Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Israel's campaign to eradicate 'race-mixing'

Last week an Israeli court sentenced a Palestinian man to 18 months in prison for engaging in consensual sex with a Jewish woman who claims to have believed he was a Jew.

The charge?  "Rape by deception."

The judge said:
"If she hadn't thought the accused was a Jewish bachelor interested in a serious romantic relationship, she would not have cooperated...The court is obliged to protect the public interest from sophisticated, smooth-tongued criminals who can deceive innocent victims at an unbearable price – the sanctity of their bodies and souls."
The level of racism and sexism here is astounding; this case illustrates the colonial, apartheid nature of the state of Israel, where separate laws, roads, and other public facilities apply to Jews and Palestinians, and where Palestinians are dehumanized to such an extent that military units make t-shirts promoting the murder of pregnant women and children (to be worn by soldiers sent to kill Palestinian civilians in Gaza and elsewhere).

Not only are Palestinians denied self-determination in the occupied territories and reduced to second-class status within the state of Israel, the Israeli courts have deemed Arab men a threat to Jewish womanhood.

As Tsafi Saar wrote in Ha'aretz, "alongside "They'll take our jobs," the utterance "They'll sleep with our women" is one of the most emblematic claims of racists."

Richard Seymour breaks this case down well in a post at Lenin's Tomb called "Racist patriarchy in Israel."  It is worth quoting him at length:
"Are you getting it yet? Sex with an Arab constitutes a violation of the sanctity of body and soul - an "unbearable price". This is not a freakish opinion in Israeli society. For example, half of Israeli Jews believe intermarriage between Arabs and Jews is equivalent to national treason (that demographic 'timebomb', you see). Some are determined to enforce this sexual separation through violence or policy. Gangs of men in a Jerusalem neighbourhood roam around, behaving as a de facto vice and virtue squad, to 'protect' young Jewish girls from Arabs. One local authority has set up a squad of counsellors and psychiatrists to 'rescue' Jewish girls who are dating Arabs.

Hostility to inter-marriage and cross-ethnic dating pervades Zionist culture, and is reproduced at structural and institutional levels from the cradle to the grave. There has been a raft of legislative measures since 1948 that are designed to frustrate socialisation between Jews and Arabs, and the existing structures of segregation in education and housing ensure that intermarriage is already very rare."
In a society based on the institutionalized supremacy (legal racism) of one group over another (in this case Jews over Palestinians), opposition to "inter-marriage" is an odious but inevitable result.

A system based on upholding the "purity" of one group must control and police the sexuality of women within that group, who are tasked with giving birth to and raising the next generation of the dominant group, and "protect" them from men from the oppressed group.

In addition to official rulings like the one mentioned above, extremist groups patrol neighborhoods on the look-out for Jewish women with Arab men, and municipalities employ counselors and psychologists to "rescue" these women.

Although the judge and other opponents of Arab/Jew relationships claim to be acting in the interest of Jewish women, their actions are as sexist as they are racist.

Marriage (and divorce) laws in Israel are hopelessly reactionary, based on biblical mandates.  Jews cannot marry non-Jews within Israel, but must travel abroad to do so.  The marriage is only recognized upon the couple's return to Israel.

All marriages in Israel must be performed by official religious institutions (for Jews, this is the Chief Rabbinate of Israel).  The same goes for divorce, a fact that underlines that while this ruling claims to be about protecting the "sanctity of their bodies and souls," Israeli law is shockingly sexist.

Divorce is a basic right for women, a gain that had to be fought for and won.  It is a step towards women's liberation from the family, an oppressive institution that has historically placed women under the legal control of their husband.

Divorce law in Israel treats men and women differently, with women in an inferior position.  For example, a man (in a Jewish marriage) whose wife is committed to a mental hospital as "incurably ill," may remarry if he receives permission from a rabbinical court, while a woman cannot.

Not only are Jewish women reduced to the role of wombs carrying the next generation of IDF soldiers, but they are also denied their right to choose their own partner free of harassment.  As one woman said: “I’m not stupid, or gullible or looking for trouble. I’m a Jewish girl who happened to meet a guy I like, who happens to be Arab.  It’s my business."

Such a climate only emboldens those who use violence to enforce this racist morality.

Such policies are not unique to Israel.  Prohibitions against "race-mixing," or "miscegenation" were passed in Nazi Germany, the Jim Crow South (and across the US...they weren't ruled unconstitutional until Loving v. Virginia in 1967), and apartheid South Africa.

Also common in these societies, where racism was the law of the land, was propaganda promoting the idea that the oppressed "other" is a predatory threat to women of the dominant group.

We see it in Nazi propaganda; 14-year-old Emmet Till was murdered in Mississippi in 1955 for talking to a white woman; rabbis in Israel speak of "the “seducing” of Jewish girls" as “another form of war” by Arab men."

Israel's credibility has taken a major hit in the wake of its savage assault on Gaza in 2008 (Operation Cast Lead) and the recent massacre aboard the Mavi Marmara "Freedom Flotilla."  The movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions from Israel in solidarity with the Palestinian people is picking up steam.

In this context, Israel is attempting to clean up its image by portraying itself as an "oasis" of LGBT equality in the Middle East, in addition to the racist caricature of Islam as uniquely sexist.

However, the same marriage laws that require mixed couples to leave Israel to marry apply to same-sex couples who must marry abroad in order to receive recognition of their union. 

Supporters of sexual (and human) liberation should reject and expose these lies, join the growing movement for equal rights for Palestinians and Jews in the land that is currently Israel and the occupied territories, and demand freedom of association between people of all races and religions.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Closing the orgasm gap

'Anonymous' asks:

Can you address the courtesy/nice gesture of male-bodied people making sure their female-bodied partner(s) orgasm before they come (and are seemingly done for the night)?

I've encountered more people that don't follow this than do and it's a bummer. But of course, good communication is the best policy.

And we're off, on a hetero-normative note, but it's an important issue to address because it touches on a real disparity that is a product of sexism: a recent Stanford University study found that women are less than half as likely as men to have an orgasm during a given sexual encounter, as reported by Hannah Seligson at The Daily Beast.

The study found that this is attributable to an "oral sex gap," where "Men receive oral sex about 80% of the time in first-time hookups, whereas women receive it less than half the time."

They also found that the "oral sex gap" narrows as casual sex becomes something more serious, because men are less likely to care about their partner's pleasure when it's a casual hook-up.  The same doesn't apply to women, who perform oral sex 80% of the time even when it's a first time hook-up.

This inequality, which is really a form of "sexual injustice," can be explained by how men and women are socialized in a sexist society where magazines targeted at women focus on "101 ways to please your man" while magazines targeted at men feature pictures of scantily-clad women talking about how much they love to please their man.

Because of sexism, women are treated as second-class citizens, oppressed and valued less than men, and sex is no different: as private as it is, sex takes place within the context of an oppressive society.  In fact, because gender and sexuality form a basis for oppression, sex is often a place where these injustices manifest themselves more acutely.

I'm struck by your choice of referring to making sure one's partner gets off as a "courtesy/nice gesture," which really illustrates the problem.

In a capitalist society where sex is a commodity and the female body is objectified and therefore "consumable," heterosexual men are socialized to view sex as a thing, something they get from women, rather than a relation between two people.

This manifests itself in the words we use.  Men "get some," while women are warned against "giving it away too easily."

Poly Amory addresses this well on her blog "My Life as a Serial Dater."  She counters the saying "he's not going to buy the cow if he gets the milk for free" with:
"I am not a "cow." My vagina is not "milk." And who said anything about "free." Nothing about me is for sale or give-away. I am a person, not a commodity."
This leads into the other part of the problem.  While men are encouraged to view sex as a thing they try to get, and are celebrated for their "conquests," women are socialized to guard and repress their sexuality lest they be perceived as "easy."  A woman comfortable with her sexuality and sexual appetite, needs, and desires, faces stigma, demonization, and abuse.

Given the stigma attached to gay sex, the ideal of the promiscuous man and the chaste woman presents a contradiction, one that is resolved by dividing women into two categories, both of which are oppressive, both of which define women as property.  She is either a potential wife, to be placed on a pedestal where her sexuality is restricted or denied through enforced monogamy, or she is to be used as a sex object, to be used and then discarded.

As Karl Marx's collaborator Frederick Engels wrote in The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, "monogamy and prostitution are indeed contradictions, but inseparable contradictions, poles of the same state of society."

This is not to say that all men think like this, only that this is the sexist ideological and material context in which heterosexual sex takes place.  It's possible that a man might idealize you, and have difficulty comprehending that you are a sexual being with needs and desires, or that he sees you as a sex object, and is concerned with getting what he wants, regardless of whether or not you get what you want.

If he operates on either of these bases, he'll likely be unresponsive if you tell him what you want, and in that case my advice would be to move on, as there are people out there who will take your pleasure into account (my roommate assures me from the couch that he is one of them).

Any man worth having sex with should make a serious effort to make sure that you, and not just him, have an orgasm (at least) and beyond that have a comfortable, fulfilling experience.  Assuming he does want you to feel good, have an orgasm (or better yet multiple orgasms), communication is definitely the key.

But I would recommend treading lightly until you know what the issue is. (If you and your partner do have successful open communication about sex, then by all means be blunt, but I'm assuming there are communication issues if you aren't getting off.)

Given the general lack of communication and knowledge about sex, a product of a society where "abstinence only" sex-education is all too common, it's likely that your partner may want to please you but doesn't know how, which is embarrassing.

It's also possible that he would like to last longer, but he has trouble holding off, another source of shame.

Or, he might assume that you've come already, mistaking your moans of pleasure as you build toward an orgasm for your orgasm itself.

So before you tell him that you aren't satisfied, try addressing the issue with positive solutions, by showing him how to please you, telling him what gets you off, and showing him how to do it.  Teach him about your body, how to read your signals, and make sure that you are sending them.

You can masturbate in front of him, so he can see how you touch yourself, what makes you feel good.  Have him place his hand over yours, or guide him while he touches you.  Tell him what feels good, so he can learn your body language and know when he's doing something right.  And ask him to make sure you are turned on and well on your way before you move on to intercourse, whether that's from oral sex, manual stimulation, or whatever else turns you on.

Try telling him when you come, and tell him beforehand that you will tell him when you come.  If you're having intercourse and you think he's getting close but you're a ways off, slow down or stop.  You can pull him out, squeeze his penis (not too hard!) below the head and rub it against your clit, bringing you closer while slowing him down and preventing ejaculation.

Tell him to pull out and go down on you, then pull him back up and put him back inside of you.  Mix it up, try different things.  Be creative.

If you try these things and he still leaves you unsatisfied, tell him that you're unsatisfied and that if he wants to keep having sex with you he's going to have to start making sure that your needs are met.

Good sex requires that both partners are aware of what the other desires and whether or not they're getting it, and that they do what they can to please one another.  If your partner respects you, he will respond.  If not, he's not worth the time or frustration.

Finally, a major source of sexual frustration is the notion of sex having to stick to some sort of routine, like: kissing, then oral (maybe), then intercourse, then the woman comes (hopefully), then he comes, then you clean up and part ways/fall asleep.

A lot of women enjoy intercourse but can't have an orgasm from it most of the time or ever, and there will be times when men, despite their best efforts, will be unable to hold off and will come before you.

Just because a man comes doesn't mean he can't continue to stimulate you with his fingers, tongue, a vibrator, etc, until you have an orgasm as well.  Men shouldn't take their orgasm to mean it's polite to roll over and go to sleep if their partner isn't satisfied, nor should women feel it's out of line to ask their partner to continue to stimulate them after he's come.


Shortly after I published this, I received the following message:

While I appreciate the effort & thought you are putting into this, I am curious as to why you are addressing your suggestions and instructions only to women. Yes, open communication and dialogue are certainly important in any relationship which ranges from the purely physical to long-term partnership, but you seem to project the idea that is up to women - rather than men - to do the work in handling this particularly intimate form of sexism, and as well-meaning as I realize this post is, I think it at least partially perpetuates a patriarchal and sexist discourse which leaves it up to women to educate men, instead of challenging men to take it up themselves. 

Rather than providing advice to women on how to better communicate, perhaps this space might be better utilized in calling on (other) men to reconsider their 'bedroom politics' and take a critical look at how their behavior reinforces the sexism embedded in our social structure.

To be clear, it wasn't my intention to imply that the solution to the "orgasm gap" entails women communicating better, nor do I think it's up to women to change sexist and inconsiderate men so that they care about getting their partner off.  I wrote above that I don't think that men who aren't interested in making an effort to please their partner are worth wasting time on.

That isn't to say that those men won't ever change, but someone so sexist that he doesn't care if the woman he happens to be sleeping with is enjoying herself is unlikely to be changed by better communication, nor is it a woman's responsibility to do so.

My advice was intended for the woman asking the question, with the goal of providing some incite on how to help a (relatively) clueless partner, who does want to please her, be a better lover, in a way that I believe will be useful in her getting more of what she wants out of sex (orgasms).

In terms of challenging sexist discourse, that is a big part of the point of this entire project.  But I don't think that discourse lies at the root of the problem; rather, I think that sexist ideas are rooted in the class structure of society, that they are a product of capitalism and class society more broadly.

While the individual men whose bad ideas and behavior around sex comprise the problem of the "orgasm gap" should take the responsibility to critically examine the way they view women and make every effort to change, I think that it is going to take a revival of the women's liberation movement to force that change in a meaningful way.

And solving it once and for all is only possible with a fundamental, revolutionary change in our society.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


Sex sells and is sold.  It permeates our society, yet our sexuality is repressed and distorted.  Depending on who is doing it with whom, under what conditions and within or without what institutions, it is variably celebrated, condemned, or ignored.

Sex can be an expression of deep love, a casual fulfillment of a need or desire, or countless positive combinations on a spectrum between these two poles.

Yet for many, particularly many women, it is a painful experience, a denial of agency, control, or humanity.  Numerous studies show that over 15%, and as many as 20% of women in the US have been raped in their lifetime.  And despite the specter of the stranger hiding in the bushes, a 1998 survey of 8,000 women by the US Dept. of Justice found that over 3 in 4 women who have been raped were assaulted by their spouse, partner, or a date.

Widespread discomfort with talking about sex means that explicit consent is rare.  Many sexual encounters exist in a gray area between coercion and consent, with the implied threat of physical violence or emotional abuse bringing acquiescence.

Those who do not neatly fit into the boxes of heterosexual or cisgender (someone whose gender identity conforms with their birth sex; a man with a penis or a woman with a vagina) are oppressed based on their sexuality and/or gender identity.  Their relationships, bodies, and identities are treated as illegitimate, second-class, and 'unnatural' by the state, religious institutions, and large sections of the employing class.

Sex and sexuality do not exist in a vacuum.  Social movements, especially the women's and LGBT civil rights movements, have transformed the sexual landscape both with their victories and their defeats.  There are forces fighting for sexual liberation, and there are those who will stop at nothing to turn back the clock.

Sex is a basic human need.  Obviously, without sex the human race would quickly cease to exist.  But beyond simple procreation, and excepting a small minority of asexual folks, sex (whether with a partner(s) or riding solo) is something few of us can imagine a lifetime without.

I don't believe that true sexual liberation is possible under capitalism, a system that commodifies everything, not least human beings, including our sexuality.  Without human liberation, we cannot imagine true sexual liberation.

But sex can be better and more fulfilling this side of a revolution, both as a result of social movements but also by changing the way we think about and interact with ourselves and our partners.

We cannot escape the pressures and influences of a society whose institutions and norms restrict, deny, oppress, and commodify our sexualities, but we can be conscious of this and do what we can to resist it politically and personally, and we can recruit others to do the same.

This page will attempt to contribute to the project of sexual liberation by addressing issues big and small, from the attack on a woman's right to choose an abortion to simple sex advice, from the struggle for LGBT equality to finding a partner in whose flesh you can, if only for a brief while, escape the pressures and despair of daily life in a world where widespread want exists beside fabulous wealth.

Stay tuned.