Tuesday, May 13, 2008

You know these days no one's exploited

I'm not a very good blogger; I missed Blogging Against Disablism Day, and now via Elizabeth I see I've missed Blogging for CFS/ME Day, which is too bad, as I swear I have intelligent things to say about disability and particularly about CFS.

I'm not going to talk about disability today, though. I'm going to talk about Lolita, and radical feminism, and what it's like to believe a certain idea is true.

I go to a book discussion group at my local library. We meet once a month, about four or five conservative, oldish women and me, excessively butch and progressive ; this month's book was Lolita, which of course is the story of a young girl and the pedophile who maneuvers himself into the role of her stepfather and then takes off across the country on a road trip designed to facilitate her repeated rape. And then he murders the guy who (sort of) helps her escape.

Its a horrible story, but the discussion was pretty interesting. Nabokov was a fabulous writer, so there's all kinds of literary allusions, metaphors and tricks to dissect, and the story of course raises all kinds of questions about the nature of insanity, evil, and sex. There are details throughout the book that hint at a story behind the story; I believe the literary device is called the 'unreliable narrator.' So the book group was a good time, but we didn't get into the aspect of the book that I thought was most interesting, which was the problem of consent to sex in a coercive, dependent relationship.

Although Nabokov doesn't necessarily accept it himself, he puts in the mouth of his protagonist the idea that the child Lolita, at age 12, seduces a grown man out of her own free will. This is what the term lolita has come to mean: a sexually cunning girl child who aims to seduce adult men.

Of course the legal standard is that it is impossible for a child of twelve to consent to sex, and I rather think that this is correct. However, when Lolita is only a bit older than the age at which she is said to have seduced Humbert, she runs away from him while on a trip. And I got to thinking, if I approve of a life-changing decision like choosing to run away from the only support you have, in a state you're unfamiliar with, without any money, what is the basis for my rejection of the idea that someone of that same age can consent to sex? Because if running away is an acceptable thing, the issue is clearly not one of mental competence or the ability to make wise decisions. So what is it about sex that makes me so sure that a twelve year old can't choose to do it?

I don't usually consider myself to be a radical feminist. I haven't even read a lot of the philosophy behind radical feminism, but my contemplation of this question makes me think that I probably ought to start reading Dworkin and whoever else wrote on this question back in the day, what I guess is called first-wave feminism. Because I suspect that the answer to why I think sex with children is unacceptable lies in the balance of power between adults and children. Children are dependent on their adult caretakers. No matter what permutation that relationship takes, a child can never be sure that she has power of any kind. A child's "no" is often meaningless, and I think this is the key to why I think a child cannot consent to sex. Of course, from what I know at least (my knowledge of Dworkin is heavily reliant on blogs like I Blame the Patriarchy, which isn't meant to be a course in philosophy, so what I know may not extend very far), one of the key tenets in the "sex-negative" school of feminist thought is that women can't consent to sex while a patriarchal society that denies women the ability to meaningfully refuse sex persists.

I'm not ready to subscribe to the idea that all heterosexual sex is rape- I think there has to be room somewhere for the unique dynamic between two people that may negate the effect that culture has- but I think I finally see where that idea comes from. Feminism is not something that comes naturally to me, not really. I don't really feel patriarchy in my gut. I believe that patriarchy exists because I've seen its effects often enough that I'm convinced that its a real phenomenon, but I don't really feel it on a close, personal level even when those effects are a part of my life. Its too easy for me to assume that the way both men and women interact with me is influenced by other things- my illness, my personality (which borders on Aspergian) - for me to automatically think that patriarchy in my life is really patriarchy. Reading Lolita has been like opening a window, and I think now I understand a little bit better what it means to be a woman in the twenty-first century.


Elizabeth McClung said...

Well, the book lolita made my skin crawl, and now there is a film called Candy which basically proposes the idea (not new) that men are the helpless victims becuase women, regardless of age are cunning manipulaters who are all knowing and can use thier allure and sexuality as a predatory power (which men are helpless against). Not a new idea, not just usually sold for like...children. So we have the "children are ever innocent and have NO IDEA what is going on" on one side and the "female children learn to manipulate and hold power at a tiny age" at the other.

I tend not to call it "the patriarcy" but I know that how I am treated, even in disability, is often determined by the idea that men don't act on desires, women make them (go to any Christian forum to see long threads about "modest clothing" for women to see this idea spelled out in detail - that men cannot help themselves in making choices thus the women, by making choices are CAUSING men to do things - er....yeah). Anyway, I wish I had been in on the discussion of lolita and been able to objectify it a bit.

I did have to say that when I got to the line where you say you don't 'feel' the patriarchy, I actually scrolled back up to reconfirm you had been in the military. Since my experience is second hand, maybe it isn't the overwhelming boy's club it is portrayed where a TRUE "care package" to an active soldier would involve sending pics of naked women for them to maturbate to or pass around. And hey, if I am out of line or this is a no go area, just tell me becuase I don't want to alientate you - like I said, in the end, I don't know, becuase I wasn't in it. So I might be saying ignorant bigoted stuff and not knowing so if so, please put me straight.

Tayi said...

You know, I'm sure there are places in the military where any woman serving would have to face misogyny all the time, every day, but the unit I served in for most of the time I was in the Army was pretty unique. It was a military intelligence unit that specialized specifically in Korean language training. The training program was one of the most intensive programs the military has. We had an officer in my class who had been through Army Ranger training who said he would rather do Ranger training all over again than the Korean language course; he dropped out about six months into the eighteen month program. Most people who entered the program either dropped out completely or had to be rolled back to redo part of the training. The first-time completion rate was something less than 20%, which is comparable to things like the Navy SEALS. So it was a really intense, hardcore environment, and it was clear to anyone with eyes that the women did exactly as well as the men did, so I think that did a lot to cut down on misogyny in this particular unit.

Also, to even get into the Korean language program, you have to score pretty high on this test the Army has, so almost everyone in the program was kind of a geek, and we didn't have very many people who say themselves as archetypes of masculinity. We had a few jock types, and they did hassle me once I got injured- being injured is totally uncool in the military- but I don't remember anyone hassling anyone for being a woman. And not to sound like I'm blowing my own horn, but I was really good at what I did, so even when I got hassled for being injured I could list off all the ways in which I was a better soldier than the hassler even with a limp.

My experience in the military was pretty unusual, but also, I guess I've always had trouble identifying with any group. I tend to interpret insults as either not about me at all or about me specifically, in which case I can disprove them and be done with it. This is probably fairly healthy psychologically, but I think it prevents me from fully understanding things like feminism and patriarchy.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Well see, now I am really curious whether you are still involved in doing anything with Korean, like do you want me to send you "My wife is a gangster" or "Foul King" or "Once upon a time in a High School" or "The Host" or would you have seen all that already, or does that even interest you anymore? I could understand if you don't, but I guess I am in awe of someone learning Korean, which isn't the easiest of languages. In fact I have a book here if you want it (you probably have it already though). Let me know if we can watch Korean Soaps together like "Winter" or "sping" - I take it in training you probably saw "Joint Security Area" and "Brother"

Tayi said...

My grasp of Korean certainly isn't as good as it used to be. I saw an early episode of Lost the other day, and was exceedingly pleased to find that I could understand the Korean without subtitles, but when I try to produce anything in Korean, it comes out half Spanish. And then when I try to speak Spanish, I end up with 75% Spanish vocab in about 50% Korean grammar structures. Its a mess, like most of the rest of my brain. As for Korean cinema, I've seen all the films you listed... I saw The Host last winter and really liked it, even though I needed subtitles to follow everything. A lot of Korean film is a bit grim for me, though- have you seen Oldboy? And even the stuff that's supposed to be humorous, like Attack the Gas Station!, isn't my favorite.

Elizabeth McClung said...

There does seem to be a hefty dollop of violence in Korean humor, even The Quiet Family is sort of the "nice" family who....kills together. I don't like Old Boy but I like Memory of Murder and some of the comedy like "My Little Bride" (okay creepy but all they did was kiss!). I have Attack the Gas Station but again, due to the violence/humiliation I have only seen it once - I will make another list of favs, perhaps ones without violence - though I tend to go to Japan for stuff like Il Mare and Ping Pong and Linda, Linda, Linda - though I am always amazed as the emotional quality of Korean Cinema - I mean what is that film where they use the song "holiday" from the Bee Jee's to make a solomn assasination scene? Did you want to borrow my special edition (from Spain) of Intacto - it has two shorts by the same director?