[CN: references to sexual assault]
Another day, another article in the British press which tries to sell people the idea that men and women are somehow different species who can only communicate via poorly-thought out list articles. This one, however, goes beyond the usual “Men are from Mars” claptrap to implying that sexual assault is really a question of bad manners. A piece appearing in Metro offers the reader “27 Things That Men Do In Bed That Women Hate”, which include the following
There is a dangerous category confusion going on here. To point out the surely totally obvious, wearing unattractive underwear is not the same as forcing a partner into sex acts which they have not agreed to. As Louise Pennington has pointed out, this is not “rough sex” if it is non-consensual, it is rape. This is a list of sexual assaults, mixed up somehow with the contents of a rather shoddy dating article. It recalls the suggestion made by George Galloway’s description of the rape charges facing Julian Assange as “bad sexual etiquette”, which he followed up by arguing that once you are involved in a sexual encounter you cannot be raped. Metro’s article presents extremely similar assumptions: that consenting to sex once is consenting to whatever the man has decided is going to happen.
The broader narrative being presented by pieces like this tells us that sex is something men do to women, and women endure as best they can. As I’ve written before, this narrative cannot see the difference between sex and sexualised violence, It assumes that sex becomes sexier for men the less it involves their partner’s desire or consent. Sexual acts cease to become something a couple do for their mutual pleasure, and instead are imagined on a scale of what a man can “get her to do”, or at least put up with. It shares a lot of ideas with the fetishization of female virginity as the mark of a woman’s worth, depicting sex as something which men want and women can be pressured into giving them. That principle moves seamlessly into the assumption that sex which a woman actually wants can’t be good sex. That men should regard their partner’s reluctance or distaste for any particular activity as a mark of how enjoyable it will be. This vision of sex presents pleasure as a horrific zero-sum game: men’s enjoyment has to come at the cost of women’s discomfort, pain and fear.
This is pernicious rubbish, of course, but it is encoded into so much of the culture and media we consume every day. Articles like this one in Metro present being subjected to sexual assault as part of a normal relationship. A consequence of boys being boys, like them wanting vindaloo instead of fishcakes, or insisting you rent the movie they prefer. Men, it says, are going to try to “get away” this stuff, and it’s bad manners, but what can you do? This is an insult to men and a danger to women. Sexual assault isn’t a comic quirk of blokehood, it’s an epidemic in our society, and articles like this help normalise it. In the long run, they make women less safe.