Wednesday, December 5, 2007

What's not to love?

One of the interesting facets of subscribing to "blog searches" on subjects like feminism is that they don't discern viewpoint; anti-feminists show up as well. One such search led me to Glenn Sacks' post about the California National Organization for Women launching an I Love Consensual Sex campaign. This strikes me a great idea, as it takes ammunition away from anti-feminists who want to claim that anti-rape activism is anti-sex.

It's also a great idea because it's a hell of a lot more accessible than your typical anti-rape message. I mean, who doesn't love consensual sex? And if you don't, then you don't have to have it - that's what that "consensual" word means!

Nevertheless, Sacks and his commenters are loath to give any unqualified support. Sacks is quick to get in a jab at how "some feminists have had a hard time acknowledging [that] women enjoy having sex with men." (Except for lesbians, presumably, but we'll come back to that.)

The larger issue that Sacks has is, of course, with the definition of consent. There's no specific definition given, as far as I can tell, but Sacks is sure that whatever it is he'll take issue with it. And I suspect he will, as any definition of consent beyond "she didn't scream no or fight back" - i.e., the "whatever I can get away with" definition - tends to be resisted as placing an unreasonable burden on men, as well as granting power to those women whom the MRAs just know are lined up at police stations around the country waiting to file false accusations.

Sacks also brings up the idea, common among contemporary social conservatives, that feminism was a noble goal at some point in the past, but has gone too far. However, instead of the usual "first wavers were in the right, but the second wavers have gone too far," Sacks cites the feminism of the 1970s as "more positive, male-friendly." (Does this mean that the MRAs will update their quote lists? One can only hope.)

There's also the problem Sacks so often faces when trying to sound like a voice of reason - his commenters. It's like the old analogy of crabs in a cookpot - rather than let him rise above the fray, his commenters act to drag the discourse back to the usual misogynist level. The reactions to this piece include:

  • More accusations that women claim rape in response to consensual sex they regret.
  • The accusation that "sex positive" is doublespeak, and that of course feminists hate "the male libido" (wait, I thought women had the hivemind?).
  • Continuing to associate feminists with conservative Christians as one big fun-spoiling mob. Heck, even the most vehement anti-porn feminists no longer ally themselves with the theocrats.
  • Complaining about a requirement of "enthusiastic verbal agreement" that's never actually stated as a requirement - and only by nitpicking that not all enthusiastic agreement is verbal.
  • An attempt to turn it into that primary issue of all MRAs, child support.
  • Fear that "I love consensual sex" will include sex among gays and lesbians. (Wait, we're the ones allied with Christian conservatives here?)
  • Blaming standards of consent for the difficulty in obtaining rape convictions - by saying that the standard for consent is too limited. (I'm not sure how this works. I guess the idea is that if only cases of violent stranger rape went to trial, conviction rates would be up, though convinctions would be down.)
  • Citing Dworkin's observations on the nature of consent in a patriarchy as evidence that feminists would not accept even enthusiastic consent as consent. This one would actually be a point worth discussing, if you could get rid of the people who insist that feminists believe "all sex is rape." The distinction is between ideals and reality. Ideally, sex would be something that could be more freely chosen than it often is today; however, in the world we live in enthusiastic consent is a "good enough" standard.
  • Complaining that it's too strict to suggest that both partners should be enthusiastic about sex.
  • Arguing that men don't get to consent, as if feminists have somehow claimed this was okay, or that men are okay with not consenting, so women should be too. (Pick one and stick with it, guys.)

The impression I get is that the Sacks/MRA conception of feminism is now stuck sometime in the mid-80s (which, to be fair, mine was until well into the 90s, when my only knowledge of feminism came from First Amendment discussions wherein feminism and the Religious Right were lumped together as the forces of oppression), and basically sees modern feminism as a cynical grab for bargaining chips in an adversarial division of sexes rather than a movement for social justice.

What it comes down to, I think, is that MRAs have demonized feminism to such an extent that any idea a feminist proposes must be rejected on principle. Besides, under a "bargaining chip" paradigm, any concession, even one you're predisposed to, is a loss of power.

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