Content Warning(s): Rape, rape culture, rape myths, misogyny, victim blaming, sexual content, gender slurs, violence, mention of mass shootings, infidelity, references to fictional rapes and spoilers for those shows/movies, the Aziz Ansari accusations.
Before I begin, a note: this article focuses mostly on the rape of women as committed by men. I don't mean to be dismissive of any other forms of rape or those who identify as other genders; this piece is about a particular aspect of society - namely how gender roles and heterosexual relationships are often portrayed in the media, and how it is connected to violence.
It's not a new joke, but it's one I've seen more and more often popping up: "if only these alt-right guys would get laid, maybe they wouldn't be Nazis!" Or, "I bet that guy has never even seen a pair of breasts in person!"
That may seem like a harmless, humorous little quip; in actuality, it's blaming women for the violence and hatred of men. It implies that if only a woman had taken one for the team and had sex with the guy, he wouldn't have turned into a racist. Or shot all those people. Women's sexuality reduced to nothing more than a tool to keep society calm and quiet.
When Christopher Harper-Mercer killed nine people at Umpqua Community College in 2015, the media was quick to report on how he described himself as a "friendless virgin" or a "virgin loner." This was often right in the headline: "Oregon killer ranted about being 'virgin loner in twisted manifesto'" or "Oregon gunman ranted about being a 'friendless virgin in hate-filled manifesto'" or "Chris Harper Mercer Manifesto: Oregon Shooter Was Afraid He Would Die 'Friendless And A Virgin'" or ... you get the point.
Depression and loneliness can be serious problems that shouldn't be taken lightly; the issue is when the focus shifts from "these people couldn't have stable relationships due to untreated mental illness" to "these men are owed a girlfriend/wife/sex on demand."
Spend any time in the "manosphere" and you'll run across men who post - without a hint of sarcasm - things like this:
"Spout your unrelenting capitalistic viewpoints all you want, it doesn't change the very real moral reality that there is absolutely NO GOOD reason why, in the 21st century, every person shouldn't have their basic needs met. That means food, shelter, clothing, and transportation for all and, yes, if you are a male, sexual access to attractive females as that is considered a basic need for men as well."
So women need to be attractive (but without wearing makeup or anything that changes their appearance, because then their committing fraud), and independent so she's not stealing a guy's money (but not TOO independent, because then they're feminazi fascists), and chaste. Well, until they get married or at least in a committed relationship or at the VERY least some guy buys them a drink, at which point they need to sleep with the guy or else he'll snap and shoot up his school or workplace.
When people make comments about how violence wouldn't happen "if guys would just get laid" they're invoking a common rape myth - that men are, at their core, cavemen who need outlets for their violent and sexual impulses, to prevent them from turning into mindless murderers and rapists. If these men are "denied" sexual activity, they're just going to lash out, and women are responsible for mass shootings, rapists and other horrors of the world.
Even if a man is married, if the wife isn't giving him all the sex he needs, she's the one to blame for his infidelities and even if he rapes someone. This was the basis for a hideous article in the UK's Daily Mail, about how "starving" your husband for sex can have alarming consequences. In it, the author responds to a friend being appalled by her husband having an affair with this:
"My reply? 'But how can you throw away a good marriage?' For Suzanne, in her rage, was ignoring a large elephant in the room: the reason her until then decent husband had been driven to an affair was simple. She wasn't having enough sex with him. After months of frustration, he was forced to seek relief elsewhere."
And then later on:
"Sexually starved men are more likely to visit prostitutes, view pornography and, in the worst cases, even molest other women. So insisting on fidelity within a marriage is all well and good, but unless women ensure they are also having enough sex with their husbands, they are calling catastrophe into their lives."
It's not enough to blame the victims of sexual violence for their attacks; this author would blame all women for not submitting enough to their partners. It's an utterly disgusting position.
A variant of this is taking hold again in the wake of the Parkland shooting, with the #WalkUpNotOut response to the national school walkouts on March 14th. In a post here, and written in a condescending tone, this former teacher implores kids to seek out fellow students who sit alone or act up in class and try to socialize with them, because they could "likely be the next shooter." The teacher implores, "Your greeting, your smile, your gentle human touch is the only thing that can change the world of a desperate classmate who may be contemplating something as horrendous as a school shooting." (Emphasis mine.)
This post was, maybe, well-intentioned, even if it starts out rather rudely telling kids to put down their "stupid phones." But ultimately, it blames the victims of school shootings for not being "nice" enough to their classmates. We absolutely need to implement and improve anti-bullying measures in schools, but the ADULTS need to be the ones taking action there, by providing help for those being bullied and helping to raise kids who don't want to bully in the first place. Kids are in school for one purpose - to LEARN. We shouldn't be putting the onus on them to stop school shootings, and as a commenter stated on an article about this piece on Wonkette.
"Also too! "Niceness" is a gendered attribute - meaning, girls are under a lot more pressure than boys to be nice, to mediate conflicts, to smooth things over, to heal and tend and nurture and all that stuff that I would strongly suspect the Walk Up thing ends up being yet another way in which girls and young women get disproportionately pushed to invest a lot of emotional energy in boys who are hard to like and possibly dangerous in the name of saving us all and at the expense of their own emotional needs."
Once again, a relationship with a woman or a girl, romantic or otherwise, is seen as the remedy for violence that continues to be perpetrated by mostly males.
A few months ago, I noticed an odd juxtaposition on my twitter timeline. Someone had retweeted a "joke" stating that we were only "one advancement in sex robot technology" from stopping men from joining the alt-right. Just below that, someone had tweeted an article in Marie Claire, entitled "Meet 'Frigid Farrah', The Sex Robot Designed To Simulate Rape".
Sex robots are allegedly already being manufactured and sold, and there are some who find them abhorrent while others argue they're no different than existing sex toys. That debate is beyond the scope of this article; my focus here is the "Frigid Farrah" setting.
The company's website states that if you place the robot in this setting, she would not appreciate if you "touched her in a private area." Amid backlash, they clarified by saying they weren't programming the doll to resist all the time. They claim she's nothing more than a teaching aid - "Frigid Farrah can be used to help people understand how to be intimate with a partner." She'll "warn" you if you try to move too quickly.
But that's not the message this doll's setting is sending. The name of "Frigid Farrah" alone has a negative connotation; it implies that if a woman doesn't want to have sex with you, there's something wrong with HER. A "no" is a challenge, a chance to "fix" her frigidity, not an end to the conversation. "No" just means "keep trying and you'll get what you want."
Furthermore, there'll be no consequences if you ignore Farrah's "warning." You can, in spite of the company's denials, simulate rape.
People have defended this setting, saying among other things that it's "better" if a robot gets raped than a person, if a person has the urge to rape.
(Uh, no. It's better they seek out treatment and get mental health services. Those urges are dangerous and destructive and if there's any chance they can be eliminated before someone is hurt, they need to try.)
People say it's no different than people who have rape fantasies, a group that includes some sexual assault survivors.
(Uh, no. If you're fantasizing about something, you're in complete control, and many people fantasize about things they have no desire to actually experience. If you're exploring a fantasy with a partner, you have to be mindful of their needs and feelings, ready to stop if you or they are not comfortable. You have to have empathy. You're engaging in an activity with a partner because you both want to do it. With Farrah, you don't have to care what she wants, or respond to her protests or actions.)
Farrah is nothing more than a literal object. You can violate her one night and simply do the same in the morning, without worrying about her calling the police or crying on the drive home. She exists solely for you to use and abuse her, giving credence to the idea that men are entitled to a woman's body, removing the need for consent in sexual activity, or anything else you want to do with her.Look at what happened with the debate over Aziz Ansari. Grace (not her real name) doesn't give us an account that fits all the stereotypical rape scenes in cop shows and dramatic movies. She reports being uncomfortable, uneasy, trying to talk her way out of it, trying to stop it by just being still, and ultimately performing sexual acts because she felt pressured, subjugated, and unable to get away. And she's being criticized by men and women who say, "Well, why didn't you just leave?" "Why didn't you say 'no' more forcefully?" "If you didn't want to do it, why did you?" Her feelings of fear and discomfort, the fact that she DIDN'T feel like she could "just leave," are completely ignored and invalidated.
Society tells men that they're entitled to women, while telling women that they need to watch what they do, what they say, who they hang out with, what they wear, etc, or they're to blame if they're abused. Society tells men that women are just playing hard-to-get, that "no" means "maybe" and if they were a real man, they'd coerce consent out of their "conquest." Protests can be overcome, and if a woman goes silent and stops moving, well, that's just fine. This message is played out again and again in myriad media.
In Gone with the Wind, Scarlett O'Hara refuses to have sex with her husband, Rhett Butler, so he reacts by picking her up and hauling her to their bed, with her protesting the entire time. We don't see what happens in their bedroom, only Scarlett in the morning humming happily, with no apparent ill effects.
One of General Hospital's "super couples," Luke and Laura, began their "romance" with Luke raping Laura at work. The two ended up getting married later on in the show, with the actor who played Luke stating, "That's a story nobody wants to tell - that the rapist's life is as devastated as the person he rapes. His great love and regret and guilt are what caught the audience so off guard." The show's writers started referring to the rape as a "seduction" instead of an assault. Their wedding was listed in TV Guide as one of "100 Most Memorable Moments in TV History." They're still considered one of soap opera's most iconic couples.
The idea of rapists being "redeemed" in soap operas is a common one - Todd on One Life to Live went from being a violent jock to a sensitive, tortured man who seeks (and obtains) forgiveness from his victim, in response to fans gushing over the character and wanting to see more of him. They saw him as a "heartthrob." Sami on Days of Our Lives ends up marrying EJ, who coerced her into sex and even refers to the event as "rape" in the show's dialogue. The actor who played EJ stated, "I chose to believe that EJ is in love with Samantha -- he just can't communicate it." Many fans don't even consider it sexual assault, as Sami "agreed" to it, conveniently overlooking the fact that EJ demanded sex in return for saving her fiancé's life.
On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Spike attempts to rape the main character, and while he's initially banished from Buffy's group, he returns and is apparently forgiven after he goes through some physical trials and regains his soul. He goes on to be a regular on the spin-off, Angel, where nobody seems to care that he attempted to brutally assault Buffy.
More recently, on the show Gossip Girl, Chuck Bass is seen trying to rape two women; he later goes on to have a relationship with a different character, Blair, and while the relationship is admittedly portrayed at times as unhealthy and abusive, by the end of the series, they're getting married.
In both Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey, the main character stalks the female protagonist. In 50 Shades of Grey, the behavior goes beyond stalking - Christian is physically, emotionally, and psychologically abusive to Ana. But in spite of this, both series have been embraced by fans who dismiss the abusive behavior - it's okay for Edward and Christian to be like this because they supposedly love their partners and are just doing what's best for them, to protect them. Female readers swoon over the male protagonists and fantasize about meeting their own Edward Cullen or Christian Grey.
These are just the examples that I'm aware of, that I can pull off the top of my head. It doesn't even encompass numerous examples in "romantic comedies" where men pursue women who repeatedly say they're not interested, until their resistance is just worn down and they "admit" they were in love with them the entire time. Media routinely portrays the idea that "no means maybe and eventually yes."
Robots like Farrah won't stem the epidemic of sexual violence. (Or, for that matter, other forms of violence.) They won't do a damn thing to teach men that they should back off when a woman indicates she doesn't want what he's trying to do. They'll just reinforce myths about consent and the motivation behind rape, encourage the objectification of women, and normalize sexual assault.
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