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The Opposite Of Sex*

March 31, 2010

Yesterday, I gave sophomoric college columnist and pro-rape activist Alex Knepper a piece of my mind. I’m not alone. Jill’s take links to Amanda Hess’s coverage of the travesty and the reaction to it. I read Amanda’s piece, and I wanted to say one more thing:

Alex Knepper is the problem. Not just the specific problem, which is his position that women who enter frat houses or drink are giving general permission to rapists, though he is very much that problem. He is also the larger problem. Knepper is the Commodity Model.

The whole issue with the Commodity Model, as I expressed it in Toward A Performance Model of Sex, is that it assumes that people are lessened by sexual interactions:

We live in a culture where sex is not so much an act as a thing: a substance that can be given, bought, sold, or stolen, that has a value and a supply-and-demand curve. In this “commodity model,” sex is like a ticket; women have it and men try to get it … This model pervades casual converstaion about sex: Women “give it up,” men “get some… The commodity model assumes that when a woman has sex, she loses something of value.

YMY at p. 30, 38, emphasis supplied.

One of my criticisms of this model was its heterocentrism: the duality of giver and taker falls apart in same-sex pairings. YMY at pp. 35-36. But Alex Knepper, a gay republican or conservative of some kind (specifically, the kind who calls himself a “classical liberal”, which means laissez-faire, free market true believer, or guy who has shrines to Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman in his basement). He has managed to adopt the Commodity Model wholesale by reconstructing sex among gay men along the reductionist dualistic lines Catherine MacKinnon criticized when she wrote, “Man fucks woman, subject verb object.” (High irony; since Knepper told Hess, “It started with Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, and it’s an utter betrayal of the ideals of women like Wollstonecraft, Stanton, and even Friedan.”) What does he think of people who get fucked? he told Hess:

[Gay men are] far more likely to understand that dressing one’s boyfriend up like a girl and fucking his ass with a dildo is to feminize him. The feminine element of sexuality is not literally about being female—it’s about surrender and submission. One might say that my homosexuality is the ultimate expression of my deep-seated hatred for women, though, right?”


Knepper doesn’t even hide what he thinks. Femininity to him is submission and surrender; even for two men having sex, for Knepper, to get fucked is to submit and surrender. One might assume that this “which one is the girl?” stuff had been relegated to the most sophomoric (pardon the pun) of homophobes, but actually it fits quite well with the pseudointellectual essentialist drivel on his reading list. One can get that from Paglia just as surely as the guy who says “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!”

(I’ll interject a personal angle, as I often do. In my own sex life with my spouse, one of the dynamics I most often play with is the opposite of this: entering partner as bottom, enveloping partner as top. The specifics, while I have discussed them on blogs before, are kind of beside the point. The point is, I know that the dynamics Knepper thinks are the furniture of the universe are in fact flexible and socially constructed, because I play with that flexibility myself.)

Now, I would think that other gay men might take umbrage at Knepper’s construction. Obviously, though, Knepper recognizes and embraces that his comments are offensive. The rest of his remark to Hess:

“Gay men—by which I do not mean the eunuchs who constitute the vanguard of so-called queer activism—are far more likely to understand that dressing one’s boyfriend up like a girl and fucking his ass with a dildo is to feminize him.

[Emphasis supplied.]

I wonder how deep that well of self-hate goes. I wonder idly; I don’t actually care and I’m not inclined to forgive this asshole for his youth. He’s an evil little man.

He’s an evil little man because he profanes sex by spreading the idea that it lessens us, or some of us. What I want, what I have, and what I want everyone to have is sex where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, that is itself a creation between the participants: where everyone leaves the encounter having more, being increased and enriched … so, in juxtaposition to what Knepper describes, the opposite of that.

*Yes, it’s a movie title. And the last paragraph is a conscious parallel to Christina Ricci’s closing line.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. Sam permalink
    March 31, 2010 1:51 pm

    Thomas,

    “The commodity model assumes that when a woman has sex, she loses something of value.”

    This is very interesting, because one of – at least my – realizations in Clarisse Thorn’s epic feminism and manliness thread was kind of the same thing, albeit with respect to men – if women are losing value, men are taking it. Yet I believe that fear of the pathological male is the cornerstone of this line of thinking/social development, and, potentially, the higher biological costs of sex for women (potential parental investment is higher, even today).

    The thing is though – and this goes back to your “talking past each other post” – that I don’t think the way you write about masculinity is conducive to alleviating the juxtaposition you want to rememdy. The masculinity discourse you present is one that – certainly to me – feels like – despite assertions reiterating your belief in the transcendence of both female and male sexuality – “men $are animals”, where $are represents not biology but a pathological social structure. The assumed behavioral consequences for a male individual $are the same, except that in the social determination model there is an implicit moral accusation that is necessarily absent in the biological determination model. Hence the male desire to “be like that”, hence the feminist desire to not accept biology on any level as an argument for anything.

    “What I want, what I have, and what I want everyone to have is sex where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, that is itself a creation between the participants: where everyone leaves the encounter having more, being increased and enriched …”

    Who doesn’t, right? I agree with both of your assertions and yet, when I look at the list of posts you have written about masculinity, there’s not much about transcendence. You’re basically only dealing with the pathological aspects of male sexuality, even while saying that only a small predator-group is the problem.

    And that is a problem, in a way. Not necessarily because feminism shouldn’t be mostly concerned with male pathology if that’s what feminism wants to be mostly concerned about – but because feminism is where masculinity is negotiated these days. There is no narrative about masculinity that is separate of feminism or positive in its own right. The “classic model” is no model, it’s just a fading memory of time gone by. Fortune 500 CEOs don’t reflect reality on the “gender ground” as much as they don’t represent the economic structure of any country. Men who want to discuss masculinity basically have to do this on feminist territory. And on feminist territory, there is feminist discourse hegemony, and a general tendency to belittle male experiences or problems as expressions of a problem of dealing with losing privilege.

    So that’s a problem if you want to get to that performance model and all you mostly hear from those determining the playing field for the discussion is a discoursive reiteration of the commodity model.

    If we cannot separate the rape discourse from the masculinity discourse, I believe that will never change, and you will probably have to wonder forever why those guys whose minds should be at ease because they don’t rape are hedging their words (see “talking past each other”) when asked about defining instances of consent.

  2. March 31, 2010 3:22 pm

    Sam, I am trying to hear what you’re saying. But if what you’re looking for is discourse about masculinity that isn’t informed by feminism, I’m not interested. I think that moves the wrong way. And if you need a discourse where there are not women watching or responding to what you say, to a point I think that’s useful to work through issues, but it can also breed us-against-them. Ultimately that has to be a stopgap, and much of what we have to say to each other about being men we ought to be able to say where everyone can see it.

    Part of why I address it the way I do is because anti-rape writing is kind of my core beat, and it is that way because I percieve violation and abuse as the core of why our culture’s sexuality is so damaged. I’m not saying that there should not or cannot be a masculinity discourse separate from a rape discourse. Of course there can.

    But the thing about a sexuality that we are not ashamed of is this: if we’re not ashamed of it, what is it we can’t talk about with the women around?

    To my way of thinking, the problem with the way that discourse goes is that people keep trying to have it so that it includes misogynist assholes. I’m not going to have a polite conversation about sexuality and masculinity with the guys from the MRA blogs, or with dickheads who show up on Amanda Hess’s comment threads to mansplain everything. I am only going to reach consensus on what manhood and masculinity ought to look like with people whose views are not irreconsilable with mine.

    I guess I just don’t get where your issue is. You agree with me, but you don’t like that I keep criticizing men and ideas you disagree with? Or at some level you feel like you can’t reject them without rejecting some aspect of your own masculinity? What? What is it that you’re for that you feel uncomfortable with the way I address?

    Read Fuck That again and tell me I’m not for an unabashed male sexuality.

  3. March 31, 2010 3:27 pm

    And another thing, Sam: you can spend hundreds of comments and dozens of hours on sexuality and she won’t judge you, largely because that’s her personality. I, on the other hand, am kind of an asshole. I’m snarky and competetive and short-fused and opinionated. Not because of testosterone or some indescribably essence of manhood, but just because I’m kind of an asshole. I’ve made my peace with that. But I can’t imagine a discourse about masculinity with Clarisse being more intimidating than with me.

  4. Sam permalink
    March 31, 2010 6:32 pm

    Thomas,

    “I’m kind of an asshole. I’ve made my peace with that.”

    I kind of get that, and I’ve only really started reading your blog because Clarisse Thorn recommended it over and over.

    “What is it that you’re for that you feel uncomfortable with the way I address?”

    I guess, I’m mostly annoyed that I feel you’re talking about men like you’re not one of us, like we are some kind of alien species for you. There is no performance model in your language, you’re constantly engaging in team sports despite constantly declaring the opposite.

    “Ultimately that has to be a stopgap, and much of what we have to say to each other about being men we ought to be able to say where everyone can see it.”

    I don’t think you’re getting my point. I want women in that debate, I want them to challenge men, masculinity and make all this a better discourse. But for that to happen, it cannot happen on a discoursive platform where one party has less of a right to define terms than the other. Feminism, feminist theory and discourse is designed to limit male influence for fear of recreating what is often complained about as a male dominated mainstream sphere with a marginalized female voice.

    Yet in gender matters, there is no male dominated mainstream sphere – feminism is the mainstream within which this discourse is going to happen. And for that it is an ill-ecquipped place, as we can see by the fact that likely good-willing people are evidently talking past each other. That three months of defining was necessary on Clarisse’s blog to get to a point where there was a basic common understanding of what’s being talked about.

    That’s what’s needed to get to a performance model. Dialogue, not preaching. You may not be willing to be a part of that given your stated preferences for being short-fused and judgmental. I think that’s counterproductive given your stated goals, but well, we probably disagree on that.

    “Read Fuck That again and tell me I’m not for an unabashed male sexuality.”

    I didn’t say you were not. I said that the way you’re talking about it is reiterating common stereotypes you say you despise. Your emphasis, your tone – you apparently don’t think this matters, but I do.

  5. April 2, 2010 1:49 pm

    While not all feminists speak for me, I identify as a feminist. Mostly because it’s been a necessary tool for me when I’ve encountered some issues in my life, it’s allowed me to not hate myself.

    There may be some women who spout things off on feminist sites on-line without having sensitivity. But a lot of us are not spouting. A lot of us have only come to be able to say what we have to say after a lot of long, hard, life experience. It’s not mostly concerned with male pathology. It’s concerned with the fact that these women no longer hate themselves or blame themselves for what has happened to them. Yes there are messed up stuff with society and that affects both men and women. But a plus for feminism for me is that it gives women a tool to navigate that society and a tool to be a better person despite it all. For me it isn’t an excuse to put down men or anything else, it’s just a reminder that I have ways out of the situation.

    Yes a way out of just biology. Before I go on with that subject let me just state that I am missing a chromosome and cannot have children. If I accepted a lot of these just biology statements I should be not dating or having sex at all and just hiding out in a room somewhere. I have gotten messages that I am lesser because of my biology. (a few jokes cracked on TV recently, like one guest on the Colbert report saying that one candiate was so horrible anyone could beat them in election as long as the opponent had “a normal chromosomal allignment”, one example, a person who told me her teacher in her religous studies class in high school that marriage wasn’t for infertile women, that only women that could have kids should get married…another…I could go on) I have rejected that argument since I was 8 years old. I am not less than, I am a human being with a spirit, a soul, a life to live and things to offer. Someone doesn’t have to feel the same way, but they have no right to expect me to submit to their way of thinking if that IS how they think.

    I have no problem with biology. I get that part of sex is genetics, phremones, and biology related. Science is fascinating. And I have no problem with natural instincts. But if they lead me to a place of unhappiness or hurting others I will try and work with that to fix it because I have a brain. If you want to discuss biology and how it affects you and makes you feel, most decent feminist women don’t have a problem with that. If you want a pass for asshole behavior because of biology, though, no such luck. I think women AND men need to be more forgiving, understanding, etc. of each others issues. But what exactly are you talking about? Because often when women call men out online in feminist spaces it’s not because they don’t understand the men. It’s because when there is a discussion “this happened to me, this is horrible, I made it through but I don’t want others to have to go through this or feel like I did” and for a man to say “well, it’s biology”…that’s not understanding coming from the guy. So how are you expecting women to listen to an argument like that, it’s not a discussion. It’s a one way, men saying…your point is moot because of biology. And women in a feminist on-line space will understandably get upset when they are told their point is moot and not really listen to the guy who’s not listening to them.

  6. April 2, 2010 2:20 pm

    “guys whose minds should be at ease because they don’t rape”

    I’m not racist but my mind isn’t at ease. Racism makes me sicka nd I still try and learn about ways where if I’m not helping or speaking out against it, than I am hurting. It takes more than just not doign something, it also takes acting against it.

  7. Marni permalink
    April 4, 2010 2:05 pm

    I clicked on some of the links you have up to that piece today for some silly reason. And because I apparently hate myself, scrolled down the comments on the paper’s “we don’t know what journalism is” apology. In that process I found this :

    “Aaron Harrison
    Apr 3 at 3:05 PM

    Hello. I am a student from Drake University. Our small school had a rash of sexual assaults. I printed a relatively similar article in our newspaper. The people Mr. Knepper railed against in his article also exist here, and they posted up signs all over campus that attempted to ruin all discussion about the topic. They wanted to make the victims pariahs and martyrs for their cause. As a result, I sympathize with Mr. Knepper. I, too, received lots of hate mail about my opinion, even though I, like Mr Knepper, was merely encouraging the debate. This is not “incendiary” speech. This is not hate speech. I believe Mr. Knepper is spot on. Rape is a complex issue, but we have to look at the facts. Knee-jerk reactions, like I have seen here, are unhealthy and useless to the debate. Remember that.”

    I remember this putz from my days at Drake and his godawful “work” in the student paper (Obama is a racist b/c he liek totes has an evil pastor! for example). He, of course, wasn’t a fan of what I published, particularly the pieces pertaining to being pro-choice and *shocker* proclaiming that women too can drink and have sex, sometimes at the same time!

    I also remember the backward, awful job Drake did (does? probably) of handling even well documented issues (sexual harassment, in my case). Plus all the charming things that have come out about that campus this past year.

    Anyway, the point here is that I think it’s noteworthy that the frequent offenders and apologists come out to back each other up. Not sure how, and frankly, I’m too stirred up by such *pleasant* memories of that school to really analyze how significant.

    Also. re: other comments on here, I’m quite amazed by your manner of writing. By which I mean I don’t oftentimes come across something and think “yes, they get it”, and just haven’t gotten around to commenting before.

  8. April 6, 2010 9:29 pm

    I hate, hate, hate that so many people equate being female with being submissive/weak/etc.

    …Which is exactly why I like crossdressing my bf and fucking his ass. We’re making fun of stereotypes. Sometimes when we’re done I slap his ass and tell him to go make me a SAMMITCH.

    When we’re not being all BDSMy, though, we have sex where neither of us is “male” or “female”; sex that’s an exchange rather than a transaction. We’re just two people doing pleasurable things. That’s how it should be.

  9. April 7, 2010 12:05 am

    On a somewhat related note, can I call for reinforcements over here: http://www.nowtoronto.com/columns/sasha.cfm ? One of the commenters, “Paul E. Wantsacrakur”, is totally pissing me off. I’ve yelled at him (under a different name than I use here), but I’d like others to go yell, too.😛

  10. QSymm permalink
    April 15, 2010 6:48 pm

    Thanks a lot for this article, it made some thoughts in my head clearer (I had a really difficult discussion with a friend about a somewhat related issue with a friend of mine some time ago).
    I just discovered this blog and am looking forward to reading more of it!

    And (sorry, a little off topic): Woohooo, finally someone else who uses the word “enveloping”…love that! It is actually the first time i read it written down. For me words are so important in how I think about things, and I am still working on getting a vocabulary that I feel comfortable with. Right now I am in the “using the words I like, but on purpose”-stadium – hopefully one day words like “enveloping” will just feel normal. And maybe reading it here was a small step in that direction.

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