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Member since: 2001
Number of posts: 18,889

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Re-Thinking Sexual Transactions: On Rape and Harassment

Where this comes from: During the ongoing national discussion about the disheartening Maryville rape case, this blowhard's opinions were aired as though they matter. This came hard on the heels of a slowly-burgeoning scandal about harassment in the Science blogging community.

When I was in my twenties, the "second wave" of gender-equity rights had swept the country and raised consciousness, the ERA had been passed (but not yet ratified,) Roe v. Wade had just been upheld by the Supreme Court, Title IX had been enacted into law, and there was real hope that the march toward enlightened, equitable sexual politics in America would continue.

By the time I was thirty, that march had stalled, and we were hanging on teeth and toenails to protect the small amount of ground gained. Decades later, toothless, I raise bleeding, nailless fingers (okay, metaphorically) to type some reflections on the backward slide, and offer some ideas about what might be needed to reset, and restart, our cultural evolution in this important area.

I do not blame individual men or women for the devolution. I blame all of us, male and female, me included, for concentrating on remedying the symptoms of our culture's fucked-up sexual politics, without putting the same amount of effort into addressing the fundamental ideology behind those politics.

I understand the dimension of that problem, "how sexual transactions work" is daunting. So much of our economy, our cultural, social, and personal identities are bound up in traditional patriarchal ideas about sexual transaction. It's a gigantic windmill; our lance is tiny. But I think it's worth tilting anyway. Especially if we start with the idea that what we need is more "How to do it right" thinking, as well as "how not to do it wrong" thinking.

Doing it Right

What should we be doing with our sexual desires and feelings? What is the correct etiquette that will both provide us with some hope of fulfillment, and keep our society healthy and positive for every person of every gender?

Let's start with a simple, unequivocal statement:

It's okay to have sex with someone when they have maturity and power equity with you, and clearly give their consent that they want to have sex with you.

Under any other circumstances, it is not okay to have sex with someone. Period.

Our society and its institutions must bend determined efforts to delegitimizing sexual activity under any other circumstances. That means no more winking and chuckling at the "Pretty Woman" scenarios, no more "happy ending" fantasies about the powerful individual who "falls in love" with the humble and powerless one and "raises" them to sexual ecstasy and social status, and likewise no more "screw your way up the ladder of success" nudge-nudge admiration/tolerance. No more "overcoming ambivalence with ardor" imagery. No more admiration for "Pickup Artists" counting coup.

Can we make enforceable laws based on this concept? Very few. But we can address it in other ways, through sanctioning the behavior of those who violate it, and using professional codes of conduct, ethics policies, etc. to affirm it.

We can also look at building a whole new cultural narrative of romance, wonder, and fulfillment around the individuals who seek out and appreciate partners sharing similar levels of personal maturity and social power. We can construct stories about how they find loving, interesting, exciting, humorous, suspenseful, etc., ways of asking for and receiving consent to share sex, form bonds, overcome challenges, find happy endings, and more.

However we go about it, it MUST become normed that it is okay to have sex with equals who give explicit consent, and not with anyone else, any time, any way.

We must teach better ways of dealing with sexual impulses, thoughts, and feelings in the presence of people we find attractive, in various situations. In school or the workplace, in social settings, in our communities and families.

It is always okay (or at least uncontrollable) to find someone attractive. It is not always okay to act on that feeling, especially when the one we find attractive is someone who clearly cannot give consent from a standpoint of equal maturity and power equity. Or when the setting is inappropriate. Let's create some positive cultural norms about what to do in such situations.

Let's make it possible for any two people who are attracted to one another, who share similar levels of maturity and power equity, and who have no ethical barriers to a relationship, to do any damn' thing they want with each other as long as they don't scare the horses. And keep it none of our business.

But let's also make it IMpossible for our young people to grow up believing that sexual impulses justify predatory, manipulative, exploitive, harassing behavior.

I do not think we will see the backward slide stop and reverse until we add this effort to the mix.

If we stick enough toothpick-sized lances into those windmill vanes, they WILL eventually grind down. I must believe this, because giving up is not an option my grandchildren can afford.


The Maryville Case: What It's About

In the small Missouri town of Maryville, a 14-year old girl and her friend were gotten incapably drunk, they were raped, and the act was filmed for the rapists to distribute as proof of their... whatever.

The girl was then left, passed out, in her street clothes (no outer clothes, coat, etc.) on her parents' lawn in 22-degree (Fahrenheit) temps, in the middle of the night. She was out there for some hours- her hair and clothing were frozen, she was at risk of serious injury or death from hypothermia.

Her mother found her, saw abrasions in her genital area while caring for her, and called the police.

The police investigated, found credible evidence of rape, searched the home of her attacker (who happened to be the grandson of a MO State Senate member,) found more evidence, prepared a case they regarded as a slam-dunk for prosecution.

Some time later, the mother was told there would be no prosecution. The family's lawyers discussed the chances of a civil suit.

The girl and her family were subjected to harassment at school, in the town, at the mother's place of employment. The mother was fired from her job, with specific reference to the possibility of a civil suit requiring her to take too much time away from work, etc.

The girl and her family put their house on the market and moved to another town to escape the harassment.

Six months later, their home in Maryville, still on the market, mysteriously burned down.

Now the hacker collective Anonymous is promising "justice" for the victim.

Relevant links:


There has been considerable discussion here on DU regarding what this story is about, including the following (paraphrased by me from the DU discussion threads):

"Justice for Daisy"
"Rapists walking free because of Rape Culture and how it protects them"
"Political influence perverting the justice system"

All of those things are true.

But in my opinion, what this story is REALLY about is encapsulated in the statement just released by Anonymous:

"Most of all, We are wondering, how do the residents of Maryville sleep at night?"

I wonder this, too.

I wonder how our communities, our culture have evolved to the point where we don't even need to be marooned on an Island with our survival in doubt and without adult supervision, to turn into a "Lord of the Flies" analog?

I suspect it has to do with public education being perverted from a way of raising healthy citizens for an independent democratic community, to a way of ensuring there will be a supply of barely-literate low-wage workers unable to effectively organize against Our Beloved Oligarchs.

I suspect it has to do with a media controlled by Our Beloved Oligarchs and tasked with the objective of setting us at one another's throats for trivial differences so that, again, we are unable to effectively organize against Our Beloved Oligarchs, because we are too busy hating each other.

I suspect it has to do with a carefully-fostered cultural emphasis on "winning," on "might makes right" on xenophobia, sexism, racism, and other ways of fracturing us and making us afraid of everyone the least bit different, and believing in solutions of violence, hate, and exclusion as the remedy for our fear.

Someone prove me wrong, please.

I would love to be proven wrong.

Please, somebody?


(P.S. I don't approve of vigilante justice, I don't condone it. However, I can't condemn the individuals in Anonymous who are taking such action as they deem appropriate in this situation.)
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