BroadSnark

Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A
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Beware of Strange Men on Airplanes

August 26, 2012 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Sex, Violence

It seems that Virgin airlines has a policy that unaccompanied children cannot sit next to men on their airplanes. An Australian man, who was assigned a seat next to two boys he did not know, was asked to switch seats with a woman. Pissed off about being treated like a presumed predator, he blogged about it and complained to the airline that their policy was sexist.

Francois Tremblay thinks this guy is being an entitled douche and that is ridiculous to call this sexism. Meghan Murphy compares this man’s one moment of discomfort with the daily bullshit that women have to go through to avoid being harassed or worse. I get what they are saying, but the policy is still wrong. And the privilege that this guy is showing isn’t the one they think it is.

Gender essentialism is our enemy. It is not o.k. to base policies on gender essentialist notions, regardless of who is negatively affected. I know what you are thinking. But Mel, men are the ones who commit most violence. As Murphy cites in her article, 90% of child sex offenders are men. Ok. But do you know what else that very same article states? 70 – 90% of child sex offenders are known to the child.

In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, most child abusers are parents. And about half of the perpetrators of abuse and neglect are women. Granted, women are more often caregivers. And there is no telling what bullshit some states are calling neglect. But the fact remains that it would be more logical for the airline to separate kids from their parents if they really wanted to stop abuse.

But we would never do such a thing. Because one of the things that perpetuates child abuse is the idea that parents can do whatever they want to their children. “I brought you into this world. I can take you out of it.” It seems we are more likely to have irrational policies on airplanes than to intervene when we see a parent abusing their child – verbally or physically.

And do you know what else perpetuates rape and sexual abuse? The idea that rapists are strangers who crawl into your window and hold a gun to your head does. It is the reason why so many rapists think they are not rapists – despite the fact that they have no concept of consent and no problem using coercion, violence, drugs… Cause I mean hey, it was a girl I was on a date with so it can’t be rape.

This Australian guy is showing his privilege. But the privilege that he is showing isn’t that he is not in constant fear of being harassed. It is that he is a white guy, an emergency service worker no less, and accustomed to being cast in the role of hero. If he were black or Arab then being cast as the evil predator wouldn’t have come as much of a shock. It is standard operating procedure.

What if he had been black? What if he was Arab or Muslim? What if he was trans? How would those kids (and the rest of the people on that airplane) have processed that move? And how did two boys, who will soon grow up to be men, process the idea that in a few years they will be too scary to sit next to children?

We can’t end sexism by being gender essentialist. We can’t end racism by ignoring how race affects the way people are perceived. We aren’t going to raise healthy men by demonstrating to boys that they must be avoided when they grow up. We aren’t going to end abuse – sexual or otherwise – by focusing on the few incidents that are perpetrated by strangers and allowing people to operate under the convenient illusion that abusing the people that you know, and maybe even love, doesn’t really count.

Sex, Age, Consent, and Power

January 05, 2012 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Sex, Violence

Mel at SixteenJust after I turned sixteen, I met this guy who would end up being my boyfriend for about a year. He was twenty-two. He didn’t think I was that young at first. I never lied to him, mind you. He just didn’t ask me the night we met. I regularly passed for older in clubs, buying cigarettes, whatever. That’s me at sixteen in the pic. I have a bag full of snacks, several packs of cigs, and a jug of rum. (Clearly, my hobbies haven’t changed much. Except I mostly drink vodka now.)

By about a year and a half after that pic was taken I will have been kicked out of school, kicked out of my house, working two jobs, and taking care of myself. Which is to say that I wasn’t a particularly young sixteen. And my boyfriend wasn’t a particularly old twenty-two. He was just coasting, living with his brother, and figuring out what to do since a motorcycle accident ended his army gig.

I was not the only one of my friends who dated guys quite a bit older than them. In fact, I’m having a hard time remembering people any of us dated who weren’t quite a bit older than we were. Some of my friends were passing as 21 when they were 15. If they had dated guys their age, they would have looked like pedophiles.

Not surprisingly, my parents were not pleased with my choice of boyfriend. My father found his phone number one day and called him. To this day I do not know exactly what he said. My boyfriend, ironically, was always trying to get me to repair the relationship with my parents. Whatever my father said to him was something that he thought would have set me off. So I can only assume that my father threatened him. He moved to Chicago soon after.

Now you may be thinking that my parents were just worried for my well-being. They weren’t monsters. I’m sure they were concerned. But I am also sure that they did not think for one minute that I was being taken advantage of. While most kid’s parents were always on the lookout for “the bad influence” (including my parents when it came to my sister), my parents knew that I was too strong-willed for that. The year before they said to me, “We know nobody makes you do anything you don’t want to do.” True then. True now.

So when I read about people being prosecuted for statutory rape, or just vilified for having relationships with people much younger than they are, I take a personal interest. My first reaction is often, “I wonder what the supposed victim has to say about all this.” Lately, I’ve come across a ton of stories that involve people with big age differences.

Let’s start with this guy. A twenty-two year old man was friended on Facebook by someone pretending to be a fourteen-year-old girl in order to get information about the guy’s brother. He arranged to meet the fake fourteen-year-old for sex. The police were waiting for him. He’s going to jail for three years. Now, even though I suspect the guy is probably a cretin, I still don’t think he should be going to jail. I’m not cool with prison, but especially not sending someone to prison for a crime they wanted to commit. And we can’t even judge the maturity of the “victim” since there wasn’t any.

What about this woman? She was a high school teacher. She had sex with one of her soon-to-be-former students on prom night. He was a week away from his eighteenth birthday. She is going to spend five years in prison for that. Are we really saying that the boy had no free will? A week later he would have been eligible to enlist in the military. That is just mindbogglingly outrageous to me.

Then there is this woman. She had sex with three of her daughter’s tween friends and is now facing eighty years behind bars. I think what this woman did was wrong, not least because her daughter is going to need some serious therapy. This woman needs some therapy too. But eighty years behind bars? And when you compare that with say, the police officers who were acquitted of rape charges in New York…

That is not to say I don’t get seriously repulsed by some of the stories I read. Why would a forty-nine-year-old man be getting a thirteen-year-old fucked up so that he could grope her? What kind of fifty-two-year-old would be trying to get with a fourteen-year-old? What about thirty-four and thirteen? And I have no words for this cop who molested an eight-year-old autistic girl.

When exactly does someone cross over from being a child, incapable of consent, to an almost adult with possibly poor judgment but the ability to make decisions for themselves? For me, the pivotal age was fourteen. Everything changed for me that year. For other people it will have been different.

Clearly, a bigger age difference matters. But it matters less and less as people get older. We might raise an eyebrow at the celebrity couples with huge age differences, but we don’t generally assume that they are criminal. We might think they are damaged. We might think they are immature, having a crisis, in denial about their age, or incapable of having a healthy relationship. But I would hope that we wouldn’t come to definitive conclusions based on a picture and a couple birth dates.

I’m thirty-eight and can hardly imagine being attracted to a twenty-year-old, much less a tween. But my inability to comprehend how someone my age would do that hasn’t erased the clear memory of how powerless and angry I was at being dismissed and coerced as a teen. My parents abused their power to force me into not doing something they didn’t want me to do. To me, it is essentially no different than parents who force their teen daughters into marrying someone they don’t want to marry.

What this really comes down to is power and consent. In some situations, there is a power imbalance regardless of age. A teacher has power over a student. A cop has power over pretty much everyone. A boss has power over their employee. A guard has power over their prisoner.  As someone who believes that the ideal is for all relationships to be relationships of equals, I think we should be aiming to get rid of power imbalances. Instead, we usually end up restricting relationships in order to preserve positions of power. That seems a little back assward.

But we also have to confront the fact that things like age and physical strength also involve imbalances of power. And imbalances of power make consent a very tricky thing. Sadly, as I’ve written about before, most of us are pretty bad at consent in even the best of situations. Which means there are no easy answers. But people don’t like ambiguity, especially when it comes to sex or young people.

So I guess my question to you all is – How do we prevent abuses of power, both by the kinds of adults who molest children and by the kind of adults who dis-empower and coerce young people?

Am I a Rapist?

December 24, 2010 By: Mel Category: Sex

I don’t want to talk about the Assange rape charges. There are more than enough people doing that already. But I would like to talk about something that Jaclyn Friedman said during her debate with Naomi Wolf on Democracy Now. Friedman essentially said that a sleeping/unconscious person cannot consent to sex and therefore it is rape. Always.

I paused the video.  The bfriend and I looked at each other and said, huh? He’s woken me up like that before. I’ve woken him up like that before. We never discussed doing it.  Does that make me a rape victim? Does it make me a rapist?

Blanket statements, the kind where people give no gray area whatsoever, usually bother me, because few things in life are that clear. And this was a blanket statement that made me into a rapist. At first, I must admit, I was inclined to roll my eyes and dismiss her.

But I just kept thinking about it.

I do not believe that consenting to one thing means consenting to everything else. I don’t believe in implied consent. That’s like those asshats who think marital rape is impossible.  It’s possible and all too frequent.

Now, I could say that I just knew it would be o.k. The bfriend and I have been together for more than 14 years. There are some things that we don’t really have to talk about anymore.

But that would be a bullshit answer. It’s a bullshit answer because there were other times before the bfriend, where I wouldn’t be able to say that. It’s a bullshit answer because it brings us back to the marital rape issue.  And it’s a bullshit answer because, if I have learned anything over the years, it is that false assumptions often precede relationship misery.

Besides, how can we really be sure that our assumptions are based on knowledge of the individual and not some social norm or gender essentialism?  It must be o.k.  Guys always want to have sex, right?  I mean when a woman decides not to have sex because she doesn’t want to risk pregnancy or STDs or just doesn’t think she is ready, that’s expected.  But a guy who turns it down, he must be some kind of freak.  So I can just assume, right?

The truth is that we should have talked about it.  We should have talked about a lot of things, right from the beginning, that we didn’t.

Last month, I came across a couple checklists of sexual activities – one on Scarleteen and one on the Beautiful Kind.  Even just going through the Scarleteen one, you know the one meant for teens, the bfriend and I ended up talking about things that had never come up in fourteen years.  And that is just sad.

Most of us have this Hollywoodized idea of sex.  It is always heterosexual.  All sexual activities end with male to female penetration.  The hottest sex is spontaneous.  When it is right, the other person is just going to know (magically) what you want.  There is no need to talk about it.  Just kiss, blow, fuck, done.

That is why you get guys who think that there is some point of no return where a woman cannot say no anymore.  That is why you have scenarios like this.

Her account to police, which Assange disputes, stated that he began stroking her leg as they drank tea, before he pulled off her clothes and snapped a necklace that she was wearing. According to her statement she “tried to put on some articles of clothing as it was going too quickly and uncomfortably but Assange ripped them off again”. Miss A told police that she didn’t want to go any further “but that it was too late to stop Assange as she had gone along with it so far”, and so she allowed him to undress her.

Really?  He undressed you and therefore it was too late to stop?  You had to go to the end?  Where is the end exactly?  Does he now have carte blanche to hog tie you, ball gag you, and whip you until you bleed?  Cause, for some people, that is where that undressing is going.

For responsible people in the BDSM community, it is a no-brainer to discuss what is o.k. and not o.k. beforehand.  There are parameters set.  There are safe words decided upon.  But for most people, it is all based on assumptions.  And those assumptions lead not just to rape, but to really bad sex.

I so wish that I had those checklists twenty-two years ago when I started having sex.  That is not because I was doing things I didn’t want to do, but because I would have done a lot more shit a lot sooner.  And I could have avoided a lot of mediocre sex.

People make fun of the idea that you should get an o.k. every step of the way.  Can I touch you here? How about there?  This o.k.?  Let’s draw up a contract and have it notarized.  But it seems ridiculous mostly because we are so horrible at talking about sex and because we make so many assumptions about it.  We should talk to our partners, future partners, and our kids about sex.  And we should talk about the entire pantheon of activities, not just assume that everyone is a vanilla, heterosexual couple.

That said, even though I’m not rolling my eyes at Friedman’s statement anymore, am I a rapist?  I understand that hard and fast rules make it easier to prosecute crimes.  Even though I would like to see prisons go the way of the rack, I realize that we cannot just let people get away with committing that kind of violence.  But consistency is not justice.  In fact, it can often be the opposite of justice.

When I was sixteen, my boyfriend was twenty-two.  By Florida law, that was rape.  But I was a willing participant.  I was not victimized by my boyfriend.  Do you know what would have made me feel victimized?  It would have made me feel victimized if somebody had prosecuted my boyfriend for rape.

And it happens.  Because well intentioned people want to keep grown-ups from having sex with seven year olds, some poor seventeen year old kid in Georgia got a ten year prison sentence for getting a blow job at a party.   There are people who are permanently on sexual predator lists for statutory rape.  And let’s not even get into the general disaster that is mandatory minimum sentencing.  Consistency is not always a good thing.

We are all suffering from some serious societal sexual dysfunction.  And we should be calling it out.  But, as unpleasant as it may be, we still need to leave some room for ambiguities.  Because by Friedman’s definition, I’m a rapist.  But the bfriend has now given me explicit permission to view his morning wood as an open invitation.  And I don’t think the state should be able to prosecute me for that.