You Know How They Have Shark Week?

Well here it’s rant week!

Ok, you’re right, I give. Rant week is every week when I’m at the keyboard.

I never thought I’d actually have to write a post about this, but certain recent events (New York City and its social dynamics being one of them) have got me thinking.

Men: women, romantically speaking, do not owe you anything. Zilch. Zero. That girl you took out to dinner? She doesn’t have to go out with you again. The girl you’ve been emailing or flirting with? When you get down to brass tacks and finally ask her out, she doesn’t have to say yes.

You know how, at a party, you generally get to ask for the girl’s number, and are allowed to vanish into the night with it, sometimes never to be seen again, and if the girl gets your work email and uses it to ask why you didn’t call, you can meet up with your friends for drinks and talk about how crazy she is? This is like that.

No one owes you any romantic engagement beyond what they have actually consented to. You consented to ask for the girl’s number; she consented to give it. You consented to ask her on a date; she may or may not consent to accompany you.

And here, I know, for a certain sampling, is the real kicker–you don’t get to know her reasons. You don’t get to know if it’s logical, if it’s insulting, if it’s the most deathly soul-searching or the most unserious whim. You are not entitled to an explanation of her social or erotic choices.

Women, you do not have to explain your “No.” You do not have to say that your cat just died, that you just got out of a bad relationship, that you and your friend are wearing matching 90s floral print dresses because you’re lovers (ahem), that you’re slammed with work. You have to say these things as much as men have to write you apologetic emails explaining why they won’t be calling this week or ever. All you have to say is, “Thanks, but no thanks. Have a good day.”

And no, this does not make you a bitch. It does not make you mean. Mean is saying “No, because the way you chewed your food on our first date grossed me out so much that I couldn’t even pay attention to the heinous politics you were spouting.” Gratuitous explication of another’s failings is cruel; a polite no is just a polite no.

Is it rejection? Is it often stinging and humiliating? Yep. That’s life, especially the part of life involving the highly charged and vulnerable quest for a mate. It’s painful to be rejected by someone you liked. It’s painful when the crush who finally asked for your number never calls and starts dating your roommate a few weeks later. All these countless scenarios of hope and rejection are painful and humbling, but they do not arise from cruelty or injustice.

You are not available by default. Young working women, you do not owe a debt to the handsome respectable men who deign to ask you out. Bright-eyed college freshmen, you do not owe a debt to the handsome lacrosse playing seniors who deign to summon you to their beds (and then expect you to fake an orgasm because several years of porn have not prepared their poor sensitive masculine egos well for the fact that bedding only a blurred succession of anonymous women tends to make one an incompetent lover).

Women are born into a world that treats them as subjects and property of men–ancillary others who exist to support and smooth things out for the main players to whom they belong–to be always sweet and conciliating and, above all, available. Hanna Rosin can write about the rise of the matriarchy till her fingers fall off, but as long as we have the spectacle of grown women twisting themselves into apologetic knots over daring (daring!) to decline someone’s sexual interest in them, women remain second-class citizens.

And yes, of course this cuts both ways (which is one of the reasons I’m always leery about the perennial angst in Catholic circles over everyone’s failure to marry everyone else). But no matter how many articles on men’s romantic failings get published, personal campaigns of harassment and bullying seem rare. I don’t very often hear of women refusing to take no for an answer, of calling and emailing and texting after clear negatives and requests for space, of debating the soundness of the decision or arguing that the objects of their interest should be flattered, of deploying words like  “bitch” and “slut” when they don’t get what they want.

This seems mainly a male problem, probably because men have more power to abuse.

The presumption of female availability keeps rape culture alive and kicking; but even before we get to that point, it creates a hostile, unhealthy environment in multiple spheres of life–the erotic is just the most obvious.

And I for one, am sick of it. I am sick of quiet women,  or meek women, getting walked over by men who see a gentler no as an invitation to try harder. I am sick of outspoken women meeting waves of fury and obsession from the men they reject. The domination and entitlement is a male problem; men can help solve it. Until then, rest assured that if you harass a woman I know, or make her cry or duck out of parties early, or make her feel unsafe, or simply exhaust her into submission, I am coming for you.

Update: tangential but related

What I Don’t Get

among other things, is the line that goes something like this: “Modesty doesn’t mean looking frumpy! In fact, it’s really important to look attractive and your best! You shouldn’t cover up all the way! It’s a fine line!”

Oh great. Because that’s exactly what I wanted in my life, another fine line. To recap: I’m supposed to be sexy but not sexual, or alluring but not sexy; I’m allowed to be smart but not too obvious about it, competent as long I’m sweet; I can be slightly unconventional (it’s really kind of cute, actually!) as long as I don’t deviate in any major ways from the norms of femininity.

And now, I am informed that even that though the same gendered sartorial standards that dictate a more decorative, display-oriented wardrobe for women are responsible for the slightly-too-high hemlines and slightly-too-low necklines that someone always finds problematic, women are still held accountable on both ends.

We’re responsible for any slippage, any showing, any failure to meet someone’s standards of coverage, and we are not allowed to simply chuck it, forget about looking pretty or fashionable, and focus on other things.  We will be policed on whatever side of this invisible tightrope we wobble on.

So basically, what I’m hearing is “We’re not going to challenge this cultural fixation on your decorative role, but we will give you a MEEEELION more ways to obsess over it!”


Because I’m Tired and Cranky

You can talk about bikinis. I’m not saying you can’t talk about bikinis. There are probably some interesting things to be said about bikinis.

But shut. the eff. up. about:

a) Why you don’t wear a bikini

b) Why it was really hard, because you were really hot in a bikini

c) Why you’re still really hot, but now totally focused on God’s will (and kind of classy too) and everything’s been like, so blessed since you stopped.

d)Why really, you’re not judging girls who wear bikinis! Really!

e) I mean, if they want to be objectified, that’s fine.

f) Why it’s really hard for Our Brothers in Christ, and how all the Good Men out there will reward you with love and respect!

g) As long as you dress the way they want.

But otherwise, go ahead and talk about bikinis.

Respond by Numbers

1. This article infuriates me, because it moves from “My rape did not traumatize me, and I shouldn’t have to apologize for that,” (totally valid) to “We shouldn’t make rape such a big deal” ( totally invalid).

2. She also quotes Greer misleadingly here:

“It is not women who have decided that rape is so heinous, but men. The only weapon that counts in rape is the penis, which is conceptualized as devastating.”

In context, Greer is referring to outdated rape laws that defined rape solely in reference to the penis, rather than as non-consensual penetration. She was calling for the abolition of the legal crime of rape for the sake of broader and more comprehensive assault laws ( a broadening that is already starting to occur), rather than a cultural downplaying of the trauma of assault.

3. She also gets rape culture wrong–it does not refer as much to the collective experience of rape, as to the collective and communal enabling of its perpetration.

4. Rape is not equally traumatizing for everyone. Duh. No evil is equally traumatizing for everyone. But rape is not  rape because it’s traumatizing, it’s rape because it’s wrong, and a serious affront to justice.

5. The author may pay lip service towards the end of the article to the validity of all women’s stories, but her tone of impatience throughout the article towards the survivor mentality, therapy, “the depiction of rape as the ultimate horror,”  undermines any commitment she may profess to a serious treatment of other women’s experiences.

Many, if not most, rape victims suffer some kind of trauma. Many, if not most, do find it uniquely horrifying. This is because rape is a violent crime committed not against one’s possessions (it is telling that she compares it to armed robbery) but against one’s person, and the most intimate and life-giving area of one’s person.

8.  “According to the cultural script, women are simply not strong enough to bear such an experience easily.” She tries to blame the suffering of rape victims not herself on a cultural script, then argues that male rape should be taken more seriously. It should, but it won’t be if men are supposed to be “strong enough to bear such an experience easily.” Or is it only women who are supposed to have this superhuman strength?

I started out being infuriated, and ended by being confused. I’m not sure exactly what she’s saying, except that she recognizes the seriousness of rape, but only measures whether rape occurred by subjective trauma rather than the question of consent; respects the trauma of other women who are just so much weaker than her, poor things, but snips at and chides the (by no means mainstream)  culture that takes it seriously; sees the horror rape elicits as misogynistic in origin, but wishes men were shown more compassion.

There is an excellent point here, about recognizing the diversity of responses to rape, the various and strange permutations of trauma an assault can entail, and  the importance of privileging the actual experiences of women above political points and ideological integrity, but it gets lost in a pile of senseless self-congratulation.

The other interesting point, and I think one that will continue to gain credence, is that the seriousness of rape’s evil depends on a particular conception of sex–a conception that in its very definiteness many find inherently oppressive. To me, this is one of the single strongest arguments against both “sex positivity” and the commodification of the human body that both sex work and patriarchal marriage entail. They destroy the basis for any response to sexual assault at once basically feminist, decently compassionate, and rationally coherent, and it’s already starting to show.

And now, I am going to go call my little sister and say a rosary or five.

Update: I realize that I jumped from point 5 to point 8. I have no idea why I do that, but am leaving it up to shame myself into stopping.

Update 2: Had all the rape your stomach can handle for today? Too bad!

Update 3: Also, I think what really bugs me is that every time she says “Some feminists think,” or “Some feminists say,” a huge, wispy strawman follows.

Update 4: Because even I can only take so much awful, I’m going to let Feministing handle the Reddit rape thread.

Oh Get Real

Someone wants to know “Where are the normal Christians?”

“As a practicing Catholic, I have lived my entire adult life being skeptical, questioning and critical of the backward policies of my institution, and the horrific crimes committed by its members and perpetuated by its authorities. These days, I figure most people associate my religion with child molesters and Rick Santorum. But I have stuck with my faith – albeit a very different one than the traditional image of some papal ring-kissing, birth control-hating freak that tends to get more attention — because the values I learned directly from a Christian upbringing are the values I still try to apply to my life every day. And if you, as either a conservative Christian or a staunch nonbeliever, think that’s easy, it isn’t. It’s a struggle. But it’s an often wonderful struggle.”

Well move on over, Perpetua, there’s a new martyr in town.

Has it ever entered this woman’s hyper-enlightened brain that some of those papal-ring kissing, birth-control hating freaks that she is sooo unlike (but still, charitably, forbearingly, graciously engages in “politcal discourse”) might have articulated and coherent ideas behind their whackjob lifestyles and political postitions? Is she aware at all of the cringeing, sneering, sucking-up to power and respectability implicit in the phrase ” papal-ring kissing, birth-control hating freaks?”

No, of course not. Because she really isn’t interested in being a rebel. She just wants to be normal. She just wants to be liked. Listen, lady: if you’re going sell your soul and publicly jeer at your co-religionists for not thinking exactly like you and your friends, come out of it as something more interesting than a walking, talking, self-congratulating cliche.

Not that you’d be interested in talking to me, but I’ll be hanging out with this guy.

An Open Letter to Conservatives and Chastity Educators

[Warning: may be triggering for survivors of sexual assault/rape]

Dear Aforementioned,

This week is V-Week at Dartmouth. And no, the V in V-Week and V-Day does not refer to vagina. It refers to violence: violence against women and girls, structural and individual, domestic and sexual, and the horrendous repercussions it has on the entire community. And so, in honor of V-week, and like any good student of new media, I decided to post an article about the evils of victim-blaming on my facebook.

I found several articles–on,,, various blogs with various degree of  radical feminist leanings. Each time I tried to post, a helpful thumbnail declared the link courtesy of Planned Parenthood. Yippee.

Surely, I thought, I could find a more friendly source. Surely the Love and Fidelity Network, whose mission is proclaiming the sexual dignity of all, would have something helpful. This is what I found.

and this.

I found a piece about how rape statistics are the inventions of angry feminists coupled with the mistakes of libidinous coeds, and a tour de force of rape-excusing, victim-blaming pablum couched in terms of gentle admonishment to stricter sexual mores.

I wish I could say this abysmal dearth of any remotely helpful treatment of rape is the exception. Unfortunately, it is the rule. It is the rule to treat sexual assault as a soapbox to decry the sexual revolution, to casually appropriate the sufferings of sexual assault survivors as cannon-fodder in the culture war, with only minimal evidence of real concern or thoughtfulness. It is the rule to buffer assumptions and attitudes that normalize sexual assault with blithe unconcern for any damage done except to ideological lockstep within the conservative community.

I have had enough. If you are reading this, someone you know, very probably someone you care for deeply, has survived at least attempted sexual assault. One in four college women will experience attempted rape at some point in her life. And so might the men you love. One of my best friends  was drugged, raped, and murdered one month ago–and in case you were wondering, no, he wasn’t showing any cleavage. To Love and Fidelity Network and the entire movement you spearhead: until this changes, you get not one dime of my money, not one word of my support, not one minute of my time at your conferences and clubs.

Until you show that you have thought long and hard about sexual violence without subordinating it to your agenda, until you privilege women and men over ideology; until you cease to be a part of the problem of rape culture– I want nothing to do with you.