As I was doing a little Christmas Stumbling I discovered a provacative little blog that prompted some rather un-Christmassy talk. Lisa, who is a regular contributer to contexts.org, suggests that “some sociologists argue that rapists are not non-conformists (somehow deviant), but hyper-conformists. Rapist are men who take rules of masculinity to their logical conclusion.” You can view her entire post and the Gucci ad she uses to illuminate her argument here.
Of course, being the social neo-phyte that I am, I made this instant conversation during our Christmas breakfast prep. Over nicely browning potatoes you could hear the lovely harmony of Christmas words:
Me: “Sure, we aren’t the people in this ad, but it acts as a cultural image for us. The man is in control, the woman out of control.”
Brother-in-law: “But I don’t see rape when I see that picture; I see sex. Plus it’s Gucci, most marketing isn’t that graphic.”
Me: “But that’s the point. If we see sex there, and the man is in control…”
Brother-in-law: “I just can’t buy that Gucci is our ‘cultural image.'”
And he’s right. But the whole thing (blog, Christmast, conversation) got me thinking about the stories we tell ourselves. Rape is sex as a form of domination. Are we telling those tales? Or, is the telling of those tales creating it’s own eddy of cultural disintegration that is disconnected from the construct that created the cultural image?
It got me thinking to about who is doing the telling. Who’s behind the lens of these photo shoots? Only recently have women begun to shoot women. For time uncounted men have framed history. When I look back in time I see men, I see the phallus. “The pen is mightier than the sword,” according to Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Both are phalluses. Both have dominated history. But I digress.
There is a path of conversation that I don’t want to follow, but can’t avoid. It’s a path into sexuality. If I’m honest with myself, I can’t divorce my sexuality from power. For me, as a man, sex is, at least in part, about power. There was a time that I thought power in sex was inappropriate. I think the insidious thing about our phallocentric history is that we’ve become afraid of the power that women exhibit in sex. Men think they are more powerful than women, and so it is confounding that at the moment of what should be our greatest power (sex, or more specifically our partner’s orgasm) we find our power absolutely eclipsed. At the climax of sex, the power of a woman is revealed as wholly dominant.
Throughout most of western history the sexuality of women has been vilified, I think, for that very reason. Our cultural image could not account for the eclipse of the phallus in the act of sex.
And so, the narrative trend has been to subdue (or, in the free market, to commoditize) the female orgasm. Does that frame exist intuitively, or unconsciously, or purposefully in the Gucci image? Certainly more discussion is necessary here.
Finally, let me ask, are we still subduing the power inherent to sex by questioning rape as conformity? It strikes me that the more insidious narrative is the one that subverts the sexual power of both parties. Give men and women permission to have power, and use it.