On the trouble with men

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On Bill Cosby and the trouble with men

December 3, 2014


In the past few weeks, most of us were shocked to learn of rape allegations against a person we’d always thought of as the epitome of wholesome goodness—a great father figure, a loving man, a sweet comedian. Some of us still don’t believe it and are waging a campaign of skepticism, victim blaming, and sometimes vitriol in support of Bill Cosby. Others are engaging in that favorite Internet pastime, a good old-fashioned verbal lynching of Mr. Jell-O Pudding.

Where do I fit in? I’m just sad about the whole thing. I was surprised at first. But as I learned more, I resigned myself to the idea that these allegations are most likely true. How do we reconcile the dichotomy of a man who comes off as kind and wholesome and yet may have committed such vile acts against women? It’s easier than you think.

There exists a subset of men (how large it is may well be debatable but I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s pretty huge) who believe, whether consciously or not, that they are entitled to have sex with women. Simply by virtue of having penises, they feel they have the right to put them where they like. They don’t think of sex as a means to intimacy; it’s not about love. Neither is it simply a pleasurable physical outlet that can be enjoyed by two consenting adults. Sex to these men is an act of physical gratification…for them, and getting themselves involved in it is foremost in their minds most of the day. Women, to them, are conquests.

I can only imagine the crazy cognitive dissonance these kinds of men engage in to separate women into their appropriate categories. Mom, sis, old ladies on walkers, little girls, maybe their wives--holy, sacred, to be cherished. All other women? Orifices for their penises.

These men believe that women withhold sex from men on purpose for a variety of reasons. It’s not about whether or not a woman feels like having sex at the moment, or is interested in them or not. No. It’s about power. Because these men feel they lack power in regard to getting sex from women, they believe women have power and are using it against men. They believe women demand and expect gifts in exchange for sex. They believe women use sex as a reward, and withhold it from men as punishment. They believe that women want to have sex with them, but refuse to do so as a means of teasing men, frustrating men, and emasculating men.

Are there women who do those things? Without a doubt. Judging by the divorce rate in this country, it’s safe to assume that relations between the genders are less than healthy. Men are frustrated with the behavior of women and women aren’t so thrilled with them either. But most women, we hope, are mature enough not to use sex as a weapon or as a means to an end; and most men, we hope, are capable of managing relationships with women without forcing themselves on them sexually.

But our subset of entitled men believe that it is perfectly fine to induce a woman to have sex with them when she is “pretending” to be unwilling. Most of them go no further than persuasion--needling, copping a feel, trying to get her out of her clothes, begging. No doesn’t mean no, to them; it means, keep trying. If they continue to be rebuffed, they’ll pout, label the woman a tease, a prude, frigid or worse, a cunt. But eventually, they'll give up.

Some, however, feel so entitled to sex with whatever women they desire that they see nothing wrong with getting a woman drunk or drugged in order to have sex with her. Why else would she be there at the party? Or there with him on a date? In the same room with him? They don’t see this behavior as rape. Some will simply find themselves in a position to take advantage of an incapacitated girl, while others will purposefully drug her. These men are rapists. But to them, they’re just doing what men have to do. They’re playing the game. They don't see this behavior as wrong–-they see it as necessary. They may even believe women expect them to do it--women want sex, but play a game of "catch me if you can" with men.

These are the same men who harass women on the streets. They are the men who see women as walking sets of orifices into which the can put their penises. Playboys. Players. They think they’re God’s gift to vaginas everywhere. Women really want to have sex with them. Women are just playing hard to get. It’s a dance.

It’s men like this that almost made me not able to stomach The Big Bang Theory.* Howard Wolowitz is nothing more than an entitled, misogynistic creep whom we can easily see letting his friend Raj video tape him having sex with a passed out girl at Comic-Con. The fiction in the storyline is that such a man could be reformed by the love of a good woman. Right. Suddenly, the entitled creep who thinks refusal and disgust is just flirting now sees women as autonomous beings. Reformed misogynists work for a good story, but they’re rare in real life.

A smaller number of these men go beyond the "necessity" of seducing a woman into a stupor in order to rape her. They think exerting physical pressure against a woman to force her into sex isn’t rape either. Women want to be forced, they rationalize; they like it. These are the rapes that aren’t "real" rapes to conservative males. These are just men who are doing what they have to do to fight through the female’s requisite phony resistance to their charms. It’s the way sex is played out in the jungle. The caveman has to club the woman over the head and drag her off. She likes that. She’s overcome and he’s virile.

The men who are so sick, frustrated, powerless, cowardly, and misogynistic that they have no taste for the “dance” of forcing a woman into sex have to crawl through a window and put a knife to her throat. They’re the “real” rapists. For them it's more about the power and the violence against women than any kind of sexual gratification. These men finally get the attention of society--they've finally gone too far.

Men who behave the way Bill Cosby allegedly has aren’t "real" rapists.** They’re just men who believe they’re entitled to sex and do what they have to in order to get it--what women have forced them to do to get it. Women are the coy enemy holding the chalice hostage; they must be subdued, controlled, and brought to surrender. Men like this are worse than Wolowitz creeps.

It's true that many women accept the milder forms of entitlement behavior in men, even encourage and reward them. They smile at the stranger who licks his lips and whistles on the street. They let a man buy them drinks, maybe even go up to his room after. There is a dance and it's tricky and confusing. Still, it’s not women’s responsibility to make men honorable and mature. That’s up to men. Raise better men, dudes.


*I said almost. I'm not the sort of person who expects fiction to have or promote a social agenda.
**But of course, they are.