Monday, December 19, 2011

Why Comprehensive Knowledge is Important

I recently read something that made me angry. As you know, I don't typically use this blog as an opinion forum {although, I'm thinking of venturing into that a little bit more}, but I also feel as though I have a responsibility to talk about research and things I read that could be misleading or damaging. I have been privileged to get a MS degree, and to write a thesis on sexual behavior. That means that not only do I know a bit about sexual situations, but I also know about how they are studied, and all of the things that people are socialized to believe about sex and gender.

So, when I read this article about how men can't tell the difference between what a rapist says and what a men's magazine says, I was skeptical. Did men really not know what sounded acceptable? Is there really a wide-spread problem? And then I read the accompanying article from the university and I was even more skeptical.

Basically, the researchers read a book of interviews with convicted rapists and took some quotes. Then, they read "lad" magazines {Playboy, GQ, the male versions of Cosmo} and took those quotes and scrambled them with the quotes from rapists and asked normal people to identify which quote came from where. Turns out that they were misidentified a whole lot, and the researchers came to the conclusion that normal people identified more with the rapists than they do with lad magazines and that they somehow find those situations more acceptable.

Hold up. I agree that there are some serious issues surrounding the way we, as a society, talk about sex. Women are often treated as a commodity in one sense, and then vilified if they decide to own their own sexual desires. We're supposed to be innocent, yet sexually experienced, the girl-next-door, but a bombshell and frisky. Men are told they're love machines, should be able to go at it constantly, shouldn't show emotions and that women are irrational. Some people think it's OK to ignore clear "stop signs" in a sexual encounter {and that no really means yes}, and yes, rapists generally think they're giving their victims what they want or what they deserve. They also take cues from the people around them to justify their actions {go read this story; you will never make a rape joke again}.

BUT, this study gives an overly simplistic view of these "sound bytes." In a magazine, we don't know the context of situation and these participants didn't know the context of the article the quotes were taken from. That, in addition to the fact that rapists tend to use language {on purpose, I might add} that casts doubt onto whether what they did was actually rape means that it's pretty easy to see why quotes-out-of-context could be misinterpreted as coming from somewhere they didn't.

And let's talk for a minute about fantasies. One of the quotes which came from interviews with rapists {but was identified as coming from a magazine} said that women love to be tied. Well, yes, many women DO like that. And {don't freak out on me}, many women have rape fantasies. What that means is, that many women {and men, btw} sometimes want for someone else to take charge in the bedroom and want to feel helpless, as if they don't have a choice. These situations, if they transpire, take a lot of pre-planning, communication, and trust. There are safe-words, negotiations, and all kinds of things that make it role-play and safe, rather than a sexual assault. How would you know which is which from a quote? You wouldn't. And these people didn't either.

So, while I have some serious issues with magazines like "lad mags," Cosmo, etc., it's also important to really look at how they're saying what they are. They perpetrate gender bias, women as sex objects and mysterious and hysterical, and men as tough, and sexually dominant. They tell us to feel bad about our bodies {both men and women}, our wardrobes, our partners, etc. That's how they sell magazines. But it doesn't help anyone when researchers come in and decide that also they're teaching men to be rapists. They're not.

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