04ens - XY: Sex, lies, and hetero-rape

Sex, lies, and hetero-rape

EuroPROFEM - The European Men Profeminist Network http://www.europrofem.org 

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Sex, lies, and hetero-rape

Ever pressured a woman into sex?
Mark Layton reflects on his past sexual behaviour and on the steps necessary to change it.


I FIRST considered eight years ago, when I was twenty, that I might have raped. Since then, I've learnt about my connections to rape.

I was in a long-term relationship with a woman called Jane (not her real name), and we'd been breaking up over several months. Jane and I had repeated talks about us, and I was examining my own behaviour and thinking.

I'd noticed a pattern in my sexual behaviour towards Jane. Somtimes at night in bed, I really wanted to have sex and Jane did not seem to want to. So, on some of these occasions I'd whine a bit, be grumpy or guilt-trip her a little, and sometimes she'd give in and we'd have sex. Or we'd get into bed and be lying there, and without saying a word I'd start touching Jane sexually: stroking her breasts or legs or pressing against her. In effect, I was pressuring her to go along with this and do sexual acts with me, or to be forced to say no.

I knew at the time that this behaviours weren't "good sex". I felt sleazy. I felt that I was using Jane, and I was also worried that she'd see me this way. I felt ashamed and embarassed. I was more comfortable when Jane was actively interested in sex or initiating it herself. Part of me wanted to stop the behaviours, while part of me wanted to get away with them and excuse or trivialise them.

As Jane and I broke up, she did talk about me sometimes hassling her into sex. Once she said, "Sometimes you've just used me as something to masturbate into." Jane also pointed out other non-sexual ways in which I patronised, constrained or devalued her. Looking back through my diary of the time, these various behaviours were clearly interrelated.

Naming rape

ALTHOUGH I knew that my behaviours were wrong, it was only in a men's group that I came to name them as rape.

I'd been in a men's consciousness-raising group for about a year. We'd meet for three hours every Sunday night, and every second week we'd focus on a 'political' topic: sexism, pornography, homophobia etcetera. The group was committed to anti-sexist consciousness-raising.

My relationship with Jane was one of the main things I talked about in the men's group: my efforts to change my habits of behaviour and to build a more egalitarian relationship. One night I'd been describing the patterns I've spelt out above.

"Well, that sounds like rape to me." It was one of the gay men in the men's group who said it. This naming of my behaviour as rape scared and shamed me. For me, the words "rape" and "rapist" are emotionally charged. They're heavily laden with emotional and political symbolism. I'd read some feminist writing on rape, and I'd read of the horrific experiences women undergo at the hands of men. For me to be associated with this horror was truly disturbing.

Coercion

I HAD used coercion against a woman to get sex. I hadn't held her down, physically hurt her or used a weapon. But I'd pressured her.

She hadn't felt terrified or physically injured. But she'd felt uncomfortable and used. Although I didn't recognise it at the time, I think now she probably felt ripped-off and abused.

The behaviour I've described above is rape. Rape is sex without consent, and there can't be proper consent if there is coercion or pressure.

My behaviours are part of a continuum of behaviours: unwanted touching, wolf-whistling, battering, publicly commenting on women's bodies, flashing, voyeurism, rape, emotional coercion and sexual murder. There is a vast spectrum of behaviours, ranging from the most humdrum and frequent to the most terrifying and extreme. What is common to them all is that they involve unwanted intrusions by men into women's lives.

Explain yourself

HOW can I explain these behaviours of mine? The most crucial element is that I simply had insufficient respect for Jane's right to control when, how and with whom she had sex. That is, I had not taken consent seriously enough.

I'd focused on Jane's body (as an object and an image), and not enough on Jane as a conscious person (as a human being with rights and feelings). I'd subordinated her desires and will to my own.

I didn't consciously believe any of the common myths about rape, but I'd been influenced by what is at the core of those myths: a devaluing of women's right to freely consent to sex.

My learned masculinity and my learned heterosexuality are also crucial factors in explaining my rapes. Men learn to not listen to women's voices, to focus on women's bodies and to see how far we can get.

I was really into pornography when I was fifteen and sixteen: soft-core heterosexual porn, found, stolen, bought or swapped. Porn taught me to focus on women's bodies (to objectify women), and to often see women in sexual ways (to sexualise women). Using porn may have had something to do with the behaviour I've described above.

For me to explain my pressuring Jane to have sex, I would also have to include my particular emotional relationship to her. I think that sometimes I desperately wanted sex with Jane to confirm that we were close, intimate. Sometimes it had more to do with a sexualised obsession with her. Both these patterns are common for men in heterosexual relationships.

Critical reflection

I'VE moved a long way since that time eight years ago. There are three central processes: taking responsibility for my behaviour; developing empathy for the woman with whom I'm sexual and for women's experiences generally; and changing my behaviour.

At the time, I was already worried about my sexual behaviour. But the crucial step was to acknowlege that I'd done some coercive and sleazy things to Jane. I've had to 'own' my behaviour: "Yes, I've raped a woman. Rape is fucked. It's totally unacceptable. How can I change my behaviour? How can I make rape less likely?"

The second crucial element in stopping my behaviour is to find out how it's experienced by the woman. As well as acknowledging that we men have coerced women into sex, we must realise how this is unacceptable, abusive and oppressive. That is, men must appreciate the emotional and political horror of rape.

The third element is to change one's behaviour: for example, to verbally communicate before, during and after sex and to always check out consent.

I don't feel that I've now got everything worked out. I still need to be conscious of the possibility of being coercive. These three steps are things that any man can do. Otherwise, without an attitude of respect and empathy towards women, men will continue raping.

Sweat and change

MY armpits get sticky with sweat while I write this, even though it's cold enough in this room that my breath forms clouds of vapour. I am afraid of people attacking me, and that's why I've written under a pseudonym. I am deeply ashamed of having coerced a person into sex. But I, like all men, am not somehow essentially oppressive, and I can change my oppressive behaviours and attitudes.

I can learn from all this. This doesn't mean that I forget what I've done, excuse it or trivialise it. It means that I move on, forging a life free of sexual coercion and the attitudes that support it.


Reprinted with permission from the magazine XY: men, sex, politics. PO Box 473, BLACKWOOD, SA, 5051, AUSTRALIA.

©Copyright 1995

 


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