Monday, December 21, 2009

Three strawmen.

I so often hear sex described in terms of genitals. Sex is all about penis and/or vagina, and everything else is trappings. (Especially for men, because lol men only want warm holes lol.) This is, to me, a bit like saying running is something you do with your feet. Feet are important for running, yes, but if you think your arms and hips and lungs and heart just sit there...

The point where this anatomical synecdoche becomes a problem is, often, when people start using it as an excuse to trivialize sex. Sex is frivolous, it's debased, it's something you really shouldn't give too much weight too, because it's just genitals. You shouldn't risk or sacrifice anything just to please your stupid genitals.

That statement becomes somewhat less self-evident if it's rephrased as "you shouldn't risk or sacrifice anything just to please your entire body and mind."


I've said before that I don't think "it isn't a choice!" is a good response to homophobia--it's true, but I'd rather say "even if it was a choice, so what?" Otherwise you frame homosexuality as a disability, something that has to be tolerated because it's inevitable rather than accepted because it's legitimate.

I'm going to extend that to fat. I don't like it when people answer "eww, fatty!" with "some people have hormonal problems or are on meds and can't help it." Although my reasoning is different. In this case, maybe they could help it, maybe they do have the physiology of an average person and simply ate too much... what's it to ya? Maybe it isn't smart or safe to overeat, but there's lots of people who take risks with their own bodies--contact sports players, people who don't wear helmets on motorcycles, people who have terrible diets but are skinny--who don't get the kind of schoolyard shit from grown adults that fatties do.

Maybe a fat person did get that way by stuffing their face full of Cheetos and pork rinds (she typed, miserably sarcastic, as she ate her dinner of skinless chicken breast with side of steamed peas), but that doesn't make them evil or gross or less of a person. And although fatness is unhealthy, I won't argue that, I feel like people who go on about healthcare costs and double plane seats and "the obesity epidemic" are sometimes just trying to justify their visceral reaction to a body shape that doesn't appeal to them.

"Tonight on CBS News: The Ugly Epidemic: new government programs to deal with the rising numbers of tragically unsexy Americans."


On drunken sex: I'm uncomfortable with people stating that drunken sex is rape. But I'm also uncomfortable with people saying that sex with an incoherently drunk person is okay.

I think the important distinction is that there are multiple levels of drunk. There's too drunk to make good decisions, and then there's too drunk to make any decisions. I think someone who has impaired judgement, but still basically has control of themselves and will remember things in the morning-someone who can't drive, but can at least walk home unassisted--is capable of giving consent. If a girl is dizzy and giggly and producing cartoon *hic* noises, but she knows who you are and what's going on and she actively participates, I don't think it's rape to have sex with her. If she's close to passing out and her "consent" is more like "not resisting," that's rape.

It's true that a drunk person might make a decision that they wouldn't make sober, and I think that taking advantage of someone in a state of impaired judgement is a dick move, but I don't think it's on the level of a crime. Saying "yes" when you really shouldn't have is a whole different ballpark from never saying "yes" at all.

I actually don't like participating in the Internet sport of "Is It Rape?" that much, I think it's bad taste for someone who's never been seriously sexually assaulted and isn't in law enforcement to be drawing stupid hypothetical rape/not-rape lines like this, but I'm unsettled by college propaganda posters about how if she's drunk you're a rapist. Because there's drunk, and then there's drunk. They're just not the same thing.


  1. "I'm uncomfortable with people stating that drunken sex is rape. But I'm also uncomfortable with people saying that sex with an incoherently drunk person is okay."

    I think this is one of the better descriptions of the difference in the interactions between smashed people. As someone who has been, more than I would like to admit in polite company, a participant of drunk sex, I've never had an issue with this distinction. It seems a pretty clear-cut issue, to me anyway. Maybe I'm just a softie (okay, you can probably drop the "maybe"), but when I've been around someone struggling with intoxication--literally anyone--my first response is to help them somehow. I mean making sure they're okay and, preferably, getting them over a toilet. God knows I've benefited from people doing the same for me.

    BTW, hello Holly. I guess I fall in the long time lurker category, but typing that just makes feel like the Harry Connick Jr. character in that movie Copycat...yes, I'm a nerd.

  2. You might not like getting involved in those discussions, but it's better to do so and help others understand.

    Did you know what age group makes for the WORST jury in a rape case (from the prosecutor's standpoint)? Young women, 18-40... because they'll judge the evidence based on what they think they would've done.

    So... when one of these discussions starts up, go ahead and get involved: you might be able to help someone understand reality... ;)

  3. Hershele OstropolerDecember 22, 2009 at 9:13 AM

    1) If you ever feel the need to be vilified and have all your friends think less of you: end an "otherwise" great relationship because the sex isn't good or sufficient, or if one of you is kinky and the other isn't, or because one of you refuses to do something in bed that the other wants.

    3) I can accept the posters because I think they keep people from thinking "well, if she's passed out, she's not saying 'no'" but if someone who's drunk actively wants sex and is quite clear about saying so, no one is going to be deterred by a damn poster.

    Now, when bloggers and blog commenters (other than misandrist radfems) say "drunk sex is rape," IME context generally suggests what they really mean is "sex with someone too drunk or otherwise incapacitated to meaningfully consent, or to express or act on consent or lack thereof, is rape."

  4. I think ignoring the mind's role in sex is not only silly, but stupid. A woman can be physically turned on, but if her mind's not, it'll be more difficult. Good point.

    I think your distinction (regarding drunken sex) is an excellent one. I, too, have had more drunken sex than I'd like to admit, but only one actual case of "rape" while I was out of it.

    I think it's tough to draw that line, but bravo to you for pointing it out. I think a lot of people (women?) might be afraid to (admit there is a line) because it implies that so many of those drunken encounters were consensual, and that'd be bad for their rep. :)

  5. Maybe it's just because most of my relationships with men have been really coercive--I've been hounded into doing things that I didn't want to do--but I'm not totally sure the drunk-but-not-incapacitated rule works when there's anything like coercion happening. I suspect that if I were drunk, I would be more easily manipulated into agreeing to something I didn't want to do. Part of that's my own problems (my difficulty in refusing people what they want, my poor impulse management, my vulnerability to persuasion), but part of it is that saying 'no' once is seldom the end of the conversation. A decent person will hear the drunk chick say 'no' and accept that 'no' the first time; a manipulative person (or perhaps just a person who's so drunk as to have lost the ability to manage impulse) might keep on hounding. The point is, these kinds of relational dynamics aren't unique to drinking; they exist in sober encounters, too. Alcohol just heightens them and makes the emotional tension higher--and are those encounters rape? I don't know. They're definitely problematic consent.

  6. Hershele - Those relationships tend to implode on their own, but yeah. Sex isn't everything but it does matter.

    I think you're giving people too much credit on the drunk thing though, I've heard that it's about "impaired judgement" rather than mental incapacity enough times that I think there's a significant portion of people (and not just Twisty types) who think a woman can't consent after three beers.

    Anonymous - I agree that having sex with someone with impaired judgement is problematic (the phrase I used was "dick move") but I don't think it's flat-out rape. Being hounded or taken advantage of sucks, it certainly isn't okay, but I'm uncomfortable describing it the same way as straight-up forcing someone to have sex.

  7. I think there's a significant portion of people (and not just Twisty types) who think a woman can't consent after three beers.

    98-lb ex-Mormons may well be incapacitated after three beers. I don't see "impaired judgement" often, and when I have, I haven't gotten any flak for saying "if her judgement is impaired but she's not incapacitated, it's not rape."

  8. I've said before that I don't think "it isn't a choice!" is a good response to homophobia--it's true, but I'd rather say "even if it was a choice, so what?"

    It also implicitly accepts a false dichotomy of homophobia: the assumption that _either_ there's a "gay gene", or "it's a choice". Based on the evidence we have, it seems fairly unlikely that gaiety is determined by genetics. Are there maybe some genetic factors that may predispose us one way or the other? Sure. But I'd argue that post-birth developmental factors are far more important. That doesn't mean "it's a choice", exactly, but the process is probably more subject to our own influence than most pro-gay folks want to admit.

    Which means, as you say, they're fighting the wrong battle, and a long-term losing one in my opinion. It's silly to peg your movement on a tenuous analogy to race when an analogy to religion is such a better fit: it may be partially set by our backgrounds, but most of us can change if we want to, but it's a fundamental, life-defining trait that we shouldn't _need_ to change to court somebody else's approval.

  9. "I'm uncomfortable with people stating that drunken sex is rape. But I'm also uncomfortable with people saying that sex with an incoherently drunk person is ok." Well said. It addresses the elephant in the room that is the looming gray area between clear black and white extremes, which seems to bog up any useful discussion of many social and political issues. People want a distinct and recognizable dividing line and it just doesn't exist in real life most of the time. Of course having the discussion/debate can be instructive if people come to it with good intentions and con constructively discuss...but that seems hard for people as well. *sigh*

    "1) If you ever feel the need to be vilified and have all your friends think less of you: end an "otherwise" great relationship because the sex isn't good or sufficient, or if one of you is kinky and the other isn't, or because one of you refuses to do something in bed that the other wants." Amen to this as well. Been there, done that, learned the lesson. Sex IS important and eventually those disconnects undermine the relationship to a great degree. The backlash is particularly bad if you are a female ending a relationship for those reasons, b/c it goes against the accepted norm that it's the guys who always want more/more kinky sex and therefore you are being both shallow AND a dirty slut if you need more than you are getting and decide not to be a martyr.

  10. Being fat in itself is not inherently unhealthy but yeah, even if it were that is no excuse to be an utter dick to someone.

    The responses I got from people when they learned the sudden extreme weight loss I experienced last year was due to illness, bolstered my belief that the majority of people who claim it's all about health are full of bullshit. No one cared one whoop about my health, just about how faaaabulous I looked, and hey, wouldn't it be great if they could catch some of what I had?

  11. 1. Honestly, I think in some ways genitals are the least interesting part of sex, once you get past the thrill of actually Doing It. I mean, sure, orgasms are nice but half the fun is getting there, you know?

    2. As far as I'm concerned, I 'chose' to be bisexual. I mean, I would have been attracted to women either way, but it's something I could easily have chosen not to act on or even think about.

    And as far as fat goes...well, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that a 90 pound smoker is going to cost the health care system a lot more than your average obese person, but they don't get a fraction of the bullshit directed at them.

    3. THANK YOU. Seriously, I have drunk sex all the fucking time. Not all of those encounters are events I look back on fondly, but that doesn't mean that those guys were rapists. I've also had sex when I was emotionally unstable, moderately stoned, sleep-deprived, grieving, or nagged into it. None of those encounters were rape, either.

    Rape is not having sex when it was a bad idea. It's not even having sex when you didn't really feel like it. Rape is having sex when you have withheld consent or when you were actually incapable of giving consent. Not incapable of making smart decisions, but incapable of making any decisions.

  12. I also appreciate your making the distinction between drunk sex and raping the totally incapacitated. I know that people are going to say that well, they don't really MEAN that, but, in fact, people DO seem to irrationally internalize those kind of statements over time and end up carrying them to ridiculous extremes. This is how we got from "It's probably not a good idea for kids under 18 to have sex a lot in general( even though in former times they were often married and independent a good deal younger than that)" to "OMG SOME 15 y.o. sent a dirty pic of themselves, lock them up and put them on the sex-offender registry FOREVER!!"

    In my case, I get extremely nervous when I hear that "Any person with a developmental or psychiatric disorder is incapable of consent".

    Now, I know that they probably are not thinking of ME when they make that statement, but Asperger's Syndrome IS a developmental disorder (actually one that is quite a bit more disabling for day-to-day tasks than most people realize). I damn well am capable of understanding what sex and its possible consequences are with my Mensa-level IQ even if I am not intuitively great at figuring out people's intent( or telling them apart from one another without deliberate effort), and I have enough strikes against me finding a partner as it is without them risking being even technically called rapists! Nor do I believe that someone who suffers from depression, anxiety, or undoubtedly quite a few other things that are, indeed, psychiatric disorders, is incapable of meaningful consent. It might be unwise to have sex with emotionally disturbed people in a lot of cases, but it would not be automatically rape.

  13. I love all 3 of your strawman-burning points, Holly! Especially the 2nd (and similar to what Katrina said, I have a friend who lost a lot of weight out of divorce-related stress and possibly resurgent anorexic behaviors, and people would continue to compliment her even after she told them her "secret" was "Stress.")

    Re: drunk sex... yeah, I have done lots of things while kinda impaired that I wouldn't have done sober, but just because I bought that $300 jacket while under the influence, that doesn't mean they stole my money.


  14. I fucking DESPISE fat-haters who try to sound all sweet and sensitive: "...but I just want people to be healthy!" No; no they don't.

    When I was younger I ate whatever I wanted with no regard at all for nutrition. People would see me eating cookie dough for every meal and just laugh it off as a hilarious quirk. I'm certain this is 'cause my crazy teenaged metabolism kept me thin.

    Meanwhile, I had various overweight friends who ate better (and less) than I did and people made pouty "concern faces" at them and called them unhealthy all the time.

    I think fat-haters simply find overweight people unattractive and are terrified of becoming fat themselves. Therefore they need to believe that all extra poundage is caused by lack of willpower; the alternative (that probably someday their diet and exercise regime won't work as well anymore) is too frightening.

  15. Hershele OstropolerDecember 24, 2009 at 9:27 AM

    At a really-fucking-old-th birthday party for my grandfather a few years ago ("a few" < 10), people were complimenting my on having lost weight, about 80 lbs. I wasn't quite sure how to tell them it was Crohn's disease that took over my junior year of college.

  16. Drunk sex is AWESOME! Drinking and fucking is like drinking and dancing, fun times. :) (I know, I'm over a year late)