Sexual Violence

Conservative men would rather their daughters die of cervical cancer than give them a vaccine that would allow them to make their own sexual choices in life. That’s the theory given by any number of liberal writers in the political debate over Merck’s Gardasil product. They very well might be correct.


What about men on the Left though? What would we prefer for women? All evidence seems to point to the fact that we really don’t care what kind of cancer they die from, so long as they keep putting out.


Women’s health has seldom been a priority for Western progressives. To see it take center stage with the introduction of Gardasil is several orders more miraculous than the invention of a vaccine itself. This attention, sudden as it is, is too surreal to be genuine.


The cervix has no monologues. It is perhaps the most alien part of female anatomy to men, and the least interesting; there is no part of it to conquer and rule, after all. And yet, thanks to Gardasil, it had its day in the most masculine and elite of Liberal publications. This included places like The Nation, where feminists are routinely put on the back burner if they ever get too unruly. There, the “status of women” is always justifiably second to the status of the war on Iraq or whatever other male-emergency is taking place. This sudden interest in women’s cervixes has everything to do with that war.


Big-business conservatism and religious fundamentalism have a complex love-hate relationship: mostly, it’s self hate. Gardasil is the product of more than a few men who assuredly belong to both camps, after all. Those who stand to profit the most can express their fiscal conservatism. Not only does Gardasil engender private wealth, it lessens the need, if only slightly, for the confiscation of it for public health care.


Likewise, fundamentalism can more easily bubble to the surface for those standing at the outer reaches of the payday, one that exists for them not as cash money but in the other social benefits that adhering to the corporate ethos provides: the often incorrect belief that one is safely, and deservedly, “middle-class.”


The Gardasil controversy—one of them, anyway, the jury is still out as to how safe and effective the vaccine is—should be seen as a microcosm of the greater debate about the war on Iraq, and its ability to make and break political careers, only this time transcribed onto the bodies of women. It was merely a chance for the men on the Left to poke a bit of fun at their male peers on Right, the Republican Party teetering between its own two baser instincts of money and religion. The argument just happened at a particularly opportune time for the Left.


However, liberal rhetoric has effectively described the pharmaceutical industry as an indifferent force of nature, utterly unaffiliated with rightwing forces. This falsehood is only promulgated when that industry is helping to make women more sexually available to Leftist men. The Left typically works to distance itself from capitalists, the sex industry serving as the lone exception.


Of course, women had their say, too. And if they wanted to say it in the publications of the male elite, they had to refrain from expressing any skepticism they might have over the dosing of an entire generation of women with an experimental drug. The favored feminists were forced to offer up their own daughters: the sexual freedom of girls is ever contingent upon them being freely available for the sexual requirements of men.


Such a statement need not be tied up in the quagmire of abstinence propaganda or even monogamy.


Where was the male Left, when it came to cervixes, a decade ago? Where were we on HPV and cervical cancer before there was a “cure?”


That answer can, ironically, be found in Merck’s own commercials for Gardasil. They feature one nubile woman after another proclaiming that she had only just heard about HPV, how it can cause cancer, and how absolutely terrified she was for that one brief second before the pharmaceutical industry heroically came to her rescue.


This terror is new.


In the past 10 years, little seems to have been learned about HPV, at least when it comes to the basic information that can be transmitted to laypeople. An internet archive of a Planned Parenthood brochure dated from 1995 can be found online:

It offers the same basic fact that women now find scary: up to a third of all sexually active teenagers might be carriers of the virus; condoms may not always prevent transmission, if at all; almost all women with cervical cancer test positive for HPV.


That same information was unremarkable a decade ago. Women, if they were of means, were marshaled in for their pap smears and colposcopies. Cells were harvested. When needed, their bodies were burned, frozen, and cut. Women died with their families next to them. Women died alone. Their deaths were convenient: no man ever faced responsibility for passing on the fatal infection; any sex act was seen as a distant consideration, a silent memory buried in time.


Between the ever immediate emergency of pregnancy and the tail end of America’s full-on AIDS panic, a fear that still proved ineffective enough when it came to convincing men to use condoms, HPV seemed totally unremarkable to Generation X. Its three letters were not even worth committing to memory.


The threat of cervical cancer rarely informed anyone’s sexual decisions—if it did, it was surely last on a woman’s list of considerations.


Inflicting cervical cancer upon someone was never a consideration of men. HPV strains that did not burden a male with unsightly warts were deemed not worth testing for by the medical establishment; out of sight, out of mind. There were no marches. Penises were never called “the original cancer sticks.” No man ever curtailed his sexual behavior on account of it, admitting that even condoms not might prevent its transmission.


And yet that same generation of Leftist men, cure in hand, now accuses religious fundamentalists of murderous indifference.


It is only now that women can be saved—and pockets can be lined—that women are allowed to fear HPV and the very worst of its effects. Indeed, they are even encouraged to fear it. Before, it was merely part of heterosexual life for women, an uncommon yet ordinary consequence of all we ordained as “natural.” Bad luck, or the Will of God, cancer was seen as outside the domain of male control.


Only cervical cancer wasn’t: ironically, cloistered nuns were the living proof, as they alone were uniquely immune to the affliction. Now men are taking credit for conjuring a cure without ever taking responsibility for engineering the proliferation of the disease.


Again, I must point out that I’m not proposing abstinence or monogamy as a solution. Nor am I saying that women lack the interest, the will, or the right to engage in any sexual activity that they desire, fully cognizant of the risks.


However, prior to the marketing of Gardasil, public knowledge of HPV was limited at best. It was defined solely in terms of disfiguring warts. The direct connection to cancer was undermined by a generally defeatist notion about cancer and its inevitability in modern life. The specific and accurate information surrounding HPV was lost in a sea of myth, where public sentiment distrusted a scientific community, which, according to conservative lore, said something was good for you one week and bad the next. That phenomenon was exacerbated by fundamentalists preaching of a nonexistent connection between abortion and breast cancer, disease ever being a punishment for “bad” behavior.


When HPV was discussed, it was typically with women in their private sessions with gynecologists, if they could afford them, not in public as part of sexual education services. Such education is a task that Leftist women have been thanklessly charged with carrying out. While many of their efforts have been inspired by feminism, and continue to be so, the money required to engage in them is often at the discretion of their male peers. They control not only the purse strings of their own significant wealth but the insider-circuit of progressive fundraising.


If Planned Parenthood, prior to the advent of Gardasil, ever described cervical cancer as a frequent result of sex with men, that condoms were no panacea, and advised women to act in accordance with that knowledge, it seems certain that Planned Parenthood would not be around today. This would be especially true if they had treated HPV and cervical cancer with the same caustic urgency that liberal pundits expect it to be spoken of today, post-Gardasil.


Leftist men would have swiftly killed an organization that has survived the pipe bombs of the Right.


Gardasil has given men free reign to focus on a pharmaceutical future. That utopian vision, a narrow one at that, allows men the privilege of bucking responsibility for HPV transmission in both the past and present, where adults of both sexes certainly continue to be infected and re-infected with strains of HPV. Indeed, everyone over the age of 21 is considered a lost cause without remedy: we’re all supposed to resign ourselves to contracting HPV at some point in our lives unless we decide to remove ourselves entirely from sexual culture.


It never had to be that way. Most sexually transmitted diseases could be greatly reduced in prevalence within the course of a few generations—and without medical intervention. This wouldn’t require monogamy, abstinence until marriage, but for something completely new: men treating women as their equals. Should that vision ever be achieved, it seems likely that young girls would no longer be held as fetish objects by older men. A study of teenage-pregnancy by the Alan Guttmacher Institute revealed that two-thirds of such girls are impregnated by men who are at least 20; the younger the girl is, the older her male “partner” tends to be.


Yes, these situations are especially egregious, but the same dynamic is represented in every other form of patriarchal sexuality—both heterosexual and homosexual—that believes that dominance is the most exciting aspect of sex. As long as men’s relationships with women keep skewing younger, if only slightly in most cases (the U.S. Census Bureau’s reporting of the “median age of first marriage” shows a difference of just under two years, 26.9 for males, 25.3 for females), it seems likely that sexually transmitted diseases will spread much more quickly than they would otherwise. The younger people are when they contract HPV, the more opportunities they have to pass it on to others.


Men are fairly adept at pretending women are their equals: not only does the church recommend marriage as a protection against exploitation, as if it were never an issue of “frying-pan to fire,” liberal men insist that their own self-professed “immaturity” makes them the peers of younger women who are anything but. Men, across the political spectrum, have engineered a sexual world that’s designed to pass on infectious diseases as rapidly as possible, ever looking at new generations to exploit.


 While this is done with no shortage of dedicated malevolence (how many men could not stop themselves from joking about what abuses they might perpetrate when the “Olsen Twins” turned 18?), it is always explained in the dispassionate terms of Darwinism; men spreading their seed in the greenest of pastures.


Again, I’m not recommending abstinence or monogamy, or even that people shouldn’t be free to form relationships with adults of all ages, only that the general pattern of men fetishizing younger women (while too often abandoning elderly women to die alone in poverty) leads to a culture where rape, incest, and prostitution run rampant. It’s especially racist for Westerners to view reports—some real, many not—of African men infecting virgin girls, even infants, with HIV as both unprecedentedly vile and absurd, when our own culture operates in similar ways.


Even progressives lack a compassionate voice when it comes to sexual politics. A recent study at Johns Hopkins suggest that HPV transmission through oral sex can lead to dramatically increased risks of throat cancer, perhaps at incidences of up to 32 times, making other risk factors such as smoking virtually negligible by comparison.

Responses to this news were varied.


Some found dark humor in it, noting that the risks ensued at even five partners over the course of a lifetime were so astronomical that they might as well throw caution to the wind. Others believed that the reporting was overstating the danger as throat cancer is still relatively rare compared to other cancers.


A few heterosexual women found odd relief in that the report said cunnilingus was also a mode of transmission, glad that men might, for once, share equally in the risk as well. However, it seems difficult for a non professional to tease that information out of the data supplied and it often seems that press releases slant in the direction of mutuality only when none exists. Many lesbians believe that their own sexual risks are dramatically inflated by studies for political reasons. They theorize that not only are such warnings designed to discourage women from pursuing such relationships, but for internal “queer” reasons as well, supposing that lesbians will contribute more to the well being of gay men if they identify with facing the exact same risks.


Men, particularly in feminist communities, complained that there is no standardized screening test for them, nor do they currently have access to Gardasil, preventing them from protecting their sexual partners.


What went unmentioned, however, was pornography. There, Deep Throat has transformed from a once exotic activity to a simple stage in a sequence of events—first as an innocuous, almost forgettable act and then once again in an Ass-to-Mouth climax. From the perspective of the filmmakers, the two instances of “fellatio” couldn’t be more different. Each fits into precise spectrum of activities designed to create a crescendo of humiliation.


While the pornographic industry prides itself in the sexual health of its workers, bragging of constant testing, condom use is still limited even in so-called mainstream productions. Yet the profit margins are in the use of subcontractors to generate content; companies inside of companies that manage stables instead of “stars.” When condoms are used, they are only for intercourse: oral sex is deemed an acceptable risk by management.


There is currently no standard way to test males for HPV and condoms may not always prevent transmission.


Defenders of pornography speak of agency and safety. Even if one believes that all performers, in both gay and heterosexual porn, have full agency to give informed consent to each and every sex act they’re required to perform, the cancer risks associated with HPV make that sterling guarantee of safety an impossibility. That would remain true even if condoms were in universal use.


Even so, apologists for the sex industry could argue that watching, as entertainment, someone potentially contract a disease that leads to cancer is no different than viewing a film where people smoke, perform motorcycle stunts, or even risk injury in traditional sports. I would disagree with that assessment in many respects but that disagreement is not relevant to the argument I am making here: The liberal panic over HPV and cervical cancer exists only in terms of how liberals relate to their conservative peers. Outside of that conflict, HPV isn’t on the Leftist agenda at all.


The Left, especially the men of the Left, have had ample time to consider public policy for both HPV and cervical cancer. Ironically, it was not the disease that became the emergency but the “cure.” While liberal pundits were willing to work overtime for Merck and their advertising department, historically, that same interest in women’s health was nowhere to be found.


Before cervical cancer became a commodity—not just in the sense of the existence of Gardasil, but as a chit to be traded back and forth between political parties—it was a non issue. The lack of public awareness concerning HPV before the recent bout of publicity, and the now deliberate fear mongering, is testament to that fact. As is the lack of concern for the women in the sex industry who are most at risk; they go unnoticed while America and other Western nations fret over the most precious of their daughters.


Yet it is their sons who should be cause for concern. Yes, they should be tested for HPV too. And yes, perhaps the vaccine should be administered to boys en masse as well. But more than that, men need to be cognizant of the reality that male power has crafted. A sexual culture of predation, where deceit is encouraged and exploitation celebrated, has shaped HPV into something akin to a man-made disease. A vaccine might treat a symptom but it will take far more than Gardasil to cure it.

Who knew playoff-hockey could cause so much excitement?

The facts as they seem to be known:

New York State Assemblyman Tom Hoyt (D-Buffalo, Grand Island) invited a number of his fellow legislators and their support staff to watch a hockey game at an Albany area sports bar.

Assemblyman Mike Cole (R-142nd District) attended.

Cole drank to excess and eventually retired from the bar with a 21 year old female intern who was sitting at his table; they had never worked together and met for the first time at the event.

Cole “walked her home” and slept on the floor of her bedroom. Both claim that no physical contact or relationship took place. Most people seem to be taking them at their word, save for a few liberal blogs that made lurid quips, fantasizing about a different sort of encounter.

When news of this leaked, the intern was immediately fired from her position. She evidently violated a no-fraternizing rule, specifically one that forbids interns from attending events where alcohol is served (although other interns also attended the event without incident). While some journalists indicated that the woman, still anonymous, received both her full stipend and academic credit for the internship, other reports seem less optimistic: Assembly spokeswoman Sisa Moyo stated that payments terminate with employment and that academic credit is wholly at the discretion of her school.

A month later, Cole was censured by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Cole was also stripped of his position on the Assembly’s Drug and Alcohol Abuse Committee and its $9,000 stipend. He is no longer permitted to participate in the Assembly’s intern program, meaning his own intern had to be reassigned elsewhere.


Reporting on local politics is always a bit funny: in this case, you have the liberals complaining that The Buffalo News did not cover the story quickly enough after the New York Post led with it, while conservatives argue that Cole being censured is ridiculous considering that serving Democratic officials who have been indicted for criminal offenses have not met with that same punishment, token as it might be.

I find the liberal reaction to be especially ironic. First, with all the sleaze filled jokes in area blogs, it’s interesting to see the so-called progressive party asserting the belief that men and women can’t be friends or even do a solid favor for one another as passing acquaintances. I guess a decade of jokes about how “pimp” Bill Clinton was, something still thought to be to his credit amongst some circles, will do a number on your mind.

Journalists didn’t help though: some wrote that Cole slept on the bedroom floor while others either lacked that information or omitted it, since no one really had any idea what “bedroom” meant: other than the fact that it was a Big Red Flag when the political machine started chewing. “Bedroom” can mean a variety of different architectural configurations when it comes to 21 year olds. They tend to lack some of the more advanced options, such as studies and foyers, for putting away besotted friends.

Most people seem to understand that something unfair happened to the intern.

They get that she lost more even though she was the one with far less power and responsibility. It’s easy to see that something isn’t right about that—especially after three Spiderman movies.

But for most, that’s where the questions stop.

Fire Mike Cole, too, that will make things right.

Or forgive him, we all make mistakes, and gosh darn it, we should find another opportunity for the young woman. To many, questions of fair and unfair begin and end with the individuals involved.

However, this is a story of gender.

For the Assembly, their carefully crafted no-fraternizing policy made what happened or didn’t happen on that bedroom floor irrelevant. This is expedient for them as they no longer have to prove what went on behind closed doors: the intern’s crime was entering a public place of business, a pub, and sitting down at a table with political big dogs. As soon as she did that it was game over. Her bad.

The intern would still be just as fired if Cole had raped and murdered her on the walk home.

I’m not against the Assembly’s fraternization rule. Yes, it’s pathetically insufficient when it comes to protecting against abuses of power. That doesn’t mean that having no protections at all would be superior. Just because one thing is sometimes silly doesn’t mean another thing isn’t absurd.

In a world with infinite constellations of power and authority, the idea of freely consenting adults is more than a little bit naïve, no matter how bankable; capitalism sure enjoys the thought and it certainly repeats it often enough.

I do think the no-fraternizing rule hurts women.  I also think that the alternative would likely hurt women more.

The real problem is with men—the people who not only imposed the rule but made it necessary in the first place.

Mike Cole’s constant refrain throughout his ordeal has been that he’s “taking responsibility.” He knows he should have called a cab. He shouldn’t have consumed so much alcohol. He messed up and now he, two interns, and his family (although I think the very concept of his marriage is unfairly privileged in these discussions, something that deserves to be examined at length) have paid the price for his mistake. His responsibility doesn’t end there, though.

All males contribute to a culture that made the no-fraternizing rule necessary. Not only is Mike Cole to blame, but also the man who censured him, Sheldon Silver, and myself. The very existence of the rule demonstrates that women are not equal members of our society.

That might look like a circular argument, and there are people who believe that eliminating evidence of inequality (and especially responses to inequality like Affirmative Action or Hate Crime legislation) would magically make inequality itself disappear, but I’m not one of those people.

So let’s back up just one second: “walked her home.” That’s what Cole did, according to just about every newspaper covering the story. Everyone seems to think that’s what he did. Going through the reports, one can read one “walked her home” after another, like he, in his stupor, somehow knew the way better than she.

It does have the effect of making it look like a mutually beneficial transaction: he protected her, so she let him dry out. Since she needed him for something, that “protection” being her motive for allowing a strange man into her home, it’s easier for people to imagine nothing untoward happened. People, other than a few liberal rags, are less likely to attribute more scandalous motivations to her.

Very kind of the newspapers to do that for her.

Now, imagine if she walked his stumbling ass back to her place and just flopped him on the floor in a drooling pile. It might be closer to the truth but—somehow—the public uttering of that truth would be more dangerous to her than those strange men who haunt the alleyways of that walk home.

If Mike Cole wasn’t a chivalrous knight, she’d be a craven slut.

Very kind of the newspapers to do that for him.

If women weren’t afraid to walk the city streets at night, Mike Cole wouldn’t have been able to justify, if ever feebly, his decision to go home with a woman half his age. Rapists—and the racist propagandists who have profiled rapists as deranged “urban” men who attack women at random and not husbands, fathers, and brothers who betray the women who trust them the most—are the people whom Cole should be thanking. After all, the mere thought of their existence made his own actions seem rational to him.

On the other hand, that same fear, fear that Cole materially benefitted from, would prevent most women from doing what he did: crashing in the bedroom of a stranger of the other sex. Women know that more than a few men (and not just those skulking in dark alleys) view a woman’s acceptance of such an invitation as, well, an invitation of its own.

As a people, we see things in terms of transactions. That’s why the “walk home” for the “place to sleep” equation was rendered in nearly every article covering the story. As a woman, she couldn’t possibly have been just doing something nice for a drunk who couldn’t take care of himself. Only men have that kind of magnanimity. Only men are able to rise above the equation. I am reminded of that scene in American Beauty where the protagonist nobly decides he has only warm-fuzzy feelings for his daughter’s best-friend, laying naked in his arms.

Sure, we’re protecting you from us, but just look at how good of a job we’ve been doing, lately…

Everyone seems to love Ugly Betty. It is fun. It’s bright, bold, and shiny: so much so that many of the liberal themes—from immigration to homosexuality and transsexualism—are made palatable even to conservative audiences. There’s something to be said for that, it’s no mean feat, but Leftist issues are only marketable when they’re liberal issues, no capital letter to be found. After all, ABC attempted to give the show a shot in the arm by creating a “Be Ugly” campaign, daring women to be themselves, just like their precocious Betty.

Of course, ABC didn’t invent that sort of pseudo-feminism, the kind where a mammoth broadcaster can act like an equal partner to a nonprofit like Girls Inc., they were just following the lead of Dove and their “Campaign for Real Beauty.” As a male, it’s perhaps too easy for me to dismiss that sort of thing as insipid; I do understand that to even see something like that is a welcome bit of respite for many women, even if the capitalism behind it is amongst the worst sort of crass: clumsy, obvious crass.

The show centers around Betty, the unflappable assistant to a young publishing scion, Daniel Meade—a playboy trying to make something of himself in the family business, only to have the rug pulled out from underneath him at every turn, like an oversexed Charlie Brown. Betty guides him through his various crises and teaches him valuable lessons between his relapses into superficiality.

His latest crisis is having committed rape.

Of course, the show is quick to point out that it is only statutory rape.

Not real rape.

More like rape on paper; paper rape.

The story goes something like this: Two fashion models, ostensibly from Eastern Europe, claim to be sisters when they show up at his office for no discernable reason. Somehow hours pass, day becomes night, evidently they just talked for six hours, and a set change is needed. They show up at a club. He takes one home with him and as she showers after sex, the other barges in and starts making demands: it was her 16 year old daughter he slept with and she will ruin him if he doesn’t give her child the desired cover shot. A key part of the crisis is that, thanks to his brother-now-sister’s machinations, he no longer has the power to deliver that cover to his blackmailers.

I don’t know how the story will turn out. Not exactly anyway. But I do know the broad strokes: Betty will save him. Somehow she will placate or shame the mother into submission. She’ll restore him as editor-in-chief of the magazine and he’ll be able to sweep everything under the rug. Maybe Betty will get them deported and they will all pontificate on how ironic and tragic that is, with Betty’s own father facing a similar fate. Maybe she’ll tell Daniel to piss off and he will learn his important life lesson and tackle the situation himself. There will be a surprise twist. Maybe the girl is actually older and both she and her mother are really from Kansas and are faking the accents.

Whatever happens, it will be in an episode called “Petra Gate” (after the name of the underage model), the “gate” nomenclature now standing for scandals that, well, really aren’t all that scandalous. They’re silly things, based on technicalities. You know, just like statutory rape.

One of the Desperate Housewives people likes to tell a story about how “The Network” objected to him showing a character smoking after sex with her under-aged partner; he questioned their priorities if they had a problem the smoking but not the “statutory rape,” the punch line to his anecdote.

Certainly, it plays out differently across various configurations of gender—and antifeminist men certainly do like to joke on their Fark.coms about hot female teachers getting away with molesting their male pupils, and how unfair it is that male teachers are punished more harshly—but Ugly Betty seems to be wading into especially dangerous territory.

It wasn’t lust that sent that 16 year old girl into Daniel Meade’s bed. That was made quite clear. Because she was complicit in her mother’s blackmail scheme, viewers are expected to think the worst of her: and thinking the worst means that she consented to sex, even if that consent was ultimately as a high-end prostitute.

And many viewers do think the worst.

One fan’s reaction on her blog:

“Totally uncalled for from the guy who runs to her at all hours of the day and night with every little problem, but I guess that’s Daniel for you, and he really starts to regret it when he finds out he’s been trapped into a statutory rape situation and his only choice is to put a (rather unattractive) underage Russian model on the next cover. As if Wilhelmina and Alex(is) didn’t have enough ammo.”

“Rather unattractive?”

I guess only good people are invited to “Be Ugly” in the world of ABC.

Much more sympathy abounds for Daniel.’s write up is plain about it (Tracie Potochnik):

“And what is meant to be a fun night for Daniel also turns into a nightmare, as he inadvertently sleeps with a sixteen-year-old model whose mother is angling to get her on the cover of Mode.”

He accidentally raped a girl.

It just kind of happened, like tripping on the sidewalk.

Inadvertently. Inadvertently is a word that obviates against consent, it makes it irrelevant: Daniel himself didn’t consent to sex, it just happened, like the grass growing or the wind blowing. As such, he was the victim in all of this, even though his life as a philanderer is predicated on the idea that he is a wealthy and powerful figure while his conquests, by definition, are not. (While the show reversed that paradigm once, with Daniel being taken advantage of by a character played by Selma Hayek, her character, while powerful, was presented as a gold-digger, much like the young model, in order to keep Daniel the sympathetic party.)

And despite him existing in some sort of parallel world to the very idea of consent, the villainy of the girl assures audiences of hers. Of course she wanted it, she has to want that sex, if she also wants the money and fame that she doesn’t deserve—not as an “unattractive model,” anyway.

Thank you ABC and Ugly Betty for showing us once again that rape is funny.

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