Why do we still get consent and agency wrong?

So two stories came up on my FB feed today, and together, they made me see red. They are unrelated stories, and I will link to them both:

The first is about a heroic teen who saved a friend from a drunk driver: ”Teen saves friend from suspected drunken driver, gets hit instead”

In the first story (which was also carried on other news outlets), the main takeaway seems not to be that a teen boy risked his life by pulling a friend out of the way of a drunk driver, saving her life at the cost of some serious injury to himself. No, the takeaway is that that poor kid saved the girl’s life, and STILL ends up in the ‘friend zone.’

And the second wasn’t a story, but a video someone shared: ”The Sex-Starved Marriage: Michele Weiner-Davis at TEDxCU”

If you don’t have the stomach for watching the TED talk, I can summarize: wives, stop mistreating your husbands, if he wants sex and you don’t, just live by the Nike motto, and ‘just do it.’ Yes, she actually said that. Just do it. In the comments, she said “What’s 15 minutes out of your life when you consider the great benefits to your spouse, your relationship and your well being?” She did say it’s not just a problem with women, but I all her examples were women, so….

Now the problem with the friend-zone is one I have been railing about for a while. The “friend-zone’ is essentially the idea that women are sex-dispensers into which so-called “nice guys” put niceness coins and therefore rightly expect sex to pop out. And if a woman is not romantically interested in a guy, even if he is (always by his own assessment, I notice) a ‘nice guy,’ he has been unjustly consigned to the ‘friend-zone,’ a pitiless realm where good men are denied sex by the women they desire. It’s misogynist claptrap of the highest order, but it simply won’t go away. 

The fact that roughly half of the comments on the first story revolved around how the “poor kid” was “friend-zoned for life” reveals the horrifying prevalence of the idea that there are times when a woman, not otherwise interested in a man, is obligated to give them sex. This is simply wrong. What’s more, it’s a prime specimen of sexist, patriarchal rape culture.

There is NEVER an occasion in which a woman (or anyone) is obligated to have sex if she does not want to. There is NO amount of emotional blackmail, guilt-tripping, whining, or false entitlement that makes that expectation OK. Period. Full stop.

Now I am not saying that the kid in the story is guilty of this; the interviews don’t say. But certainly this is how this incident is parsed in the public conversation, and therein lies the problem. 

So how does the second item figure in? This woman, who claims to be a sex therapist, essentially accuses married woman of friend-zoning their husbands. She doesn’t use those terms, but it amounts to it. She says that the person who wants less sex/sexual contact needs to just do it. Just do it. If you don’t want to, if your sex drive suffers from age, hormones, fatigue, whatever? Too bad. Do it anyway, you might even end up enjoying yourself. Isn’t it worth a few minutes of your time if he’ll be happier and easier to live with? 

I can’t begin to say how wrong this is. This IS rape culture. Yes, she claims it’s not only women, but all her examples are women. And honestly, while I do know that men can suffer from low desire, I’m guessing the numbers are far from even. (I’d be delighted to be proved wrong; Medscape says 26-43% of women experienced low sexual desire compared to 13-28% of men; Archive of Sexual Behavior reports a far higher lifetime prevalence of low sexual desire among women (16%) than men (4%)) So please, spare me your slipshod veneer of ‘I’m speaking to guys, too.’ Shall I define ‘privilege’ for you?

Essentially, what this woman is saying is that if you are a woman who has a lower sex drive than your spouse, you are broken, you are selfish and unfair, and you are hurting him and courting divorce. (The entire video, outrageously, is couched as ‘divorce avoidance advice;’ don’t get me started). Spouses are entitled to sex, so you have to provide it. In this formulation, being married is only one more set of circumstances in which women are obligated to put out whether they want to or not, and in this case, their relationships, home, and family may depend on it. ‘How dare you expect a man to stay in a relationship with you if you won’t give him sex? It’s only 15 minutes out of your day….’ HOW IS THIS EVEN OKAY?!

Gee, wait a sec, don’t we have some word for unwanted sex? Let me think…oh, yeah, RAPE. Oh, it’s a choice? (I question that logic, because emotional coercion and abuse is most definitely a thing, but let’s say for a omment there is a context in whcih we can say it is a ‘choice.’)  It’s a choice to provide sex in exchange for financial, emotional or social stability and security? Oh, that is different. But don’t we have a term for exchanging sex for some other consideration? I know there’s something….oh, yes; we call that prostitution. A man doesn’t have to leave a $50 on the dresser for a woman to be aware that she is prostituting herself. (And no slight here to sex workers, but when a woman doesn’t want to be doing sex work, but is forced to to sustain her safety, that’s something very different.)

Having known women who struggle with unequal desire in their relationships, I have seen the damage this does. Women who struggle with this end up trying to ‘just do it,’ and end up feeling cheap, used, objectified and ashamed, to say nothing of losing trust and intimacy with their partners. They struggle with feeling defective, broken, and unworthy because society (and, often, their spouses) tell them the inequity is their fault, and that it is their responsibility to fix it, to pay up and put out. They struggle with spouses who equate sex with caring, and use guilt and emotional manipulation to make them feel that ‘if they really cared, you’d be willing to have sex as often as I want it.’ It’s toxic, and it’s regressive, and we, as a society have to stop perpetuating this idea.

What is so terribly, horribly hard to understand here? What is so complex about women having sexual agency that is so hard to wrap our heads around? Are there actually men out there that WANT women to ‘put out’ when they don’t want to? (Don’t answer that; the obviousness of the answer is the whole problem!) But haven’t we fought this out by now? Hasn’t it been established that no, women do not have to lie down and shut up when men demand it, no matter the circumstances? Haven’t women struggled long enough with blame, guilt, and labels like ‘frigid’ or ‘cold fish?’ Do we really expect women to simply accept that dispensing sex is their function in life, and is more important than their own self-worth, their own sexual selves and sexual agency? Because I thought we were in 2014, not 1714. (I’m beginning to think I’m mistaken on that point, however….)

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Sanctifying climate change evidence

Recently the self-proclaimed prophet Cindy Jacobs warned Jim Bakker that President Obama’s “anti-biblical” policies with regard to LGBT equality will lead to blizzards and “weather disasters” in the upcoming year. Such pronouncements from Jacobs are nothing new; in January of 2011 Jacobs attributed the sudden die-off of blackbirds in Arkansas to the groundswell of support for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

Jacobs is considered a prophet in the Council of Prophetic Elders, a sort of steering committee for the New Apostolic Reformation. Together with Peter Wagner, Jacobs helped create the theology of “spiritual mapping” which seeks to battle demonic influences in specific geographic regions. In addition to prophecy, she claims powers of faith healing and the ability to cast out ‘gay demons’ (that is, the demons that cause homosexuality, not demons that are themselves gay). She is a somewhat marginal, though by no means unpopular figure in the religious right, and she has massive followings in several Spanish-speaking countries. She is also the co-founder of Generals International, a ministry dedicated to “achieving societal transformation through intercession and the prophetic.”

Her association of catastrophic events with America’s sinful ways is also not unique to her. Jim Bakker has made similar predictions, as have many other leaders of the Charismatic Right. In fact, this trend of interpreting world events as signs from God seems to be a hallmark of this new breed of evangelical activists.

It’s an odd development, showing a distinctly animistic influence, as well as a sort of paranoid form of blackmail directed at those who believe differently. “You’d better do what we say, or God will strike you with a tornado.” But more significant than either of these, is the relationship between these kinds of claims and the evangelical tendency towards climate change denial.

The denial of climate change is inextricably linked with the idea that God ‘micromanages’ his creation with a political and social agenda in mind. After all, if we humans can change the climate, then obviously God isn’t in control after all. One might think events like Katrina, the Japan earthquakes, or the devastation in Haiti might lead to this exact conclusion, but these events, too, are interpreted as part of the plan. But this bit of theology isn’t just about explaining away the usual run of natural disasters.

Explicitly connecting everything from dying birds to general weather patterns to specific political agendas offers the perfect explanation for the embarrassingly obvious signs that global climate change is, in fact, happening. By allowing their followers to attribute changing weather patterns to the ostensible sins of the nation, they remove any possibility that even the clearest evidence will convince them of the reality climate change, much less do anything about it.

That Jacobs, Bakker, and others put their unwavering support behind a political party that stands unquestioningly in line with corporate America and opposes sustainable energy and environmental regulation may or may not be an accident, but it is an alliance that certainly works well for both sides. That is a question I will explore in future essays.

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The worst kind of violence

In the last week or so, I’ve come across two largely unrelated news items that have gotten me thinking. I suspect they are not unique, nor are the they sort of headline that typically gets everyone talking. But I can’t help but think these are terrifically important, both in their own right, and as a mark of something fundamentally wrong.

The stories are as follows:
160 year-old Documents Intentionally Destroyed in Franklin County, N.C.
The basic story (full story at the link) is that an entire roomful of historic documents (whole shelves of record books along with boxes of wills, deeds, photos, letters, etc.) was discovered in a previously sealed room under the Franklin Co., NC courthouse. Researcher, overjoyed as such a find had just begun the slow process of sorting and cataloging them, when they were told to cease doing so. After some weeks of red tape, an as-yet-unamed local government agency swooped in, took the lot to the basement, and systematically and intentionally burned them in the incinerator.

The other story, halfway across the world:
Lebanon Library Torched, 78,000 Books Burned By Islamists
In this story, a historic library in Tripoli was burned by arsonists after a pamphlet considered offensive to Islam was found tucked into one of the books. The library contained thousands of rare historic texts and manuscripts, from both Islamic and Christian history.

So what do these have in common, aside from the obvious destruction of historic materials? I think that the connective thread here is simply that: that there exists the idea that destroying the past is a good thing. That the destruction of history in the furtherance of one’s current ideology is acceptable. And I think this is the worst, deepest, most fundamental kind of violence.

George Orwell, in his masterwork of political tyranny and destroyed history, Nineteen Eighty-Four, wrote the following:
“If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened — that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death? And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed -if all records told the same tale — then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.'”

Who controls the past, controls the future. An odd truth, but a powerful one. One of the deepest horrors of Orwell’s dystopia is that the past has no meaning, there is no past but that authored by the Party. Ellie Wiesel, writing so often of the holocaust, demands that the past be protected from violence. Because in doing violence to the past, all violence is allowed.

And so, these news stories represent the very worst kind of violence; violence to truth, violence to the past. The author of the first story conjectures (with reasonable foundation), that the records were destroyed to hide the shady doings they might reveal done by the forefathers of someone currently in political power. Islam has a long record of destroying the past, from the Buddhas of Bamiyan to the proposal to destroy the Sphinx. In the second story, we don’t even need an ostensibly offense pamphlet to see the destruction of a library, a historic library at that, as a purely brutish sweep against knowledge, against the past, any past, and record that things might ever have been other than as they are now.

The Christian right attempts violence to the past regularly, with its ongoing attempts to rewrite the past of our own nation, making of its Enlightenment progressive deists a crew of Christian fundamentalists; Thomas Jefferson recast as he Sam Brownback of his day (there’s a terrifying thought!). And this is, ultimately, the mark of the unsustainable worldview. When your doctrine requires that there be no past, only a harsh glare of a bright. unchanging, ever-present NOW, you have, in essence, become The Party of Orwell’s Oceania.

And once there is no past, no truth, no objective reality, then all violence is possible. This hated enemy has always been hated, has always been the source of all our ills, and must be eradicated. And once gone, they never were. Without the past, without memory, there can be no genocide, no holocaust. There are no ‘atrocities,’ because there is no ‘never again.’ When the past has no meaning, and is rewritten at will, there is no wrong, for what was done, was not done.

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