Quotulatiousness

July 10, 2014

Sometimes, “a phase” really is just a phase

Filed under: Randomness — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:21

Lindsay Leigh Bentley contrasts her own “tomboy” childhood with that of Ryland, who was born female but whose parents have transitioned her (at age 5):

I have no degree in early childhood development, nor have I studied psychology. I didn’t even graduate from College.

I am also not here to pass judgement on Ryland’s parents. I believe that they are doing what they believe to be the most loving thing for their child. I’m simply sharing my story because I see so much of my 5-year-old self in this child.

I was born the second daughter to two loving, amazing, supportive parents. They would go on to have 2 more daughters. The four of us couldn’t be more different, even down to our hair and eye color. Our parents embraced our differences and allowed us to grow as individuals, not concerned with the social “norms” for girls. I often joke that I was the boy my dad never had. My dad is a free spirit, 100% unconcerned with what people think of him, and he thought nothing of “out of the box” behavior. I function more as a firstborn than a second born (however, this does not make me the firstborn, amiright?)

[...]

I wanted to be a boy. Desperately wanted to be a boy. I thought boys had more fun. I felt like a boy in the way that our society views genders. I liked blue and green more than pink and purple. I remember sitting up as high as I could climb in our huge mulberry tree, bow & arrow in hand, trying to kiss my elbow (a neighbor lady had told me that if I could accomplish this, that I would turn into a boy, which was what I wanted in that moment, as a child, more than anything.)

Thankfully, my parents didn’t adhere to the archaic stereotypes that “boys like blue” and “girls like pink;” that “boys play with dinosaurs, and girls play with dolls.” Had they told me that liking these things made me a boy, I would have concluded that I was a boy.

They just let me be me. They let me be a girl who wore jeans more often than skirts. They let me play with slingshots rather than princess wands. They didn’t conclude that I was gay, or transgender. They didn’t put me in a box that would shape my future, at the expense of my own free will.

July 3, 2014

Jeremy Bentham’s “secret” writings

Filed under: Britain, History, Liberty, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:43

In the Guardian, Faramerz Dabhoiwala reviews a recent “discovery” that Jeremy Bentham, far from being an innocent about sexual matters (as portrayed by his disciple John Stuart Mill among others), had thought deeply on the topic and had written much. After his death, these writings were ignored for fear that they would discredit his wider body of work.

Bodily passion was not just a part of Bentham’s life: it was fundamental to his thought. After all, the maximisation of pleasure was the central aim of utilitarian ethics. In place of the traditional Christian stress on bodily restraint and discipline, Bentham sought, like many other 18th-century philosophers, to promote the benefits of economic consumption, the enjoyment of worldly appetites and the liberty of natural passions. This modern, enlightened view of the purpose of life spawned a revolution in sexual attitudes, and no European scholar of the time pursued its implications as thoroughly as Bentham. To think about sex, he noted in 1785, was to consider “the greatest, and perhaps the only real pleasures of mankind”: it must therefore be “the subject of greatest interest to mortal men”. Throughout his adult life, from the 1770s to the 1820s, he returned again and again to the topic. Over many hundreds of pages of private notes and treatises, he tried to strip away all the irrational and religious prohibitions that surrounded sexual activity.

Of all enjoyments, Bentham reasoned, sex was the most universal, the most easily accessible, the most intense, and the most copious — nothing was more conducive to happiness. An “all-comprehensive liberty for all modes of sexual gratification” would therefore be a huge, permanent benefit to humankind: if consenting adults were freed to do whatever they liked with their own bodies, “what calculation shall compute the aggregate mass of pleasure that may be brought into existence?”

The main impetus for Bentham’s obsession with sexual freedom was his society’s harsh persecution of homosexual men. Since about 1700, the increasing permissiveness towards what was seen as “natural” sex had led to a sharpened abhorrence across the western world of supposedly “unnatural” acts. Throughout Bentham’s lifetime, homosexuals were regularly executed in England, or had their lives ruined by the pillory, exile or public disgrace. He was appalled at this horrible prejudice. Sodomy, he argued, was not just harmless but evidently pleasurable to its participants. The mere fact that the custom was abhorrent to the majority of the community no more justified the persecution of sodomites than it did the killing of Jews, heretics, smokers, or people who ate oysters — “to destroy a man there should certainly be some better reason than mere dislike to his Taste, let that dislike be ever so strong”.

Though ultimately he never published his detailed arguments for sexual liberty for fear of the odium they would bring on his general philosophy, Bentham felt compelled to think them through in detail, to write about them repeatedly and to discuss them with his acquaintances. In one surviving letter to a friend, he joked that his rereading of the Bible had finally revealed that the sin for which God had punished the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah was not in fact buggery, but the taking of snuff. He and his secretary had consequently taken a solemn oath to hide their snuff-pouches and nevermore to indulge “that anti-Christian and really unnatural practice” in front of one another. Meanwhile, they were now both happily free to enjoy “the liberty of taking in the churchyard or in the market place, or in any more or less public or retired spot with Man, Woman or Beast, the amusement till now supposed to be so unrighteous, but now discovered to be a matter of indifference”. Among those with whom Bentham discussed his arguments for sexual toleration were such influential thinkers and activists as William Godwin, Francis Place and James Mill (John Stuart Mill’s father). Bentham’s ultimate hope, “for the sake of the interests of humanity”, was that his private elaboration and advocacy of these views might contribute to their eventual free discussion and general acceptance. “At any rate,” he once explained, even if his writings could not be published in his own lifetime, “when I am dead mankind will be the better for it”.

LGBT? LGBTQQI? LGBTQQIAP? Or even LGBTTIQQ2SA?

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:32

The coalition of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and trans* people has a problem: the big tent approach requires that they acknowledge the members of their coalition more directly, leading to a situation where they’ve “had to start using Sanskrit because we’ve run out of letters.”

“We have absolutely nothing in common with gay men,” says Eda, a young lesbian, “so I have no idea why we are lumped in together.”

Not everyone agrees. Since the late 1980s, lesbians and gay men have been treated almost as one generic group. In recent years, other sexual minorities and preferences have joined them.

The term LGBT, representing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, has been in widespread use since the early 1990s. Recent additions — queer, “questioning” and intersex — have seen the term expand to LGBTQQI in many places. But do lesbians and gay men, let alone the others on the list, share the same issues, values and goals?

Anthony Lorenzo, a young gay journalist, says the list has become so long, “We’ve had to start using Sanskrit because we’ve run out of letters.”

Bisexuals have argued that they are disliked and mistrusted by both straight and gay people. Trans people say they should be included because they experience hatred and discrimination, and thereby are campaigning along similar lines as the gay community for equality.

But what about those who wish to add asexual to the pot? Are asexual people facing the same category of discrimination. And “polyamorous”? Would it end at LGBTQQIAP?

There is scepticism from some activists. Paul Burston, long-time gay rights campaigner, suggests that one could even take a longer formulation and add NQBHTHOWTB (Not Queer But Happy To Help Out When They’re Busy). Or it could be shortened to GLW (Gay, Lesbian or Whatever).

An event in Canada is currently advertising itself as an “annual festival of LGBTTIQQ2SA culture and human rights”, with LGBTTIQQ2SA representing “a broad array of identities such as, but not limited to, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, intersex, queer, questioning, two-spirited, and allies”. Two-spirited is a term used by Native Americans to describe more than one gender identity.

Note that once you go down the rabbit hole of ever-expanding naming practices for ever-more-finely-divided groups you end up with the 58 gender choices of Facebook and instant demands to add a 59th, 60th, and 61st choice or else you’re being offensively exclusive to those who can’t identify with the first 58 choices. I’d bet that one of the criticisms Julie Bindel will face for this article is that she uses the hateful, out-dated, and offensive terms “transsexual” and “transgender” when everyone knows the “correct” term is now “Trans*” (perhaps deliberately chosen to ensure that you can’t successfully Google it).

June 26, 2014

The second volume of Patterson’s biography of Robert Heinlein

Filed under: History, Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 16:43

RAH by Patterson Volume 2In the Washington Post, Michael Dirda reviews the second (and final) volume of William Patterson’s Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue With His Century.

Robert Anson Heinlein (1907-1988) possessed an astonishing gift for fast-paced narrative, an exceptionally engaging voice and a willingness to boldly go where no writer had gone before. In “— All You Zombies—” a transgendered time traveler impregnates his younger self and thus becomes his own father and mother. The protagonist of Tunnel in the Sky is black, and the action contains hints of interracial sex, not the usual thing in a 1955 young adult book. While Starship Troopers (1959) championed the military virtues of service and sacrifice, Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) became a bible for the flower generation, blurring sex and religion and launching the vogue word “grok.”

Heinlein’s finest work in the short story was produced in the late 1930s and early ’40s, mainly for the legendary editor of Astounding, John W. Campbell. But by 1948, when this volume opens, “The Roads Must Roll,” “By His Bootstraps, “Gulf” and “Requiem” are behind him. The onetime pulp writer has broken into the Saturday Evening Post and Boy’s Life, married his third (and last) wife, Virginia, and settled in Colorado Springs, where he designs and builds a state-of-the-art automated house. Apart from his occasional involvement with Hollywood, as in scripting Destination Moon, he will devote the rest of his career mainly to novels.

[...]

Like his fascinating but long-winded first volume, the second half of Patterson’s biography is difficult to judge fairly. Packed with facts both trivial and significant, relying heavily on the possibly skewed memories of the author’s widow, and utterly reverent throughout, volume two emphasizes Heinlein the husband, traveler, independent businessman and political activist. Above all, the book celebrates the intense civilization of two that Heinlein and his wife created. There is almost nothing in the way of literary comment or criticism.

Though Heinlein can do no wrong in his biographer’s eyes, if you use yours to look in Patterson’s voluminous endnotes, you will occasionally find confirmation that the writer could be casually cruel as well as admirably generous, at once true to his beliefs and unpleasantly narrow-minded and inflexible about them. Today we would call Heinlein’s convictions libertarian, his personal philosophy grounded in absolute freedom, individual responsibility and an almost religiously inflected patriotism. Heinlein could thus be a confirmed nudist and member of several Sunshine Clubs as well as a grass-roots Barry Goldwater Republican.

For the record, I loved this volume even more than I loved the first one. But Dirda’s comments are fair: Patterson worked hard to present Heinlein in as positive a light as possible, so it’s not unreasonable to suspect that the great man’s character quirks could make him difficult and awkward to deal with at times (to be kind). In the last post, I talked about the adolescent Heinlein as being “probably a pretty toxic individual” and that aspect of his character can still be discerned in the recounting of his later years.

June 24, 2014

Stereotypes, “gaydar”, and sexual orientation

Filed under: Randomness, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:38

In (of all places) the Toronto Star, Brian Platt says that “gaydar” is a real thing and that it works better for conservatives than for liberals:

In less than the blink of an eye, your subconscious “gaydar” makes a judgment about someone’s sexual orientation based entirely on facial traits — and it’s usually right.

So says the research of Nicholas Rule, a University of Toronto psychologist giving a talk on the subject this week as part of WorldPride. “The gist of it is that people can accurately judge someone’s sexual orientation from very minimal information about them,” Rule said in an interview.

“You only need to see a face for less than 40 milliseconds to judge sexual orientation with the same level of accuracy that you get if you take all the time in the world.

“To put that in perspective, it takes 400 milliseconds to blink your eye.”

Facial “gaydar” is 65-per-cent accurate on average, according to Rule and his co-researchers at U of T’s Social Perception & Cognition Laboratory. These judgments can be reliably made based on the eyes alone, though facial shape and texture are also big factors.

“Conservatives are more accurate than liberals in making these judgments when they study a face, because conservatives are more likely to use stereotypes,” Rule said. “Of course, stereotypes are often wrong, but they do have what we call kernels of truth. Liberals tend to not want to use stereotypes in making judgments, and it impairs their accuracy.”

June 15, 2014

Men and women really are different

Filed under: Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:10

CH posts a pair of charts derived from user information (which may or may not be accurate) on the dating site OkCupid, showing the preferences of men and women for dating partners over time:

Men and women are different 1

Women’s preferences for men over time

As women get older, in general they prefer older men. Seems reasonable, right? CH acidly comments “Cougar glorification agit-prop to the contrary notwithstanding, women are not keen on dating men younger than themselves”. But men are not at all the same (at least for the OkCupid crowd):

Men and women are different 2

Men, at least in this sample, are all feelthy horndogs who like younger women. And that doesn’t change much the older they get…

May 6, 2014

The hidden epidemic of rape on campus

Filed under: Law, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:34

I recently saw a claim that nearly one in five US women attending university are subject to rape or sexual assault during their academic careers. If the situation is that dangerous, why haven’t the universities and campus police done something to crack down on this crime wave? That’s because it’s not actually true: only by merging a whole range of unwelcome or unwanted contacts (or even post facto “regrets”) in with genuine criminal activity do we get to a number close to 20% of the female student population. This is not in any way to minimize the seriousness of actual rape, but conflating everything from “microaggressions” through sexual harassment all the way to sexual assault in the same category is a terrible way to help those who are the actual victims of crime. In Time, Cathy Young discusses the recent White House report on campus sexual assault:

The administration’s effort, which made headlines last week with a report by the White House task force on campus sexual assault and new Department of Education guidelines, has an indisputably noble goal. Unfortunately, it is marred by flaws, including alarmist statistics, fuzzy definitions and a polarizing ideology of presumed guilt.

One of the foundations of this crusade is the staggering claim that one in five female students are sexually assaulted while in college. This figure comes from the 2005-2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study [PDF], which, as Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler has noted, was conducted at just two schools, with a fairly low response rate. Moreover, the survey’s data for “drug- and/or alcohol-enabled sexual assault” (about 70% of the incidents in the study) lump together unconsciousness or incapacitation with intoxication that may cloud one’s judgment and affect consent. Notably, despite widespread sexual assault awareness programs, two-thirds of the college women whom the study counted as victims of drug- or alcohol-enabled rape did not think they were raped, and few felt they had suffered psychological harm.

University of Michigan economist Mark Perry also points out that, if you take police records from university campuses and factor in the White House estimate that only about 12% of campus sexual offenses are reported, you don’t get anywhere near a one-in-five victimization rate over the course of a woman’s college attendance — more like 1 in 20 or 1 in 30.

April 19, 2014

Mammary mummery

Filed under: Media, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:19

Everyone knows that only poor, lower-class men prefer women with larger breasts, right? There are even “scientific” studies that “prove” it. Michael Siegel is not convinced:

Sigh. It seems I am condemned to writing endlessly about mammary glands. I don’t have an objection to the subject but I do wish someone else would approach these “studies” with any degree of skepticism.

This is yet another iteration of the breast size study I lambasted last year and it runs into the same problems: the use of CG figures instead of real women, the underlying inbuilt assumptions and, most importantly, ignoring the role that social convention plays in this kind of analysis. To put it simply: men may feel a social pressure to choose less busty CG images, a point I’ll get to in a moment. I don’t see that this study sheds any new light on the subject. Men of low socioeconomic status might still feel less pressure to conform to social expectations, something this study does not seem to address at all. Like most studies of human sexuality, it makes the fundamental mistake of assuming that what people say is necessary reflective of what they think or do and not what is expected of them.

The authors think that men’s preference for bustier women when they are hungry supports their thesis that the breast fetish is connected to feeding young (even though is zero evidence that large breasts nurse better than small ones). I actually think their result has no bearing on their assumption. Why would hungrier men want fatter women? Because they want to eat them? To nurse off them? I can think of good reasons why hungry men would feel less bound by social convention, invest a little less thought in a silly social experiment and just press the button for the biggest boobs. I think that hungry men are more likely to give you an honest opinion and not care that preferring the bustier woman is frowned upon. Hunger is known to significantly alter people’s behavior in many subtle ways but these authors narrow it to one dimension, a dimension that may not even exist.

And why not run a parallel test on women? If bigger breasts somehow provoke a primal hunger response, might that preference be built into anyone who nursed in the first few years of life?

No, this is another garbage study that amounts to saying that “low-class” men like big boobs while “high-class” men are more immune to the lure of the decolletage and so … something. I don’t find that to be useful or insightful or meaningful. I find that it simply reinforces an existing preconception.

There is a cultural bias in some of the upper echelons of society against large breasts and men’s attraction to them. That may sound crazy in a society that made Pamela Anderson a star. But large breasts and the breast fetish are often seen, by elites, as a “low class” thing. Busty women in high-end professions sometimes have problems being taken seriously. Many busty women, including my wife, wear minimizer bras so they’ll be taken more seriously (or look less matronly). I’ve noticed that in the teen shows my daughter sometimes watches, girls with curves are either ditzy or femme fatales. In adult comedies, busty women are frequently portrayed as ditzy airheads. Men who are attracted to buxom women are often depicted as low-class, unintelligent and uneducated. Think Al Bundy.

April 15, 2014

Finland to issue “Tom of Finland” erotic postage stamps

Filed under: Europe — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:02

Unlike other Scandinavian countries, Finland isn’t noted as a trend-setter in LGBT issues: still not allowing same-sex marriage even though homosexuality was legalized in 1971. Finland also classified transvestism as an illness until 2011. Knowing that, it’s hard to credit that Itella Posti, the Finnish postal service, will be selling these stamps beginning in September.

From their English-language website:

Finland issues Tom of Finland stampsIn September-October 2014, Itella Posti will release seven new sets of stamps, containing a total of 33 new designs. It is a great collection to choose from; the subjects of the new stamps include male drawings by Tom of Finland, autumnal yard and garden scenes painted by Urpo Martikainen, and Jaakko Tähti’s photos of Finnish bridges. Other subjects for the end-of-the-year stamps include signs of sky and the change in everyday Finland — and, of course, Christmas.

The autumn’s stamp series begins September 8 with Tom of Finland, who is considered one of the most well-known Finnish artists around the world. His emphatically masculine homoerotic drawings have attained iconic status in their genre and had an influence on, for instance, pop culture and fashion. In his works, Tom of Finland utilized the self-irony and humor typical of subcultures.

During his career, Tom of Finland produced more than 3,500 drawings. The two drawings on the stamp sheet were selected by graphic artist Timo Berry, who designed the stamp, and Susanna Luoto, the Finnish representative of the foundation named after Tom of Finland operating in Los Angeles.

The drawings on the stamp sheet represent strong and confident male figures typical of their designer. “The sheet portrays a sensual life force and being proud of oneself. There is never too much of that in this northern country,” says Timo Berry. The miniature sheet contains three 1st class self-adhesive stamps.

The artist behind Tom of Finland was Touko Laaksonen (1920-1991), whose profile is extended in the exhibition Sealed with a Secret – Correspondence of Tom of Finland opening in the Postal Museum September 6. The exhibition will display the busy correspondence of Laaksonen from the early 1940s to his dying year, 1991. The exhibition will be displayed until March 29, 2015, in Museum Centre Vapriikki in the new Postal Museum to be opened in Tampere in September.

March 24, 2014

QotD: On Women’s Power

Filed under: Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:05

If you have never been sexually attracted to women, you will never quite understand the monumental power of female sexuality, except by proxy or in theory, nor will you quite know the immense advantage it gives us over men. Dating women as a man was a lesson in female power, and it made me, of all things, into a momentary misogynist, which I suppose was the best indicator that my experiment had worked. I saw my own sex from the other side, and I disliked women irrationally for a while because of it. I disliked their superiority, their accusatory smiles, their entitlement to choose or dash me with a fingertip, an execution so lazy, so effortless, it made the defeats and even the successes unbearably humiliating. Typical male power feels by comparison like a blunt instrument, its salvos and field strategies laughably remedial next to the damage a woman can do with a single cutting word: no.

Sex is most powerful in the mind, and to men, in the mind, women have a lot of power, not only to arouse, but to give worth, self-worth, meaning, initiation, sustenance, everything. Seeing this more clearly through my experience, I began to wonder whether the most extreme men resort to violence with women because they think that’s all they have, their one pathetic advantage over all she seems to hold above them. I make no excuses for this. There are none. But as a man I felt vaguely attuned to this mind-set or its possibility. I did not inhabit it, but I thought I saw how rejection might get twisted beyond recognition in the mind of a discarded male where misogyny and ultimately rape may be a vicious attempt to take what cannot be taken because it has not been bestowed.

There were other surprising discoveries. With all the anger I felt flowing in my direction — anger directed at the abstraction called men — I was not expecting to find, nestled within the confines of female heterosexuality, a deep love and genuine attraction for real men. Not for women in men’s bodies, as the prejudicial me had thought. Not even just for the metrosexual, though he has his audience, but for brawny, hairy, smelly, stalwart, manly men; bald men, men with bellies, men who can fix things and, yes, men who like sports and pound away in the bedroom. Men whom women loved for being men with all the qualities that testosterone and the patriarchy had given them, and whom I have come to appreciate for those very same qualities, however infuriating I still find them at times.

Dating women was the hardest thing I had to do as Ned, even when the women liked me and I liked them. I have never felt more vulnerable to total strangers, never more socially defenceless than in my clanking suit of borrowed armour. But then, I guess maybe that’s one of the secrets of manhood that no man tells if he can help it. Every man’s armour is borrowed and 10 sizes too big, and beneath it he’s naked and insecure and hoping you won’t see.

That, maybe, was the last twist of my adventure. I passed in a man’s world not because my mask was so real, but because the world of men was a masked ball. Eventually I realised that my disguise was the one thing I had in common with every guy in the room. It was hard being a guy.

Rather than choosing to become a woman again, it is probably truer to say that I reverted to form. I stopped faking it. I came back to myself, proud, free and glad in every way to be a woman.

Norah Vincent, “Double agent” (an edited extract from Self-Made Man: My Year Disguised As A Man), Guardian, 2006-03-18.

March 13, 2014

Feminist writer picks fight with the Trans* community

Filed under: Britain, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:06

Julie Burchill is a British feminist who writes for the Guardian and the Spectator, and has had spats with the Trans* community before. Her most recent provocation was in the comments section of an article at Vice, where she got particularly cranky:

Burchill made the comments on a Vice Magazine column by prominent trans activist and journalist Paris Lees, in which she talked about catcalling, and questioned whether enjoying the attention of men in the street effectively made her a “bad feminist.”

The Sugar Rush writer said: “Paris, you like it because you ARE still a YOUNG GAY BOY. And that’s what YOUNG GAY BOYS LIKE! Bless!

“Paris, if you were a BORN WOMAN, bothered since the age of 12 by GROWN MEN, you wouldn’t find it fun. You’d find it boring, wearisome, wearing. When you’re a plain old trans, ten years from now, you’ll get a big old identity crisis on, if you rely on random lechery for self-esteem.

“I bet B*tch [Paris Lees] will come up with a ‘sexy reason’ for foot-binding next. [Female Genital Mutilation], even. Didn’t I hear that a ‘transwoman’ thought we Radical Feminists were fussing about too much about FGM? What price the genital mutilation of a 7 year old brown-skinned girl child when THE MOST IMPORANT THING IN THE WORLD is big white blokes having their cocks cut off on the NHS?

[...]

She went on: “No human who did not grow up as a girl can call themselves a woman. Any more than a white human can become a black human. Delude yourselves all you like, but in the way you lot harass born women, your bully boy side always shines through. And no amount of lipstick and plastic tits can cover that up.”

She deleted the comments and posted an apology, but clearly the damage had been done.

H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.

March 12, 2014

The “affirmative consent” meme meets the “purity test” form

Filed under: Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:15

As we’re regularly informed by media outlets and websites, we are in the middle of a rape epidemic, with skyrocketing rates of rape (especially on the campus). Wendy McElroy discusses the new White House initiative for “affirmative consent” and the actual statistics on sexual crimes:

It is called “affirmative consent.” It is a new front in the growing regulatory oversight of the most intimate aspect of personal life: making love or having sex. If the White House Council on Women and Girls gets its way, then the doctrine of affirmative consent will regulate sex on a campus near you. It may already be happening.

Affirmative consent is sometimes called “enthusiastic consent” or “yes means yes.” It is intended to replace the current standard of “no means no.” By that standard, the noninitiating sexual partner — almost always assumed to be the woman — needs to decline sex in some manner for the act to be legally viewed as rape. She can verbally decline, try to leave, or push the man away; her “no” can be expressed in many ways.

[...]

The legal standard of affirmative consent is said to solve these perceived problems. The person initiating sex must receive explicit consent before and throughout the sex act in order to escape the specter of rape. In practical terms, this means the man must receive explicit consent from the woman prior to and during a sex act, or he becomes vulnerable to being criminally charged.

When I read this, I instantly imagined a re-worked “sexual purity test” questionnaire for the new affirmative consent requirement. If it hasn’t already been done, I’m sure it’ll be posted somewhere within the week.

On the rather more dubious claim that rape is increasing, the stats don’t back that up at all:

There is a proximate cause for the growing campaign to assert affirmative consent on campuses and in legislatures. On January 22, 2014, the White House Council on Women and Girls issued a paper entitled “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action” (PDF). It stated, “1 in 5 women has been sexually assaulted while in college.” That’s a stunning statistic. Or, it would be, if it were true. It is not. And the New York Times headline, “Obama Seeks to Raise Awareness of Rape on Campus,” printed on the same day as the council’s report was released, can’t turn falsehood into truth. Nevertheless, the task force established in the wake of the report will almost certainly validate its findings and act on them.

The truth: the rate of rape has fallen sharply since 1979.

In March 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice reported,

    From 1995 to 2005, the total rate of sexual violence committed against U.S. female residents age 12 or older declined 64% from a peak of 5.0 per 1,000 females in 1995 to 1.8 per 1,000 females in 2005 (figure 1, appendix table 1). It then remained unchanged from 2005 to 2010. Sexual violence against females includes completed, attempted, or threatened rape or sexual assault. In 2010, females nationwide experienced about 270,000 rape or sexual assault victimizations compared to about 556,000 in 1995. [PDF.]

The White House Council’s report is also biased in its presumption that the majority of sexual assaults are committed by men against women. The council states that “1 in 71” men is raped in his lifetime, as opposed to “1 in 5” women during her college years. But this figure appears to conflict with the landmark 2007 “Sexual Victimization in State and Federal Prisons Reported by Inmates” conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) within the Department of Justice (DOJ). The BJS report indicated that around 60,500 prisoners were sexually abused in one year alone. Since the prison population is overwhelmingly male, it is reasonable to assume most of the victims were male as well. (Indeed, of the ten prison facilities found to have the highest incidence of “nonconsensual sexual acts,” eight had only male prisoners [PDF].)

February 27, 2014

Women writing about sex

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:01

In The Atlantic, Claire Dederer writes about the problems women have in writing about sex. Remember the old saw about men not understanding women? (Hint: they don’t.) Dederer admits that women also don’t understand women, at least when it comes to sex.

By now, of course, it’s difficult to think of female desire as in any way hidden. The cultural speculum has been firmly inserted for a good look around. Women have long since learned all about how our tucked-away stuff works, with pioneers of second-wave feminism as our guides: Our Bodies, Ourselves was practically standard-issue along with the dorm-room furniture when I arrived at my very liberal college in 1985. Meanwhile, female lust has been thoroughly documented (or at any rate, endlessly and theatrically depicted) by the adult-film industry. How would porn get along without horny females? Science, too, has lately been busy substantiating the existence of girl lust. In his recent tour of burgeoning research into female desire, What Do Women Want?, Daniel Bergner reports a current verdict: women are at least as libidinous as men.

There it is. We can finally all agree that women want to have sex. Variously portrayed in the past as tamers of men and tenders of children, we’re now deemed well endowed with horniness. But does that mean we experience desire in the same way that men do? My lust tells me we don’t. Mine, I confess, isn’t blind or monumental or animal. It comes with an endless internal monologue — or maybe dialogue, or maybe babel. My desire is always guessing, often second-guessing. Female lust is a powerful force, but it surges in the form of an interrogation, rather than a statement. Not I want this but Do I want this? What exactly do I want? How about now? And now?

At least that’s how it’s always been for me, and I experienced a sense of relief and recognition while reading a recent crop of memoirs whose authors go to great lengths to get at this double- and triple-think thrumming in female desire — only to discover, as I have, just how hard the quest is.

H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.

December 28, 2013

QotD: Dance

Filed under: Humour, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:48

Those Puritans who snort against the current dances are quite right when they argue that the tango and the shimmie are violently aphrodisiacal, but what they overlook is the fact that the abolition of such provocative wriggles would probably revive something worse, to wit, the Viennese waltz. The waltz never quite goes out of fashion; it is always just around the corner; every now and then it comes back with a bang. And to the sore harassment and corruption, I suspect, of chemical purity, the ideal of all right-thinkers. The shimmie and the tango are too gross to be very dangerous to civilized human beings; they suggest drinking beer out of buckets; the most elemental good taste is proof enough against them. But the waltz! Ah, the waltz, indeed! It is sneaking, insidious, disarming, lovely. It does its work, not like a college-yell or an explosion in a munitions plant, but like the rustle of the trees, the murmur of the illimitable sea, the sweet gurgle of a pretty girl. The jazz-band fetches only vulgarians, barbarians, idiots, pigs. But there is a mystical something in “Weiner Blut” or “Kiinstler Leben” that fetches even philosophers.

The waltz, in fact, is magnificently improper the art of tone turned bawdy. I venture to say that the compositions of one man alone, Johann Strauss II, have lured more fair young creatures to lamentable complaisance than all the hypodermic syringes of all the white slave scouts since the fall of the Western Empire. There is something about a waltz that is simply irresistible. Try it on the fattest and sedatest or even upon the thinnest and most acidulous of women, and she will be ready, in ten minutes, for a stealthy kiss behind the door nay, she will forthwith impart the embarrassing news that her husband misunderstands her, and drinks too much, and cannot appreciate Maeterlinck, and is going to Cleveland, 0., on business to-morrow …

H.L. Mencken, “The Allied Arts: Tempo di Valse”, Prejudices: Second Series, 1920.

December 12, 2013

Sex and the Romans

Filed under: History, Media, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

In the New York Review of Books, Peter Brown reviews a new book on the evolution of our knowledge about Roman sexuality at the start of the Christian era:

One of the most lasting delights and challenges of the study of the ancient world, and of the Roman Empire in particular, is the tension between familiarity and strangeness that characterizes our many approaches to it. It is like a great building, visible from far away, at the end of a straight road that cuts across what seems to be a level plain. Only when we draw near are we brought up sharp, on the edge of a great canyon, invisible from the road, that cuts its way between us and the monument we seek. We realize that we are looking at this world from across a sheer, silent drop of two thousand years.

Antiquity is always stranger than we think. Nowhere does it prove to be more strange than where we once assumed that it was most familiar to us. We always knew that the Romans had a lot of sex. Indeed, in the opinion of our elders, they probably had a lot more than was quite good for them. We also always knew that the early Christians had an acute sense of sin. We tend to think that they had a lot more sense of sin than they should have had. Otherwise they were very like ourselves. Until recently, studies of sex in Rome and of Christianity in the Roman world were wrapped in a cocoon of false familiarity.

Only in the last generation have we realized the sheer, tingling drop of the canyon that lies between us and a world that we had previously tended to take for granted as directly available to our own categories of understanding. “Revealing Antiquity,” the Harvard University Press series edited by Glen Bowersock, has played its part in instilling in us all a healthy sense of dizziness as we peer over the edge into a fascinating but deeply strange world. Kyle Harper’s book From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity is a scintillating contribution to this series. Not only does it measure the exact nature of the tension between the familiar and the deeply unfamiliar that lies behind our image of the sexual morality of Greeks and Romans of the Roman Empire of the classical period. It also goes on to evoke the sheer, unexpected strangeness of the very different sexual code elaborated in early Christian circles, and its sudden, largely unforeseen undermining of a very ancient social equilibrium in the two centuries that followed the conversion of Constantine to Christianity in 312. As Harper makes plain on the first page of his dense and vivid book, “Few periods of premodern history have witnessed such brisk and consequential ideological change. Sex was at the center of it all.”

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