Cognition & Reality

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Selling Drunken Sex IV

Filed under: Date Rape,Date Rape Drugs,Propaganda,Sex & Love,Television — drtone @ 2:59 pm

I knew yesterday that there was more I wanted to say about the Bud Light commercials. So I beg your indulgence as I continue to pursue this topic.

As the persistence of the belief in a widespread threat of “date rape drugs” shows, the marketing of beer as a sexual intoxicant by Anheuser-Busch does not exist in isolation. Post-industrial society is struggling with the effects of having freed women from most of the traditional constraints on their behavior. The process of integrating men and women into a culture that recognizes their inherent equality is not finished, if “finishing” is a possibility for social change. In fact, change is continuous and almost always appears to be more predictable than it actually is. The hypocrisy regarding women and alcohol with which I have recently been obsessed represents an unanticipated consequence of what, for want of a better term, we call “women’s liberation.”

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Thursday, 7 April 2011

Katie Roiphe & Date Rape

Filed under: Date Rape,Propaganda,Sex & Love — drtone @ 10:18 am

It seems that I have reinvented yet another wheel. Not surprisingly, the arguments I have made about the standards against which “date rape” is measured were put forward before. They were presented, in the face of angry criticism, a little less than twenty years ago by Katie Roiphe. In an article, and later a book, The Morning After: Sex, Fear and Feminism on Campus, both published in 1993, she raised the same questions I have in recent posts on this subject, and in much the same way. For example, she suggested that the typical characterization of “date rape” casts young women–at least those from the higher social strata–as “chaste objects,” much as they were portrayed in pre-feminist times. Of course, Roiphe also raised questions about the definition of rape and date rape with particular emphasis on problem of differentiating date rape from bad sex. Predictably, she was denounced by an army of feminist writers, who may have felt an extra sting of betrayal because Roiphe’s mother, Anne, is a prominent feminist.

There is much that could be said about the content of both Katie Roiphe’s article and the comments of various critics. For now, however, I wish to point out that Roiphe pushed a hot button about the status of women. The button is “hot” at least partly because it is connected to rape, but I do not believe that what is at issue here is confined to questions about what does or does not constitute rape.

The date rape “debate” is encrusted with a brand of social commentary that I have criticized elsewhere, which involves placing an issue of importance on the Procrustean bed of left-right politics. Unfortunately for someone like me who identifies with the left, it is a ploy used by those on the left more than by those on the right. This anti-Roiphe article, for example, addresses much of  its criticism of Roiphe to the resemblance between her stand and that of some of those on the right. It need hardly be said that this form of special pleading would count as frivolous were it not also widespread.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Women & Drinkin’

Filed under: Date Rape,Sex & Love — drtone @ 12:31 pm

Despite the many changes that have occurred in the role of women, men are still expected to initiate “romantic” interactions. That can mean asking a woman for a date, or it can mean approaching a woman in a social situation. Of course, there are exceptions to the normal rule, but the more things have changed the more they’ve stayed the same in this department. For that reason alone, alcohol cannot have the same valence for men and women. A couple of drinks gives a man a little “liquid courage,” to ask a woman out or ask her to come home with him. The same two drinks, as has been well known literally forever, will lower a woman’s “sales resistance,” making it easier to get her into bed–and also easier to rape her.

As I have discussed here and here, there is a disconnect between the formal and informal rules our society has adopted regarding the freedom of a woman to go anywhere she wishes, including into a bar, and the relationship of alcohol and sexual behavior. That disconnect goes deep into the structure of modern society: The moral strictures that protected women when women literally belonged to men hang around like ghosts in a culture that has liberated women. One reason for this is certainly that, in a wide range of circumstances, women are in more danger than are men. Beyond that practical concern, however, there remain open questions about the role of women in the modern world, one that nobody wants to look at because of the forementioned ghosts, which are pretty darn scary.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Date Rape Drugs And The “Good Girl”

Filed under: Date Rape,Propaganda,Sex & Love,Urban Myths — drtone @ 12:10 pm

I promise that I will soon get off the topic of date rape, but not quite yet. When I wrote my first entry on “date rape drugs” after watching a stupid movie, I discovered the depth of the topic, how it drills down to some core values in our society. Now that I’m there, it’s hard to stop.

A fascinating aspect of the prevailing fantasy about date rape drugs is that it makes contact with a societal trope one would have thought had died in the sexual revolution. The “good girl” no longer must abstain from sex before marriage. Instead, she does have sex with her boyfriend in a committed relationship, but  she doesn’t have sex with a random Joe she happened to meet at a bar or party. At least, she doesn’t do so regularly. A magic substance that can be slipped into an alcoholic drink, transforming it into something that render a person unconscious, as if alcohol couldn’t already do that, obviously taps into deep hypocrisy about the consumption of alcohol by women. It not only “explains” the effect of alcohol on a woman’s inhibitions, but also “explains” the non-virtuous behavior of a supposedly virtuous woman.

A “good girl” doesn’t get hammered and end up in bed with an ill-mannered stranger. Maybe she entertains the notion that there’s someone like that deep inside her, but does not contemplate letting her out. Therefore, if she wakes up in a strange place, certain that she behaved recklessly, ashamed of herself, it must have been the result of a “date rape drug,” and not the result of a chain of bad judgments that began when she went to a a party the night before. Clearly, the scenario of a drunken woman leaving a party with a stranger could be a prelude to sex that is truly forced and qualifies as rape. But just as clearly, an alcohol-fueled sexual liaison can simply be confusing, uncomfortable, and something for which one would like not to take responsibility. A “good girl” doesn’t, by definition, act like a slut…unless she’s been drugged.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

At The Game

Filed under: Date Rape,Sex & Love — drtone @ 3:31 pm

Years ago, I was at an afternoon Padres game in what was then called Jack Murphy Stadium. The Padres had invited some Marines to the game, as they probably still do. The guys were sitting in the upper left field stands. It was a normal day in San Diego, which means that the weather was beautiful, sunny and warm (but not hot). About the third inning or so, at a volume that distracted from whatever was happening on the field, the section of the stands where the Marines were sitting erupted in cheers. Everybody in the stadium turned their eyes up in that direction, where a gorgeous blonde in a revealing one-piece bathing suit was parading in front of the troops, who were beside themselves. She strutted her stuff along the walkway in front of the Marines’ section, and then exited through one of the tunnels to the stadium concourse. It was an amazing moment.

After it was over, I thought, “Why is it that I don’t know a woman who would do that?” Then I realized that I had no way of knowing whether I knew a woman who would do that or not, and that I was simply in the habit of thinking of women as more inhibited than that blonde had been. My reaction demonstrated that I have as much trouble accepting women’s sexuality as the next guy, maybe as much as the guy who co-authored the date rape study I’ve been pillorying the last couple of daze.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Drinking, Double Standards, And “Date Rape Drugs”

Filed under: Medical Morality,Propaganda,Psychomyths,Sex & Love,Urban Myths — drtone @ 11:39 am

Since time literally immemorial, men have being “having their way” with women by getting them drunk first. For most of human history, no respectable woman would obtain her own alcohol, nor would she, without male escort, enter an establishment where alcohol is served. That was in the the olden daze, not so long ago, when women were the property of their men.

In a world in which a woman is free to come and go as she pleases, however, she is in a position to get herself drunk with no male assistance and thereby assumes some of the responsibility for the consequences of doing so. If she leaves the bar and is broadsided by another driver who has run a red light, she is still guilty of drunk driving, regardless of whether she was technically at fault, and may bear some legal responsibility for the accident on account of her negligence in driving drunk. It is, moreover, reasonable to assume that she would have been more likely to arrive home safely had she not been as intoxicated as she was. In the same way, if she makes herself an easy target by getting drunk and dropping her guard, she is partly responsibly if she is raped.

This is not the same thing as saying that, because she was three sheets to the wind, it was morally or legally acceptable for Jack to rape Jenny. It is saying that women are responsible for the consequences of their own behavior in every sphere of action, just as men are. Otherwise, we would simply be reinventing a world of double standards in which women are protected because they have no minds of their own.

As I thought about this topic in connection with my interest in society’s fantasy about “date rape drugs,” I realized that it gets us pretty fast into some pretty murky territory. Because women are typically smaller and weaker than men, they are more vulnerable to attack. To own that fully, however, leads directly into regarding women as “the weaker sex,” a designation our society has attempted to leave behind. We are thus confronted with two opposing images of woman: the tough, smart free agent, in every way the equal of men, who must and will make her own way; and the dependent, vulnerable bearer of children, constantly in danger from a hostile society and the men in it. As much as we might want to endorse the former as the real truth about women, men and women both know that there is some truth to the latter, as well.

If we allow women the full freedom of men, which we are legally and morally bound to do, we allow them to enter situations that are potentially more dangerous for a woman than for a man. At a bar, people get drunk. Women are people. Therefore, they get drunk at bars. In that frame, a woman is the exact equal of a man, with the exact same right to get shitfaced and to act shitfaced, which could include interacting with the other patrons at the bar. A man does that, gets drunk and talks to the other bar patrons, and the chance that he is attacked, sexually or otherwise, is very low, unless he directly or indirectly provokes such an attack. That is where the “same situation” is actually a different situation for a woman. Whether it is a matter of social convention or biology, what counts as “provocative” for a woman is simply not the same as for a man. A woman who does not recognize that is being foolish. For a variety of reasons, the same rules do not apply to her as would apply to a man walking into the a bar alone. That is a matter of fact directly contradicting the completely understandable and also true claim that, as a bar patron, she is the moral and legal equal of a man. Wow! What a problem.

One way out of this conundrum would be to invent an evil genie that is not an accepted part of the a-woman-walks-into-a-bar scenario. The right evil genie would transform the situation into one in which it is permissible, within the framework of laws and beliefs specifying that men and women are equal, to see them as unequal nevertheless. One bottle of beer is the same as another, and men and women have an equal right to buy one. What if, however, one of the bottles, the one the woman buys, is surreptitiously spiked, after it is opened, with a chemical that will incapacitate her, rendering her an easy rape victim? In that way, it stays cool that men and women can come into bars and buy beers for themselves, but there’s an evil force emanating from outside that cool situation magically changing it into one in which women are under greater threat then are men.

That evil force would be the “date rape drug,” such as Rohypnol or GHB, recognized pharmaceutical preparations that are far less familiar to most people than is alcohol. That unfamiliarity makes the demonic powers ascribed to them seem plausible, at absurd variance from reality as they may be. It is an established fact, that such drugs are rarely, if ever, used in the context assigned to them as “date rape drugs.” Studies have confirmed that women who believe they were “roofied” and raped, with the tiniest number of exceptions, did not receive any other drug besides the alcohol they chose to drink (and occasionally other drugs they chose to consume). As we saw, however, that reality does not square with the nice picture of men and women as equals in the cozy atmosphere of the local tavern, safely drinking together. It hardly needs be said that it does not square with the nice picture that, say, Anheuser-Busch would want to promote, nor with the picture that women have of themselves as free agents in society, able to go anywhere and do anything. The hugely exaggerated fear of “date rape drugs” therefore acts as a kind of de-equalizer operating outside the prevailing social equality of the sexes, readjusting the focus and keeping everyone happy in their legal, friendly alcoholic haze.

One need only look at the rules one is supposed to apply in order to protect against the use of “date rape drugs” to understand the implicit assumption behind them is that alcohol by itself is safe, something every child knows to be false. These rules were formulated within the context of  a society in which alcohol consumption is a factor in at least half of all auto accidents and homicides–and in many rapes, of course. They are further evidence that the “date rape drug” is part of an urban mythology the function of which is to preserve the status quo.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

“The Sopranos,” Gay Rights & The Velocity of Social Change

Filed under: Sex & Love,Television — drtone @ 11:47 am

I’ve been re-watching “The Sopranos” for some time. Occasionally, things emerge in the show that feel dated. After all, the first episodes appeared exactly twelve years ago, in January of 1999. Now I’m watching the sixth and final season. I had forgotten that one of the themes in several of the episodes revolves around the discovery that, Vito, one of Tony Soprano’s mob “captains,” is gay. The episodes in question appeared in April and May of 2006. Less than five years later, the issues they tackle already feel as though they’ve stopped mattering.

When Tony finds that Vito is gay, it offends his “old school” approach to the world. On further consideration, however, he realizes that Vito is  one of his hardest working and most loyal people. Tony’s other captains simply want to put Vito to death. forcing Tony  to take a courageous stand in Vito’s defense. As is often true in “The Sopranos,” the creators have taken a current social issue and explored it within the structure of the show, treating the Mafia, fairly or not, as a gloss on American corporate culture.

Not having a regular job, nor having my finger on the pulse of our society, maybe I’m all wet, but I suspect that, were these episodes of “The Sopranos,” written today, they would unfold differently: Instead of wanting to kill the gay captain, most of  Tony’s  other captains, although perhaps personally offended by homosexuality, wouldn’t care enough about the guy’s sexual orientation to be interested in getting rid of him; the plot would revolve around dealing with one or two captains who still want the guy “gone.” Translating this to real life, I have the impression that the issue of gays in the workplace has shifted from whether they are accepted at all to making a few adjustments in the attitudes of .the intransigent few who still cling to “old school” values. That is a huge change in only five years.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Time For A Vagina Dialogue

Filed under: Medical Morality,Propaganda,Psychomyths,Sex & Love — drtone @ 3:00 pm

I suggest that it is possible to read The Vagina Monologues as a hegemonic discourse that embodies a particular Western, white, heterosexual notion of female bodies/vaginas and values, even while appreciating its effort to bring to the public a discourse that in the United States is usually treated as unmentionable and unspeakable. From “One Vagina To Go” by Wairimutilde Ngarutildeiya Njambi

I have long wondered if I’m the only person in the world who sees something wrong with the international campaign against “female genital mutilation” (FGM). To me, it has a fishy smell (so to speak) reminiscent of the 19th century missionary movement, similarly launched by do-gooders in the First World to benefit inhabitants of the Third World. In this structure, the latter are conceived as ignorant savages who need to be saved from the primitive perversity of their own culture. That the campaign against FGM is about vaginas and sexuality does not alter the essential fact that it has been conceived (again, so to speak) in the West as a “solution” to something not necessarily experienced as a problem by those targeted to be “saved.”

A central flaw in the campaign, as Njambi points out in “One Vagina To Go,” is that it treats a wide range of practices relating to female genitalia as equal. In much the same way, differences in and among the “native” cultures to which they were bringing Christianity did not matter to members of the missionary movement. With few exceptions, missionaries were uninterested in values of the dark peoples they visited, nor in the relative sophistication or unsophistication of the religions they intended to supplant. To them, Buddhism, Taoism, Jainism, Islam and the various forms of “animism” they encountered were the same because they were not Christianity, and the practitioners of these religions were all, furthermore, superstitious “heathens,” lucky to come in contact with superior Western ideas and modes of worship. The campaign against FGM operates from similar racist, ethnocentric assumptions, concealing contempt for the dark people it is supposedly helping behind a smokescreen of ideology and propaganda.

For example, the FGM movement dismisses the term “circumcision” for the practices it condemns, comparing those practices with the amputation of the penis, and making much of the “crude instruments” supposedly involved, comparing them with the razor blades used in brawls. As Njambi suggests, it is impossible to defend an activity labeled “mutilation.” In addition, the relative absence of factual evidence regarding the tools actually used by the people involved, rather than calling into question the blanket condemnation of the practices in question, simply emphasizes their apparent barbarity. This is a perfect example of how propaganda can capitalize on the absence of evidence for the claims it makes. “…associating female genital practices with penis amputation and street fights is an important rhetorical strategy because it invokes the image of torture and attack on women’s sexuality, which is then taken as an undisputed or uncontested ‘truth’.'”

Consequently, once FGM was presented in the 1970s as a form of oppression from which African women must be rescued, the movement against it acquired a momentum that mows down any objections, characterizing those asking questions as defending barbarity and unspeakable savagery. Therefore, the existence of local opposition to anti-FGM programs provides proof that the ignorant women in backward countries  passively accept the values of their male oppressors, and that those same male oppressors are uncaring monsters. Likewise, as Njambi suggests, all claims that the supposed “mutilation” does not interfere with sexual pleasure are taken to demonstrate that the oppressed women do not know what is good for them.

Armed with purportedly certain knowledge, just as their 19th century predecessors were, modern-day anti-FGM missionaries have spread a gospel they have not recognized as rooted in their own parochial concerns. Women in the US and other Western countries, absorbed in a new consciousness of their own sexuality, not perhaps fully reconciled with their own culturally defined discomfort regarding the vagina, fixed their attention on the vaginas of women living far away, under conditions incomprehensible to most Westerners. Thus a movement was founded that has a lot more to do with the lives of those who founded it than with the lives of those it is designed to save. Reproducing in another form the sins of colonialism, which invariably brought oppression in the name of liberation,  Western women have carried their own “monologue” to a context where it does not fit, clumsily forcing their own values onto people uninterested in those values or actively hostile to them.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Mind & Penis

Filed under: Perennial Philosophy,Radical Constructivism,Sex & Love — drtone @ 4:09 pm

I have been more than usually aware lately of what it means to say that I am not my mind. It’s is easy to confuse the contents of the mind, and the identity constructed therein with the human self. The reason for this is that the mind is so powerful, first because it is capable of so much, and second because it is capable of creating the illusion that I and it are the same. Piaget showed better than anyone that the mind–and I’m not speaking here of the brain–is an organ projected by and from the human body. It’s an organ not exactly the same as a physical organ, such as the liver or arm, but a mere part of the organism as a whole. I identify with my mind, but I also identify with my penis. I am not either one.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

“Living Together” And “Ms.”

Filed under: Sex & Love,Wilhelm Reich — drtone @ 8:00 am
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Among the most remarkable changes in society to occur during my life is that it is now routine for a couple to live together without being married. When I was a teenager in the sixties, such an arrangement was borderline illegal and potentially scandalous. It was confined to the very richest and very poorest segments of society, but within a decade it became an acceptable alternative across a broad spectrum of society. Now, we look askance at a young couple who jump into marriage without first living together for at least a year or two. A young woman who called me this morning about becoming a client mentioned, among the pertinent facts about her, that she lives with her boyfriend, something that, once upon a time, a “nice girl” would have been ashamed to admit. Now it’s nothing.

This is a manifestation of the fluidity marriage foreseen by Wilhelm Reich in the early thirties as women became economically emancipated from men. It’s no coincidence, I suppose, that the change in the status of “living together” corresponds almost exactly with the entrance of the birth control pill Because of the many more spectacular manifestations of “The Sixties,” we don’t appreciate some of the most revolutionary changes that remain from that era, changes that extend to important aspects of nomenclature. Perhaps the brouhaha over the use of “Ms.” as a term of address for any woman married or single, stood for the effort of society at large to accept the end of marriage as it has existed for hundreds of years. That “Ms.” now seems a bit out of style may reflect the end of that struggle.

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