Sex, sexism, boundaries, and coercion

I stumbled onto a troubling post on Feministe. Jill wrote about another post involving a woman, A. McCarthy, whose ex refused to perform oral sex because he did not like it. According to McCarthy:

Finally, I asked [Robert] if he was totally disinterested in going down. “I’m kind of scared,” he told me. He cited his experience with another girl who “tasted funny” and drove him away from trying it again. But as we continued to see each other, he insisted that if I gave him time to sort through his hang-ups, I would be rewarded for my patience. I agreed to wait and reasoned that he had to try it again sometime. Right?

She went on to state:

[…]I was desperate to have my body explored with eagerness rather than trepidation. I used protection and hoped that no one would feel betrayed.

As time passed, sex between me and Robert felt increasingly like a failed negotiation. My feelings of rejection subsumed any enjoyment I experienced from intercourse. I denied it for months. He cared about me, yet sensed that I would leave if he ever said “never” to oral sex. So he strung me along with half-hearted promises for as long as we could both keep up the pretense.

The two eventually broke up. For McCarthy, the lack of cunnilingus was a dealbreaker. She wanted and needed it. That alone seems a rather shallow position. It is one thing if Robert refused to have sex, it is another if he refused to perform one act, and an entirely different situation if they were in an open relationship. In her account she states that she had several other partners, so it sounds as if the issue was not that she could not get any oral sex but that she could not get any from Robert

No one likes hearing that a person is disgusted by an act one likes, especially if one is on the receptive end of that act. However, no one is entitled to use another person’s body for their own pleasure. If you have a particular kink, no one is obligated to play to that kink. More so, who makes a relationship hinge on a sexual kink?

Jill disagrees. Not only does she think a woman is entitled to sexual pleasure and that her partner should try to please her, she also thinks that Robert’s refusal is sexist:

So of course you should never coerce or pressure anyone into a sexual act he or she isn’t comfortable with. But at the same time, I think it’s important to interrogate the aversion to certain sexual acts — especially those that come with misogynist or homophobic baggage. […]  Does a dude have a 100% right to be like, “I don’t like giving oral sex, and that is a boundary for me and I won’t do it”? Yes. Without some relatively good reason for why he doesn’t like oral sex (other than “it’s gross”), do women who enjoy receiving oral sex […] have a 100% right to be like, “That is some misogynist bullshit right there, and if you are not only unwilling to give me what I need to be sexually satisfied but you also pathologize my body then you are officially kicked to the curb”? YES.

I fail to see the misogyny in refusing to perform oral sex on women. Everyone does not like performing certain sexual acts. There are many women who find giving men blowjobs disgusting. If anyone argued that a woman who refused to perform oral sex was a misandrist Jill would call them all sorts of sexists, oppressors, and rapists, yet she finds no problem with shaming men who prefer not to engage in certain sex acts:

I mean, look: If you have a spine issue that makes the head angle excruciatingly painful, ok, I get that. I do not doubt that straight men exist who don’t eat pussy for some reason other than being misogynist assholes. But I don’t think, for the most part, neck injuries are why dudes refuse to give oral sex (although — and this may be related to the fact that dudes are somewhat hesitant to say woman-hating things around feminist bloggers — I have never actually met a dude who said he didn’t like giving oral sex. I have heard they exist, though, and they sound terrible).

Apparently not wanting to do it or finding it disgusting is not good enough. Worse,  men who hate doing it not just misogynist assholes and “vagina-phobic”, but they are also terrible in bed.

Yet even that is not the troubling part. This is:

[He’s] not entitled to access to your body any more than he’s entitled to kick the neighbor’s dog. He’s not entitled to a pat on the head and approval of his sexist views, just because they overlap with your sex life (He’s definitely not entitled to blowjobs either). Sure, you have to respect his boundaries — but that doesn’t mean you have to keep on having sex with someone who doesn’t respect you, or that you have to keep your mouth shut as to why it’s offensive that he makes a gross-out face in response to your vagina.

While you’re obligated not to pressure him, I think you are entitled to be like, “Well, we appear to be done here.” And I think you’re entitled to tell him that his vagina-phobia is why.

That sounds remarkably like pressuring a man to give a woman oral sex by challenging his masculinity and threatening to end the relationship because the woman feels entitled to get what she wants.

Coincidentally, I am one of those “misogynists”. I have no good reason for finding the act disgusting, although I do have a reason: my aunt forced me to perform that act on her from the time I was a toddler until I hit puberty. I understand that is not a good reason to Jill, but my point is I do not see why I need a reason at all, let alone a “good” one. It is my tongue, my mouth, and my face. I get to choose what I do with them. That is not “misogyny”. That is like saying that women who do not give oral sex hate men. That is ridiculous. No one — including feminists like my aunt — is entitled to use my body for their pleasure.

But what I find most disconcerting is the notion that respecting my boundaries somehow disrespects women. Granted, I understand how feminists could reach that conclusion (thanks to my aunt), but it is quite odd. I cannot imagine Jill would agree with a man who said he felt disrespected because a woman would not give him oral sex. If a person thinks respecting someone’s boundaries is a dealbreaker, that person is not worth being with.

Yet this is the perspective Jill leaves the reader with, and her commenters completely agree with her, but only as it applies to women. It is a good reminder that plenty of women feel entitled to sex, and a great reminder that plenty of feminists have no problems using double standards.

46 thoughts on “Sex, sexism, boundaries, and coercion

  1. It’s very simple, dude:

    When a woman says ‘NO’ to a particular sex act, NO MEANS NO PERIOD, GOD-DAMMIT, A WOMAN HAS SAID NO! MY BODY IS MY BODY, WHAT DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND?!?! Her reasons for saying ‘no’ are completely and utterly irrelevant.

    Furthermore, if he tries to pressure or manipulate the woman into performing the sex act, he’s a RAPIST.

    When a man says ‘no’… well, his reasons are that he’s a selfish, woman-hating, evil pig.

    Furthermore, the woman is free to use whatever weapons she wishes to pressure the man into performing the sex act!

    ‘No means no’? HAH! That only works in one direction, buster!

    Seriously, what don’t you comprehend about this?

  2. Feckless: “Reverse the genders and exchange oral with anal sex and this thing bombs spectacularly.”

    They don’t care, Feckless. Neither does the author of the article. It’s all about men who oppress women because they won’t answer their sexual cravings at their whim.

  3. Was your aunt ever punished? Found out and shamed by the community? Therein lies the biggest double standard of all. That and the complete ommission of maternal child abuse in domestic violence discussions.

  4. On my blog, I have from time to time, run a survey of attitudes about rape, dv, and child abuse. One of the questions is about what qualifies as rape. There are several responses one of which is “A man threatens to break off the relationship if the woman refuses sex to gain her consent.” The current version of the poll has garnered 37 responses, 8 from women. Five of those 8 consider the above statement to be rape.

    The woman described here threatened to break off the relationship if the man refused to perform a sex act in order to gain his consent. I know my poll isn’t scientifically valid and neither are the responses of the women on the blog, but it certainly indicates the double standard at play here.

    My own opinion is that sex (just like most other things) is a negortiated part of any relationship. If two poeple are not sexually compatible, then that is reason to re-evaluate the relationship. It doesn’t necessarily mean it should be broken off, but if it’s that big a deal, then a breakup might be necessary. Refusing to perform a sex act no matter the reason is neither misogynistic, nor misandric.

    TDOM

  5. Did your mother know the abuse was occurring? Mine did. So did Oprah’s. She locked her out of the house when she arrived to stay, after Oprah’s grandmother fell too ill to care for her. She never mentioned THAT until her last show. Two of Oprah’s other siblings have died from drugs. Pathological Malnurturing is the reason we need the White House Council for Men & Boys. Feminist groups have denied the existence of Matriarchal Oppression for thirty years and is the reason there has been a 25% increase in maternal child abuse and murder since 1985.

  6. Did your mother know the abuse was occurring?

    My mother was aware, but she did not live with me and she is, according to my older sister and brother, rather abusive herself.

  7. TDOM, while I do not think this situation amounts to rape, it is certainly manipulative and dangerous. If people think that men’s sexual boundaries are negotiable, then it is not a stretch to imagine that some women will simply ignore those boundaries.

  8. TS, I don’t think this is rape either. I was merely pointing out that 5 of the 8 women answering my survey thought it would be if it were a man manipulating a woman. As for it being manipulative and dangerous, I would agree its manipulative, at least to a point. All sex is negotiated between the parties. Certainly boundaries need to be respected, but where those boundaries are placed and the extent to which they are permitted to be crossed is negotiated. I’ve done things I didn’t particularly want to do in order to please my partners and I’m certain they’ve done the same for me. This isn’t to say it wasn’t consentual, but I didn’t do it for my own enjoyment. I did it for hers.

    As for being dangerous, it could be. If one partner sets firm boundaries and makes those boundaries known, then it could be abusive, coercive, assaultive, or rape if the other partner crosses those boundaries. That is dangerous and can have severe consequences for both parties. However, I can state emphatically that there are certain acts I will not perform for anyone under any circumstances, at least not willingly. If I have a partner who cannot accept that, then she would have a decision to make as to whether or not the act is more important than the relationship. If she states (as this woman did) that the act is more important than the relationship, then I have a decision to make. But neither decision is misogynistic or misandrous. Nor should it be dangerous. It is simply the result of negotiation. It is only dangerous when one partner decides to ignore the other’s boundaries.

    TDOM

  9. I think it is a pretty big assumption that Jill wouldn’t consider your reason for disliking performing the act a good one. Then again, I don’t know that much about her; maybe you do and are in a better position to judge …

    Of course, this changes nothing about the fact that “I find this act gross” is all the reason there needs to be; damn, saying “I don’t want to” should be enough and be fucking accepted, without making any judgments on the character of the unwilling person; especially by someone claiming to be all about uncoerced consent and fucking *enthusiastic participation*.

    That article is stupid, stupid, stupid, and I say that as a man who loves doing cunnilingus!

  10. BTW, with that “dealbreaker” things: If I said “three months without some sexual contact is a dealbreaker for me” and the only times my partner and me got intimate were about 87 days after the last time … I couldn’t enjoy it, as it would seem like (and most likely be) just something my partner sees as a chore to perform once in three months, but without enjoying it herself, thereby making me feel guilty, and … Well, short of it, I’d probably decline those last minute intimacies and break up the relationship, anyway.

    So, if the lack of X is a dealbreaker for you, and your partner doesn’t like X but would do X for you – it will never, ever work in the long run, IMO.

  11. I’m autistic and I have some fairly significant sensory processing problems. I’m most comfortable with sensory inputs that are solid, dry, inorganic, etc. and generally find physical contact with things less and less tolerable as they move further and further from those qualities. This limits my activities in certain ways. For instance, there are some foods I can’t eat because the texture would make make me gag or vomit if tried to. There are certain substances most people find inoffensive that I can’t stand to touch. And so on.

    According to Jill in her post and her subsequent comments, this makes me a misogynist and a generally shitty person whose company no self-respecting woman should desire or tolerate, regardless of whether the acts I would be unable to perform are something a particular woman actually wants, and regardless of any other attributes I may have. Good to know where she stands.

  12. I think it is a pretty big assumption that Jill wouldn’t consider your reason for disliking performing the act a good one.

    It is a pretty big assumption. I doubt she actually thinks it is a not a good reason (although I could be wrong), yet I also doubt that my reason never popped into her head. I suspect that my reason, along with “it’s disgusting” and “I don’t want to” and “I don’t like it”, simply did not fit into her argument.

    Well, short of it, I’d probably decline those last minute intimacies and break up the relationship, anyway.

    But that is reasonable given the severity of the situation. If it were just that your partner would not suck your toes, it seems a little odd to break off a relationship over that.

  13. Pingback: Hypocritical male feminist David Futrelle gives tacid approval to corrective rape. « ACatalogueofLies

  14. TS: Why did you omit your post about your aunt forcing you to perform oral sex on her? Perhaps it was too much information for your significant other or children. Still, the more men who come forward about their abusive childhoods, the more young boys will be spared suffering in silence. Even if they don’t tell, they will have the intellectual resources to know they are not alone, it’s not their fault and they are good and always have been. Words to live by for any survivor. I don’t consider myself an MRA but a Children’s Rights Advocate. Your testimony is important for that cause. Matriarchal Oppression is the Achilles Heel of feminism.

  15. The post that came shortly before I asked, “was your aunt ever punished?” in reference to you mentioning your aunt’s sexual abuse. You also mention your mother was abusive as well. I’m speculating, but they sound like sisters who are repeating the abuse of their own childhoods. That’s why I feel so strongly about being a CRA (children’s rights advocate). Maternal abuse is an unspoken and insidious cycle that will continue as long as we remain silent.

  16. Revspinnaker, my mother and aunt are not related. I do not think I omitted anything about my aunt’s actions. I did alter my post here from the one I left on Feministe.

  17. So much for speculation. Almost as bad as assumtions. Also delete is probably a better word than omit. I don’t see any post about your aunt where I could have sworn I did earlier. That’s why I started my line of questioning.

  18. Yikes! I was just looking for your post at feministe. The comments are kind of scary. All that blathering about oral sex… who cares? Think is people responded as enthusiastically about preventing and healing from matriarchal oppression.

  19. “But what I find most disconcerting is the notion that respecting my boundaries somehow disrespects women.”

    It isn’t disrespecting women. I didn’t read her article, but if that is the conclusion that she jumps too, then it is not one that I agree with and yes, it does sound like she is using a double standard.

    Sounds to me like she did Robert a favor, although he may not have initially felt or had seen it that way.

    “If a person thinks respecting someone’s boundaries is a dealbreaker, that person is not worth being with.”

    I agree. No one has the right to push, coerce or to manipulate anyone into performing sexual acts that they are not comfortable with. Caring individuals do not behave like this towards others and why would someone desire to be sexually intimate with an asshole who behaves towards you in a non-caring and destructive way?

    “So of course you should never coerce or pressure anyone into a sexual act he or she isn’t comfortable with. But at the same time, I think it’s important to interrogate the aversion to certain sexual acts — especially those that come with misogynist or homophobic baggage.”

    I part company with the right she asserts here to interrogate someone as to the reason behind their aversion. That’s a manipulative, coercive tactic to take with someone and I think its intent is to shame or to bully. I don’t agree with her at all.

    She crosses the line between being assertive and aggressive. I’d say the dealbreaker is her behavior and sense of entitlement–one that smacks of disrespecting someone’s boundaries.

  20. I’m just happy to know that at least 5 out of 8 feminists will support my kicking the kitty to the curb if she refuses a bj. I know they wouldn’t hew to a double standard.

  21. Karen, I (unfortunately) did read Jill’s article and (even more unfortunately) the comments (that is, quite a few of them). That comment above where I said I like doing cunnilingus? That was before reading the comments, which have dampened my enthusiasm.

    In the comments, Jill says that all women should dump partners who don’t like to go down, whether the woman herself likes receiving cunnilingus or not, because not wanting to persorm cunnilingus leads to/reinforces the notion that one’s vagina is not awesome. There was some agreement that it is assholish behaviour to expect oral sex in a relationship, but they only seemed to apply this to theex in the original article, assuming that he expected (or even enjoyed) fellatio, which wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the original article.

    I thought it was a feminist principle that one’s sexual preferences and taboos don’t say anything about one’s character or how worthy one is of a sexual relationship; I still think it is, but find it (once again) disappointing how willing feminists sometimes are to totally ignore their own principles.

  22. Elementary–

    I don’t agree with her and I don’t tend to read that site either because I’m not drawn to extreme, self-serving views and agendas, which I find, is prevalent in sites like that. I read TS’s site because despite a focus more towards men and their issues (it is perfectly valid and someone needs to do that) the focus is also broader, more inclusive and at its heart it is about child abuse, which is the larger, bigger picture. His writings clearly indicate a depth of understanding about victimization and the broader implications of sexual abuse. And while he may call so-called feminists out, such as the person above, and someone needs to call these idiots out, I also believe he would extend empathy, understanding and compassion when it comes to child abuse for both sexes.

    Anyway, I don’t know if one would consider me a feminist given that I don’t agree with such comments, beliefs or behaviors–not one’s indicated in the article above. I think women like that would basically feel that I’m a traitor anyway and I think they are seriously flawed as human beings. With that said the last bit about feminist principle and sexual preferences and taboos–I don’t know if that is a feminist principle or not. I would say just as one individual to another it is a sound principle—both one to have and one to aspire to just in interacting as a decent human being. Everyone could benefit to grow and extend their empathy and compassion to others.

    Just my two cents worth….

  23. e_watson: I can see how the quantity and quality of the comments at Feministe would not only dampen a man’s enthusiasm to please a woman orally, but would scare him away entirely. Also, the notion of “feminist principles” is kind of an oxymoron. If feminists actually HAD principles they would be on the issue of maternal child abuse, like a pubic hair on a Coke. The feminist social policy of denying that the majority of truly heinous crimes against children almost always involve the child’s mother has led to the 25% increase in maternal child abuse and murder since 1985. Most of the boys who survive an abusive childhhood grow up to take it out on themselves, other men or society in general. A minority of them will take it out on “women & girls” and THAT would be bad. So if feminists really want to stop violence against “women & girls” they will have to eventually address the larger issue of Matriarchal Oppression.

  24. I thought it was a feminist principle that one’s sexual preferences and taboos don’t say anything about one’s character or how worthy one is of a sexual relationship; I still think it is, but find it (once again) disappointing how willing feminists sometimes are to totally ignore their own principles.

    I am not surprised that the feminists on Feministe ignored their own principles. One often finds that people who hold strict views engage in a nice dose of hypocrisy. What surprised me was that they did it on a popular blog. Typically this kind of commentary happens behind doors or in college classrooms where few people directly hear or see it. This is the sort of post that would make feminists’ heads explode if a man wrote it about a woman. It would be all over feminist sites and possibly sites like Slate and Salon. Yet here you have it written by feminists in the open as if there is nothing wrong with it.

  25. Karen: Good points about TS’s site. They’re the reason I’m a big fan. And for a man who grew up in a maternally abusive household, your two cents are worth a million. Thanks.

  26. Toysoldier: “What surprised me was that they did it on a popular blog. Typically this kind of commentary happens behind doors or in college classrooms where few people directly hear or see it.”

    Welcome to the world of the internet. In this day and age, where things usually left “Behind Closed Doors” now have a venue through the miracle of modern technology.

    Toysoldier: “This is the sort of post that would make feminists’ heads explode if a man wrote it about a woman. It would be all over feminist sites and possibly sites like Slate and Salon. Yet here you have it written by feminists in the open as if there is nothing wrong with it.”

    And you’re honestly surprised, Toysoldier? Your experience with feminists in the past should’ve dampened your shock by now. Especially with sites like feministe.

    I’m not suprised myself. The people at Feministe want a vapid echo-chamber, not consideration for other viewpoints, particular from the “oppressive” men.

  27. Here’s how I figure it. He’s entitled to say “i don’t do oral.” and she’s then entitled to say “Okay, that’s a dealbreaker for me, so we’re not compatible. such is life, perhaps we should look elsewhere.”
    Done, period, end of story. It’s a preference, it doesn’t neccessarily “mean” anything. The only real crime here is they weren’t willing to communicate honestly.

  28. Oh no Paul that’s too easy. You know that when a guy is the least bit deceptive there must be examination with a fine toothed comb (mind you if a woman does the same all you get is “well yeah that does suck but….”).

  29. The misrepresentations of Jill by Toysoldier and some people in these comments are simply staggering. Jill says, in the article and comments:

    * You have an obligation not to pressure your partner
    * Men have every right to dump women who don’t want to give them oral sex
    * Not every woman enjoys receiving oral sex
    * Pain and abuse are totes legitimate reasons not to want to give cunnilingus–the dealbreaker is specifically a misogynistic view of the aforementioned vagina

    Dumping someone because they don’t want to do a certain sex act is exactly the same as respecting boundaries. Or would you prefer she say that the relationship should be dragged out until the man gives in to her desires? These accusations of some kind of double-standard are just stupid.

    I am all for pointing out “the forgotten men and boys who suffer and silence” and I sympathize with ToySolder’s abuse at the hands of his Aunt, who deserves to be in prison, so don’t read this as an attack on those things. Open your eyes and read carefully.

  30. Moewicus, I read Jill’s comments carefully and quoted them in full so that no one could claim I misrepresented her position. Right after Jill stated that no one should pressure others into sex she stated, “But at the same time, I think it’s important to interrogate the aversion to certain sexual acts — especially those that come with misogynist or homophobic baggage.” Imagine if men interrogated women’s aversion to certain sexual acts, presuming that they come with misandrous or homophobic baggage. She then says that simply finding cunnilingus gross is not a good enough reason for men no to do it. She states, “I mean, look: If you have a spine issue that makes the head angle excruciatingly painful, ok, I get that. I do not doubt that straight men exist who don’t eat pussy for some reason other than being misogynist assholes.”

    The idea that the main reason men would refuse to go down on women is because they are “misogynist assholes” is sexist and rather moronic. No one has to exaggerate her comments. She actually wrote that, and more than once. She followed up that post with another one about period sex in which she again called men who refused to perform a sex act misogynists for having boundaries.

    I could care less what Jill thinks about respecting men’s boundaries. She is hardly the only feminist, only woman, or only person to think her wants and needs are more important than anyone else’s. That said, dumping someone because they will not perform a certain act is pretty shallow, and it damn coercive and abusive to use the threat of a break up to get someone to change their mind. Yet that is essentially Jill’s position. Either men eat pussy and fuck bloody vaginas or get dumped. If any man suggested anything remotely close to that Jill and other feminists would lose their minds.

    It is fine if you support Jill’s position. You are entitled to do that, but I think you should open your eyes and read carefully. After all, even other feminists thought Jill’s position was coercive and extreme.

  31. Seriously?!???? This might be the most sickening thing I have read in a while. Um excuse me – would this person say that as a straight ( I guess) woman who doesn’t tolerate any sort of sexual touching at alll that I must hate men?!??!??

  32. And yeah as a (I guess) feminist, it ales me sick to thebpoint of actual physical illness to think of someone pressuring another person into a sexual act. The fact that the f-r doing the presssuring os female just msmes it worse.

  33. “But at the same time, I think it’s important to interrogate the aversion to certain sexual acts — especially those that come with misogynist or homophobic baggage.” Imagine if men interrogated women’s aversion to certain sexual acts, presuming that they come with misandrous or homophobic baggage

    So wow

    Does this “Jill” think that as a woman the fact that I don’t like being touched and am on most levels asexual means that I am supposed to be ‘interrogated’ orcisctfat just an honor reserved for men who don’t ‘ perform’ to her satisfaction? Again this shit makes me sick.

  34. Pingback: Top posts of 2011 | Toy Soldiers

  35. Shaming men is an old and effective tactic, often employed by abusive women when it comes to sex. Looks like Jill is not so much into that enthusiastic consent thing… or maybe she thinks consent is relevant only on the female part, since “a man is always eager” or “all men are perverts so he must like it”.

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  39. It’s unfortunate that I did not stumble upon this article years ago. Through personal experience, I usually ran across men and women who found that giving oral to a man was expected but not to a woman. So I of course felt very uncomfortable about this particular topic. But this still applies to my situation regardless.

    I’ve always had an issue regarding oral sex. I never thought it was “dirty” or that the people who are into it are disgusting, I just could never get into it. There are many personal reasons why I don’t like it, and I thought me saying “I don’t want to” was enough. Apparently not. I was given such a hard time in my past relationship and by people who didn’t accept my boundaries. This made me feel obligated to give oral to my partner because to him I was being selfish. I always did what I could to make him feel loved and I respected his boundaries for things he wasn’t comfortable with. I tried getting help from supposed “sex experts” and help articles. No matter who I spoke or looked to, I was given the same advice that if I don’t do it then I have issues. It filled me with so much regret afterwards and now the subject can’t be brought up without me shuddering at the slightest hint of obligation.

    I would never pressure someone into a sexual act, I know it can make a person feel horrible afterwards if they decided to go through with it. You could always ask them to try, but if they’re uncomfortable with the idea then no means no, be it from a man or woman. Their boundaries should be respected, even if in the end you turn out to be sexually incompatible. This article’s given me some peace of mind and I really appreciate it.

  40. Pingback: A Dose of Stupid v97 | Toy Soldiers

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