Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Making Amends (I hope) or a Public Apology

I am a proud, arrogant, stubborn person. Especially when I feel threatened. Last night, I went into a rampage on Twitter against my ex-husband and his new wife who were behaving in a way that I felt threatened my relationship with my kids. I called the two of them juvenile, stupid and weak. I roared about getting a lawyer if they thought they could just step in and tell me that I no longer had say over my children's lives. I went on a particularly vicious rampage against the new wife, who frankly has been engaging in some power play with my kids. I refuse to apologize for all the terrible things I said about her except for one. I called her short and fat. And for that, I am deeply sorry. I'm not even so much deeply sorry about how it might affect her feelings should she ever see it. I've tried to maintain compassion for her through these little power battles but since she continues to refuse to talk to me (she's never once talked to me. It's not like I've done or said something up to this point that has made her mad. She just won't talk to me), I've decided to quit seeing her point of view and build her into whatever kind of monster my imagination desires. Suck it, chica.

The reason I'm so sorry for that comment is because it was so entirely uncalled for. I had this brought home to me when one of my dear friends sent me a tweet telling me that as a short and fat person, she was no longer following me on Twitter. I realized at that moment that I've internalized the privilege that comes with being thin. I've internalized the messages that tell me that as a tall, thin person, I'm automatically better than someone with a different body type. For me, my comment about that woman's height and weight are equivalent to racist, sexist or religionist (?) comments about someone's skin color, gender or faith. I recently read this post on The Exponent blog and found myself whining about how hard it was to be thin. After my friend's comment to me last night on Twitter, I find that my whining about my body type makes me no better than the white, Christian male who whines about how discriminated against he is.

And the thing is, I should know better. In theory, I have no use for the current beauty culture and the way it idealizes only one body type. I cheer quietly to myself when I see plus-size or just different sized models in feminist magazines. I was at a friend's house just a few weeks ago getting angry at my friends for putting down fat people and refusing to date them. And then I go off and say something to the effect of someone being inferior to me based on appearance alone. My father is six three and weighs around 170 lbs. My mother was almost my height and was thinner than me for the majority of her life. I came into my body type entirely by chance. I have no right to lord it over others.

This particular friend that I've offended has done countless good to me. She's had me in her home, fed me, given me rides when my car broke down, taken me out of town for fun trips and simply been someone I could rail with on all my little soapbox subjects. And yet I managed to betray her entirely. And not just her, but others of my friends who aren't tall and thin like me but have been just as kind and giving. How did I dismiss their worthiness so off-handedly?

I have no excuse. All I can offer as an apology is that I gained some self-awareness from my friend's comment on Twitter. I won't do it again. This will be something I'll be thinking about for a good while. How do I eradicate the feelings of superiority I didn't even realize I had? How do I internalize the concepts that I argue for outwardly but obviously hadn't accepted inwardly? How do I ever make this up to this friend and any of my other friends who saw that comment and were also hurt by it?

Once again, I'm deeply sorry to any of my readers or friends who saw or were told about my behavior. I love all of you so much. You've all been so kind to me with no expectation of return. I'm going to work to change my views on these things. Allow me now to beg for your forgiveness.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sexual control, consent, responsibility

Since I have a contracts final in two days, I'm doing the obviously responsible thing and putting off studying to write a blog post about rape. We'd been talking about rape in my criminal law class even before all the drama about Julian Assange went down. So in a morbidly fortuitous way, I'd already been thinking about what rape means in our culture when he was arrested.

True to my lazy ways, rather than go research rape history, I'm going to outline how I've understood rape and leave that open for criticism in the comments. I'm still learning, so if y'all know something I don't, feel free to point me in the right direction.

From the way I understand it, rape was originally about theft, not sex. If a man forced a woman to have sex with her, that was only a problem if he wasn't married to her. Society saw that sex as a theft from the man that the woman actually belonged to. We didn't always recognize marital rape as a valid crime because rape wasn't about the woman originally. It was about a commodity being stolen. As time progressed and women became more fully human under the law (thank you, feminism!), we finally started seeing rape as a means of control or domination over women. It still wasn't about sex. It was about a man overpowering a woman and making her submit to him. It was about him seeing her body as something that he was entitled to. It was about her not having any sexual autonomy. We're finally getting to a point where we're acknowledging as a society that rape isn't about what a woman is wearing or where she's walking at night. Rape is generally about control--which is why we're also realizing as a society that rape is most common in relationships where the woman knows her attacker. Men use rape or sexual to keep women in a place of submission.

And now here we are at a place in history where women have more sexual autonomy than they've ever had before. Condoms are relatively easily accessible (I know they should be even more so if we're serious about preventing unwanted pregnancy, but that's for another post), birth control, at least for most middle class women, is still relatively accessible and while we have a long way to go on sexual education, enough awareness about disease prevention is arising so that most women and men are talking about these things and deciding what kinds of protection they want to use (hmmm. I'm realizing I could be projecting my own experience on to society at large here. Is that sentence naive?).

Which brings me to what I want to discuss. Again, before the Julian Assange drama, we were talking about rape in my criminal law class. We discussed rape history. We discussed consent. We discussed force as an element of rape and whether it should even have to be an element in rape. Legislatures are finally recognizing that some women don't resist because it would further endanger them. They're also recognizing that sometimes women are "forced" to have sex by more than just brute force. Maybe they're manipulated. Maybe they're shamed. But we're slowly realizing as a society that sex without consent can happen even without being beaten to the ground.

And this is where we get into the gray area. This is where I start getting confused and this is why I'm writing this post. We discussed a hypothetical where a man is potentially convicted of rape because he lied about wearing a condom. The woman had consented to have sex with him as long as he wore a condom. After the sex, she found out he hadn't worn one and so she filed a rape charge. I have to say, this makes me extremely uncomfortable. While I'm not going to say this happens all the time, it does happen that a woman will lie to a man about being on birth control. Has she raped him?

I'm all about a woman having a say in how sex goes down for her (heh). And I've been in situations where I felt like my body was being co-opted for someone else's purposes. I've been made to feel dirty and owned by a sexual partner (not this one, but that's also a post for another day). And it messed with me. It gave me issues about my body, control, trust, sexuality, etc. So I can't imagine the emotional trauma that must come from an actual rape.

And yet... I realize that I also have to take responsibility for my sexuality. I'm a big girl. I've never had sex and been unaware as to whether or not a condom was present. I've had condoms break in the middle of sex before (aren't y'all just thrilled at how much information I give you? Sorry. I feel like we gotta say these things out loud for them to get better). And I would hope that if I told a partner, "hey. the condom broke. you gotta pull out" or if the partner said, "oh, shit. the condom broke" and then i said, "ok. then pull out" he would. But if he didn't... I'm not sure it qualifies as rape. Is it wrong? ABSOLUTELY. You gotta stop when someone says stop. Jerk yourself off. Maybe ask her if she'll do it (and be willing to reciprocate. I mean, really guys? This shit is not all about you). But get out when she says get out.

But is that situation going to cause the same amount of emotional trauma that a more manipulative and/or forceful situation is going to cause a woman? Is a guy who keeps going after the condom breaks working under the same "i'm entitled to her" mentality as an uncle who molests his niece? Or is he like, "oh, shit. but i'm almost done!" I mean, no one likes a buzz kill, cock block, interrupted orgasm, however you want to call it. Are we really going to tell women that they're not responsible at all for checking whether the condom is in place before they actually start having sex? Is that helping women to tell them that they're entitled to sexual autonomy but still not capable of taking some responsibility in what we're trying to reform into a mutual relationship between mature adults?

Lastly, I want to clarify that I know I wasn't in the room for the Assange events. I have no idea what those women went through. My questions stem mainly from the hypothetical we discussed in class that seems to be very similar to the Assange mess. I'm also not trying to blame those women for anything. They're certainly entitled to have sex with whomever they want and to insist on condom use. But my questions above are sincere. I really want to understand this issue more. I want an honest dialogue (seriously, chrome? we're not spelling that with "ue" on the end anymore. sigh). So please, discuss.

UPDATED: Just wanted to throw in this delightful video on consent :) You know, lighten things up a bit.