me. Otherwise, do not copy and paste or otherwise duplicate and distribute it unless doing so solely by sending out the URL of this website at A Radical Profeminist. Thank you. (I've seen what antifeminists do with profeminist writings, and they do it, in part, by taking small snippets of work out of context, misread and misinterpret it, and go on to spread lies about what the author said ad nauseam.)

[image is from here]

[Note: This was slightly revised for clarity on 9 February 2013.]

This essay is an obvious nod and huge THANK YOU to Adrienne Rich, for writing "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence". (You may click on the essay title in the previous sentence for the full text.) An excerpt follows:
The bias of compulsory heterosexuality, through which lesbian experience is perceived on a scale ranging from deviant to abhorrent, or simply rendered invisible, could be illustrated from many other texts than the two just preceding. The assumption made by Rossi, that women are "innately sexually oriented" toward men, or by Lessing, that the lesbian choice is simply an acting-out of bitterness toward men, are by no means theirs alone; they are widely current in literature and in the social sciences.

I am concerned here with two other matters as well: first, how and why women's choice of women as passionate comrades, life partners co-workers, lovers, tribe, has been crushed, invalidated, forced into hiding and disguise; and second, the virtual or total neglect of lesbian existence in a wide range of writings, Including feminist scholarship. Obviously there is a connection here. I believe that much feminist theory and criticism is stranded on this shoal.

My organizing impulse is the belief that it is not enough for feminist thought that specifically lesbian texts exist. Any theory or cultural/political creation that treats lesbian existence as a marginal or less "natural" phenomenon, as mere "sexual preference," or as the mirror image of either heterosexual or male homosexual relations is profoundly weakened thereby, whatever its other contributions. Feminist theory can no longer afford merely to voice a toleration of "lesbianism" as an "alternative life-style," or make token allusion to lesbians. A feminist critique of compulsory heterosexual orientation for women is long overdue. In this exploratory paper, I shall try to show why.  -- Adrienne Rich (1980)
When I was young, as children tend to be, I lived in a world that didn't know of sex. None of my caregivers demonstrated it, and no one in my family, except later my older brother, had any pornography around. I suspect many in my family didn't have sex at all, at least with other people including their spouses. I think this is not that unusual. Many couples I know, lesbian, gay, and heterosexual, stopped having sex together a few years into their relationship. Contrary to popular patriarchal heterosexist, anti-asexual opinion, this doesn't mean there's anything wrong with the relationship. Sex is about as overrated and unnecessary as commerically bottled water.

Let there be no mistaking this or understating of it: white Puritanistic anti-sexuality, a bedrock of white U.S. society, is still actively virulent and pernicious to this day. This is almost entirely due to a privately prostitute-using, child molesting, infidelity-embracing brand of Christian male preachers who, only on the pulpit, use fire and brimstone to condemn so many people of so many ages for wanting to be sexually active in ways that don't have a thing to do with "one man possessing one woman in a patriarchal marriage". This is to say, they condemn themselves publicly, lying through their teeth, lying to the bone, in order to instill in everyone else the shame and guilt they feel for doing to others what their white male sky-god apparently condemns.

To such a white male sky-god: go fuck yourself. May the Goddess who embraces sexuality and eroticism, including lesbian eroticism and love, banish you forever from the minds of human beings.

I don't wish to diminish in any way the power of those predatory preachers. They are and do evil on this Earth and how it is that masses of people go to them for moral guidance or spiritual enlightenment, is beyond me. I grew up exposed to white Christianity primarily--as a religion, but also white/european Judaism--more culturally than religiously. The Christianity I was exposed to was horribly anti-sexual, anti-woman, racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-pagan and anti-wiccan, and about as heterosexist, homophobic, and lesbophobic as it gets. What it was not against is easier to list: it was not against patriarchally atrocious heterosexist marriage that condemned women to serve and submit to men, including sexually against their will.

With that as one bedrock of my society, I turn to another: hypersexualisation and pornographisation of culture and society. This has intensified significantly in my lifetime. Internet pornography, in large part due to Bill "the sexual abuser" Clinton, is unrestricted. This effectively means that those who think depicting, recording, and mass distributing the pimping and raping of women by men is and ought to be free men's speech, regardless of how silencing it is to the rest of us. Pornography silences, it doesn't give voice. It tells lies, not the truth, about human beings, about sexuality, and about what is natural. Just watch this video if you think dominant media, advertising, and the pornography industry are invested in telling us the truth and eroticising what's natural:

If you find the image of the woman on the billboard more attractive than the image of the woman at the start of the video, your sexuality and sense of beauty has been grossly compromised and controlled by pornographers and advertising executives who are selling products, including women as products for sale to men.

Sexual behavior is getting more objectifying and violent in younger and younger populations, in large part because child sexual abuse by adults remains unchecked and covertly supported, such as by priests in the Catholic Church and men who pass their abuses of children and women to each other through internet networks designed solely to accomplish this. Talk about evil.

I don't really believe in such a thing as "evil" as a force that is separate from human behavior. I don't think "evil forces" enter human beings and can be purged from them, but respect the fact that many spiritual and faith traditions do believe this. I state that belief of mine only to reinforce one thing: I don't think the kind of sexuality that exists in the world that is not abusive, exploitive, stigmatising, and oppressive is evil. (Let's see: what does that leave us with?) I think what men, by and large, do to it and with it is evil. And the "it"--human sexuality, as Audre Lorde, Andrea Dworkin, Catharine A. MacKinnon, and Patricia Hill Collins, among other radical feminists of color and white radical feminists, have noted, is not ever dislocated from the political structures and mandates of a society.

The large cultural society I have lived in has always been dominated by pro-patriarchal white heterosexual men. These men, by and large, pride themselves on not being accountable to women, not being accountable to people of color, and not being accountable to lesbians, gay men, transgendered people, and intersex people. Instead, a vast majority of these men, over history, have used their particularly dangerous forms of sexuality and their sexual organs as weapons against humanity, to shame, control, terrorise, dehumanise, and degrade, and humiliate children and women as classes of people so that we will be subordinate, submissive, and subservient to men.

What I will next focus on is the sexual abuse of children and how that, alone, but always in conjunction with everything stated above, shapes and controls human sexuality. That child sexual abuse is one key site of what forms sexuality has always been known to me, as soon as I knew about human sexuality. Because before I knew about it, I'd been sexually abused.

What this abuse did to me was to fuse and confuse my sexual feelings, thoughts, desires, and behavior with a political agenda promoted by patriarchy. What it did was teach me how sex and dissociation go together like sexism and heterosexual marriage. What it did, was to prepare my sexuality to be in line with what white straight male sexuality is supposed to be: terrifying, degrading, humiliating, controling, patriarchal, heterosexist, pro-capitalistic, colonising, and white supremacist. When I say pro-capitalistic what I mean is sex tied to commerce, money, and the classed power imbalances inherent in any capitalist system. So too with the other systems of oppression: sex is, according to dominant society, supposed to be misogynistic and sexist, racist, transphobic, lesbophobic and homophobic. It is designed to make intersexuality and asexuality invisible as social realities.

Intersexuality describes the reality that people are not born discretely as female and male, nor as girl and boy, but rather are made into these, sometimes surgically at birth. As we now know, physical sexual attributes called "sexual markers" and "gender" are complex, fluid, flexible, not stagnant, not fixed-at-birth, not "in opposition", not politically and socially hierarchical unless they are made to be so. In this society, they are made to be so. And all manner of violence and dehumanisation flows from that belief, made real, that sex and gender are arranged to be dualistic, oppositional, and hierarchical.

Asexuality, as the term is used in a human social context, refers to a reality that there are people who do not experience sexuality as it is constructed and enforced by WHM supremacy. There are people who do not have "sexual desires" and "sexual feelings" as defined by dominant society. There are people who do not enjoy or participate in "sex" (unless by coercion and force) as it is defined and constructed by all the forces named above.

In my region, culture, and era, asexuality was assumed to be natural to children and the elderly and unnatural to adults in the period between youth and old-age. These assumptions are false, but these simplistic conclusions are not only not the end of the story, they don't tell us much about the middle of it either.

There are other related questions some of us must and occasionally do ask. Why, if I'm heterosexual, do I not wish to have genital intercourse? Why, if I'm gay, do I not wish to have sex with men, women, transgendered, or intersex people? Why if I'm sexually active, do I feel like me being so is more compulsive that genuinely desired? Why do I find that after being "sexual" with someone, I feel dissatisfied and disinterested in ever doing that again?

Part of the answer, surely, must be that the "sex" people have is the "sex" that is manufactured and sold, and some people don't want to have sex sold to them as a commodity. Some people don't wish for sex to express socially inhumane power imbalances. Some people don't want sex if sex means being dehumanised, degraded, humiliated, controlled, and oppressed. Some people don't want to have sex that requires them to be someone's oppressor or master. And many people do. And to those white people who do, guess what? You're likely to be engaging in politically correct sex. So know that and don't be in denial about it, please. And don't pretend that the sex you're having is hated by society when, in fact, it is required, mandated, and enforced by society. It may be preached about hatefully by white male Christian preachers but it is routinely practiced by them off the pulpit.

Without exceptions I'm aware of, everything people term both "normal sex" and "trangressive sex" are formed by the very same bedrocks. They are both informed by the very same values, the very same social structures, and the very same political imperatives. BDSM, as it is termed by some, is normal sex. Normal sex involves themes of control, dominance, and submission. There's nothing sexually revolutionary going on in either. They are both fully and entirely "status quo". That one is practiced as a subculture to the other is no more an indication of it being revolutionary than Mormonism is to dominant Christianity.

What is not status quo, what is not enforced, mandated, and required, is asexuality in adults as a group. What is not status quo, is mutual and consensual sharing of power as eroticism, in adults as a group. What is not status quo is having a sexuality that is not manufactured, profited from financially, which is to say, bought and sold and turned into commerce.

And I believe one significant, undervalued, and invisibilised population of human beings exploring alternative methods of expressing eroticism, sexually and otherwise, are physically disabled people. The physically non-disabled have a great deal to learn from physically disabled folks about how to have sex, how to make love, and how to express affection.

I am stunned at the vehemence with which people will defend their "right" to have status quo sex. As if there's anything stopping them! As if it isn't mandated and enforced! As if there's any socially viable and fully validated options to do otherwise!

Asexuality is not enforced in adults. It is denied as a reality. It is not mandated. It is stigmatised as only a medical or psychological problem in need of treatment. It is not compulsory. It is the opposite of compulsory.

[Note: Some of what follows was revised on 3/27/2016, with thanks to Cara's comment below.]

I would like to be asexual. Sometimes I am. This wish or occasional being is not tied to an identity any more than sometimes having a hayfever reaction to sugar is an identity, like being vegan or kosher. Preferring dark chocolate to milk chocolate isn't an identity or a choice, nor is enjoying watching movies in theatres over watching DVDs. For me, approaching the matter of asexuality is an issue both of innate preference and social privilege. It varies, though from being celibate, but includes celibacy, to the extent one can. (I accept that whole classes of people with fewer privileges than me, are vulnerable to sexual exploitation or must choose work in the sex trade to survive. Whether or not they are asexual.)

[The next paragraph was revised and added to on 7 March 2010, in part thanks to an alert about a typo. Thanks, Nick!]

This place between being celibate and asexual is, in part, a discovery I have made and a practice I have developed: a move towards integrity and a strategy for living in an oppressive world. I find this shift consistent with my values to not exploit, violate, harm, objectify, and otherwise oppress others with sex, or be oppressed, objectified, harmed, violated, and exploited by the systems which are designed to make it easy to do any of the above. It doesn't mean I don't ever experience any sexual arousal or physical attraction. But I have. And when I have, it feels most like what I want to be, and who I am. I no longer have an enacted, compulsory, dominant behavioral-social-political narrative along the lines of: "I feel arousal therefore I must masturbate to images of exploited people". "I am physically attracted to that guy, so that means I must pursue getting to know him." Having such feelings and attractions tells me nothing about what I must do, any longer. It's not "a sign" or an indicator that something must play out in the social world, or in the world of my fantasies. But this is still within the realm of celibacy, so far.

Currently, my sexual feelings, desires, and attractions don't rule my activities; they don't have the kind of clout I used to imagine they had when I indulged them or imbued them with a mystic relevance or meaning. But being asexual means something more than being able and happy to let those sensations, feelings, and attractions be--just be. My identity is not bound to a set of behaviors designed to demonstrate to the world "this is who I am", sexually and socially". I see many men act this way: as if various sets of behaviors must be played out over and over or else one's status will diminish. Nothing I feel has to be outwardly expressed, or manifested in social behavior. And my places of privilege are part of this story: As someone white and designated male, I can withdraw from some practices and not be seen as deviant. For many people who are of color and/or female and/or transgender, not being seen as deviant by dominant culture is nearly impossible.

What being celibate most means to me is that I am free to choose how and whether to act on any sexual feelings or sexual arousal or attractions I experience, to the extent that I do. I don't assume I must act on my male privilege to dehumanisingly objectify people just because I find them attractive or desirable. I don't assume I am entitled to have sex with others just because I experience desire for connection in their presence. I don't assume I have the right to approach and invade people's social lives in order to obtain sexualised attention and sex with them. This means I reject as harmful and oppressive all forms of rapism. It means I reject as inhumane all forms of predation and sexual perpetration. It means, in my case, that I value a selfhood that is more integrated than dissociated. As a radical rejection of the status quo, I don't require myself to sexually behave in the colonialist and patriarchal ways described above.

What I know about a lot of people, from them telling me directly, is that it is extremely difficult to know what one likes and doesn't like in a society that scripts and enforces forms of sexuality that are so often obnoxiously narrow and desperately empty.

What goes beyond celibacy is that I have, for long periods of time, gone through life without any sexual desires or feelings. That is not really a choice; it just is how I am. This has occurred for weeks, months, and years. I certainly embrace asexuality as valid, good, and reasonable way to be in the world. I experience it as healthy, loving, and anti-oppressive. When such periods of asexuality are my experience, I feel better. I'm not yet clear how this dovetails with the eroticism Audre Lorde describes. I'm not sure if one is necessarily non-erotic if one is asexual.

I have been told my refusal to participate in the status quo culture of acted-out sexuality is wrong, unhealthy, or harmful. I say: don't knock it 'til you've tried it. And, maybe, you don't know what you're missing. Sip from the cup of asexuality and you might just discover feelings, ways of relating, and dimensions of being you never knew existed. And please note: it's not a beverage that is marketed and sold.

But for those who experience asexuality either part-time or full-time, I want to support your existence as meaningful, worthy of respect, and fully human.

*     *     *

For more on how various people understand and experience asexuality, please go to *this website*, started by a white man named David Jay. My views are not theirs nor are theirs mine, but AVEN is a place to explore this reality and in a social space, albeit white-centric, where it isn't stigmatised as unhealthy, unethical, unreasonable, or undesirable.

Coincidentally or not, I just found out that at The Angry Black Woman blog, something of a very related nature was posted just yesterday. Click here for that.