In Kerwin Kaye’s article Sexual Intercourse, he examines the idea of intercourse as a natural act. In defining sexual intercourse and its sociological and historical roots, Kaye comes to the politics of intercourse. He addresses how sexual intercourse is profoundly social, and consequently, political. Kaye cites feminist theorist Andrea Dworkin, who argues that intercourse has been defined in terms of a penetrator and a penetrated. This language leads us to understand intercourse in reference to a sense of social domination and inequality, according to Dworkin. She believes intercourse has become “a form of possession or an act of possession” and, therefore, a “true man” can only be successful through the subordination of a woman in intercourse.
As Kaye continues, he discusses how heterosexual intercourse often involves demands for men to be powerful and in command. Similarly, in Theoretical Perspectives, Steven Seidman draws from Catherine McKinnon who believes that the role of male dominance is crucial to shaping women’s sexuality. She sees sexuality as a product of men’s power and sex as a means by which men control women. McKinnon’s argument connects to Kaye’s, who describes that men are expected to be powerful and in charge.
Media, society and social institutions have contributed to the denaturalization of intercourse; sex has become a performance in which, according to mainstream culture, a man is expected to be the active agent and a women, the passive. This language and way of reading intercourse limit the sexual act to a heterosexual scope; the experience of gay and lesbian couples is devalued and removed from the conversation.
Kristen Barber and Sex and Power also discusses how men are perceived to be “uncontrollably aggressive and sexual.” And with this, society unfortunately has an understanding to see rape, in particular, as a natural consequence of men’s aggressive nature and tendency toward violence. Barber points out, like Kaye, that sociologists show that men, “as the dominant gender,” use violence to gain and maintain power over women.
This rhetoric, of the male as the dominant partner, applies to a larger context, specifically within the context of domestic violence.
Take a walk through the I Am UnBeatable exhibit in the Fine Art’s Gallery on Vanderbilt’s campus and you’ll see stories of battered women and children who suffered at the hands of a domestic abuser. Violence against women has been closely tied to the history of many nations, including our own. And today, 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.
With intercourse understood as a mode of male domination over women, we can see how easy it is for that act to be conflated with heterosexual relationships in general. Domestic abuse is a devastating cycle, where sexual, economic, and emotional domination are used to give the abuser power over the victim. Throughout the exhibit you’ll see how people of all genders, races, and orientations are affected by intimate partner violence.
Recently, NFL player Ray Rice was caught on camera physically assaulting his fiancee in an elevator. Megan MacKay, a YouTube blogger, created a response video to the footage of the assault and the consequent “repercussions” of the NFL and legal system.
MacKay’s video is a satirical “make-up tutorial” and throughout the video, she uses different primers, eye shadows, etc. and assigns them titles that correspond to the Ray Rice incident. There’s a part where she uses eyeliner in a color called “Women Are Objects,” and goes on to instruct viewers to line their eyes “like a wedding ring.” She then says how when women put on wedding rings, they give free reign for the man that gave them the ring to do whatever he wants to them; and the women will be at fault for any incident that follows.
The video as a whole functions to shed a comical light on a very serious issue by addressing how pervasive it is. Domestic assault affects all bodies, but society and the media often portray a very one-sided depiction of domestic abuse. We usuallly only hear about intimate partner violence when a celebrity, athlete, or well-known figure is involved. This makes the issue seem like the exception and not the rule, when in fact, it’s just the opposite.
What were you doing to provoke him? Did you piss him off? Boys will be boys. Oh, he’ll grow out of it. It was just this one time, I’m sure it will stop soon.
In a society where women are viewed as objects, intimate partner violence is normalized, leaving women will little to no protection, power, or way out. Men are seen as the dominant, in every scope, and because of this ideology we often accept certain behaviors more than others. Intercourse has not only become a form of possession, but so has intimate relationships, period. It sometimes feels as though having a partner is a form of possession and domination, in and of itself. Especially when one partner (often male) feels the need to exert that domination over the other (often female).
In her video, MacKay points out in the end of the video that we can do better. And I couldn’t agree more. But it all starts with questioning “naturalized” behaviors and becoming more critical of sexual, social, and political dynamics between men and women. After watching the video, do you think it works efficiently? Successfully? How do you see sexual intercourse and male domination playing a part in your life?