“All heterosexual women are rape victims”

// 3 February 2008

EDIT: Debs has an interesting response to this post here.

I just came across this quote in the comments section of a feminist blog. The commenter asserted that sex is a means to control and subjugate women, that it is a form of abuse. While I agree that it very often can be both of these things, the assertion that all heterosexual women are rape victims displays an astoundingly arrogant denial of heterosexual women’s agency which really gets me riled.

The patriarchal model of heterosexuality is based on male dominance and female submission: for centuries this was considered the natural order of sexual interaction, and it is still very apparent today: sex is often portrayed as something men have to trick out of women, that women ‘give up’. But this isn’t to say that heterosexual sex always and necessarily follows this model. To do so is, in fact, to reinforce the kind of biological essentialist view of sexuality which influential late nineteenth and early twentieth century male sexologists used to justify male dominance in the bedroom.

Men are not inherently sexually dominant, just as women are not inherently submissive. Individuals’ sexuality and the kind of sex we engage in can be strongly affected by the society in which we grow up, and it is inevitable that the power relation between men and women on which patriarchy is based will in some cases be internalised and manifest itself in our sexualities and in the kind of sex we have. If we recognise the effect of socialisation on our sexualities we can overcome it, a fact that is ignored by the claim that all heterosexual women are rape victims.

I believe that men and women can develop egalitarian sexual relationships. It is perfectly possible for a heterosexual woman to consent to and enjoy sex with a man without being controlled or abused. Similarly, men are perfectly capable of having sex with women without wanting to control or abuse them. Some of us may well play at power exchange on occasions within sex, but this play needn’t be a defining factor of the relationship, nor a reinforcement of patriarchy. In any case, it is not a particular kind of heterosexual sex that is being condemned here but all of it.

I find the assertion that I am a rape victim because I have sex with men deeply offensive. It denies my autonomy, implies that men are inherently domineering and abusive, removes the possibility of creating egalitarian relationships between men and women and therefore of creating an egalitarian society, and is incredibly insulting to women who have really been raped.

I am not a victim, the men I sleep with are not rapists, and I’d hope that all feminists would recognise and respect that.

I’d like to make it clear that the opinion “All heterosexual women are rape victims” belongs to individual feminists, rather than to any strand of feminism, and is certainly in no way representative of general feminist thought on heterosexual sex.

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