Friday, 21 August 2009

Victimhood, doesn't have to be purified

The theme of spousal rape caught hold in this post about a letter to an advice column. Maybe I'm being dense but this felt like something slightly more complex than rape. Despite that being ground that should perhaps be left alone. 

I kept thinking this unusual illustration of how being bound by an intense sense of obligation can cause us to collude in our own mis-use. I was told to read this. I didn't feel that was what I meant at all. I don't believe women should have to have a fight back test.

The story is of a woman repulsed by her husband due, she says, solely to his 100 lbs weight gain. He was plump when they met and she could see that, but considered him attractive;
When we first met he was probably 25 pounds overweight, but he was handsome and we had great sex.
So for her sexual arousal is directly bound up in the way he looked.
Five years later he’s 300 pounds. I find his naked body gross. His face is bloated, and I can’t see the good-looking man I married.
Her repulsion is palpable. The bit about not seeing "...the handsome man I married", is telling, like she feels he's been replaced with someone else. Sometimes even quite minimal changes in weight are described as a new body. Then comes the chilling part;
Occasionally, I’ll let him “use” my body to appease him so he’ll stop arguing and yelling.
Whilst I do not condone any pressuring anyone for sex, I feel the label of rape perversely, ends up papering over the cracks. There's an element of someone colluding in their own violation. That's important because it can enable us to have the strength to say no and stick with that. And no, I'm not "blaming the victim", I'm trying to point to a way that women's conditioning and our own personal vanity can make the bounds of consent less than straight forward at times.

We all hide from uncomfortable feelings ones we feel we shouldn't have. There's no doubt he should not be arguing to the point where she feels the need to appease him physically. However, I don't know whether he knows that is what's happening here.

Rape is not the only way you can feel violated. Guilt seems to be involved here, though many felt she was physically threatened by him I didn't get that sense, nor did she say such, it was assumed, ironically due to his size. The confusion of boundaries being crossed because of a conflicting set of obligations and feelings. The upshot is having allowed oneself to be used in ways that feel like violation when your contrary feelings catch up with you.

It is not unusual for women especially to try to screw the anger out of men. It's one of the reasons so many end up with a sexual impulse that is absent without leave. Wondering, what happened? I detest the term "sexual dysfunction", because is it dysfunction if you mis-use your sexuality, get out of sync with it, as we women especially are too often sidelined into by the need for us to still be mere adjunct to male (hetero)sex?

It can peter out just like any other mis-used instinct. It happens to some people with their hunger if they overlook or try to suppress it too often. They too can find it becomes 'dysfunctional'.

Offering sex as a placatory soother, as a means to an end parts it from visceral desire. Both men and women do this, but women are taught that their sex is in service of others.

The letter speaks for a sex that still doesn't feel a full sense of ownership of it's own sexuality. If we did we wouldn't be on offer. Let me add that I am not ignoring the fact that this man's reaction to being denied access to the body of his wife is not acceptable. I''m not blaming her for the situation, it's more awareness. I suppose I'm trying to say that sometimes we can leave ourselves open to being victimized because we can't let go of ideas of how we should feel or behave.

That doesn't mean we are not being victimized. We don't have to be put into a narrative of innocence against guilt. Women don't have to be pure and perfect. We can make unwise moves and thinking about them and why, is not colluding with abuse. It's trying to identify patterns that draw us in. 

It's illuminating to know that and how we can and often do pay for the split in our sense of agency, between duty of care-taking the feelings of others and being true to or even identifying our own. In the end, its more reason to end the relationship. Kate makes a very apt point when she says;
So suck it up, accept that you’re the kind of person who can’t be attracted to a fatty even if you’d like to think you’re better than that, and cut him loose.
This is the key to so much of our problems it's not that we don't know what we want but that we also have a judgement about what that makes us and that's the bit that's stopping us from acting.

If the woman had accepted that it's okay to be repelled by the size of her husband and have done with it, she'd have been able to act accordingly, rather than wrestle with the idea of being a better woman.

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