Originally posted on March 6, 2010
One of the issues discussed on this blog is the lack of feminist acknowledgment and discussion of female-on-male sexual violence. It is difficult to find and when it does occur feminists rarely tackle it with the same tenacity they do when discussing male-on-female sexual violence. What typically occurs is a round-about discussion concerning social norms. There is never any discussion of the impact of female violence on males, why it is so socially dismissed or why feminists rarely bother to discuss it.
The same thing occurs on a recent Feministe post. The guest poster Rachel Hills recounts a post from Feministing in which a woman “unknowingly” forced her boyfriend into sex. The legal term for such an act is “rape,” but both posts are very careful not to call female perpetrated sexual violence by that word. Instead, it is usually referred to as “sexual assault.” Hills goes on to explain about the topic:
Female-on-male sexual assault is a subject people don’t talk about much. I assume it’s because heterosexual intercourse relies on the man having an erection, which to the less progressive, educated eye makes it physically impossible (never mind that a man can physically have an erection and still not want to have sex on an intellectual or emotional level). It’s also because – as I’ll discuss further in a moment – there’s a very real assumption that men always want sex, and conversely, that women need to be talked into it.
Now, I know at least one woman who has physically forced sex upon a man who had repeatedly told her he didn’t want to have sex with her and was pretty pissed off with her afterwards – rape in no uncertain terms, if the genders were reversed. But the situation Pluralist talks about is a little less obvious than that. It’s unethical, certainly, and inconsiderate, and you shouldn’t do it, but I’d argue it’s technically not classified as sexual assault (if you disagree, please debate it in the comments).
It’s also a darn sight more common than sexual assault.
The comment “never mind that a man can physically have an erection and still not want to have sex on an intellectual or emotional level” is quite perplexing as it implies that an erection means males want sex on a physical level. One feels inclined to inform Hills that infant boys also get erections and it is incredibly unlikely that the erections occur as a result of a physical desire for sex. The feminist, or rather the female, lack of knowledge about the male body is part of the reason why so many women do not think that their actions can or should count as rape.
However, the real problem with Hills’ comment is that she essentially dismisses the notion that females can rape males. The situation Pluralist mentioned in Feministing is called “rape” by feminists all the time. It is only because the genders are reversed that feminists suddenly take issue with the claim that unwanted, coerced sexual intercourse is rape.
In other words, from a feminist perspective it is only rape if it is male-on-female.
Hills goes on to talk about women’s negative responses to men refusing sex. It matches my experiences and what I have heard from other men. Simply put, women do not take no for an answer and they will try to force men to have sex, either through coercion, derision, humiliation or physical action depending on the circumstances. It is tempting to chalk those responses up to women being unused to verbal rejection. Women do not court men, so it is uncommon for women to literally hear “no” when they make a move. However, the most likely reason for their actions is simply that many people do not handle rejection very well and will try to force others to do what they want.
What is more troubling is the amount of excuse making in the comments. Virtually none of the feminists commenting there actually consider women forcing boys or men into sex “rape.” Several feminists admit to essentially raping their boyfriends or husbands, with virtually no condemnation from anyone. Jill, who presumably invited Hills to guest post, can only manage to state:
Laura, I didn’t write the post, but it’s not clear that the man who was coerced into sex did identify it as sexual assault or rape — so your argument that we should let people define their own experiences doesn’t necessarily support your point. Since it’s not clear how the man defined his experience, the next best things we have are (1) legal definitions of rape and sexual assault, and (2) feminist definitions of rape and sexual assault. This situation doesn’t meet any legal standard that I’m aware of, but it certainly does not meet the feminist ideal of enthusiastic consent. Beyond that, though, I’m not sure it is totally 100% clear that this is definitely rape from a feminist standpoint.
Obviously, it cannot be rape from a feminist standpoint because that perspective does not acknowledge female-on-male sexual violence as rape. The feminist definition of rape does not even permit males to be victims unless they are gay or in prison. The irony, of course, is that if the genders were reversed the act would meet both the legal and the feminist definitions of rape and sexual assault. So even though Jill goes out of her way to try to discredit Pluralist’s recounting of what occurred, with similar limited information Jill and the other feminists on that thread would not hesitate to call a man badgering his girlfriend into consenting to sex rape.
Jill goes on to state:
But I’m not sure that really matters. Naming things matters, but sexual relationships are really complicated — a one-size-fits-all standard doesn’t work. Coercion vs. negotiation can also be a tough line to draw (for the record, I think it’s pretty clear that this situation was coercive — I’m talking more generally now). That’s why I like the idea of enthusiastic consent, because it helps to obviate some of these blurry lines. But I’m not sure anything short of enthusiastic consent is sexual assault. It gets even more complicated when terms like “rape” and “sexual assault” are also legalistic ones, with meanings that are better defined in settings outside of the feminist blogosphere. Point being, it would be nice if we had a larger vocabulary to deal with these concepts; in the meantime, I don’t think the heart of the issue is “Is this one situation sexual assault, yes or no?” I think the more important discussion is the one about gendering consent and sexual readiness, and how our perceptions about how men and women are “supposed” to act during sex creates really troubling scenarios like this one.
There is no need for a larger vocabulary. Most state rape and sexual violence statutes include provisions that count psychological coercion as a potential force to commit non-consensual intercourse. While such laws are rarely applied to female offenders due primarily to social biases, very few of the existing laws still maintain that forced sexual violence must be physical force, meaning that Pluralist’s account would qualify as rape or sexual assault depending on the state it occurred in.
That said, the heart of the issue is whether this situation is rape (not sexual assault) precisely because of how common it is and because of how many women seem to think they have a right to force a boy or man to have sex. Side-stepping that issue to talk about “gendering consent and sexual readiness” is akin to side-stepping the rampant sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in order to talk about the problems celibacy and lack of marriage.
It is possible to discuss whether social perceptions about male sexual readiness impacts females who rape males, but it is unlikely that it is the cause for female-on-male rapet. As was noted in Hills’ post and in several of the comments, the prompt for women to rape men who said “no” was specifically that the men rejected their sexual offer. Certainly social norms can heighten the intensity of a response, but based on the admissions on the thread the real issue seems to stem solely from women wanting sex and taking it personally when a man is not interested. That is likely why there is so much discussion about “wheddling” in relationships.The desire to get what one wants appears to trump whether the other person wants to be used in that fashion.
Discussions like the one on Feministe are enlightening as they give an insight into how people’s arguments change when it is suits them . According to any feminist definition of rape, a man coercing, badgering, wheedling or talking his girlfriend into having sex is rape. Not only is it rape from a feminist perspective, but it also is legally rape. However, for a host of reasons it is inconvenient for feminists to acknowledge that a woman coercing, badgering, wheedling or talking her boyfriend into having sex is rape, so now not only is the act only “sexual assault,” but it does not really amount to that either and what is more important is how men and women are “supposed” to act during (or more correctly before) sex.
As one commenter stated, “I also fully believe that this whole conversation is only occurring because we are talking about women sexually violating men. If it were the other way around, any argument against the idea that it was sexual coercion or assault would have been repeatedly shouted down quite violently by now.”
Apparently she forgot that when the victim is male it is not really rape or sexual assault or sexual coercion.