The paper this morning had a wire article about the Navy moving to station women aboard submarines. Apparently, male sailors’ wives are objecting, on the grounds that this is “just asking for sexual harassment cases and wrecked marriages.”
On blogs and online networking sites, wives of submariners have warned that the close contact could lead to sexual temptation and other complications.
“I completely believe this would put strain on some relationships because there are trust issues,” said Jennifer Simmons, whose husband serves on a submarine at Kings Bay. “It’s asking for sexual harassment cases left and right. If you’re trying to go through a passageway together, guess what — you’re going to touch.”
You’re going to touch. And that will constitute an irresistible temptation to something that can either wreck a marriage or lead to a harassment suit. (The harassment itself gets glossed over — what really ruins lives is being disciplined for it!) Sexual harassment cases and ruined marriages don’t come from unscrupulous men, after all; they come from accessible women. No man has ever cheated with a woman who wasn’t anywhere near him at any point, right? QED.
The assumption that men can’t resist inappropriate behavior made me think of SP favorite Lord Saletan, who has rather unsurprisingly revealed himself to be Team Child Rape. For most of Saletan’s article, the main head-smacker is his atrocious fact-checking — he assumes that a 1977 parole report’s reference to “evidence that the victim was willing” means she said yes, when in fact it meant only that she’d had sex before. The trick of dredging rape victims’ sexual history as though it’s relevant is not exactly a 21st century invention, so while the victim’s grand jury testimony made it painfully clear that she did not give consent, she was also made to admit that she wasn’t a virgin. Apparently, in the minds of the people who drew up the parole report, this meant she was probably panting for it. Saletan’s not the one who made this leap — he just let it be made for him, and didn’t bother questioning it, because he’s an intellectually lazy self-satisfied bag of wind.
The point where my eyes stopped rolling and started shooting fire, though, was when Lord S. pulled out this gem:
A guy who goes after 5-year-old girls is deeply pathological. A guy who goes after a womanly body that happens to be 13 years old is failing to regulate a natural attraction. That doesn’t excuse him. But it does justify treating him differently.
See, if you rape a child who looks like a child, the problem is you. If you rape a child who looks like a woman, the problem is that women are just so damn sexy! It’s just a natural attraction that you didn’t regulate, you wicked thing. We don’t condone it, tsk-tsk and all that — but really, did you see the cans on her? What were you supposed to do? Like the Navy wives, Lord S. thinks that just being near women is enough to turn a man into a bonobo. (Note to Saletan: Yes, there may be a moral difference between sex with a prepubescent child and sex with someone who is a willing and enthusiastic participant but immature. Breasts are not that difference. Oh, and this girl was not that participant.)
This isn’t just a problem if you’re underwater or at Jack Nicholson’s house. We’ve recently had a number of dudes dropping in to complain that asking them to be sensitive to women’s boundaries is essentially cock-blocking them. Sure, they say, if they don’t talk to us when we clearly don’t want them to, they’ll be making us feel less threatened in a world where one in six women is the victim of sexual assault — but on the other hand, they won’t get to talk to us, and how is that fair? Nothing interferes with a man’s ability to score like a woman who doesn’t think his ego trumps her safety. Underlying this argument, along with a host of other scuzzy notions, is the same idea Saletan spikes and the Navy wives catch: that taking a “womanly body” out in public is an a priori invitation for male attention. Of course dudes think they can get up in your grill — you’re standing there being a lady at them, after all. And if you’re on a crowded subway car together, you’re going to touch. We all know what that leads to.
The flip side of this charming worldview, of course, is male anger at women who don’t make themselves available — see many of our friends in that now-closed thread — or women who have the gall to have a body they find unattractive. That’s the real problem with feminism, with fatness, with (for some pseudo-enlightened guys) the extremely thin beauty ideal: it’s a boner-killer, and boner primacy is a paramount law of the dude cabal. You don’t have to read very far between the lines of most troll comments to see that’s what it boils down to: how dare you possess a womanly body I can’t or don’t want to fuck.
Then there were the guys who were clutching their pearls (if you know what I mean) in the epic thread, horrified that women might think they were a danger. After all, it’s not their fault that women feel threatened — they’re decent, humane guys. Maybe some men are dangerous, but not them, and aren’t we really creating the problem by not letting them prove how decent they are all over us?
Those guys are right, sort of. There are lots of great men out there — you can tell who they are because when they read that thread, or Saletan’s piece, they go “WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?” And it really isn’t fair that sometimes their wives also think they can’t be trusted in a sub with 138 other guys and a lady. That’s not their fault. But it’s also not their wives’ fault, or the ladies’ fault. It’s the fault of a culture that tells all of us, over and over, that men just don’t have the ability to resist. A culture that assumes it’s women’s responsibility to keep themselves armored and invisible, because sexual violence is a direct result of temptation.
In other words, the same cultural bullshit that asserts men’s right to invade women’s personal space and/or fuck 13-year-olds also perpetuates the notion that men are more dick than brain. That’s why they just have to talk to women, when they can see the women don’t want to! That’s why they get addled by a womanly body when they know it comes with a pubescent mind! They don’t have the willpower or intelligence to not act like cavemen, at least not when faced with feminine wiles.
Fuck that noise! The real decent guys sure don’t deserve that. And the pearl-clutchers, the ones who were horrified by our insistence that rape doesn’t occur in the passive voice… well, who says they deserve it either?
In the epic thread (have I mentioned it’s closed?), Kate explained why men don’t get cookies for respecting boundaries:
[A]lthough you can’t be 100% sure you haven’t missed some sort of opportunity, you can be 100% sure that you haven’t contributed to making a woman feel unsafe in public. Why the hell is that not seen as its own reward?
I promise you, guys, you will not miss out on meeting “the one” by erring on the side of caution here. You will still talk to loads and loads of women in your lives, some of whom will be both attractive and attracted to you, and will make their interest clear. You lose nothing by not talking to a woman when you can’t quite tell if she wants to talk — and you gain the satisfaction of helping to create a culture in which women are treated with respect and can feel safe in public. Why do you keep insisting you’re owed more than that?
But what if that’s not good enough for you? What if you’re the kind of self-styled decent guy who still doesn’t feel like it’s fundamentally worthwhile to contribute to a culture where women don’t feel threatened because they aren’t threatened? What reason do you have to forego the rape-joke T-shirts, notice body language signals, object to misogyny, back off when asked to, maintain a comfortable distance, or any of the other little things you can do to bring rape culture down by degrees? If the well-being of women isn’t enough for you, consider this: patriarchy thinks you’re fucking stupid. It thinks you’re a penis without a brain that’s worthwhile and powerful only because women are vaginas without brains and that’s somehow worse. It thinks you’re untrustworthy, that you can’t be left alone with a woman, that you can’t be left alone with a child. Feminists didn’t make that shit up — they’re just noting it and passing it on. You can decide what you want to do about it — but don’t think you can pick and choose which of patriarchy’s mandates apply to you. This is a package deal, my friend. If women’s worth is only in fuckability, then men are just dumb fuckers. We think better of men. Do you?