Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Are Men By Nature Sexually Exploitative?

In several places where men are critical of calls for rape prevention aimed at men, I've seen the assertion made that feminists are demanding that men suppress their natural sexual aggressiveness and therefore are attempting to turn boys and men into unnatural beings -- the kind that don't use force or coercion (though they frequently use softer words for these actions) to get sex.

For many people who say all men aren't sexually aggressive and not all men try to get sex not freely given there is still a firm belief that men who are sexually exploitative or who have the potential to cross the line are impervious to all efforts to prevent rape. To them the only way to prevent rape is to demand that all girls and women alter their lives so no dangerous men can learn anything about them or get anywhere near them. Since every rapist is known to some women (through family, church, work, etc) this sort of rape prevention is in fact impossible.

It is downright absurd when combined with an attitude that says we shouldn't even try to get through to potential rapists to stop them from hurting others.

These 2 views which both oppose asking boys and men to prevent rape make harsh assumptions about boys and men. In the first view the harsh assumption is given with a wink, in the second it is given with a shrug.

These attitudes lead me back to the question in the title of this post.

I believe the answer to the question: "Are men by nature sexually exploitative?" is no. All sexual behavior involves mostly learned behavior. I shouldn't have to point it out but I will anyway:

Natural, biological sexual arousal is not the same thing as sexual behavior.

Biological sexual arousal is not exploitative. It is a physical and physiological sensation. What you do in response to that sensation involves a multitude of choices and judgments about yourself, the environment around you and about others.

The last item: choices and judgments about others is where the Only Women Can Prevent Rape mantra backfires.

If we tell girls and women, "if you don't want to be raped, you must do ___" we are always implying that if a girl or woman doesn't do ___ that she in fact doesn't care whether she is raped or not. Denying this corollary message doesn't magically make it go away. Rapists need to rationalize their actions and if a message can be twisted to suit their purposes they will do so.

It's no coincidence that in many rape cases, people will often begin their responses with, "She's just a ... who can believe what she says" or "This man attacked an innocent child." The alleged rapist's actions can be exactly the same, rape, yet the person's opinion of the alleged victim (dishonest vs. truly innocent) can determine whether the person believes the rapist should be put to death or exonerated of these "obviously" false charges.

We might say that a husband and wife are free to have sex whenever they want, but we don't expect to find them doing it in the middle of the produce section of the local grocer simply because some phallic-shaped object evoked sexual arousal in the husband. It isn't nature which prevents a married couple from this public sexual behavior. It is choice.

The same is true for rape. It ain't nature, it is choice.

If a man grew up in an environment where being sexually exploitative and sexually aggressive was seen as a cornerstone to being a successful man, with no alternative views, he could have started learning the ways of sexual exploitation long before his first sexual arousal. He needs an alternative model for sexual interactions far more than his potential victims need to be scolded for being vulnerable.

For those who grew up with the accepted belief that it is natural for men to sexually exploit girls and women and that rape prevention should only be done by potential victims, and who say, "that's just how the world is." I say, "That isn't truth, that is laziness." If you don't know how to prevent boys and men from raping, just admit your incompetence in that area.

If the only way a man knows how to have sex is to overpower the person he wants to have sex with, the problem is with his beliefs, his relationship skills and his choices. The problem is not that feminists are demanding that men stop being "real" men.

You don't prevent arson by telling everyone to carry a fire extinguisher everywhere they go and you don't prevent rape by telling women to carry what is the equivalent of a fire extinguisher everywhere they go.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 10:02 AM   3 comments links to this post


At May 08, 2007 10:45 AM, Anonymous Scott said...

Trying to link rape with sex will always lead us into wrong assumptions. Rape, whether it is perpetrated by a man or a woman, has nothing to do with sex. It is about power.

Essentially rape is when one individual uses their power, whether it is physical power, authority, or whatever, to exploit another person by attacking them where they are most vulnerable.

Sex is about love, and it is the deepest and most intimate expression of love that we have. Rape is the violation of that intimacy by another person. It essence, the rapist is feeding off their victim's powerlessness and fear. That's what makes it such a horrific crime.

We will only stop rapists when we begin to accept that rape is entirely one person taking power over another. By falling back on the scapegoat of sex, we are ignoring the true crime.

At May 08, 2007 11:19 PM, Anonymous cooper said...

This is really the key to it all.
"Biological sexual arousal is not exploitative. It is a physical and physiological sensation. What you do in response to that sensation involves a multitude of choices and judgments about yourself, the environment around you and about others."

At May 09, 2007 6:53 PM, Blogger sophie said...

Even when rape looks like sex, it's about power.
But I don't agree that there should never be any attempt to link the two. Exploitive sex *is* still sex.
What's more, the approval of male agression and dominance is so prevalent that normal sex is tainted by this attitude. Trying to forever separate the two only results in many, many more abused women who have no word for what they feel, no name for the crime against them, because the power abuse wasn't immediately apparent.


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