This is one of my favorite passages of Scripture:
There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not: The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid.
That last bit there, yeah, there’s a lot to that. It comes to my mind frequently these days, what with all the fake rape stories floating around and feminists dumbing down the definition of ‘rape’ and ratcheting up what constitutes ‘consent’ and universities attempting to regulate student sexual activity with silly rules about requiring explicit consent at each stage of foreplay. Really?
There’s something missing there. I mean, sure the university has to do this stupid stuff to avoid getting itself into a morass of Title IX lawsuits, but feminists have seized the opportunity to further their own agenda. They’ve brought in the whole toolkit of critical theory, and the oppressive patriarchy and complaints about gender bias and supposed female powerlessness to force the rest of us to accept their view that the only reasonable and moral basis for a sexual relationship is an a priori straight-up consent transaction, that the woman may unilaterally rescind at any time during the proceedings, and anything else is an assault on women (i.e rape).
However, how men and women interact with each other, the steps of the mating dance, is far more complicated. And the feminist square-peg-in-a-round-hole narrative totally ignores the popularity of the “bodice-ripping” romance novels, which are almost universally written by women for women, and hardly ever read by men. And the market is huge. Women are buying these books by the truckload. I found a list of supposedly the best bodice ripper novels and the intro is instructive:
This is a list for Bodice Ripper romance novels that you think are a 5 star read. The best of the best – with alpha heroes, un-politically correct action, forced seduction, rape, sold into slavery plot lines, mistresses and cheating – the no-holds bar world of Bodice Ripper!
Notice the selling points: (a) alpha heroes, (b) forced seduction, (c) rape, and (d) sold into slavery plotlines. But where’s the consent? It’s not even in the equation. Oh, I’m sure that after the female lead is raped/seduced, she eventually falls in love with the alpha male and willingly and joyfully surrenders to his alpha maleness (I haven’t actually read any of these, I’ve just heard that that’s the way most of them turn out), but that’s all ex post facto.
And then beyond the bodice-rippers, there’s the 50 Shades books, which takes the bodice ripper one step further, and again, huge seller. So I think there’s something about how the relationships are portrayed in these books that touches women’s psyche at some basic level. Women are attracted to strength. No woman likes being the partner of a weak man. I’m sure feminists would like to believe that this whole aspect of male/female relationships doesn’t exist, but E L James’ bank account says otherwise.
And of course, James’ success has resulted in other authors piling on: 8 Series to Start After You Finish the Fifty Shades Trilogy. Don’t get me wrong. I do not recommend the 50 Shades series and I’m certainly not recommending any of these wannabes, which look even sleazier, if that’s possible. My point is, if what feminists want to be true is indeed true, then why are these books so popular? (hint: it must be that damn patriarchy again!)
Feminism is trying to force us all to live in a world that simply doesn’t exist. Fake rape stories and real lawsuits, not to mention damaged and ruined lives, are the toxic sludge that results from mixing feminism with the sexual revolution and letting it simmer for five decades. We’ll be cleaning up these messes for a very long time.
I wonder if Mattress Girl has read the 50 Shades books?
June 29, 2015
June 23, 2015
Hygiene is the corruption of medicine by morality. It is impossible to find a hygienist who does not debase his theory of the healthful with a theory of the virtuous. The whole hygienic art, indeed, resolves itself into an ethical exhortation, and, in the sub-department of sex, into a puerile and belated advocacy of asceticism. This brings it, at the end, into diametrical conflict with medicine proper. The aim of medicine is surely not to make men virtuous; it is to safeguard and rescue them from the consequences of their vices. The true physician does not preach repentance; he offers absolution.
H.L. Mencken, “Types of Men 5: The Physician”, Prejudices, Third Series, 1922.
May 29, 2015
Sarah Hoyt coined the term “the historian’s blindfolds” to describe historical situations where “the ‘everyone knows’ [happenings don’t] get recorded, and the ‘never happens’ or ‘happens so rarely it’s big and sensational’ gets recorded ALL the time”:
I’ve – for instance – for the last several years been very suspicious of Dickens, because my other sources for the time (not just primary sources, but those writing often in a family/biography) context paint quite a different picture.
I mean, yes, there were horrible conditions at the time, but they were horrible conditions by our perspective, and we live in an era of superabundance. And the underclass lived very disordered lives. Well, I read student doc. Our underclass just uses different substances and is better fed. Go to Student Doc “Things I learn from my patients” (it’s not coming up for me, hence not linked. Also, prepare to lose hours there. [This might the site]) BUT as “bad” as the industrial revolution might have been, it attracted droves of farmers from the countryside. And having seen it happen in real time in India and China, I’m no longer able to believe the propaganda that they were “forced” off their lands.
Farming looks like a lovely, bucolic occupation to those who have never done any, but the farming they did at the time involved no tractors, no milking machines. It was inadequate tools and inadequate strength beating inadequate livelihood out of inadequate (in most places) soil. Yeah, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the girls wove wreaths for Michaelmas, and everyone danced around the Maypole, but in between there was a very harsh reality that made the rather horrible conditions in the early mills seem like heaven and depopulated the countryside and packed the cities – as we see now in China and India.
So, our first problem with finding out if there really was a “first night” right for the seigneur is to figure out the difference between the accounts and the truth. There is no direct evidence, but remember all the recording of the times was done by church men who might very well not know what was going on. Sometimes, granted, it was willful not know. The village priest determinedly didn’t know of certain things that went on around May Day and I’m fairly sure would continue not knowing if he walked in on it and saw it. Because he wasn’t stupid and stuff that’s been going on for two thousand years and yet is of a nature not to be co-opted into the church celebration of this or that saint (St. Anthony and St. John with bonfires and wild herbs and jumping over the fires, and trekking to the city and across the city to see the sunrise on the sea, for instance, for Summer solstice. Yeah. Perfectly normal Catholic tradition) couldn’t be stopped cold, but knowing about it would mar his ability to preach against certain things which he must preach against. (“It was a morning in May—” And for the record this particularly guppie always thought going amaying is about gathering the flowers to put in every entrance to the house to word off evil spirits. But I am an ODD and often unable to see what’s right before my eyes because I was told it was different.)
The problem of the “first night” is compound by several issues: we’re talking a span of about 2000 years. It’s about sex and everyone lies about sex, or shuts up about it, which can be the same. We have fundamental disagreements on the basic nature of men and women. And that’s what I’m going to go with. Because that’s the interesting part.
May 6, 2015
May 4, 2015
A lot of wives … think they are being “faithful” as long as they don’t take a roll in the hay with some other male, no matter what they do to kill the spirit of the man they promised to cherish. They never get it through their silly heads that a mere roll in the hay could be no more important than a bad case of hangnails — certainly no worse than a bad cold — if they paid attention to the essence of the contract, “to love and cherish” come what may — buck him up and keep him going, somehow against an unfriendly world.
This is what marriage is all about — sex is at most a minor aspect of it: a partnership between two people, in which each places the other’s welfare as the paramount value in a shifting and uncertain world … There have been more than a few honest and loyal wives who have hit the streets to support sick husbands — and let us now have a moment of silence in honour of their gallant souls.
Robert A. Heinlein, letter to Betty Jane Babb 1959-02-04, quoted in William H. Patterson Jr., Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014).
April 21, 2015
As the old saying has it, “everyone lies about sex“:
Straight men have had twice as many sexual partners, on average, as straight women. Sounds plausible, seeing that men supposedly think about sex every seven seconds. Except that it’s mathematically impossible: in a closed population with as many men as women (which roughly there are) the averages should match up. Someone is being dishonest, but who? And why? These questions, along with many others, are explored in Sex by numbers, a new book by David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge.
“Sex is a great topic,” says Spiegelhalter. “There’s lots of it going on, but we don’t know what goes on or how much of it, because most of the time it goes on behind closed doors. It’s a really difficult topic to investigate scientifically, and a real challenge for statistics.” Spiegelhalter’s aim is to get people interested in a critical approach to the numbers they hear about in the news and give them the tools to figure out if they can be believed. “It’s really a book about statistics, using sex as an example.”
Statistics about sex are not all equally good. Some, like the number of births in a given year, are cast-iron facts, but others are much harder to come by. The number of sexual partners is a good example. The mismatch above comes from the third The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal), conducted between 2010 and 2012, in which men reported having had 14 sexual partners, on average, and women 7. Studies have suggested that women give lower numbers when they fear the survey isn’t entirely confidential, something that doesn’t seem to affect men (contrary to my expectation, it doesn’t induce them to exaggerate). So that’s one possible explanation for the mismatch: sadly, women still need to fear social stigma.
But there are other explanations too. One is that men (more than women) may have some of their sexual experience with sex workers. These aren’t included in the surveys, so their experiences are missing from the female tally. Another is that there are different attitudes as to what counts as a sexual partner. If a woman feels she’s been coerced by a man, for example, she may not want to count him.
March 24, 2015
Published on 19 Mar 2015
Growing up as “a gender nonconforming entity” during Eisenhower’s America wasn’t easy for cultural critic and best-selling author Camille Paglia. Her adolescence in small-town, upstate New York was marked by rejection, rebellion, and cross-dressing—all in reaction to the stultifying social norms of the 1950s and early ’60s.
So what does Paglia think of contemporary culture, with its openness to a wide variety of ever-proliferating gender, racial, and sexual identities?
“I do not feel that gender is sufficient to explain all of human life,” Paglia tells Reason TV‘s Nick Gillespie. “This gender myopia, this gender monomania, has become a disease. It’s become a substitute for religion. It is impossible that the feminist agenda can ever be the total explanation of human life.”
Whether the subject is feminism or the fate of Western civilization, Paglia is no Pollyanna. In this wide-ranging discussion, she says higher education is going to hell, the Fourth Estate is an epic FAIL, millennials are myopic, contemporary criticism has croaked, and Hillary Clinton might singlehandedly destroy the universe. Even Madonna, once Paglia’s ideal of sex-positive feminism, seems to have lost her way.
Does the celebrated author of Sexual Personae and Break Blow Burn have any reason to get out of bed in the morning? Does she have any hope for the universe at all? Watch the video to find out.
March 20, 2015
The reproductive instinct (sex instinct) and the nurturing instinct (caring for the brood) are social drives, as we have said, in contrast to the instinct of self-preservation, which focuses on one’s own person, while the two first-named, focusing on another person, make us dependent upon that person and vice versa. The reproductive instinct and the nurturing instinct, therefore, are the key to power and powerlessness.
Power consists in making oneself the goal of another person’s social instincts, without seeking to satisfy one’s own social instincts through him. The other then does everything one asks. Powerlessness consists in wanting or having to satisfy one’s social instincts through another person whose social instincts one has not succeeded in concentrating on oneself — one then does everything the other asks. According to whether one has made someone dependent upon oneself for the satisfaction of one or both instincts, one controls that person partially or wholly, has partial or absolute power over him. (We are referring to biologically determined power; psychologically conditioned power will be dealt with later on.)
To know which of two people has the upper hand, then, one merely needs to know which member of the couple is in a position to manipulate the sex or nurturing instinct of the other. The same is true for the relationship between groups, classes, races, religious communities, generations and clans. It is whichever has the leverage, the favorable starting point or whatever it takes to concentrate the other’s social instincts upon himself, while remaining emotionally uncommitted. Since the most important social instincts involve sex or nurturing the brood, sex and parentage are the basic areas in which the question of power arises. Real power over another person — paradoxical as it may sound — is held by protégés and sex objects only. There is also the kind of power that depends on force, or physical strength. Where there is superior force, I serve under constraint; where there is power, I serve willingly. An adult of my own sex, a social class, an alien race, a political body can at most force me to submit i.e. only by superior physical pressure. But real power is held by whomever I want or need to satisfy my basic social instincts, even if that person is incomparably weaker than I am — I would be bound to do willingly whatever he/she asks. To rule effectively, it is power we need; force is second rate by comparison and far from equally compelling.
Esther Vilar, The Polygamous Sex, 1976.
March 14, 2015
In Reason, Elizabeth Nolan Brown looks at the reactions to a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
I just came across this great February piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the current “melodramatic” strain in mainstream feminist politics. In it Laura Kipnis, a cultural critic and film professor, writes of a “sexual paranoia” that pervades academia, turning once typical behavior suspect and infantilizing students (especially young women) in the process.
Kipnis, 58, has seen a few cycles of feminist thought and activism since her time as an undergraduate, now witnessing millennial politics firsthand from Northwestern University. The author of books such as Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America and The Female Thing: Dirt, Envy, Sex, Vulnerability, she’s very much a feminist herself. In a review of Kipnes’ latest book of essays — covered and praised widely by major media — Salon book critic Laura Miller called her a “worldly, ambiguity-friendly thinker.” This is all to say that Kipnis is no Phyllis Schlafly, or even Caitlin Flanagan. Her liberal-feminist credentials are solid, and she has no need to be provocative just to be provocative.
Many of the most contentious campus rape stories to be popularized by the media involve students who didn’t initially see themselves as victims. Only after talking with friends, professors, or others do they “come to view” the experience as sexual assault. This certainly isn’t always lamentable — young, inexperienced women may be genuinely unsure about what’s abusive or atypical sexual behavior. But it’s clear that in at least some cases, young women are being steered into more sinister interpretations than may be warranted.
“If this is feminism,” writes Kipnis, “it’s feminism hijacked by melodrama. The melodramatic imagination’s obsession with helpless victims and powerful predators is what’s shaping the conversation of the moment, to the detriment of those whose interests are supposedly being protected, namely students. The result? Students’ sense of vulnerability is skyrocketing.”
Kipnis is far from the only one to suggest that by treating students as “trauma cases waiting to happen,” we’re creating exquisitely fragile monsters, to students’ own detriment — stunting their emotional growth and distorting their interpersonal expectations.
In December, Megan McArdle excoriated the view that because young women tend to be uncomfortable saying “no” to sexual suitors, we need a new framework for sorting out sexual consent. “It is not the word ‘no’ that women are struggling with; it is the concept of utter refusal,” wrote McArdle. “That is what has to change, not the words to describe it. … Unfortunately, no one else can bear the burden of deciding who we want to have sex with, and then articulating it forcefully.” And a feminism that tries to compensate for this, rather than teach young women to be firm about their own sexual wishes, is counterproductive.
The same goes for protecting students from pyschological “triggers,” which they will certainly encounter in the real world. If someone is so traumatized by certain subjects or language that they can’t cope upon exposure, it speaks to deeper psychological issues that should be addressed, not sidestepped and saved for a later day.
March 12, 2015
Wonder Woman creator William Marston wrote the comic as pop-culture propaganda for men, to train men for the coming female dominance through themes of sexual bondage. Marston sought to entice men with a smart and scantily clad warrior woman, whom villains repeatedly bind and punish but who always breaks free and binds them, to their ultimate pleasure. Wonder Woman’s kryptonite was a man binding her hands, which drained her of all will and super strength. She would use her wits and feminine wiles to escape and then bind them back with her golden lasso of truth, which made them happier people. The repeated lesson: men can rule women physically, but are better men when women bind them.
In short, Wonder Woman is a heroine for matriarchy — rule by women. This is enough to complicate culture’s current feminist battles. Declared feminists prefer to keep hidden the question of whether feminism strives for equality of women or superiority of women. There is a clear majority only for equality, so the declared feminist movement tries to claim superiority by speaking popular lines about equality. The resulting confusion has reduced the movement to rubble, and reviving the “Wonder Woman” franchise will only accelerate the remaining demolition. (That link is merely an example, not a history. The relevant part starts at: “I also learned that when you’re a committed feminist, it’s sometimes confusing to reconcile your ideals with your desires.”)
Marston wanted Wonder Woman to prepare society for rule by women, but he did not succeed, mainly because the facts are not in his favor. Rule by women is just as bad an idea as rule by men; it is just bad in other ways. Marston did not realize this logical truth because his understandings about women and truth was shallow, naive, and preoccupied with his own pleasure.
Among fans, the basics of Marston’s story are commonly known. Lately, however, in part to fuel more “Wonder Woman” projects, books on Marston and his creation have appeared. The two best known: The Secret History of Wonder Woman, by Harvard professor Jill Lepore, and Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine, by Tim Hanley.
The sum up: Marston was a psychologist otherwise well known for his invention of the lie detector test. He was also a common-law polygamist with a bondage fetish, most likely as a submissive. He lived with three women, one his legal wife. He had children by two of them, his wife and a younger woman who raised the children. He had a bondage relationship with the third woman. He apparently used Margaret Sanger, eugenicist and founder of Planned Parenthood, as one of his inspirations for the heroine (she is the daughter of the queen of an all-female island, which makes for more than a hint that only the elite reproduce sparingly) and the bracelets that bind Wonder Woman were inspired by the bracelets that the woman who raised his children wore.
Leslie Loftis, “Here’s Why Wonder Woman Isn’t Getting A Movie Any Time Soon”, The Federalist, 2015-02-24.
March 9, 2015
Writing in Reason, Brendan O’Neill laments “the state’s intervention into private life”:
Is it acceptable to have drunk sex? Most people who aren’t citizens of the Islamic State or followers of some frigid Christian group will answer with an emphatic: “Hell, yeah.” Not only is it acceptable, they’ll think; it’s good, one of life’s great pleasures, a rare moment when you can ditch the pesky rational thinking required in everyday life and instead abandon yourself — mind, soul, and genitals — to a moment of dumb, beautiful joy.
Well, enjoy it while you can, folks. Because like everything else pleasurable in the 21st century — smoking in a bar, complimenting a lady on her looks, drinking a bucket-sized Coke — drunk sex is under attack from that new caste of killjoys who wouldn’t recognize fun if it offered to buy them a drink (“unwanted sexual advance.”) Drunk sex is being demonized, even criminalized: turned from something that can be either wonderful or awkward into, effectively, rape. They warned us for years, “Don’t drink and drive.” Now it’s, “Don’t drink and fuck.”
On both sides of the Atlantic, campuses that were once hotbeds of anti-The Man radicalism have become conveyor belts of conformist policymaking, particularly in relation to anything that has what these prudish heirs to Andrea Dworkin consider to be the rancid whiff of s*x. And what kind of sex do they loathe most? Drunk sex.
Numerous colleges now insist that it isn’t possible to consent to sex if you’re three sheets to the wind, which means that all sexual acts carried out under the influence are potential crimes. The University of Georgia warns students that sexual consent must be “voluntary, sober, imaginative, enthusiastic, creative, wanted, informed, mutual, honest.” There are many problematic words in that — “imaginative”? Can’t we consent to sex unimaginatively, maybe by saying “Oh, go on then”? — but the most problematic is “sober.” Apparently sex must always be booze-free.
It’s hard to know what is most repulsive about this creeping criminalization of shit-faced sex. Is it the way it infantilizes women with its sexist implication that they are less capable of negotiating sexual encounters while drunk than men, hence the drunk man must shoulder responsibility for these apparently depraved shenanigans? This echoes the temperance movements of the late 19th century, which likewise warned dainty ladies that getting blotto would lead to sexual misadventure and downfall. Or is it the way it demonizes men, turning even the sweet, utterly non-violent young lad who has to have eight vodkas to buck up the courage to sleep with his beau into that most heinous of criminals: a rapist? Or is it the fact that its aim is to deprive us of one of the great hoots of human life: stupid sex, where you don’t know or care what is going on, where the condom is, or even if she’s on the Pill? That moment of madness, that instant when feeling takes over and your brain has a night off, that time when you can’t string a sentence together but somehow you can still have sex… seriously, students, you should try this.
The big problem is the shift in recent years from talking about rape to “sex without consent.” Rape is a violent word that describes a conscious act by a wicked man (usually) to defy a woman who says no and to force sex on her. Disgusting. Lock him up. But “sex without consent” is a totally different phrase: it’s more passive, signalling an act that doesn’t require criminal intent and which can cover everything from rape as it was once understood to drunk sex, drugged-up sex, or regretted sex. We’ve gone from punishing those who rape to casting a vast blanket of suspicion over anyone who has sex. But the fact is — and please don’t hate me — sex isn’t always 100 percent consensual. Especially after booze. Sometimes it’s instinctual, thoughtless, animalistic. Sometimes it just happens. It’s sex without consent — that is, without explicit, clearly stated, sober consent — but it ain’t rape. It’s sex.
March 8, 2015
Maggie McNeill can definitely confirm that your great-grandparents knew more about sex than you give them credit for:
Every generation thinks it invented sex, or at least non-vanilla sex. And I don’t just mean teenagers who are squicked out by the idea of their parents shagging, either; among vanilla folk and/or those outside the demimonde, the delusion seems to persist through life that nearly everybody who lived before a moving line (hovering like a will-o-the-wisp exactly at the year the believer reached puberty) only had missionary-position sex for the purpose of procreation. Even if the individual is familiar with the Kama Sutra, knows about classical Greek pederasty or has seen the menu of a Victorian brothel, these are likely to be dismissed as islands of kink in a vast sea of unsweetened vanilla custard stretching back into prehistory. Even doctors quoted in newspaper articles are wont to make incredibly stupid, totally wrong statements like “the concept of having oral sex is something that seems less obscure to you than it did to your parents or grandparents.” Well, my dears, I’m old enough to have given birth to many of you reading this, and I can assure you that oral sex was not remotely “obscure” to us in those long-ago and far-off days of the early ‘80s; nor was it “obscure” to any of the older men I trysted with in my late teens, many of whom are now old enough to be your grandfathers; nor was it “obscure” to my own grandparents’ generation, who came of age in the Roaring Twenties; nor to the 5.5% or more of the female population who worked as whores in every large city of the world in the 19th century, nor the 70% or more of the male population who had enjoyed their company at least once; nor to any of the long procession of harlots and clients stretching back to before busybodies invented the idea of policing other peoples’ sexuality. Know what else wasn’t “obscure” to them? Anal sex. BDSM. Role-playing. Exhibitionism & voyeurism. Homosexuality. Cuckolding. I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. Here’s a hint: most lawmakers have always been pompous ignoramuses too obsessed with telling other people what to do to actually have normal lives, so by the time they get around to banning something it’s a pretty safe bet the majority of everybody else in that culture over the age of 16 already knows about it, and many of them are doing it.
Chief among the popular sex acts that modern mythology pretends were “obscure” is masturbation, at least for women. The common delusion is that because a culture didn’t like to talk about something, it must not have existed; accordingly, the idea has arisen that Victorian girls were somehow so carefully controlled that they never discovered that touching oneself between the legs (or riding rocking horses) feels good. And because many women have difficulty reaching orgasm without some form of masturbation, that must mean that pre-20th century women all went around in a perpetual state of sexual frustration. In the past few years, the ridiculous myth has arisen that Victorian doctors actually gave women orgasms without knowing what they were, and that the vibrator was invented to speed up what they viewed as an odious task.
March 1, 2015
Writing in City Journal, Kay S. Hymowitz discusses what the book and movie say about modern women:
In her standup act, comedian Whitney Cummings scoffs at the claim that men like strong women. “Sorry, I’ve watched porn,” she says. “Men like Asian schoolgirls with duct tape on their mouths.” In that vein, consider the popular idea that women want sensitive men who do the laundry without being told. Sorry, I’ve read — and now watched — 50 Shades of Grey. Women like men who tie them up and flog them in a Red Room of Pain. With duct tape on their mouths.
I’m only half-kidding. The film’s reviews, like the reviews of E.L. James’s 2011 book, are full of well-deserved snark about its inane dialogue, flat characters, and contrived plot. But the story’s wild popularity suggests that James knows something most of us don’t about the mix of lust, romantic longing, and post-feminist morality that swirls inside the brains of young women today.
It’s a remarkable coincidence that this particular pornographic fantasy has seized the global female imagination at the same moment that rape and sexual violence against women has become a leading social justice cause. The coincidence is heightened by the fact that the story’s protagonist, Anastasia Steele, is a coed on the cusp of graduation. She is in many respects an ordinary, modern college girl. She’s independent, a little boozy, cash-strapped, and working her way through school in a hardware store. She drives a battered Volkswagen beetle. Yes, she is a virgin. But that’s not because she’s a prude — “Holy crap, no!” as the feisty heroine would put it. She just hasn’t found a guy who pushes her buttons. That is, until she sacrifices her virginity and good judgment to the highly practiced sexual power of the brooding and distinctly un-politically-correct billionaire Christian Grey, a man of “singular tastes.”
But if James takes care to make the sex between Christian and Ana so consensual it could pass muster at University of California campus tribunals, she perhaps unwittingly points to the limitations of such consent. Though James wrote her novel before the current spate of questionable campus rape accusations, she all but predicted them. Ana’s consent is shaped not by enthusiasm for Christian’s predilections, but by her desire not to lose him. Consent seems a misleading word to describe this state of mind.
The prevalence of pornography — and, now, of 50 Shades itself — is bound to fuel this sort of youthful confusion. We can and should prize consent, but most 18-year-olds know little about their own motivations. Ply young men and women with images of extreme sexual adventure, barrels of liquor, and empty, unsupervised dorm rooms, and sexual assault is bound to remain in the headlines.
February 27, 2015
Charlotte Allen discusses how quickly the language has changed when talking about transsexuality over a very short time:
In 2012 the board of trustees of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) approved a set of proposed revisions to its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the new version is the DSM-5), designed to remove the stigma of mental illness from the transgender classification. Earlier versions of the DSM had defined transgenderism as “gender identity disorder,” which seemed to imply illness. The DSM-5 changed that term to “gender dysphoria.” The change paralleled the association’s removal of homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973. It signaled that whatever problems transgenders might experience were not due to a pathological misconception that their bodies and gender identities were mismatched but to the fact that their bodies and gender identities were mismatched. Hormones, surgery, cosmetics, and different clothes might still be the “cure” (enabling transgenders to qualify for medical reimbursement for a variety of procedures), but the APA was making it clear, as far as it was concerned, that the problem was not inside the transgender’s head.
The medical evidence for a mismatch between brains and bodies is ambiguous. The two studies cited most frequently by transgender activists, published in 1995 and 2000, examined the brains of a total of seven male-to-female transgenders and found that a region of the hypothalamus, an almond-shaped area of the brain that controls the release of hormones by the pituitary gland, was female-typical in those brains. But those studies have been criticized for not controlling for the estrogen—which affects the size of the hypothalamus—that most male-to-female transgenders take daily in order to maintain their feminine appearance.
Accompanying the APA’s change of classification was a change of vocabulary. Ever since the days of Christine Jorgensen (1926-1989), the World War II serviceman whose surgery in Denmark during the early 1950s brought transgenderism under the media spotlight for the first time, the procedure was known in popular parlance as a “sex change operation.” Then in the 1990s, when the idea of one’s “gender” as something distinct from one’s biological sex began to take hold (thanks to the efforts of academic feminists and other postmodernists, who argued that gender is “socially constructed”), the preferred term became “gender reassignment surgery.” Now the preferred phrase seems to be “gender confirmation surgery.” The change in terminology renders more credible transpeople’s claims to have always belonged to the gender to which they have transitioned.
The once commonly used word “transsexual” has thus become passé — even verboten in the most sensitive circles — just during the past decade. For example, Washington Post reporter Abby Ohlheiser issued a severe scolding to news media for using the word “transsexual” in reference to a 27-year-old male-to-female victim of a grisly murder and dismemberment at the hands of her 28-year-old male lover (who subsequently committed suicide) in Brisbane, Australia, in October 2014. “Although some individuals do identify as ‘transsexual,’ the term is often viewed as old-fashioned and not an appropriate umbrella word,” Ohlheiser wrote in a column deriding the coverage of the crime as “transphobic.” Ohlheiser also objected to media describing the victim, Mayang Prasetyo, as a “prostitute” (Prasetyo had been working as an escort before her death) and reproducing photos of Prasetyo’s busty self clad in a tiny swimsuit that she had posted on the Internet. “Many of the articles covering the murder are laden with provocative photographs of the victim in a bikini, as if any story about a trans person is an excuse to view and scrutinize trans bodies,” Ohlheiser wrote.
February 20, 2015
In Nature, Claire Ainsworth explains why it’s becoming more difficult to discuss sex as a binary:
Sex can be much more complicated than it at first seems. According to the simple scenario, the presence or absence of a Y chromosome is what counts: with it, you are male, and without it, you are female. But doctors have long known that some people straddle the boundary — their sex chromosomes say one thing, but their gonads (ovaries or testes) or sexual anatomy say another. Parents of children with these kinds of conditions — known as intersex conditions, or differences or disorders of sex development (DSDs) — often face difficult decisions about whether to bring up their child as a boy or a girl. Some researchers now say that as many as 1 person in 100 has some form of DSD.
When genetics is taken into consideration, the boundary between the sexes becomes even blurrier. Scientists have identified many of the genes involved in the main forms of DSD, and have uncovered variations in these genes that have subtle effects on a person’s anatomical or physiological sex. What’s more, new technologies in DNA sequencing and cell biology are revealing that almost everyone is, to varying degrees, a patchwork of genetically distinct cells, some with a sex that might not match that of the rest of their body. Some studies even suggest that the sex of each cell drives its behaviour, through a complicated network of molecular interactions. “I think there’s much greater diversity within male or female, and there is certainly an area of overlap where some people can’t easily define themselves within the binary structure,” says John Achermann, who studies sex development and endocrinology at University College London’s Institute of Child Health.
These discoveries do not sit well in a world in which sex is still defined in binary terms. Few legal systems allow for any ambiguity in biological sex, and a person’s legal rights and social status can be heavily influenced by whether their birth certificate says male or female.
“The main problem with a strong dichotomy is that there are intermediate cases that push the limits and ask us to figure out exactly where the dividing line is between males and females,” says Arthur Arnold at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies biological sex differences. “And that’s often a very difficult problem, because sex can be defined a number of ways.”