Familiarity Breeds Blindness – When We Can’t See the Concepts for the Words

It’s a sad thing when words lose their power, when we have lived with them for so long that we’re no longer impressed by the things they signify. I think it was when I was reading “Midnight’s Children,” (set in India) when I was shocked, first by the expression ‘sister-sleeper’ and then in “White Tiger” when it was the stronger ‘sisterfucker’ and I realized that our version, ‘motherfucker’ had lost its punch, that I was no longer feeling the image it evokes. I started saying and writing what I think of as the Indian version in order to take advantage of its freshness and power. (Interestingly, my Canadian Microsoft Word is also accustomed to the mother version, but is flagging the sister version for a spell check.)

Show a man a photoshopped picture of himself in coitus with his own mother and he’ll react – but the word for him in that image just means somewhere between ‘dude’ and ‘swine’ these days, at least for some of us. ‘Sisterfucker’ isn’t a more disturbing concept, it was just unfamiliar to me, so my mind looked at it a little closer, and the image was a nasty surprise. I must have quit paying attention to what ‘motherfucker’ means. Now, in case anybody’s concerned that I’m switching gears, don’t worry. Here it comes.

I re-posted one of my older child-rearing, anti-punishment blogs on another site and it started a few conversations with a few people, a man or two and some ladies, some mothers. The conversation came around to my controversial stance that ‘corporal punishment’ is a misleading phrase, that in fact (‘fact’ to me at least), without a willingness to get physical there can be no punishments. Hold on –

early on while writing my blogs and my book on the subject, I looked up ‘punishment’ to get a somewhat official definition. The dictionary ones were pretty straightforward, but the Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy went on for many pages. What I came up with, in the shortest form, is that punishment is the imposition of an aversive in order to lessen an unwanted behaviour. ‘Aversive’ means an unwanted stimulus, a term I usually change to ‘unpleasantness,’ and ‘imposition’ means to put something on someone without any condition as to whether they want it or not. So a punishment is something you don’t want and is put on you without your consent, in order to change an unwanted behaviour of yours.

That, just in case ‘punishment’ is a word that we don’t examine anymore, just in case we’ve forgotten the meaning or never really heard it in the first place –

So I spent a few comments trying to convince some people that all punishments depend on force, that their children weren’t likely to have been taking their non-corporal timeouts and such from a place of willing agreement, that their kids probably had learned, either the hard way or by inference, that the non-corporal punishment wasn’t going to be optional, that if they didn’t take it, it would wind up being forced upon them, that the punishment would escalate.

I’m trying not to generalize about gender here, but interestingly, among these very few people in the discussion, the most vocal man made no bones about it. Damned straight, was his attitude, a good smack will put them right. Kids don’t understand talking; that is what they understand.

The ladies, though, they didn’t believe in hitting or corporal punishment, and while they did believe in punishment, they insisted they didn’t back it up with force. Trying to make my point, I asked repeatedly if their punishments were optional, if there was any way the punishment wasn’t going to happen, or if it was going to happen by hook or by crook. One of the ladies assured me that it wasn’t optional, that if the child simply walked away from his or her timeout, that she would simply bring the child back to it, as many times as it took. I didn’t argue that ‘bringing the child back’ was a physical act, and I didn’t ask how forcefully it might have to be done if the child was stubborn about it, although these are certainly important parts of the puzzle for me. I just asked again, if it’s not optional, then the parent is going to make it happen by whatever means necessary, right?

One answer struck me as pretty schizoid, but maybe it’s just this language thing, maybe the words in the response had been said so often that the meaning had been lost: in an answer that said ‘punishments are not all backed up physically’ someone said something like ‘of course you have to follow through.’ Now that last phrase is familiar indeed, ubiquitous even – we all know it. But unexamined it must be, because otherwise how can someone say ‘of course you have to follow through’ and feel it is somehow a contradiction to ‘I am willing to do whatever it takes to make this happen?’ So that’s what’s happening, I think, when I try to make this point, it’s the same as my opening example, like we hear the deadly, incest accusation of ‘motherfucker’ all day long, and it’s all in fun, harmless, like a friendly ‘cabron’ between pals, but when I say that all punishments are backed up with force . . .

well it’s like I said ‘sisterfucker’ loudly during a moment of quiet at a church barbeque. Shock and horror. The deer-in-headlights blank stares of the good peoples’ moral indignation.

So I’m the bad guy. All right, I’ll play that role, I’ll crash your barbeque – what time again? Oh right, I remember. It’s always happening.

A Conflicted Society – Rape, Part #3 – Yes Means Yes

I’m examining a few aspects of rape in this series. I know that rape is to a great extent a violent crime and not so much a sexual one, and I do try to deconstruct the roots of violence generally elsewhere, particularly in a series titled “It All Starts . . .” but I am focussing on the sexual elements of rape in these posts, because it seems to be the sexual aspects that make rape so much less prosecutable than other violent crimes.

Here’s the first posts:

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2014/12/09/a-conflicted-society-rape-1/

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2015/01/17/a-conflicted-society-part-4-rape-part-2/

I think this, from Part #2 needs some development:

“My advice: let’s make our lives more conscious, let’s drag sex out into the light. Maybe we lose some of the excitement, some of the mystery, but maybe we also lose some of the rape.”

That sounded good to me – I mean I love the sound of my own voice. If no-one else reads me, I will – but it needs a little more detail to be of any use, so here goes. No means no, of course it does, but if it can also mean ‘yes,’ then that could be part of the problem. Yes, I’m going there. This series is getting progressively less PC. I’m sorry, but if you have reason to feel that the politically correct voices on this subject have it all under control and that this problem is close to being solved, you’d better share it with me. Otherwise, I’m just going to push on. (Good Lord that sounded bad! No evil pun intended, really. Those things keep cropping up, and I’m sorry.)

I don’t think I’ve ever pursued a girl in order to bed her, I don’t think I ever tried to talk a girl into bed, sold myself to a girl – that always seemed humiliating to me. I guess I was lucky, I looked good enough as a young man that there were partners often enough without me having to work for it. I think I’ve had sex with maybe ten girls and women, I mean, I had some lonely years too, when I was no fun and the girls seemed to sense it. If my confidence was abysmal then, I suppose it was never high enough to pursue a girl and risk the rejection. The girlfriends and liaisons I had when young always came about through mutual attraction, naturally – well, I guess a few of the girls pursued and bedded me. (Life sucks – and then you die!) Those relationships didn’t last long; I couldn’t hide my indifference, I guess. But I’m a freak and that’s not the game as we all know it, is it?

The game is, or has been, boys chase and girls choose.

Right?

And Good Girls Don’t, right, so a girl isn’t supposed to say ‘yes’ right away . . . Good girls don’t. That idea is still out there, and it’s part of the problem. The boy is supposed to work for it. I hate to tell you, folks, and it’s a good thing I have no reputation to lose, but unfortunately, that situation, – the State of the Union, if you will – means that sometimes ‘no’ means ‘yes.’ If we can’t see how that is a part of this complex problem, then God help us. Why the male players in the game like this arrangement, I can’t say with any certainty, I personally don’t like it, but maybe it is a natural thing, the aggressiveness of testosterone, the thrill of conquest, or maybe it’s a less natural, more modern, psychological power game, and probably also things I have no idea about. As for women, well, same sort of thing I suppose, a natural priority women place on their desirability, or perhaps some less natural function . . . of course, also, any number of things I don’t understand. I’ll swallow my ego and try to face the possibility that such things exist.

Of course, those possible factors, natural and possibly unnatural power dynamics, for both genders exist on a continuum the far right end of which means rape and the rape culture. If being an object of desire has a positive feeling, if it’s an ego boost (which, I know, ladies, it is if the fellow is attractive enough, not so much if he’s not), and if the uptick in our self-esteem produces a feeling of well-being, perhaps this leads to sexual and/or emotional arousal. Or maybe just the presence of another person’s desire creates some arousal, maybe a pheromone thing. Honestly, that’s my theory, really basic:

Sex is sexy, desire is sexy, simple like that. Another person’s desire is a turn on. Referring back to Part #2 again: this is probably why rape is possible without injury. Carried to an extreme, if another person’s desire can create our arousal, then perhaps there are times when another person’s extreme desire, a desire so strong it will not be denied, can produce a strong response, the sort that makes reporting a rape and believing the victim, uh . . . problematic. Come on – if this stuff was simple, we’d have solved it already. Right?

Oh, I’ve lost track. All of the preceding two paragraphs belong in Part #2. Where was I?

Oh, yes. No means No. I’ll just skip to the end.

The thing is, in the culture of Good Girls Don’t, when a girl knows she’s supposed make the boys work for it or risk being labelled, reviled and ostracized as a ‘slut,’ there really isn’t always the ‘yes’ option for a Good Girl, is there? Fine to say ‘no’ means ‘no,’ but that’s a bit of a setup when there can be no ‘yes.’ I mean, when ‘yes’ is not an available option in the real world, we have left ‘no’ to mean both ‘no’ and also ‘yes.’ That is a foundational element of the rape culture. So here’s my idea.

First, as a child of the sixties, I can’t believe I have to say this, I thought we’d had the sexual revolution already, but the more things change, the more they stay the same: sex is not evil. Rape is, because it’s violent, but unforced sex is natural and normal. This is clearly true, and people should remember it when they’re dealing with their own and other peoples’ sex lives, in their real lives. This is what we should teach our children, and slut-shaming should be a thing of the past.

So, ladies, here’s the thing: say ‘yes’ when you want to have sex. Break out of that bind, reject the idea that good girls don’t. Clearly, good girls do, everybody does. Learn to say yes. I’m not saying fuck every guy who asks. I’m just saying say ‘yes’ to the guys you do have sex with. That would clear things up immensely, and could make some progress for us all in the fight against rape and the rape culture. Now a word for the boys.

When you’re trying to bed some girl, maybe it’s a pick-up scenario, maybe it’s a love story, whatever. If the girls says ‘no,’ let it be no. I mean of course, when it’s really ‘no,’ it means ‘no,’ all the anti-rape folks will tell you that, ‘no’ means ‘no,’ damned straight, but the other times. When it’s the game, when she just feels she must make you work for it . . . hold her to it. Just walk away. It could really mean ‘no’ of course, so leave her alone, but, and here’s the thing: if she’s bluffing, call it, call that bluff and walk away. We have an opportunity to help these ladies break out of the Good Girls Don’t bind, to set our ladies free. We can help bring them out of the game that supports the rape culture and into a more honest life.

We can let them know that if they want it, they must say so. Of course, it’s normal and natural to say yes. Our ladies need to know that, and they need to do that.

It’s good for us, too, fellas. I think we’d all want to know when we’re wanted, wouldn’t we? Are we beasts? Are we happy to leave every sexual encounter not knowing if the girl really wanted us? Well, we can usually know their bodies wanted us, I suppose – but wouldn’t it be nice to know that they wanted us consciously? That they knew that they wanted us?

If that seems like a stretch, at least we possibly agree that shining a light on our sex lives in this way could go a long way in making a net increase in the honesty in all our lives, and so, again, create a dwindling habitat for the scourge of rape.