PODCAST: Why feminists care about sex robots

“I don’t see technology as neutral — I see technology as driven by cultural forces. And the cultural forces that are driving this technology is the commercial sex trade.”


“I don’t see technology as neutral — I see technology as driven by cultural forces. And the cultural forces that are driving this technology is the commercial [sex] trade.” — Kathleen Richardson

Kathleen Richardson launched the Campaign Against Sex Robots, but her aims are actually much broader than humanoids built for male pleasure. Richardson is an abolitionist, and sees sex robots as very much connected to the sex trade and a larger culture that treats people as tools and objects. Through the campaign, she says, she wants to “radically disconnect the idea of sex from rape.”

Sex robots have been in the media lately on account of a new prototype, developed by the Matt McMullen, the CEO of Abyss Creations and the man behind RealDoll. A recent report in The Guardian introduces us to “Harmony,” a humanoid that exists to service men. She is programmable, so that customers can choose certain “personality traits,” as well as physical details, like nipple size, colour, and shape. Harmony exists not only as a thing to-be-fucked, but as an ego boost for her owner, as she learns details about him, so her communication is wholly centered around his needs and interests.

While some claim sex robots are a solution to everything from rape to prostitution, Kathleen argues that sex robots exacerbate these problems.

Kathleen is Senior Research Fellow in Ethics of Robotics at De Montfort University, Leicester, the author of An Anthropology of Robots and AI: Annihilation Anxiety and Machines, and the director of the Campaign Against Sex Robots.

I spoke with Kathleen over the phone this week from her home in England.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • Hekate Jayne

    The sex bot post from a few weeks ago was what made me want a disqus account.

    I really enjoyed the man baby crycry that post inspired. The way they all tantrumed and were way too stupid to understand the critical analysis. If I think about it for long enough, it still makes me laugh.

    • Meghan Murphy

      It was incredibly amusing….

  • Meghan Murphy

    There was a LOT of talk about ‘closets full of dildos’.

    • Mmmeee

      …maybe some of menz nightmares

  • Alienigena

    “Harmony exists not only as a thing to-be-fucked, but as an ego boost for her owner, as she learns details about him, so her communication is wholly centered around his needs and interests.”

    This description reminds me of female appearing robots in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series.
    – A robot designed by Warren (the most evil member of the evil trio) to be his girlfriend.
    – The Buffy Bot (Season 5 and 6) commissioned by the vampire Spike. Again the robot is programmed to spout phrases that centre around Spike.

    Then there is the mind control drug that Warren administers to his human ex-girlfriend in the episode “Dead Things” (season 6) that turns her (temporarily) into his slave/servant.

    I am always a bit skeptical when people say the series is feminist but the writers definitely picked up on important themes around male / female relationships (including the dysfunctional aspects) and anticipated the whole sex robot & android girlfriend phenomenon.

    • FierceMild

      I know what you’re saying. I think what people mean when they say Buffy or Firefly (full disclosure, my favourite series ever) are feminist is that they aren’t misogynist. Joss Whedon doesn’t hate women, that doesn’t make him or his writing feminist.

      It’s really disheartening that any TV show that isn’t openly hostile and degrading to women is so unusually that it’s remarked in for decades thereafter. The bar for ‘feminism’ in media seems to be set somewhere between having a woman in your show who isn’t killed and representing pole dancers as real live people (ie mothers with troubles ’cause we all know motherhood is what brings women closest to being human).

  • calabasa

    It’s nice to hear you laughing about that sex robot thread, Meghan (I mean, I know of course you are a professional journalist, but yeah…humor about these things I think is a must, sometimes, so it’s nice to hear your laugh on the podcast). That comment thread WAS hilarious. “Closets full of dildos…!”

    What struck me most–and brought tears to my eyes–was when Kathleen said we need to “extricate the idea of rape from sex.” This is so true, and it’s so finally time someone said it (again–now).

    Of course not all sex is rape. But the male-centric view of sex–of men dominating, men deciding how the sex is going to go, men pressuring women for sexual acts, women having to be “up for it” or it’s implied the man will leave (to which we should just say, GTFO, then, there’s another guy around the corner, except for, you know, women aren’t raised to be as cold and callous as that)–this idea of “getting sex” out of women, of “conquering” them, and, in relationships, of “conquering every part of them” (the demand for anal sex, and constant demand for oral sex; I have tried explaining to men that women giving oral sex=end of sexual encounter, for many men, and thus needs to be either offered by a partner as a one-way thing, or there needs to be mutual, agreed-upon activity so no one feels used; otherwise it should be simply a part of foreplay that does not just mean “give me head and then I go to sleep,” and a brief part of foreplay, not until almost the point of orgasm, as what, then, two seconds of sex will happen?–most men can’t last long to begin with in intercourse), the lack of interest in foreplay/in women’s desires, the way “pride” comes into the picture (since a lot of men can’t last, and don’t want to use toys/fingers etc. but always the ALMIGHTY PENIS), the idea that intercourse=sex, the simple LACK of caring about women’s sexual pleasure and how BAD most heterosexual men are at sex, the idea that after sex a man has “conquered” a woman and thus loses respect for her or no longer sees her as a person, the idea that a sexy woman is “less human,” and on and on and on…all of this IS about how rape is tangled up with sex.

    And rape IS violence, and it’s one-sided, sexual violence that IS about power. Rape in relationships can lead to profound trauma bonding, and is often a tactic of abusive men (going through an intense emotional experience, like rape, with someone you have been partnered with, creates toxic, addictive bonds; this, to me, is similar to BDSM except without the smokescreen of it being okay to create toxic, addictive trauma bonds because of “consent;” it’s just BDSM without the “consent,” a consent which is meaningless if a person does not know what they are consenting to or–if, as another pointed out–by the time “no” has been said, rape has already been committed; why create those conditions)? Abusers are human men with low self-esteem and a need to control, and many women who are abused also have low self-esteem (not always, but particularly if they tend to attract abusers) and feel unlovable, feel the abuse is “natural,” “their place,” or they are “deserving;” they will put up with abuse for the small crumbs of love thrown their way. They empathize with their abusers for that mutual experience of feeling unlovable. The patriarchy creates misery, all around, and through and through.

    Rape and sex ARE inextricably intertwined under patriarchy, and have been, for a long time (I see rape as simply the starkest and most straightforward form of male contempt for women, apart from femicide, which is almost always sexualized; almost any relationship with a man, though, is rife with microaggressions; if they are unconscious, women need to nevertheless stand up for themselves and object to them).

    That the left pushes rape-sex as “empowering” is baffling and disgusting. That evo-psych pushes it as “natural” and “inevitable” is also baffling and disgusting (if it were really inevitable, then I’m all for letting us die out as a species, and telling women to stay the hell away from men, using weapons if necessary to keep them away).

    The male fear of female sexuality, and female autonomy, is sad; but I think they would find if they behaved halfway decently, rather than like spoiled children, we’d be kind to them, and there would be nothing to fear. The “behaving like spoiled children” is the hard part, because, as bell hooks says, “the first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem.”

    If I’ve said that before, I apologize. But that’s how I think we find ourselves with so many emotionally stunted men, who are also imbued with a sense of entitlement–basically, grown six-year-old children, who believe they have a right to do what they want (particularly to their toys), and also believe they deserve special accolades simply for existing.

    I don’t think we can separate rape from sex without men doing some serious soul-searching and deprogramming, and also without raising boys and girls entirely differently. Maybe it will take a dark night of the sex robots to realize we need drastic help as a society.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Sometimes you can’t help but laugh… 🙂

  • Hekate Jayne

    CALABASA: I wanted to reply to you, but your comment is showing as “awaiting moderation”, and there’s no reply option.

    You said:
    “I am not even sure to what extent abusers know they are doing it.”

    I enjoyed your comment and I am not disagreeing with it. With this one exception.

    I think that males know exactly what they are doing. It’s built into their system. And it’s almost invisible.

    This is why so many of them rape, and why so many of us have been raped. Their system blows it off, puts the victim on trial, automatically sides with the rapist, treats males as if they are so delicate and fragile that they just can’t help themselves.

    I make no mistake. If the Brock turners of the world knew that rape would put them in prison, I am pretty sure that they wouldn’t do it.

    But they know that they will be painted as a victim, and their chances of getting away with raping one of us is worth a gamble because the odds are always in their favor.

    It’s not some big misunderstanding that males accidentally built into the patriarchy. It’s a collusion of males as a group, and they ALL know it. They all understand it. They all benefit from it, and they all know it.

    • Hanakai

      Well, I do not think men are a monolith, any more than women are. There are vast individual differences among women, and vast individual differences among men.

      Based on my life experiences, travels and observations, it is clear that ALL men benefit from male privilege, albeit wealthy white males benefit most. The majority of men have internalized the ideology of male supremacy and the notion that women are inferior beings or objects. I suspect that the majority of men, particularly young men, are capable of being opportunistic rapists and would take advantage of a woman or situation to get sex if they did not think they would get caught and face consequences. While it seems that rapists and sexual predators involve a minority of men, I think the majority of men, likely between 65 and 95%, are essentially rape apologists and share a bond of understanding in how men see and view women.

      But I think there is a small minority of men who do not internalize the ideologies of patriarchy. In some, the propaganda, brain-washing and cultural conditioning just do not take. Some are so individual and into their own thing they are almost not of this world. Some have a spiritual or refined personality. Some men awaken a little when they have a daughter they love. A very few are somewhat evolved. Think of, e.g., a man like Paul Farmer, who has essentially devoted to life to bringing health care to the poor women of Haiti.

      So while not all males are the same, I think women would be well-advised to assume that no man she encounters has her best interests at heart and to adhere to that assumption until evidence shows otherwise.

    • Cassandra

      They totally know what they’re doing. They all know it.

  • calabasa

    To reply to myself (and clarify), although I knew of my neighbor’s interest, I *still* tend to think of the majority of men as being mostly harmless, in spite of my life experiences (I know I tend to attract predators, but that doesn’t mean most men are predatory). So I didn’t automatically assume that his interest made him predatory.

    I know this guy has show-offy tendencies, can be arrogant and full of himself, etc., although he is also funny and intelligent; I did not assume his sometimes arrogant behaviors meant he was predatory (maybe I should, at this point).

    I didn’t get the idea that this guy could be predatory until his *buddy* clearly seemed to think he would be. I’m not sure otherwise why his friend would seem as surprised as I was that he’d returned after going upstairs with his girlfriend (“Hey, you’re back?!…Everyone already left, dude”), or what else that extremely awkward silence was about, as his buddy stood up, to leave, girlfriend tugging at his arm, but then stood there, unmoving, right in front of me, while my neighbor sat next to me, head down, plucking at the strings of his guitar with a kind of deliberate nonchalance. It was a really weird moment.

    In any case, I would not let myself become unconscious around strange men now (as my neighbor’s buddy may have thought–and my neighbor too, maybe). I was just a bit sleepy from the weed and the late hour and had closed my eyes for moment, but was still observing, at intervals, this entire exchange. I sat up, said good night to everyone, and left, putting an end to the awkward moment.

    So, what were my neighbor’s intentions here? To flirt with me? Try to kiss me? Ask me if I was okay and offer to “escort me inside my apartment?” Something darker? I have no idea.

    In any case, the disturbing factor here was that the Good Guy ™ who seemed quite intent on saving me from the Bad Guy ™ is *nonetheless his good buddy.*

    *Why* would my neighbor’s buddy assume he had bad intentions unless he knows something about him? What does he know about him?

    TL;DR: Do average groups of male friends know that sexual predators walk among them? What do men talk about when women are not around?

  • FierceMild

    I wondered the same thing. If you listen to what manybof these men are saying it breaks down to getting their sexual gratification from a feeling of domination. There is no ‘conquering’ a machine. Then again, these people think you can ‘conquer’ a mountain by the great feat of not dying while climbing it so who knows.

  • FierceMild

    But DILDOS! Checkmate.

  • Atheist

    I’ve long thought men already treated women like robots. The creation of a sex robot seems like a technological manifestation of their pathological hatred of women. Think about it: women aren’t allowed to be human. Women aren’t allowed to show emotions without being accused of crazy. Men can fart, piss, shit, and sometimes even wank off in public while women are shamed for starting their period, passing gas, having sex, ect. Women aren’t allowed to feel “manly” things like ambition without being accused of being a power hungry b****. Women aren’t allowed to get old, get fat, or pass for anything less than a barely legal teenager. Messy things like biology, feelings, hopes, dreams, or individuality are seen as impediments to the perfect servile trophy wife.

    Women are expected to do whatever men want – AKA a programmable robot that never says no. It’s also what I experienced growing up that being anything less than being a passive motionless doll made people very uncomfortable. So the problem isn’t just the robots, it’s the men who can’t relate to women or refuse to relate with women as human beings at all. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – anyone who is willing to spend 7,000$ on a sex doll instead of 7,000$ on therapy doesn’t deserve a girlfriend. No woman should be expected to accept a man that does.

  • ChoderlosdeLaclos

    If the MRAs who were defending sex dolls were talking to the Black Panthers, they’d be asking them to *prove* that little black Sambos and black face were racist and to prove that they were any different than manequins and normal theatre. It takes a certain lack of obtuseness to see the sexism in producing a doll that is supposed to be ‘ideal’ and is so submissive it’s embarassing and then say it’s actually *better* than women and ‘replaces them.’ Hey! Women are people, dammit!

  • ChoderlosdeLaclos

    I think some of them are taking courses. I know pick up artists have been around for a lot longer than anyone will admit and all of that very bad behaviour is taught and used to be top secret until the internet. What amazes me is that men are willing to pay for this kind of teaching.

  • Cassandra

    This is absolutely true.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Well, there is also that fact that men (and women, really) learn that rape and sex are one in the same. Coercing women into sex is what men are supposed to do, they learn. So it’s not even that they don’t think rape is a big deal (though I agree with you that most don’t), but that they don’t realize that coercing women into sex is rapey and results in what many apologists call “regret.” i.e. women finally “cave” or “give in” to sex with a man they don’t actually really want to have sex with because he is so pushy or whatever, then feel gross and violated afterwards. Do you know what I mean?

    • Topazthecat

      And most of this comes from pornography’s portrayal of women as wanting and deserving to be sexually dominated, and used and abused by men!

  • Meghan Murphy

    Yeah men think that just poking and prodding until they succeed in penetrating a woman is completely fine and normal behaviour, and have no clue (or interest in knowing, I suppose?) whether or not the woman in question is interested in having his dick in her.

  • Hekate Jayne

    I’m going to read it again, very soon.

    The copy that I have is a rerelease, with a forward by Marilyn french and an afterword by Susan faludi.

    The thing about it that’s so striking to me is that it could have been written TODAY. It’s very sad. But it was just so excellent.

  • Dexterette

    Your comments are insightful beyond belief, and indeed I have been unable to grasp what exactly bothers me about so-called “feminist” men and you have spelled it out very clearly. It’s refreshing as hell to read because, as it turns out, my distrust of them is not so terribly complicated after all. It’s just a topic rarely brought up in today’s male-appeasing feminism.

  • sarah

    I think like porn they would eventually take it out on women and we will be even more dehumanized.

  • Hekate Jayne

    I can’t do this. I have tried.

    I am heterosexual. I have had some sex over some decades. I can’t separate what *I* want or like from what males expect.

    Sabine was saying up the thread about how we would be completely different if we didn’t have to live in constant fear of males. Even leaving the never ending threats of violence aside, we are still left with all of the pressure and socialization of male pleasing.

    Patriarchy has robbed us of huge parts of ourselves. And there are some parts that I know that I will never get back, or maybe even find. Sexuality is one of those things. For me.

  • Tired feminist

    “I don’t think they’re necessarily any more the architects of this system than we are”

    Excuse me? What on Earth are you talking about? How can the slave enslave herself? Men created patriarchy. Men enslaved us. To suggest we have “as much” of a hand in it as men do is victim blaming.

  • Tired feminist

    “Believe nothing they say, but watch closely what they do.”

    With your permission, I will stick this phrase to my bathroom mirror or the wall behind my bed or something.

  • calabasa

    Two questions:

    1) Is there any way of convincing men that this attitude of force is bad for them, too? I mean, it obviously is, in so many ways it would be impossible to name in one post, or in an entire library of Alexandria of posts. Being trained out of empathy, for starters; for men attracted to women, being trained to hate the people they naturally want to love (which is why they must make this artificial distinction between sexual desire, and desire for a person). Their consignment into brutal systems of domination that result in death and carnage for many of them. Having to live in a cutthroat world of constant competition. Destroying the very planet they live on. NONE OF THIS IS GOOD FOR THEM.

    Some of the Nordic countries, which are not perfect but which because they are small, mostly homogeneous, and have had strong feminist movements, have the greatest level of equality between the sexes. They also show greater equality in other areas of life (income equality, for example; instituting a maximum as well as a minimum wage, ensuring most people stay in the middle class). They also have the highest self-reported levels of happiness of any other countries on earth. I would posit (though I can’t prove it) that this means men ARE happier in more equal societies, and ARE happier when they are loving women instead of oppressing and abusing them. (Note that bonobos seem much happier and more peaceful than their patriarchal cousins, the chimpanzees…female bonobos team up to keep the males in line).

    2)If males truly can’t understand anything but force, and we understand that, how will we make change?

  • Tired feminist

    Ugh, yeah. My boss is one of them. He’s a very good looking guy and at least two or three of my co-workers are kind of “attracted” to him. To me, he looks rather sociopathic. You know that guy with a charming smile, charismatic attitude, but also narcissistic and totally cold behind the smiling facade? That’s my boss. I don’t know exactly why I can’t stand him, but my guts tell me to stay the fuck away.

  • calabasa

    I don’t know. It’s philosophical. Rumi wrote,

    “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
    there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

    When the soul lies down in that grass,
    the world is too full to talk about.

    Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
    doesn’t make any sense.”

    We were all babies once. I think infants really are innocent.

    I tend to feel empathy for men who had traumatic childhoods, particularly violent or abusive fathers. Not all such men grow up to be abusers, but many do.

    I know we don’t benefit from the patriarchy, and that men do have tangible privileges and benefits. But they are also harmed. And I think, like all people, they DO want love–real love–not Stockholm Syndrome love, the love of a woman who is scared of men and scared of the man she is with. I mean, as a woman who is sexually attracted to men, I would also like to feel real love for a man as well as receive it (real love not based in fear, or ownership, of any kind).

    Does that mean I should give them a pass? No. But I feel sorry for them nonetheless; they are socialized to be shitty to us as well as each other (if they don’t fall in line), and the patriarchy is shitty all around. I don’t think being violent, superior, or abusive has ever made anyone happy.

    Does the “not happiness” of a relatively privileged Western male because he’s emotionally deadened and has been socialized into woman-hating weigh against the unhappiness of the relatively privileged Western female who nevertheless experiences harassment, discrimination, and assault? Not really. Nor does the fact that men kill and torment each other let them off the hook for doing it to us (and the reason they do it to each other is the same reason they do it to us).

    Would I have been any better had I been born a man, though? I feel like there must be some way to get through to them. We must find some solution.

    Maybe it’s to stop tip-toeing around them, and risk their collective disapproval and even violence by calmly and directly calling them on their behavior, and refusing even for a moment to put up with it.

    And I know it wasn’t my fault. But admitting it wasn’t my fault (none of it) also means admitting my father was, and has been throughout my life, emotionally abusive toward me, mostly because I am rebellious and female, and he is a man, he is my father, and feels he has some right to and over me. It is very hard to resist the pull to reconcile with family (there is a lot of pressure on me from everyone around me–my siblings, mother, extended family–to be good and have a good relationship with my father).

    I suppose my desire for an apology from my abusers is a desire for an apology from my father, and my desire for reconciliation with them in some way/some form of forgiveness and moving forward is a desire for the same with him. I recognize, though, that having self-respect means never going back to an abuser, and that, even if some form of reconciliation could happen, it’s extremely unlikely that abuser would ever change. That also means my father will never apologize, and will never change; yet I will continue to be expected to put up with him, and I will continue to be cast in the role of bad guy. This is difficult.

    I suppose I can just refuse it, stand up to him, refuse to allow him to mistreat me, and do the same with all men, at all times. Easier said than done.

    I would like to feel my anger. My sister has exhorted me to, many times. I am very soft-hearted and everyone knows it (including my father, who claims to think I am some sort of raging bitch). Men who abuse me know it. My former abuser, who is now trying to get back into my life, is trying to play on my good nature and desire to see the good in him in order to worm his way back into my heart. How can I forgive rape, though? I can feel bad for him, and for what he’s been through, and still know he is a thoroughly destructive person who treats women horribly.

    Anyway. I would like to feel–and to use– my anger, but I also want to be positive, to be healthy, physically and mentally, and to be happier. How can I do both?

  • calabasa

    How did you (or others) do it?

    • FierceMild

      It’s caught up with my understanding of kindness. I came to see kindness as compassionate truth-telling. In order to tell the truth compassionately one must first ascertain what that truth is; so clarity of vision is essential. You cannot have compassion for something you cannot apprehend.

      Separating niceness from kindness was the next step. Being nice is, as often as not, deeply unkind and literally untrue. Calling a man ‘she’ plays into an illness and doesn’t help him. Pretending that a dying person might get well again is nice but very cruel.

      So, recognizing that what most men actually need for their own good as well as that of women is to be told the unvarnished truth and held to account was a revelation. They desperately need to be held up to a just standard and to be treated with the dignity of adulthood our culture denies them. This human dignity is the right to be told the truth of what they are doing. We constantly cushion their contact with the pain and misery they cause and this erodes any real humanity they might still have. We most hold them to account and be the arbiters of justice. That is kindness. That is respect.

      I believe they can be tempered to humanity in the crucible of our just rage. We are those against whom they have aggressed and we must be the ones to demand account for it. For ourselves, for what is right, and for them.

  • calabasa

    No, what is it about?

    By the way, I asked this question of “do they know” (do they all know–do they all know what men do to us, and that they benefit from it, but claim they don’t; do they all give predators among them a pass)–I asked this question because I am wondering what kinds of things even “enlightened” groups of men (particularly, I imagine, young men) say about women when we are not around.

    I wonder this because I do not sit around with white friends talking about people of color in an objectifying or derogatory or predatory fashion.

    However, of course, I *know* I receive many benefits for having white skin that are conferred upon me directly as a result of violence against people of color. I know that, I accept this, it makes me uncomfortable, but I know it’s true, and I also admit I have some racism within me (as I think everyone does–none of us can fully escape conditioning) and I also admit I am not really doing anything about it. Not anything real, or tangible. Maybe because I’m lazy, maybe because I’m more concerned with issues personal to me (like sexism), maybe because I’m depressed and traumatized and just fighting to survive within the patriarchy. I don’t know.

    However, I do know that I don’t sit around with groups of white people talking in demeaning ways about people of color, and I wouldn’t stay in the room with people who did. I might be (have been, in the past) too cowardly to stand up to them for making racist jokes or comments, but I would remove myself from their presence, and not be friends with or associate with them. And if I knew someone who went around attacking people of color, I would *definitely* not be their friend and *definitely* not protect them!

    I know there are some white people–people who are actively, proudly racist–who do sit around saying such things about people of color, and do support and protect white people who attack people of color. But they are considered hate groups and condemned by the rest of society, and this behavior is not considered to be normal (at least by those on the left; it seems that racism is an open secret with those on the right. Which is not to say the left isn’t racist, just that I think it’s less conscious than the racism of the right).

    Is it normal for groups of males (young males I imagine especially) to sit around and say demeaning and objectifying things about women? Is it normal for them to encourage or at least turn a blind eye to a peer in their midst who regularly preys on (attacks) women, sexually? That’s why I asked this question (not just, do they know they benefit from male privilege; only the most deluded men don’t know that).

    And is it normal for groups of young men who otherwise consider themselves to be “liberal” or for social justice for other oppressed groups to engage in this sexist and predatory, rapey or rape-apologist behavior?

    I can’t imagine groups of young liberals sitting around and openly demeaning people of color, and giving a pass to people who attack them, can you? (I mean, I know there are tons of microaggressions, and a lot of unconscious bias, and subtle racism, as well as more overt forms of racism, on the left; but sitting around and openly demeaning people of color, and discussing them like objects or property)?

    That’s why I asked this question…do they all not only know (deep down) that they benefit from male privilege at women’s expense, that they benefit from other men’s violence, but have they all, at some point, participated in this culture of sexism and sexist violence, have they all turned a blind eye to their fellow men’s predatory tendencies, and do they even stay friends with other men they know to be sexist and/or predatory? Do they ALL do this?

    Because it basically just means that ALL men are really openly sexist (at least among each other), to the point that even if they don’t make such jokes and comments about women themselves, or engage in predatory behavior themselves, they’d rather be part of the gang than remove themselves from the association of such people, and they’d rather let rape jokes (or even rape) go than risk social disapproval.

    Edit: I’m sorry if this was in any way racist. I suspect white people, when in mixed groups, are regularly racist toward people of color. I just meant that groups of white people (without any people of color around) who consider themselves to be non-bigoted don’t sit around trashing (or demeaning) people of color (as a rule; I’ve never seen it happen), whereas it seems groups of men who consider themselves to be non-bigoted do engage in this behavior, with regard to women. Almost like some kind of male bonding ritual. And they ALL let rapists pass (and even stay friends with men they know are predatory) to avoid disapproval from their male peers. I find this highly disturbing.

  • calabasa

    Well, in an odd moment in an odder relationship, while discussing rape with my ex-bf (abuser) last year, while in the dating stages, I said that I thought there were degrees of rape, like murder (intentional, which is to say, planned and plotted; opportunistic, which is to say, a whole lot less planning, just taking advantage of the opportunity of, say, an incapacitated woman; and the “manslaughter” of rape, which I suppose would be *really not understanding what they are doing to be rape,* thereby making it “accidental;” or perhaps actually losing control of themselves, in some way). This man immediately yelled, quite loudly, “Bullshit! Men never just ‘lose control.’ Men *always* know what they are doing when they rape a woman. That’s letting them off the hook!”

    Later, of course, after he raped me the first time, he referred to himself as being “out of control.”

    I think, though, he was being honest. He yelled this quite passionately and spontaneously, surprising me. I think he was telling me the truth. (Men do always know when they rape). The whole “gray rape” thing is ridiculous (men use alcohol as a tool to rape, and while getting their victims drunk they drink themselves to give themselves an out/justify and rationalize their actions). Men understand what women do not want (I had a very clear conversation about a boundary with my ex, one which, when he came to see me a few weeks after we broke up, he violated; he pinned me down while I was half-asleep. I squirmed, trying to get away, and said protesting things, without actually saying the word “no.” This was a boundary I had quite explicitly made already–an unequivocal “no” to this act. He later claimed I had not actually said “no” to him before he did it, so this wasn’t rape). I suppose having sex with me while I was sleeping was not rape either, as I was too out of it to say “no.” However, when I did say “no,” it made no difference (he just held me down so I couldn’t get away). Then he claimed not to have heard my “no,” and that didn’t happen. Nope, that didn’t happen.

    However, he violated me (his words) early on, when I read him a very sweet, and romantic poem, that was nevertheless very insightful and honest. He asked me for something wholly inappropriate to the moment, and then took it too far, without asking. He was horrified with himself for doing this. He knew it was a “no” without any verbalization. Men are perfectly competent at reading facial expressions and body language (predators are actually *more* competent, as that is how they know to pick their victims). He was horrified with himself because he had seen “the look on my face and kept going” and “knew I didn’t like it,” that I “hadn’t asked for it,” and he “didn’t know why he did that” and “had to think about why he did that.” He was inconsolable for a while. (He also shouted at me, “why didn’t you say no!”) So, you know, he understand a “no” from facial expression and body language when it suited him; otherwise he was just “so confused” and “no, that’s not what happened,” etc.

    I wonder how many of them realize that *coercion* is a form of rape? Does he think pressuring me into sex on our first date (when I said no several times, at first) is rape? He later intimated, after we’d broken up (before he raped me) that I was going to sleep with another guy I was going out with on our first date, because, in his words, “you slept with me on your first date.” I think, though, it’s not that it’s a matter of not knowing he coerces women, but of thinking that all men coerce women (they don’t).

    I think *rapists* think all other men rape (and men who use coercion think all other men coerce).

    However, men *are* all taught that sex is something to “get” from women. That women will not willingly want to have sex with them, ever, but will have to be convinced. This is a terrible mindset. (Many, many men complain about the women who say no but mean yes as well; it’s much better to avoid raping someone than to hurt some woman’s feelings by “rejecting” her for not pushing past her no; she can grow up, or she can find a rapist who will ignore her refusals, and then love is in the cards, right?) Men act like all women are like this, saying no when they mean yes, which is far from the truth.

    I think you are also right about how men know their bullshit claims about other sexist shits are bullshit claims; they’re just trying to justify their sexism (“but women choose different jobs! That’s why pay gap!”), and, when confronted with logic (“fields traditionally seen as for women are paid less,” “women are discouraged to go into male disciplines,” “wages drop within a field when more women enter into it,” “there is a pay gap of seven to fourteen percent between male and female professionals from the same educational institutions in the same fields, unaccounted for by any other factors”), they “get confused” or just go silent (giving women the silent treatment, when their mansplanation isn’t working, seems to be a common tactic).

    So this “oh but we so confused” attitude is ALL B.S. All across the board. Anything any man says about this shit is a bogus attempt at a rationalization or a denial of something they already know. That’s depressing, but also eye-opening.

    (As to consent–it’s always bogus. It’s a bogus concept. Do you “consent” to go to a concert with your friends, or do you just want to, and go? Anytime “consent” is brought into the picture and mentioned as a concept, coercion is already happening, or has happened).

  • calabasa

    Point taken. I agree (and I agree we tend to focus on the wrong stuff when we as a culture have these discussions, like the “nature/nurture”argument about “gender;” WHO CARES? It’s destructive. Let’s socialize children out of it, not into it).

    I think I wasn’t very clear in my point…I guess it was just that history combined with our biological differences (women can give birth, men are physically stronger) combined to create this hierarchy, and that it was a sort of accident of human nature and history (but you’re right, it doesn’t really matter whether or to what extent the patriarchy was purposefully orchestrated; it’s certainly being purposefully defended by men now). This whole conversation that somehow got started on this sex-robot podcast is far more interesting and enlightening (if not as hilarious) as the thread on the original sex robot article (that WAS hilarious, though…hiLArious). I have arrived at the understanding that all male denial is either sheer stupidity or active denial of what they all know to be true, which is, IMO, pretty despicable. I mean I don’t deny how I profit as a light-skinned person at the expense of all the other people in the world. (Do I do much about it? Not much, which makes me a hypocrite, but I’d like to. I thought I’d go volunteer for No Mas Muertes in my city, since they need Spanish-speaking volunteers). Why deny it, though? Why make all sorts of arch and patronizing arguments (about why there’s a wage gap, for example)?

    So yes–although women are complicit in maintaining patriarchy, and can be enablers, I am very aware of how people are conditioned into loving their captors (abusers abuse because, in fact, it *is* such a successful tool of control…if you have little in the way of conscience or empathy, or are able to stuff it down to make way for your selfishness, it’s easy to abuse). And while some women are patriarchy deniers too, they are not benefiting from it the way male patriarchy deniers are; they are trying to hide from the painful truth.

    Point very well taken. It’s not a matter of how it came to happen, it’s a matter of who is upholding it and how it hurts women. You’re right, men need to be held accountable and taken to task for their abuse of women, and women need to put a stop to it by standing up to it.

    It’s hard, though, as it’s so insidious. It’s so much easier to maintain the status quo, to “go with the flow.” I understand the pull of liberal feminism (I’d love to be an empowered, sexy laday, if it didn’t feel so damn disempowering). I wish sex didn’t have to be a minefield, as I like it quite a lot, but it is.

    I understand the pull of an abusive relationship. The abuser becomes an addiction. There is actual neurochemical addiction behind it. This probably plays itself out in the grander scheme of things as well (I can see how granting us rights and then taking them away, and then giving some back again, fits in with “variable reward,” leaving us ever more addicted to them, and eternally grateful).

    It all boils down to men believing (deep down), as a class, both in their superiority and entitlement (rights to ownership of women) and being at the same time terribly insecure; as a class they believe abuse is the best way to “keep” women, because without abusing women, women would never, ever stay with men. Love would not be enough to keep women with men.

    And as long as men don’t change their abusive, selfish, entitled behaviors, this is true. They are absolutely right. Without the conditioning of abuse (the trauma bond)–the fear of violence, the desperation for crumbs of affection– women would not put up with men’s selfishness and entitlement for even a moment.

    But what is their incentive to change (some intangible thing about “being more human” and “probably being happier” if they simply decide to do the work to be better people)? It’s hard work not being selfish and entitled. You have to do the dishes. You have to make your own sandwich. You have to pay women. You have to allow women to choose you, or not.

    So, I agree. Holding them accountable and breaking the trauma bond–which is going “No Contact” within an abusive relationship (what I should be doing, with my abuser, when he reaches out to me)–is what we need to do. It’s the only thing that will send the message.

    But does this mean ex-communicating ALL males from our lives? What do you think?

    • Tired feminist

      I don’t know. I don’t have a universal answer to that. For me, keeping away from relationships with men has made life significantly better (which is not to say there’s no price to pay for that improvement – there is), but this is not an option for everyone or at every point of life…

      Collectively, our only option seems to be to foster a culture of solidarity among women. We might not have the power to bring men to change, but we can bring women to change. We can build class-awareness among ourselves and force men, by gradual lack of alternatives, to accept our terms at least when it comes to our bodies and our autonomy. I think feminism turns into a moral imperative once we wake up to it. We have to build sisterhood. There’s no way around it, there are no buts, no ifs, no whatabouts. It’s our ONLY chance.

      I actually giggled when you said women would never freely choose to put up with men, because it’s true and it resonates with my personal decision of keeping men at a distance. I think our entire conception of long-term relationship, including the cohabitation part, needs to be challenged. Living with a male partner is a terrible deal for most women. Alternative ways to raise children should be discussed.

      It’s difficult to let men go, I know, but we get better at that with practice.

  • FierceMild

    I concur, especially with regard to that appalling reading list! My experience with intelligent men has been very similar to yours. I don’t know if we are of an age; I believe I’m around a decade older then Calabasa (estimation).

    I would add that the most important thing to do is listen to our own good sense first. Calabasa knew what that creepy dude was trying to do at that party and she knew why the only-marginally-less-creepy dude was sticking around. Stop giving your time and valuable emotional space to these people. One chance is all a man gets before you should move on. There simply isn’t time for more.

  • FierceMild

    They do not regard women as fully human. They simply don’t believe that we can suffer mentally and spiritually because they believe that we do not have intellectual or spiritual lives in any real sense.

    It isn’t all men, but it’s enough of them to suspect each individual until you know different about him. If he tells a sexist joke it’s because he finds that funny. If he acts like he wants to protect you, but doesn’t rebuke the man he thinks is about to rape you that’s because you getting raped isn’t as big a deal to him as having an uncomfortable conversation. Believe what they say and meticulously analyze what they do.

    • calabasa

      Yes…I think I said right after that response that I had answered my own question (men don’t see women as fully human).

      To be fair to the “protector” dude, it’s as hard for men as for women to go against the patriarchy, and a lot of people allow violence against others in all kinds of situations to avoid confrontation. It doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t see me as a person himself, just that he’s a coward (or was cowardly in that moment). He could have said, “Hey, Zach, let’s wake your neighbor up, looks like she fell asleep,” but then, of course, Zach would have been mad at him, since Zach had clearly come back downstairs hoping to prey on me, and Zach is the one who decides the rules of the group (the “alpha male” of the group, I gather from being around this group twice). Zach is probably mad at him already, for his silent display of cock-blocking.

      But yes, I agree. Many men don’t see women as fully human. A sexist joke is as bad as a racist joke. We should never let “slightly misogynist” comments pass, any more than we’d let “slightly racist” comments pass. It is, I am just now discovering, the tip of the iceberg. A man who makes misogynist comments is quite possibly a man who is dangerous.

      I am going to be a much better observer from now on, and respect myself. It’s still hard for me to believe men don’t see us as fully human–as emotionally, intellectually rich beings, who suffer emotional and psychological as well as physical pain like they do–but I think you’re right; I think it’s true. The same disconnect a lot of us have toward animals, and a lot of people have toward people of other races, men have toward women. A lot of them.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Yes exactly.

  • Tired feminist

    Also, consider dropping the concept of “foreplay”, which is male-centered. “Foreplay” to what?

  • Meghan Murphy

    It seems like you missed the conversation. Richardson doesn’t think sex robots will be widely used by individual men, she is making an argument about objectification more broadly, and the way women are seen/treated in our society.