The Great. Dark. Man.

Posted: February 15, 2011 in Feminism, Gender Violence, Masculinities, Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

I read that in the guardian the other day. The bit about how sometimes you might not want it at first, but then you do…it is so much like all those bloody film scenes where the woman fights the hero off, and then goes limp and moony eyed. It is this whole romanticism of she didn’t think she wanted it, but then his sheer manliness overpowered her. It’s bullshit. but that is what Robertson seems to think about women, and rape. That we all want it really, even when we say we don’t. It makes me feel a bit sick in my mouth to be honest’

This comment was left on a discussion about the Assange case. Another discussion with feminists about something I think is very important that I got hounded off. But fuck it I will bring these discussions here.

The commenter raises a very interesting point, about how she thinks Assange’s lawyer in the extradition case has presented ‘rape’, as if it was a kind of Mills and Boon type story of a dark, manly hero taking the wench and overpowering her. As she secretly wanted all along.

My question is this: if those stories are so common and so much a part of our consciousness, not just in Mills and Boon, but also in classical literature-the picture above is a representation of Wuthering Heights, for example. And also, as the commenter says, in film and popular culture. If this narrative of the strong masculine, dominant man and the weak, submissive woman is so prevalent in our discourse is there some truth in it? Or rather is it embedded deep in our psyches?

I don’t know what to think about the Assange case anymore or even Robertson QC’s remarks, that feminists have found so offensive. But I do know it is a very interesting example of how we portray heterosexual sex /relationships in our culture.

The feminist narrative is not actually any different from the romantic one, except that it always involves the man ‘overpowering’ the woman against her will. Which, if you think about it, makes him out to be even stronger, even more dominant, even more powerful than the versions of the story which say she eventually is overcome by feminine desire for him.


Comments
  1. Tim says:

    If this narrative of the strong masculine, dominant man and the weak, submissive woman is so prevalent in our discourse is there some truth in it? Or rather is it embedded deep in our psyches?

    This sounds like a chicken and the egg situation. Is the power dynamic you describe displayed in so many varieties because it is true or do we think it is true because it is used so frequently ?

    I think, like you already said, that we have a male person overwhelming a female person, in any case. The difference between the two viewpoints of feminism and romanticism is that one looks upon it as favorable and desirable and the other does not.

    What I find interesting about this is that it does not necessarily need a male in the dominant role and a female in the submissive role. I am pretty sure you could find situations in which the roles have been reversed, or both roles are being taken by two persons of the same gender, just look at the whole butch/femme thing.

  2. Hi Tim
    You make some very good points there.
    I am going to think about them!

  3. Underlying this there seems to be a sneaky thread of universalism – either “all women secretly want it and just need to be persuaded of that” (romance novels) or “all women don’t want it and men will ignore that and do it anyway” (some types of feminist).

    The truth is more likely that there is some kernel of truth to both sides, given that some women really “don’t want it (and definitely not with HIM!)” (for various values of “HIM”) and some women genuinely want to (let themselves) be overpowered and “ravished”.

    I didn’t read the Robertson comments as “That [women] all want it really, even when [they] say [they] don’t.” the way your quoted blogger did, in fact he seemed to be referring precisely to this variation of desires between women as well as over time in a single person. But I do think that when a woman says after the fact that “no, I did not want it that way, and my resistance was genuine” then it is probably a mistake to pull up examples of women for whom the “romance novel” scenario is more accurate (and again, there’s always the issue of choosing whom one wants to have overpower one – from the reading I’ve done, I understand that most women who report having sexual fantasies of being “raped” are quite particular on whom they fantasise to be doing it to them).

    Unfortunately, the ubiquity of the “no, no, no… oh god yes!” storyline as portrayed in romance novels (and classic literature) makes it seem as though “no” is merely a part of foreplay rather than actually saying “no, I don’t want to do it with you”. I was reading a novel a couple of months back (not a romance novel) set in the 1970s in which a rather simple farmhand wants advice from his grandmother on how to make his approach to the girl he’s recently started talking to and wants to have as his girlfriend. Grandmother remembers how her (now deceased) husband made his advances to her – out walking in the fields, he surprised her with a rambunctious “roll in the hay”, and she liked it. Her advice is therefore based on her experience. I got quite a sick feeling in my stomach because I felt sure that this was setting up a rape scenario whereby the young woman whom the farmhand desired so, was not as interested as grandmother had been decades ago in being surprised and ravished the same way (in fact, in the novel her protestations were sufficient that he stopped before sexual contact – i.e. rape – took place).

    I know that you reject the concept of “rape culture”, but again, this strikes me as being a pretty clear example of the type of interlinking social and media structures that make rape seem permissible or excusable, to which I understand that term to refer.

    • Hi Snowdrop- thanks for your comments. I’d like to read that novel what was it?!

      I think we are interpreting a similar thing in two different ways. What you call rape culture that makes ‘rape’ permissable, I call heterosexual culture, that makes out heterosexual sex to be synomynous with what some people call rape.

      Now, this is not to say that I don’t think people are coerced and assaulted sexually. Just that what we conjur up in our minds when we think of ‘rape’ is based on our assumptions about men and women and heterosexuality.

      If we want to reduce actual assault, I think we have to change how we view men, women and heterosexuality. and stop romanticising heteronormative dominant masculinity!

      • But how can we do that without giving up on hetero-sex altogether?!

      • It was a fairly brief scene in a novel that was mostly about a village cricket club fighting off developers who wanted to build a supermarket on their cricket field. It was “Test Time At Tillingfold” by John Parker, the relevant passages were on pages 41-46. It turns out I misremembered the story slightly – after fighting him off fiercely and escaping, they both tripped and in the more relaxed mood after that, she welcomes his advances (the author wanted the scene to have a “happy ending”, I guess).

        It’s interesting the way you frame the issues, I’m not sure I have answers for the questions it poses or for why I feel uncomfortable with it, but yes – we seem to be approaching the same concepts from different angles. I definitely agree with the last remarks!

    • Tim says:

      Underlying this there seems to be a sneaky thread of universalism – either “all women secretly want it and just need to be persuaded of that” (romance novels) or “all women don’t want it and men will ignore that and do it anyway” (some types of feminist).

      I totally agree with you on this one. Saying that there are either people who reject or embrace this completely creates a false dichotomy between two extremes on a spectrum. It is more likely that the majority of people position themself somewhere in the between.

  4. humbition says:

    It would be interesting to turn the question around. That is, if the culture has these messages, why isn’t there far more rape than there is?

    Even with a very inclusive definition of rape (i.e. one in which Alleged Assange would indeed get in trouble), most men (and women) don’t act that way. Why not?

    With a simpleminded concept of cause we can mesmerize ourselves with how a narrative can be misused. Our social sciences of this matter do not trust ordinary people. I think the question of how ordinary people manage not to be the puppets of these narratives is the interesting one. How is it that ordinary sex manages to keep within the bounds of ordinary consensuality?

    Of course that would involve respecting ordinary people and gaining wisdom from their actions, even wisdom that they don’t know they have — rather than assuming that ordinary people always get it all wrong, and we should reform what they do.

    Even undergraduates. If you build a theory of what people are doing right, and then build on it — rather than a theory of what they are doing wrong, and how they must change everything — we might have a chance.

    And again, I would look at other times, and other cultures, similarly. How did/do they use narratives? Aren’t those who would follow them too literally understood as being a little bit stupid, as not getting the point? We are always willing to think that other people are less enlightened than we are. It is not easy, as good anthropologists learn, to really understand how people use narratives in the full context of their lives.

    • interesting points there humbition. lots more to think about it is a subject not talked about enough

    • typhonblue says:

      “How is it that ordinary sex manages to keep within the bounds of ordinary consensuality?”

      For the same reason that the vast majority of people don’t murder.

      Rape, like murder, is hard to do. The average person would likely find it just as traumatic to rape as to be raped.

      • Tim says:

        It would be interesting to turn the question around. That is, if the culture has these messages, why isn’t there far more rape than there is?

        For the same reason that the vast majority of people don’t murder.

        While a classic and/or cheesy definition of romanticism is definitely able to put a lot of pressure on a woman, I don’t think that rape lies within its normal range of practices. Even if you can horribly misinterpret situations using a romantic mindset, I don’t think it is possible to use it to sanctify using physical force or intoxication (Coercion is something else, however).

      • Charlotte says:

        I agree completely with typhonblue. The difference is, of course, that rape is having sex and murder is killing. There is nothing wrong with having sex; the crime is forcing someone to have sex which is one of the reasons why rape can become so complicated in court.

        Where should the line be drawn? In theory, a girl should be able to say, “Yes… yes… yes…” and then change her mind to, “No”, at the very last minute just as the man is about to penetrate her. In theory. But even though it is, I would have a hard time labeling that as rape.

        Date rape should, in my opinion, have a different name. It is a crime, but it is not the same crime as a rape that takes place on a woman who was not already happy to be naked in bed with the rapist. Shoplifting is stealing, but pinching a candy bar is not the same as robbing a bank.

        As to why so many women (and men) fantasize about being overpowered and taken, I agree with SnowdropExplodes. The ‘rapes’ in these fantasies have little if anything to do with real-life rape. And the ‘rape’ fantasy is one of my favorite subjects!

  5. elissa says:

    The heart of “narratives” is that they all stack together, against and within each other, to balance and offset one another, finally acting out in a complex fashion that tends to forbid a clear cause and effect analysis.

    We hear of the term ”rape culture” though the larger truth is that we inhabit a “non-rape” culture, for we know explicitly that when social contracts break down / falter (war, disasters, poor cell phone reception etc) the incident of violence, including rape, rises, without a statistically significant exception.

    It’s the old born pure / then compromised – that stupid religion of all stripes foists upon us. The idea that “sin” tarnishes. The stronger truth is that we spend our good lives washing ourselves clean….or as they say in kindergarten – good thing toddlers don’t have access to nuclear weapons, or we’d have blown up this planet a hundred times over by now.

  6. You are all going to really keep me on my toes round here I can tell. Thanks for your comments so far they have really made me think.

  7. Clarence says:

    I hate to say it, but looking at that picture, I can’t resist:

    Help! Quasimodo’s got the girl!

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