‘The belief that they’re entitled to control women’s bodies’

(Trigger warning: Men who believe “that they’re entitled to control women’s bodies” do, condone, encourage and instigate some really awful deeds. This post deals with some of them.)

Beyonce’s Clothes Do Not Create Sex Trafficking,” Amanda Marcotte writes.

That seems obvious. Mrs. Carter, after all, is only 31 years old, and I’m pretty sure that sex trafficking existed before 1981. While her Super Bowl show was almost enough to convince me that Beyonce has super powers, I still doubt those include transcending time and space in order to be the cause of something that began thousands of years before she was born.

And yet this Huffington Post writer argues exactly that. She says Beyonce’s supposed “immodesty” is “feeding a demonic myth” that promotes the forced prostitution of young girls.

And that’s where Marcotte’s response comes in. After noting that countries that strictly police women’s “modesty” are among those with the worst records for sexual trafficking, she cuts to the heart of the matter:

Sex trafficking has a simple, straightforward cause: Men who believe they are entitled to control women’s bodies. Both pimps and johns that go to trafficked prostitutes simply believe women are theirs for the taking, and act on that belief. Feeling lust for a woman does not automatically translate into believing you get to use her however you like. Millions of men stare at Beyonce’s beautiful body all the time without even having a moment of thinking that they get to rape her. Sexual desire doesn’t create rape. The belief that women are property does.

I get why it’s tempting to police women’s clothing and sexual choices in an effort to stop sex trafficking and other forms of rape. It stems from a hope that there’s something women can do to stop rape: If you cover up more, behave more modestly, discourage male lusts, etc., maybe that will stop rape and trafficking! But it’s bullshit. The only thing that stops sexual abuse is to stop men from developing the belief that they’re entitled to control women’s bodies. I realize that seems like a tall, daunting order and it feels easier to tell women to cover up — even though that’s wholly ineffective — but it’s the only thing that will actually work. After all, most men do not actually rape, become pimps, or seek out trafficked prostitutes. So it’s not like it’s impossible for men to get the message.

Siccing the modesty police on Beyonce won’t help to stop sex trafficking. Beyonce isn’t part of the problem. But the modesty police are. They feed the same ideology that fuels sex trafficking: “the belief that men are entitled to control women’s bodies.”

Another part of the problem comes from the comrades in arms of the modesty police: the Purity Brigade and “purity culture” more generally.

Earlier this year we saw an astonishing wave of articles and blog posts from evangelical Christian women standing up and rejecting the damaging “purity culture” that American evangelicalism has embraced in lieu of a credible sexual ethic. The substance of this critique echoed what folks like Libby Anne, Dianne Anderson and Sarah Moon had been saying for a while, but it came to a boil for dozens of others — people who maybe didn’t think of themselves as feminist — sometime around when Sarah Bessey’s “Damaged Goods” essay was posted at Deeper Story. Those folks began speaking up and telling their stories — stories of the harm done by or excused by this Christian “purity culture.”

This week we heard that same story told yet again, but this time in a more extreme context. As Libby Anne writes in linking to this Associated Press story: “Elizabeth Smart, a girl who was kidnapped at age 14 in 2002 and held captive for almost a year before she was rescued, recently explained that these exact ideas about sexual purity can aid and abet human trafficking.” Here’s a bit of that story:

Rescued kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart said Wednesday she understands why some human trafficking victims don’t run.

Smart said she “felt so dirty and so filthy” after she was raped by her captor, and she understands why someone wouldn’t run “because of that alone.”

Smart spoke at a Johns Hopkins human trafficking forum, saying she was raised in a religious household and recalled a school teacher who spoke once about abstinence and compared sex to chewing gum.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you know longer have worth, you no longer have value,” Smart said. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”

… Smart says children should be educated that “you will always have value and nothing can change that.”

This purity culture teaching of “damaged goods” and “that chewed up piece of gum” is just another expression of the belief that men are entitled to control women’s bodies.

Richard Beck responded to Smart’s recent comment by revisiting his earlier post on what he calls the “toxic” psychology of Christian purity culture. Do go read the whole thing, but here’s the crux of it:

We treat sexual sins and the loss of virginity very differently from other sins, as a class of sin unto itself. And how do we make that happen? We accomplish this by framing these sins almost exclusively with purity metaphors. And in doing so we recruit a psychological system built upon a food-aversion system, a system driven by disgust, revulsion, and nausea. But instead of directing these feelings toward food we are now directing the feelings of disgust, revulsion and nausea toward human beings. More, we teach our children to internalize and direct these feelings toward themselves.

And I think we can sharpen this point even more.

Based upon my experience, I would argue that male sexual sin isn’t generally framed as a purity violation. The loss of male virginity still gets the performance failure metaphor. If a boy losses his virginity it’s a mistake, a stumbling. Consequently, this is something he can easily rehabilitate. He’s not damaged goods. He can simply resolve to do better going forward. How is this so easy for him? Because his sexuality is being regulated by a performance metaphor.

By contrast, and this is the heart of of the matter, the loss of female virginity is almost exclusively regulated by the purity metaphor. For females the loss of virginity is a bit more than a performance failure. It’s a loss of purity that, because of the way purity works, is catastrophic and beyond rehabilitation. And because of this she’s got no way to move forward, metaphorically speaking. The game’s over. And thus she reaches the only conclusion the purity metaphor makes available to her: She’s damaged goods. And all the emotions related to that judgment of contamination rush forward as she internalizes all the shame, disgust, revulsion and nausea.

This is the psychology that makes the Christian purity culture so toxic.

It is not surprising that sexual traffickers and other predatory men are able to harness this toxic purity culture for their evil ends. That’s what it was designed to do. That’s what it’s for.

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  • Now wait a minute.

    I agree that the phrase is generally used in advocacy of rape.

    But I don’t see that “dicking” necessarily implies an actual biological penis (I’ve actually literally heard cisgendered heterosexual women use that actual literal word in reference to an activity they wanted to perform on a man.).

    And even granting that, I don’t think “you need a good dicking” necessarily requires the interpretation “you should be raped by a man,” the phrase does not necessarily mean anything more than “it would be beneficial for you to to consent to sex with a person from this group you do not normally consent to sex with.”

    Nor for that matter do I think it follows that “No person who identifies as a lesbian would ever have consentual sex with a man,” unless you want to play semantic games along the lines of “If a woman has ever consented to sex with a man, even if she considers herself a lesbian, she’s technically not one.”

  • And for some reason all the books act like the bay is mostly a Virginia thing, which makes perfect sense unless you have seen a map.

    Also, the Gulf of St Lawrence is more than 10 times bigger than the chesapeake bay, but its shoreline is 10 times smaller.

  • Saying that rape is about more than power is a lot like saying that sailing is about more than sails: It’s true, but if you don’t put your sails up, those those other things don’t mean much, as the boat ain’t going anywhere.

  • Last week, Ted Cruze gave a speech for the NRA where he decried the Democrats’ use of the filibuster to kill a bill that had 52 votes as part of the slide into tyranny, then in the exact same speech, less than five minutes later praised the background check-killing filibuster despite the 55 votes and 90% of the US public supporting it as a triumph of democracy.

    So no. Consistency is not a strong point.

    (Also, I believe Glenn Beck may have actually said “The democrats are making appeals to fear and that’s evil” and “Our lack of sane gun control laws is the only thing that keeps your mother from being raped and murdered RIGHT THIS MINUTE” in the same breath)

  • Because however nice it might feel for one’s sense of justice and or vengeance, you have to wait until someone has actually been raped to lynch the rapist. If you know why a rapist rapes, you can break the chain of causality before that happens.

  • I never said there were no circumstances that a lesbian would have consensual sex with a man I added the qualifer “typical”. I know that there are plenty of circumstances a self professed lesbian would have consensual sex with a man. My own half sister is the daughter of a lesbian, who was married to my father for 5 years. You are trying to twist the context of my words by ignoring that.

    And of course not all uses of the term dicking have to do with rape, but in the context of THIS conversation, it was. It was initially brought up in reference to it being said to a lesbian as a corrective. The response has been nothing but an attempt to muddy the discussion by bringing up all the times it could possibly used in a different contexts, but THOSE contexts are not a part of this discussion. Again your actual literal heterosexual woman was not a part of the context of this discussion, or the way heterosexual men might use it to one another. It was about how hateful people use it towards lesbians, in an attempt to control women’s bodies. You know, the topic of the original post?

    All else is obfuscation and derailing.

  • Jurgan

    I thought it was more like the Green Eggs and Ham argument: How do you know you won’t like it if you don’t give it a try? I’d be more likely to take that argument in good faith if I thought any of the men making it could be convinced to try sex with a man under the same logic.

  • Jurgan

    Is it possible that a rapist could not know he is a rapist? Say, he’s raised in an environment where he was taught sex was a binding contract. He was taught that in a committed relationship, consent is implied and does not need to be asked, and a woman who says “no” is just playing hard to get. His actions are still rape, but his mind is pretty screwed up- is it about power or is he just completely ignorant about consent? Isn’t this what people mean when they say “men can stop rape-” that our culture needs to make it abundantly clear what consent is?

  • Jurgan

    “Son of edit: You’re right that the initial batch of colonists were all men, though. But there were a few families that decided to go on the later supply trips, and it eventually dawned on the colonists that if they wanted, y’know, a lasting colony, they kinda needed more women.” Wasn’t that the premise of Watership Down?

  • That’s still power. It revolves around the belief that he is entitled to, and therefore can take whenever he wants. That’s all about power.

  • Simongren

    I’m not trying to derail, but you are the first person besides myself I’ve ever seen use ‘torque me off’!

  • That would seem like the logical conclusion from the fact that studies show that whether or not the action in question is clearly named as rape is a HUGE determinant as to the percentage of men who will admit to thinking it’s an okay thing to do.

    Though I’ve heard people interpreting those results to mean exactly the opposite.

    But that doesn’t change it being about power. The whole thing about rape and whether or not people understand it is that a lot of people who do, would, or might rape think that whether or not a particular action is rape is a thing intrinsic to the action itself: certain kinds of sexual activity just “are rape”, and others just “are not rape” — it’s about the action itself.

    But what makes an action rape isn’t what the action is. What makes the action rape is whether or not the permission of the other person matters. That large gray middle section who aren’t alley-dwelling, knife-weilding stalkers looking to hurt women, but who nonetheless commit rape are imagining something like “If you hold someone down and put your penis inside them while they struggle against you, that’s rape; if you speak kindly and are gentle and you paid for dinner, and she’s not screaming or struggling, that’s not rape,” when, in fact, in both cases, whether or not it is rape comes down exclusively to “If the other person doesn’t want this to happen, would this stop happening?” — if the answer is yes, then the former act is just some consentual kink. If it’s no, the latter is rape.

    So if one decides that “no means yes,” then there’s no meaningful way for the other person to communicate an actual “no”, and therefore whether or not they want the act to happen is irrelevant to whether or not the act happens — and that means that when one decides “no means yes”, one has made the decision to rape. When one decides to have sex with someone who’s drunk or drugged, whether or not they want the act to happen is irrelevant to whether or not it is going to happen, so deciding to have sex with a drunk or drugged person is making the decision to rape. If you are confused about whether consent has been given, but you have sex with them anyway, you’ve decided that whether or not they have given consent is irrelevant, so you’ve made the decision to rape. You may get lucky. It may be that no actually did mean yes, that the drunk person actually wants to have sex, that you’ve guessed the level of consent correctly. But you’ve still made the decision that the act is going to happen only because you want it to happen.

    (I don’t believe it is technically possible to have sex without accepting the risk that you might be committing rape. Even if the other person is enthusiastically claiming consent, if, afterward, they feel the consent that they claimed was not legitimate, then you might not be criminally liable, but that doesn’t somehow invalidate their experience of non-consent. A person can be wrong about what acts occurred, but they can not be wrong about their state of consent. Most rape defenses are some variation of “It was not reasonable for me to know consent was absent.” There may be times this is true, but even then, however reasonable a mistake it was, that doesn’t mean that consent was given.)

    That’s something we don’t teach. We try very hard to itemize checklists of things about the acts, but we only have a very simplified understanding of consent as a concept. Because when you make the “Is it rape?” question purely about the acts, you can just erase that pesky victim: did the man perform the sex ritual according to the checklist? Then it’s legit sex and not rape; there’s no need to involve the victim in the determination at all, except maybe as a witness to verify or dispute that the ritual conformed to the checklist.

  • Alix

    I don’t see that “dicking” necessarily implies an actual biological penis

    Interesting. I’ve never heard it not imply that, and I’ve almost never heard it without threatening overtones. But like I said somewhere else, that difference could be regional.

  • Alix

    …I love geography. XD I did not know that, about the Gulf.

  • It does not sound to me like Ellie’s pissed off at you for “heresy”. It sounds very much to me like Ellie (and some others) explained why they felt threatened, and you dismissed their experiences out of hand and started mansplaining.

    It’s easy to just not-see the weapons when they are not aimed at you.

  • Well, I’ve heard a variant as “dicking around,” the act of procrastinating or passing time doing something relatively pointless. “I spent the afternoon dicking around on the Internet.”

  • Müntzer

    Yes, but again, that is not just something that happens or is directed to women, men get that too.

  • Müntzer

    I am sorry, i tried to not do that, while still expressing my doubts.
    Seems like i failed.
    I did not want to dismiss, i wanted ..well, i wanted to show another perspective.
    Again, sorry, if that was unwelcome.

  • Müntzer

    And there is also the fact that a purity culture which divides women into those available (bad) and those unavailable (good) to men.

    But they also need some of the bad to reduce the sexual pressure on good (for an illustration why see the pregnancy rates in abstinence only states; sex is just a wee bit too tempting for everybody not to do it).

    And that is where prostitutes and trafficking comes in, where you have the bad women you can purchase for an hour, while the good you would need to purchase at a much higher prize, with much more responsibilities (though not necessarily to her) and for life from her father.

    Which makes me wonder if not both of these are forms of human trafficking.

  • Müntzer

    At the last bit:

    That does not solve the inherent problem of rape trials, does it?

    It is still he said, she said.

    If he said she gave consent and she said she did not => in dubio pro reo, he goes free she goes more traumatized.

    Actually i just read your last two paragraphs again, and i am not sure what you are getting it?
    Illuminate me? :)

  • Müntzer

    So you are saying because i was unable to witness the exact context of the remark my opinion that this did not necessarily have to imply or incite to rape ‘is obfuscating or derailing’.
    What is next?
    That i am actually accomplice and then that i think that too?
    That is not obfuscation and derailing, thats insulting.

  • Alix

    “Dicking around” seems different to me. Less personal, less directed. It probably helps that a lot of people ’round here use it in reference to themselves; even if referring to other people, the construction gives the person agency. (“She was dicking around” vs. “She needs a good dicking.”)

    It’s not the verb “dicking” I object to.

    Edit: It helps if I check the context before replying. XD I concede the point on “dicking” not always requiring a penis, though in the phrase “[x] needs a good dicking” it always seems to.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Is it possible that a rapist could not know he is a rapist?

    Given the number of college students who admit (in anonymously conducted surveys) to committing rape, provided the word ‘rape’ is not used in the question…

  • Well, you should re-think your approach. Wherever you live, you’ve still got male privilege, and that’s going to colour your perceptions.

    If a bunch of women* in a conversation are offering divergent opinions on a particular point of gender politics, then sure, chiming in with another perspective is fine. If, on the other hand, they’re all trying to say more or less the same thing, shut up and listen to them.

    Asking questions is usually fine. You know you don’t have experience living in a female body, so you want to understand better. You might sometimes get referred to a 101 page by people who are tired of explaining the same things over and over, but there’s probably nothing wrong with the question itself.

    But don’t try to take an authoritative tone when arguing these things, because that is not your place. And if you ever see yourself even getting close to doing the “you must have been misinterpreting your experience, let me explain to you how you’re wrong” thing, STOP.

    *Using this as an umbrella term for “people who are now or grew up in female-type bodies” for convenience.

  • Jurgan

    Yes, the power differential is inherent. It’s just that when people say “it’s all about power,” it sounds like the rapist is committing rape solely to prove his dominance. There can be other, complementary motives.

  • FWIW, I understand “it’s all about power” in this case to mean something like “it depends critically on the power differential, is motivated by the power differential, and would not manifest in the absence of the power differential.”

    I don’t understand it to mean “there are no other, complementary, motives.”

  • mroge

    Actually, and I am surprised no one has brought this up, rape is ALWAYS punishment. Rapists hate women and want to control them, to put them in their place. And of course your example of prison is a perfect example. Most man on man rapes have very little to do with with their sexual orientation. It has EVERYTHING to do with with anger, control and humiliation. I haven’t read all the comments below yet, so if somebody else already said this then I apologize. It just irks me that there seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding in society about what rape really is and what it is not.

  • mroge

    Apparently they think if they just SAY IT LOUD ENOUGH, it will make sense…

  • Alix

    So, okay, I have what is probably a really, really dumb question. (As I mentioned … somewhere in this monster thread, I’m not very up on my theoretical understanding of rape.)

    It seems to me that there are some rapes that are, hm, apathetic*, where the rapists see the victims as objects for gratification, as literally not really people. I guess I can see how that could get glossed as hatred, but hatred seems to me to require, I don’t know, more mental/emotional effort or engagement. So are all rapes really punishments/rooted in hatred?

    I’m thinking of opportunistic date-rapes, mostly, of the “I want it now, and you’re not a person and therefore can’t really say no” variety. And coercion-type rapes, of the “whine until they say yes/set up a situation so they don’t have much choice but to consent” variety. :/ Like I said, this is probably really stupid, and I’m probably either splitting hairs that ought not be split, or working off of some problematic definitions.

    *It should go without saying that this in no way makes those rapes somehow “better” or “less bad”. And sometimes I can’t believe I live in a culture where I have to say that. :/

  • mroge

    You bring up an interesting question. i believe an idiotic preacher called Mark Driscoll has been saying that if a wife refuses to perform oral sex on her husband that she is commiting a sin. By most people’s definition that is rape. But in certain Christian circles the man has the right to do whatever he wants wih his wife. Is this just simply a cultural thing, or does it have to do with power? How about both? A patriarchal structure that says that men are the head of the household is a power structure. And I think it is a little disingenous for men in this culture to claim that they don’t know that this is wrong. There is ample evidence of the psychological damage that rape does to women. This is also not supported in the New Testament as the proper way to treat a wife. This is simply an excuse made up by men to justify bad behavior.

  • mroge

    Yes I think in the Christian culture, they believe that the hymen was put there by God solely for the purpose of making sure that she would not experiment sexually. Maybe with guys it is a bit different because you couldn’t tell physically whether they were still virgins. However the revered hymen is not unique to humans. Horses have them too and nobody saying that they have to be married first (lol).

  • Fusina

    Sadly, not just the Christian culture.

  • mroge

    I don’t think that that is a dumb question at all. In fact tomorrow I might actually do some research on that. But these are some thoughts off of the top of my head:

    If someone does not consider another person’s rights and doesn’t consider her to be a person I would see that as a form of contempt, which is related to hatred. If you take hatred as meaning rage, no not all rapes are like that I agree. I would have to look up definations to see how all these terms relate to one another to give you a better answer.

    An example like your date-rape scenario could be like this:

    A woman refuses to have sex with the man. The man gets angry because he believes that maybe he was led on or he has contempt for her because he feels like he DESERVES sex since he was so nice to her. Or he justs wants it like you said and is taking advantage of an opportunity. Whatever the case may be he has to find some way of dehumanizing her in order to justify his actions. Usually that involves some sort of anger and resentment against women who turn him down. He believes they don’t have the right to deny him his “due” So he believes she is a “bitch” or a “whore” or whatever. Now it may not be a violent rape, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t hate involved there somewhere.

    I am too tired to go further with this but I will try to do a little more research tomorrow.

  • Alix

    Thank you! That all makes sense.

    I’d certainly agree that there’s contempt and entitlement underlying rape, and I guess I can see how there’s a sort of internalized, generalized hatred as well. I guess I was thinking of hatred as a more active emotion at the forefront of the rapist’s thoughts, not lurking in the background.

  • Myrkin

    It was. :)


  • Anton_Mates

    AFAIK, psychologists have proposed a few different typologies of rapists; A.N. Groth (1979) and Knight and Prentky (1990) have probably been most influential. (Groth’s typology is pretty outdated, though; it’s still based on the idea of the “typical” rapist as an obviously mentally ill person who violently attacks strangers.) There’s a summary of some of these typologies at this DoJ site for sex offender management.

    Generally speaking, it appears that some rapists are motivated by anger (rape to punish), some by power (rape to establish dominance), and some by sexual desire (rape to get access to an otherwise unavailable person, or to fulfill a fantasy they couldn’t otherwise fulfill, or simply to get sex right now even if potential partners are uninterested.) This is complicated by the fact that, for a lot of rapists, hurting or humiliating a victim is itself sexually arousing, and the most violent rapists generally show the highest amounts of anger, the most obsession with elaborate sadistic fantasies and the highest sex drive. (See for instance Raymond Knight’s 1999 paper “Validation of a Typology for Rapists” for more on this.) For these people, sex and power and aggression are fused into a single motivation, so you can’t really say rape for them is “about” one or the other.

    But, as you suggest, there are many opportunistic rapists, and rapists driven by elaborate but non-sadistic sexual fantasies, for whom anger and violence and the victim’s pain aren’t “the point.” They use whatever combination of overt force, verbal coercion, drugs and alcohol will make it easiest to get the sex they want and the power trip they want, with minimal social or legal repercussions. Some of the “I’m just going to show you the value of a good dicking” types are definitely in this category.

  • Alix

    Thank you for all the info! I’m going to have to track those papers down.

  • Anton_Mates

    Yeah, Groth talked about the “gentleman rapist,” who would sweet-talk his victim during the rape and try to be sexually “giving” to her, would flee if she resisted too effectively and would want to stick around for pillow talk afterwards. Some people do that to their partners and act loving and egalitarian the rest of the time. (There’s a very informative and powerful first-hand account of experiences like this at Ana Mardoll’s Ramblings.) This kind of person certainly doesn’t seem to feel conscious contempt for their victim, even if it’s written all over their actions.

  • mroge

    Thank you for that link. I have never been raped, but I have been groped before. I guess that qualifies as sexual assualt but I was always in a position to get help so it wasn’t traumatizing to me. However I do feel for these women who are told that their experiences are not rape. That is horrible.

    I am ashamed to admit when I was much younger I did not believe that if a woman got raped when she was drunk or high that that was rape. I am a woman too, so I should have known better. I was raised in a very religious family who were teetotalers. Although I do not remember them specifically telling me that a drunk or high woman deserved what she got, I got the message that partyers were immoral. One time a woman told me that she woke up from a drunken stuper with several guys having sex with her. I cringe at this, but I actually laughed when she said that! It never entered my mind that that would count as rape.

    At the age of 48 I can’t believe I was so stupid about many things when I was young. I am generally a caring person and yet I blew this woman off. It must have been very difficult for her to even talk about it and I let her down.

    All I can say is that I am glad women are talking about this and dispelling the myths about rape.

  • mroge

    Thank you. I guess a lot of my info is outdated so it is good that you clarified that.

  • Thing is, when you treat someone like they are an inanimate object, even if you treat them like a highly prized inanimate object, you’re still holding their humanity in contempt