Men Rape: Normal Male Sexuality

I’m currently reading Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Talents, but it could be any book, really.  Any history, any women’s literature, any feminist work, anything chronicling the actions of men who have power over others, including women.  We know what happens in that situation:  even good, kind, family men conspire to find logic to justify raping.  Not unlike the businessmen who, when in Singapore, routinely visit child slaves whom they rape for payment to the children’s keepers.  Not unlike men who go to strip clubs and pay for a little extra.  Not unlike the male bonding act — using a woman’s body though it is mostly incidental, as a thing in which to ejaculate — gang rape.  Not unlike the very many men who peruse the ‘net or bring home the movies, movies depicting the actual photographed rapes and the sexual slavery of innumerable women.  Or, sometimes, men.

Two things are clear to me.  First, men rape.  Second, “normal” male sexuality is in need of an Other to penetrate; it is territorial, power-ensuring, a form of mastery, privilege-promoting, always hierarchal, with the Other merely a means to an end:  friction adequate to accomplish his orgasm.  “Normal” male sexuality is a terribly solo act, something done inside his head, inside his body; it is deeply selfish — it is all about HIM and in the end, only about HIM.

In this writing, the author suggests that men project onto women their own desires:

[Images become] a substitute for sexual feeling, that sexual feeling becomes externalized and out of control and is given an undifferentiated identity in the appearance of women’s bodies. It is a process of projection in which one blurs one’s own desire with her imagined, projected desire. If a woman’s attractiveness is taken to signify one’s own lust and a woman’s lust, then when an “attractive” woman is raped, some men may think she wanted sex. Since they perceive their own lust in part projected onto the woman, they disbelieve women who’ve been raped. So long as men project their own sexual desires onto women, they will blame women for rape.

But that’s just another way of saying that “normal” male sexuality is tremendously self-obsessed, self-centered.

Not all men rape — but a whole lot of men do.  And more men would, if only they could and not be caught and punished for it.

How many men do rape?  In an article headlined “1 in 4 Men Admit Rape,” the actual stat is 31%, a bit closer to one in three men who claim to have actually raped women and girls.  Maybe the 1 in 4 is easier to take.  This is in South Africa, war-torn and western-empire ravaged.  What about the US, where I live?  

Mary Koss seems to have found that 1 in 4 or 5 women will have been raped by men, or rape will have been attempted.  The old stat, which Ampersand found to parallel a 4-5% actual-rape admission rate by college men, was 1 in 8 women.  One in eight women of college age will face attempted or enacted rape.  Does that mean the 4-5% number has also doubled?  That 8 – 10% of college-age men will now admit to having already raped?  At best, about one in 20 to 25 men is an actual rapist.  And, if doubled, it’s closer to one in ten.  But this statistic only accounts for college-age men.  With all men, the percentage might be lower; college age is said to be about the peak time for men to rape.  And yet men who are now older were once that age, were once, presumably, just as likely to rape.  So what about the fact that these men who aged also gained in power and in access to female bodies, to power directly over women and girls?  One good site, offering a 1997 analysis of US data, suggests that 40% of rapists are men age 30 or older.

Still, these statistics are all in average patriarchal times.  What about difficult situations — what about where men are accorded or take extreme power over others, including women?  What about war times?  In Octavia Butler’s book, with its collapse scenario, even good, kind, family men (staunch Christian men) conspire to find logic to justify raping.  From here:

Susan Brownmiller was the first historian to attempt an overview of rape in war with documentation and theory[5] . Brownmiller’s thesis is that “War provides men with the perfect psychological backdrop to give vent to their contempt for women. The maleness of the military—the brute power of weaponry exclusive to their hands, the spiritual bonding of men at arms, the manly discipline of orders given and orders obeyed, the simple logic of the hierarchical command—confirms for men what they long suspect—that women are peripheral to the world that counts.” She writes that rape accompanies territorial advance by the winning side in land conflicts as one of the spoils of war, and that “Men who rape are ordinary Joes, made unordinary by entry into the most exclusive male-only club in the world.”

Under normal circumstances, then, some men rape.  Under circumstances where, simply, there are a lot of single females around a lot of single males, the statistic rises to over half of men reporting they would rape if they could get away with it.  The statistics are here.  And here.  And here.  51 to 60-some percent, depending.  The stats on how many women are raped?  Those are easy to find, direct and to the point.  The stats on how many men are rapists?  Those are obscured, difficult to locate and cloaked in unclarity when they are unearthed.  But given the logic of increases, under more dire circumstances, most men will rape.  Men rape.

And the stories of men stopping rapes, intervening when their friends start in with the banter and the attitude, are just legion … oh, wait, they’re not.  To be a man under patriarchy is to learn to get along, know one’s place, and NEVER confront another man who is in your group.  Cajole him out of his errant ways in private, but other than persuasion, well, what can you expect the poor guy to do?

I expect a great deal, honestly.  I expect men who truly feel they cannot help themselves, that they must rape, to suicide.  If no female, no woman or girl, is safe with them, then they have a duty to their species to remove the rest of the species from their impending, inevitable danger.  They have an obligation to not tarnish those of their sex who are not inherent rapists so that such males can exist as allies to women and girls.  I am willing to take them at their word, and I am willing to see them cease to exist.

And I expect men to ally with girls and women, and specifically with radical feminist women, without question.

It would be after this minor revolution, should it ever actually happen, that “normal” male sexuality might reasonably be pondered.  There is nothing but taint at this point:  the unchallenged use and abuse of female beings as devices for friction enough to get him off.  Don’t like that?  Challenge it!  Don’t like that I wrote it?  Make it untrue.  But make it untrue in your community as well as in your own life.  Personal solutions mean nothing when revolution is necessary.  The revolution is not personal; it is for the re-empowering of groups who have been marginalized.  Nor is the revolution private — let’s talk about this.

The Illustrative Value of ‘Pro-Feminist’

A couple of decades ago, when I was part of an activist’s listserv, I heard a compelling argument for keeping feminism by, for and about women, and using a different name, pro-feminist, for male allies.  Because feminism’s effects — all those repercussions, all the outrage and the consequences and the benefits, alike — accrue to females only, feminism is a word for female activists.  I don’t recall which radical woman staked the territory, but the fallout was dramatic.

Draw the hard line, and men, who will NOT be denied their entitlement, their access to naming, their right of defining, fight fiercely for this no-woman’s land.  They will demand, badger, cajole; they will rally other women’s support — either in the group itself or among personal acquaintances; they will challenge the credentials of any woman who blocks their easy access to this simple word.  Since the first battle I witnessed, I have understood that limiting ‘feminist’ to females is an excellent way to determine whether a man can be an ally — that is, can he assist without insistence on leading, on controlling, on having his way and on access to everything important?  Remember, we are talking about the fight against female oppression — where the repercussions aren’t going to impact him directly, where the oppression is not his.  In fact, feminism exists because he and others like him are privileged, are over-valued within the sex duality.

Men who can act credibly as allies are far more likely to accept limitations on their name access.  Men who are asked nicely to cease, and yet push on, demand their presumed due, insist that they will have what they want against a woman’s expressed discomfort … honestly there are names for men who refuse to take No for an answer.  The simple one is ‘bully.’  It’s not the only one.

Drawing this line is illustrative, even eye-opening.  But it’s so for another reason, for women’s responses, too.  What do women’s reactions mean, for sisterhood, when one woman tells men in a group that she doesn’t like them using the name that belongs to females — and another woman quickly rushes in to assure the men it’s OK for them to call themselves whatever they wish?  And another woman challenges the first woman’s right to stake any territory within feminism as her own?  I think it suggests that sisterhood is, so far, unlikely.

Before I ignite all of your defenses, I wish to say that words are less the issue than actions.  I care most what people do.  At the same time, my point here is not so much the wording as the reactions that occur around limiting ‘feminism’ to females only.  The reactions are telling — magnifying the issues that already exist within feminism.  Issues with men.  Issues with other women.

I would suggest that, tactically, we as women either tend to forget or actively deny a great deal of our oppression, of how it works, especially.  While we might like or sometimes even love individual men, they are still a part of the sex-caste, men, which oppresses women.  Men oppress women.  ALL men benefit from the oppression of women.  The only thing that men can do to ameliorate this unfortunate fact, really, is to declare and then enact their allegiance to women, without question.  To give loyalty to women who are fighting the oppression of male supremacy — misogyny — especially.  Loyalty has nothing to do with leadership, with claiming higher knowledge, with demanding access to all of value.  As I have suggested, such maneuvers of superiority at least border on a rapist mentality.

But we, as females under male supremacy, have been groomed to see as reasonable any loyalty flowing the other way, from women to men.  If men oppress women, if all men benefit from the oppression of women, then this loyalty is not in our own best interests — who looks out for females in this framing?  We must!  But we have been taught that  we can never be anything but kind in facing down our oppressors — we must be fair, we must never hurt them as they have hurt us.  We forget, just as we’re supposed to, that we aren’t equal going in, so it’s not the same if we do something — it’s not “just as bad as men” when women take a hard stance.  It’s not “just as bad as men” who formed exclusive clubs if oppressed women want to separate and heal.  Those men’s clubs excluded from a point of elitist privilege, whereas separatism allows the oppressed their space away from those who have hurt them.  And denying men access to a named oppression resistance that ONLY affects females, ‘feminism,’ cannot be claimed to be “just as bad as men” who kept women from positions of economic power, which is, again, elitism.  By definition, the oppressed cannot be elitist toward their oppressors!

And we have been taught that we need numbers more than we need quality or commitment in our allies.  But are a few difficult and demanding men really worth more than our alliances with one another?  And isn’t that the false choice the men-nurturing women are giving in to?  If men are being excluded, the woman doing the excluding has to be made to stop.  But for what reason?

What is the effect of women stepping in to say that they disagree with any limitations on men’s access?  To me it looks very much like male-appeasement — like a chance to step up and be regaled as The Good Woman, perhaps the kind woman, generous, loving, nurturing of course, not one of those extremists, harpies, too-radical types that give feminism a bad name!  And I have a hard time fitting male-appeasers into the feminism I hold most dear.  More honestly, I could name them patriarchally complicit, even saboteurs to a valid sisterhood!

I have seen situations where a woman confronted a man, and her sisters stood back, gave her space, and let her offer the challenges.  If she asked or it was clear she needed backup, other women came forward.  But not a single woman rallied to the side of the confronted man.  And not a single woman chastised her for being unfair or unjust.  It can happen, and when it does, it’s beautiful.  Unfortunately it has not yet happened in my view in regard to the name ‘pro-feminist.’  We aren’t there yet, I don’t think.  And we need to be — regardless of whether or not you believe that men are reasonably called ‘feminists.

It’s Not Oppression

Recently a blog post hit the feminist Facebook groups, launching hand-wringing and finger-shaking like little else in recent memory.  It would be funny, almost uproariously so, if so many feminists hadn’t latched onto this little piece of privilege.  The topic:  ‘femme oppression’ within feminism  Yeah, right.

The first thing that came to mind is how similar this is, in essence, to light-skinned Blacks claiming persecution from their melanin-blessed peers for passing privilege.  Except in all the years I’ve been following and reading, I’ve not seen Black folks fall for this oppression pretense.

The second thought to hit me is that this is, put more simply, a case of “You hate me because I’m beautiful” speak.  Although I’ve known white women — and a few men — to pick this up and run with it, for the healthy-ego crowd, it’s always been just a joke.  Simply a joke:  a joke on privilege, and the entitlement that so often accompanies it.  This dramatic level of pompous deservedness easily rings false.  So why doesn’t ‘femme oppression’?

My answer to the question of why women — feminists! — cling to femininity is Lesbophobia, and more specifically, the terrible fear of the loss of privilege for any woman who is not overtly signaling her availability and loyalty to patriarchy, to men.  Femininity is complicity, it’s passing privilege, it’s compliance to dualisms on a hierarchy, and male is always ‘more.’

The basic problem with the blog post is that it never moves beyond the dualisms.  In, fact, it never even questions them, it simply breaks femininity into patriarchy’s version, and an imagined feminist version (bold in original):

One can even be a feminine [woman] and fight against enforced gender roles and stereotypes (shocking I know, but only if you’ve still internalized Patriarchal ideas about femininity).  One can be feminine and a serious feminist.  To say otherwise suggests that one cannot be feminine and serious and worthy of respect, which means that women who don’t ape the ways of men aren’t serious or worthy of respect, which means women aren’t serious or worthy of respect.

But there is more than this given duality.  There is femininity, of course, the docile and decorative, emoting and immature, impulsive extreme, one end of the allowed line.  And there is masculinity, the demanding and rugged, wear-worthy, stoic and mature, logical other end of the same line.  Most of us fall in between, at least.  Maybe it’s more apt to say that most of us form a sphere between the polar extremes, not unlike the Earth on its axis points, another of Nature’s realities.  But if most people can be pegged as either somewhat-feminine and somewhat-masculine, there is another group that has the potential to take the line and make it a triangle by the addition of a third point.  Call that point “Butch.”  Because Butch is the distillation of what female human beings would be without the overlay of patriarchy.  A female without the demand for perpetual adolescence and emotionality, without the decorations that render the wearers vulnerable and awkward and slow, without the unhesitating male-reverent loyalty to patriarchy’s elite … would be Butch.  And Butch would be a celebrated, honored state of being.

I offer this all as food for thought.  I wish no woman to face her own complicity, and feel shame or pain for it.  I do wish, however, she could see Butches and realize she is looking at our legitimate sheroes, brave souls who wouldn’t or couldn’t comply and who have generally faced horrific cultural condemnation for it.  That we, non-Butches, or femmes, have survived, is enough.  And that needn’t take away from the tremendous gift that Butches share by their precious existence — we can evade the mandates, we can fight and not capitulate — and still survive.  At least some can — some have.  And, oh, what inspiration we should draw from those who fought back and remained true to themselves, true to what is legitimately female, what should really be the personification of ‘feminine.’  What should be, but never will be; patriarchy owns the dictionary and the printing presses, and before that, even, the power to name and define.

There is a sliver of truth to the blog post:  that which is considered female and thus devalued needs reconsidered.  So much that is not-masculine, like the abilities to nurture, to listen, to connect with another being, is valuable, even vital to a fulfilling life.  Yes, women are inherently worthy of respect.  And women who have fought to not capitulate to the mandates of patriarchy are especially worthy of respect, a warrior’s respect in this war against the female psyche, soul and body, too.  Butches are the strongest, clearest survivors.