Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Rape Culture and Unhealthy Relationships: A Case Study

[Content note: discussion of rape/pressured sexual acts/lack of consent/victim blaming]

Yesterday I posted a submission on Tumblr that I received via email and in less than a day, it's already reached well over 1100 notes. This is pretty atypical, as most of my posts max out at 30-50, but this particular topic seems to have invoked a firestorm of discussion.

The post in question displays a man saying that he believes that his partner owes him sex.

Here's the actual screen shot.

[Image text: Facebook post that reads, "I'm sorry but if you and I are in a relationship and I really want to have sex, telling me you don't 'feel like' doing it is just not a good enough excuse for me. Do you think I 'feel like' always buying you something for your birthday? Do you think I always 'feel like' taking you to dinner? Do you think I always 'feel like' listening to you complain about your job and your friends? Do you think I always 'feel like listening to you when you talk for hours in hopes I can catch something you like so I can do it for you, which I probably don't even 'feel like' doing? And yet, I do it. Why? Because I'm in a relationship and whether or not I 'feel like" doing something doesn't really matter, what matters is the needs of my partner. So if I'm willing to do things for you whether I 'feel like' it or not, the least you can do is give me some sex when I want it. I feel like that's fair."]

Typing out that image description made my skin crawl. Revisiting every word from this entitled asshole's brain really drove home how messed up this thinking is.

Please note, that I will be using "he" as a pronoun for the poster of this status and "she" as the pronoun for the hypothetical girlfriend, as that was indicated to me in the email from the submitter.

I wish I could say that the problems here are self evident, but because the post has actually received some criticism (ie a few people have jumped in to defend this mindset!) I'm going to break down point-by-point why this Facebook post should warn every person on this dude's friend list that he is not only a misogynist but also a potential rapist and abuser.

Firstly, let's address the obvious overall point of this post: that his partner owes him sex. I don't have any other way but than to say this incredibly clearly: if you feel pressured, obligated, or coerced into having sex, then you are not actually consenting. And if something is nonconsensual, it's rape. This man is essentially advocating that women "grin and bear it" and submit to sex with their partners when they don't want to...that's rape! There's no way around it. No matter what someone has done for you...you never, ever owe someone sex. EVER. End of statement. Period. Goodbye.

The fact that someone could sit down at their computer and write a status which essentially advocates for rape and think that is a totally OK thing to publicly sign his name to all the more reminds me that we do a huge disservice when we don't teach everyone about enthusiastic consent.*

Secondly, look at how he describes what he does for his partner in a relationship...everything he says that he does for her is coated with such spite and hatred. He portrays this hypothetical partner as someone who is always talking and complaining. If that's not evidence of a deeply misogynistic view, what is? Every example he listed is so disdainful that he actually sounds kind of miserable in this relationship. I mean, he comes across as actively antagonistic about her, which leads me to believe that the only reason he is with this person is to have sex, which of course serves to further disgust me about the point he is making.

This whole tirade is laden with red flags for an abusive relationship. The first is the obvious fact that he feels he is entitled to unrestricted access to his partner's body with no concern for her feelings. The very specific examples he lists imply that he is talking about his real partner or perhaps an ex-partner. If that is the case, to air a very private concern (even one not as horrifying as this one) is abusive. It's a public shaming technique, which I'm happy to do to random sexists in the world, but that is NOT how you address an issue you have with the person you are dating. Right there in black and white he blatantly insults all of these things this woman does as a way of trying to show how awesome he is. (When in reality he depicts himself as a selfish prick who only acts like a decent person in his relationship to get what he wants.)

Fortunately, the overall tone of those 1100+ notes are in support of calling out this example of rape culture and outright indignation that this was posted in the first place. But, like I said, there were a few commenters who spoke up to his defense. Here's one such gem:
Seriously if the guy wants sex then give him sex! It’s a good point, he doesn’t feel like doing crap for you all the time, but he does because e loves you, so u should give him what makes him happy because he loves you and you love him! I get so annoyed when girls flip out about how their boyfriend wants to have sex, I mean if you are a minor, it’s different, but I you are an adult, act like one and show your man that you care, just like he shows you tht he cares
(Huge SIC on all of that.)

The last point I'd like to make about all of this is that both this reaction and the original status display the hugely problematic idea that women are the gatekeepers of sex and it is something they "give" to men. This idea ties into faulty positioning of women as morally superior to men and therefore responsible for being "good" while "boys will be boys." This mentality excuses men of the responsibility for their own actions, shames female sexuality, and can even result in rape victim blaming (ie "She shouldn't have been wearing that! What did she think would happen!")

All in all, this man, his entitled rant, and his supporters are seriously fucked up.

I want to make it clear that I'm not saying that people can't talk about their sexual desires in a relationship and tell their partner if they'd like to have sex more. There are, of course, healthy ways to navigate those conversations and make your wishes respectfully known without exerting pressure or coercion. I believe that open communication is critical to a happy, healthy sex life. But this guy has done absolutely nothing to build toward one such experience. Instead he has show what a horrible person he really is and I hope all of his potential future girlfriends saw this on their newsfeed and ran the other direction.

My only regret is that the anonymous submitter sent the screen cap with his name blocked out.

*As a caveat, I'd like to mention that I've read about and recognize that there are asexual people who don't believe in the enthusiastic consent model but when I use it I mean what Esti said in the liniked Feministe piece when she commented, "Enthusiastic consent is about making sure your partner really wants to do whatever it is–that they’re not just giving in because they feel like they have to or because you badgered them. It shouldn’t be about requiring people to experience desire or attraction the right way, whatever that might be, before their consent is recognized as 'real.'" But let's set that aside for a moment because this guy blatantly said he wants sex from someone who outwardly stated they did not want to do it.

This blog has strict comment moderation intended to preserve a safe space. Moderation is managed solely by the blog author. As such, even comments made in good faith will be on a short delay, so please do not attempt to resubmit your comment if it does not immediately appear. Discussion and thoughtful participation are encouraged, but abusive comments of any type will never be published. The blog author reserves the right to publish/delete any comments for any reason, at her sole discretion. 


  1. The facebook poster failed to realize the main dynamic between all the things he says he doesn't feel like doing versus sex. Getting something for her birthday is not the same as feeling pressure to give your body to someone. He's comparing apples to oranges here.

  2. This isn't just misogyny. It's a miserable relationship. Why would you be with someone if you don't enjoy supporting them, talking to them, doing nice things for them? Do people really have entire relationships only doing "nice" things in order to get sex in exchange?

    1. Yep, like I said it's misogynistic and generally abusive.

  3. There is SO MUCH wrong with what he said that I dont know where to start. If that status popped up on my facebook, I dont think I'd know where to begin my critique. Beside the fact that he basically wants to RAPE his hypothetical girlfriend, why is he so hateful of women that he cant imagine being with a woman who he enjoys talking to? Who he cares about, so he likes buying her gifts? I LOVE buying my boyfriend gifts - but then again, I'm not a sad, pathetic piece of shit who despises the opposite sex for some obviously deep-rooted reason. Like, Jesus Christ. Oh, and when my boyfriend doesnt want to have sex? Why would I want to pressure him into it? We have sex due to MUTUAL attraction and passion and arousal. Anyone who's okay with arousal being one-sided, and not caring if the other person is into, has some serious fucking issues. That is just disgusting. GAHHH. What a sick, hateful human being this man is. His life must be so devoid of real love and passion, I would feel sad for him I wasnt so afraid for any unfortunate women he might come in contact with.

    Never mind the constant presence in all of this of the myth that sex is something men desire, and women just do to keep men happy - it's not like women have their own libido, or desires, or agency over their sexuality, right? "If he wants sex, give him sex" - coz what you want is irrelevant, right? Uggghhh.

    Sorry, I know you pretty much covered this, but I needed to rant.

  4. There are situations where I will have sex with my partner even if I'd rather do something else, just like we both do lots of small and large things for one another. Compromise and looking out for the other person's happiness is a large part of most relationships. However, the reason we do this is because we love each other and want the other one to be happy.
    If you start to keep score, seeing every action in your relationship as part of an exchange (of attention for sex, for instance), then this is neither a happy nor a healthy relationship for either of you. I get that for a lot of people, sex is a really important part of their relationships (which is NOT a sign of being shallow), but to them I say what I say to everyone else who feels that their partner can't meet their needs (whether it be having an intelligent conversation or being physically close to them most of the time): you have to decide whether your needs or the person you're with is more important to you. This is not a trick question: if you aren't happy in a relationship you have every right to leave it, even if you still love that person, and even if it is about something as "shallow" as sex. You can talk to your partner about your needs, and it is also right to expect some compromise in a relationship. However, none of this means that you get to pressure your partner into doing something they don't want to do. It only means that if your partner isn't meeting your needs and is also not willing to compromise, you should leave.


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