Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What Men Do To Each Other

M's boyfriend C has stopped by. I've been hanging out with her for the afternoon, joking and making faces at her while she's been sticking out her tongue and scrunching her nose and crossing her eyes in my direction, catching up on what we've each been up to in the past twelve hours since we've seen each other - but he's just walked in, just gotten off work, needs to vent. He's always such a party-poop. One of the dudes - S, the guy who 'slept with' M and told everyone about it - works with C and was being a real dick this afternoon. Probably drunk, or at least on something, he had been abusing all of the kitchen staff. C is a pacifist, at least that's what he says.

"He just says that he's gonna punch  me, and I start shaking. Tio took me down to the basement to smoke a bowl, to calm me down. 'cause if I get attacked, I won't fight back. And if it gets so bad that I do fight back, you know, I start reaching for weapons, intent to kill. I mean, it's the kind of thing that lands me in jail. So if someone threatens to attack me, I start to shake." I nod indulgently. I guess I agree with his violence-free/not-really-free-of-violence response to abuse: at least you're not as bad as the abuser, going into the ring planning to maim. But maybe some people deserve to be kicked in the balls. Maybe it's okay to fight back, right from the beginning. And maybe pacifism doesn't do shit for anyone. Maybe it's just a personal solution - and I hate a solution that only helps one person, does not fix things on a broader scale. I'm just glad he isn't violent towards M, that he doesn't get in my face and yell hurtful shit at me. I'm glad that his first impulse, as a male, is not to fuck someone or something up. It is a small blessing.

He starts talking about this guy he knows - older, a next-door neighbor - who hits on him and his barfbag-misogynistic-talentless-ex-friend named, let's say, FRED. It makes him uncomfortable, he says. This guy, this gross old balding man with a severe beer belly will make suggestive comments, brush his hand against a boy's upper arm, lean in close, tell Fred he'll suck his dick free of charge. It weirds C out, these comments. We've joked about it before, this pervy old man who's grossing him out. If I had a nickel for all the times a pervy old man has grossed me out, I'd be fucking rich. I'd buy the White House and turn it into a shelter for disabled dogs, among other things.

Still, I'm not made of stone: I know how it feels to be treated like that, and on a deep level I sympathize with him for that. And maybe I'm just paranoid, but I don't feel that from him. I don't think he realizes that I know what that kind of depersonalization feels like - 'cuz I'm not a guy and as a non-male, I cannot really understand what it's like to suddenly, against my will, be considered inhuman. I am a woman, so I am used to being considered inhuman. Sexual oppression cannot make me lose the humanity no one ever thought I had. I don't think he'd ever say this, but somewhere, deep in his lizard brain, in a secret spot he'd never admit existed, he knows this. He knows it. You can't fucking convince me he doesn't.

Now, he lowers his head - and I know that pose, that 'looking at the ground so I don't have to look at you while I tell you this' pose; I wore it last night while T and I, drinking delicious seasonal pumpkin beer and smoking pot in the cemetery, traded stories about our fucked up childhoods - and says that he's been on the receiving end of  insertion against his will. That he's not gay or bicurious, but he's been with other dudes to some extent. And sometimes it was okay and sometimes...well. He doesn't mind it, if he's on stage and someone calls him a faggot, he'll grab the lead guitarist and give him a passionate kiss. He's walked in on his bassist and drummer making out. He's made out with the occasional hot guy and he doesn't give a shit. But anal sex, to him, is only violent. It's only about pain. It's only about dominance.

And in my head I say, "Well, I'm sure some people must enjoy it - there must be something pleasurable about it. If men, our lords and masters, will do it to each other, if our lords and masters will let others do it to them, there's gotta be something to it." But I don't say it out loud, because I know he wouldn't want to hear my rationalizations of his pain, and really, what do I know about men? And gawd knows there's a big fuckin' nugget of truth in that sentiment. My response is, "Yeah, I always thought it was a big tip-off that there was something wrong with it once it became the new coolest thing for straight guys, you know, to 'get' their girlfriends to 'do anal,' like it's a fucking coup."

You know, if I remember correctly, in Ancient Greece, adulterous men (that is, men who messed with another man's property) were punished by being buggered with a radish. Anal rape as punishment, it has a long history.

The interesting thing about his assertion re: anal sex is that you could say the same thing about vaginal. He never would. He and M like doing it so much; she loves it, loves it, she tells me, even though she constantly worries about pregnancy. Her stomach lurches while we watch Futurama and I say, "Morning sickness. I bet it's an alien baby."
"Don't say that!" she snaps, as if my words could do it to her.

At least with him she uses protection. With the last boyfriend, the douche with crows' feet, she (though I expect it was really he) had a strange aversion to contraception. It was chemicals, he constantly worried about chemicals -- in the water (which he refused to drink from the tap, only bottles), in the lube, in the rubber -- and so she worried about them too. I ran down the list of condom alternatives with her as we sat on her roof drinking a bottle of wine. Diaphragm - no, she'd have to go to a doctor for a fitting, which would be time-consuming. IUD - no, because in a few rare cases you can get pregnant anyway and then the baby's born with a plastic stick in its head or something, better not risk it. Nothing would work for her. A constant fear of pregnancy was preferable, she said so. Preferable to what, I never understood.

Now, I remember reading about the Porn Wars when I was in high school (of my own volition, natch; Feminist Foremothers 101 was not a class offered) and getting my first introduction to Andrea Dworkin, a fat prude with crazy hair who said All Sex Is Rape. That was all anyone said about her, that she thought All Sex Is Rape and, I don't know, she ate newborn kittens for breakfast - she was clearly some sort of demon. All Sex Is Rape. All Sex Is Rape. Internet men and sex-pozzers were enraged by this statement, which for as much as they repeated it you'd think poor Dworkin had it tattooed on her forehead, this thing she never even said. I can't remember exactly how I felt about it, what I thought she meant  by it. I tried to understand. And I still haven't read Intercourse, not yet. But what I got from google and wiki was, in her words: "What I think is that sex must not put women in a subordinate position. It must be reciprocal and not an act of aggression from a man looking only to satisfy himself. That's my point."

Sounded (and still sounds) reasonable, but all I really learned from this 'debate' between Straw Andrea and Male-Identified Feminists was that I could be a feminist, but for the love of gawd, don't be one of those feminists. Better to degrade women, photograph and video tape yourself doing it, jerk off and make a shit-ton of money while you're at it than dare to suggest men are not entitled to female bodies, that male entitlement to "sex" hurts women. It's just applying a Kick Me sign to your own back.

I mention this because C's point about anal sex has brushed up against something deep, something true, and it's so threatening to male sexuality as we understand it that he will never grasp it. It's that special male-blindness I've mentioned before, willful and self-motivated: a product of patriarchy, not dicks and testosterone. And the funny/sad thing is these guys have no idea they're poking out their own eyes. He's uncovered a truth about a certain kind of penetration. I suspect that he was more willing to share his discovery with us because we're girls, deep down in our lizard brains we know the dangers of penetration; I doubt he'd tell any of his guy friends, though maybe I'm wrong. I think they'd call him a loon, a crybaby, an overreactor. If any of them had ever read a book in their lives, they'd probably call him a Dworkin. And if he took his thought to completion (as so few people seem to do), he'd be a Dworkin.

But he doesn't seem to be thinking in terms of rape, much less coming to the conclusion that All Sex Is Rape. C never says the word 'rape' and I don't want to make him use it. I feel bad. I feel terrible, terrible that he went through it.

"And ever since then, it's like gay men see me as fair game. They said I was gay, and I was like, 'no!' but no one cares."
I try to make a joke. I don't want him to feel bad. It's not the best joke. I realize right after I say it, and my heart jumps. Let's try that again.
"Nah, they know you're straight, they just think you're so hot that they have to take whatever chance they can, no matter how miniscule!"
"Yeah, they think I'm fair game!"
He has missed my sarcasm. He's gleaned rationalization from the statement, not bonding.

I decide to stop talking. I could try to connect his experience to mine - that was the intention of the joke, after all - to straight guys treating me like a straight girl - therefore, fair game - and by extension, the experience of all women, but why bother? He thinks he's special for being checked off as "to fuck" by other men, and he's already reached his limit for lite-feminist analysis today. Me, I would love for men to just look at me and know: LESBIAN. HANDS OFF, AVERT YOUR EYES. I guess I could dyke myself out, get a short haircut or wear rainbow suspenders all the time, but that wouldn't solve the problem, all women being public sexual property; it'd just make me more of a target for different reasons. I'm not special for being on that checklist, I'm just a woman.

The maddening thing is that I can tell he thinks, because of my joke, that I don't really get it. A few weeks before, M had told me what he really thought of my 'strong feminist views': firstly, that he figured it rose out of my own 'personal trauma.' I guess that's more or less true: having some sick-fuck man torture me physically and psychologically for months, keeping me a compliant prisoner in my own home, trying to destroy my body and mind before I was even old enough to know what was going on...certainly that gave me some early insight into male power. And surely growing up constantly bombarded with the message that I, as a female, am lesser, stupider, useless, a sex object, weak, erased from history by my own worthlessness, etc - those playground taunts and perfume commercials impacted my psyche, damn straight, and made me realize that there is a definite imbalance of power between the sexes. But he doesn't know any of that 'personal trauma.' I have never told him any of this. So I, bemused, asked her what she meant. What did he think my 'personal trauma' was?

"Oh," she said, rolling her eyes. "That you're a lesbian."
"Ha!" I said. Not only is lesbianism possibly the best thing that ever happened to me, but it is a direct result of my feminism, not the cause. How could I ever love a man knowing what men do to women? How could I not love women, knowing they are just like me, knowing that they are not invested mind and soul with conquering me physically, legally, sexually - that we can have a truly egalitarian relationship. Being a lesbian is possibly the least traumatic thing to ever happen to me. Women are fucking amazing.

The other thing he said was that he could hold his own in a conversation about feminism with me - I presume from this that he thinks he could teach me a thing or two about FEMINISM and EQUALITY and shit. Men really do like to think that, don't they?
"I tried to explain to him that you're very well-read on the subject, but..."

But my years of study, the books and books and blogs and blogs I've poured through - the words from women all through time and space that I have soaked in, my whole female life that I have dedicated to understanding and perpetuating and living feminism, are inconsequential compared to his special Male Insight.

Feminism is philosophy, it is a body of theory; and I don't say this because I think feminism should be academic, reserved for a few with the resources to go to college. It's the opposite: feminism is for everybody, feminism is necessary for life. Feminism is the complete opposite of our current reality, our common philosophy (patriarchy). Feminism is the future, and the future is for everyone.  And because it's so completely different, so contrary to contemporary life, it can seem obscure. But you know, women all through time and space have come up with these thoughts; I am confident that all the things our feminist scholars say have been (and are still) thought by millions of women with no public voice, who cannot read, who have not been trained in ~philosophy~, who don't know what the fuck an Andrea Dworkin is. Feminism is the true, simple reality which has been buried by patriarchy, accessible to any woman with a shovel. It's there if you want it.

And men, for the most part, DO NOT WANT IT. Even a man, hoping to shirk his 'male'ness, picking up a shovel and trying to join in is going to be behind the rest of us ladies because he hasn't lived patriarchy like we have. Everyone's been brainwashed by patriarchy, but at least a woman has felt its effects, and so it is easier to unbrainwash oneself: feminism is the process of unbrainwashing. The man not only has to unbrainwash himself, but he has to learn a whole new way of being before he can really understand us and our lives, and it's just a shadow of our experience anyway. This is why I can only laugh bitterly when C says he could hold his own with me in a real feminist discussion, because first off, any feminist discussion I have with him will be elementary. There is a possibility, however slim, that he may be up for intermediate feminist discussion. But there is no fucking way that, if I were to give him a book by Mary Daly, that he'd be able to keep up. Dworkin would shock him. Even my beloved Shulie Firestone, so clear with her thoughts, would flummox him. It would all be incomprehensible to him. I say this confidently, knowing that somewhere out there there are men who understand their writings - but they are rare. He is not one of those rare men. I know him. He's sweet enough. But he's too blind.


  1. sure I will post a comment. who knows if it will make it. The fact remains: lumping all men into the same heap as some scumbag who hurt you is a ridiculous notion. What is even more illogical is casting all women as heroes. Go to a woman's shelter or jail. You will see some of these women are complete pieces of shit. Of course your counter will likely be they are simply responding to some sort of male abuse. You can respond here. I am not the one who made the public display. Clearly you want the attention.

    1. Hello, thank you for visiting my weblog! I happily publish your comment; it is always a joy for a writer to interact with one of her fans, no matter how unevolved.
      Unfortunately, it seems that you have missed every point. This is likely because you are just some random asshole (read: a dude. if you are actually female, I wish you the greatest luck in overcoming your crushing ignorance! I would suggest reading, say, some Marilyn Frye. it is in your best interest.) with no background in feminist thought or interest in actually learning it. I'm afraid it is beyond my (immense!) talents to help you any further. Perhaps you could benefit from visiting a "lite" feminist site, such as While the content will likely still be hopelessly confusing to you, there is a chance that something will seep in. Though honestly, dear reader, I'm afraid it may already be too late for you. :(

      But don't feel too bad, because you got at least one thing right! I did make a public display of my ideas, with the end goal of other people reading and responding to them! You caught me!

      Ha ha, keep on truckin', anon! I'm pullin' for ya.

  2. Hi, Kate!

    I found your blog because you left a long, fascinating comment on this post at Liberation Collective; I was intrigued by your being a feminist classicist, and that you had written a thesis on the Homeric hymns to Aphrodite and Demeter. (I do not know them; I take it from your comment that the hymn to Demeter is the source of the Rape of Persephone story? I love the Greek myths but my knowledge of them comes from childhood, filtered through retellings.)

    Anyway, that's why I came here and what I hoped to read about; what this post in particular made me feel is sadness, both for you and your friend. More for you, but I do feel for your friend too. I think you might well be right that he doesn't think you've had the same experience --- that for a woman, forced penetration is *normal*, so how could it be traumatic?

    I also wanted to say I had the same introduction to Dworkin as you: the "all sex is rape" crazy lady. I might've left it at that, at least until encountering the feminist Internet, but I had a male friend who liked her, who admired her militance. Then I read some of her articles, and at some point I took a class in the Literature of the Oppressed, and read some Nawal El Saadawi, which made me a feminist, and then I got ahold of Dworkin's books. I may well have read her anyway, even if my friend hadn't praised her, because I learned about radical feminism online the same way: those crazy women who hate sex and hate men. But that wasn't what I saw when I read them --- no, a lot of what I saw made sense. Just like Dworkin's idea that all sex doesn't have to be rape, however much our culture might wish to conflate the two.

    1. Hi! Thanks for reading this! I do want to clear something up - I haven't written any thesis, much less one on the Homeric Hymns to Demeter/Aphrodite! Sorry if I made it seem like I did.

      And yes, the Homeric Hymn to Demeter is about the rape of Persephone. If you want to read an English translation, here's one from Diotima (a GREAT source for women in the "Classics," Diotima being named after a female philosopher who is very important in Plato's Symposium. If you're interested!) It's very interesting to read as a feminist.

      How interesting that you have male friend who is into Dworkin! I have never met a dude (as far as I know) who was receptive to her line of thinking, but I do remember very vividly a post I read (and I wish I could remember who wrote it) about a woman whose male friend found her copy of Intercourse on her coffee table, read it, and was appalled - at men, not Dworkin. So I have hope these men exist. But more than that, I'm glad YOU'RE into her! Let's just hope a lot more women start reading her. :)

      Thanks again for reading!

  3. (Whoops, left out a link. I meant I saw your comment on this post)