Why are women so unhappy?

I think it’s one of the major paradoxes of modern American life, how the women who are by every outward indicator doing better than ever–women 35 or 40 and under, who have higher salaries, more education, and more wealth than their male peers–are so unhappy and feel so powerless and victimized. How can this be? Why do the women who, on paper, seem to have more power than the men around them (because, in this society, money is power), feel almost unanimously like they are helpless, traumatized victims of patriarchy?

Why are women who grew up in a society where rape victims are entitled to special protections that no other class of crime victims get, where sexual violence is considered more heinous than any other kind of criminal act, where sex crimes are treated more harshly than any other form of crime, where relationships that would have been commonplace a couple of generations ago (such as those between men in their 20s and women in their teens) are now seen as perverted and disgusting, and where things that were never seen as rape before (like having sex with a woman who willingly, eagerly went along with it but had a couple of drinks first) are now legally equivalent to holding a woman down and forcibly penetrating her, feeling across the board like they are powerless victims of a rape culture?

Why are women who have more access to reliable, affordable birth control than any women before them–access that has only increased in the last decade, to now include over-the-counter access to emergency contraception and copay-free access to many forms of birth control–convinced they are the beleaguered victims of a war on women?

Why does the reality of women’s lives seem so out of sync with what they are feeling?

I think it’s because we are setting women up for misery. We are sexualizing teen girls beyond what has ever happened before, and pushing them to want sex and seek sex and dress for sex and make men want sex, but then the minute they have sex, we tell them they are victims, children who are too young to make choices about sex, who must necessarily be traumatized for life by what happened.

We are encouraging young women to engage in a culture of drunken, meaningless hook-ups, telling them that getting married and having kids is a drag, is boring and unfulfilling and regressive, and that liberation and happiness is to be found in having the longest string of commitment-less hook-ups they can manage for as long as they can manage, that anybody who encourages them to settle down or get married or, gasp, consider having kids before they get old enough that it might be hard is a misogynistic, theocratic monster. But then, we tell them that every sexual encounter they had while drinking was rape, that any sex they regret was rape, that any man who would dare have sex with a woman without full assurance that, five years later, she’d feel totally positive and happy about it is an evil rapist out to destroy her. We encourage women to engage in hook-up culture, redefine rape so that nearly all “hooking up” becomes legally rape, and then act appalled about living in a rape culture.

Everything we are telling women is wrong. Engaging in a long string of commitment-less, relationship-free sexual encounters beginning in your teens and continuing for a couple of decades is not liberating, empowering, or fun. And, the unhappiness of women today should be enough to prove that. The reason women today feel so powerless isn’t because men have more power; they have less. It’s not because men are wielding the power they have more cruelly; women have more freedoms and protections than ever before. Women feel disempowered, traumatized, victimized, unhappy, and unfulfilled at higher rates than ever before because we are actively, continually encouraging women, from the time they hit puberty, to engage in behaviors that we have defined, simultaneously, as both empowering and traumatizing, as the key to freedom and liberation as well as acts of debasement and abuse. We cannot have it both ways, and we are making women incredibly unhappy by trying to.

More on drinking, sex, and rape

This is partly in response to recent comments by Nick Ross, who has been vilified in the British press for suggesting that every act the law defines as rape is not equally serious, and a post on xoJane about casual sex that once again reveals the impossibility of certain “progressive” and “feminist” ideas about sex.

Once again, we see people completely misunderstanding the relationship between drinking, sex, and the law.

Nobody–not Nick Ross, not me, not anybody since about 1975 and who even knows if anybody did then–thinks that, if a woman is saying no or resisting sex, her being drunk invalidates her no or her resistance. I’m not aware of any modern cases where a woman was struggling and saying no, and a man forced himself on her, and a judge or jury declared that, since she was drunk, her resistance didn’t count. That is NOT what’s at issue.

What is at issue is the fact that, legally, having sex with somebody who is drunk is considered rape. Period. It doesn’t matter if they don’t resist or say no. It doesn’t matter if they enthusiastically say yes. It doesn’t matter if they initiate the encounter. The law in many places is that, if a person (usually a woman) is drunk, she is incapable of giving consent. Women who have been drinking are in the same category as the mentally disabled and minors under the age of consent. 

That is a problem. It’s shocking and appalling to me that feminists don’t realize that is a problem. That a woman who has had–who has willingly chosen to drink–two or three beers is considered, legally, to be equivalent to a cognitively disabled person with an IQ of 40 or a child of 11 when it comes to sexual decision making should outrage feminists. They certainly shouldn’t be pushing this belief.

And then there’s the irony of supporting a culture of alcohol-fueled sex with strangers while also calling any woman who has any such encounter and feels even slightly regretful about it a rape victim.

xoJane is the place women go not, as the tagline says, to be selfish, but to revel in their victimhood. The site is filled with story after story, in both the content and comments, of women claiming sexual victimization of every kind. And yet, the same site where the person who talks about how horrifically victimized they were as an admittedly horny, precocious 13yo in a relationship they willingly entered into with a 19yo is lauded for their courage and bravery in finally “admitting” how traumatized they were, and women who claim that sex they willingly engaged in while drunk was rape are given unequivocal validation, we see casual sex lauded and presented as empowering. 

Nowhere in the “tips for casual sex nobody will regret” is there what should probably be the main piece of advice: DON’T DRINK. Nope. The #1 thing that causes people to both engage in and regret casual sex–alcohol–is ignored entirely, as if we live in a world where people often completely soberly decide to engage in sex with a stranger. I’d be willing to bet that the majority, if not the VAST majority, of casual sexual encounters involve alcohol. To ignore that, to not mention that anything you do while drinking you may regret, and that legally if you have sex while drunk you are a rape victim, is wildly irresponsible. It’s just going to lead to more tragic tales of victimization told by women who made a stupid choice while drunk they would not have made while sober and then, quite understandably, feel violated the next day.

Women are not empowered by the idea that, after they have a drink or two, they should be considered the legal equivalent of a child. People need to understand that alcohol actually does impair decision-making, and so mixing drinking and sex is a terrible idea. It’s not surprise, actually, that so many women who were just drinking completely willingly come to believe they were drugged (when, as the Ross piece points out, there is no evidence that date-rape drugs are used pretty much ever, much less that they are common). When you are drinking, you can get much drunker than you intended much faster than you expected. It seems like this is happening to many women, who then, rather than taking responsibility for willingly becoming that impaired, imagine they were slipped a roofie. 

This is a problem. Women are not children. Alcohol is not apple juice. Two completely sober people deciding to have one instance of equally-desired, mutually-fulfilling, completely rational and unemotional casual sex that both feel great about every moment thereafter probably happens less often than people are actually slipped roofies (i.e., never). 

Tired of being angry

I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been tired. I’ve been tired of being angry. I’ve been tired of being outraged. I’ve been tired of running up, again and again, against other people’s hatred and prejudice. 

I am tired of waking up in the morning, checking the news, and feeling compelled to click on the story about the 18-year-old girl in Florida who is charged with a sex crime for having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old classmate.* I am tired of feeling sickened by comment after comment saying she deserves what she gets, the two years of house arrest she’s being offered isn’t nearly harsh enough, she’s obviously a pedophile. I’m tired of feeling like reality was hijacked when I wasn’t looking, that we can live in a world where people believe these sorts of things.

I know that it’s the internet, where people go to be awful.** But that doesn’t somehow make it better. I’m tired of letting the vitriol of random internet haters into my life, tired of letting it destroy my peace.

And yet, there are stories that need to be told. Being silent doesn’t feel right, either. I dont’ know the answer.

*The classmate may have been 14 when the relationship began; I tend to think that’s irrelevant. And, unlike most people charged with sex crimes, even extremely similar ones, the young woman in question has been offered a deal that would allow her to have her conviction expunged AND keep her off the registry. While she is getting a raw deal being charged at all, she is actually quite fortunate given the reality of the day.

**My husband and I think that “Where People Go to Be Awful” should be the tagline of the internet. We should probably trademark that.

Totalitarianism

I’ve noticed that many online discussions of sex offender registries go something like this. 

Person 1: All sex offenders should be killed! There should be no registry, because anybody who rapes a child deserves to die!

Person 2: Most people on the registry aren’t child rapists. Many are on for statutory crimes, and some just peed in public.

Person 1: Well, if they didn’t want to be on the registry, they shouldn’t have broken the law!

 

Person 1 represents, as far as I can tell, the view of most Americans about most issues relating to crime and punishment: there is no punishment too harsh for any crime, because if a person didn’t want the punishment, they shouldn’t have committed the crime.

We’re going to leave aside what I said yesterday, about how many men committing sex offenses, especially internet-based ones, honestly don’t have any idea of the penalties their crime will carry. We will also leave aside, until tomorrow, the irony of the fact that everybody seems to think the registry is punitive, including those who support it, despite the fact that it’s supposedly not being punitive is the only reason it’s allowed to exist.

Let’s say somebody did know that peeing in public (or, in Michigan, peeing in public on more than one occasion) could land them on the registry. Let’s say they did know that having sex with their 15 year old girlfriend when they are 20 could. Let’s say they were fully aware that downloading one free torrent containing images of naked underage girls could land them in prison for life.

Would that somehow make those penalties just? Of course not. This idea that nobody can ever argue that a penalty is overly harsh or unjust because they could have avoided being penalized at all by not committing the crime is just wrong, and I’d say it represents a morally-stunted view of justice, as well as being a sign of totalitarian thinking.

We could argue, I suppose, that a woman in Saudi Arabia who doesn’t want to get stoned to death just shouldn’t commit adultery. That a person in China who doesn’t want to get thrown in prison just shouldn’t own a Bible. That a young man in Somalia who doesn’t want his hand cut off just shouldn’t steal. That, in the 1950s in America, a gay man who didn’t want to be arrested just shouldn’t have engaged in sodomy.

We could argue those things, but we’d be wrong. We’d be demonstrating a limited, immature form of ethical thinking. We’d be acquiescing our sense of right and wrong to the state.

By this line of thinking, anything can be justified as right and just. Driving is very, very dangerous for children. In the U.S., about 6 children die in car accidents every day, and hundreds are injured. Less than 50 children are abducted and murdered by strangers each year. So, in the name of protecting children, we could decide that traffic crimes should be taken extremely seriously. Speeding becomes a felony resulting in 10 years in prison and three decades on a registry of dangerous drives; running a red light will get you 20 years and a lifetime on the registry. Drunk drivers can be sentenced to life in prison, or consecutive life sentences, or held indefinitely until they are deemed to no longer pose a threat. And, these traffic offenders are, even after their formal sentence is completed, barred from driving within a half mile of a school or playground, must take a driving test twice a year, and have to adhere to any other regulations the state might come up with in the future or else face arrest and prison time for violating the registry.

It’s to protect the children.

Clearly, that would be insane and unjust. But, by the thinking of those who say, “If you don’t want the penalty, don’t do the crime,” it would all be fine. After all, a person could avoid any of those penalties by simply driving at the speed limit, when sober, obeying all traffic signs. 

What, in this view, is there to stop us from punishing every crime with death? I mean, if people don’t want to die, they can just obey the law! 

This should not be the way we understand justice. As long as we keep the mindset that there is no such thing as a too-severe consequence because the consequence can be avoided simply by obeying the law, we are handing our own powers of moral reasoning over to the government. We have succumbed to totalitarianism. And, as soon as we do that, we have set the stage for even greater injustices in the future.

Warnings

I was watching a movie last night and there was not one, but two, dire warnings about the seriousness of piracy and the severe legal penalties you can face if you do engage in it.

Now, I realize that doesn’t stop people from pirating things. But, at least they try. I can’t help but compare the difference between how many warnings we give people about the seriousness of piracy–especially compared to how few people are actually prosecuted for it–versus the near-ignorance most people are in regarding the seriousness of internet-bases sex offenses–and how many people are prosecuted for them each year.

My husband was aware, of course, that if he actually had sex with a 15-year-old girl, as a 25-year-old man, he’d be breaking the law. He also figured that talking about setting up such a meeting would probably be breaking a law, although a minor one. He figured it was a slap-on-the-wrist offense, like possessing a fake ID or drinking while underage. And, he wasn’t exactly wrong for thinking that, given that in many states, if these sting operations are done at all, they don’t result in arrest or prosecution. (That’s one of the strangest things about the whole To Catch a Predator show–in some states, the men arrested would be threatened with long prison terms, in other states no arrest was made at all.) 

He was absolutely shocked when he learned that if he went to trial and was found guilty, he could face 20 years in prison. To put this in perspective, if he had actually had sex with a willing 15-year-old girl in real life, the maximum penalty would have been significantly less severe.

He had no idea. He knew he was doing something he shouldn’t be doing; to some extent, I’m sure the “taboo-ness” of it made it more fun, the way that people seem to find binge-drinking much more exciting at 19 than 29. He liked the idea of the danger of it, of knowing that he might indeed be corresponding with a cop. It seemed like a game, a mystery. And, he figured that, at worst, he’d get arrested and get a slap in the wrist, a small misdemeanor. He had no idea.

Many men, I think, have no idea. Why would they? Who could possibly imagine that flirting and talking about sex with an eager post-pubescent teenager in an adult chat room would not only carry penalties far greater than the penalties for actually having sex with a willing teenager, but would also land you, at least in Michigan, on a sex offender registry for 25 years? If my husband had known that, he wouldn’t have been willing to take that chance in the name of some stupid “fun.” I’m sure many men wouldn’t. If the penalty for speeding were  being thrown in jail for five years and having your licensed suspended for a decade, and we all knew it, none of us would speed; if the penalty for drinking underage was advertised widely as being a felony carrying a fifteen-year maximum and two-and-a-half decades on a public list of dangerous drunkards, very few teens would drink. We skirt the edges of laws we think aren’t very serious. If we’re honest, we enjoy skirting the edges of laws we think aren’t very serious.

Same with possession of child pornography. Again, we have totally out-of-proportion penalties: the guy who downloads a free torrent containing child porn faces penalties exponentially more severe than what people who actually molest small children face. And, we have a lack of awareness of those penalties. Sure, people know child pornography is illegal. I’m sure that’s part of the attraction for many people, especially those with compulsive pornography issues. Given that, in the U.S., the most vile, degrading, violent types of pornography are totally legal, of course the taboo of child pornography is going to be something that some men–even those who have no sexual interest in children–will take pleasure in breaking. Because, when it comes to sex, breaking taboos often does bring pleasure. (I can’t imagine that anybody actually enjoys, in an objective sense, somebody urinating or defecating on them. Both sound completely disgusting. But, there are people who apparently enjoy both, and that would only be because of the pleasures of taboo-breaking.)

What these men don’t understand is how serious the penalties for what they are doing are. They don’t realize they could be facing a lifetime in prison for having a few images on their computer.

It just seems unjust and wrong to have these kinds of incredibly harsh penalties for internet-based sex offenses without a corresponding public awareness campaign. We have signs on the highway warning people of the penalties they will face if they don’t buckle up; we have warnings on DVDs enumerating the penalties they will face if they pirate; we have PSAs on TV letting people know the legal penalties they may face if they are caught driving drunk. We have no corresponding public education about the penalties that internet-based sex offenses carry, despite the fact that they carry penalties far more severe than any of those crimes.

If we are going to be locking people up for decades for possessing child pornography, or putting them on sex offender registries for a quarter century for setting up a meeting with an undercover officer pretending to be an eager, willing, sexually-experienced 15 year old in an adult chat room, then we have a duty, I’d say, to inform them of that. 

Certainly if we were interested in actually deterring these crimes–if we believed that these were serious criminal problems and we needed people to stop engaging in them–that’s what we’d do. We’d have commercials running during sporting events warning men of the penalties they can face for engaging in these kinds of online behaviors; we’d have health classes in school cover the legal dangers of online sexual activity; we’d put warnings up before people entered certain websites, reminding them of the penalties in their state of engaging in certain activities.

But, we aren’t doing that. Why? Because these are crimes the police are interested in creating, not deterring. If we actually believed that scores of guys in their 20s and 30s and 40s were meeting horny teen girls in adult chat rooms and meeting up with them for sex, you can be sure that we’d have campaigns designed to deter such behavior. But, it’s not happening (probably mainly because actual 15yo girls who really want sex with older guys don’t need to resort to skeezy chat rooms to find it, and aren’t doing so). There is nothing to deter. There is, however, money to be gained from creating the crime and arresting people for it.

Same with child pornography. If we honestly believed that was a thriving child pornography industry bringing in billions of dollars a year at the expense of the lives and psyches of young children, we’d be attempting to deter it through educational campaigns. But, that’s not happening. There is no child pornography industry; the men downloading free child pornography off of torrent sites are not enriching anybody but the U.S. government. We have no interest in deterring the child pornography industry because there is no child pornography industry; it’s another crime that is being created by the government rather than deterred.

We need to stop letting the government have it both ways. If these are serious crimes that are harming children, then they need to work on deterring them, which would involve public awareness and education campaigns. What they can’t keep doing is running sting operations that involve outrageous penalties that almost nobody in the public is aware of, not for public safety, but to 1) justify domestic surveillance of the internet, 2) seem “tough” on a crime they are woefully inadequate at addressing (actual child sexual abuse), and 3) enrich the prison-industrial-therapeutic complex by pouring even more people into the system.

I wish he were an aberration

When I thought my husband was an aberration–that men in their 20s arrested in internet stings in adult chat rooms for considering having sex with a willing post-pubescent teen didn’t end up on registries, and he was just the rare idiot who got himself into that position–I didn’t care. I figured, he was stupid, he wronged me, he deserved whatever happened to him. 

I felt that way for years.

It wasn’t until I learned that he wasn’t an aberration that my feelings changed. In fact, he’s the norm: men arrested in their late teens or early-to-mid 20s for offenses involving willing post-pubescent teens (or undercover officers posing as post-pubescent teens, or anything involving an image of a post-pubescent teen) are the new normal of the registry. 

I learned that the vast majority of registered sex offenders–anywhere between 85-90%–are single-time, non-violent victimless or statutory offenders.

And that’s when I got really angry.

Because if it were just happening to my family, I could take it. I could live with that. I could even rationalize that, because he’d made a mistake and I’d made the choice to stay with him, we deserved it.

But when it’s happening all over the country, when it’s happening to tens of thousands of young men each year, when it’s happening to scared, confused, blindsided young wives and girlfriends and mothers, then I can’t rationalize it away any more.

Then it becomes an issue of justice, and keeping silent in the face of widespread injustice is not an option.

So this is not about me. It’s not about my husband. He was arrested nearly a decade ago. For eight years, I did not care. For eight years, I thought he was an idiot who did wrong and deserved it. For eight years, I thought we were the exception, and while being the exception might suck, it doesn’t point to any larger social problems.

I had and continue to have no interest in making life easier for my husband. I have no interest in somehow making things better for my individual family.

No, I’m interested in justice. I’m interested in the larger social problem. I’m concerned about the hundreds of thousands of children and wives and girlfriends and mothers and men who are negatively impacted every single day because those men, when they were in their late teens or twenties, made one really bad choice about sex involving a willing post-pubescent teen or an image downloaded from the internet. 

It does not have to be that way. It shouldn’t be that way. In no other nation in the world, in no other time in human history, would it be that way. Please remember that: we are the only nation in the entire history of the world–and, even now, only parts of our nation consider these offenses deserving registration/public notification, and even, in the case of the internet chat room sting operations, crimes at all–who has ever believed that a public sex offender registry is warranted for anybody, much less men who, in their late teens or twenties, engaged in sexual activity with willing post-pubescent teens. We are not bravely blazing a right new trail: we are just wrong. And we are wrong in a way that is destroying lives.

And that is why I care. I don’t care for my own family; I wouldn’t care if it were just my family. It’s the other families I have learned about who make me care. It’s learning about the reality of the registry and who is on it that makes me care.

It is the possibility that your son, when he’s 20 or 22 or 24 and stupid and lonely and horny and spending too much time online and not thinking a whole lot about what he’s doing or saying or downloading while on it, could end up on one of these registries for decades or life for a single, non-violent offense, and be in a position where he could be arrested, twenty years later, for hanging out at a friend’s house too close to a school.

That’s why I care. If it were just about me, I’d let it go. But it’s about your family, too, and so I can’t.

Enemy Combatants

I just heard an interview on public radio this morning with a woman arguing that we shouldn’t treat the Boston Marathon bomber as an enemy combatant, because that would be deciding that there was a class of U.S. citizens who committed crimes so heinous that they could be punished in extralegal ways. We wouldn’t, she said, want that.

We already have that. It’s called SORNA. There are 750,000 Americans, about 85% or more of whom are single-time, non-violent, low-risk offenders, who are denied due process and subject to decades or a lifetime of increasing extralegal punishments because they committed an offense that, in their jurisdiction, was classified as a sex offense.

Michigan, right now, is considering a bill that would make it illegal for sex offenders to “loiter” within 1000 feet of a day care center. (Sex offenders in Michigan are already barred from “loitering” within 1000 feet of a school.) On the surface, I can imagine people saying, “Great idea!” What would those child-molesting monsters be doing near a day care center, anyway, except looking for kids to molest? It is, of course, not nearly that simple.

“Loitering” is not clearly defined. It could mean going to a grocery store, hanging out at a friend’s house, attending a church service. And, the restriction applies to anybody whose crime was against a minor–a person under 18–and not restricted to those who committed offenses against a day-care-aged child.

So what does this mean in practice? In practice, it means that a man who, at 24, pled guilty to having sex with a willing 14 year old and is thus required to be on the sex offender registry for 25 years–no exceptions, no means of appeal–not only has to have his face plastered on a list of state-defined monsters for two and a half decades, but can be arrested for hanging out at a friend’s house who lives a few blocks away from a day care center that neither man even knows is there. It means that, at 44, twenty years after his offense, having never committed another crime of any kind and living as a productive, responsible citizen, after having served his criminal sentence, this man could be arrested for attending a church service at a church that is located too close to a day care center (on a Sunday, when that center isn’t even open). He could be thrown in prison for a year for this violation.

It also means that this man can conceivable be subject to more restrictions and more limitations 20 years after he committed is crime–after two decades as a law-abiding productive citizen–than he was two years after he committed it. The nature of SORNA is such that, in many states, the farther in time a sex offender gets from his offense, the more extralegal consequences that offense will carry. Ten years ago, in MI, a sex offender could not be arrested for going grocery shopping 800 feet from a day care center; it’s possible that, next year, the same man could be arrested for doing just that. The fact that he has committed no crimes and posed no danger in the ensuing decade, and that his offense was non-violent and/or victimless, does not matter. Sex offenders are denied due process and the most basic of all legal principles, protection from ex post facto punishment.

This is not right. In MI, we’re “lucky”: these “safe school zone” laws at least have provisions so that sex offenders can drop off and pick up their own children from school. In other states, there is no such provision, and a person can be arrested for driving their child to school. In Illinois, where the age of consent is 17, a man who at 25 had sex with a 16-year-old girlfriend could, at 35, be arrested for dropping his child off for his first day of kindergarten.

We already have a class of enemy combatants, of people who we have decided should be subject to endless and increasing extralegal punishments, which change at the whim of the legislature. They are registered sex offenders. The vast majority of them are single-time offenders who committed non-violent statutory or victimless offenses. And the left, which is screaming with outrage over a single man who is responsible for killing three people and gravely injuring dozens and dozens more, being treated as an enemy combatant*, has been not just silent but too often supportive of policies that have put 750,000 thousand citizens–most of whom committed non-violent or victimless offenses–into a category subject to the same lack of protections and extralegal punishments as enemy combatants.

* FTR, I do not want to see Tsarnaev treated as an enemy combatant. I just find it hard to get too upset over the denial of due process and basic constitutional protections in one truly egregious case of extreme violence when nearly a million citizens are subject to the same treatment without anybody caring.