Going to the grave with your syphilis slightly informed.

The question of whether and when it’s appropriate to be flip about serious matters became an issue – two and a half years ago – when two columnists from Jezebel were guests at a New York City “event.”  Somewhat late to the game, I just watched the clips last night:

To use a dated term, what they said wasn’t “p.c.”  Especially Tracie’s remark that she arranged to have someone rape her, and “had a magazine pay for it,” and Moe’s comment that she was raped by the third guy she had sex with but didn’t want to turn him in to the police and “fucking go through shit” because “it was a load of trouble and I had better things to do, like drinking more.”

Now, I don’t know how to unpack everything Tracy and Moe said in the clip, but my reaction on watching it, on an emotional level, was that I found both of them quite likeable.  And while rape doesn’t usually make for good stand-up material, it is salutary, once in a while, for someone to blurt out the unspeakable.  It’s salutary because it’s an antidote to the highly restrictive, uncreative, leaden mindset that results from thinking of too many things as being unspeakable, unthinkable, or unacceptable.  Consider Hugo Schwyzer’s criticism of Dan Savage:

From a feminist standpoint, there’s a lot that’s problematic about what Dan says. Positioning the caller as a “victim too” comes dangerously close to a false equivalence; hell, it is a false equivalence. Men’s pain at being judged “guilty until proven innocent” is hardly comparable to being raped, and it’s unacceptable to even hint that it is.  [Bold Hugo’s.]

We could all sit around debating what is and isn’t “comparable to being raped,” but I have a nagging suspicion that such a conversation wouldn’t be terribly productive.  And it doesn’t further thoughtful discussion when Hugo, or other feminists, define for all of us what is and isn’t acceptable to say, or even hint at.  Of course, there are troglodytes out there who may need to be spoken to in the language of absolutes, but the rest of us deserve a more sophisticated and nuanced discussion.  And yes, albeit on rare occasions, a more nuanced understanding can begin when someone blurts out something that’s usually unspeakable.  In vino veritas?  Not necessarily.  The “nugget of wisdom” blurted out might not be true, and might actually be terribly misguided, but can have value nonetheless in opening the mind to different perspectives, different ways of thinking and feeling.

Things that should rarely be joked about can still be joked about on rare occasions.  I once read that, a generation ago, there were some Israelis who would on occasion refer to holocaust survivors as “soap.”

*                        *                        *

Hitchens, on dipsomania:

… Yet, as the crisis deepened in 1936, Churchill diverted himself from this essential work—to the horror of his colleagues—in order to involve himself in keeping a pro-Nazi playboy on the throne. He threw away his political capital in handfuls by turning up at the House of Commons—almost certainly heavily intoxicated, according to Manchester—and making an incoherent speech in defense of “loyalty” to a man who did not understand the concept. In one speech—not cited by Manchester—he spluttered that Edward VIII would “shine in history as the bravest and best-loved of all sovereigns who have worn the island crown.” (You can see there how empty and bombastic Churchill’s style can sound when he’s barking up the wrong tree; never forget that he once described himself as the lone voice warning the British people against the twin menaces of Hitler and Gandhi!)

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11 Responses to Going to the grave with your syphilis slightly informed.

  1. John E. says:

    Men’s pain at being judged “guilty until proven innocent”

    Can someone help me understand what’s going on with this line of thinking?

    If we take this at face value, it seems to say something like, “My own sense of self-worth depends on this other person’s evaluation of me.”

    If that’s the case, I’d suggest the man who feels this sort of pain work on developing internal resources to inform his own sense of self-worth.

    If after looking at the context of Dan Savage’s and Hugo Schwyzer’s referenced posts, it seems to say something like, “I would like to develop a relationship with this woman, but her preconceptions about men are making that painfully difficult,” I’d suggest that we don’t always get what we want and that it might be best if the man who is pained by the situation either turn his attentions elsewhere or accept that if the relationship is going to progress at all, it will be on terms and at the pace defined by the woman.

    Now, is it really unacceptable to compare the pain felt by the men in either of these cases to the pain felt by a raped woman and is it really the case that Hugo, or any feminist, gets to declare that discussion out of bounds?

    I say, no – of course not. Go ahead. It isn’t likely that anyone will be convinced and it is even less likely that making that argument is going to get anyone laid – but sure, it’s a free country with a First Amendment and everything. Make the case – we’re listening.

    I’d also like to comment on Miguel’s thoughts, quoted here:

    To put it another way: I am admittedly not entitled to sexual pleasure from her. And I’m not necessarily entitled to sexual pleasure from her, or her, or her. But I am entitled to sexual pleasure from some woman, somewhere, at some time. It is not reasonable to require, even as a remote hypothetical, that I accept a life of masturbatory solipsism as a condition for an ethical sexuality.

    Well, no, it actually is a remote possibility that Miguel, or myself, or any man might not find a woman who is willing to engage in consensual ethical sex with us.

    Most do, of course, but there is no reason for any man to think that he is “…entitled to sexual pleasure from some woman, somewhere, at some time.”

    Is it possible that Miguel is using the word ‘entitled’ in some manner that I am unfamiliar with?

    Is it possible that he is using this to mean, “entitled to believe that some woman, somewhere, at some time might share sexual pleasure with him”?

    Because in that case, yeah, sure he’s entitled to believe that to be the case – and it very likely is true that there is such a woman out there.

    But to take it as some sort of given that there exists a woman with whom he is entitled to engage in pleasurable sex? That’s not how reality works.

  2. Clarence says:

    John E:

    To the extent that feminists are involved in outlawing rather than regulating prostitution ( I know its a big split with some feminists actively working to ban it altogether and others to regulate and legalize it and the anti’s have won again and again)then I consider feminists at least partly responsible for rapes. One cannot demand that someone else engage in consensual sex and then start closing off various avenues of consensual sex.

  3. John E. says:

    One criticism I have about your point is that outlawing prostitution does not eliminate prostitution. Since that is not the case, your argument suggests that a non-trivial percentage of men would be more inclined to risk the legal consequences of rape then to risk the local legal consequences of hiring a prostitute or to travel to a jurisdiction where prostitution is legal.

    But does Miguel include hiring a prostitute in his ‘ethical sexuality’?

    I suspect not, but could be wrong about that.

    But even so, one is not ‘entitled’ to sex from a prostitute either – although the negotiations are a lot more straightforward.

  4. Darque says:

    @John E.
    It’s true. Nobody is entitled to anything. The world doesn’t suddenly conform to meet our needs and understand our problems. But again, think of the concepts we’re speaking of here: Justice. The ideal. If it is acceptable for some to speak of certain entitlements, certain rights, I feel as if we have left the cat out of the bag at that point. We can then talk about the things that would make the world better – the needs that would make ourselves more fulfilled, without denying what we want.

    Granted, some people don’t want sex. But there are many people out there for who it is a real part of their lives. It shouldn’t suddenly become problematic because some of those people (approximately 50% of them) are men.

    You’re right though. Technically speaking, people aren’t entitled to shit. Not love, not friendship. Not food or shelter. If that weren’t the case, there wouldn’t be so many homeless, hungry and depressed people.

  5. humbition says:

    If we’re really going back to “entitlement” I have to share the language used by an Esalen workshop, going on as we speak, which purports to “Develop Your Romantic Intelligence.” The facilitators of this therapeutic workshop speak of “Cultivating a healthy entitlement.”

    The following is the entire description of the workshop (http://webapp.esalen.org/workshops/9325), which is facilitated by a husband/wife team of therapists:

    Many people have suffered from emotional disruptions in early family relationships that make it difficult to feel safe in intimate relationships, and challenging to develop rewarding long-term romantic partnerships as adults. Drawing from attachment theory, family systems, expressive arts, somatic awareness, Gestalt practice, and mindfulness meditation, this workshop is designed to help you:

    • Identify your attachment issues

    • Become aware of trauma-based responses, ambivalence, and avoidance

    • Identify fear, physical constriction, and body language that send non-verbal stay-away messages

    • Demystify the process of approaching and feeling close to others

    • Develop flexible boundaries, and learn assertiveness and self protection

    • Improve dating and relationship skills

    • Cultivate healthy entitlement

    • Recover a strong sense of self and self-love

    • Reach past doubt, fear, and shame to develop your inner and outer resources for taking risks and seizing opportunities to connect deeply to others

    The workshop includes experiential small group work, mini-lectures, and guided group discussion in the process of developing romantic intelligence so that you may begin to move into the world of successful relationship.

    Recommended reading: Goleman, Social Intelligence.

  6. humbition says:

    (In the previous message everything after the beginning of the cite down to “Social Intelligence” is a direct citation/ quote. I did not realize that a new paragraph would nullify the html tag for citation. Still an html newbie on this.)

  7. humbition says:

    For the benefit of any Esalen folks parachuting into this blog, let me add that I subscribe to basic feminist understandings of rape, and that in context Miguel is not, I think, linking what he wants to mean by “entitlement” (in other posts) to any justification of the kinds of behaviors that are talked about in the above clips. Or I hope he isn’t (and based on my reading of what he says elsewhere, he isn’t).

    I think in fact he is groping towards a concept of “healthy entitlement” as is mentioned in the Esalen workshop. A conversation about how that differs from the kinds of entitlement criticized by feminism, would be very much to the point.

  8. John E. says:

    @Darque February 13, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    It shouldn’t suddenly become problematic because some of those people (approximately 50% of them) are men.

    I have to chuckle a bit at that – negotiating consensual sex, for the vast majority of men, even men in a steady relationship, is always problematic.

  9. John E. says:

    I think in fact he is groping towards a concept of “healthy entitlement” as is mentioned in the Esalen workshop. A conversation about how that differs from the kinds of entitlement criticized by feminism, would be very much to the point.


  10. Jim says:

    “If we take this at face value, it seems to say something like, “My own sense of self-worth depends on this other person’s evaluation of me.”

    John, you are really missing the point, and hugo is eiother being obtuse or just speaking fomr his enormous privilege, the part he seems unable to admit to. This “pain” has to do with the very well-founded fear of rape hysteria in this country. This hysteria is so engrained and unquestioned that a fundamentla change to the rules of evisdence was passed only in cases of rape, in which past allegations rather than convictions are admissable as evidence. That’s right, unproven allegations are considered evidential.

    “Now, is it really unacceptable to compare the pain felt by the men in either of these cases to the pain felt by a raped woman …”

    Is it really acceptable to compare the pain of a raped women to that of a man falsely imprisoned for as long as 20 years? Look at the False Rape Society or go to the Innocence Project’s site and see how often this kind of injustice happens in this country, at the hands of society itslef, not some criminal.

  11. John E. says:

    @Jim – While you have made interesting points, what you are talking about is not the same thing that Hugo, Dan, Miguel, or I am talking about.

    Also, as an anecdotal data point, I had occasion to speak with a campus police officer I work with before she headed out to give testimony before a grand jury regarding a theft. I was asking her if most grand juries returned indictment and she specifically said that in many cases of accused sex crimes, a no-bill is returned because there is nothing more than he-said/she-said.

    She went on to say that even though the campus police know they didn’t have much of a case, they brought the case before the grand jury only because the girl’s parents expected them to ‘do something’

    Which in a way goes toward your point that men accused of rape often have to go through unjustified crap, but I think is evidence against your larger point that “unproven allegations are considered evidential.”

    Of course, this is Texas…maybe things are different here…

    Ever think of moving? You might like it.

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