Monthly Archives: April 2011

If She Was Drunk, Did She Rape Herself?

It’s almost universal that gang rape victims are intoxicated, and for some reason when alcohol gets involved, a drunk woman did it to herself.

That’s what Mary Koss, a professor specializing in sexual violence at the University of Arizona’s College of Public Health, declared in a May 26, 2007 Mercury News interview.

Koss was explaining why so few women report rape, amidst discussion of the 2007 rape of a teen by members of the De Anza College baseball team.

When this case went to trial last month, the defense implied that the victim had brought the rape on herself, asking, “People told you you were flirtatious when you drink alcohol? People told you that you were touchy-feely when you drink alcohol? You knew the risks of drinking?”

Interestingly, no one asked the accused men why they invited a teen who was known to flirt outrageously when she drank. Perhaps so they could blame her for the rape? It’s jarring to hear innuendo go the other direction.

More typically, alcohol doesn’t bring on flirtatious behavior so much as weaken judgment and ability to respond. And for this, the victim is blamed. “She should have known better than to drink,” it’s so often said.

At the same time, drinking gets men off the hook: “Well he was drunk, so he didn’t know what he was doing. That’s not a crime,” the storyline goes. No one blames men for not realizing that alcohol can lead to a loss in their judgment.

And it’s not uncommon to purposely get women drunk with the intent of facilitating rape. Yet young men can balk at the accusation when they get young women intoxicated to get sex.

A few months ago the Dallas Police Chief was criticized for focusing on what potential victims could do to prevent rape – keep watch on each other when the drinking begins – and not on what potential perpetrators could do to keep from raping.

Why do we so often focus on women’s drinking instead of rapists’ raping? Blaming the victim instead of blaming the perpetrator. And so it goes on…

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Fatal Attraction: Relationship Killed By What Sparked It

When a relationship is killed by whatever had sparked it, that’s a fatal attraction.

Living in a culture that sexualizes male dominance, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that a friend of mine was once drawn to the “take charge,” male dominant qualities of one of her lovers. So attracted that she married him. A few years later she left him for the same reason. Many women romanticize male dominance only to find that it’s not so much fun to be bossed around and never get your way in real life.

Or, we might look for someone to balance us out. Another friend was attracted to the free-spirited artistic quality of his ex-wife. She seemed a nice counterweight to his ordered, mathematical mind. But after a few years her carefree ways morphed into chaos. Complimentary souls won’t necessarily complete us.

Some women are attracted to men who show a deep interest in them. A boyfriend’s obsession and jealousy makes her feel really loved. But after he starts beating her because other men looked her way, she eventually sees he has a possessive, abusive personality.

The most common fatal attraction involves friendliness. One 20-year-old found her boyfriend’s humor and sociability appealing when they first met. Now, asked about his least attractive quality, she points to his friendliness, saying “He often flirts with others.” 

Physical attractiveness can also become an unexpected turn off. A forty-one year old man had initially been drawn to his girlfriend’s sexy, exotic Asian looks. He had also liked her outgoing, flirty personality. But over time that all became a problem as he came to see her as “disloyal and mercurial.”

The list goes on. A woman is attracted to a man’s sense of humor but later complains that he’s never serious. A man is drawn to his partner’s nurturing nature, but comes to see her as smothering. A woman admires her husband’s ambition, but then sees him as a workaholic.

There is a real tendency to become disillusioned with qualities that initially attract us. I guess there can be too much of a good thing.

Be careful what you wish for.

Georgia Platts

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“Dressing Like Prostitutes”? Authentic Sexuality?

Why do moms let their daughters “dress like prostitutes?” asked Jennifer Moses in a Wall Street Journal piece that got people talking.

Moses thinks it’s because the moms had a sexually free past, which they now regret. “Not one woman I’ve ever asked about the subject,” she declared, “has said that she wishes she’d ‘experimented’ more.”

So wouldn’t you want your daughters to NOT look like prostitutes, then?

Yes, but mom’s don’t want to be hypocrites, she says, so they don’t know how to advise their daughters.

Joyce McFadden, writing in the Huffington Post, sees things differently. “I think the real problem is that dressing provocatively is one of the only outlets we allow our daughters to express their sexuality,” she said.

McFadden prefers a healthier approach, recommending moms help their daughters to own an authentic sexuality.

Sounds good. But what would that be?

As I see it, authentic sexuality contains many parts.

Authentic sexuality is not shameful

Bombarded with words like slut, skank and whore, it’s easy for sexually interested young women to feel polluted. I’m not aware of even one positive word that specifically communicates women enjoying sexuality. Compounding the problem, when parents avoid discussing the matter with their daughters the silence shows embarrassment. Meanwhile, church elders warn of the untamed libido, but the message can come across as “sex is sinful.” Opposing images of “Madonna and Whore” emphasize the point. Even when sex is forced upon women against their will, they can end up feel shamed, themselves.

Instead, women and girls need to know that sex it is completely natural. Understanding and exploring their bodies and what pleases them is, too.

 

Authentic sexuality is not a crutch for powerlessness or low self-esteem

More than one commenter on McFadden’s piece felt girls dressed provocativ­ely to gain power over boys, or to simply feel empowered, generally. I’m all for female empowerment. But how much strength is there, really, in drawing the male gaze? Or in gaining a favor here or there? Is this power substantive? Some women may skillfully use their sexuality to manipulate, but manipulation is a weak form of power. It’s what people do when they feel they have no other choice.

Another commenter sees the matter differently: “I’ve worked as a school counselor and there is a difference between girls wearing clothing they are comfortabl­e with and girls who wear clothing to manipulate and have power over boys, which is a self-estee­m issue.”

Really about self-esteem? Maybe that’s right because I don’t see a lot of real power in sexy dressing.

Nothing wrong with feeling good when people find you attractive. But hopefully it’s not a primary source of self-worth. That sort of beauty is all about the surface, and it is fleeting.

Instead, real contributions create real power and substantive esteem.

What else?

Authentic sexuality also involves cutting through the lure of the market, peer pressure, and the flood of images that scream “sexy is” to discover one’s own sexuality and authentic pleasure.

But I’ll save that discussion for next week.

Georgia Platts

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Higher Suicide Rates in Conservative “Values Voters” States

Values voters. That’s what those who vote their principles on gay rights and abortion are called. So long as they vote anti-gay and anti-choice. 

Really? Are those the only values? And are they good ones? 

Why is voting to deny gays and lesbians equal rights a value, while voting to defend their rights is not? Why is voting against the right of women to control their bodies not a value? Abortion rates are about the same whether legal or not, so many girls and women die when safe and legal options are not available. 

Are they called values voters because they vote their morals against their pocketbooks? Plenty of well-to-do liberals do the same thing, voting for greater equality and opportunity for women, people of color, gays and the poor against their own financial interests.  

Why are progressive ethics seemingly invisible? 

I got to thinking about this while looking over research that finds teen suicide rates are higher where values voters live. 

According to a Columbia University study, suicide attempts by both gay and straight teens are more common in politically conservative areas, even among kids who weren’t bullied or depressed.  

The difference in suicide rates might have something to do with differences in conservative and progressive principles. 

Conservatives focus on tradition and authority. 

Progressives recognize the worth and dignity of each human being, whether female or male; black, white, or brown; gay, straight, bi or trans. And progressives seek to avoid inflicting harm on others. 

No wonder teens are less likely to commit suicide in communities that hold these ideals. 

Interestingly, the Bible, which is a major source of conservative morals, contains a progressive message.   

True, Leviticus 18:22 does say, “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman,” which many interpret as banning homosexuality. But Leviticus 20:13 deems killing the proper punishment. Yet I don’t know anyone who insists on adhering to both points, leaving them inconsistent in relying on Biblical authority. 

At the same time, Jesus declared the greatest commandments loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40). 

When it’s all about love and the golden rule, good progressive values, there will surely be much less suicide. 

Georgia Platts

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Lose Virginity, Lose Self-Esteem?

When women lose their virginity, they can lose self-esteem, too, experiencing a small drop. That’s what a recent Penn State study reveals.

Why?

Women college students were surveyed over time. Before sex the women felt increasingly good about their bodies. But after first sex they felt worse. Looks like when they’re in bed women start worrying about whether they look good enough. Masters and Johnson tagged the phenomenon of watching yourself from a third person perspective instead of focusing on sexual sensations or your partner, “spectatoring.”  Women are much more prone, being the objectified. Then, feeling they don’t measure up, self-worth drops.

Other usual suspects may also affect self-esteem, including the double standard that provokes worries about labels like slut and whore. Tracy Clark-Flory over at salon.com points to a 1995 study that found “women were significantly more likely to report that their first sexual experience left them feeling less pleasure, satisfaction, and excitement than men, and more sadness, guilt, nervousness, tension, embarrassment, and fear.” Even now women continue to experience that bind.

The double standard strikes again when women feel used, unappreciated, and worried about reputations after short flings or one-night stands.

Meanwhile, a study I recently posted finds 35% of women in strong partnerships feeling sad, anxious, restless, or irritable, after sex. Researchers don’t know why. Commenters, speculating on their own experience with the phenomenon, fingered sexual repression or difficulties with orgasm (which are related to repression) as culprit.

Studies repeatedly find that women are less likely than men to enjoy sex. Other research suggests the problem is not biologically based, or inevitable. Women in sex-positive cultures enjoy sexuality a great deal.

We are going to have to move beyond sexism for women to reclaim their sexuality. That would benefit both women and men.

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Did Women Create Burqa Culture?

In honor of implementation of the French “burqa ban,” and the brouhaha it is causing from Bill Maher to the New York Times, I repost the following:

The French “burqa ban” has got me thinking. Did women have equal power to create the burqa? And who benefits from this garment?

Some charge that rejecting the burqa comes from fear of the other, or ethnocentrism. I’m in sync with cultural relativism, so long as no one is being hurt. But buqas and “burqa cultures” don’t give women equal power. And women certainly did not have equal sway in creating the customs of these societies.

Think about the laws that exist in places where women are required to cover up in burqas, abayas, niqabs (facemasks) or various other veilings.

Is it likely that women decided that men could easily demand a divorce, but women could get one only with difficulty?

Is it likely that women created the notion that sharing a husband with other women might be fun?

Did women create the idea that an adulterous man be punished by burial up to his waist before being stoned, while a woman must be buried to her breasts – and one who escapes, escapes the stoning?

In these cultures, when a woman is raped it is her fault. She obviously let some hair fall from her covering, or she allowed an ankle to show. Everyone knows that no man could resist such things. Did women decide that women, and not men, are responsible for men’s sexuality?

Did women originate the notion that after rape, the victim must be killed to restore family honor?

Did women clamor for a burqa that limits their power and autonomy – keeping them from driving in Saudi Arabia and getting jobs that are far from home? Did women design this garment that prevents small pleasures like seeing clearly or feeling the sun and the wind?

And who benefits?

Men benefit from easily obtaining a divorce, but not allowing their wives the same privilege. Men benefit from the sexual variety of having many wives, while women are left to share one man. Men benefit by more easily escaping a stoning. And men can rape with impunity since women fear reporting sexual assault, lest their families kill them. Men gain power when women are incapable of getting jobs and income. How much easier is it to beat women for the infraction of straying outside the home, or letting a wrist show, when they are black or blue blobs, and not human beings?

It is common to make accusations of ethnocentrism when one culture rejects the practices of another. Often the fears are valid.

But if a powerful group creates a culture that benefits themselves to the detriment of others, the critique is not about ethnocentrism. It is about human rights.

Georgia Platts

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One Out of Ten Women Get Depressed After Sex

By Leslie Pitterson

While sex is usually associated with ecstasy, for some women getting it in is anything but joyous.

According to a new study published in the the International Journal of Sexual Health, a third of women under 35 say they often feel sad, anxious, restless or irritable after sex. Further more, 10 percent of the women surveyed admitted to frequently or almost always feel sad after their romp in the sheets was done.

While previous research has shown a connection between depression following casual sex, the women in the study were not experiencing the blues as a result of a one night stand. In fact, many of them were in established relationships and still felt the nagging feelings after having sex with the ones they were with.

Speaking on her emotions in relation to her romantic relationship, one of the respondents said:

“I did not associate the feeling with an absence of love or affection for my sexual partner nor with an absence of love or affection from them towards me, because it seemed so unconnected with them.”

The study has many researchers fuddled. The definite cause for “post-coital sadness” as it is known in the psychological community, remains unknown. While researchers note that these feels are common in women who approach sexual intercourse with histories of sexual abuse often associate making love with an overwhelming sense of guilt. However, this is not seen as a constant with the women interviewed for the study, so researchers will be looking next at the different personalities of the women. Researchers hope that by examining their personality types, they can find a connection between how the women describe themselves and how they experience the act of having sex.

This article was originally posted in Clutch on April 11, 2011.

Sample comments from readers

I experience this. When I was having sex this is something I experienced. Hmm…Could be personality types…

I would imagine that women my age at least (over 40) may still have some guilt tied up with sex. Growing up in the 60′s and being browbeaten, threatened and dared not to “keep your dress down and your panties up”, by the time many women did get some, they felt too guilty about it to enjoy it. And then these women raised their daughters this same way as they were raised, which would explain younger women suffering from the same emotional malady. We pass along a lot of twisted notions to our kids sometimes, even when we know it’s not right.

Maybe it is due to dissatisfaction cause ain’t nothing worst than getting all horny and having the inability to put the fire out. And perhaps they may be unable to achieve orgasms that is something i think should be explored as well.

I had that problem in the past but for some reason, it hasn’t occurred in a very long time. I have also experienced extreme agitation and anger, but um, I’m sure that was due to not being satisfied.

i get irritable when i don’t have an orgasm. this is why i believe in using a magic wand. go  get one – around $35. best money you will ever spend.

My thoughts:

In cultures that are sex-positive for women, women enjoy sex a great deal and are highly orgasmic. Something is terribly wrong in our society for one-third of American women to feel sad or anxious after sex.

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Men: Erotic Objects of Women’s Gaze

Michelangelo's "David" -- a view from behind.

Michelangelo’s “David” — a view from behind.

A nude woman frolics in silhouette as clothed men sleuth about, guns in hand and feet in chase. These images introduce The Spy Who Loved Me.

Flipping through TV stations the other day, this Bond rerun caught my eye and left me imagining the reverse: a nude man cavorting about as clothed women raced in pursuit of criminals. Weird.

The female body is celebrated – or exploited – while the male body is ignored.

Check out People’s sexiest men and you will see face shots, loose T-shirts, and very few rippled muscles. Who could imagine a “sexiest woman” shoot sans bodies.

Searching for a calendar of sexy men at Boarders, the closest I could find was Barack Obama.

Yeah, yeah, there is the occasional men’s underwear ad, but they are rare.

No wonder women don’t spend a lot of time checking out men’s bodies, ogling them or judging them.

A man commented on one of my posts that (to paraphrase):

Not only are men not considered erotic, they are often used to get laughs. In Seinfeld, Elaine referred to the male body as “utilitarian,” implying that the female is much more erotic. George Costanza became a victim of “shrinkage.” Scenes of Johnny Knoxville running around in a thong get chuckles.

Why is the male body so de-eroticized?

One possibility: Men have historically controlled media, and they focus on what they find sexy (about 95% of them anyway). Homophobia further hinders eroticization. As women enter the industry we find more focus on men, but still not much compared with women. Meanwhile, showered with sexy-women images from the time they are small, even women come to find women the sexier of the species.

What if the world were to switch? Suddenly, a universe of men in Speedo’s?

What if women became subject, and men erotic object for women to gaze upon? What if women sought to consume men as objects? Judging them, grading their beauty? Would women feel empowered, experiencing themselves on the “person” side of the person/object divide?

Something to think about.

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Super Sloppy 17ths

By Genevieve Dempre

I realized I was a feminist the first time I gave myself permission to be angry with men. My first boyfriend in high school spent a lot of time undermining me in ways that felt like love. He’d tell me I was pretty but not sexy, and then have sex with me. He’d tell me I was smart, but then laugh with his brothers at how I was “ditzy.” He’d look deep into my eyes and tell me the world was ours, and how much he loved me, then tell me I was being crazy when I’d call him more than he liked, or when I’d ask for anything at all. He gave me what he wanted to give me when he wanted to give it to me, and I got to tell myself over and over again that it was what being in love was like.

That guy broke my heart when he broke up with me, and I felt like I lost my whole world. He made me feel like my world wasn’t any bigger than him and that any attempts to make it so were a result of me being “crazy.” After that I gravitated towards any guy who made me feel validated for a few minutes. I wanted to be friends with guys only—I told myself that women were catty and shallow, and that I just got along better with guys. Looking back on that time, I was desperately unhappy and also desperate to be someone who mattered. And the only people I knew who mattered were men.

I sat through marathon sports sessions and pretended to care. I cooked and I cleaned and I fetched beer and I sat by while guys made comments about other girls … girls who weren’t me, because I certainly wasn’t that girl. I wasn’t stupid and slutty and weak, I wasn’t obsessed with Sex and the City and bad alcohol, and I certainly didn’t get easily offended like all those other girls did, by stuff like porn and strippers and sexual comments.

I could keep that face on until I couldn’t. And that’s when the shortfalls of these guys became painfully apparent. When I missed my first boyfriend so much, I cried during sex with a one night stand and the guy asked if I was OK—and when I said yes, he kept going while I kept crying. When a guy cheated on his girlfriend with me and—nevermind that I was drunk and he was four years older and it was my first week of college—she stayed in a relationship with him but made sure everyone we knew heard about what an evil, dirty, boyfriend-stealing slut I was. When I was too drunk to drive home and asked a male acquaintance to drive me, and we had sex that I don’t fully remember—but he told everyone. And this stuff happened again and again, until it culminated in a night when at a fraternity party, someone grabbed a microphone and asked if anyone wanted their turn at “super sloppy seventeenths” with me.

I dropped out of school then. I felt so worthless I wanted to die. Everyone had figured it out: I was weak, worthless, stupid, and worst of all, a total whore. And after I hit rock-bottom I started to wonder why. Why was it that sex meant that something had been taken away from me and given to some guy? Why was it that guys could shamelessly talk about their sex lives, but I was supposed to be ashamed of mine? Where exactly did this slut label that was breaking my heart come from?

And then the first guy came back. After another painfully draining relationship with him, I got the opportunity to tell him to go fuck himself, to get his things out of the house and leave me to my life. I finally started living for myself. And I realized that straight white men are given power, but the rest of us have to find ours. That made me so angry and so determined at the same time, and something inside me fundamentally changed: I stopped accepting things for what they are and started asking questions about why they are that way. This changed my career trajectory in an insanely positive way. It changed how I relate to men, which led to a fantastic, egalitarian relationship with a man I plan to marry (I’m the one who proposed). And perhaps most importantly, it led to some deeply rewarding friendships with other women. Whom I stopped viewing as the enemy in my quest for male validation and started to see as fellow survivors of the patriarchy.

I found feminism like some people find religion. It changed my life and it made me whole.

This was originally posted on the Ms. Magazine Blog on March 31, 2011. The piece was part of a week-long blog carnival in honor of Feminist Coming Out Day.

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She Drinks, She Flirts, She Passes Out … Is It Rape?

Around midnight at a college party, several young women soccer players are alerted that a 17-year-old girl is barricaded in a room with eight guys on the baseball team. Through a window, the women glimpse what looks like an assault.

They batter down the door and, as the men disperse, find a young, semi-conscious woman on her back, unmoving and naked from the waist down. Vomit trickles from her mouth down the side of her face and collects in a pool. Blood runs from her genitals. She mumbles, “I’m sorry.”

The women lift up the teen, wipe the vomit from her face, carry her to their car and drive her to a hospital. The next day, the girl remembers nothing.

This is the scene the soccer players and other witnesses describe at a De Anza College party in San Jose four years ago. Is it rape?

The case has just been tried in civil court because the Santa Clara, Calif., district attorney felt there was not enough evidence to criminally prosecute, since all involved were drunk.

In civil court, witnesses for the defense supplied other details. Earlier in the night, the girl was drunk and flirting. She rubbed up against a young man and grabbed his genitals. She performed a bawdy lap dance in front of other party-goers. She made a graphic sexual invitation.

Is it rape?

Today, the jury in the civil suit found the defendants not liable on any of 10 charges, including two counts of rape. I am not surprised.

I am not surprised because as a culture we are sorely unaware of the dynamics of rape and its motivations.

But I believe a rape did occur, and here’s why.

Rape is sex without consent, plain and simple. In this case, the plaintiff argued that there was no consent because the woman was intoxicated, unconscious, or both. Everyone agreed that six or seven hours after the alleged assault, the young woman’s blood-alcohol level was at least twice the legal limit for driving under the influence. However, unlike drunk-driving, there is no legal limit at which a blood alcohol level automatically indicates lack of consent. Hence, the plaintiff and defense argued over the timing of the teen’s peak blood alcohol level.

The defense expert testified that the teen had not reached peak blood alcohol level until after she had left the bedroom, while the plaintiff’s toxicology expert testified that she had reached peak level while in the bedroom. So expert evidence is contradictory.

However, when the soccer girls found the young woman, they say she was passed out on the bed and in need of help to rise up and walk to a car. That sounds like “peak level”–or at least, a level at which consent was impossible–before she left the bedroom.

Rapists rape for different reasons. Gang rapes, which are most common among sports teams, fraternities and criminal gangs, are often male bonding rituals meant to degrade a woman as men enact male superiority.

This was sex with a nearly comatose girl, an object–a sex object–used by others. The whole scenario looked more like a degradation ceremony than sex. One man left the room and told a friend, “There is a girl … basically getting gang banged.” Yet when the soccer players forced their way into the room, another man allegedly branded the teen, “a ho” who “wanted it.”

Another young woman came forward to say that one of the baseball players had raped her in the same small room 10 weeks before. But his insurance company settled last week, making him no longer a defendant and testimony about him inadmissible.

Defense attorneys asserted everything was on the up-and-up, insisting, “If it weren’t for the soccer girls, we wouldn’t be here.” The plaintiff rebutted: “If it weren’t for the soccer girls, the attack would have continued,” adding, “For how long? Hours? Would she have woken up in the morning?”

Some still, horrendously, blame the victim: She should have known better than to let herself get drunk, they say. The accused insisted she invited the behavior. She had propositioned the men.

Was the teen an unwise, and possibly troubled, girl? Maybe. Was she raped? By any reasonable standard, yes.

This post originally appeared in the Ms. Magazine Blog April 8, 2011

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