You Can’t Look, and You Can’t Touch …

I may get in trouble for that title …

Anyway, there’s a big stink on the Internet because some atheist went on a rant about wanting to rape someone in an admitted attempt to trigger that person. I don’t want to talk about that; I find it really, really bad and don’t think it was acceptable, but the usual suspects are on the case and so you can go read them if you want.

One of the usual suspects is, of course, P.Z. Meyers Myers, and it’s his response I want to talk about. And before you get on my case about only replying to someone who replied and not to the original comment, I have two things to say to you: 1) Read that first paragraph again and 2) Myers is replying to a reply, and so it’s getting into different issues.

Anyway, the atheist in question went into an expletive-ridden rant in some video somewhere — I don’t watch those things — and there was supposedly a link to a transcript, but when I clicked it and saw the rather large drawing of a crying penis for some strange reason I wasn’t much inclined to keep looking for it. Real classy move, there. Anyway, since it’s expletive-ridden it’s even too hard for me to quote what “The Amazing Atheist” said, but essentially it talked a lot about how feminism wants to control sexuality. If you really want to read it, you can click on the link and read it. What I want to focus on is part of Myers’ reply:

The feminism I embrace is sex-positive.

But, see, the problem with this is that while that might be Myers’ view of feminism, that doesn’t mean that he’s right that his view is consistent with feminism, or that feminism as a whole doesn’t, in fact, try to control sexuality — particularly male sexuality — or that even Myers’ views themselves don’t, in fact, control sexuality without him realizing it. It might be true, but it doesn’t in fact do anything to defuse a rant that, at least, TAA thinks that feminism does, at least partly because he’s come across feminists who do, in fact, seem to do that. What, then, does true feminism say? Who knows?

He’s amazingly self-centered; he complains bitterly about the limits on his desires to put his penis where ever he wants as an awful example of feminism controlling his sexuality, completely oblivious to the fact that what he ultimately wants to do is control other people’s sexuality, putting it in service to his fantasies.

The problem is that, as far as I can see, nothing in that quote from the video says that. At all. Now, maybe you can derive it from the previous rape-threatening post — although even at the time TAA said that he actually didn’t mean it as an actual threat — but that’s reaching. And it’s particularly reaching when that sort of response is, in fact, a common and frequent response to almost any sort of criticism that some of the restrictions some feminists want on sexual behaviour are too far reaching. So I’m not convinced that this is the case, and Myers doesn’t support it with evidence. Remember this for later.

That moral blindness is standard MRA egocentrism; the whole premise of the pick-up artist is to find a way to manipulate other people into doing their sexual bidding.

Well, as someone who’s seen a lot of the PUA arguments, that’s not quite true: the first premise is to not apologize or be ashamed for being sexually interested in someone, and don’t hide it. That’s one of the claims PUAs make against NGs (Nice Guys), that they hide that and try to insinuate themselves as friends and just friends in the hopes that it will get them in, and PUAs claim that doesn’t work. And for all their claims about “hypnosis”, that’s almost certainly not the case, and while it’s manipulative, it’s not really any more manipulative than a lot of other things that are seemingly expected in the “mating dance”. I don’t like PUAs because it often seems like you’re required to lie or mislead, but if you’ve ever used personal ads, for example, it doesn’t seem to be that uncommon. If they are morally blind, they certainly ain’t alone. And people who want to be honest and want more than a one-night-stand tend to get left in the cold.

The other element you’ll often see in these guys is rage at women’s sexuality: they get extremely upset at the idea of the object of their desires making independent sexual choices. Women are supposed to be either chaste and not being sexy at all, or they must submit to the man’s desires, servicing the man’s sexual needs by whatever methods the man dictates. A woman cheerfully flirting with her choice of a partner? She’s a hypocrite (because feminists are supposed to hate sex!) and she’s a ball-buster (because she’s not having sex with me!) and if ever she said “no” to a man, she must be demeaned and detested. Or possibly raped, just to teach her a lesson.

I love this sort of argument, because it’s working — again, at least from the quote given and what I’ve read about the issue — like this: He said X, MRA’s say X, MRA’s also get upset at this in my biased opinion, so I can rant about this despite the fact that I have no idea if it applies to the original person or not. I’ve seen this far too often in the now-ubiqituous threads on sexism on atheist boards, with the defense of “If you sound like an MRA, I’m going to treat you as one”. And if you sound like an irrational jerk, I’ll treat you like one, too. Or, as I’ve suggested in the past, we could read what people actually say and reply to it.

But on this specifically: why isn’t flirting to express interest manipulative? It’s often dishonest and involves pretending to be something you aren’t. How is it that different from what PUAs do? Admittedly, I suck at picking up on flirting, and always have, so I might have a bias there. And I certainly can’t tell the difference between interest flirting and fun flirting, especially since as far as I know I don’t really like or engage in the latter. So is fun flirting dishonest? Bigger questions than I want to answer here, but if you’re going to fire off charges that PUAs are manipulative, you should think about how what women do or are encouraged to do might be about as bad.

The only control issue here is who gets to control sex: do women get to be in complete charge of their own sexuality, or should they hand it over to the whims of men? And in their answers to that question, MRAs like this TJ jerk are fundamentally allying themselves with the patriarchal religions of Abraham.

Again, this is absolutely unevidenced from the quote, and doesn’t follow from the comments made earlier, and almost certainly isn’t true of many MRAs. So, who is it that argues on the basis of evidence again?

Well, TAA replied to Myers, with a reply that I can mostly quote here:

I knew it was inevitable the day that I started talking about feminism that one day, PZ Meyers would open his gob to mount some manner of lazy and lackluster attack against me. He is a radical feminist who once claimed that when it came to gender issues men just need to “shut up and listen to women.” That’s a direct quote, by the way. He really said “shut up and listen to women.” Men, in his opinion, have nothing useful to say on gender issues.

Myers replies:

Of course men have useful things to say on gender issues — but you have to make room for women to speak, too. It’s amazing how often men, especially the obtuse, blithely patriarchal men, are unable to simply listen to women for two minutes without overriding them.

The issue is that there is an attitude out there that woman should have privileged speaking rights because they’re women, argued on the basis of things like: their views have been ignored, men are the oppressor class and so have to listen to the oppressed, women have more serious gender issues, etc, etc. And often those interruptions come in reaction to what seem to many men, at least, to be overly judgemental and inaccurate statements about men, what they want, and what they’re really saying. It is hard to say quiet when you hear something tossed off blythely as being absolutely correct when you think it terribly wrong. Myers himself, I think, has gotten a lot of hits from not staying quiet in those situations. Anyway, Myers’ answer here is interpreting what he thinks people are saying or doing or feeling or thinking when that happens, and he’s not always right about that. Sometimes, it really does seem that simply disagreeing with women on gender issues is enough to drag out the “shut up and learn how you’re privileged” reply.

TAA goes on to explain (or make an excuse, as Myers puts it) why he said what he said:

What PZ Meyers may not be aware of is that my words were promulgated by a conversation with a male feminist who told me in no uncertain terms that looking at females sexually was wrong. It’s wrong to follow your natural imperative to note the sexual attractiveness of a woman in your presence, because that makes women feel bad. That’s nonsense.

He also claims that not all feminists are sex positive, which Myers agrees with:

First of all, nowhere have I ever claimed that all feminists are sex positive; some feminists are ******** …

Considering that being sex positive is just, you know, one position on a wide spectrum, why is it that Myers seems to think it okay to brand those feminists who disagree with him as essentially jerks or dicks? They disagree with you, that does not make them jerks. It doesn’t even make them wrong. It’s this sort of thing that makes me really, really dislike Myers most of the time; disagreement with him is almost always seen as a personal flaw rather than a difference of opinion, scaled to how strongly he holds the belief.

Me? I’m trying to be Stoic and so trying to be sex indifferent. What does that make me, I wonder?

But also, I really, really despise the naturalistic fallacy. … I lust after my wife all the time, but I also recognize her as a fellow sapient human being with her own interests. I also meet women all the time and don’t have sex with them — in fact, no matter how much of a Lothario you might be, the fraction of women with whom you will have sex is infinitesimally small. You are a stunted and impoverished human being if you look at half the population of the planet only through the lens of lust and sex; that’s probably the least important perspective on human relationships that you’ve got.

Now, here’s the question: is this sex positive or sex negative? Ultimately, here Myers argues that sex is only good if it’s subordinated or a component of other relationships, that are more important and more worthy than the simple sex relationship. Note that there’s nothing here about appropriate or inappropriate times for a simple sexual relationship, but simply that sex is only worthy inside a more valuable relationship. Well, maybe. It isn’t entirely clear because he’s taking it extremes — as usual — and talking about doing that all the time, only and always, and not just in certain cases. So maybe he isn’t really saying that. But if religious people subordinating sex to married relationships is not sex positive, how would that same sort of subordination be sex positive for Myers? Because he allows more cases?

Anyway, it’s not a naturalistic fallacy either. TAA is arguing that being attracted in those cases is part of sex as we understand it, and it works to fulfill the purpose of it. We can indeed identify appropriate and inappropriate places and ways to express it, and places when it should be repressed, but again Myers gives no examples of that or any indication that he thinks that way. It’s hard to actually be sex positive if your view of sex means that you have to completely rewrite everything everyone thinks of as sex …

Of course you can notice that a member of the sex you find stimulating is attractive; that’s not the issue. It’s the sad wankers who meet strange women and think “great rack!” instead of “I wonder what she’s got to say?” that have the real problem.

Why?

Now, in my case being attracted to someone already includes what I think she’d have to say, at least generally. But even I can make a distinction between women I’d like to have sex with, women I’d like to have a relationship with, women I’d like to be friends with, and women I might want to talk to or hear what they have to say. I also argued in my big reply to the whole Elevatorgate thing that we always treat people as objects, and the key is to treat people appropriately for the context you’re in. If I’m walking down a street and an attractive woman walks by — although for me it’s usually more about her legs or face than rack — I am likely to simply think about that flash of sexual attraction. It’s natural — oops, there’s that natural fallacy again –, it’s fleeting, and it doesn’t cause me to do anything inappropriate if simply having that thought is not inappropriate itself. Now, yes, it’s highly unlikely that I’ll get to have sex with her. It’s also highly unlikely that I’ll get to talk to her either, but I have more clues that I find her attractive on first sight than that I’ll want to talk to her. It’s just how life is.

So, if I am first introduced to a strange woman, the first thing I will notice about her is her appearance, and that might trigger a comment of the genus “Nice rack.” But once I start interacting with her, for me at least the context will take over, and so when down go the lights and up go the Powerpoint slides I’m more likely to be thinking of her as someone who is giving me information, with the attraction only slipping in when I get bored and am not in that context. But I will consider her, ultimately, as a full person, or at least as more than just a sexual object, which should be okay as long as I do it right … unless our interactions are only sexual, at which point it would probably be a problem to start thinking about how she could help me save money on my car insurance.

For me, most interactions will involve more than simple sexual attraction. I don’t want to go to bed with someone that I wouldn’t want to wake up beside the next morning. But that’s just me. Are purely sexual relationships okay? As long as they work for everyone involved and everyone knows what they’re getting into. And remember that I’m the sex indifferent guy; sex positive should be more than that. And it looks like I may be more positive than Myers is. Of course, I can’t know that for sure until I see how he views my attitudes, so that question likely will never be answered.

But, at the end of the day, there is nothing wrong with looking as long as you only look and touch when appropriate. I think — and hope — that everyone involved in this can agree on that.

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