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Men and sexual consent

So, I am gonna try to make this quick because I have a paper I'm working on and 2,000 more words to write, but I came up against an issue in the paper which I am not quite sure how to address: the (hetero)sexual consent negotiation process as it relates to men.

First, let me say that Oxford is an extremely conservative place, so my liberal ideals run the risk of being met by a lot of criticism, and that is a major part of my conundrum.

On our women's studies course, there are a number of students and professors who still believe that feminism is about advocating first and foremost for women.  It's almost as if they fail to understand that by disenfranchising male concerns and opinion, they are simply enacting reverse patriarchal culture rather than fighting against it as a whole.  As someone who has always connected better (in some ways) with men, and who has had a number of varying degrees of close relationships--intimate and otherwise--with men, I have always seen myself as something of a champion of the male cause within feminist understanding.  I have had so many heart-to-hearts in which my guy friends have expressed ways in which they feel undeniably restricted and constrained by current cultural normatives when it comes to sex and masculinity, and I can't help but acknowledge these reactions when certain topics come up in conversation.

Repeatedly, though, I am met with the reaction, "It's not the same.  It's not as bad for men.  Those concerns are nothing like the ones that women deal with.  It's an insult to feminism to try to draw a connection between the two."  Specifically here, I am thinking about times when I have brought up male circumcision with relation to female genital mutilation and male sexual pressure as related to female sexual pressure.  While I am completely aware that the topics are different for men and women, and that conclusions drawn about one do not imply the same conclusions be drawn about the other, I just think that it's foolish to try to have conversations about topics without exploring subjects which are related. 

So, in the case of female genital mutilation, it's not that I think the US practice of male circumcision is directly analogous, I think that thinking about how our culture has encouraged and substantiated male circumcision, and the related stigma that some men have faced because of being uncircumcised in such a culture can be useful for thinking about how a similar process functions in communities which practice female genital mutilation.  (I should note that US male circumcision rates have declined significantly in recent years, but there was a time when nearly 80% of all men were circumcised.  The percentage of newborn males circumcised today is just over half.  And, in case you are interested, for those born in the 1980s, the percentage is right around 75%.)

In the specific paper I'm writing now, I want to address the social pressure men experience to desire sex and cast it as restrictive in the actual process of negotiating consent.  I have friends who have expressed frustration with the assumption that all guys want sex all the time, because as men who don't, they sometimes feel pressure to behave differently in order to prove their masculinity.  In the paper, I want to posit the notion that men can find it difficult to say "no," to sex, but I know that my very female-oriented feminist examiners will probably look down on the argument since, as the presumed speaking subject, men are "always able to express their desires."  It drives me crazy that people refuse to recognize that, in one way or another, all people are limited and restricted by social expectations, regardless of their sex, gender, race, class, etc.  In truth, we are all only able to fully express our desires insomuch as they adhere to cultural normatives.  So, it can be hard for a guy to say no to sex, especially if he has any fear of being labeled as homosexual or effeminate.  I'd love to hear thoughts on this if anyone has some to contribute.

I know a number of my W&M friends had a discussion group on masculinity at some point last year, and I'm certainly missing the type of environment that encourages that sort of open discussion.  Just last night one of my friends here told me after reading a part of one of my papers that, if I wanted to do well, I should probably edit my writing style to be more in line with what is considered "acceptable" under the British system.  I should point out that I am pretty attached to how I write these days because it reflects my theories on acknowledging the speaking subject.  If I self-edit, I am basically going to be acknowledging that integrity to my ideals is less important that a high mark.  It should go without saying that I am not planning to change my writing style.  If I do not give myself permission to write my opinion openly and in my preferred style as a graduate student, I will probably never start.

Okay, back to the paper.


May. 8th, 2009 02:12 am (UTC)
Re: "Oxford is an extremely conservative place"
My experience of this "conservatism," then, might just be related to the women's studies program here. That said, I have encountered a number of students who, having been in different places for their undergraduate work, often refer to the academic environment as "conservative." This is definitely slightly different than politically conservative, and probably doesn't matter to many people outside of academia. It basically refers to which theories and which methods for addressing them are considered legitimate enough to receive good marks and attention by our lecturers. As someone who largely works on contemporary literature and culture and film/television, I have faced a lot of resistance from my tutors, whereas the students who focus on Victorian and medieval texts have had much more support. Hope that makes more sense.