‘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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"Yes spiritual refugess. Those that need salavtion."

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  • Müntzer

    Since i think that was directed at me, no sexual orientation is not a problem that needs solving, but i thought it obvious enough that ‘dicking’ is hardly any serious try at ‘correcting’ a sexual orientation.

    But i still do not believe saying that, same as proscribing woman a dicking if they are cranky or men the need to get laid if they behave strange, is ‘advocating […] rape’.
    For that i would require language that is a little more explicit.

  • Cathy W

    I just double-checked: the first English women arrived in 1608. The source I was looking at to confirm the dates suggested that the arrival in late 1609 of a shipload of colonists whose supplies had been lost in a storm, including women and children, may have contributed to the famine the following winter, when the cannibalism was said to have happened. So the girl wasn’t necessarily white, but she also wan’t necessarily not white.

    (Edited to make a terrible sentence less terrible.)

  • Jurgan

    I’m not sure I made sense earlier. Actually, I’m not entirely sure what I was trying to say. Mainly I was trying to say that no one should be shamed for “weakness,” since we all need help from time to time, but some victims might be afraid to come forward because they’ll be seen as having asked for it. I’m afraid I didn’t explain myself well enough.

  • Müntzer

    Or i misundererstood you.
    Anyways, since we both got to make our points, it hardly matters now, does it :)?

  • ako

    The trouble with trying to address cultural messages about sex is that, outside of specifically feminist contexts, it’s rare for people to distinguish between the freedom for women to behave in certain ways, and the pressure to behave in certain ways. There’s a tendency to pit mandatory modesty against mandatory sexiness, when both of those things are damaging and reduce women to mere sexualized bodies to be displayed or hidden in accordance with male needs. (And there are plenty of people who will tell you how very much they’re liberating young women by forcing or pressuring them to cover up and promise to stay virgins.)

    In a better cultural conversation, it’d be less about how much skin was being exposed or how sexy things were and more about freedom, exploitation, and pressure.

  • P J Evans

    They can determine a lot from skeletal structure. Also it’s unlikely that there would have been many non-whites in Jamestown.

    (Remember that they were very much unprepared for life on a frontier. They apparently planned for living like an English manor, or a small village, and didn’t have the skills or knowledge they really needed. Add hitting the worst drought in centuries, and also ticking off the locals….)

  • Yeah, they had the skull, and I know they can determine racial markers for that, so I WAS CONFUZED!

    Thanks everyone!

  • But that was the topic under discussion, a lesbian being “corrected” by a good dicking. And you responded talking about problems to be solved by dicking.

  • Fusina

    A concept I have a hard time getting my head around.

    Um, Yeah, Someone is already not sexually attracted to men, and rape will magically reverse that? I think the more likely outcome is that they will still not be sexually attracted to men, but will add on a loathing and hatred for same.

  • Fusina

    Uh, I never saw the video…which probably explains that.

  • Alix

    …I laughed.

    If you’re going to the special hell, so am I.

  • Um, Yeah, Someone is already not sexually attracted to men, and rape will magically reverse that? I think the more likely outcome is that they will still not be sexually attracted to men, but will add on a loathing and hatred for same.

    The only way that computes to me is if the people putting forward those arguments are basing them off a faulty appeal to nature and essentialism If they are told that non-heterosexuality is unnatural, or the result of bad parenting, or it is just a rebellious “phase” a person goes through. They may think that giving such a person “perspective” on the issue will help them realize that.

    Of course, forcing themselves on someone is likely to give them an entirely different “lesson” to take away from the experience…

  • Alix

    ‘dicking’ is hardly any serious try at ‘correcting’ a sexual orientation.

    FWIW, I have known a few assholes who honestly believed that would work. I have known more who do indeed think that a woman, esp. one they’ve tried to hit on, being lesbian or uninterested is grounds for rape threats at the very least.

    And I do indeed find “you need a good dicking” threatening. Because it is a threat, and it is yet another way to reduce me to a sexual object instead of a person.

  • Alix

    Africans didn’t arrive until 1619, and given the tensions with the locals, yeah. Jamestown was pretty much all white at the time in question.

  • müntzer

    I see that i skimped on the sarcasm smilies and the quotation marks.

    I don’t see i to eye with her (?) claim that telling or saying about a lesbian that she needs a good dicking (presumable from context so that she gets straight) is advocating rape.

    That is what that whole diatribe is for.

    If some tells me to get a dicking, i would presume that they, though probably not in earnest, advice that to me as a solution for whatever problem they connect that too (or ‘You are acting weird, you need to get laid!’ where presumably my acting weird would be cured or elevated by getting laid, e.g. having sex), not as an open invitation and request to anyone listening or even the world at large ‘to dick’ or lay my by force.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Sex does not have to involve penis.
    If the perceived solution to a lesbian’s problems involves sex, it is safe to assume penises won’t be involved.

    If the perceived solution to a lesbian’s problems involves penis, it is safe to assume the lesbian wants no part of it.

    I’m a ‘zir’, not a ‘her’.

  • stardreamer42

    Prison sentences would be a good thing, but I think the knowledge that it would result in social ostracism would be even more effective. And that’s what rape culture is really about.

    Rape culture is men knowing that they can brag about what they did to that drunk chick at the party, and their friends will laugh and slap them on the back and think they’re “real men”. Men getting together to take videos of themselves raping drunk women, and posting them online, and then when they’re charged, everybody talks about how tragic it is for THEM that “their promising lives are going to be destroyed by this”. Men being bewildered when those rape charges come down, because EVERYBODY THEY KNOW either thinks this is an okay way to behave or has been terrorized into silence.

    This is what’s called the Social License to Rape — and it’s what needs to be changed, even more than we need prosecutions. In fact, changing this will increase the odds of rapists being prosecuted and getting those prison sentences!

  • Müntzer

    I don’t follow the last sentence, maybe i do not know the right man, but so far i mainly come against that in the context of sex making people happy and relaxed and happy and relaxed people being easier and more plesant to deal with.

    As a offensive and sleazy way of saying ‘chill out’ if you will.

    I cannot rule out, of course, that people might mean it as a threat and much less whether you find it threatening but so far i have not witnessed it that way.

  • Alix

    The people I know who do actually believe that lesbians just haven’t had a good man yet are very gender essentialist. They seem to come in two flavors: those who believe the only reason there are lesbians is that they’ve been assaulted, and so hate men, and thus just need good lovin’; and those who believe lesbians are being willful, or deliberately sinful, who thus need to be forcibly “set straight.” The people who believe the latter are the ones who tend to actually get behind the idea of corrective rape.

    For those not getting the rape-as-punishment thing, think about the comments people make when they wish some particularly heinous individual would end up in prison.

  • Alix

    It might be regional, but around here “you need a good dicking” is far more commonly used as a threat. Often accompanied with looming. “He/She just needs to get laid” is the “chill out” version.

    And, honestly, even the milder “you just need to get laid” thing I find deeply offensive.

  • stardreamer42

    The rape-as-punishment thing is actually a form of social terrorism. The message is, “Society’s protections can be withdrawn from you at any time, for the slightest of infractions of these multitudinous and often mutually-contradictory rules, and then you will be raped and nobody will care because YOU DESERVED IT.”

  • Carstonio

    Thanks for the clarification. The attitude you describe soinds like elaborate version of “Boys will be boys.”

  • stardreamer42

    The purity culture may be the primary purveyor of the “damaged goods” toxic sludge today, but they didn’t invent it by any means. When my father found out that I was no longer a virgin, I had to listen to most of an entire day of him ranting and screaming and crying about how HIS WHOLE LIFE HAD BEEN WASTED because I was now “damaged goods” — yes, he actually used that phrase. And that was nearly 40 years ago, and my parents were not-especially-observant Methodists. But that was the attitude of the entire culture during the period when they grew up, and they swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. Fortunately, I didn’t.

  • Müntzer

    Still that does not bring us to advocating rape.
    That would not be “She just needs a good dicking.” but at the very least “She needs to get dicked.”

  • EllieMurasaki

    What the fuck are you ON.

  • Müntzer

    Offensive is something other threatening.
    I don’t know if this fits, but this seems to like calling everybody who beats his kids a child molester.
    Sure, such people are bad people and something needs to be done, but they are not child molesters.
    Same here:
    Creepy, sure, no manners, definitly.
    Advocating or threatening rape?
    I don’t think so.

  • Müntzer

    Isn’t the chronology usual different?
    Something happens, the community does not want to deal with and THEN reasons are found why a) either the victim deserved it or b) it is better for the victim as well not to make to big a deal out of it.

    That looks to me more like the typical (though misguided) attampts of communities to regulate Bad Things (TM) through not acknowledging them.

  • Alix

    You didn’t read what I wrote. I said that “you need a good dicking,” phrased that way, is absolutely a threat, at least in the region of the world where I currently live. I said the milder phrasing of “you just need to get laid” is offensive; I never said that phrasing is necessarily threatening. In my experience the latter is usually dismissive.

    The two phrases are not semantically equivalent.

  • Müntzer

    Where do you live?

  • EllieMurasaki

    He says, like that’s the relevant part of Alix’s remarks.

  • Müntzer

    Forget the name, but it should only inhibit nor-adrenalin and serotonin. :D

  • Alix


  • Alix

    I think I missed this – what’s your book?

  • EllieMurasaki
  • Alix

    Okay, I’m sorry, I have to ask – are you male?

    The social messages I got as a wee apparent-girl were most definitely along the lines of what stardreamer’s laid out: the world as a scary, scary place populated by some percentage of monstrous men, who I had to be vigilant against at all times. And I heard a lot of stuff about how “sluts” deserved raping, or it wasn’t rape if a woman was slutty, and how the worst thing in the world was to be labeled a slut, because then you were fair game.

    And I think pretty much anyone who survived middle school knows how easily someone can be deemed a slut. For being a “bitch,” for having a boyfriend who said he slept with you, for wearing the wrong clothes, for being “uppity”, etc. For just being lusted after by a guy. For turning a guy down. For not being the right kind of person – right kind of religion, the “right” race, the right socioeconomic status. Etc. Etc.

    There were a lot of messages about how I was supposed to behave. How I was supposed to dress, speak, act. Not all exclusively about sexuality, either. And the message was very much that if I didn’t walk the very narrow line society drew for me properly, I’d “get what was coming to me.”

  • Alix

    Ooh! I’ll have to pick up a copy. Thanks for the link!

  • EllieMurasaki


  • I don’t see i to eye with her (?) claim that telling or saying about a lesbian that she needs a good dicking (presumable from context so that she gets straight) is advocating rape.

    That’s not a “claim” that’s a fact.

    Let me clarify this for you.

    Would a self professed lesbian, under any typical circumstances, desire to have a penis inserted in her vagina by a man? No. OK, so if she doesn’t desire it, she’s wouldn’t consent to it, correct? How is that not rape? What fucked up definition of rape are you operating under?

    The example you bring up, of a friend recommending sex as a stress release, has a COMPLETELY different context. “You need to get laid”=/=”You need a good dicking”

  • Darkrose

    Is there an ebook version somewhere? It sounds really interesting.

  • I assumed that if they were eating people, they started with the natives first, which is why I was amazed it was a white woman.

  • EllieMurasaki

    There is. It’s not linked from there? It should be linked from there. If not, http://www.amazon.com/A-Dinner-of-Herbs-ebook/dp/B00C1X8DP8/

  • Müntzer

    It is.
    Is it not?

  • Müntzer

    Thanks, i shall not pestering you further and avoid Virginia.
    I don’t think i would like it there. :)

  • Darkrose

    if, for example, pornographers excised the words “slut” and “bitch” from their professional vocabulary

    This porn writer isn’t going to do that, ever. Not because I think there’s anything wrong with consensual expressions of human sexuality, but because verbal humiliation is probably my favorite kink to write, hands down.

    Er. That’s probably TMI, isn’t it?

  • Darkrose

    How odd! The first link gave me the “Tell the publisher you’d like to read this book on Kindle.

    Anyway, it’s downloading to the KF even as we speak, so I’ll have something new to read at lunch. :)

  • EllieMurasaki

    That’s bizarre, because I published it to the Kindle as part of the CreateSpace process.


  • Müntzer

    I operate under a definition of homosexuality that you might find fucked up.
    I operate under a definition where sexuality is sliding, not rigid.
    Also “You need to get laid” -> not necessary friendly.

  • Alix

    My brother, who is … not quite a fundamentalist Christian, but pretty damn close, went on a camping trip with my sister and a bunch of friends. They all were having a good time, people were pairing up in tents, he didn’t care. You can probably see where this is going: he then discovered Sis was one of those people pairing up – he canceled the whole trip right then (he was the driver) and was so distraught driving home that he damn near ran them off the road, twice. Sis and a few of the other people on that trip think he might’ve tried that deliberately.

    He pitched one hell of a melodramatic fit when he finally got home, too – loud weeping, screaming, throwing himself on the stairs and banging the ground – and according to everyone else, he harangued them all constantly on the ride back, too, going on and on about how disgusting they were and how Sis was an ungodly slut.

    Fortunately, he’s mellowed a bit since then.

    What stunned me was how deeply he’d absorbed all this purity-culture bullshit. Our folks didn’t approve of premarital sex, but they were much milder about it than a lot of folks – it got mentioned a few times, and then Mom made sure we had all the info about safe sex anyway, and when my sibs did start having sex, they never brought up the premarital-sex thing again. Mom at least made it clear that she believed that as part of her religion, but that she expected us to make up our own minds about sex, religion, and all other aspects of morality. (Dad just never talked about sex. At all.)

    My brother had picked all this up from his friends. From popular entertainment. From the other adults in our social network. From the church he chose to attend. And he fully absorbed not just the purity-culture shit, but the hypocritical version: it was natural and therefore easily forgivable for him to have sex, but not our sister. And in his mind, he was somehow ruined by proxy because Sis was a “slut”.

    ….looky, I wrote another essay. But some stories need to be told.

  • Darkrose

    You’re on DW? Why do I have a feeling you’re already on my reading list and I don’t even know it? (Could be because I’d have to go back 1000+ entries to catch up.)

  • EllieMurasaki

    What in fuck does the fact that sexuality is sometimes not and/or not wholly immutable have to do with the fact that lesbian means penis sex not desired and therefore suggesting she have penis sex is suggesting she get raped?