As we all know, when it comes to sex, men in particular tend to fetishize body parts and clothing (“sexy” underwear, stockings and high heels, for example). And men are prone to viewing pornography, objectifying women, purchasing a woman’s body to use for sex, and turning sex into an exercise of power and control. Patriarchal masculinity is the reason men are so misguided about sex. Because masculinity cuts men off from their real feelings, it prevents them from being able to engage in intimate sexuality. To be masculine, men must be strong, dominant and in control. Yet being vulnerable, open and not in control are the very things needed to become intimate and connect on a deep level with another person. For a man to uphold patriarchal masculinity, he must eschew the very qualities that he would need to cultivate in order to have fulfilling sexual relationships. (That is why so many women complain that after sex, men roll over and go to sleep.
Men must avoid the minefield of letting sex open them up to emotional vulnerability, so they shut down and close off immediately afterwards.) The ability to experience real intimacy and connection is a casualty in the successful implementation of the code of masculinity. Since, to the extent that they succeed in embodying masculine ideals, men are cut off from real sexual fulfillment, they learn to look to sex for other things instead. In order to make sex interesting and meaningful when its real potential for meaning and fulfillment is eviscerated, they confuse the symbols of sex with the experience itself Chasing the symbols of sex, they objectify body parts, fetishize clothing, watch other people having sex on video, and/or attempt to purchase or steal the experience through prostitution or rape.
Intimate sex–a challenge to patriarchy? Because the human need for connection is so strong, sex is an area in which the temptation is strong for heterosexual men to let go of their masculine code and become truly intimate with women. That would be dangerous indeed for patriarchy, because men’s ability to oppress and dominate would be sorely undermined, both through experiencing the pleasure of opening up and becoming vulnerable–which would challenge the hegemony of male control–and by experiencing a deep connection with a woman–which would undermine the man’s desire and ability to oppress the woman. It is because of this danger that men must be safeguarded in every possible way from experiencing meaningful heterosexual sex.
This is why men are barraged on a daily basis with images, ideas and depictions of women as sexual objects, that men are inculcated with the idea that sex is about “nailing” or “getting” a woman, that pornography is the most prevalent thing on the internet, that real women’s bodies are considered unattractive unless made to look like the omnipresent depictions of idealized women’s bodies, that women must dress a certain way to be attractive, that men are believe they are hardwired to “play the field,” “spread their seed,” or “sow wild oats,” and that men come to believe that sex can be “gotten” or “taken” from a woman. All of this keeps men’s focus on everything and anything–sex toys, huge breasts, role-plays, “sexy” underwear–other than a real human woman, her heart and soul, her emotions and the possibility of deep love and connection. The result is that men become distracted by the trumped up trappings of sex and seldom experience what sex can d o-foster real intimacy and connection on the deepest level. This indoctrination is crucial to upholding patriarchy because it teaches men to think of sexuality in terms of power over, domination, and objectification, and so bars them from experiencing a true sexual communion with a woman. And the level of indoctrination must be powerfully strong to overcome the urge all human beings have for connection with others. This explains the incredible pervasiveness of pornography, the obsession with thongs and other “sexy” garments, and the ubiquitous and salacious display of women’s bodies on television, in music videos, advertisements, and magazine covers. Our culture hypersexualizes every conceivable trapping of sexuality in order to be quite certain that real sexual connection is an unimagined experience, or if it is imagined, is construed as prudish, “vanilla” or boring.
How is rape possible?
Because men have been so egregiously misled about what sex is, and about what can be gotten from another human being, because they have learned to become detached from their own emotions and vulnerabilities, because the masculine imperative is to be strong and powerful and identifies vulnerability with weakness, because they are so impaired from getting what is real from another person, because their idea of sexuality is overrun with the trappings of sex, they think that there is something to be gotten from forced intercourse. But what would sexuality have to look like for rape to be irrelevant?
What if sex was like hugging?
When we want to be hugged, we want warmth, kindness, and the feeling that someone cares about us. It would make no sense to force someone to hug us against their will–we could not get what we want that way. We can’t get warmth, kindness and caring if it’s forced. We know that. We know that the hug expresses a feeling of caring and we know that what we want is the caring. The hug is the means by which the caring is given–it is not an end unto itself. It is the vehicle for receiving caring. No one feels lonely and goes out to a bar hoping to coerce, manipulate, or lie to someone to cop a hug under false pretenses. We know that trying to get a stranger who has no caring to hug us when we feel lonely would be an unsatisfying and, empty endeavor–that is why we don’t even bother.
Likewise, we don’t objectify certain people or certain attributes as being more conducive to a good hug. We don’t point, out a person walking down the street and say to our friend, “Man, she would be a good hugger.” We don’t identify certain body parts of a determined size and shape to be more “huggy,” leading us to want to be hugged by a person of a particular body type rather than another. And what would “huggy” clothing look like, after all?
And imagine how absolutely silly it would be, if when we were feeling lonely and in need of a caring friend, we would log onto the internet and watch videos of people hugging each other. Watching the gesture of caring–a hug–being performed by actors devoid of actual caring would do nothing for our need for affection. And how much would it alleviate our loneliness to go to a street in a poor part of town and pay someone, a perfect stranger, to hug us?
Finally, it would really make no sense for a desperately lonely person to go find some unsuspecting victim on the street and violently force her to hug. The mere idea seems preposterous–what on earth would anyone get out of a forced hug?
None of the sick ways of thinking we have about sex make sense when we think about hugging. I think hugging is a
pretty good model of what sex might look like if we valued the humanity of people and if we could acknowledge that what we long for, ache for, and hope for is real intimacy and connection.
Perhaps more than we realize or accept, we all have deep-seated needs for others-for connection, for communion with another, for understanding, for being known and accepted at our deepest level. If we could realize that what we really want when we want sex is somewhat similar to what we want when we want a hug, only on a deeper level, and if we could think of sex as involving whole human beings, including our emotions, hearts and souls, and as something that nurtures and connects us deeply to one another, then rape would not only be impossible, it would make no sense.
The struggle for a healthy sexuality
Rape is possible only to the extent that healthy sexuality is impossible. That may sound simplistic, but healthy intimate sexuality is precisely what patriarchy works overtime to make practically unattainable. As we know all too well, achieving intimacy and connection is no easy feat, especially over the long haul (just ask anyone in a long-term
relationship). Everything in patriarchy mitigates against it, keeps us from knowing how to communicate well, from being able to deeply accept ourselves and others, from being strong enough to hear whatever our partner is going through, from having enough self-esteem to not take things too personally, etc. For all that it is purported to be “vanilla” or boring, achieving sexual intimacy and connection may be the final frontier.
In order to eradicate rape, we must first create a healthy sexuality. Although patriarchy does anything and everything to distract us from finding a way to create intimate and connected sexual relationships, I think we need to keep our eyes on the prize. Only when we find a way to experience sex as connection with the whole of another human being, will rape wither away, as irrelevant and beside-the-point as a forced hug.