Dismantling Emotional Flatulence

A few days ago, I posted about Rabbi Schmuley Boteach’s bad definition of asexuality. Now, I want to address the main point of his article.

As Ily has observed, his argument makes no sense. It is inarticulate and illogical, and there are so many gaps where he has jumped from one assumption to the other that the article is quite difficult to follow without making great leaps of inferences.

Essentially, this is an emotional argument, and it must be dealt with as such. There is a sort of reasoning to it, but it’s not the same kind of reasoning as an argument based on logic. The Rabbi looks around him and sees that a good chunk of the population does not share his values, and so he fears that society is gradually becoming more and more immoral. This rant of his (for really, that’s what it is) is just the expression of that fear. It doesn’t amount to anything else, because he has not taken the trouble to check his facts; the entire rant is based solely on his own perceptions of the world around him.

Emotional arguments are very tricky, because unlike simple misinformation, they arise from some sort of emotional need, and serve as a defense mechanism which, when taken away, would leave a person vulnerable.  Franklin from Xero Mag wrote an essay which does a great job of explaining this. I don’t usually like to challenge emotional beliefs, because it tends to lead to a great amount of hostility, and it rarely accomplishes anything, since the person whose beliefs are being challenged will tend to just sit there and vehemently deny everything that I am saying. If a person is very invested in their emotional belief, it is extremely rare that anyone will be able to get through to them. This is why arguments between atheists and Christians (for example) are almost always futile. The only thing that they can usually accomplish is to change the opinion of someone who is sitting on, or very close to, the fence.

Still, I think it’s important to talk about stuff like this. There are a lot of people out there who might start to become aware of the emotional undercurrents in their own heads which are undermining their statements. I think it’s important for people to challenge their own emotional beliefs, and not let their emotional landscapes twist facts way out of proportion. This kind of thinking affects everyone, including the asexual community. Specifically, I see certain similarities between the Rabbi’s beliefs and their rationale, and those held by some asexuals.

Over and over again, we complain about how oversexed society is. Many of these complaints are legitimate, but sometimes, due to the effects of emotion and a very human tendency to notice the bad things while ignoring the good, the scope of the problem becomes so exaggerated in our own heads, that we lose sight of how good we really have it, compared to the other queers. Sometimes asexuality’s rarity and little-known status lead asexuals to think that we are unique in having to deal with certain issues. Which, of course, leads people to accuse the entire community of whining about being so oppressed, and just wanting to be called queer so that we can feel special, if not outright denying that asexuality even exists (though of course they will still do that even if we are being completely rational about it ourselves). While this tendency is present in our community, I think it is comparatively slight; most of us have a decent grasp on the situation, even if it occasionally gets a little bit distorted, and often this is more of a communication issue than an issue with what someone really thinks. What’s more problematic is when someone who is repulsed by sex begins to characterize the act itself as something that’s either always negative, or vastly more negative than it actually is, without acknowledging (or realizing) that those are their own personal feelings, but not necessarily the literal truth.

On the flip side, I’m sure we’re all well aware of how many people have a tendency to characterize sex as something that’s much more positive than it actually is. People insist that, really! sex is wonderful, even though that’s frequently not the case. They simply dismiss people whose experiences don’t match up with that ideal on grounds of being inadequate, or suffering from some sort of sexual dysfunction.

Either way, people tend to attribute positive or negative value to sex based on their own emotions towards it, while dismissing any cases which do not match up with their idea of the way things are. In reality, sex itself, taken as a whole, is neither good nor bad–it simply is. It can be approached in ethical ways, or it can be approached in unethical ways, and it can have a wide range of emotional consequences for the people involved. It can hold as many different meanings as people are willing to assign to it.

Now, to return to what Boteach was saying…

It is time for the Western world to accept the sad truth that universities are becoming bastions of female-hating lechers who spend four years trying to bed as many women as possible, while making the word “bitch” one of the most used in their vocabularies. Tom Wolfe’s newest novel, “I Am Charlotte Simmons,” chronicles the unbelievable scorn for women that permeates the American campus, and how women have lost all dignity, becoming complicit in their own degradation, as they stop at nothing to become the male plaything.

The greatest cultural story since the 1960s is the decline and fall of the Western male, and how women have accommodated that fall by allowing themselves to be treated like garbage by men. It’s now 60 years after feminism, and there has never been a better time to be a man. To be a guy today is to have your pick of hundreds of women who will sleep with you and expect not only no commitment, but not even courteous treatment. You can burp in their presence, break wind, and they will still go to bed with you. To be a guy is to have women move into your apartment and cook and clean for you, even as you endlessly push off the question of marriage, which you have no intention of addressing anyway. And to be a man today is to have women take off their clothes on television to sell you everything from beer to cars to hamburgers.

Ignoring the inaccuracy about how long feminism has been around, this is pretty overblown. I doubt that every guy out there REALLY has his pick of hundreds of women who are willing to sleep with him. Sorry to break it to you, Rabbi, but guys just aren’t that rare a commodity. To use your borrowed analogy, men can be jelly beans, too. And honestly, burping and farting as a form of disrespect? Both are quite natural and only partially voluntary, and both men AND women should expect to have to do so at some point in front of their significant others. While it may be gross, and it may be more socially acceptable for men to be gross than for women (so they are less likely to try to suppress it–but if anything, it should be socially acceptable for women to do it too), it’s hard to pin disrespectful intentions on an action that is involuntary. Because it’s gross, it may FEEL like disrespect, but that doesn’t mean that’s what was really intended. There’s another good essay by Franklin addressing this, which I think is worth a read. Asexual people ought to keep this distinction in mind when dealing with others’ sexual feelings, since we are particularly prone to being put off by them.

But really, this guy’s version of what is and is not respectful is pretty out there, even aside from the gas. He makes the assumption that commitment means marriage, and that all women want to get married. Personally, I consider it a fairly high level of commitment for a couple to be living together at all–at the very least, they are expecting to be able to deal with each other for a long time, especially if both of their names are on the lease. It may not be the highest level of legal entanglement, but perhaps they have both mutually decided that marriage is more trouble than it’s worth. The implication that he makes is that any woman who would make such a choice is necessarily disrespecting herself. Her autonomy is not a consideration. He suggests that women spend much of their time cooking and cleaning for their boyfriends (a questionable assertion at best–and in his apartment, not one they both share), but does not consider that (assuming that this is actually the case) they might be doing it out of their own free will, and not out of some twisted sense of duty. In his world, she is disrespecting herself by making that choice. He imagines that most women exist in a state of self-imposed disgrace, doing things they don’t want to do out of the hope that someday, their efforts will be appreciated, and they will be rewarded with the holy grail of matrimony. How respectful towards women is that?

Frankly, I think I’m catching a whiff of a Madonna/whore complex. He sets women up on an unrealistic pedestal (which seems to borrow very heavily from stereotypes that feminists are fighting against), and says that anyone who doesn’t worship the same fanciful image of us is being disrespectful, if not downright degrading. And women who don’t live up to that image are participating in their own degradation.

And this doesn’t even address his more serious assertion that the male pursuit of “cheap substitutes for a lost sense of erotic excitement” (read: porn, strip clubs, etc.) leads men to hate women to the point that they would engage in cruel, non-consensual and demeaning acts, like humiliation and rape.

Although I would argue that, in the first place, a sense of erotic excitement is certainly not lost on those men who watch porn and go to strip clubs, that’s not really the point. What he is really saying is that porn, strip clubs, etc. (from here on, I will just shorten it to “porn”) erode the boundaries in men’s minds between fantasy and reality, morality and immorality. On the contrary, I would argue that he is perceiving an external cause for something that is actually internal, and using it to justify his pre-determined notion that porn and strip clubs are sinful and bad.

One of the things I discussed in my previous post was the idea that, because of porn, men are developing fetishes for the demeaning situations shown therein, and become attracted only to women who look like they belong in porn, or women whom they can act out those scenarios on. There are certainly some men out there who have such narrow tastes, but I wouldn’t say that they are in the majority. If porn really caused men to develop such tastes, though, then every man who looks at porn, or at least every man who is really into porn, would be like that. Although really, there is such a wide variety of different types of porn out there, that I’m not sure it even makes sense to argue that porn encourages men to develop narrow tastes.

It makes more sense to argue that porn helps encourage misogyny. And yes, a lot of things in porn can be perceived as misogynistic and objectifying (I don’t believe it is necessarily so, but for the sake of saving space, I don’t want to take up that argument). But to take that a step further (as Rabbi Boteach does) and imply that porn invariably encourages men to engage in unethical acts? Well, that claim is more suspect.

The alleged rape victim had been paid $400 by the Neanderthals who surrounded her to excite and arouse them. And she arrived as the perfect obedient male fantasy, wearing, according to the New York Times, a “negligee and shiny white strappy high heels.” But when even that failed to ignite an erotic charge, one of the highly educated youth allegedly “held up a broomstick and threatened to sexually assault her with it.”

The key here is the difference between fantasy and reality. Most people, believe it or not, more or less have it down (if they didn’t, then violence in video games, television, and movies would have a much more drastic effect than what they really do). They probably delude themselves in certain ways, but it is more akin to wearing glasses of a certain shade than the sort of twisted, funhouse mirror distortions that lead to justifications for rape. I would argue that the types of people who would have trouble differentiating between the fantasies depicted in porn and reality are not having trouble because of whatever fantasy they are indulging in–because after all, plenty of men who aren’t inclined to rape share those fantasies–but because of an inherent difficulty making that distinction, and a code of ethics that is severely lacking.

If these men are, indeed, as the Rabbi is claiming, raping women in violent and humiliating ways, because they have become so desensitized that normal circumstances “fail to ignite an erotic charge” (though that seems to be the opposite of what is really happening), then they do have an ethical alternative. It’s called BDSM. Properly practiced, it’s safe, sane, and consensual, and it offers an avenue to explore more violent sexual fantasies, including rape fantasies, in a way that won’t hurt the submissive (psychologically speaking). The Rabbi makes no mention of this, so I assume he does not understand the subculture’s strict ethical codes, tarring it as sinful with the same brush as he does everything else.

But rapists wouldn’t bother with all of that, because rapists are scumbags. They believe they are entitled to rape, that women are asking for it, and so many other ridiculous things that I am shocked every time I hear a new one. But not Rabbi Boteach. None of this shocks him. He has such a cynical view of everyone else the he apparently believes that all men are evil, and that indulging in any kind of sexual fantasy (or sexual reality–like sex before marriage) will eat away at their strictly society-imposed (religion-imposed?) moral codes enough that they would engage in horrific acts of violence against women. Ultimately, I think it does come down to religion. His nonsensical rant is a way of protecting his religious views, without which he would be left vulnerable, and express his fears that society is becoming increasingly violent and scary as it becomes more secular. And that’s a valid fear, but I think the sense of people becoming more evil than they were in the past is exaggerated by several factors, including a sense of more things being wrong than really are (honestly, burping?), and a likely distorted view of the past as being more “safe” and healthy, on a sexual level. I don’t think everyone is quite so evil as he would suggest, or as insane. Of course there are guys like that on college campuses, but not everyone is, and I don’t believe they are in the majority or even a significant minority. They’re just the most noticeable, because they’re the most obnoxious. And it’s true that misogyny is a very real problem, but I don’t think porn, strip clubs, sex before marriage, or anything like that is the source of the problem. That’s not to say that those things are wholly good, either. It is neither invariably corrupting, nor invariably healthy. It’s all in how you approach it–and people need to be taught not to just avoid it (unless they want to!), but to take a good attitued towards it, with healthy boundaries established and strict consequences for people who would violate those boundaries (by raping, molesting strippers, or any other sort of violence). Frankly, I think “safe, sane, and consensual” ought to be applied to all forms of sexuality, not just BDSM.

I would argue all of this, and I don’t even like porn. I find it gross, and often downright ridiculous. I have a hard time keeping myself from laughing when I look at it. Honestly, how is any of that a turn-on, for anyone? But I understand that other people feel differently, and that just because I feel that way, that doesn’t mean it was meant as an attack on me personally, or women as a whole. I don’t claim that I am able to see everything clearly, or tease out every factor that contributes to misogyny and patriarchy, but I do try to be as clear-headed and rational as possible when looking at these (and other) issues. I think if people learned to apply reality checks to their perceptions more often, it would contribute significantly to cutting down the drama (and propaganda!) out there in the world, which would become a much calmer place. And you know, maybe, just maybe, people would be more willing to listen when we tell them that asexuality exists.

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2 thoughts on “Dismantling Emotional Flatulence

  1. You’re right, it’s important to show that emotional arguments, while they might make the arguer feel better, don’t usually accomplish their goals of convincing anyone of anything. They’re just, for lack of a better word, rhetorical masturbation, that seems to have mushroomed somehow since the internet.

    I’m reading this book “The Beauty Myth” and it’s talking about how depictions of sex in our culture have become more violent since the 70s and 80s. So it’s a lot more helpful to state something like that, which you can somehow quantify, than just saying “society is oversexed”, which could mean any number of things.

    At the risk of sounding like a psychologist, I think one factor leading to these kinds of articles is that the world is, indeed, moving faster than we can naturally deal with– after all, we’re animals, and animals hate change. Maybe it’s a response to the great uncertainty we’re facing, really, as a species and world. It’s not a feeling that any other generation has really had to deal with– and just as our communties are more fragmented than ever and people are more isolated.

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    • Good points. It definitely helps to be more specific with your arguments, and especially to point to sources which show exactly how much depictions of sex (to use your example) have changed.

      I definitely agree with you about things changing faster than people can cope with, though I don’t think we’re the first generation that has faced this. Those kinds of insecurities about societal change are reflected pretty clearly in Modern literature, which I’m busy studying at present. This whole thing really started with the industrial revolution (hence the Victorians clinging to their conservative gender roles and such), and has just kept on going steadily since, as things have kept on changing. Who knows when humans will finally adapt?

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