Friday, March 30, 2007

On Sexual Violence

On reading Grace’s article over at Heroine Content concerning 300 and the opposition she has faced regarding her opinions on Gorgo’s rape by Theron, I was shocked too by the idea that there are still people who cling, at least morally, to notions of rape based in the fight or flight, in overt force. A lack of understanding about the subtle violences of coercion in relation to sex is always an alarming wake up call for me about just how people are kidding themselves in their emotional lives, and the arguments levelled at Grace’ definition expose to me this huge area of grey that still seems to need ironing out. I fully agree with Grace’s definitions of rape, and here’s why.

When I was back in school, a sociology teacher asked all of the class a series of questions to be answered only in our heads. She asked if we'd ever had sex to keep someone happy. If we'd had sex to keep someone with us. If we'd had sex because we didn't want to make someone mad, or because we feared the consequences if we didn’t do it. If we’d had sex not really knowing what we were about to do. If we’d changed our minds about wanting to have sex during the act, but carried on because we thought we had no option. If we’d had sex when we simply weren’t in the mood for it, but our partner was. And most importantly, she asked, in any of those instances, if our partner’s had suggested even a modicum of pressure, of persuasion against our unwillingness, had made us feel a negative consequence might arise from our non-conformity.

Then she asked us whether we could really justify those occasions as being consensual acts of sex, in the full meaning of consent; in the notion that both partners were willing, ready, fully informed and wanting to. We all went a little bit quiet at the indication she was making, at the idea that these cases, in what we viewed as inconsequential moments, rape, in a moral sense, was subtly present.

Its easy to hide behind the notion of rape as a) being a dramatically big event based in overt violence committed by a stranger and b) more likely male on female, in order to protect oneself from the grey areas of our own sex lives, where we may have been victims, or where we may have been perpetrators in the pressures we may exert. A more comprehensive, yet simple understanding of rape in relation to consent forces us to examine ourselves more closely, and perhaps the opposition that Grace’s opinions may get is rooted in personal discomfort. Yet I for one am not ungrateful for the personal discomfort exploring these issues evokes. If we aren’t prepared to examine the psychological violences of coercion in relation to sex, we render ourselves open to becoming victims, and more importantly perpetrators of a form, however small, of sexual violence. To underestimate the importance of fully informed consent in sex is to undermine the act itself, as well as the basic freedom of our sexual partners to make an informed and willing decision.

Any thoughts?


Tina Anderson said...

She asked if we'd ever had sex to keep someone happy.

That's a loaded notion. There's couples who've been married for years, and if a woman or man just loses their passion for sex [a very real issue in this day and age where stress and lack of sleep play a serious factor--and have led to mini-pandemic of 'desire dysfunctions'] if a spouse truly has no desire for sex, but does it because he/she knows this will make their spouse happy--then are they being raped?

Forgive my candid post here; Mr. Gynocrat took care of the parenting in our house 24/7, while I had the career. Our sex life went from active to non-existent in a frame of five years--I felt hurt, and I expressed that and told him that his lack of interest in me felt personal, and it hurt me. Did he feel pressured? I’m sure he did. Did I tell him these things to get him to have sex with me again—Yes I did. I wanted my husband back, and I wanted to know he still cared about me, other than for the reasons he he had to [his house, the kids, and my job]. He made a more active effort to placate me...but does that make me a perp? 0_0. I felt hurt and alone--so I guess applied pressure, but I never felt guilty about it. I understand where you're coming from, and I'm not knocking it--but this is a gray area for everyone it seems--so while you’re examining what is obviously 'overt victimized coercion' in 300, you're bringing up the notion that coercion in all forms is another form of victimization. If I’m reading this wrong, please let me know. ^_^, it’s not my intent to cause strife, I like your blog.

Sorry to ramble here--I meant no intrusion.

Ami Angelwings said...

I like your post :)

I've always had a problem that thanks in large part to media portrayals, the general feeling in our society is that rape is done by rly bad ppl and is always an overtly violent, forced action. Or as I like to put it, it's done in dark alleys by creepy men wielding knives. >.>;;

Same with abusive relationships :( My mom was in one with my dad and it's not as simple as the one that tv loves to portray, which is the man who just pummels his wife while screaming "stop making me hurt you".


Abuse, and rape can be pretty subtle or at least not so obviously dramatic. :O

AlexinWonderLand said...

no apologies necessary! I appreciate your candour, your interest, your commentary, and your experience, and I am certainly not trying to exert an opinion impenetrable to criticism! In fact, your own candid experience helps inspire me to try to make clear a bit more what may have not been said with enough efficacy in my original post.

For me rape is helpfully looked at as a spectre of sexual experience. Because the lines of consent are subtly drawn, shared and redrawn, the possibility of transgressing the emotional agreement becomes an ever-present possibility. That’s not to say sex is always risky business, or should be worried about, over analysed, fretted over. Rather its to say that nothing is particularly clear cut about it, that the investments made in each and every moment are loaded with different connotations.

I think what I meant to say within my post, and possibly didn’t make clear enough, is that rape lies somewhere along a spectrum of general ‘sexual violence’. For me these violences can be considered as thematic and psychological, and perhaps not as visceral as the word ‘violence’ suggests. The exercising of one’s will or desire over another is like a kind of violence, a small one, and obviously depending on how one feels about it (as you said, this is grey for us all) can be defined in a variety of ways.

If I’m permitted to address you anecdote directly, hopefully without any offence, I don’t consider your actions rape. I do consider coercion, emotional or otherwise, to be something of a grey area however, and seeing as you’ve been candid with me about your relationship, I’ll share about one of my own.

There was a period during a relationship of my own where the sexual desires and pressures of my partner of the time overshadowed my own. In short, he wanted to have sex more often than I did. We would argue about it, because he felt undesired, and I felt in some ways objectified (due to the way his desire could seem to sometimes take precedent over the rest of me). In some instances I could be honest in saying I conceded because I wanted to reassure him, and because I didn’t want to fight. But the fact remained that I didn’t want to. And the fact also remained that, for me, those instances of sex said more about what he wanted than what I did; expressed more about his desire than my own. Does that make him a rapist? Of course not. But is there some kind of sexual violence going on there? Yes, I’d say there is, yet its for the two of us to work out how far that gets carried as a problem, or an issue.

Being able to understand sexual violence as this sort of web of levels and intricacies helps to open up the idea that rape too isn’t just a clear cut instant or occasion, its about interpretation, feeling, consent. Rape isn’t those instances that my teacher was talking about, but it is a possible outcome, and eventuality, or a spectre of those occasions. What occurred within my relationship could be deemed rape if experienced by someone else, and I would like to think that person had a legitimate claim to saying so.

I hope that makes sense, and addresses what you’ve said, and isn’t as garbled as it felt writing. I look forward to hearing a response :)

alex x

AlexinWonderLand said...

good to hear from you again! i really appreciate it when you stop by.

And I very much agree with you there in terms of the media's role in perpetuating an idea of rape and abuse that in many ways precludes personal interpretation. It is a horrible reality that in many instances where abuse or sexual violence is occuring, there is a silence of the victim because they don't think what they're experiencing can be legitimately classed as rape or abuse. If we go around thinking that rape is only that thing that happens in an alley with a knife, as you put it, then it makes it harder for us to understand those times where, Gods forbid, we might be abused in a more subtle, yet just as affecting way.

thank you for sharing
alex x

Tina Anderson said...

Forgive my late response to your reply. This period of time has been, hectic. [I write comics, and my editors seem to think I've no life, outside the story I’m writing—for them 0_o] Looking at your reply and hearing your side of it, I guess I can cop to realizing that yes, there is a gray area, and it’s that gray area I was uncomfortable with, from the start. ^^; Deep down, coercion—marital or co-habitual, is a very ‘dark’ gray area, especially for the person having to make the compromise in order to just have a stress-free day/evening. I didn't want to hear that perhaps I was imposing this form of feeling on someone I cared about--so I posted so quickly, on this entry.

I guess looking at it from your perspective, which I didn’t want to in the first place, is perhaps a first step for me in admitting that, I’m not good with grays. 0_0.

Tina Anderson

AlexinWonderLand said...

Hey Tina,
no troubles meant by that post, and I very much understand what you mean. I reckon it possibly works both ways, its hard to reconcile the idea of the one you love with the pressure you sometimes feel, and perhaps harder to reconcile you might make them feel that way. Its nice to know that relationships lend us the privelege to navigate those grey areas as a pair, figure out our discomforts so to speak. Thanks for posting again, your candour inspires mine, and perhaps vice versa.

How long have you been working in comics? why do you do it? do you enjoy it? Many questions and more besides
all the best

alex x