Advanced search

Fantasies of abuse

(54 Posts)
Tortoiseonthehalfshell Wed 11-Jun-14 03:45:29

Not a pervy thread, I promise! I'm posting here because I'm really, really struggling to articulate what I mean, and if anyone can put this into better words it's you lot. It's a really delicate area, so if I'm coming across as victim-blaming or dismissing experience, please tell me off because that's not even slightly where I'm coming from.

(For full disclosure, I'm also trying to write a blog post about this)

Okay. So here are some disjointed thoughts.

Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight, etc. Romanticising abusive relationships. Classic literary trope, actually - the idea of the dominant/stalky boyfriend as true love object. Wuthering Heights, and all that.

Lots of feminist critique of these books/media. Blaming Hollywood plot lines, lazy storytelling, etc., for teaching women that controlling relationships are actually romantic. Very useful stuff, glad it exists. Important to teach young women that this is not a healthy model.

BUT. Popular culture is descriptive as well as prescriptive. And these books are targeted at, and - to our communal chagrin, I'm sure - devoured by women. So they strike some sort of chord.

There's a bit, early in The Women's Room, where young Mira is described as conjuring up elaborate sexual fantasies involving torture and rape. Which struck a chord with me, in a 'it wasn't just me!' way - and this is back when I was 12, 13, already a self-identifying feminist without any abusive or patriarchal models in my life (I was raised by an awesome single mother, with no male relatives on the scene in any significant way).

So. I guess I'm thinking that there is something about that abusive/controlling/dominant relationship model which is darkly attractive to a lot of women. Not because we're confused about consent, or because we've been lied to by Hollywood, although maybe we are those things as well. But underneath that. Why?

I mean, who knows. Chicken/egg, products of patriarchal culture, etc. I'm certainly not about to run an evo-psych argument here. But ... does anyone know what I'm trying to get at? That the reason that these storylines are so popular is not because we're confused that this is real love, but because on its own level, they tap into something that a lot of women actually do fantasise about?

calmet Wed 11-Jun-14 06:31:02

Under patriarchy, women are taught to eroticise their own oppression. We are taught to be turned on by the thought of a strong man "taking us", by being treated roughly during sex, by being dominated.

This puts women into a double bind. How can we complain when we are indeed treated roughly or forced? After all, we had fantasised about it, we wanted it.

But you can also unlearn these fantasies, and sexually responding to being treated roughly. It is not natural, it is taught by patriarchy.

Beachcomber Wed 11-Jun-14 07:19:39

Yes, I agree.

Oppression/subjugation/submission is sold to us as sexy. Usually by eroticising dominant/controlling/rapey male behaviour.

We are conditioned at a social level to submit to men at an individual level. This is the definitive example of "the personal is political". It is absolutely key to the social/political control of women and girls; we are taught to love a person who dominates us, we are shackled by this mechanism.

So when he stalks you, it isn't harassment it is desire to be near you. When he rapes you it is because you are so desirable. When he controls your movements (sometimes actually with restraint such as bondage) it is because you are so sexy, etc, etc.

It is grooming, plain and simple. Social wide grooming.

I don't believe for a second that it is anything else. This grooming (which starts at birth) has entered and altered female psyche, both at an individual (private) level and at a wider (political) level.

Makes me think of Simone de Beauvoir "women and men are made, not born".

A concept which Dworkin wrote a lot about; "Woman is not born: she is made. In the making, her humanity is destroyed."

BillnTedsMostFeministAdventure Wed 11-Jun-14 07:21:12

Nancy Friday has some comments on rape fantasies - IIRC, the "motivation" is often a permission one ie women who have been socialised to believe sex is big and scary (pregnancy risk, risk of being called a slut etc) and that they are the "gatekeepers", can enjoy the freedom of the idea of someone taking responsibility for all that by "taking them" - but the actual fantasies are not of rape, because by designing the fantasy they are in fact consenting.

It's probably more accurately described as a BDSM fantasy.

Twilight et al I think are more insidious.

BillnTedsMostFeministAdventure Wed 11-Jun-14 07:22:50

Interesting points beach.

Beachcomber Wed 11-Jun-14 07:23:34

Forgot to say, it is the same thing as women getting turned on by dressing up in the trappings (shackles) of femininity such as high heels, lingerie, short skirts, etc.

Patriarchy is a one trick poney; everything comes down to sex.

calmet Wed 11-Jun-14 07:31:36

It is also why viewing BDSM in isolation, is a dead end. In reality BDSM is simply part of a continuum of eroticising our own oppression that stretches from wearing high heels, to extreme BDSM.

EBearhug Wed 11-Jun-14 07:35:34

I think it's important to remember that they are fantasies, not reality. Some of the stuff that goes on in my head I'd be seriously uncomfortable with in real life, if not completely disgusted or terrified or - well, some of it's physically impossible, unless I wake up being able to fly.

I think some of it's just testing ideas out in a safe place (i.e. not real.) Also, even if they are things like rape scenes, they're not real - I have full control, because it's in my head, and it is actually about my pleasure.

calmet Wed 11-Jun-14 07:39:14

But it is also about recognising that those fantasies are socially conditioned.

Beachcomber Wed 11-Jun-14 08:09:51

Sexuality is a very very powerful tool of control/oppression/abuse.

Because it is "private". Because it is "personal".

And "consensual" (with "consent" being one of the biggest rape myths ever).

Therefore it is somehow immune to analysis. And attempts at analysis are easily painted as "prudish" or moralistic or sticking one's nose into people's private lives when everyone knows that anything that happens in the bedroom between consenting adults is between them and them only and happens in a weird vacuumed bubble which is immune to both socialization and any past personal history of trauma/male violence. hmm

Dworkin is good on this in "Right-Wing Women"

Male dominance in society always means that out of public sight, in the private, ahistorical world of men with women, men are sexually dominating women.

It's a bit like how an abuser will isolate his victim from her network of family and friends. Sexuality and all the libertarian clap trap about privacy, consent, agency, choice, fantasy, hot and sexy, etc. isolates women.

Analysing sexuality is painted as intrusive. This protects actual institutions of oppression such as porn, prostitution and marriage but it also allows abusive practices such as BDSM, the pornification of women and rape to flourish unexamined and exposed for the misogynistic, manipulative and controlling practices they are.

Beachcomber Wed 11-Jun-14 08:12:58


Beachcomber Wed 11-Jun-14 08:41:41

And I understand why you are examining this, That the reason that these storylines are so popular is not because we're confused that this is real love, but because on its own level, they tap into something that a lot of women actually do fantasise about?

However I would say that the above demands an examination of male behaviour too if we are to take the questioning to its logical conclusion.

Do men actually like to rape, abuse and dominate women in the bedroom? Not because they are confused about love but because it taps into something deeper than socialization?

If we are going to examine women's behaviour we must examine men's too IMO. Personally I find it very uncomfortable to consider that males are inherently abusive and dominating, sometimes it is hard to think otherwise though and we will never know where nature ends and nurture begins.

calmet Wed 11-Jun-14 08:48:43

Although if we argue that women's fantasises about being raped and dominated, and in some cases, sexual pleasure at being dominated, are socialisation and not inherent; it would be contradictory to argue that men's fantasies about raping and dominating, and getting sexual pleasure out of doing this, are inherent.

Hazchem Wed 11-Jun-14 08:56:02

I was thinking a bit about this the other day. One of most watchable shows on FTA TV in Australia is Law&Order SVU almost every single week it is about horrific crimes against women. I'm considering that I might need to give it up as I think it contributes to the sex as control, violence as weapon even if they are fighting it. The thing that sparked it in my head was an episode where an author of 50 shades style book is raped repeatedly in scenes from her book. A DA mentioned that a jury the week before didn't convict someone because b most of them had read the book and now saw choking as "normal", "consensual" sex.

ReallyFuckingFedUp Wed 11-Jun-14 09:22:15


Basically a man raped a woman, and when she said "No, don't rape me" he believed that that actually meant, she was partaking in a sex game that they had never discussed.

SO they let him off. Because how could he know she didn't want to have sex with him?

angry confused

Beachcomber Wed 11-Jun-14 10:03:51

Although if we argue that women's fantasises about being raped and dominated, and in some cases, sexual pleasure at being dominated, are socialisation and not inherent; it would be contradictory to argue that men's fantasies about raping and dominating, and getting sexual pleasure out of doing this, are inherent.

Not necessarily.

Branleuse Wed 11-Jun-14 10:09:06

i think its because power imbalAnces are juat inherently sexual for a lot of people, but it goes both ways. Just as many people fantasise about dominating as about being dominated.

I dont think its necessarily problematic unless people cant tell the difference between sexual dynamics and real life, or there isnt consent

Hazchem Wed 11-Jun-14 10:36:27

Jesus ""I recognized the way she said no as a part of the sex; I recognized it from other girls," So he's done it before! That is so fucked up ReallyFuckingFedUp

BillnTedsMostFeministAdventure Wed 11-Jun-14 10:57:08

How can the court have concluded this but still thrown out the charge:

Among other things, the court said it was clear that the 27-year-old had used violence to force the woman to have sex with him and that the woman's "muted protests" could be attributed to fear that the man might become even more aggressive.

ReallyFuckingFedUp Wed 11-Jun-14 11:02:57

They admit he raped her. But in their courts they have to prove he meant to rape her.

But he thought she was play acting like the other women he had raped

If they actually had been playing a game she would have a safe word she could have used, but because it hadn't been discussed (because they wern't playing a sex game) she literally had no way of making him stop. Saying no wasn't enough.

Think about the precedent set there.

grimbletart Wed 11-Jun-14 11:38:35

OK, anecdote is not analysis but I can honestly say that fantasises of abuse, being "overcome" or any 50 Shades of Gray crap have never ever appealed to me or even crossed my radar.

This makes me wonder why if it is so relatively common and conditioned.

Could it possible be because my feminism (I'll call it that although it did not have that name at the time) started for me in very early childhood. I saw, perhaps unconsciously, that boys were valued more, that they were more fun and sporty, allowed to do 'stuff' that girls weren't etc. and I kept asking why, protesting that it was unfair and rebelliously refusing to conform to gender expectations. My indignation amused my parents who were very supportive but I was looked on as a bit odd by outsiders, even in retrospect I think they thought I might be going to 'bat for the other team' as it was put then. It must have puzzled them when I turned out to the heterosexual mother of a couple of DCs. I used to get comments from some about "never thinking you would get married" grin.

It was even to the point that I had my hair cut short like a boy as a seven year old and always wore trousers out of school (bear in mind this was the 1950s so a different world from today in a bad way mostly, though in a good way in that there was no pink glitter tat and tutus grin).

It was not that I actually wanted to be a boy - it was that I wanted to do what I wanted to do and the only way to get away with it outside my family was by 'passing' as a boy.

So, did I not have these fantasies because from an early age I had actively and consciously resisted conditioning, leading to my second wave feminism in the 60s. Or was there some other reason?

Any thoughts anyone?

Tortoiseonthehalfshell Wed 11-Jun-14 14:00:59

Grimble, but that's how I was raised as well, and yet.

Beachcomber, oh, I agree that examining male behaviour is part of the answer here. I absolutely DO NOT want to run a line of 'women secretly all want to be raped and abused', because, duh.

But I find the theory - referenced by BillnTed - that rape fantasies are about letting go of the guilt of wanting sex, less than convincing.

Oh, I don't know. I'm not even just talking about rape fantasies, but destructive relationships generally. Maybe? I'm kind of flailing around here. Relationships as self-flagellation?

I just know that when I google this, I just get a lot of stuff about how stalker/abusive tropes are portrayed as romantic and that's Bad, but there's nothing underneath it. And I think there's deeper stuff here that is less examined - I mean, that it isn't as simple as someone telling you 'oh, well, it's just Hollywood'. I guess. De-programming sexuality isn't that straightforward, accepting that as calmet said, it's programming and not inherent in the first place. And I have to accept that, because otherwise we get into icky crap about innate instincts and that leads down the evo-psych path and we do not want to be there. There be stinky dragons.

So, Dworkin. Who else writes on this?

BillnTedsMostFeministAdventure Wed 11-Jun-14 16:09:16

I think people who have rape fantasies maybe think rape is about sex, not power.

The "so gorgeous he couldn't help himself" trope.

Beachcomber Wed 11-Jun-14 16:50:56

I agree it runs much deeper than the influence of Hollywood or culture in general. This stuff is woven into the very fabric of society and is as old as history. Stuff like marriage, obeying one's husband, the fetishization of virginity, the fetishization of youth, harmful cultural practices, madonna/whore complex, objectification, othering, witch burning, wife burning, dowry, chastity, chaperones, feminine clothing, the trappings of femininity, blah, blah, blah, I could go on.

They are all sadistic. They are all about humiliation, degradation, subjection. BDSM and the like are just sexualised rituals which reflect the sadistic nature of cultural hegemony both past and present.

Yes Dworkin is good at getting to the bottom of this, MacKinnon too. Have a couple of quotes for you, will look them up.

Beachcomber Wed 11-Jun-14 16:57:36

Dworkin on her concept of «sexual intelligence» in Right Wing Women ;

Sexual intelligence asserts itself through sexual integrity, a dimension of values and actions forbidden to women. Sexual intelligence would have to be rooted first and foremost in the honest possession of one’s own body, and women exist to be possessed by others, namely men. The possession of one’s own body would have to be absolute and entirely realised for the intelligence to thrive in the world of action. Sexual intelligence, like moral intelligence would have to confront the great issues of cruelty and tenderness; but where moral intelligence must tangle with questions of right and wrong, sexual intelligence would have to tangle with questions of dominance and submission.

One preordained to be fucked has no need to exercise sexual intelligence, no opportunity to exercise it, no argument that justifies exercising it. To keep the woman sexually acquiescent, the capacity for sexual intelligence must be prohibited to her; and it is. Her clitoris is denied; her capacity for pleasure is distorted and defamed; her erotic values are slandered and insulted; her desire to value her body as her own is paralyzed and maimed. She is turned into an occasion for male pleasure, an object of male desire, a thing to be used; and any wilful expression of her sexuality in the world unmediated by men or male values is punished. She is used as a slut or a lady; but sexual intelligence cannot manifest in a human being whose predestined purpose is to be exploited through sex.

Sexual intelligence constructs its own use: it begins with the whole body, not one that has already been cut into parts and fetishized; it begins with a self-respecting body, not one that is characterized by class as dirty, wanton and slavish; it acts in the world, a world it enters on its own, with freedom as well as with passion. Sexual intelligence cannot live behind locked doors, any more than any other kind of intelligence can. Sexual intelligence cannot exist defensively, keeping out rape. Sexual intelligence cannot be decorative or pretty or coy or timid, nor can it live on a diet of contempt and abuse and hatred of its human form. Sexual intelligence is not animal, it is human; it has values; it sets limits that are meaningful to the whole person and personality, which must live in history and in the world.

Women have found the development and exercise of sexual intelligence more difficult than any other kind: women have learned to read; women have acquired intellect; women have had so much creative intelligence that even despisal and isolation and punishment have not been able to squeeze it out of them; women have struggled for a moral intelligence that by its very existence repudiates moralism; but sexual intelligence is cut off at its roots, because the women’s body is not her own.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now