#MeToo and why sex is in no danger

The status quo is beginning to regroup after the initial onslaught of the #MeToo movement. Of course, it’s more effective to have women to make its case. Keeps everything polite. It’s just a bunch of women with different opinions, right?

Recently, for instance, Catherine Deneuve, who has been a movie star since the 1960s, and her co-signatories lamented the loss of sexual fun if men had to start paying attention to what women want. As Laura Kipnis points out at the end of her excellent article:

It’s the historical amnesia of the Deneuve document that’s so objectionable. To the extent that women’s bodies are still treated as public property by men, whether that means groping us or deciding what we can do with our uteruses, women do not have civic equality. To miss that point is to miss the political importance and the political lineage of #MeToo: the latest step in a centuries long political struggle for women to simply control our own bodies. …

The political requirement of the post-#MeToo moment is insisting that control of our bodies is the beginning of freedom. Not its terminus, but a starting point. Freedom needs to be more than notional, it also needs to be embodied.

Autonomy, freedom, civil rights are the substance of #MeToo.

But I wanted to address the silly end of the spectrum: the concept that somehow sex will become a robotic interaction requiring permission slips signed in triplicate.

The problem is that we (humans) don’t have a reality-based concept of what sex is.

No, really. Hear me out.

One school of thought imagines that it’s anything to do with sex organs. So, if sex organs are involved, rape and torture are somehow about sex. As if anyone spends their days dreaming about how to be brutalized. To paraphrase Kipnis a bit, “It sounds like an especially Catholic form of [sex], involving much mortification of the flesh.”

The intense stupidity of that definition has led to the recent refinement centering consent. Sex is still about using sex organs, but it has to be preceded by the people involved saying, “Oh, awright already.”

That means out-and-out crimes can’t hide behind sex, but it doesn’t solve the problem of jerks or of the social power they hold. Jill Filipovic wrote an insightful article pointing out that “sex in a misogynist world” has thousands of ways of giving women colorless unsatisfying experiences at best. They may not be assault, but they have the same philosophy: women don’t count.

#MeToo exploded at that attitude. The movement wants the end of the entire steaming pile of crap, and that’s what has some people so worried. They may not really see why sex crimes are crimes and not sex, but they’re learning to shut up about it. They’ve heard of the concept that the woman should be getting something she wants out of sex and they’re so broadminded they’re fine with that if it doesn’t require anything from them.

But the #MeToo movement is also objecting to, well, what can you call it but plain old rudeness? That lack of consideration you dump on worthless people because there’s not a damn thing they can do about it. Where will it all end? (Yes, of course those same men are quite capable of being polite to bosses and policemen, but women are so weird and mysterious, you know? They don’t understand jokes. They take offense at mistakes.) Nobody will be able to do anything and you’ll never get any sex again.

(In one limited respect it is a valid concern. We’re dealing with a scale that goes from criminal to socially unacceptable to rude. At the nether ends of the scale, the sorts of situations where exposure or job loss or jail are good consequences, due process is a real concern. Margaret Atwood was jumped on by the twitverse for having the temerity to point that out. Due process may not always entail the full nine legal yards. It might be less formal ways of verifying the truth of complaints. But whatever its precise form, the point is to avoid lumping the innocent in with the guilty. How can anybody, whose whole complaint is an inability to find justice for themselves, insist on depriving others of justice?)

So, to return to the worry that sex as we know it will vanish and nobody will ever get any again, that would be true. If sex is something to get, there’s no part of that spectrum that’s any use to the thing being got. Not the relatively less harmful end of intravaginal masturbation, and growing worse all the way down till it disappears into criminal types of getting. That’s why Rebecca Traister in her excellent article points out that consensual sex can still be bad and quotes Dusenbery saying that what’s needed is to “promote a specific vision of what sexual equality could entail.”

Well, here’s my version of that vision.

Have you ever been with a group of good friends, sharing jokes that just get funnier and funnier until you’re all helpless with laughter? Possibly the individual jokes aren’t even all that hilarious, but the mood catches everyone and gets stronger in the sharing. If you told yourself the same joke in an empty room, it might be funny but you’d barely smile.

You see where that analogy is headed. That’s how to view sex. It’s a feeling of play, and fun, and delight, and pleasure that’s gets stronger in the sharing. And it’s definitely not the same by yourself in an empty room. Sex organs help trigger the feeling, but the feeling is the point, not the organs. Just as breath and vocal cords enable laughter. The feeling of fun is the point, not vocal exercise.

Another way the analogy is useful is to demonstrate that sex is not and cannot be on any spectrum where sharing is impossible. If the boss tells a joke and everybody has to dutifully laugh, it’s not fun at all. And that’s analogous to the relatively benign, masturbatory end of the scale of unshared sex. There’s no equivalent for the tortured end because nobody ever terrorizes someone into immobility and chokes puffs of air out of them and tries to call that laughter.

Power differentials preclude sharing, and the bigger the difference the less sharing is possible.

But wait, I hear objections at the back. Men get off. They don’t care about the rest of these fancy sex feelings.

That would be like saying sneezing is the same as laughter. It is not. Laughter happens when you’re having fun. Sneezing, like orgasm without feelings, is just a reflex. It’s a release, but it’s not exactly fun. The two are not the same. One doesn’t feel like happiness. The other does.

Besides, if getting off was the only requirement, everybody would simply masturbate. Much simpler, if the result was the same. It’s not. Instead, women turn themselves inside out and their lives upside down in the hope of sharing good time with men. And men bend the whole society into making sure women need them and will be there for them. If men didn’t care about loving feelings, they wouldn’t need to try to turn women into some kind of domestic pets trained to provide them.

Trying to keep humans as sex pets requires crosslinkage between dominance and sex. That may work to justify keeping human pets, but it doesn’t change the fundamental incompatibility between sharing fun and forcing submission. You can crosslink the use of sex organs and dominance all you want, it’ll never bring happiness. It’s like crosslinking a bicycle and a sledgehammer and expecting the combination to bake a cake. None of those things work together or achieve any result. It’s a fundamental error about what sex is.

The result is an irony floating on top of the cosmic waste that is patriarchy: you’ll only get the highs it promises when you ditch it.

The thing is, love and life and laughter will always pull people like the sun pulls the earth. People will always stream toward sex that feels good and away from pain and humiliation. Sex is in no danger. The patriarchy is.

 

Crossposted from Acid Test


38 Comments on “#MeToo and why sex is in no danger”

  1. quixote says:

    (I have to be out and about a whole lot today, but I’ll be jumping into comments as soon as I can.)

    • bostonboomer says:

      This is brilliant, Quixote. Thank you for sharing this post. There’s much food for thought here.

      I particularly like the analogy to shared laughter. Also the notion of men keeping women as pets.

      Awhile ago I watched some old Dick Van Dyke shows with my brother’s family. I was shocked at how “Rob” and “Laura” interacted. It was clear that in those days wives were seen as property. The wives had to use “feminine wiles” to get their husbands to treat them kindly.

      The best part of this experience was that my nephews were shocked by the attitudes toward women depicted in this show from the 1960s. That seems to indicate a positive change in societal attitudes.

      Obviously, we still have a long way to go, of course.

      • Enheduanna says:

        It can be jarring to watch TCM as well – sexual and racial stereotypes abound.

        • bostonboomer says:

          It’s odd, but we also watched some I Love Lucy episodes, and IMO Lucy and Ethel have much more agency on that show than in the shows from the early-to-mid-1960s when the “happy housewife myth was at its apex.

          • quixote says:

            Yes, indeed. You’ve put your finger on why I *do* love Lucy. Even when she’s doing stereotypical husband-wheedling, there’s no sense that he’s got some kind of final power over the situation. I wonder if that’s because she ran that show as well as acted in it?

          • Enheduanna says:

            quixote – that was my immediate thought – Lucille Ball was a powerful woman in her own right.

          • Catscatscats says:

            IIRC, Desi wasn’t the sterotypical spouse either. Would a white male have tolerated Lucy’s (hilarious) shenanigans? Yes, I know, i’m a cynic. Excellent post, quixote!

          • lililam says:

            Cats, I think you’re onto something, though. I could always relate to I Love Lucy- my mom was an outspoken, strong blonde (still is at 91), whereas my dad was a barely English speaking immigrant with dark, exotic features. My brother and I resembled my dad more than my mom, like “little Ricky” and Lucy junior. I think one of the interesting dynamics was that my father was always fAcing challenges at work and in the larger culture due to his background, etc., and deferred to my mom a lot, in order for our family to survive. It was definitely different than the Laura and Rob Petrie dynamic.

    • dakinikat says:

      Thanks so much for the wonderful post. I’ve watched this movement spin off in ways I find questionable too. You’ve made some great points here. It is about women’s moral agency and also about our right to our bodies. Great post!!!

    • Minkoff Minx says:

      What a great way to break your Sky Dancing Cherry….bwahahah! Welcome to the front page…I am so fucking happy you are here! Awesome post…juicy.

  2. Enheduanna says:

    Fantastic post quixote. I saw yesterday Brigitte Bardot is also slamming the #metoo movement. It’s too bad they think their experiences speak for everyone.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Yes, that was interesting. Of course she’s in her 80s, and French attitudes may be different.

      Brigitte Bardot calls actresses alleging sexual harassment ‘hypocritical’

      “There are many actresses who flirt with producers in order to get a role. Then, in order to be talked about, they will say they have been harassed. In reality, rather than benefiting them, it harms them.”

      Bardot also said she was never herself a victim during her career, which began in the 1950s, and said she instead enjoyed some of the behaviour which many others would reject.

      “Me, I was never the victim of sexual harassment and I found it charming when I was told that I was beautiful or I had a nice little backside. This kind of compliment is nice,” she said.

      Bardot must not have read the stories about Weinstein if she thinks we’re talking about “flirting.”

      • quixote says:

        I doubt that “it’s cultural” really works as an argument. Human beings don’t suddenly enjoy humiliation if they were born in Nambia (just to pull a country out of a hat :)). The French women I’ve known certainly didn’t subscribe to Bardot’s point of view. (French men? Sure. All the time. But that’s not exactly cultural either.) I think Bardot (and Deneuve) had to tell herself it was fine in order to be a movie star. Which worked for her.

  3. quixote says:

    Another interesting point re consent that came to mind because of this: “A number of people in my mentions are putting a lot of effort into arguing mistaken belief in consent, and I want you guys to have a long, hard think about why you’re so invested in this.”

    Consent is the only way to draw a(n) (unsatisfactory) line on the get-sex-women-don’t-count spectrum. Seems to me seeing that as the be-all end-all is a symptom of being too invested in the wrong spectrum of understanding sex.

    If you see sex as sharing feelings, consent is part of every aspect of it.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Absolutely. As you wrote, as long as society doesn’t recognize that, women cannot control their own bodies and thus do not have equality.

  4. quixote says:

    I should probably be explicit that I think women could be just as big selfish droogs as men if the entire society was set up to hand that to them. The @manwhohasitall twitter feed is the hilarious version of what would be a horrible mindset in reality. We’re so many light years away from that though, that manwhohasitall is funny and this whole piece has been framed according to our current misogynist reality.

  5. NW Luna says:

    Excellent post, quixote!

    • NW Luna says:

      Those last two paragraphs gracefully and emphatically sum up the heart of the matter. Oh, and the rest is good too — your thoughtfully reasoned description of the problem and the goal. But I especially like when a piece has such a satisfying end.

      I hadn’t heard that Atwood was getting lambasted for her sensible position that due process should be carried out. Reversing the injustice of a man’s word always being taken over the woman’s to a new environment where a woman’s word is always taken over the man’s? That’s wrong as well as short-sighted. That would set society up so that women could indeed be as “selfish droogs as men” are today.

      What we want and need is a culture that views sexual activity as a “pleasure that gets stronger in the sharing.” That’s the vision we nurture.

  6. bostonboomer says:

    Dakinikat still has electrical problems and no internet, but she found a neighbor who thinks he can fix the electricity. Part of her house is out and he thinks it’s a breaker wire or something. Once that’s fixed, she get get the internet fixed, hopefully on Sunday.

    • dakinikat says:

      We spent 2 expensive hours finding stuff that wasn’t the problem. Traced it to one socket that seemed to turn everything on for a moment but it was fleeting. I think whoever wired the addition did it wrong and it just finally has decided to not work.

      • quixote says:

        Hey, dak! Does this mean you have electricity? Or that you’re taking a break at the library? I hope it’s the first one!

      • NW Luna says:

        That sounds so frustrating. Weird wiring seems all too common in older houses. Hope it can be fixed soon and without costing a lot.

        Our house had some old cables which ended inside a kitchen cabinet — the cable was just snipped off, with a bit of wire showing through the tape. We thought someone had been lazy and just hadn’t removed it after re-wiring the kitchen. Turned out the wires were still live. I was lucky I didn’t get a stronger shock.

  7. Minkoff Minx says:

    Dammit:

    • NW Luna says:

      Fractured hip — that would be terribly painful. Fentanyl is extremely potent: around 100 x more than morphine by weight. In the patch form absorption can be decreased or increased by other meds and by body temperature changes. Even after a patch is removed it can take a day or two before the already-absorbed drug is gone from the body. All this makes it dangerously easy to overdose.

      • bostonboomer says:

        He could have gotten a hip replacement. My dad had a fractured hip in his 80s and he got one. He still had pain, but he certainly wasn’t prescribed those dangerous painkillers. It sounds like Petty might have been doctor shopping.

        • NW Luna says:

          Agree, he would have been better off with a hip replacement. Sounds like he was putting touring over his own health. I just now looked at the list of all the meds he was taking — multiple forms of opioids — it’s a wonder this didn’t happen earlier.

  8. NW Luna says:

    WaPo front page this morning:

    GOVERNMENT SHUTS DOWN AS SENATE FAILS TO REACH DEAL
    Congress will reconvene today to try to find a quick solution

    the White House drew a hard line immediately after midnight, saying they would not negotiate over a central issue — immigration — until government funding is restored.

    A government shutdown causing employee furloughs has never occurred under unified party control of Congress and the White House.

    Massive confusion spread through federal bureaucracy ahead of shutdown deadline
    Trump administration officials painted radically different scenarios of whether basic governmental functions would continue or halt if an accord was not reached.

    Trump must be tantrumming on the floor of the Oval Office, demanding Mexico pay for the wall, a case of Diet Coke, and all brown people not born here expelled immediately — except for the ones working at Mar-a-Lago.

    • Enheduanna says:

      I think they mostly use Eastern European immigrants at Mar-a-Lago although I was shocked to learn they had some Haitians.

      I bet he’s still going to have his gala $100K-a-plate fundraiser tonight, isn’t he?

  9. NW Luna says:

  10. Sweet Sue says:

    Superb, quixote, just superb. The line that really hit me was “The thing is, love and life and laughter will always pull people like the sun pulls the earth” Allow me to be negative for a moment: in sixty seven years of living, it hasn’t escaped my attention that some people find the sight of a woman publicly laughing out loud shameful and disgusting. In another age, I would have faced the dunking stool.