Power, Choice, and the Household Staff
It is both stunningly obvious, and frequently ignored, that “yes” is not a choice where “no” carries a terrible cost. Renee at Womanist Musings reminds folks that the least-discussed aspect of the Monica Lewinsky story was that there’s never an unconstrained response to a boss’s sexual advances:
When Clinton engaged in his extra martial affair with Monica Lewinsky, she was demonized by the press, in much the same manner that Baena is now; however, feminists at the time attempted interject an understanding of power into the public consciousness.
And that’s true again with the Arnold Schwarzenegger story, though Renee notes that it hasn’t been said (her post is not long and merits a full read), and I have not really seen it said either. Nobody is just as free to tell the boss, “not interested” as they are to say, “yes.” That’s my first and overwhelming reaction to the story. He’s the one who was free — completely free — to not go there.
I’ll segue into another idea here that I won’t close the loop on due to time constraints: what I’ll call the Weather Theory of male sexuality (I have no idea if that term is someone’s, but the idea certainly isn’t new, and I’m relying in part on some of my own prior writing — if there’s a real origin for these ideas point me to it and I’ll update). It’s the idea that men’s sexual urges are uncontrollable. Even sensible people fall for this shit, in fact, it underlies some of Ryan and Jetha’s fascinating Sex at Dawn. (Regular readers may recall that I’ve promised to review that one of these days. Probably I still will.) It’s just not true. However little we control what we want, we do control how we express that want. If we didn’t control how we express desire, men would blurt out come-ons in all sorts of circumstances that would get them in trouble; instead, when men don’t control how they handle desire, they usually do it in circumstances where the relations of power are such that they have a privilege that they think will let them away with it. And that, for them, is not a relatively constrained choice. It is almost entirely a free choice. Arnold had plenty of ways to express desire and get his needs fulfulled; that he chose throughout his life to direct sexual attention toward women who didn’t like it or who were not in a position to express a view, that tells us what he’s all about.
Men who have sex with women (and I’ll confine my remarks that way because kyriarchal dynamics get different enough that I feel I should) shouldn’t make sexual advances towards or have sexual relationships with women they hire, fire or supervise. Those are not chosen power dynamics, those are real world structural inequalities that can (and often do) vitiate consent. If you want to fuck the hired help, that’s what roleplay is for.
A closing note on her appearance, which people seem obsessed with: utterly irrelevant to anything I’m interested in talking about.