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Sexual Conquest Through Intellectual Intimidation: Sexual Violence that is Not A Crime

August 15, 2013

Update 10: One thing about growing up in a conservative and religious environment is that, I always have had an antenna out for hypocrisy, regardless of whether that person professes to be a conservative or liberal (heck religious people are not homogenous!)  Another nugget I took away from my environment is that, even if it is not one that gave me any proper sex education or training in marriage equality, is to never trust anyone who pressures you, even through the most subtle means (in their world, it means promising to marry you), into having sex, outside of a highly committed relationship (to the religious, this means marriage obviously). While I might disagree with the motive behind such an advice advocating sexual conservatism and it is not foolproof against horrible relationships (marital or otherwise), as we all have seen evidence of, I can also see the practicality of that advice given how heterosexual (and even homosexual) relationships mostly live under the invisible superstructure of patriarchy, with liberalism used to mask abuse. In other words, don’t trust someone implicitly until after you make them jump through too many hoops, is what that advice is trying to say. The premise of “why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free” is still how many ‘liberal’ men operate, and they will milk that with impunity, and I don’t necessarily mean purely in the sexual sense. As a teenager, I once attended a religious camp which included lessons on relationships leading to marriage. Advice number one is: see how your future partner lives when he/she is alone, or in an environment he/she is most comfortable, and therefore, less likely to put up a front. Surprisingly, a lot of the advice we get about preparing for a relationship is highly rational and unromantic, based on very pragmatic terms and nothing at all to do with any blissful sense of being with a kindred spirit or soul-mate (not that they are advocating against that), which I realize is highly subjective and can be based on false faith. But there is no training to prepare one on how to be in a liberal relationship, or even to be on the look out for when someone is trying to take advantage of your liberal ideology. When one tries to go against the grain of traditions, there are no safety nets to fall back on (hardly any even for those who stuck with tradition). We all like to be with someone we think understands us, but that is often used against us. How do we know whether we are respected or cared for, and some douchebag is not just following a set of politically-correct protocols to get all our “predictable” buttons right? A lot of women are still expected to be nurturing, whatever spectrum of politics they fall under, and men exploit that weakness. Also, these men will not be averse to using subtle (and even more blatant) put-downs and harassments to make you lose confidence in yourself and turn your desperation to their advantage, even after the relationship is long over. Here is the link to a post from a vey intelligent woman who had to deal with the devil in the form of a  “liberal feminist man,” who abused her trust and scarred her for years. Let me say that, what this woman is talking about, is real. I have seen it happening in real-time. Ladies, if you ever meet a guy who comes to you with a lost little boy sob story, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE.

Update 9: Rethinking the discourse of sexual harassment.

Update 8: Rape survivors in colleges are beginning to come together and forcing the administrations to do something. See new article at The Chronicle. I am including here the original post from one of the rape survivors featured, who recorded her exchanges with her attacker, who was also her boyfriend at the time and for many, many days thereafter. If you look at conversation between them, is it eeriely familiar to you? A guy claiming that he did not know what he was doing as an excuse for violating another person. Can we force similar conversations to happen in Malaysia, right now, in our universities, colleges, institutions, and other communities? When I was an undergraduate back in Malaysia more than a decade ago, I have heard horror stories about rapes and harassments, some of which were committed right on university grounds and in the university dorms (despite the purported segregation between male and female quarters, there is actually little to no security in existence). I am including here, an editorial letter about marital rape back I wrote back in 2004, and a response I received (actually, this guy had been responding to the other letter-writers too, check Malaysiakini’s archives).  I admit to being a tad naive when I wrote that letter, since it was nine years ago! In light of the Obedient Wives Club (formed in Malaysia last year), I have not heard further on this issue, and I presume OWC’s aim is to deal with that problem. If a marriage is equivalent to having sex on demand (or at least, to have the right to demand sex), does this mean sexual harassment is construed as non-existent in a marriage? How does marriage, or an intimate relationship with someone, whether current or former, change the dynamics of what can be perceived as acceptable behavior?  This came out in a scandal relating to certain women right activist groups in Malaysia, and I believe, such a question is applicable across all forms of intimate relationships. And, if you still want more stories of someone from your community who you think you could trust violating that trust, here is a story in China about a woman artist violated by no less then TWO male artists while performing a piece that deals with violence against women! Again, it was claimed that one of her attackers is mentally unstable. How convenient. Check out the graphic footage of the attack, if you have the stomach for it.

Update 7: Look back at the body of my original text to see my update on the profile of such offenders and how it may look like to you if you were the victim. To let you into a little secret here: when I was working on my MA in English, I seriously considered going into postgraduate work in forensics right after. In fact, I was actually writing to some programs to find out more about such possibilities. I had begun reading on the subject from my high school years, accessing whatever books I could find about forensic science and forensic psychology, and my interest has not waned to this day.  Of course, the profile is not based on the application of any ‘scientific metrics,’ but would still appear familiar to some of you who have gone through it.

Update 6: This is a story I nearly forgot about when a (male) friend brought it to my attention months ago. However, all the recent scandals in the news has brought it right back to my memory. This is the story of a famed logician from Cambridge who was convicted of solicitation and possession of child pornography. While I do not really care if a guy wants to pay for sex (they are higher in my estimation than men who bluff their way into getting ‘freebies’) as long as it is with a sex worker who is an independent contractor (rather than someone pimped or trafficked), his predilection for child porn is obviously disturbing and just a step away from being being an offender. Here is the story. Also, for a more general view of the justice system, liberal hypocrisy, and sexism, check out this piece at Loyarburok, as it goes where no pieces written of Malaysia and sexual abuse has gone before. And as to why women who appear accomplished and confident would stay on with men who treat them with contempt and disrespect, maybe this personal account, shared in anonymity by an established female academic, can shed some light. The personal story complements the aforementioned article from Loyarburok quite nicely.

Update 5: Ok, this is veering a little off topic, but is still on the story of sexual violence. I don’t want to write a full piece on this now, since it is my downtime, so I will, for now, post this Huffington post article here. It is about sex trafficking, the age of consent, and the meaning of consent, in the US.  Worthwhile for thinking this even more internationally, for this is an international trade, as the recent arrest of a Uzbek female pimp and human trafficker demonsrates recently. Get a more extensive story from the US Dept of State website. The US State has issued each entering persons into its borders with a slip of paper (unfortunately only written in English, unless I remember wrongly) to let them know of their rights should they be victims of trafficking. I am unclear if they give such a notice to both men and women, or only to the women. Btw, my earlier profilling of men/women remain the same in this case, and sometimes, they can be the same people, given the right circumstance. These people are all sociopaths.

Update 4: So as to lighten the mood a little while a tingle of humor to the topic, however far from humorous this topic really is, I want to post this really funny rap piece by Baba Brinkman, who is one of the smartest pop musician I have heard in awhile. I first saw him performed at a conference full of scientists and science geeks, and this song is about genetics and evolution. If you check out his bio, you will know why. Here is a song dedicated to all the women out there, DON’T SLEEP WITH MEAN PEOPLE. I know it is not always easy to figure this out upfront, and in cases of violence, you have little choice beyond popping the morning after pills and getting checked out. But when you can make that choice, do it.

Update 3: Apparently, there was a guy by the name of Hugo Schwyzer who claimed himself to be a real male feminist who was pretty popular among the female feminists in some parts of the US circle, until he got found out. This is the story of his meltdown. This is the man who confessed to being a reformed sexist back in 2012. I wonder how many more meltdowns will I see in the next few years when the burden of living a lie takes its toll. Nuf said.

Update 2: This article has been brought to my attention with regard to the pervasiveness of sexual abuse among the so-called intellectual circles, most notably in academia. This reinforces the point I am making in this post. In an environment of patriarchal privilege,  where a person is allowed to do whatever with impunity as long as he is “well regarded” for his “capital contributions,” this rot will always be there. Why? Because it is possible that the very same offender will be given the responsibility for dealing with the same problem he had contributed to creating. It is not always easy to spot that perpetrator, because such a person can be very intelligent and charismatic, and many women may even be in love with, and idolize, him, without ever knowing the truth. It is not inconceivable that such a person can be a sociopath while appearing well-adjusted and successful, and so, can pretty well ascend the ranks of society with no major obstacle in sight.  These offenders are also selective of their targets (this is not a crime of opportunity), and will pick victims they think they can wield the most power over or who are at their most vulnerable. If you think only adult women are objects of such harassment, think again. Even teenagers are not spared. This person can be a family member, relative, friend, lover, and friendly neighbor. One may argue that some of the abusers are women, but given they make up such a tiny percentage, for obvious reasons, such an argument is a straw man. However, even a female offender should be dealt with, not in a double-standard way, but in a way that acknowledges the gravity of the action regardless of the gender of the perpetrator.

Academic life is tough enough as it is, and to have to experience multiple traumas/distress of the worst sort in the environment that is so integral to your life, is more than anyone, however outstanding the student, can be forced to withstand without being driven insane. Even worse if the perpetrator of the crime is not just anyone, but someone you thought you trust and respect. While I have been fortunate that in my academic life to have supportive and wonderful male mentors, I can testify that this is not always the case in other areas of my work as a professional and even in activism. I have faced sexual harassment over the years  and in my earlier youth, I had been naïve and incapable of processing what I was experiencing because I used to think, I am too smart and confident to have this happening to me. Now I know better. Hearing enough of the horror stories from other smart and otherwise confident women made me realized how this is both a first and third world problem, to its very rotten core. We must keep the anger burning so that we will never forget that this can happen to any one of us at any time.

Update 1: Apologies to those who tried to click on the Colin McGinn article. I forget that my browser automatically goes to proxy access because of the way I had set it up. It should work now, with the proxy bit removed. And, I want to point to another post in the Feminist Philosophers blog.

This will be a brief post but highly pertinent, as it is something that I have been observing over the years, and something I have also been a subject of. Sometimes this happens so discretely and subtly that you do not realized it has happened, until a time later, when you are left with a deep feeling of humiliation and anger over your failure to act at the time it happened.

Recently, a superstar professor has been toppled from his tenured throne at the University of Miami due to his explicit sexual harassment of his female graduate student assistant. What is even more galling is how he had tried to explain it away through the use of philosophical logic to dismiss it as a case of misunderstanding, which, thankfully, were completely envicerated by others and even lost him whatever support he had left from the philosophy community. Of course, his poorly-thought out attempt at a defense has been the subject of twitter furore and parody, and merely added the nails to his coffin. Nor does he seem aware how tautological and poorly conceived his attempts had been. See here for the rest of the story.

However, his act highlights a highly significant issue that has been given scant attention among the supposedly enlightened and intellectual communities, and which the article has highlighted subtly: his engagement in intellectual intimidation and conquest through the use of intellectual/philosophical authority. I once had a conversation with a young friend when we were both doing an intense critical theory winter school together and we spoke about how such intimidation through high philosophy and logic have always been used as a weapon to tear down another. This is endemic behavior in academia, and you can even find it still existing among the so-called intellectual circles, who use such form of intimidation as a form of excoriation of the target. Even better if your target has no clue as to what is coming to him/her, and if you parlay it with sexual harassment and intimidation.

Sexual harassment in this form tends to get overlooked because it becomes such a difficult issue to pinpoint. Moreover, when it is couched as a form of  a ‘thought-experimental’ casual remark, how do you even begin to attribute blame? Furthermore, if such an act of harassment is done by someone respectable and supposedly well-like, short of actual black and white evidence, you may not even be able to get people to believe that you have been the subject of such a harassment.

Academia, as most places, have been the bastion of patriarchal oversight and stranglehold. It is easier for women and other minorities today, as more of us are now included and we are creating spaces for ourselves to articulate our ideas and work. However, our successes also breed more attacks and backlash, as any new ventures that threaten the status quo or the complacency of some of its privileged members always will. If you are a single woman and/or non-heteronormative, you have to be even more diligent about who you know or meet.

In Malaysia, we may have all these debates about sexual harassment and domestic violence. However such engagement usually takes place at the level of the overt: in cases where it is so easy to pinpoint and shame the offender. But what if such a harassment are perpetrated by the same people who claim to be defenders against such forms of harassment as part of their public image? What if they engage in sexual harassment through the same play of intellectualism to mask their deed with even greater subtlety than Mr McGinn?

None of these offenses are committed at random. This person’s modus operandi is none too different from a thief, robber, con artist, or any other serial criminal offender. They all lie in wait, trying to learn up as much as possible about you, watching your move and working out the best time to strike. You would be surprised at how much this person may know about you, or presume to know about you (faking some knowledge is not too hard, if the target is unwary). He/she knows the exact buttons to push, depending on the circumstances, and may even appear sympathetic and empathetic to your struggles and frustrations: so absolutely harmless and benevolent that you would soon be won over. If you ever have heard of the term grooming used in relation to paedophiles and their child victims, that’s it, you have just been groomed. Once he/she has exhausted what he/she wants from you, he/she will move on to the next one, leaving you behind, reeling with hurt, confusion, and not quite getting what had taken place until it is too late and the damage done. Sometimes, you will continue to live in denial, thinking that you have maybe misunderstood that person, and are all anxious to make it right with him/her. We call this the Stockholm SyndromeMost rapes, harassments, and personal violations do not happen in some strange city or in a back alley. And we know why.

We always think that only the weak and oppressed in society are victims of such acts of violence, but this is far from the truth.  And particularly so for women and other minorities. In fact, the greater our successes, the greater is the use of such ‘weapons’ to keep us in our places, so that whatever edge we have can be rendered impotent. Even people who we think should be our allies could turn out to be the worse offenders.  This has not gone unnoticed even by Charles Darwin in the 19th century, though his work has been seemingly about the place of men (women) in natural history, for he ventured into multiple philosophical segue ways to highlight some of nature’s most disturbing attributes (including human’s) in most of his scientific observations, from the Origin of Species to the Descent of Men, which had to do with how society is built on power-play and that there is no true altruism.

What we need to create an environment where more ‘victims’ of such abuse will then not be afraid to speak up for fear of further repercussions and backlash against them.

Imagine having such any such conversation in Malaysia, through its favorite form of forums and panels, and having speakers and participants on this subject who might be closet offenders of the worst degree.

In many countries, both developed and developing, there exists a perception that if a woman is liberal, she must be sexually available. If she has had a history of multiple partners, she must be a slut, and therefore, sexually available at any time. If she refuses to engage with you sexually, she must be frigid or not as liberal as she ‘pretends’ to be, or she is just being coy and merely requires more ‘persuasion’. She is that prize and the trophy you must conquer and you will do whatever it takes to manipulate and bend her to your will, all the while feigning this to be an act of consensus. All of the offenders of this category are well-educated and appear to be from respectable backgrounds, therefore, graced with the werewithal for deception.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Alicia Izharuddin permalink
    August 10, 2013 8:32 am

    It is hard for me to re-read this for the updates without a sense of trepidation.

    I was listening to a disturbing radio programme on BBC Radio 4 last night that resonated with me. It said that controlling and manipulative heterosexual men often use sex as a means of dominating women and girls, while turning sex and the attendant flattery from fake adoration and male attention into something they think women and girls crave.

    Men like these can do immense damage on a woman and girl’s feelings of trust and intimacy with future partners. These men see intimacy as not only as a form of control and but in a perverse way, a game that they derive pleasure from. These kinds of men may sometimes say that they like vulnerability in women while barely concealing any kind of intent, whether a sick one or of protective machismo. When I hear a man say he likes vulnerable women, my inner alarm bells go off.

    They say that women have the ‘power’ of instinct or gut feeling which I think is important not to dismiss when in the company of these men. But I think the so-called power comes from being socialised to be acquiescing and non-confrontational even when we feel something is wrong.

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