When I was in Junior High, the administration would sometimes invite outside speakers to come and motivate the kids. Among the speakers, one of the more disturbing varieties was the “reformed alcoholic.” This person generally gave a rambling, agitated presentation, telling us that if we drank, we would lose all control, just as he had done.
There are occasions when “pro-feminist” men remind me of those reformed alcoholics. Example:
“So, yes, violent sexual predators are monsters, but not monsters from another planet. What we learn from their cases depends on how willing we are to look… into the mirror, honestly, and examine the ways we are not only different but, to some degree, the same.”
Thus concludes an essay, by Robert Jensen, which is a good example of the worst possible approach men can take to end sexual violence and make the world a better place. His prescription: Men can help end rape culture by examining the ways in which “we” are just like the “sexually sadistic psychopath.”
His prescription offers young men a model of self-doubt and guilt-by-association. And to women who want to understand men, he offers a distorted view of what “us men” are really like. So let’s look at a few things he says:
Look at mass-marketed pornography, with estimated sales of $10 billion a year in the United States, consumed primarily by men: It routinely depicts women as sexual objects whose sole function is to sexually satisfy men and whose own welfare is irrelevant as long as men are satisfied.
The bulk of my masturbatoria is downloaded from Flikr. (For free.) Are the women I look at “depicted as sexual objects whose sole function is to sexually satisfy men?” (Sigh.) I don’t think so.
Consider the $52-billion-a-year worldwide prostitution business: Though illegal in the United States (except Nevada), that industry is grounded in the presumed right of men to gain sexual satisfaction with no concern for the physical and emotional costs to women and children.
I actually hired a prostitute once. I did so after being involuntarily celibate for seven years. And I’d say that prostitution is “grounded” on a number of things, not least of which is the way in which our culture isolates young men and pathologizes their sexuality.
In locker rooms one rarely hears men asking about the quality of their emotional and intimate experiences. Instead, the questions are: “Did you get any last night?” “Did you score?” “Did you f— her?”
The last time I spent a lot of time in a locker room was high school gym class. There were guys who told obnoxious, tiresome jokes, sure. Did they ever say “hey did you fuck her?” Wouldn’t surprise me. But for many adolescent boys, most adolescent boys, this is just so much tedious background noise.
Okay, so Professor Jensen talks about things he believes corrupt our sexual ethics, and I give my thoughts about how the circumstances surrounding these things may often be different than he supposes. And yet, I would have to concede that the nastier side of pornography, prostitution, and “locker room talk” would tend make our society less compassionate and more misogynistic. So then what is wrong with Mr. Jensen’s approach?
The sexual imagery he offers up is that of a devastated, burned out village, from which saunters a sexually satisfied man, zipping up his pants. This is problematic in two ways.
First, when you tell young men to examine the ways they are the same as rapists, and when you blame our culture for rape, to some degree you are letting the rapist off the hook. The rapist can then excuse himself, because “us men” are just like he is. Penn Jillette makes what appears to be a similar point in his discussion of the Japanese video game “RapeLay” here. (Starting at 4:30.)
The second reason Professor Jensen’s approach is counterproductive is that it promotes a kind of hangdog sexual ethic for men, in which a man is “good” to the extent that he abnegates his own sexual pleasure. Mr. Jensen believes we should repeatedly juxtapose the pain experienced by women and girls with men’s “sexual satisfaction” in order to educate men and make them better people. Implicit in this approach is the idea that a denigration of male sexuality is harmless, or at least a “small price to pay” for a better world. But it isn’t harmless, and doesn’t make for a better world.
To try to cure the problem of sexual violence with a global disparagement of male sexuality is like trying to cure cancer by giving the patient a chemotherapy that kills all the healthy cells and leaves the cancer untouched. The good man is sickened by constant talk of rape and begins to question himself. Not so the psychopath.