Coersion

Both Amanda and Ampersand are talking about this small study in which sexually active young women and old girls who are in abusive relationships report that their partners also intentionally try to get them pregnant by “manipulating condom use, sabotaging birth control use and making explicit statements about wanting them to become pregnant.”

I keep thinking about this idea that women choose to have sex and, if you’re going to choose to have sex, you should be prepared for the consequences.  If your boyfriend is abusing you and sabatoging birth control, what kind of choice do you really have?

I think we forget how much pressure young girls feel to have a boyfriend and how much pressure they feel to keep said boyfriend once they’ve gotten him.

We really seem to train young people to hurt and be hurt by each other.  We tell this story about how boys will be boys, about how they want sex so much that they will go to any lengths to get it, and how it’s a girl’s job to “preserve” herself, and to control men by controlling their access to sex.

Just think about that for a second: we say “boys will do anything to get sex” and we say “girls can control boys by controlling their access to sex.”  We say that to adolescents, people who are at an age where they don’t want to be controlled and where they are pushing all kinds of societal limits, and where they are seeking to exert control over their environments.

We tell them all kinds of other dumb stuff, too, that girls say “no” when they mean “yes,” and that, if a guy really likes you, he will persistantly pursue you, so that you end up with these weird situations where some girls are saying no because they really, really, don’t want to have sex and some girls are saying no because they think that’s what you do in order to signal to your guy to pursue you AND where some guys push the issue because they think you’ve just said no because that’s what you’re supposed to do and some guys push the issue because they “will do anything to get sex,” even raping a girl.

But I think that just this idea that boys will do anything to get sex and that girls are supposed to deny boys sex results in a lot of sexualized abuse in young relationships.

Over at Pandagon, one of the commenters asked why, when so many young men abandon their responsibilities once they get a girl pregnant, are some young men intentionally trying to knock women up?  One might also ask, if so many abusers kill their pregnant partners, why they bother to get them pregnant in the first place?  (Check here to be depressed.)

But to me, those are all a part of the same impulse–the impulse the abuser has to prove to the abused that the abuser, not the abused, is in control, that there is no boundary (not making you pregnant, not causing you to miscarry, not hitting you while you’re pregnant, not even killing you) he will not cross in order to keep control of you.

One out of five teenage girls reports being physically or sexually abused by a partner.

You know, one of the things that really, really bugs me about the abortion debate is how the rhetoric of abuse gets tied into it without us ever really examining the implications of that.

Abortion: The Ultimate Child Abuse.

But what does it imply when so much of the anti-abortion rhetoric sounds like the rhetoric of abuse?  Women can’t be trusted with important decisions.  She brought this on herself.  She needs to take responsibility for what happens to her.  She’s being hurt for her own good.

I’d like to score oodles of political points by suggesting that it implies that people who want to make abortion illegal are abusive assholes, but I don’t think it’s that easy.  I do think, though, that it has to do with us, as a society, not yet viewing women as adult, whole citizens.

We recognize that it is wrong for a man to say, “Well, I killed my wife and unborn baby because she was an uppity bitch who wouldn’t listen.”  But I’m not sure we completely get what’s wrong about that.  I mean, I think we get that killing women is wrong. I don’t think that we get that asserting yourself as the boss of a particular woman or women in general is wrong.

Not to keep harping on this, but god damn, ten white men standing around signing the partial birth abortion ban and only the feminists think that’s weird.  We can look at that picture and literally not see it for the strange object that it is–men coming together to prevent women from doing something they don’t like.

It’s as if we only know two ways to try to make someone do what we want them to do–convincing and coercing–and we, as a society, have decided that, when it comes to women, it’s still okay to coerce us into doing what you want.

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2 thoughts on “Coersion

  1. I’ve mentioned something to this effect to my mother before — that the way we teach young men and women to relate to each other as heterosexual partners is some extremely damaging stuff. I even wrote a paper on it for a class of mine … allow me to excerpt a relevant quote:

    I think sometimes girls are afraid to say “no.” They’re afraid of what their boyfriends might think. Or, if they do say no, and then the guy goes ahead anyway. They don’t want to admit that they said no because that would mean that the guy didn’t care about them. I know I’ve done that. … And I have friends who have too.

    That’s what happens to girls when they get caught between “good girls don’t” and “real men do.” That is why it is so vital to give women the understanding that they have the right to their own bodily autonomy: knowing how to say “no” is meaningless unless you know how to say “yes.”

    I should add now that it’s equally important, of course, to give young men an ownership of their sexuality that is not dependent on the extent to which they can dominate or coerce a woman, sexually or otherwise; we need to give them an understanding of their desires as things that should be rooted in mutually reciprocated trust.

    Otherwise we’re just setting up our young people for a very long, hard fall.

    (Note, the quoted quote is from Susan Rose’s article “Sex, Sin, and Social Policy” published in Social Forces, 2005.)

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