Recently, Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, wrote a post on his blog called Pegs and Holes where he laments about how what men want is very opposed to what women want and that the natural inclinations of men are more frequently vilified than those of women. His essay ends by outlining an apocalyptic scenario where society may prefer men to be chemically castrated, if the vilification continues. Unfortunately, he does not give much evidence or detail regarding his points. This is very unfortunate because I agree with some of what he’s saying, but I’m wary about even saying that, given the vagueness of his statements.
The post has created quite a firestorm. First of all, if you visit his site, you’ll see that the comment thread has been thoroughly spam-bombed. Some of the comments suggest that the bulk of the negative flak is being organized by other sites. Nevertheless, he has upset many people.
Again, I agree with very little of what Adams wrote. Let me begin by quoting part of a response from a Salon.com writer:
By virtue of our hormones, body mass and cultural conditioning, we can make generalizations about behavior based on gender, and we can give the human sex drive its due as a driving force to be reckoned with. …That does not now, nor will it ever, presume that men are natural born rapists, or that to behave in an unrapey manner leads to “unfulfilled urges” and “unhappiness”. Mary Elizabeth Williams, Scott Adams’ defense of rape mentality
It deeply pains me to admit that it does appear that men have a natural tendency to rape. Although not succumbing to such urges will leave those urges unfulfilled, this will not necessarily bring about unhappiness. It’s painful to admit this because I’d rather consider people in general to be predisposed to doing good and there being simply a handful of bad people. Instead, all people have the capacity to do both great and terrible things. Luckily, we can affect our direction and avoid convincing ourselves that we can only be pleased by others’ suffering.
By rape, I mean engage in sexual activity with someone against their will. To me, this is the most sensible definition of the word. Unfortunately, there is a more general definition, though one that its users tend to be hesitant to admit: sex that is disapproved of (i.e. statutory rape). If we are talking about the first definition, then yes, like to murder and to rob, there is a universal tendency to have sexual relations with another where the other convincingly expresses to their listeners that they do not share the passion and that they are in fact being accosted. This is not a desire alien to women, but it is possible that men experience this “urge” on a grander scale.
Where things initially get confusing is how sex is surrounded by taboos, and is itself tinged with forbiddance. And so, when one engages in sexual activity with another: when the guy’s watching a movie with the girl on a couch and they’re about a foot away and they’ve been going out to a few places a week now for maybe like a couple weeks and maybe he might lean over and make a move and see what happens… But in doing so he is stepping on all sorts of peoples’ toes. Maybe he should ask her what he’d think if he’d kiss her first? Maybe this would ruin the mood? Regardless, he leans over and it’s either acceptance or rejection, but regardless there will surely be ambivalence, as there already is on both their parts. And this kiss could be very improper indeed or maybe just the right thing. Or maybe both.
At that point, it would seem that the guy is obligated to either engage or disengage depending on how the girl receives the kiss. However, what if he kisses and she shies away. Should he try again? Should he stop? Should he set a limit on the number of his advances and what clearly appear to be her rejections? Perhaps on hearing the word “Stop” or any other negative he should refrain. And so he does, because he’s a gentleman.
Now, imagine the scenario where she does say “Stop” and/or “No” and he continues. Imagine that they then eventually mutually embrace. I want to separate this from the incident where he continues but she maintains her disinterest and, eventually, disgust and now it would seem he is coercing her. In the scenario where they eventually mutually embrace, many a taboo had to be bravely jaunted over, if not outright hacked through—on both the guy and girl’s part. The guy consistently fears that he may be coercing her the entire time and the girl consistently fears that she is similarly being coerced. This is a very dangerous game, and it is one we are expected to play.
In a sense, men and women are expected to spar. For a guy, in this case anyway, victory would be a kiss that is answered in kind, or, at the very least, one that is answered without rejection, which would imply consent. This consent could be verified upon their conversation, as acts can be deceiving… but so can words. Victory could also be a kiss for the girl, but at the beginning, for all the guy knows a kiss could actually result in a loss for her. This cannot be known until he goes for it, and in doing so he is offending many different people, including possibly her. He cannot afford to think about this at the time, but these thoughts will continue to confound any sure sense he has of what would be the “best” way to express his affection. Only after going for it will he discover if he has indeed offended her, where he will then be obliged to completely retract—any raging waters of passion that may have been suddenly released will need to be just as suddenly stopped back up. So, if she is offended, not only is he ashamed of his natural urges, but he will have to consider that what he wanted was wrong, perhaps fundamentally so. Surely, he’ll come to realize that what he wanted wasn’t wrong in all cases, it was just that she is not that into him. But should he assume that he will never be into him? Should he change his tactics? Should he continue to pursue her?
The guy and girl are sparring because, I assume, that they are of good sport and neither of them wishes for the other to suffer a total defeat in any sense. But consider the very act of sex. Is sex not the ultimate end of a kiss? Would it just be coincidence that he is thinking about sex while they kiss? Is there not some kind of cause and effect relationship to kissing and sex? Are such thoughts totally inappropriate? Or are they expected? Who would have the ultimate say in the consent of the two partners? Would that consent rest among the individuals? Would others’ disapproval of the sexual nature in which the two engage each other trump any consent that we could reasonably surmise from the partners? Who should judge this ultimately? Sex experts? The individuals themselves?
Now, I agree that as nice as kisses are, they are not contracts. My point is that when it comes to men, women, and affection, confrontation is inevitable— confrontation with all sorts of people and ideas. Sex alone is an act of violence, is it not? When a woman has sex for the first time, she must expect to be stabbed: that is, her flesh will be penetrated and there will be blood. In any other scenario, this is interpreted as a violent act. As far as sex, this sort of act is necessary. Consider the character Iris from Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin when she describes her first sexual experience with her husband: a wealthy man whom she did not want to marry but did so out of pity for her father’s fledgling clothes-button empire:
I didn’t know what to expect; my only informant had been Reenie [Iris’s nanny/mentor growing up], who had led me to believe that whatever would happen would be unpleasant and most likely painful, and in this I was not deceived… Grin and bear it had been her words. She’d said there would be some blood, and there was. (But she hadn’t said why. That part was a complete surprise)
The situation for Iris is unbearable because she does not want to be there. The character Iris describes being raped by a man she must consider her husband. If she was with someone she actually trusted and loved, she might be more willing/compelled to have sex. But wouldn’t she still have to undergo violence? Surely, she still would have been surprised (and I would think unpleasantly so) after bleeding, but would she have viewed it more positively? If she did view it more positively, would she then not be given to just a little masochism?
It would seem that men are then expected to be assailants of a controlled kind of violence, where the guy and girl are more in sync— where they are sparring for a win or a loss rather than fighting to truly defeat the other.
Now, again, when we see someone violently accosted and they clearly want nothing to do with the sex acts they insist are being forced upon them, we can denounce such acts of rape as we do murder or theft. From here, though, we should not claim that we don’t understand why anyone would ever do such things. We all experience passion to little and great extents and the key is not to get too carried away, although I acknowledge that some people are irreconcilable. We all understand revenge. We all understand masochism and its appeal. We can all be, and are, pray to urges of the most horrible sort, but it is our responsibility not to act upon them. Although we can be convinced that doing something of great detriment to others can be can be a useful way of expressing ourselves, there are other mediums where harm may still be done, where people can still be forced to endure your actions. I’m talking about artistic mediums, of course.
Regarding Adams’ zebra/lion metaphor, we can assume that the lion eats the zebra for food and destroys the zebra in the process. Although the assailant in a rape could indeed have the life-sustaining act of procreation in mind, the primary goal of such coercion is to express dominance. Unfortunately, the lion cannot be brought to any awareness that it should avoid ripping other animals apart. There are slightly more humane ways to kill animals for food. Since we are aware of others’ suffering and know that we can’t sacrifice another’s pleasure solely so that we can enjoy ours, we are obligated to go about things with more modesty. We can always spend more money on food if we want to find the brands where manufacturers are less sadistic with the animals they sacrifice for us— but of course that gets tricky as well.
Certainly, we all have different thresholds for brutality. I don’t think Adams’ lion analogy is a good one because a very different dynamic is at work for why animals eat each other. There are carnal similarities, instinctual ones, sure. In the end, we should aim not to do violence to each other. There will continue to be debate about what circumstances warrant violence. But if you even take that couple on the couch again, there are people who would find that setting alone quote jarring. My very existence as a person who doesn’t respect the Sabbath, who flagrantly ignores certain dietary and dress laws, etc. brings great offense to some people. Sitting with a person of the opposite sex at certain hours without certain others present can be very offensive to some. And so, you must pick your battles.