Having your fear and eating it too

US Marines – and now, it transpires, other military personnel – have been caught sharing nude photos of their female colleagues in Facebook groups. Some of those photos were taken without the women’s consent. Some of them were taken and sent with consent, but were shared without it. Either way it doesn’t matter. If someone takes a naked photo for you, they are entrusting their most private self with you. That, or you pressured them into it and didn’t give them much choice, in which case you’re a scumbag. If you then go onto show that photo to other people without their say-so, whether it’s a flash of the image on your phone screen or uploading it to a Facebook group, you are breaching their privacy and utilising their body and their sexuality in a way they did not permit you to. In other words, you are committing sexual assault.

Today, a man commented on this news story thus:

Obviously I’m not saying it’s wrong, but can we talk about the women for a second? If you take naked photos you deserve what you get.

To which I ask – do you? Men are the ones asking women to send nudes, the ones who jack off to them and the ones who overwhelmingly benefit from receiving them in every way. If women deserve to be punished for sending them, surely men should be punished for asking for them? Others in comments sections are insisting that women should never trust someone to not share these photos, even if they’re in a relationship, indeed suggesting that women who do make the mistake of trusting someone again “deserve what you get”.

Let’s flip to another news story now. A judge in Canada has resigned after asking a woman in a rape trial why she “couldn’t keep her legs together”. Questions like this are tantamount to victim blaming, and ask women why they can’t alter everything about what they do – what were you wearing? Were you drunk? Were you walking home alone at night? What did you do to provoke him? – in order to prevent men raping them. A popular rebuttal to this is to ask men why they can’t stop raping women. A common catchphrase is “teach men not to rape”.

Today, a different man commented this on this news story:

Feminazis say “teach men not to rape” and in doing so assume all men are rapists that need to be taught not to do it, rather than it being a minority.

Can you see why I’ve brought this up?

Can you see why this man’s complaint confuses me in light of everything we’ve just heard?

You can’t have it both ways. If women need to take constant action to protect ourselves from rape – if we have to keep our short skirts in the wardrobe, if we have to make sure we’re sober, if we have to smile at men who catcall us instead of telling them to stick it – then it surely follows that this is because men can’t control themselves around us.

If we can’t ever trust a man to keep a naked photo of us private, even if we’ve made a commitment to spend our lives with that person, then surely it follows that men can’t be trusted.

Go and tell that same man that you refuse to trust any man because of what the ones you’ve known have done to you, though. I bet he gets angry. I bet he asks why you’re tarring them all with the same brush. We can’t simultaneously trust all men and believe we can never trust them. We can’t simultaneously protect ourselves from all men and live under the assumption that if we don’t do xyz then we will get raped (and have been asking for it) while also opening ourselves up to men and feeling safe and comfortable in their company.

You can’t make us live in fear for our own good and expect us to simultaneously believe we have nothing to fear. We have everything to fear precisely because you want us to live in fear. Now, who’s at fault again?


The familiarity of vanilla ice cream, and something about sex

If you offered me a choice of a thousand ice cream flavours, I’d probably still pick vanilla because I’m indecisive and I know it’s good. This would be a really tragic allegory for sex if it was, but thankfully I am pretending I’ve never had sex in case my mum reads this.

Obviously, though, vanilla is the word used to describe a type of sex that is perceived as “normal”. If you’re indecisive you can always fall back on safe, often mundane vanilla. If you want. Otherwise, you might be into the alternative, kink, which generally encompasses BDSM practices. A little less “mainstream”, if you will.

The thing with sex is that so long as it is between consenting adults, it is not morally superior or “better” to have it a certain kind of way (although we certainly could talk about absolving kink from criticism, for example, observing people of colour talking about race-play and their experiences of BDSM communities. Sex doesn’t exist in a vacuum and analysing it is important, as analysing all of our actions under the structures we exist in is important).

You might enjoy sex a certain kind of way, and you might never be able to envision yourself ever having it a different kind of way. That’s fine. It just doesn’t mean there’s anything inferior or “wrong” with people who don’t feel the same.

monogamous missionary sex

whippets and sodomy

heterosexual oral sex

This critique of use of the word “daddy” during sex went pretty wild. How you can claim that people who don’t have “deep psychosexual Freudian and Oedipal trauma/dysfunction” shouldn’t call a lover “daddy”, but then also insist that the term “daddy” has deep roots in queer BDSM culture – unless of course you’re insinuating that everyone who is queer and into BDSM has psychosexual trauma, or you didn’t really think this through – is beyond me.

But looking past that for a second – and I know that’s hard – it’s worth looking at the judgemental language being deployed here against “heterosexual” “monogamous missionary sex”. People who are heterosexual, monogamous and enjoy vanilla sex do not need defending, given their lives are very much considered the norm, and that’s not what I’m here to do. But the fact is, people into BDSM don’t need putting on a pedestal either.

Shanley is very clearly looking down her nose at the aforementioned “monogamous missionary sex”, and even uses patronising language like “calm down cupcake” which is also, and especially given it’s pretty obvious she’s addressing women, very gendered. Imagine a man addressing a woman like that while talking down to her about her sexual preferences…

Of course, as I said, monogamy and missionary sex are what the mainstream considers normal. However, when people use these ideas to substitute for “not queer or radical”, what are they really saying? That people who are polyamorous and have super freaky sex are better than those who don’t? That queer people are never monogamous? That queer people never have missionary sex, or shouldn’t?

Sex can be radical, but that doesn’t mean you’re radical for having it. If you’re into BDSM, then that’s nice. It can be more unusual, it’s not understood by everyone, people might think you’re weird for doing it. That doesn’t make you marginalised because of it. There are many, many straight people who like BDSM – would Fifty Shades of Grey have sold millions of copies and become a box office smash if it was about queer lovers?

Lots of them are white, too. Shanley addressing her tweets to “y’all vanilla ass bitches” when she is white and clearly attempting to imitate AAVE (African American Vernacular English) is embarrassing and representative of the ways people of colour find kink spaces inaccessible, as mentioned in the link above.

BDSM sex very well might be better/more enjoyable/more exciting for you. I’m happy for you. But making loaded statements about how boring “vanilla” people are really isn’t as edgy as you think it is. The only objective statement that can be made about what makes “good” sex is that it is consensual. Suggestions that people should be or need to be doing something that they weren’t otherwise comfortable with in order to be cool and sexually liberated runs the risk of creating pressure and eroding that consent.

And if liking BDSM makes you better than someone who doesn’t, then where do people who don’t have sex at all stand in the hierarchy?

Some people are asexual, some people just aren’t that interested in sex, some people are but have complex relationships with it because of past experiences and trauma – to name just a few reasons why sex isn’t always a priority. Are these people just too vanilla beyond belief?

Talking about kink and sex and sex and kinks is vital. Analysis is important, especially along the lines of power structures. But creating a binary between those who kink and those who do not is pointless. Sex is something people do, or don’t do, and whether you like it with paddles or the lights off, neither side has more “value”. Some people just like vanilla, or they have it anyway. What matters is just about everything else.

(Featured image via Flickr Creative Commons.)

Graduates and Street Sweepers

Never the two shall meet.

Some of the wisest people we meet are sweeping our streets. This is an opinion, but it is based in fact; wisdom and a university degree, a white-collar high-flying career, are not a requirement of the other. There are people working so-called menial jobs all around us who are happy and fulfilled. Some of them went to university and some of them didn’t. Some of them wanted to but couldn’t, others never wanted to at all.

Higher education is not open to everyone. In 2015, figures showed that while 7% of pupils in the UK are privately educated, 42% of Oxford students, 41% of Bristol students, 40% of St Andrews students, 37% of Cambridge students and 30% of Newcastle students were privately educated.

People like to highlight the fact that reports now suggest that the best state schools outperform the average private school. However, the Sutton Trust reports that one in four pupils now has private tuition, and this does not account for the ways that attainment in state schools varies wildly from place to place.

Of all the students studying at Russell Group universities, 5% are school leavers who received free school meals (FSM). Likewise, only 9% of FSM students were studying at universities in the top third. No great surprise, when only 38.1% of FSM pupils obtain at least 5 A*-C GCSEs. Furthermore, only 6% of new students entering Russell Group are from the most disadvantaged 20% of neighbourhoods – with this figure dropping to 3% in Oxford.

Given the education charity Teach First estimates that a graduate from a Russell Group university will earn in their lifetime on average £371,000 more than someone who left school with fewer than 5 good GCSEs.

Black and Asian students are offered university places less than white students with similar qualifications; black and minority ethnic students are also 50% more likely to drop out of university than white students.

And for the future? The government plans to abolish university grants. Studies of the impact of maintenance grants in the past have showed that, following their re-introduction in 2004 after their abolition by Tony Blair’s government, participation from students from low-income families improved by 3.95 percent.

Jeremy Corbyn made the point about street sweepers when asked why he appears so fearless. Corbyn does not have a university degree. This, he says, means he has “never held in awe” those who do, and those who have a sense of superiority over those who don’t. “Life is life”, he says.

There is much to be said about access to university. I just have. Corbyn was not commenting on these things because he was not asked to – he was commenting on the respect he has for people whose experiences are different to those we are told to respect. We are told to view intelligent people as better than everyone else, and we are told to conflate intelligence with a university degree.

Given the inequality spread throughout the education system, this is a false equivalency. Placing higher worth on people who are considered intelligent over those who are not has plenty of problems too, not least for the way it inevitably excludes people with a host of disabilities and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. A good person is by no means a “smart” person, and vice versa.

Comedian Robert Webb, a Cambridge graduate, was upset by Corbyn’s comments because he “worked very hard” to avoid being a street cleaner. Which is fine – ignoring the inequality of access to universities in general, let alone Cambridge, of course. University is difficult for many, and everyone should be proud of their academic successes if they so desire. I certainly am.

However. Inherent in Webb’s comment is the belief that some forms of labour are worth more than others. Evidently, they are considered so in society. But while there are no doubt street cleaners who are unhappy with their jobs, and would have liked to have had an opportunity at another career, others will be happy. If there was no one to sweep the streets, we’d all soon know about it. All labour has value.

Webb followed up his comment by linking to the tweets of Jon Dryden Taylor. His point takes a different angle – that someone should not be cleaning the streets all their life. Socialists, Taylor said, should help street sweepers get better jobs if they are “phenomenal”. He later said he found Corbyn’s comments “anti-education”, something the journalist Fiona Harvey agreed with, stating that she had “kind of hoped that I would be able to vote for a future prime minister who valued that sort of thing.”

If Corbyn is anti-education for suggesting that those who have degrees are not superior to those who do not, we might have a problem. Those who have degrees have achieved something significant, but they do not have more worth than those who have not been so academically successful. It is vital that pupils have options beyond progressing to higher education, with investment needed for apprenticeships and placements as a necessity.

What’s more, Corbyn has been vocal and unwavering in his opposition to tuition fees. If anyone has prioritised improving access to higher education, it is him. He does not need a degree to see the value of higher education qualifications; however, he is in a better position than many to see that academic attainment is not the be all and end all. When pupils are increasingly taught with the aim to have them pass examinations above all else, this is important.

Naturally, he has been called an underachiever and incapable, not least because he attained two E’s at A Level. That he was elected with a strong mandate to be Labour party leader, however, suggests that he is far from unsuccessful. For all those pupils who have also struggled within the educational system, for whatever reason, he is proof that results do not have to have a negative impact on your life.

And as a politician, surely his ability to connect with an electorate – many of whom are marginalised, and feel underrepresented by the political system as it stands – is more important than his ability to pass exams. For those who disagree, perhaps they could learn something from him.