Mona Charen has a pretty decent article up at the Federalist about rape culture, specifically as it is imagined on college campuses. It’s definitely worth a read. There are two passages in particular that I want to discuss. Here’s the first one:
“Rape culture is an attitude toward women in particular, but not even just to women—to treating all people as sexual objects, nothing more than an opportunity for sex,” Anna Bahr, a Columbia graduate told New York magazine. That’s not “rape culture,” that’s hook-up culture. That’s the post-sexual revolution American culture, and she’s right that it stinks.
I think Charen is absolutely correct that ‘rape culture’ is really ‘hook-up culture’, and the Columbia student quoted above makes an important point that hook-up culture treats all people as ‘sexual objects, nothing more than an opportunity for sex’. Not just women. Everyone. Charen takes a very simplistic, and quite frankly disappointing, definition of rape, excluding most men from coerced or forced sex unless their assailants were other men, gay or not. We know for a fact that approximately equal numbers of men and women report unwanted, coerced or forced sex that involves traditional penis-in-vagina action. When the victim is a woman, the CDC collects those numbers as sexual assault. When the victim is a man, they collect the numbers under the awkwardly worded ‘made to penetrate’ option under ‘other sexual assault’.
Erasing the men who are coerced or forced into having sex with women they would not otherwise have had sex with makes it easier to spin the rape culture narrative, and obscure the fact that everyone has been reduced to the status of ‘opportunity for sex’. I missed the whole hook-up culture thing, as I had the same boyfriend all the way through highschool, and the same boyfriend all the way through college. My relationship experience involved the ‘love and romance’ Charen writes about. I knew lots of other couples also focused on love and romance, and lots of people who were in full hook-up culture mode. Other people were an opportunity for sex, not an opportunity for love.
Morally, I have no objection to treating other people as sex objects, provided they are amenable to be treated that way. I consider it none of my business if your preferred interaction with another person is to engage in meaningless, emotionless sex and have the STD clinic on speed-dial. If that makes you happy, go for it. I do have an enormous moral objection to a cultural narrative that teaches both men and women they will be happy and discourages them from making choices more in line with their own internal sense of how they wish to treat others and be treated themselves. This is the so-called ‘slut culture’. Teaching men and women that being a slut is empowering and wonderful when those individuals are not inclined to believe that is true, based on their own personalities, is very wrong, and I object to that heartily.
Charen agrees that most people are not enamored of hook-up culture and suggests an alternative:
The truth from which our society has been fleeing for half a century is not really so awful. There are differences between men and women, particularly in what they want and need from sex. Ungoverned sexuality can degenerate into degradation and abuse all too easily. Love and tenderness really are the best routes to happiness. Women have it within their power to reject the hook up culture and insist upon a return to dating [emphasis mine]. Such a turn would be a boon to everyone—but most of all to themselves.
What I dislike about this statement is the insistence that it is women who are responsible for rejecting hook-up culture, presumably because Charen thinks no man in his right mind would want to go back to a courtship culture, and this is her major stumble. It plays right into the ‘men are rutting animals who will fuck anything’ stereotype. No doubt there are men who really will have sex at any opportunity that arises, with any woman. There are women who are the same, and may they find one another and be happy. But let’s not pretend that women have a monopoly on love and tenderness. Centuries of music, art, literature and poetry point to men’s profound attachment to, and longing for, love and tenderness. One doesn’t even need to look to such exalted sources. One of my favorite passages from the Little House on the Prairie books is about Charles Ingalls lovingly carving flowers into a bracket for his wife, Caroline. There was no reason for him to do this, other than love and tenderness. Men have shown love and tenderness for the people in their lives since the dawn of time.
In my own personal experience, there was no pressure from the men I was dating to advance the relationship to the next level of intimacy. It was pretty organic, although I don’t generally give off an aura of someone likely to succumb to pressure. Part of it is surely down to my personality and demeanor, but part of it is that the men I was with were interested in the same thing as me: the possibility of love and a long term relationship. I strongly suspect that men’s lack of interest in courtship culture stems from how women manipulate courtship and the promise of sex, and not from courtship itself. Books like The Rules that are stuffed full of arbitrary rules like never accept a date after Wednesday and don’t return messages and other completely manipulative bullshit is what men hate. And I can see why. I won’t have sex until he buys me X (dinner, flowers, tickets to Broadway, whatever) are particularly repulsive. Uhm, hello, that’s straight up prostitution!
The assumption that men have no interest in love or tenderness and only care about sexual pleasure is a direct result of feminism and the ‘sexual revolution’. In order to believe that, you need to believe a hateful stereotype about men, and where did that stereotype come from? To be certain, history is rife with men who pursued sex above all else, but those men are not generally admired, or held out as paragons to be imitated. They tend to be objects of ridicule. For example, Jane Austen’s novels contain stories about young women (often servants) made pregnant by their employers, but those men are considered disgusting, and generally get punished by the narrative. They are made examples of what not to do. Serial womanizers like James Bond are only tangentially related to this stereotype. To suggest that Bond feels no love or tenderness towards the women he has sex with misses the key part of Bond’s appeal: he is always genuinely affectionate and courteous to his ‘conquests’, he just won’t be held by any of them.
The idea that men are natural born rapists who can’t control their sexual urges comes from radical feminists like Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon. Not just some men, all men. Hook-up culture, embraced by many, many feminists is an extension of this stereotype. Jessica Valenti wrote an entire book mocking young women who reject casual sexuality, called The Purity Myth. I very much dislike the word ‘purity’ as it used in this case, although to be fair to Valenti, the young women themselves came up with the name. Rejecting casual sex isn’t, or shouldn’t be, about keeping yourself pure.
It should be about keeping yourself you.
Again, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with casual sexual encounters if that is genuinely what you want. But Charen points out that both men and women are unhappy with hook-up culture, suggesting that casual sexual encounters are not what either men or women want. Remember that ‘female Tucker Max’ who created a spreadsheet of her efforts to fuck her way through all the athletes at Duke? The one she gave the highest rating to was the man who looked her in the eyes, allowing her to believe, for just a fleeting moment, that they were having sex that involved genuine love and tenderness. What everyone fails to see is that it allowed him the same fleeting moment. And all those men who looked away? How many of them were trying to ignore the reality that sex without intimacy kinda sucks? Men are under just as much pressure as women to believe they are scarcely a step above animals when it comes to sex. They’re supposed to like it. It’s supposed to be who and what they are. Tucker Max himself now has a wife and a son and ‘it’s pretty great‘.
I agree wholeheartedly with Charon that one of the ways to reduce campus rape is to encourage the return of a courtship culture, but I disagree that women should be the gatekeepers. Women are not the only ones who want love and tenderness, they are not the only ones who value love and tenderness and they are not the only ones capable of love and tenderness.
Now, what do modern women have to offer men to inspire love and tenderness?
Well, that’s a whole different conversation. Tl;dr: not a whole fucking (heh) lot.
Any young woman or man reading this who wants to understand how to be a person worthy of love and tenderness, how to cast off the destructive, counterproductive messages 40 years of feminism has taught them would do very well to start with some MHRM sources. Start with A Voice for Men and A Voice for Male Students. I’ll ask my regular readers to make other suggestions in the comments section, as I came to the MHRM already married, and I’m not really familiar with sites aimed specifically at single, young readers. But I know they’re out there.
And if you really want to get your love game on, pick up some Shakespeare. He knew a thing or two about love. Even though he was a man.
Lots of love,