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Archive for the ‘sex’ Category

Emily Yoffe at State puts her finger on precisely why I can’t believe that Dominique Strauss-Kahn is innocent of sexual assault. It seems DSK has given an interview to French TV, trying to exonerate himself but providing no real answers:

Although we only have translated summaries of the interview, Strauss-Kahn acknowledges there was a sexual encounter between the two but says no force was involved and he didn’t offer her money.  … If there was no force, and no money, are we to believe it was his continental charm that caused Diallo to get on her knees and relieve a stranger?

(See the rest of Yoffe’s analysis here; also at Slate, William Saletan offers a tandem, equally skeptical analysis.)

Exactement! This was the weakest point in the prosecutors’ motion to dismiss the case – how to explain the sex if no compulsion was involved?

In that motion, the prosecutors note that the complainant, Nafissatou Diallo, lied repeatedly, thus shredding her credibility (and, I agree, almost certainly alienating every potential jury in the world). But the evidence in the case went beyond he-said/she-said. While injury evidence was inconclusive, DNA analysis indisputably shows that DSK deposited his semen in the complainant’s mouth – a point that DSK does not dispute.

And so we have to ask, what narrative could possibly explain this most unlikely mixing of fluids? What sort of unpaid, consensual encounter could take place in the span of 20 minutes or less, from first meeting to au revoir?

Here’s how the prosecutors laid out the timeline in their motion to dismiss:

The relatively brief nature of the encounter between the defendant and the complainant initially suggested that the sexual act was not likely consensual. Specifically, key card records from the hotel indicated that the complainant first entered Suite 2806 at 12:06 p·.m., and telephone records later showed that the defendant had placed a call to his daughter at 12:13 p.m. Accordingly, it appeared that whatever had occurred between the complainant and the defendant was over in approximately seven to nine minutes. But in light of the complainant’s failure to offer an accurate and consistent narrative of the immediate aftermath of the encounter, it is impossible to determine the length of the encounter itself. That the defendant placed a brief phone call at 12:13 p.m. is not dispositive of when the encounter took place, how long it lasted, or where the complainant was from 12:06 to 12:26. Any inferences that could conceivably be drawn from the timeline of the encounter are necessarily weakened by the inability to solidify the timeline itself. (pp. 23-4)

But the prosecution hasn’t actually shown that the timeline is shaky. Not at all! DSK checked out at 12:28 p.m. (p. 6). The longest time span during which he and Diallo could have occupied the same space is 20 minutes. The prosecution has established this very ably indeed. Questions about what Diallo did after 12:26 – and inconsistencies in her testimony about her immediate reaction – don’t change the fact that the sexual encounter must have occurred in 20 minutes or less. (There is some question about the accuracy of the hotel’s clock and the key-card records, but the two-minute discrepancy described in footnote 25 would suggest an even shorter timeframe.)

Given that we’re taking about a 20-minute encounter, here is what we must believe to hold DSK innocent: We must imagine that a conspiracy set Diallo on DSK to entrap him and ruin his career. Or we must believe that Diallo was a prostitute – a possibility that both she and DSK have denied. Or we must presume that Diallo initiated the encounter in an attempt to sue DSK and get rich. All three of these theories are far-fetched on the face of it. And if you think any one of them aren’t totally bird-brained – well, consider that DSK was practically heading out the door. A few minutes later, and Diallo and DSK would have never crossed paths. That’s a piss-poor way to plan a conspiracy or entrapment.

Or, of course, we may choose to believe that DSK’s charm and charisma alone will bring any woman quite literally to her knees, with no desire for reciprocity. This charm. This charisma.

(Source: The Guardian)

Okay, that’s not quite fair. There are more flattering photos of DSK. But he’s no beauty. He’s a jowly man on the cusp of old age. I’m much closer to him in age than Diallo is, and yet I can’t imagine even eating potato chips with him in bed, fully clothed.

I don’t think any belief about what happened in Suite 2806 can be held “beyond reasonable doubt,” and in any event, the case will never come before a jury. But since DSK is appealing to the jury of public opinion, it’s fair to ask: Which is more plausible? Were two strangers overwhelmed by by lust? Or did a rich and famous man opportunistically assume that room service included gratification of his every whim?

(As an aside: the motion to dismiss notes that four other stains in the hallway – not the bedroom! – were found to contain semen from men other than DSK. And here I thought bedbugs were the only reason to avoid New York hotels. I know the Sofitel caters to the privileged, but can’t they at least avoid splattering the wallpaper?)

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If you read feminist blogs, you’ve surely already seen this gem of a T-shirt, which JC Penney was hawking until they (sensibly) withdrew it in response to public protest and apologized for its sexist nitwittery:

Available in sizes for girls in roughly grades 1 through 8, the T-shirt sports the pseudo-sassy phrase, “I’m too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me.”

Feminist bloggers have rightly slammed the shirt for its obvious sexism. Recalling the notorious “math is hard” Barbie, feMOMhist snarks:

What person would want to encourage a little girl to think that beauty and intellect are mutually exclusive?  Clearly no one who has met moi!

The shirt is a disaster aesthetically, politically, and intellectually. It’s part of a larger phenomenon of T-shirts with attitude, mostly marketed to boys; this particular specimen adds sexism to the mix for a little extra charm. It reinforces the idea that girls and women have to trade sex, sexiness, and prettiness for security and success, an idea that you’d think would be moribund by now but just refuses to die: see Laurie Penny’s hilarious takedown of a new book by LSE researcher Catherine Harkin, who makes exactly that argument.

At Feministe, Caperton questions how “every employee who touched it between wholesaler and Web site” could have thought the shirt innocuous. I’d add that the design team, too, brings to mind the fine fellows from “Dumb and Dumber.”

But there’s one point that I haven’t seen other commentators skewer, and that’s the idea that a girl’s brother ought to be swayed by her prettiness. Am I the only one creeped out by this? Why should a brother be inspired to do his sister’s homework just because of how she looks? I mean, this shirt is encouraging boys to look at their sisters in a way that verges on incestuous. Ewwwww.

It goes to show that in a world where sexuality is seen basically as transactional, even young sisters and brothers are pushed into that paradigm. While actual brother-sister incest is (obviously) a real thing, it’s relatively rare, compared to adult-on-child incest. In most families, brothers and sisters are either indifferent to each other’s looks or insult them. I imagine this T-shirt slogan refers to brothers because most girls in the target age group don’t have boyfriends yet. Its dumb-and-dumber designers probably didn’t think through its incestuous implications. That doesn’t make it any less twisted. Ewwww, again.

 

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I’ll say right now that I think Dominique Strauss-Kahn most likely did sexually assault the maid at the Sofitel who accused him of rape. The prosecution originally claimed to have compelling, virtually conclusive physical evidence. That evidence hasn’t evaporated along with the alleged victim’s credibility.

But I can understand why prosecutors may have to drop the case anyway. Predisposed though I am to believe the accuser, her history of lying specifically about rape in her asylum application – while fully understandable as a survival lie – does raise the question of whether she has lied about the alleged assault. (I’m much less troubled by inconsistencies in her accounts of her behavior right after the incident, which can be put down to shock.) The preponderance of evidence may still weigh in favor of the maid, but that’s not the legal standard for conviction; proof has to be beyond a reasonable doubt. The alternative is that we’ll send many innocents to prison. And so, as Amp also concluded, if I were a juror I might well have to vote to acquit.

However, DSK is hardly in the clear. French writer Tristane Banon has filed a criminal complaint, alleging attempted rape. According to the AP:

Banon says Strauss-Kahn tried to rape her in an empty apartment during an interview for a book project, struggling with her on the floor as he tried to tear off her clothes. His lawyers describe the account as “imaginary” and say they plan to file a complaint accusing Banon of slander.

Banon’s complaint faces a series of difficult tests in the French justice system and could be dismissed long before reaching trial. Prosecutors must decide first if her allegations would support a charge of attempted rape rather than the less serious crime of sexual aggression, an attack that does not involve an attempt to penetrate the victim.

While it’s a damn shame that DSK’s first alleged victim may never get her day in court (and it’s hard not to view that as partly a triumph of DSK’s racial and economic power relative to to his accuser’s), a conviction by French courts would in many ways be an ideal outcome, even if it too is a long shot. I just had a visit from an old friend who is spending the year in Geneva, immersed in the French media and surrounded by her French-Swiss in-laws. She says that the French news has been all DSK, all the time. While some French women have indeed spoken out against DSK, the French media mostly just blame the Americans. Conspiracy theories abound. DSK’s allies are jockeying to alter the laws to still permit him to run against Sarkozy for the presidency.

If DSK were convicted in New York, the French could just shrug it off. If he’s found guilty in France, his career will be over. Banon faces a tough fight, as she’s fully aware. While she enjoys far more social power than the Sofitel maid (she’s white, prosperous, pretty, and politically connected), the case lacks physical evidence. It’s basically a he-said-she-said scenario. Still, one can hope. Perhaps Banon’s courage in filing charges will encourage other victims of DSK’s predatory behavior to go public, too.

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Now we know why Anthony Weiner tweeted his wang: his inner ape/caveman made him do it.

Funny how when reporters are trolling for “expert” sources on sex, evolutionary psychologists seem to be their first stop. They could consult some of us gender studies types, but they don’t have us on speed-dial. Anyway, I wouldn’t be able to give them a pat explanation, because I think that masculine sexual entitlement isn’t the whole story. We all have an unruly id. Men aren’t the only folks playing at sex on the Internet. Every hetero man playing around in the vast cyber sex emporium is interacting with female partners (or at least, so he thinks). I do think it’s true that a congresswoman who’d sent naked coochie pix would be shamed even more ferociously than Weiner. For both genders, though, sex is messy – emotionally, physically, and now technologically. Sex is humiliating when it’s reduced to screen shots, and that goes for all genders. Maybe someone like Gail Dines could reduce the Weiner saga to a tale of female victimization, but I tend to think that she, too, would see more nuance and complexity. (Echidne, for one, delivers on the nuance beautifully. So does Lilith at Evil Slutopia.)

The ev psych crowd, by contrast, provides the sort of soundbites that practically write the article for you. Consider Jeana Bryner’s piece, “Sex, Lies, and Weiner,” at LiveScience:

“I don’t think that people really take into account an accurate sense of just how risky a text message or a little picture is,” said Daniel Kruger, evolutionary psychologist at the University of Michigan. “There are probably a hundred different things they’re doing in their day.” …

From an evolutionary perspective, men are here to sow their seeds, so a sexual transgression here and there would make sense. They desire more sexual partners, and even lower their standards when it comes to one-night stands, studies have shown.

“The ultimate currency here is reproductive success and if there’s an opportunity for sex that is a goal that is worthy of such a risk,” Kruger said. …

This evolutionary urge, combined with modern technology that lets a person send off a note or photo to anyone in the ether, takes such risk-taking to a new level.

(Read the complete article here; note that the ellipses are mine.)

Here’s the kicker, though. Weiner’s chances of “sowing his seed” through social media were precisely nil. He took his bouncing bulge into the shower, from whence his seed could at best fertilize a female rat. His chats with blackjack dealer about a junket to Las Vegas sound like empty flirting, not serious trip planning.

It’s a basic tenet of standard evolutionary psychology that men’s sexual behavior is oriented toward fertilizing as many women as possible. That’s of course not synonymous with reproductive success, anyway, given that human offspring are uniquely vulnerable for an extraordinarily long time, and so “paternal investment” – sticking around to help raise the baby – actually amplifies a man’s chance of having his spawn live until adulthood.

But even if we ignore the importance of paternal investment in offspring, there’s a bigger gap in the ev psych explanation of Weinergate. Mainstream practitioners of ev psych systematically avoid theorizing about pleasure. It’s all about “reproductive success.” And yet, the quest for pleasure is by far the more parsimonious explanation for Weiner’s actions. What’s more, it even explains his partners’ actions! Weiner and his partners were looking to get off. They wanted the thrill of being wanted. They enjoyed the thrill enough to risk (or repress) the potential for embarrassment, should they be caught out. Of course it’s true that Weiner, as a congressman, had more to lose, but the women have also been dragged through the mud in ways that were foreseeable. They, too, took a risk.**

But that interpretation evidently isn’t as, well, sexy, since it presumes that men and women don’t come from Mars and Venus. They come from Earth. And they like getting earthy together, even if only virtually. Men and women both willingly take risks for the sake of pleasure. That’s actually quite a stunning story in the hands of an imaginative reporter who’s not cowed by the new dogma of ev psych. (Calling Natalie Angier?)

**(With the possible exception of Meagan Broussard, who provided pictures to Breitbart, including the sole copy of the cock-shot that Breitbart swore he wouldn’t release until … well, until it was no longer a useful chip in his little game of blackmail. Broussard may well have had motives that I’d consider much baser than pleasure.)

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It’s true I didn’t friend Anthony Wiener on Facebook, but I did follow him on Twitter. His voting record on feminist and LGBT issues is impeccable. That adolescent picture of him on Twitter? To die for! Weiner is funny and self-deprecating, in a profession where the ability to laugh at oneself is rare.

So I followed Weiner (even though I follow very few folks on Twitter). And one day, in the midst of congressional horse-trading (uterus-trading??) on Planned Parenthood, I boldly tweeted him this:

I didn’t call him my boyfriend, straight up. Just a simple declaration of love! Nor did I keep tweeting him. Nor did I look him up on Facebook (much less call him my boyfriend there). But I could have! Just look at the guys I’ve called my boyfriend on or off line. Jon Stewart. Stephen Colbert. Hugh Laurie. Our school’s superintendent (as documented for Internet-posterity on this here blog). And, in fact, Anthony Weiner joined this boy-harem of mine after the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. Good thing the tomatoes on my Twitter icon only give a glimpse of my face. Had I displayed my true hottness, who knows? I might have become sext-partner seven.

When the scandal broke, I thought it was complete bunk. I mean, Breitbart! BREITBART!! The man is a sleazy, lying, slimewad on a stick. The most pernicious consequence of this scandal won’t be that we lose a strong progressive voice in Congress and cable TV (though that seems inevitable, and lamentable, in the short run). It’ll be the rise in Breitbart’s fortunes.

Breitbart has made a career thus far of slinging political spaghetti against the wall and hoping it will stick. Unfortunately, his spaghetti has not been made of good ole North Dakotan durum wheat. It consists entirely of fecal matter. With each lob of it, he has discredited himself further. Even the mainstream media was starting to see through his tricks, and that’s saying a lot.

Until now. Much like the National Enquirer, which booked a permanent gain in credibility when it busted John Edwards hiding an affair and a child, Breitbart just scored. From here on out, no matter what vile lie Breitbart propagates, the media won’t dismiss him as a liar and propagandist. Breitbart comes out of this a huge (and undeserving) winner.

As for Weiner, considering that his missteps were private and (as far as we know) legal, I’m glad he’s refusing to resign. Those conservatives lawmakers who call him “creepy” forget about their own David Vitter, still a senator after being busted with a DC prostitution ring, engaging in clearly illegal activity and allegedly donning a diaper to boot. They ignore the fact that sexuality is changing. For young people – as well as those immersed in the new social media – sexting is not a kink but merely a new way to express one’s sexual impulses.

I suspect that Weiner truly believed that his activity was really just “frivolous.” That somehow, because it took place in cyberspace, it wasn’t real. Fidelity to one’s marital partner is one of the few values on which most Americans agree, and yet many of us fail to live up to our ideal. People seem to reconcile lapses in one of two main ways: 1) “This isn’t real because it’s online/at a conference/with someone I could never love” – or 2) “Yes, this is wrong, but my life will be hollow without some pleasure to relieve the drudgery and self-abnegation of my daily life.” I’m guessing that Weiner falls into the first group. I also suspect that these two rationalizations are gendered, with men tilting toward #1 and women toward #2, with lots of exceptions, of course. (Readers, if you have other interpretations – or other theories about how people rationalize infidelity – I’d love to hear them.)

In the end, it’s up to Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, to decide what Weiner’s online dalliances mean. She’s the one person who has been seriously wronged here. She didn’t give him carte blanche to flirt with women online and send them pictures of Weiner’s weiner at full staff. While it’s true that some people have open relationships, that’s a moot point here (and Amanda Marcotte only creates a distraction by bringing it up). Weiner and Abedin obviously did pledge monogamy; otherwise, why the public apology to her? I applaud Abedin’s refusal to perform the aggrieved wife for the ravenous gossip machine, and I hope she’ll find future happiness, whether through a fresh start or through Weiner making amends.

But it’s silly to say that the public at large was victimized by Weiner’s conduct. I can’t get too worked up about Weiner lying to the media and the country about entirely private behavior. I can’t even care much about whether he sexted during “work hours” because congresscritters – like professors – are rarely truly off the clock. If the public is screwed, it’s due to the power of special interests and corporations in Washington, not Weiner’s private fantasies.

The other genuine victim here is the final recipient of Weiner’s sexy tweets, college student Gennette Cordova, who appears not to have invited any sort of sexual attention. She has my compassion, too. She didn’t ask for the media circus. If indeed Weiner sent her his famous crotch photo out of the blue, then it’s harassment and a demonstration of sexual entitlement that clashes with Weiner’s perfect congressional record on women’s issues.

To my mind, though, there’s reasonable doubt that Weiner really sent that photo to Cordova. As Joseph Cannon argues, the only way to make the scandal go away was to confess to the real dalliances. (Via here.) Having admitted those indiscretions, it would be difficult for Weiner to argue credibly that he hadn’t sent Cordova his underwear shot. Cannon has explained the evidence for a third party having uploaded the picture to Twitter. Moreover, Breitbart evidently has possession of a photo of a naked, erect Weiner, which means – as Cannon again notes – Breitbart can essentially blackmail Weiner. Cannon can’t (yet) prove his case, but I think it’s plausible.

In addition, sending a sexy photo without prior contact completely breaks the pattern. With his consensual partners, Weiner first made conversation and flirted. Only after establishing a flirtation did he proceed to send them pictures. The fact that those flirtations escalated quickly and even recklessly shows that Weiner had developed a comfort level with sexually-charged online relationships. As one of his partners, Megan Broussard, said, “This is something that’s regular, he’s done all the time, he’s comfortable.” But sending women photos without prior flirtation was not his regular modus operandi. Add to that the fact that a gaggle of conservatives were gunning for him on Twitter, and Weiner’s confession regarding Cordova looks ever more contrived.

Weiner’s other sext-buddies, including Broussard, appear to have been completely consensual. But the now-public evidence for this raises other troubling questions. His entire Facebook exchange with a Las Vegas woman, Lisa Weiss, has been reprinted at a gossipy site called Radar. How did these screen shots become public in the first place? Were they captured when Weiner’s account was hacked (as he claimed a few weeks ago)? Was Weiss coerced or paid or even blackmailed? How secure are everyone’s Facebook transactions?

The other question is why women have now “come forward” to describe details of their consensual relationships with Weiner. What induced them to do so? They will be subjected to slut-shaming in the media.Private details of their fantasy lives have been made public. Why is Broussard giving interviews to ABC news? Is it really, as she claims, to shield her toddler daughter? As a parent, I don’t buy it. At three, her daughter is too young to understand any of this, and she won’t be protected Broussard releasing oodles of photos and electronic messages – quite the opposite. So is Broussard just responding to our reality-TV culture and grabbing her 15 minutes of fame? Could she, too, have been a target of blackmail?

Above all, how did Breitbart get his paws on compromising private photos in the first place?

The end of the FB conversation between Weiner and Lisa Weiss indicates machinations to put these women under pressure. This section of their chat is not reproduced as screen shots at Radar, but is included at the very end of the pdf transcript:

So yeah, Weiner behaved stupidly. He committed a breach of private ethics. He hurt his wife. He left himself open to the machinations of his enemies. He was so reckless, even I could have become one of his Facebook girlfriends.

But behind the scandal is a problem of bigger proportions: right-wing propagandists who have already shown no compunction about lying and now prove willing to stoop to blackmail and coercion. Weiss writes: “someone contacted me about u …” Who is that someone? Breitbart? Drudge? One of the wingnut Twitter conspiracists who were out to destroy Weiner? (See also a similar article at the NYT if you want a “respectable” take on these Twitspiracists. They look no better there.)

This right-wing smear machine – and not Weiner’s dick pics – is what constitutes a real threat to democracy.

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So tell me, if you’ve ever fantasized about sex in public, did you have a solo effort in mind? And if so, did you imagine just how mind-blowingly sexy it’d be to whack off in your local Walmart? That’s a scenario I’ve never seen in Cosmo. In fact, I think it might even invalidate Rule 34: “If it exists, there is porn of it.” (I went searching for porn set in Walmart. Maybe I’m just having a bad google day, but I came up empty.) Clearly, this is a cutting-edge sex act.

And yet, a local man (not of my acquaintance) dared to live out his pole-polishing fantasies at my local Walmart!

Details in the university’s paper of record, The Post, are tantalizingly brief and slippery:

OMG, did the paper have to juxtapose the crime report with a picture of – what’s that – an erect baseball bat? Hitting it out of the park for – a home run? Oh, Walmart dude: you should have gone to sporting goods. There, you might have started a pick-up game and at least tried to get to second base. (To be clear: the athlete pictured is not the accused Walmart wanker.)

Now, at this juncture I should take a feminist stand. I know this is my duty. I should mention that men who expose themselves in public are engaged in an act of predation and intimidation. I could regale you with my Carl’s Junior bathroom encounter with a peeping tom. And I could concede that women commit similar acts on occasion (Girls Gone Wild, anyone?), but it’s absurd to call nonconsensual exhibitionism and voyeurism a sport protected under Title IX. Instead, these are intrusive manifestations of male sexual entitlement that remind women not to step out of line or consider their sexuality their own. As always, the bedrock principle is self-determination and consent. And I’m quite certain that in this case, his fellow shoppers had not consented to a free peep show.

But I can’t sustain that argument (correct though it be). I just keep bumping into WALMART – and giggling. I mean, a guy actually decided to buff his bishop under those glaring fluorescent lights, in constant danger of ramming carts, and under the watchful eyes of store detectives (or, as the piece preciously puts it, “loss prevention officers”). This just floors me. I’m still trying to parse what it means to be “near” automotive. Was he actually in the nearby toy section, a fact that – if true – trigger a moral panic about local pedophiles? Or was he actually in automotive, turned on by the manly-man smells of grease and rubber tires? Perhaps he had just misunderstood the meaning of “lube job”?

Seeking to understand, I undertook some research, which revealed that our local miscreant was not the first to get a Walmart woody. He’s probably not even the most abject, if you consider a case reported last year in the Frisky:

In case you folks were thinking about masturbating in public anytime soon, let William Tyler Black be an example of what not to do. The 28-year-old substitute teacher (yes … teacher) was arrested in Florida (yes … Florida) yesterday for spreading his baby batter all over a local Walmart (yes … Walmart).

William apparently became aroused by the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, featuring Brooklyn Decker, while browsing at his local Walmart in Sarasota. He decided to pleasure himself right then and there, splooging all over the floor and wiping some of it onto a “Star Wars” light saber in the toy section. When confronted by the staff about his masturbation session, he said he was buying a toy for his daughter. (Oh no! He’s a father?) He was charged with battery and exposure of sexual organs. Just so we’re clear, this is not something you should ever do. I don’t care how hot Brooklyn Decker is.

At least no light sabers were involved here in Athens, though I should add that there’s one wacky connection between the two incidents: Ohio and Florida are now tied for having the least popular governors! If you’re saddled with a Governor Jerk-off, why not join him?

But geez, Walmart? Rly? This is precisely why the Ceiling Cat created almost-private rooms for us.

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Charlie Sheen is a serial abuser of women, as Anna Holmes argued persuasively in the New York Times earlier this week. As Holmes wrote, his current two live-in partners are “disposable,” not least because they are presumed golddiggers who tarnished their virtue in sex work. I don’t care if they’re only with Sheen for the money, fame, and drugs. We should be worried for these women’s lives. Sheen’s “goddesses” (his word) are living 24/7 with a control freak with a long record of domestic violence charges and no discernable ties to reality.

Despite his evident break-up with the reality-based world, Sheen appears to have his two partners in thrall. That gives even more cause for concern. A People Magazine story portrayed the women’s relationships with him as downright Stepford-ish.

“I’ve always felt that a man should be able to be with as many women as he likes,” says Rachel Oberlin, 24, one of Sheen’s two live-in girlfriends. “I’ve never had the opportunity to share that with any man before because, honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been with a man who was even deserving of that.”

Consenting adults can order their households however they like. But what’s good for the gander ought to be good for the goose – yet here, it only the gander has the privilege of multiple partners. My understanding of ethical polyamory is that it’s based on equality, not hierarchy and paternalism. That’s the exact opposite of how Sheen describes his relationships to People Magazine quotes:

“They don’t judge me,” Sheen repeated. “They don’t lead with opinion. They don’t lead with their own needs all the time. They’re honest enough to tell me, ‘Hey, look, you – you know, park your nonsense. You gotta help me solve this.’ And we solve it.”

When it comes to household decisions, he said, “Everybody’s vote has equal importance. But when we’re approaching crisis, I remind them, ‘Look, I’m 22 years further down the road … my plan is gonna be the best one in the room. So, just trust me on that and everybody will win. Everybody will win and everybody’s needs will be taken care of.”

This is creepy, coming from a guy with a history of physically hurting women. What happens if a goddess dares to express an opinion? The old brick in the face, a la ancient Mesopotamia?

Patriarchy isn’t dead. It has just moved to Hollywood and allegedly developed an epic coke habit. (“For the win!” as Sheen might say.)

Also, the idea of Charlie Sheen as a problem solver and crisis mananger (???!!!) would be hilarious, if he were living in a universe occupied solely by the body and ego of Charlie Sheen. As it is, someone stands to get hurt.

Nonetheless, it’s Caturday, so let’s not just soberly criticize Sheen’s behavior. Let’s mock him, too! (Yes, I know he needs help. He’s making too much money off of not seeking it that mockery is perfectly fair.)

There’s lots more Sheen-y cattiness at the blog Medium Large – check it out. (Thanks to Lisa Simeone for the tip!)

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With my partner a whole ocean away from me, I’m not in a very lovey-dovey mood for Valentine’s Day. That leaves plenty of time to think about what allowed Love to sneak out of courtly ballads and Shakespearean plays and into the hearts of average Americans. And no, it’s not chick lit or rom-coms.

The long answer would involve reading Stephanie Coontz’s Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage – the story of how marriage made the historical shift from an economic arrangement to a partnership from which we expect love and companionship..

Oh, and by now we also expect hot sex for more years than humans used to live, period, from birth to death. Nearly 500 years ago, Martin Luther set us down this road when he rejected the Catholic insistence on procreative sex, and instead embraced pleasure in marriage. Luther liked marriage. He termed it a “hospital for lust.” Bear in mind that in those days, hospitals weren’t in the business of curing; they took the poor and the insane and the unwed-but-pregnant off the streets. They were a way of containing social problems. Bear in mind, too, that Luther thought women’s lot was to be wives and mothers, undoing some of Eve’s screw-up in the garden. Still, there’s a solid though wavy line from Luther to Susie Bright.

The short answer: If we feel free to love today – or to lust outside of of the old “hospital” – we can thank two things: 1) the right to say no to sex, the key prerequisite for sighing a breathy, enthusiastic YES, and 2) reliable birth control with legal abortion as a safe backup. From the Ohio Statehouse to the House of Representatives, these rights are under more ferocious fire than I can recall in the post-Roe era.

But it’s a holiday, and so instead of gloom, let there be satire! It’s the more festive response – and maybe more effective , too. Here’s Kristen Schaal of the Daily Show, mocking the piss out of the “No Taxpayer Money for Abortions” crowd.

I used this in class last week to illuminate rape myths, and students got it like never before. (Does this mean college administrators will one day replace me with a semi-random mix off the tubes?)

And I knew I liked Felicity Huffman anyway (Lynnette is my favorite housewife, of course) but now I’m besotted:

(Via Rachel at Women’s Health NewsIf you can’t see either clip from your blog reader, click on through and say hey while you’re here.)

Take that to your next Tea Party, and sip it!

Happy Valentine’s Day to all, especially to those of you who are celebrating it alone with chocolate, champagne, or blogging. (I’ve only got two out of three but am wondering why I am too cheap to open the champagne sans partner. Wandering off to the kitchen now to rectify what I can …)

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In my offline reading this week, I came upon an argument for the allure of big boobs. The writer stated that all men prefer large breasts – and that women with small ones risked being misread as men.

Well, I’ve never been mistaken for a man, even though I’m decidedly not one of those gals who – as Susan once said of Edie on Desperate Housewives – enters a room several minutes after her breasts. The only time I was taunted for looking boyish, I had short hair and was five years old. Most of us lesser-breasted girls endured some teasing in junior high and beyond, but we were teased very specifically as girls. (Of course, no one escaped: the busty girls just had to deal with other forms of harassment. And everyone’s bra strap got snapped, sooner or later.)

Now that I’ve reached an age where gravity is an irresistible force and the flesh no longer an immovable object, smaller breasts have some real advantages. Who’d have thought that in seventh grade?

As for all men desiring large breasts? I doubt that’s true, either, though I think it’s still a widely held preconception. It may well be that some college-aged men, having grown up with ubiquitous access to porn, really do expect DDs or more. Even back in my youth, some men were fixated on size: the “breast men” of yore.

But all men? I started to do the math, and I realized that if all heterosexual men insisted on larger-than-average breasts, half of them would be left without a partner. It would be worse than China! Men would have to discover a dude-bro version of Lake Wobegon – one where instead of all the children being above average, all the boobs would be bigger than a C cup.

Back here in the real world, though, most men ultimately seem more interested in whole women, not just their parts. At least, that’s been my experience and observation. Yours, too, I hope?

Echinacea in Berlin’s Tiergarten, July 2010; photo by Sungold

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So every time I’ve logged into Facebook recently, this ad keeps popping up:

I do like handsome men! I do like men a few years older than me! (Emphasis on: a FEW.)

It’s just that … I’m 47. Only 47. I’m still years from qualifying for the senior meal at Denny’s or Bob Evans. And yet, I’m being hit up on behalf of “Mature American Men,” aka dudes old enough to be my dad.

This is all academic since I’m not on the market. But if I were, and if I went for guys younger than me, I’d instantly be branded a cougar. Evidently, the men my age are supposed to pair off with women 15 years younger. What’s left is the contingent at the Senior Citizen Center. Should I be suddenly single, I’d better spiff up my pinochle skills.

I would love to know if men in my general age group are targeted similarly. “Meet sexy senior women – hot grannies!” Sure, that’s a niche market. I doubt it’s advertised on Facebook. I think you have to go looking for it.

What say you, men between 37 and 57?

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And by “back in the day,” I mean in the rollicking ’80s, when some parents panicked at the prospect of women and men on the same hall.

My university is on the verge of establishing a gender-neutral housing option. This doesn’t mean that all students will be mixed willy-nilly, irrespective of gender. It just means that some students can opt into a dorm where any genders can share a room.

This is really good news, obviously, for people who aren’t gender conformists. Students who are trans or genderqueer will finally have options. Since there are only 50 beds available in the pilot program, and they’re mainly for upperclassmen, incoming students will have to file special requests. I hope this process will be simple, so that the youngest trans students won’t feel they have to fight for access.

I’m frankly surprised that my university is taking this leap. Compared to a more diverse urban campus, we don’t have many openly trans students. Many of our students have conservative parents. Our university administration is not known for taking risks. I applaud it for doing the right thing. I’m even more impressed by the students who raised the issue and got the policy changed.

One of my outstanding former students, who blogs at I Hamburger, punctures the myth that opposite-sex couples will leap at the chance to live together:

How many unmarried couples did I know who lived together off-campus (and we’re talking planned it as they were a couple, not lived together and became a couple)? Zero. That’s because in college, people usually want to live with their friends, not significant others.

(Read the whole post here.)

That sounds about right. Even back in those swinging ’80s, my college friends shied away from living with their romantic partners. It represented more commitment than most of us wanted.

I did briefly live with a boyfriend for one summer during college, but only under duress. Not that we didn’t like each other. Not that we minded sharing a bed. We just didn’t want to be locked into a commitment we weren’t ready for. The house manager of our student-run semi-co-op informed us that the only way he could satisfy other students’ wishes was to place the two of us into a shared room. It was just for the summer, and at the end of it we happily reverted to separate quarters.

The only lasting impact of that summer? I inherited his kitten, since his new quarters prohibited animals. (So did mine, but I had a much better chance at hiding her.) That kitten was Grey Kitten, patron cat of this blog.

I knew exactly one couple who shared a room in a conventional dorm (not a co-op). That was my freshman year, in a dorm full of pre-meds and teetotaling Asian Americans. Skeet and Tom had matching plaid bathrobes that they wore almost constantly. Yes, Skeet was a dude (as was Tom). It took me half the year to figure out they were more than mere roommates. Even in that conservative milieu, way back in 1981, no one gave a hoot.

I’m sure a few parents will gripe about my university’s new policy. Maybe they need to recall that 30 and 40 years ago, students were having sex just like students do today – no more, no less. The only thing that might have changed since then? Our acceptance of sexual diversity.

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I haven’t blogged about Julian Assange and Wikileaks because I’ve been trying to understand before I judge. I’m still not willing to offer any final judgment on the rape allegations against Assange. That’s for a Swedish court of law to do, assuming that he’s extradited and the prosecution continues to press its case.

I feel confident about three things, though. If the Guardian’s article presents a good approximation of the facts, some sort of sexual assault occurred. (I’m well aware that Assange disputes his accusers’ accounts, and he deserves a chance to rebut them in court if formal charges are brought.) Secondly, anyone who dismisses the women’s accusations out of hand is out of line – and that goes doubly for feminists, who have every reason to know better. Lastly, even if the accusations never lead to a conviction, Assange is still an insufferable egotist who treats women like crap. That’s not a crime but it does raise questions about whether the left should continue to lionize him as a hero.

As I’ve already stated, I support what Wikileaks is trying to do. But as many other feminists have already argued, we can support its mission without preemptively assuming that Julian Assange is innocent of sexual assault. We don’t have to assume he’s guilty, either. We can instead support due process for Assange (including his right to bail) while also insisting that his accusers be treated respectfully, their allegations investigated, and their privacy protected. Or as Jill at Feministe said: “Seriously, we can chew gum and walk at the same time.” Seriously!

It’s still not clear what charges will be filed against Assange. Indeed, it’s still possible that Swedish prosecutors will decide the case is too difficult to win in court and decline to press charges. In that case, Assange just might be better off in Sweden than in Britain; should the U.S. cook up a brand-new crime and try to extradite Assange, I suspect Sweden would be less likely to cooperate than would Britain, with its “special relationship” to the U.S.

* * * * *

For the sake of conjecture, let us say that events transpired as described by the Guardian. Let us, for the sake of fairness, assume that the defendant is a fictional character we’ll call Albino Aussie. This lets us run a thought experiment without prejudging the actual real-world case. We will assume for this experiment that the women’s accounts are factual. In the real world, of course, the male protagonist disputes their statements, and we don’t have his side of the story. That would matter crucially in a court of law. The intent of my little thought experiment is more modest: to ask whether the alleged actions constitute sexual assault.

[The account of Miss A.] to police, which [Albino Aussie] disputes, stated that he began stroking her leg as they drank tea, before he pulled off her clothes and snapped a necklace that she was wearing. According to her statement she “tried to put on some articles of clothing as it was going too quickly and uncomfortably but Assange ripped them off again”. Miss A told police that she didn’t want to go any further “but that it was too late to stop Assange as she had gone along with it so far”, and so she allowed him to undress her.

According to the statement, Miss A then realised he was trying to have unprotected sex with her. She told police that she had tried a number of times to reach for a condom but Assange had stopped her by holding her arms and pinning her legs. The statement records Miss A describing how Assange then released her arms and agreed to use a condom, but she told the police that at some stage Assange had “done something” with the condom that resulted in it becoming ripped, and ejaculated without withdrawing.

(Source: The Guardian)

Ripping off clothing is standard fare in romance novels. It could be good fun in an established relationship where one partner knows for sure that their partner would like to be ravished in this way. But with no discussion about desires and predilections? Albino Aussie made some major assumptions. Once Miss A. started to put her clothes back on, he had a stop signal – a flashing red light – and he chose to ignore it. (Also, Albino Aussie was a complete asshole to wreck her necklace. Not a crime, but that would have been a deal-breaker for me.)

His attempt to keep her from grabbing a condom is not sexy by any standard. It’s coercive. By itself, it doesn’t constitute sexual assault, but it could be significant if it signaled his intent and he then did “something” deliberately to break the condom, as Miss A. alleges. Criminal intent (mens rea) is a key element in sexual assault law in the United States (except for statutory rape), and it would be surprising if it were irrelevant in Sweden.

Similarly, Albino Aussie ran roughshod over the insistence of the second complainant, Miss W., that he wear a condom:

Miss W told police that though they started to have sex, Assange had not wanted to wear a condom, and she had moved away because she had not wanted unprotected sex. [Albino Aussie] had then lost interest, she said, and fallen asleep. However, during the night, they had both woken up and had sex at least once when “he agreed unwillingly to use a condom”.

Early the next morning, Miss W told police, she had gone to buy breakfast before getting back into bed and falling asleep beside Assange. She had awoken to find him having sex with her, she said, but when she asked whether he was wearing a condom he said no. “According to her statement, she said: ‘You better not have HIV’ and he answered: ‘Of course not,’ ” but “she couldn’t be bothered to tell him one more time because she had been going on about the condom all night. She had never had unprotected sex before.”

(Source: The Guardian)

Note that Miss W. never consented to sex without a condom. In fact, she was adamant that she would refuse consent to unprotected penetrative sex. Nothing changed between the evening and the morning, except that Albino Aussie chose to ignore the critical conditions on which her consent was premised.

Whether any of Albino Aussie’s actions constitute “rape” will depend on the specifics of Swedish law. But there’s every reason to understand them as sexual assault of some form, even if they don’t rise to the standard of rape. He violated the conditions of consent that Miss W. had explicitly and repeatedly stated as a categorical prerequisite to sex. He initiated sex while she was sleeping and could not possibly say no. While the Guardian doesn’t specify the exact type of sex, it’s reasonable to assume PIV since she responded that he’d better not have HIV.

In the case of Miss A., Albino Aussie violated her conditions of consent by ejaculating inside her without protection. (If he was unaware that the condom broke – which is unlike if, as Miss A. claims, he ripped it himself – Swedish law might still allow prosecution on the basis of recklessness, though again I’m speculating since there’s precious little info on Swedish law.) He also ignored her clear signal to slow down and check in with her when she began to dress herself again in the midst of their encounter – an action that obviously signals NO.

To my mind, the clearest-cut example of sexual assault here is the allegation that he had sex with a sleeping woman. She could not possibly consent. What’s more, his decision to have unprotected sex clearly violated the terms of consent that she’d insisted on all night long. No way could he reasonably assume he was giving her something she wanted. (Jill at Feministe has a great analysis of the limits and nuances of consent; she wrote it before the Guardian piece appeared, but her basic points are still relevant. Plus, she’s a real lawyer … and I’m not even a fake one.)

Again, we don’t know what happened. But the substance of the allegations amounts to much more than “sex by surprise” (whatever that might be!). The allegations definitely fall on the spectrum of sexual assault. Everything else that allegedly happened – the fact that Miss A. let her guest continue to sleep in her apartment, partied with him, didn’t contact the police for days – is immaterial, if indeed events went down as she and Miss W. described them.

The allegations are not atypical for date rape cases. As a professor and as a feminist, I hear too many stories from students that echo elements of this case: the desire to normalize things the next morning, pressure to keep the social fabric intact by keeping accusations private, fear of character assassination if one does report, reluctance to label one’s experience as rape instead of – as Miss A. called it – “the worst sex ever.” (That last point is borne out by research done by Arnie Kahn, who found that many college-aged are reluctant to call nonconsensual sex “assault” if the perpetrator is a friend or lover. See Arnie S. Kahn, “What College Women Do and Do Not Experience as Rape,” Psychology of Women Quarterly 28 (2004), 9-15.)

* * * * *

Feminists who’ve worked with college students and rape survivors should be aware of all this. And yet … Naomi Wolf is not. Or more likely, she chooses to repress what she knows, because she so fiercely wants Assange to be able to continue his work with Wikileaks. Here’s Wolf (in the HuffPo):

I see that Julian Assange is accused of having consensual sex with two women, in one case using a condom that broke.

Um, no. Compare with the accusations above. In the second instance, the allegation is that the sex was not consensual, because Miss W. had not consented to barebacking, and she had no opportunity to say yes or no while she was sleeping.

More Wolf:

I understand, from the alleged victims’ complaints to the media, that Assange is also accused of texting and tweeting in the taxi on the way to one of the women’s apartments while on a date, and, disgustingly enough, ‘reading stories about himself online’ in the cab.

Um, no. Self-centered texting is not among the allegations. I’m no expert in Swedish law, but I don’t think they’ve outlawed egotism yet. Just file this nugget away for the last part of this post (on why Assange is a douche).

Wolf expanded on her flippant HuffPo piece in an interview with Amy Goodman, which also included Jaclyn Friedman. Wolf said one thing I agree with: We do need to expect women to behave as “moral adults.” Sure. We cannot expect men to simply intuit a woman’s every wish. But Wolf didn’t stop there:

If you read these allegations, he took off Miss A’s clothes too quickly for her comfort. She tried to tell him to slow down, but then, quote, “she allowed him to undress her.” This is what the report says. The second woman says she woke to find him having sex with her. When she asked whether he was wearing a condom, he said no. Quote, “According to her statement, she said: ‘You better not have HIV.'” He answered, “Of course not.” Quote, “She couldn’t be bothered to tell him one more time because she had been going on about the condom all night. She had never had unprotected sex before.”

So, if you’re going to treat women as moral adults and if you’re going to take the issue of rape seriously, the person who’s engaging in what he thinks is consensual sex has to be told, “I don’t want this.” And again and again and again, these women did not say, “This is not consensual.” Assange was shocked when these were brought up as complaints, because he had no idea that this was not a consensual situation. Miss A kept Assange in her home for the next four days and threw a party for him.

Thing is, the women did say and signal: “I don’t want this.” At some point, both of them gave up on him getting the memo. But dang it, Assange – or “Albino Aussie,” if you will – had every opportunity to see the yellow and red cards the women were pulling. And instead of saying, “OK, being ravished is not your thing – so what would really turn you on?” he just keeps going on autopilot, ripping bodices until Miss A. gives up resistance. Instead of asking, “Should we do something else, since I only want to fuck bareback?” he waits until Miss W. is sleeping and slips it to her against her express wishes.

These women did act as moral adults. They delineated their boundaries. They tried to negotiate a satisfying, sexy experience for both partners. They said and signaled no to activities they found disturbing or unacceptable. According to their allegations, he drove a bulldozer over their moral agency.

How many times should a woman have to say no for it to count?

A final beef with Wolf: In the Democracy Now interview, she insinuates that only violent stranger rape is real rape:

In 23 years, I’ve never seen any man in any situation this ambiguous, involving this much consent, have any kind of legal process whatsoever. And all over the world, women who have been gang-raped, brutally raped, raped in alleyways, pimped, prostituted, trafficked, you know, their rapists go free.

Yeah, well, most rapists will never be convicted. But does the existence of violent stranger rape make date rape irrelevant, trivial, or harmless? Wolf and I are almost exactly the same age. It was our generation of college students that first started talking about date rape in the mid-1980s. Wolf knows that date rape is real rape. Just a few years ago Wolf accused Professor Harold Bloom groped her inner thigh back when she was an undergrad. That might not have been a case of sexual assault, but it was at least sexual harassment. No trafficking or gang-rape occurred, yet Wolf saw fit to publish the incident in New York Magazine. I’m not saying she was wrong to do so, only that she seems to have lost her compass since then. How else to explain her assertion that Assange and Miss W. were “making love”? (She said it in her Amy Goodman interview, at 5:27 – sorry, no transcript.)

It’s not just Wolf who’s twisting herself into pretzels to defend Assange. AnnaAnastasia at Shakesville directs us to Laurie Essig’s essay at The Chronicle of Higher Education. Titled “Assange, Morality, and Desire,” it’s remarkably devoid of morality. Instead, Essig – a a sociology professor at Middlebury – is channeling some combo of Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, and Harlequin romances:

One can imagine the summer air in Stockholm, ripe with possibilities, seducing Mr. Assange into  thinking it was a good idea to hop into bed with his host, known as Ms. A in the court papers, and then hopping into the bed of one of his fans, Ms. W, just a few days later.

Essig doesn’t even try to make Assange into a moral actor. He’s giddy with optimism, opportunity, and the seductive air of Stockholm. Potential entrepreneurs, take note: there’s an untapped market for bottling Swedish air and selling it to frustrated men (the Seduction Community might buy in bulk). Poor Assange was defenseless; he was seduced, perhaps even entrapped, by Swedish women who, Essig suggests, subscribe to a moral code that is wholly foreign to an Australian man.

While Essig initially concedes that Assange is charged with”having sex without a condom (without full consent of the women),” she backpedals a moment later:

And while Sweden might consider having sex without a condom against the law, most countries do not.  Perhaps more confusing is the issue of consent. Although this young woman clearly found being taken while asleep upsetting, some women would be turned on by being the object of that much desire.

This is pure disingenuity. Essig has just noted that the problem is a lack of full consent, not laws against barebacking. She damn well knows better! What’s so “confusing” about consent here? Consent to one sex act doesn’t imply consent to another. Just as consent to vaginal sex doesn’t imply consent to anal sex, consent to safer sex doesn’t imply consent to condomless sex.

As for being “taken while asleep” – in a longer-term relationship, partners might let each other know they’d welcome sleep sex. To just presume it? When it’s your first time hooking up? When your only real communication revealed your incompatible expectations vis-a-vis condoms? That’s more than just stupid and presumptuous. That’s rape.

Then again, Essig seems to consider “date rape” to be something quite distinct from “rape.” Channeling Whoopie Goldberg, Essig digs herself in even deeper in a follow-up post:

Based on what we do know, I do not think Assange is guilty of rape.  I am not sure whether he is guilty of date rape, but if he is, then the date rape is incredibly murky since no one seems to have been drugged or beaten or even particularly coerced.

So if Miss W. had taken drugs before sleeping, then Essig might entertain the possibility of “date rape”? I can only imagine how she might respond when her students report having been raped. “No roofies? No worry! Just be more careful next time … and remember, some women get off on lack of consent.”

Essig wants us to understand that sex is messy and complicated. She strikes the pose of a sophisticated libertine, a connoisseur of heterosexual behavior. Essig teaches classes on heterosexuality – but in her essay, she offers up a vision of female heterosexuality that’s cartoonish, not complex:

According to press reports, Assange held one of the women down in a sexual manner.  Yes, and many women like that.  Assange started having sex while one woman was sleeping.  Yes, that too some women like.  Because people like all sorts of things—clothes being ripped off, dirty threats whispered in their ears, even somewhat violent sexual encounters.  Not everyone likes these things, but many, many people do.  Clearly someone in Assange’s past sexual encounters thought it was a turn on or at least didn’t think it was rape.  That’s why he was doing it.  Is that gross?  Sure.  Is all sex gross when you’re not the one doing it?  Pretty much.  Is it rape if the woman doesn’t wake up and say “Stop” and “No, I don’t want that”?

Many (most?) heterosexual women will cop to some un-PC desires. Fantasies about non-consent are quite common – among hetero men as well as women. But when we go beyond fantasy, the desire to submit and be ravished is virtually always predicated on consent. Partners can ethically incorporate violent activities, even “nonconsensual” scenes, into their sex lives – if they negotiate. If they agree on a safe word. If they consent in advance, with an option to bail if the scene goes wrong. Two people who disagree on whether a condom must be used are in a whole ‘nother universe than partners who communicate their edgier desires. Essig surely ought to know all this too.

After all, Essig teaches in Women’s and Gender Studies as well as sociology.

* * * * *

Even though I think the allegations are serious and credible, I’m still not committing myself to the “Assange must be guilty camp.” I do think that if the two women set out to smear him, they would have constructed a much smoother story. Someone setting a premeditated trap would have avoided the details that Essig and Wolf find damning, such as Miss A. continuing to host Assange in her home, or Miss. W. giving him a ride the next morning. They would have continued to say no throughout the encounters. They would have called the police immediately and filed sexual assault charges, instead of just demanding Assange take an STD test. In short, they would have sought to fit the ideal of how a sexual assault victim ought to act, rather than behaving in the way that actual survivors often act – confused, trying to not to make waves socially, and unsure what to call their experience.

Does that make Assange guilty? No. I would want to hear Assange’s side before drawing any conclusions.

What we do hear from and about Assange doesn’t exactly cover him in glory, though. He comes across as a user and a sponger. Given that he now draws an income from Wikileaks, why did he keep squatting in Miss A.’s  apartment even when she moved into a friend’s place to avoid him? Why did he apparently have Miss W. pay for his train tickets to and from her home? (He told her he had no cash and feared being tracked by his credit card – a thin excuse for a guy who was easily trackable via his public speaking schedule in Sweden.) How narcissistic do you have to be to immerse yourself in online stories about yourself even as you’re trying to get laid? Why did he order Miss W. to bring him orange juice (as Essig reports)? Couldn’t he pour his own damn juice?

And why didn’t he just get the STD tests? He claimed that Miss W.’s demand for testing was “blackmail,” but it’s a pretty reasonable request, given how open he was about his predilection for barebacking. If he’d agreed, the whole matter would probably never have come to the prosecutor’s attention.

The interview Assange granted the BBC last week hints at the answers to these questions. Here are a couple of especially prime slices:

Q: You do see yourself as a martyr here.

JA: Well, you know, in a very beneficial position, if you can be martyred without dying. And we’ve had a little bit of that over the past ten days. And if this case goes on, we will have more. …

Q: But you haven’t denied having sex with those women?

JA: No, I haven’t denied that.

Q: So you did have sex with those women?

JA: I have always tried in this case and in my other dealings to be a private person and to not speak about matters that are private.

Q: This is now public. So I’m asking you the question. Did you have sex with those women?

JA: It’s a matter of public record as far as the courts are concerned but I am not going to be exposing other people’s private lives or my own more than is absolutely necessary. That is not what a gentleman does, that why I have also never criticised these women. We don’t know precisely what pressures they have been under, exactly. There are powerful interests that have incentives to promote these smears. That doesn’t mean that they got in there in the very beginning and fabricated them. …

Q: The allegation against you, the very broad allegation that’s been made over and over again in the media over recent days is that you’re some sort of sexual predator who has sex with a large number of young women, ideally without a condom, and that you do it because you can, effectively, because in some cases they’re groupies or they’re enthralled to your fame or whatever it is. Are you a sexual predator?

JA: That’s ridiculous. Of course not.

Q: How many women have you slept with?

JA: That’s a private business. Not only does a gentleman not tell, not only does a gentleman like to talk about his private life, a gentleman certainly doesn’t count.

Q: Many, without being specific?

JA: I’ve never had a problem before with women. Women have been extremely helpful and generous.

Q: Not quite the question I asked you.

JA: No, women have been extremely helpful and generous and put up with me. But…

Q: Does put up with you mean having you in their beds?

JA: Of course on occasion, I mean I’m an adult man, but women have been generous to me over many years.

(Read the full BBC interview here. Ellipses are mine except for the one in Assange’s second-to-last statement.)

Of course, a gentleman wouldn’t argue when his partner insisted on a condom. That’s what a foolhardy narcissist does.

A gentleman might not keep count of his lovers, but then again, a gentleman would keep some mad money in his pocket, so as not to mooch train fares off his lovers. A gentleman gives as well as takes. Relying on women to be “generous”? That’s what a sponger does.

Also, a gentleman doesn’t relish martyrdom. That’s a role better suited for a someone with a messiah complex.

In a profile of Assange as a dark-hatted hacker, Bruce Sterling calls him a sociopath. I don’t see proof of that. But a wannabe martyr? A cheapskate mooch? A narcissist? An exploiter of groupies? A misogynist with no understanding of women? An antifeminist who says “Sweden is the Saudi Arabia of feminism”? A jet-setting, globe-trotting, world-class douche? I think the evidence is in.

None of this makes Assange guilty of sexual assault. But it does indicate that Assange has some grave character issues. He’s too self-centered to earn my trust – too entitled and narcissistic. The Wikileaks organization would be better served with a leader driven more by public interest than by self-interest.

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Gratuitous flowers for a sex post: Cascading morning glories captured by me, Sungold, in October, back before the frost bit ‘em.

The Denver Post ran an article today asking why an arousal-booster for women called Zestra can’t find TV stations willing to run their ads, even as Viagra ads are literally driving in circles around us. Historiann took the article to task for its casual disavowal of feminism, and I’ve got nothin’ to add to her critique except a vigorous nod of approval. Figleaf chimed in to say that the stations’ ad policies spotlight the illegitimacy of autonomous female desire.

What most struck me about the article, though, was its conflation of libido and arousal, which is endemic in “science writing” that reports on “pink viagra.” Here’s how reporter Mary Winter framed it:

Now, you would not know it from the $300-million annual ad campaign for erection-enhancing ads for Viagra, Cialis and Levitra, but women suffer more sexual dysfunction than men do — 43 percent to 31 percent, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In other words, the potential market for flagging female libidos is huge. But here’s the irony: When the makers of Zestra went to 100 television networks and stations to buy ads, the vast majority refused them. The few stations that did take their money would run the ads only after midnight or during the daytime.

The stations “told us they were not comfortable airing the ads,” Zestra co-founder Mary Jaensch told “Nightline.” The double-standard here — men, you deserve sexual pleasure, and women, what’s wrong with you hussies? — is breathtaking.

So how about this ad: a Camaro, a woman, and a vibrating driver’s seat?

(This is just the end of the article; read the whole thing here. Winter is very sharp and witty on the Viagra ads!)

In a way, it’s unfair to pick on Winter, because most writing about female sexual dysfunction fails to draw basic distinctions between arousal, orgasm, desire, and libido. It also tends to ignore the reality of the physical pain some women experience (which K has explored eloquently at Feminists with Female Sexual Dysfunction.) In practice, women can of course have issues with any or all of the above, and problems in one area can easily spill into another. A woman  suffering from vulvodynia, for instance, might be able to orgasm, but if sexual activity hurts, that’s likely to dampen her libido. Another woman might have a generally low libido (meaning she doesn’t crave sex very often) but develop desire responsively to her partner, at least in certain situations. There are probably as many variations as there are women.

Now, getting back to Zestra and the Denver Post: Winter’s article refers mainly to libido. She’s partly on the right track, insofar as that “42 percent” figure refers mainly to women who complain about low libido. (Some feminists have criticized that figure as too high, but let’s set that debate aside for today.) Winter does hint at the primary issue here – arousal – in that apparent throwaway line about a vibrating driver seat in the Camaro. Why yes, I think quite a few of us gals might enjoy such a ride! But if we got a good buzz per gallon, that wouldn’t mean our libido was revving – only that our engine was purring smoothly.

Libido is not the primary target for Zestra, though Zestra’s website refers to a whole host of potential benefits: stronger libido, greater satisfaction, more earth-shaking orgasms, and a more harmonious relationship with one’s partner. (That last point comes up only in testimonials; the overall tone of the website is “try this for yourself,” not “use this to please your long-suffering husband.”) It’s being marketed to women who suffer from sexual problems of any sort due to illness (including cancer), postpartum changes, menopause, antidepressants, stress, and even widowhood. But what does it really do?

Zestra’s primary mechanism, as far as I understand it, is to enhance arousal and response during sexual activity. As far as I can see without having tried it myself, it looks like it might increase engorgement and/or creaste prickling sensations in a nice way. In the best case, yummy sensations start a cascade of increasing desire during lovemaking. As a topical agent applied directly to one’s ladyparts, Zestra doesn’t act directly on libido, which is regulated by the brain and a complex dance of different hormones and neurotransmitters (including estrogen and testosterone, but also thyroid hormone, stress hormones, dopamine and lots of other nifty “messenger” chemicals). A topical gel won’t directly influence that chemical brew. It’s only logical, though, that if sex is more pleasurable, some women might want it more. Biological anthropologist Helen Fisher has written about how hot sex with a new partner gives us a dopamine high akin to cocaine (quick summary of her ideas here). Maybe hot sex with in a newly reinvigorated relationship can give us the same buzz?

Also, the testing for Zestra relied on women who committed to have sex eight times in a month, so it’s unlikely many of them had a super low libido. (For more details on the testing, check out the clinical study.) These women were already open to regular sex. As a group they sound to me more like women who basically like sex but were frustrated by difficulty getting aroused. They don’t sound like the subset of women who’ve given up on sex – a group that constitutes about 15% of American marriages, by the way. (This according to Tara Parker-Pope in the New York Times, where “sexless” was defined as no sex at all with one’s spouse during the previous six to twelve months.)

In other words, the mechanism behind Zestra appears to be entirely different than flibanserin, an orally-administered drug recently rejected by the FDA for ineffectiveness. Flibanserin was supposed to increase libido directly by changing one’s brain chemistry. It too was compared to Viagra, and quite wrongly so: Viagra targets a mans plumbing, so to speak. It produces an erection (though it almost always requires mental and/or physical stimulation to be effective). Flibanserin left physical arousal untouched while aiming to increase psychological arousal and desire.

Calling flib a “pink viagra” was just misleading. In the case of Zestra, the comparison appears more apples-to-apples, since both Viagra and Zestra appear to work by increasing engorgement.

I still think it’s too bad that flib flopped. Yes, the drug was intended to be a Big Pharma Bonanza. I don’t really give a shit. If it had really helped women live better, I’d be all for it. I trust women to make decisions about their bodies (though I also insist on our responsibility to understand our bodies. At any rate, flib failed to gain FDA approval because it didnt work.

As far as I know, there’s still nothing  on the market that specifically helps women who only desire sex once in a blue moon. For some women, hormone therapy (sometimes including testosterone as well as estrogen) delivers a libido boost. But hormones carry some risk. Women fear breast cancer if they take estrogen and they fear growing a beard and unibrow if they take T. But these are the choices, because there’s no drug that specifically targets libido.

Zestra interests me because it seems to be quite safe (worst side effect: transient burning sensations in some rather precious real estate). I’m skeptical to the extent that their studies are pretty small. Unavoidably, the very fact of running a study is an intervention in itself. This can have real effects on its findings. How many of the couples studied would have had sex at least eight times in a month? If most would’ve had less, that means Zestra wasn’t the only independent variable. Perhaps the twice-weekly commitment, combined with a new toy or just wall-to-wall pictures of George Clooney and Jon Hamm would fire their engines just as well. I’m pretty sure I’d be off and roaring on that program! (Where do I sign up?)

Seriously, I have been meaning to try Zestra just for the fun of it, since it sounds like its potential benefits might not be limited to people suffering from difficulty with arousal … and, y’know, anything for science! I’ve got a packet of it in a drawer but I’m not so sure what my lab partner would think.

As always, I’m very curious if any of you out there in bloglandia have given Zestra a whirl? And if so – are you willing to dish? Pretty please?

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The other day, I googled “cold flashes.” That wasn’t a typo; I didn’t mean “hot flashes.” I meant COLD.

I’m not at menopause yet, and judging by family history I’m probably a good half-decade away. But over the past several years I’ve had even more trouble than usual staying warm. My internal thermostat went completely haywire when I got sick in January 2009 with the still-undiagnosed ailment that messed with my nerves and muscles and brain. Nothing could keep me warm. While that has improved somewhat, it hasn’t returned to my pre-illness state. Then, after a minor virus this fall, I started to notice that warm stimuli – the blessed touch of sun on skin, or the spray of hot water in the shower – could give me the chills. Goosebumps, even!

I wasn’t alone. A friend of mine, a few years younger than I, seemed equally miserable at those chilly soccer games at the end of this fall’s season. We were both hiding under blankets and nursing a thermos of tea as soon as temperatures dropped into the 50s.

I began to wonder: might freezing just be part of aging?

According to Google, yes. Women do report cold flashes, though they typically follow upon hot flashes. Somehow, the hot flashes, with their dramatic sweats and red skin, get all the press, while the chills get – well, the deep freeze in the media!

The root cause seems to be the same, though. The hypothalamus is responsible for keeping our internal temperatures running steady. In the decade or so prior to menopause (a woman’s last period), the hypothalamus stops running so steadily. Conventional wisdom holds that fluctuating estrogen levels send confusing signals the hypothalamus, but actually there’s an intricate interplay between the hypothalamus, pituitary, and ovarian hormones. Contrary to its image, estrogen does not function as the ringmaster – not on its own, anyway.

Whatever the exact mechanism, it sure feels like a broken thermostat to me. At the blog re:Cycling, Heather Dillaway objects strenuously to calling it broken, or attempting to “fix” it. She objects to any language that portrays menopause negatively or suggests that women “suffer” from it. She’s part of a noble tradition of feminist criticism that has pilloried the medicalization of women’s bodies. This critique, however, too often sets up a false opposition between how doctors tell women they should feel and women’s actual experience.

Sure, experience is partially shaped by our expectations, including biomedical ideas about women’s bodies. Menopause is indeed a natural transition, one that every cis-woman will undergo if she doesn’t die young. We should certainly oppose the idea that women’s worth is based on their youth, beauty, and fertility. We should celebrate the wisdom that can come with time.

But doggonit, my thermostat feels broken! I might fantasize about it improving if were to spend a week in St. Tropez, but realistically? It’s likely to get worse before it stabilizes or improves. And it’s not a trivial thing. When I’m unable to get warm, despite long underwear and a sweater, a heating pad, and an ambient temperature of 72, I don’t merely experience cold; I suffer it. Putting a positive spin on this merely denies my experience. To anyone intent on painting menopause in shades of rose and mauve, I ask: What color do they turn when they freeze?

For many women undergoing the menopausal transition, temperature regulation is only one challenge. Many women also report debilitating fatigue, which is also linked to a wonky hypothalamus. They wake up at night, drenched in sweat, heart racing. It’s not a panic attack; it’s “only” a night sweat.  Salon just ran an essay by Beth Aviv detailing her struggles to manage such symptoms after (admittedly foolishly) stopping hormone treatment cold turkey:

… I wake in the middle of the night, heat percolating to the surface like an underground spring — flooding between my fingers, into elbows, under my arms, onto my chest, my neck, my scalp until my straightened hair curls. If you could slide your fingers over my forehead, it would feel like you were finger-painting. Sleep does not return for hours.

The comments on Aviv’s essay are Salon’s usual mixed bag. There’s no shortage of people telling women to just “suck it up.” (This phrase appears repeatedly.) It’s mostly women piling on other women, as in this especially judgmental comment by a woman calling herself Semolina:

Most menopause symptoms are psychological. Some people enjoy making drama out of trivial events, and those are the folks who suffer mightily. I’m sixty years old and female and none of my friends has had this extreme problems — because I don’t hang out with drama queens.

Well, that Judgey McJudgey comment drew the smackdown it deserved from another commenter named Mona:

I see. Well, I am a 54-yr-old woman with a law degree from an elite university. A bit more than a decade ago, I suffered a severe emotional breakdown in the wake of the death of my oldest son via vehicular accident. Followed by that son’s father deciding to leave me for a man — that happened 6 weeks after we buried our 19 year old son.

As a consequence, I developed a crippling anxiety disorder. I’ve been in peri-menopause or menopause for about 8 years, and had been swimming right along assuming mine would be as easy as my mother’s.

It is now NOT. And it’s not in my head. It’s in the interference with my work toward recovering and living an emotionally stable life — a life with joy.

The extreme insomnia is not in my head. Nor the heart palpitations and the profuse sweating followed by cold clamminess ALL NIGHT LONG.

So, Seminola, I’m glad you don’t hang with “drama queens.” Neither do I. But some women have had, and continue to have, serious, dramatic problems that are, most decidedly, not in our heads. Or wait, they are, but not in the way you imperiously meant.

Now, obviously most menopausal women don’t undergo two personal tragedies in quick succession (though most of us do start to notice the losses piling up as we move through our forties). I’m offering Mona’s experience not to typify menopause, but to underscore its variability. She thinks she’s going to try bioidentical hormones, which I would likely try myself in her situation. (The debate on the relative safety of “bioidentical” versus synthetic and equine-derived hormones is not one I want to engage here – maybe in a future post?)

It’s great that some women sail through menopause, getting by with a sense of humor and a willingness to just suck it up. That’s their experience. I’m glad they were able to manage. I’m still early-days enough to fantasize it could be my experience, too, especially if I keep my house well heated.

But other women have other experiences. Some experience severe cognitive and mental health issues. Most face the more mudane – but still sometimes disabling – issues of body temperature regulation and insomnia. Oh, and sexual issues, but that would be a whole ‘nother post.

Point is, nobody gets to define your experiences for you. Not the perhaps well-meaning but ultimately wrong-headed doctors in the 1950s and ’60s who promised eternal femininity. Not those present-day doctors who fail to see patients as individuals, either demonizing Prempro (the most common synthetic HRT) or withholding it across the board. Not good-hearted feminists who want to put power back in women’s hands – but haven’t walked in your shoes, nor tried to sleep in your soggy sheets. Certainly not the Internet scolds who tell you to suck it up.

You. Only you get to decide what you’re experiencing, whether you’re suffering, whether something feels “broken,” and how – if at all – you might try to fix it.

Then again, maybe I’m a drama queen, and I just haven’t noticed it?

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Just in time for the holiday season, American capitalist ingenuity offers a stylish solution for the traveler who values privacy and/or modesty. Behold:


Jeff Buske of Rocky Flats Gear is selling protective undies. (Via the New York Daily News.) This is the cute low-rise model, shown in always-fashionable Threat Level Orange. The figleaves are made of a powder-coated metal intended to block backscatter x-rays and terahertz waves, along with background alpha and beta radiation. Less sexy designs feature a larger panty and broader figleaf to shield the ovaries. Bras and bra inserts are available too, as are briefs to protect the dudez’ junk. Some products (not these undies) are evocatively priced at $9.11.

I’m a bit creeped out by the other basic design for women, which features hands that are supposed to protect but frankly look like they’re groping. Personally, I would go with the cute figleaves. Check out the five-pack of the low-rise panty, featuring every color on the DHS threat level rainbow!

I think Stephen Colbert seriously needs to do a segment on these undies. Maybe they protect against bears, too?

I have no idea what would happen if you wore one of these through a naked-body scanner. You’d probably get the grope of your lifetime. Still, I marvel at American inventiveness – yet another reason to give thanks!

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When I flew out of Columbus a few weeks ago, I was stunned to see the new machines arrayed at the checkpoint. Ours is a relatively podunk airport, and I’d hoped the body scanners would come either late or never. I eyed the machines queasily, calculated how much time I had to squander on security, and decided that I wouldn’t miss my flight if I stood on principle.

When I got to the front of  the line, I bravely announced to the TSA personnel that I chose to opt out of the body scanners. I walked through the metal detector. “Now where do I go?”

“Huh?”

“I don’t want to go through the scanners. I’m opting out. That sign over there says I’m allowed to. So where should I go?”

“You just went through the metal detector, right?”

“Yes, but … don’t you want to pat me down?”

“No, you’re done.”

I grabbed my computer, wiggled into my shoes, and hightailed it for the gate before anyone changed their mind.

But that’s not how every airport is handling the opter-outers. Indeed, Columbus may have to change its policies. Here’s what happened when, faced with the new body-scanners at Baltimore-Washington International, Jeffrey Goldberg opted for a pat-down instead.

When I made this request, a number of TSA officers, to my surprise, began laughing. I asked why. One of them — the one who would eventually conduct my pat-down — said that the rules were changing shortly, and that I would soon understand why the back-scatter was preferable to the manual search. I asked him if the new guidelines included a cavity search. “No way. You think Congress would allow that?”

I answered, “If you’re a terrorist, you’re going to hide your weapons in your anus or your vagina.” He blushed when I said “vagina.”

“Yes, but starting tomorrow, we’re going to start searching your crotchal area” — this is the word he used, “crotchal” — and you’re not going to like it.”

“What am I not going to like?” I asked.

“We have to search up your thighs and between your legs until we meet resistance,” he explained.

“Resistance?” I asked.

“Your testicles,” he explained.

‘That’s funny,” I said, “because ‘The Resistance’ is the actual name I’ve given to my testicles.”

He answered, “Like ‘The Situation,’ that guy from ‘Jersey Shore?'”

Yes, exactly, I said. (I used to call my testicles “The Insurgency,” but those assholes in Iraq ruined the term.)

(Read the whole thing. It’s trenchant, highly entertaining, and right – as in “correct,” not “neocon right,” although that’s Goldberg’s usual beat.)

Whoa. I have never linked to Jeffrey Goldberg, and I may never do it again. But sometimes, even proponents of bombing Iran write something that’s so eminently sensible – and so funny – that it deserves a nonpartisan audience.

All of this leaves me wondering what my husband and I should do the next time we fly with our kids. Up ’til now, I thought the answer was obvious: opt out with the kids and spare them indoctrination into the creeping-fascist security state (not to mention exposure to superfluous radiation). Now, I’m not so sure. I picture them in a future therapists’ office: “Mama? Oh, she wasn’t all bad. Sure, she had her impatient moments, but we always knew she loved us. If she just hadn’t let the TSA molest us …”

(This is one of those occasions where I resort to sarcasm because the alternative is molten rage. Most of parenting consists of moments lost in the surging river of time. One moment that is still present and razor-sharp for me? When a Belgian airport security official subjected my Bear – then aged 9 – to a search that involved reaching inside the elastic of his sweat pants.)

I’m starting to wonder if we should all opt out of “the Dick-Measuring Device,” as Goldberg terms it. What would happen if we filmed the ensuing searches and put them on YouTube? Could we completely overwhelm the system if even a third of us opted out? (Yes, we’d all miss our planes, which is why this would probably never work.) What if apparently harmless moms like me started to yell, “Get your paws of my ladyparts!” when TSA agents failed to meet, um, Resistance?

Or we could take a page from Goldberg and just repeat “vagina” until TSA officials give up out of sheer embarrassment. I have no problem talking about the “crotchal area” (best whacko neologism since “refudiate”!) until the proto-fascist security state waves us through. For good measure, I think a carry-on full of sex toys might amplify the guards horror. But don’t worry – I won’t try that if the kids are flying with me.

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Yesterday at 1:29 EDT, I was lecturing on fundamentalism in my religion class, listing some of the phenomena fundamentalists generally condemn as symptoms of moral decay – among them, abortion and pornography.

Yesterday at 1:29 EDT, someone using the server of the Pro Life Action League in Chicago accessed an older post of mine, “Feminist Porn: Where Are the Men?”

I made the point to my students that people aren’t as simple as their ideologies might sometimes imply. Here’s a great case in point.

I’m not even sure that one should call this hypocrisy. I think I’d rather regard it more charitably as an instance of people perhaps being creative and flexible in their ideas and behavior – a case of refusing to conform to stereotypes.

Of course, it’s also possible that this reader was looking for ammo to prove how sexually depraved feminists can be. He or she might have a guilty relationship with sexuality that projects one’s shame onto the abjection of women that appears frequently in industrialized, mainstream porn.

But I’d prefer to imagine this reader as embracing his or her desires – not least, because it’s impossible to sustain a hard line against abortion if one regards sexual pleasure as a birthright for women and men alike, part of a full and fulfilling human life.

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The controversy about the term “birth rape” has ebbed in the blogosphere (which has a shorter attention span than my seven-year-old son). But that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped thinking about it. Nor, it appears, have other people. A reader named Ann took the time today to disagree with me vehemently:

To me there is not the slightest smidgeren of doubt that the women who state that they were raped, indeed were raped. Rape is NOT, absolutely definitely NOT only about sexuality. It is mainly about power and dominance. You will find very few among the BDSM community who are not aware of this.

Rape can – also – occur in the total absence of a feeling of guilt of the perpetrator. Whether a nurse, midwife or doctor think their deeds are justified because they have a right to go home early, or that woman birthing is too dumb or distraught to know what she wants, or whether a pedophile reasons that the 5 year old boy “wants it” because he happened to leave his knickers off, or whether the husband holds his wife down, thinking she’ll eventually come around, it all does not matter. It still is rape.

(Read the whole comment here.)

I fully agree that rape is not just about sex but about power. However, by its very definition, rape is about sexualized power. The abuse of medical power has to do with power too, but it has little or nothing to do with sexuality. (An exception would be a doctor who subjects patients to sexual touching – which most definitely belongs on the continuum of sexual assault, and which happens with distressing frequency.)

A doctor who violates consent is not acting from the same motivations as the pedophile. He or she is supported by our cultural values in ways that a pedophile is not. Yes, we live in a rape culture, but you would find very few defenders of a pedophile. By contrast, medicine enjoys partial immunity from criticism because of assumptions that lay people cannot understand it, that medical personnel always hold humanitarian values, and that they will always act in the best interests of the patient.

Of course, this isn’t true. Consider another truly vile category of gynecological violation: forced sterilizations. Doctors in Nazi Germany sterilized about 400,000 women and men, the vast majority of them against their will. About half of the victims were women. The Nazi program was inspired by smaller-scale compulsory sterilization programs in the United States, whose legality the Supreme Court affirmed in its 1927 decision in Buck v. Bell. Compulsory sterilization declined after 1942 in the U.S., but poor women of color have still been subjected to it in the post-war era, most notably in Puerto Rico and on Indian reservations.

There seems to be a common conception that if declining to recognize a phenomenon as rape is the same as trivializing it. And yet, we don’t call forced sterilization “rape,” nor should we. Doing so would obscure its specific nature. It would draw attention to the particular values that legitimated it: the pseudoscience of eugenics, contempt for disabled people, and society’s exaggerated deference to medical authority.

In short: something can still be an atrocity if it’s not called rape.

Insisting on accurate naming is not “language policing,” contrary to what Cara argued at The Curvature:

I also thought that a big part of anti-rape activism was about broadening our definition of rape, not narrowing it — throwing out the stranger jumping from the bushes with a knife as the only model of rape, and recreating a model that encompasses a wide variety violent experiences and promotes affirmative, enthusiastic, meaningful consent as minimum standard of decency rather than a nice bonus if you can get it. I thought that anti-rape activism was about acknowledging that rape is not just one thing, that there is more than one way to violate a person and to be violated, and that whether consent was given was more important than how much force was used. Especially in this context, the posts in question come off as nothing more than language policing, against particularly marginalized populations, no less.

(The rest of the post is here.)

First, I think we should be able to discuss the applicability of “rape” to specific phenomena without shaming other feminists as rape apologists, or saying that they are acting as oppressors, or blaming their words for harming victims. That happened in both Cara’s post and the comments to it. Critique is good; disagreement is healthy. But shaming only leads to groupthink, as the comment thread to that post shows. Only one commenter deviated even slightly from Cara’s position.

I actually don’t think that anti-rape activism is “about broadening our definition of rape” – not if this means extending the term into entirely different realms of violence that are not basically sexual. Of course I strongly support recognizing acquaintance rape, or marital rape, and other instances of sexual violence as just as real, traumatizing, and illegal as the “stranger in the bushes.” But “rape” is not an infinitely elastic term, nor should it be.

Specific names for specific violations are politically and analytically important because they push us to understand the roots of different forms of violence. In cases of medicalized violence, we need to consider the values that enable a scenario like this one, described at the blog Forever in Hell:

The problem isn’t that women in labor are uniquely in a position to be victimized by medical professionals. The victims of such medical professionals are not uniquely women in labor. In other words, you don’t have to be a woman in labor to be victimized by a medical professional. You simply have to be in a room with certain medical professionals.

Case in point: a friend of mine needed a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) in order to tell if he had Multiple Sclerosis or Lyme Disease. These two diseases can cause similar symptoms and similar MRI results, but have vastly different treatments, so distinguishing between the two is necessary. My friend is a large man, so he needed to have the lumbar puncture done at the hospital by a doctor.

Before the procedure began, the nurse told the doctor that the needle they had was too large, they needed to get another. “Too bad,” snapped the doctor. He had a schedule to keep, he had a golf game to get to. Waiting for someone to get the correct needle would take too long, so, before my friend could object, doctor forced the needle into my friend’s spine. When I say “forced”, I mean forced.

I could hear him scream from down the hall.

Then, to add insult to injury, the doctor refused to draw enough cerebral spinal fluid to allow for two tests. “We’ve got enough to test for MS, what more do we need?” he said.

That’s right. This doctor tortured a man so as not delay a golf game and didn’t even get the damn test done.

(The whole post is here.)

I don’t agree that doctors are the only offenders (as this post goes on to argue). The potential for abuse is greater among those who are more powerful, but other medical personnel aren’t outside the value system that enables medical battery.

But this example does show that the problem really is primarily with the values that underlie medicine. Yes, we’ve come a long way from the days when a white coat commanded automatic obedience. We have the patients’ rights movement to thank for that, which was driven in large part by feminist critics of medicine. However, as long as medical personnel remain unaccountable for violations of consent, some practitioners will abuse their power.

If we want to stop battery of women in childbirth, we’re not going to make much headway by combating rape culture. We need to call for more humane and democratic medicine. We need to demand medical education that would weed out arrogant abusers and reinforce respect for the patient. We need to insist that doctors hold each other and their subordinates responsible – and if they can’t, or won’t, the law needs to intervene, with civil or criminal remedies as appropriate.

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A D-Cup of Plenty

You might have heard about the bra that doubles as a gas mask. Myself, I’m less worried about terrorism than the threat of control-freak university administrators. For instance: As I’ve argued before, prohibition of alcohol is actually counterproductive on campuses because it only drives drinking underground, out of sight of potentially responsible peers and adults.

Now, at my reunion last weekend, even the band alumni were banned from drinking whenever we had a horn in hand. We really could have used the “WineRack” (pictured below), but it was sadly out of stock.

This device does have a couple of unfortunate associations for me. It’s just a little too close to a lactation fetish, which I can’t help but find a little squicky. It also reminds me of the fake rubber boob that Robert DeNiro sported in Meet the Fockers so he could “nurse” his grandchild.

Even so, I think we need one of these before the next band reunion in 2013.

(Thanks to reader and friend extraordinaire, KRS, for discovering it!)

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As I’ve written before, I’m not in any way opposed to casual sex. Still, I think there are real problems with hookup culture. The Duke “sex list” that I wrote about yesterday gives some clues to what’s wrong with it.

First, too often the sex is  just not very good for women. Karen Owen, the list’s author, raves about one guy – Subject 12 – who made sure she came first. This speaks volumes about what was likely lacking in her other encounters. But it’s not just her. I’ve heard innumerable stories from students who hooked up with (or refused) guys who were basically out to get serviced. Even if the guy is interested in mutual pleasure (and I think the majority of men are), he’s going to have to make a serious effort to get it right with a new partner if it’s only going to be a one night stand. He’s up against the orgasm gap, which is especially pronounced in younger women, as I wrote last spring.

Second, most of her hookups are drunken. She’s astonished when she discovers that sober sex can be pretty great. On “Subject 7″:

My second hookup with Subject 7 was an entirely new experience for me: a 100% sober booty call.

She enjoys it enough that they do it again. And again.

I don’t see anything wrong with having sex tipsy, some of the time. I’m not talking about the sort of inebriation that can result in sexual assault charges, just enjoying a drink or two – or at least having a pre-existing agreement, as a couple, that you’ll get drunk together and get naked. It’s hard to forge such an agreement if there’s no communication outside of bars and bedrooms, and it’s even harder in a one-night stand.

At any rate, it’s sort of sad if sober sex is a novelty. Here, too, I see a lot of students stuck in the same rut. Everyone relies on liquid courage. As long as that’s your only mode of interaction, you’re going to miss out on a lot of fun. (Maybe that’s where a Powerpoint presentation is useful – in jogging one’s memory?)

Owen also seems to view sex as being about conquest to a degree that feels highly transactional to me. The “subjects” are always described in terms of their alpha status. Lacrosse/baseball/soccer player. Good looking. Aggressive. While Owen also talks about who manages to be entertaining, these various status markers overshadow their personalities in most instances. Again, this is unsurprising. Because of its emphasis on surface traits, hookup culture is far better suited to assessing (and advertising!) status markers than it is to promoting mutually joyful, rewarding sex.

I do think it’s possible to have casual sex that’s not transactional. The obvious prerequisite for this is respect, an ability to see your potential partner as a full-fledged human being, and a sincere interest in your partner’s pleasure as well as your own. This is easier to achieve if you’re at least acquaintances before you begin.

It’s telling that Owen’s best sex was, apparently, also the least transactional, with the aforementioned Subject 12. He’d floated under her radar because he’d been in a relationship. Also, he evidently wasn’t her physical type, because the few times he’d been out to the bars she hadn’t noticed him. Significantly, they didn’t meet in a bar; they were hanging out with friends.

There’s some real sweetness in this story. Yes, they were hungover in the morning, but they hadn’t been sloshed, and they had no regrets by daylight – just more helpings of what they’d had the night before. What if hookup sex routinely ended this way? Well, most likely, there’d be a lot more hookups that segue into other sorts of relationships. For sure, there’d be fewer people just using their partner to get off, and a lot more having good, real sex.

Owen’s out in the “real world” now, beyond the comfy nest of Duke, and lying low while the hubbub over her list dies down. But for all of my students, male and female alike – I hope they’re having fun this weekend. I hope they’re being safe. And I hope, for those who do hook up, a “Subject 12″ experience, brimming with mutual lust, good humor, and a sense of truly being appreciated.

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