[content warning: quotes that minimize rape]
Sometimes I see people, including people I respect, uncritically cite Warren Farrell, one of the founders of the MRA movement. So I thought I’d point out certain of his beliefs that are… not exactly what one would desire in the founder of a movement about men’s rights. (All quotes are from the second edition ebook of Myth of Male Power.
In the Myth of Male Power, Warren Farrell writes:
While “date rape” gives words to one of our daughters’ most potent fears, perhaps “date robbery,” “date rejection,” “date shame,” and “date responsibility” give words to some of our sons’ unarticulated fears.
Warren Farrell does acknowledge the existence of male rape survivors elsewhere in the book. However, I must point out that failing to characterize “date rape” as a risk of dating for men erases male rape survivors, even though (if you use an inclusive definition) a quarter of rape survivors are male. If men are not afraid of being raped by women, it is not because they are not at risk; it is because– due to thoughtless erasures like this one– people believe that it is impossible.
I have no beef with someone considering false accusations of rape traumatic. I also have no beef with someone pointing out kinds of sexual violence that men are more likely to be victims of, such as reproductive coercion. One might assume that “date robbery”, “date rejection” and so on are equally traumatic events. And… well. Let’s look at the section headed “date responsibility”.
Just as music is more powerful than lyrics, Kyle felt the power of body language over verbal language. He wondered quietly (“quietly” because he feared being rejected should he say it aloud), “Does Susan’s ‘no’ followed by her continuing to tongue kiss with me, and caress my body with her breasts—actually mean a ‘no,’ or a ‘yes’?” He mused, “even if I were inhuman and able to ignore the tongue kissing and breast caressing, and pay attention only to her verbal ‘no,’ does that verbal ‘no’ mean ‘no’ until the next date; until I spend more time listening to her, or more time opening up about myself? Is it a ‘no’ she says to fulfill her parents’ and church’s moral code and make her and Kyle feel she isn’t too ‘easy’? Is it a ‘no’ until she has time for more wine to relax her, or more coffee to wake her up? Should I turn the lights up, or down? Turn the music up or down—or change to her type of music? And exactly what is her type of music—in this moment, in this mood?
Kyle felt that the date rape seminars focused all the responsibility on him.
To be clear: saying “no” to sex when you mean “yes” is a bad thing to do. People who do that should be punished by no one having sex with them until they learn better. And Farrell’s proposed solution is that women should make it clear that if they’ve said “no” to sex they will initiate if they actually want sex later. This is sensible advice (and also literally the affirmative consent he keeps bashing). So I’m not saying he’s recommending that men rape women who make out with them; he is clearly not doing so.
(Although he does include the statement that women shouldn’t be afraid of rejection when they initiate sex they’d previously said “no” to, because “he had already demonstrated his desire to go that far.” Apparently wanting sex on at least one occasion means it would be ridiculous for a man to not want sex later! Jesus Christ.)
But otherwise, this passage… First, observe the fact that Farrell doesn’t recognize, at any point, that men can want to make out with someone and not want to have sex with them. Neither does he recognize that sex can take some form other than “kissing –> groping –> maybe oral –> PIV,” presumably because if he did the assumption that if you consent to makeouts you’re nonverbally consenting to all other sex acts would be obviously ludicrous. (“But why shouldn’t I have forcefed my boyfriend three cakes and then ground my clit on his belly until I came? He was making out with me!”)
But more importantly: this is a sympathetic portrayal of someone justifying doing sexual acts that someone else said no to, that is, it is a sympathetic portrayal of sexual assault or perhaps rape. We are reassured that Susan felt fine with it. While of course this is in no way a contrived hypothetical needed to make Farrell’s case work, he is still committing sexual assault. If I respond to a bike theft with “eh, he probably needed it”, this does not mean the person did not commit theft. This is not a section about false rape accusations, which are horrible. If someone has sex with someone else who said no to sex, that is, in fact, a true rape accusation.
Apparently it is one of the major difficulties of dating for a man that his victim will fail to take responsibility for being sexually assaulted. I imagine that is an extreme difficulty for the sexual-assault-committing population! Truly I weep for their pain.
But if I were a man I would be fairly resentful of the assumption that I was part of the sexual-assault-committing (or at least sexual-assault-desiring-to-commit) population. In fact, I’m sort of resentful on the part of the men I know.
One girl wanted him to be a gentleman one moment, but let him know how much she had loved reading Fifty Shades of Grey. Since he didn’t know much about Fifty Shades of Grey, he Googled it. He discovered Fifty Shades of Grey was the fastest-selling paperback book in history— and it celebrates BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Sadism and Masochism). The story line features a girl who is a college student and a virgin. Yes, those mixed messages didn’t quite synch with the seminars challenging “what is there about ‘no’ that you don’t understand”?
Kyle is apparently confused about the concept of “fiction” and I am concerned about how this interferes with his everyday life. If his girlfriend watches Hannibal NBC, will he think she wants him to murder someone and then secretly feed her their remains? Even worse, Kyle’s objection is not “Fifty Shades of Grey’s hero commits sexual violence, stalking, and emotional abuse”, which would at least have the glimmerings of a point, but “Fifty Shades of Grey is about BDSM.” So… it’s confusing when someone likes BDSM and also doesn’t want to be raped? Thanks, dude.
All right, moving on to date robbery:
While from the graduation dinner on, Kurt ‘got’ his expectation to pay, he now started watching for cues as to just what he was expected to pay for. He concluded it would help if he paid for all “Four D’s”: Drinks; Dinners; Driving; and the Date (e.g., tickets, flowers, ski lift, hotel). He smiled a bit sardonically the day he recognized that if he was successful at paying for the first four D’s, he might earn the “privilege” of being the only one expected to pay for a Fifth “D”: a Diamond. (Again, the girl had the option to buy him a diamond, but not the expectation.)
What Kurt was experiencing might be called a sort of “robbery-by-social-custom.” Or “date robbery.”
So. Women’s biggest fear in dating is that they will suffer a form of violence that leads to a higher PTSD rate than combat. Men’s biggest fear in dating is that they will have to pick up the check. You know, I don’t like the phrase “male privilege”, but…
I don’t have a huge amount to say about this, to be honest. Yes, people should split the check. You should probably complain at traditionalists about this, not feminists. This does not make the wage gap matter less (…how much money are you spending on dates, Jesus). If this is so terribly traumatizing I don’t understand why some men get upset when I pick up the check.
When a boy is in his early teens, he is typically less mature than his female classmates. Yet this less-mature boy—who generally knows little about sex, and virtually nothing about girls—is the one expected to risk sexual rejection with a more-mature girl. Now there’s enough to make him hide behind his computer!
Aren’t girls the ones who often initiate these days? In the past half-century, just as we’ve increasingly given our daughters the option to pay, we’ve also given them the option of taking sexual initiatives. In contrast, our sons still feel the expectation of taking sexual initiatives—that is, the expectation of risking sexual rejection.
I think we can see (e.g. Scott Aaronson) that sexual rejection (and the related fears of hurting people) are legitimately terrifying for many men and causes them a good deal of emotional pain. I don’t object to someone pointing out this fact. And I think it’s great for women to ask men out; I encourage everyone to express interest in people they’re interested in.
However, I do want to point out that the “female” role isn’t exactly all roses either. A lot of people have a tendency to compare the experience of being an undesirable man (getting rejected a lot) and a desirable woman (having lots of people call you). But being desirable is pretty much awesome whether you are in the male or female role. Desirable initiatees don’t have to ask people out, but on the other hand desirable initiators can ask out the person they’re most interested in first, control the pace of the interaction, and sometimes get accepted even if the person is meh on them and then can wow the person on the date. On the other hand, the experience of being an undesirable initiatee is awful. Farrell talks about the pain of an extended rejection, but at least an initiator can end it by making the flirtation explicit: undesirable women are literally being constantly, silently rejected by every man they interact with. Initiators can improve their chances by hitting on more people; initiatees can do nothing.
I am not saying “being an initiatee is better than being an initiator!” I am saying that being desirable rocks, being undesirable sucks, which flavor of undesirable you prefer depends a lot more on your particular preferences than on their objective goodness or badness, and that both people who prefer initiating and people who don’t should be more compassionate to each other.
This section also features more of The Amazing Adventures of Kyle, Worst Person Ever. (Technically this section is before “date responsibility”, but eh.) Kyle is so terrified of rejection that he wants to get Susan drunk so that she will consent to sex she would otherwise not to consent to, which may or may not be rape but is definitely sleazy as hell.
Furthermore, we discover that Kyle is actually being asked out by lots of girls! He just doesn’t like women who ask him out, he likes women who are being chased by other guys. Which, like, first, if you think women are only being hit on by guys they want to fuck, you are in Cloudcuckooland. Kyle’s situation is the same as many women’s. Second, it seems to me that if Kyle hates sexual rejection enough to deliberately have sex with someone that they don’t want, he should at least consider giving one of those girls a chance. Third, it seems to me a reasonable request that Farrell’s poster boy for fear of rejection and why women should initiate more not be someone who is being hit on all the time by women. Is Farrell planning to write a book about how poverty is terrible in which his example is a man who can only afford one Lamborghini?
Fuck you, Kyle.
Finally, we have date shame:
If your gut response was to rank the sex more negatively than the murder mystery, you’re in agreement with virtually every parent in America—and most of the world.
Might your son, though, be unconsciously hearing that “sex is more appalling than murder”? Might this leave him with the feeling that “sex is dirty”?
Again, this is a legitimate issue. I am sympathetic to slut-shaming of people of all genders. Many feminists fail to notice sex-negativity (and its twin compulsory sexuality) directed at men; they should not do that.
On the other hand, if you think that sexual shame is not something that women have to experience, you are a ridiculous person. As many feminist blogs point out, women regularly experience shame about their sexualities. I am legitimately having a hard time explaining that women also experience sexual shame, because it is sort of like explaining that the sky is often blue. At no point does Farrell recognize this extremely Feminism 101 fact.
Now, I’m not against people deriving value from theorists that are objectively awful. Catherine MacKinnon is a condescending, whorephobic doucheface, and I still really enjoyed Toward a Feminist Theory of the State and regularly bitch that it’s not available in ebook format. But sometimes it seems like people aren’t aware of this sort of thing, so I thought I’d share.