Friday, December 28, 2012

Why are women typically more religious than men?

There are some really dodgy theories about sex chromosomes and their influence on human behaviour, but this one shocked me on account of the source and context. I was listening to the Christmas Eve edition of the Infinite Monkey Cage, which was a really good episode and had three guests I'd turn on the radio for - Mark Gatiss, Richard Wiseman and Steve Jones (of the snail fame). Their other guest was Victor Stock, the former Dean of Guildford Cathedral, who was rather brilliant. 

But the great Steve Jones was talking about the evolutionary psychology of religion and came out with the following;
"Universally, worldwide, it's always been the case that those who are crippled and afflicted by having a Y chromosome - that's all of us on this platform - are less religious, and less willing to accept religion that women who don't have a Y chromosome. It's very hard not to argue that there's not some kind of biology there. We may not know exactly what it is, but biology is in there somewhere."
He then goes on to explain that people on the autistic spectrum are much less likely to be religious, which must, he feels, have a biological explanation.  I'm sure someone else can clear that one up.

Of course, the important phrase is "in there somewhere", but does it have to be?  It may be that biology does play some role in religiosity, but before the end of the programme, I had thought of a number of reasons why women may exhibit greater religiosity than men.  And I think only someone living in the West could possibly assert that biology must play a role. So...

The Possible Reasons Why Women Would Be Typically More Religious Than Men 
as came into my head in the space of five minutes - okay, it took longer to write down!
  • Cis men typically possess an XY pair of sex chromosomes, cis women typically possess an XX. There may be something about the difference between these particular chromosomes which alters men and women's brains to make women more prone to religious feeling - however that may be defined - than men. 
  • Globally and locally, women are more likely to live in poverty. Across the world, there is a strong inverse correlation between wealth and religiosity.  There are many exceptions and complexities, but these trends are pretty crystal; women are more likely to be poor, poor people are more likely to be religious. 
  • Women are more likely to witness birth and death first-hand. Obviously, women are more likely to give birth but, although it's commonplace for fathers to be there in this country, across the world, women are more likely to attend births.  Women are more likely to care for the sick and dying, and to be with people in their last moments. Understanding, celebrating and coping with birth and death is one of the major themes of all religious and folk traditions. Religion often gives people the language to use and the stories to tell on such occasions. 
  • Women are more likely to live with chronic illness. Faith can help people cope psychologically with loss, pain and other difficulties, but organised religion is also good at combating social isolation and in many cultures, providing nursing care and assistance where state help is absent.
  • Women like dresses.  Although predominantly men, most religious leaders wear dresses, often with elaborate trims and accessories, depending on the occasion. Women may attend places of worship to see the dresses their leaders are wearing.
  • Across the world, women are much less likely to get very much school education. Women are less likely to be literate. Women are less likely to learn about other belief systems or acquire the intellectual tools and information which allow some people to doubt the messages they've been taught all their lives.
  • Women are more likely to be widowed and/ or to live alone for significant periods of their lives.  Organised religion is often excellent at combating social isolation. There ought to be, but there is no organised humanist system for holding communities together and looking out for people on their own.  
  • Women are more likely to find themselves in situations of abject helplessness; rape, slavery and domestic abuse. Faith gives some folk something to hold onto when everything else is out of their control. This isn't necessary faith in God or gods, but it often is. 
  • Kate Middleton got married in a really big church. All women are interested in the life of Kate Middleton and so are more likely to go to church in an attempt to emulate their idol. 
  • Women are more likely to be responsible for the moral and intellectual education of their children. In many parts of the world, organised religion is at the centre of all available education - even in the UK, many better state schools are church schools.  One big reason some religious institutions spend so much energy trying to subjugate and control women is because mothers are seen as the key to their children's religiosity; control the women and you control the next generation.
  • Because certain religious institutions do spend so much energy trying to control and subjugate women, that tends to keep women hooked.  You're nothing, you're a spare rib, you're weakness, you're a temptress and a slut who brings violence upon yourself, but come here every Sunday and you will be forgiven.  Men can feel tremendous religious guilt, of course, but often having less laid on their heads, it may be easier to walk away. If you have grown up believing that your very physical being is responsible for not only your sin but the sin of those around you, it's really difficult to finally stop apologising. 
  • Women are less likely to have opportunities for fulfillment in paid work. Religious institutions are very good at organising and valuing unpaid volunteers who care for the sick, provide childcare and other social services, produce and distribute clothes and food for the poor, make crafts, raise-money and so forth.  
  • The major religious festivals almost always involve a lot of baking (with and without yeast). Women are really good at baking. Women become involved in religion so that they can show off how good they are at baking.

I think there are probably other ways that religions allow women, who often live in circumstances of very little power, to have some power, even if they're very rarely the ones in charge.  Even in ancient Athens, which was an extraordinarily sexist place, the city cult was headed by a massively powerful priestess.

None of this means that biology has nothing to do with religiosity, but as is almost always the case with the claims of evolutionary biology around gender, there are other more obvious explanations that need exploring first.

Monday, December 24, 2012


Today I am thirty two, which is a happy number.  When I said last year was the happiest of my life, I meant it sincerely. And when I say that 2012 has been even better than that, it really has.

So much has happened this year that I'm in danger of sounding like one of those awful smug Round-Robin Christmas Letters (the family recently received one with the line "According to my calendar, I didn't do anything in September - but I expect I was simply too busy to write it down!"). But I am proud of what a full life I have now, and memories of arriving at so many birthdays with a sense of disappointment, shame and the desperate hope that next year would be better, make me want to celebrate the fact that I now enjoy my birthday and only hope that next year will be half as good as this one.

Of course, this year's not been plain sailing; my health is more stable than it used to be, but there have still been several periods when I've been stuck in bed all the time. Stephen's health has been up and down, there's been stress, serious illness and death in the extended family, and earlier in the year we lost a special family friend.  However, today is all about the good stuff.

My thirty-second year in bullet points (but no particular order):
Stephen, a beautiful white man with dark wavy
hair and glasses, behind a birthday cake with
number-shaped candles reading "30".
  • Between us, Stephen, my sister and I organised a surprise party for my Dad's 60th birthday - which remained a surprise until about twenty minutes before the event. This was a massive undertaking, negotiating with my mother, organising food and drink and smuggling a gazebo in the boot of Dad's car under the pretense that the weight was just books and clothes. I also made a great deal of bunting in the early spring, not realising that, with the various events in the summer, I would have been able to buy bunting for a few quid a mile. 
  • Stephen himself turned 30 in May. That was a fantastic day. 
  • Stephen had his graduation in March. We traveled into the centre of London (the first time in seven years for me) and attended the graduation at the Barbican. 
  • We made our first music video, which went viral and became the ukelele precursor to (and possibly the inspiration for) Gangnam Style.

(Click CC button for closed captions.)
  • I entered a painting into the National Portrait Competition. That was exciting. I dragged Stephen and Mike to Shoreditch as a detour on our way to Stephen's graduation and about a month later, Mum went on a railway odyssey to pick it up again.  As expected, nothing came of it - the winner was very well deserved - but it was a very positive and interesting experience. 
  • I didn't do a great deal of painting this year, but I did paint an A1 (about 600x800mm) portrait of Dad for his birthday. It's very tricky to paint on a canvas that size without an easel (I have a suitable easel, but I didn't have it with me). It's also fairly tricking to move such a painting and its frame around without a person you live with noticing. Fortunately, he's not very observant.
  • I made cards and things as I always do, but my favourite artsy things this year was designing a plate for Alex. I bought Sophie a melamine plate with a lion on for Christmas and decided to look for something similar, but a bit more grown-up for Alex. I couldn't find anything I liked even slightly so with Stephen's help, I got a plate made from a design I had drawn on paper and coloured in on the computer.
  • The plate was partly inspired by the fact that this year, one of us got the best diagnoses ever.  Find physical impairment emasculating? Fed up with bodily difference being considered a sign of weakness? Try Viking Disease
  • Stephen's photography was featured in an exhibition at Guildford Cathedral. He exhibited two photographs and somehow managed to sell three.
  • Another week of photos, and I will have completed a Project 365 (or 366 - I did get in a muddle and I do appear to have lost a day somehow).  You can tell the parts of the year when I was unwell, as I have taken one or two hundred momentously boring photos. 
  • We also made an incredibly realistic alpaca puppet. Yes, that is a puppet. No, honestly - if you look really carefully, you can see the strings.
  • The low point of the year was, after having had surgery to remove a tumour on his kidney, Stephen's uncle became very seriously ill. For several weeks, we were almost certain that he was going to die, with one crisis after another - internal bleeding, accumulating gasses and MRSA - until he finally turned a corner. And now, despite the fact he still has what amounts to an open wound on his belly, the uncle is fit as a fiddle and has been recently driving round France. Meanwhile, so much of the tissue of his kidney died that it seems very unlikely that the cancer will come back.  
  • In July, Stephen and I got engaged. We've set a date for next summer and we've talked about it a lot, but to be perfectly honest, that's just about as far as we've got.
Sophie - A pale-skinned baby with dark eyes and a wide mouth
looks up and smiles. 
  • Our niece Sophie was born. We went down to the New Forest to meet her, which was a huge day but a really special one. Sophie visited us in Surrey in November. She is an incredibly smiley baby, and my sister's family seem extremely happy.
  • I didn't expect to be affected by the Jubilee in any way, shape or form. As it was, the Sunday of the Jubilee weekend with Stephen's Monarchist family was a very special day, I wore my tiara, we violently spatchcocked and barbequed a whole chicken and then had hysterics over the BBC coverage of the Jubilee Flotilla (this coverage was later criticised, but it was as if Brass Eye had done it, so it was great). We fell asleep at some point and woke up to see the chamber choir singing in the rain. Now that's what I call pluck
A Union Flag flies amid the greenery.

  • We ended up watching more sport over a two week period than I have in the last twenty years. I really enjoyed the Olympics, although I felt much less positive about the Paralympics.

    • I entered my first novel into a competition to have it read over and assessed by a literary consultancy. It won the free read, and I got such a lovely flattering e-mail about the sample chapters that I printed it off and stuck it to the notice board. I received the report last week and it was really positive - there were weaknesses I knew about, and my reader pretty much spelled out what I needed to do. Enough time has passed that I'm quite looking forward to going back and polishing it up a bit. 
    • Despite so much going on this year, my second novel is progressing at a pace, and it feels really good.  Of course I have massive wobbles in confidence, but other times, I think it is bloody good. I never felt that way about my first novel whilst writing it. I hope this is another sign of increased confidence, and not a tragic delusion.
    • In the last few weeks, my forth wisdom tooth is on the move.  Yes, I'm still teething.

    A very Merry Christmas to all who celebrate, and a peaceful, relaxing few days to everyone else. I hope you all have an excellent 2013 - you all deserve it. And thank you, one and all, for your ongoing presence and support.

    Monday, December 17, 2012

    A Culture of Dubious Consent

    [Content warning for rape and sexually explicit language. Also overlong - I wrote this in tiny bits over the course of a tough week and it will probably take you even longer to read. Consider reading this instead.]

    The sex in Christopher Brookmyre novels is pretty good as sex in fiction goes, mostly because of the light-heartedness of it all. Sex, written about with too much earnest, is often hilarious. In A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away, we hear about the loss of the hero's virginity to the woman he will later marry. Everything is wonderful until, at the last minute, the boy withdraws and ejaculates on his lover's face, just like he's seen in the porn films. Only then does he witness her shock and revulsion, and realises his terrible mistake. Between them, they sort it all out and live happily ever after. Until years later, when her ex-boyfriend tries to blow up a Hydroelectric Power Station on the day of the Highland Games*.

    There's been an almighty row this last week or so after Alyssa Royse wrote an article called Nice Guys Commit Rape (originally at the Good Men Project). When I first read this, I was extremely angry; Royse talks about how her friend raped a woman at a party while she was asleep, and despite repeatedly stating how this was rape and there was no excuse (who knew?), she nevertheless discusses the victim's flirtatious behaviour at length, talks about grey areas and tries to defend the rapist as a nice person who made a simple mistake. The Good Men Project went on to try to back up her argument by publishing an anonymous post by a unrepentant rapist, which is possibly even worse than it sounds, but has been demolished thoroughly by No Sleep 'Til Brooklands, Ozzy Frantz, Ally Fogg, Yes Means Yes and Cliff Pervocracy, among others.

    At this time, I spoke to a friend who felt frustrated that Royse had raised an important point that had since been thoroughly lost, partly in her delivery but partly in the argument - about whether someone can rape people and still be a good person somehow - that ensued. My friend talked about a rapist she knew and how he would be mortified at that label. And while what he did was wrong, there were cultural reasons he was able to frame it differently in his own head. Examining that, she said, isn't the same as condoning the crime.

    Competent adults should know when they're doing is wrong. It's not a question of but... culture. However, rape stats vary a great deal around the world. Certain contexts of rape, like prison rape, marital rape or rape within military service, are endemic in some countries and relatively low in others. This is not because some countries produce better human beings**.

    Feminists call this rape culture, but that covers a load of different issues. Royse claims her friend did not understand that the absence of consent or consciousness turns sex into rape. I doubt that very much, but there are cultural messages which enable rapists to make these arguments about confusion. As Cliff Pervocracy says in her excellent post We are the 95% (as in, the roughly 95% of people who manage not to commit rape);
    If affirmative, negotiated, freely given consent is the norm, then rapists lose the ability to say "I just didn't know." They can no longer make anyone think "but regular sex looks practically the same." If romance doesn't work a damn thing like rape, rapists can't hide behind "I was trying to be romantic." 
    As Cliff says, rapists lie about their confusion and ignorance, but they are lying to themselves as well as the rest of us.  So I wanted to talk about the specific cultural messages we get, not about rape, but about consent and the way that works in heterosexual relationships. Because most of this is about men and women. All these issues bleed out to effect everyone. Men and non-binary people who are raped by women and men are effected by all of this. But it all starts with ideas which help male rapists reason away their assaults on women.

    1. Sexual arousal takes over men's bodies so they can't be accountable for their actions. 

    The psychological effects of alcohol vary from culture to culture, according to expectation. In the UK, folks expect to become aggressive, so that happens. If you trick British people into thinking they have consumed alcohol, they forget to say please or thank you and fights break out.  Elsewhere, people don't expect this so they drink peaceably until they gently slide off their chairs. In other places, they don't even sit on chairs to begin with, so there are even fewer injuries.

    The same goes for sexual arousal. Plenty of people live with frustrated desires, remain celibate or faithful within unhappy marriages, refusing sex when the opportunity arises for various moral, social, medical or religious reasons. Meanwhile, most people have the experience of having to stop in the middle of sex when someone faints, something dislocates or goes into cramp or someone's grandmother walks into the room. Even when arousal is at its absolute peak, it is perfectly possible - if sometimes frustrating and demoralising - to call the whole thing off.

    In movies, characters who don't have a great deal of sexual chemistry - and often don't even like each other - frequently become overcome in the moment and have sex, just so there's a little flesh on the screen. Of course, people do sometimes have spontaneous sex in weird circumstances with people they hardly know in real life, but if the aliens had nothing but Hollywood to go by, they might suppose that any time a man and a beautiful woman find themselves in a situation of tension or peril and certainly any time a man and a woman like each other, sex becomes inevitable.

    During the notorious Reddit thread where men were invited to discuss why they had committed rape, men (rapists and non-rapists alike) repeatedly stated that men think with their penises. If we were to believe this to be the case, for even a moment, women could never be safe in the company of men.

    2. Women want men who want them.  Men simply have to prove the strength of their desire.

    We're taught that romantically, a woman is an entirely passive creature.  If she's pretty enough, a man falls in love with her. And so long as he isn't the Sheriff of Nottingham or Prince Humperdinck, his love will make her love him back. Women don't love or desire men for themselves, because men aren't particularly attractive in their own right; women love men because men want and love them.

    (In fact, given their supposed passivity, you might be under the impression that a woman would fall in love with the Sheriff of Nottingham or Prince Humperdinck, if only their hearts hadn't already been claimed by other men.)

    Thus, there are three love stories in maybe ninety percent of mainstream movies:
    1. Boy meets girl.  Boy falls in love with girl.  Girl sees this and falls in love with boy.
    2. Boy meets girl.  Boy falls in love with girl.  Girl doesn't see or believe it, so isn't interested until boy has thoroughly proven his love through heroic deeds. Girl falls in love with boy.
    3. Boy meets girl.  Boy falls in love with girl.  Girl doesn't love him back and she turns out to be a bitch. Girl is killed or runs off with the bad-guy.  Boy meets new girl.
    Unrequited attraction between two people who are both perfectly nice and lovely but just don't feel the same way about each other almost never happens in movies.  Proof of Life is one rather obscure example. There's unrequited love in Love Actually but even then his hostile, creepy and underhand behaviour is completely forgiven when it turns out Andrew Lincoln's character is in love with Keira Knightley. People behave decently with unrequited love in books - Brideshead Revisited and Little Dorrit spring to mind - but much less often than in real life.

    Meanwhile, fictional men do tremendously creepy and criminal things which magically work out because the women fall in love with them (as in Twilight and its fanfic Fifty Shades of Grey - though this is by no means the preserve of vampires or sadists). And you think, well, that is just fiction - in real life, people must know this stuff is wrong. Then you read about a guy who dies from cold and alcohol, camping outside an ex-girlfriend's house having harassed and stalked her for a few months, being portrayed as a tragic hero who died of a broken heart.

    Talented people have vented the despair, longing and humiliation of unrequited love or rejection into beautiful music and these have become regular romantic songs. People dance to Every Breath You Take or Adele's Someone Like You at their weddings. There's plenty of other popular music whose lyrics are about dark subjects, but we don't accidentally play Don't Fear The Reaper at funerals because we've forgotten what the lyrics are saying (admittedly, my Gran wanted We've Got All The Time In The World at Grandad's, but we talked her round).

    Unrequited love, unrequited sexual attraction and rejection are very normal human experiences, very painful as they sometimes are, but our culture gives confusing messages about what folk - especially men - should do about them.  Our stories and songs suggest that a true hero pursues his beloved no matter what, no matter how she feels about it. Common sense, decency and the law says mourn and move on.

    Financial sense says write a catchy song about how you're feeling. People will probably play it at their weddings.

    3. Women don't know what they want when it comes to sex so men have to decide on their behalf. 

    This is a staple of our culture. Creators of film and fiction get away with it because in those universes, the woman is often fighting her own desires.  On the one hand, she doesn't want to have sex on the side of the volcano with a man she barely knows because she is not a slut. On the other hand, she wants to have sex with the hero, because he loves or wants her (see above) and anyway, the volcano is erupting in a poorly thought-out metaphor which will lead to their imminent deaths. So it's up to him to get on with it, before she gets into a lava.

    This used to be even worse, when a heroine's hysterical state was fairly frequently resolved by a slap round the face, being carried off kicking and screaming (as in Gone With the Wind, although the film makes it look like rape) or an actually rape (as in Hitchcock's Marnie). Yet even in 2012, Christian Grey tells his victim that she's over-thinking and ignores her when she withdraws consent.

    There are reasons why this nonsense exists. Many women are conditioned against saying no. Many women are also conditioned not to ask for the things they want, especially when it comes to sex.  But uncertainty is a legitimate state.  Not yet ready (whether before a first-time or five thousandth time) and not entirely comfortable are also entirely legitimate, even if a person is very much in love or else aching with lust.  These are also inactive states. Uncertainty means No. You don't act before you're sure of your feelings and you certainly don't need others to make up your mind for you.

    If there is a person out there who really does say "No" when they mean "Yes", they're not competent enough to be having sexual relationships.

    4. Sex is part of a complex bartering system between straight men and women.

    Loads of cultural sources, especially men's and women's magazines, trashy newspaper columns, rom coms, certain religious rhetoric, pop psychology and self-help books treat heterosexuality as a system of heavily-encoded interminable bargaining. They say that men and women want completely different things but can never say so, so must instead dance around one another, each pretending to concede to the desires of the other whilst all the time securing their own bizarre goals.  It stinks to high heaven. It makes everyone miserable. It ruins relationships and it is a contributing factor in our rape statistics.

    Principally, this message says that sex is something women give to men in exchange for the things they really want, like affection, money, babies or someone to open jars. In the godawful Bridesmaids, for example, sex - including deeply unsatisfactory and outright coercive sex - is something women put up with in order to obtain such glories as having a boyfriend, receiving a compliment and of course, goal of all feminine goals, being and staying married. Out of the six women principle characters in a smutty sweary rom com (that is to say, it is by no means afraid of the subject matter), only one expresses any sexual desire. Which is funny, because she is the fat one! Oh, how we laughed.

    This is not my universe, but over the years, I have heard all kinds of theories about behaviours which indicate that a woman is prepared to have sex with any given man (you know, apart from initiating sex or expressing her wishes verbally - women never do that). These include going on a third date, letting him buy dinner, letting him buy desert, letting him walk her home, introducing him to a friend, asking him to go shopping with her, letting him put up a shelf or change a fuse and many more. The meme of the Friendzone is all about men who feel they have fulfilled their part of this mystical bargain but aren't getting the sex they deserve. Instead of dutiful sex, they are saddled with miserable and unending friendship.

    The idea that men and women naturally want different things but cannot communicate directly is one of the most dangerous ideas there is in heterosexual relationships.  It allows both men and women to justify abuses by assuming the other party's true feelings, including feelings that directly contradict what has been said.  These assumptions can be about sex (she owes me, it's her duty, men want sex all the time) as well as reproduction (all women want/ need to have babies deep down, no man thinks he's ready to be a father until he is one). They really can mess up lives.

    5. Passion is expressed in conflict and violence.

    Melissa McEwan spells this out in her afore-linked essay Rape Culture 101 (I've left her links in and really you should read the whole thing some time, even if you don't like the phrase Rape Culture):
    Rape culture is regarding violence as sexy and sexuality as violent. Rape culture is treating rape as a compliment, as the unbridled passion stirred in a healthy man by a beautiful woman, making irresistible the urge to rip open her bodice or slam her against a wall, or a wrought-iron fence, or a car hood, or pull her by her hair, or shove her onto a bed, or any one of a million other images of fight-fucking in movies and television shows and on the covers of romance novels that convey violent urges are inextricably linked with (straight) sexuality.
    In the movie Red Road, a woman becomes obsessed with the man who killed her husband and daughter in a drug-fueled car crash. It's a bleak and harrowing film, but it nevertheless has great merit - mostly for the use of CCTV (the protagonist is a CCTV operator who spots her enemy on camera). She gets closer to this man who she believes to be a monster and, outraged that he is out of prison, she sees an opportunity to frame him for rape. So they have consensual sex and she tries to rough things up a bit, in order to acquire a few marks and bruises. And that's awkward, because he's behaving normally and is nervous of not messing it up.

    I have no experience in this area, but I'm sure most times two people have sex for the first time, both parties will go about this with significant caution. You don't necessarily know the other person's likes and dislikes, you don't know the other person's body, but most of all, you don't want to sing such a duff note that the other party screams, throws you off or laughs in your face.

    Yet most of the sex we see in movies is supposed to be the first time two people make love, usually two people who don't know one another all that well, and yet it is almost always forceful and rough - ripped clothing, pinning down etc.. And that's a problem. Because it encourages the idea that this is how it's done and (particularly) first-time sex should feel or look a bit like a fight.  

    6. Sex is the grail.

    At the end of almost every movie, the hero gets the girl.  She is the physical reward a man receives for saving the world, solving the mystery, winning the game or growing as a human being.  If a man in a movie picks up a woman's scattered groceries, he will most likely get to have sex with her. If he rescues her from a burning building, it's a done deal. Great, good and victorious men get to have sex with whatever beautiful woman happens to be standing nearby.

    So first off, there's the problem of heterosexual sex being a reward. Women are human beings with sexual autonomy, varying tastes, interests, codes and feelings of their own, so however great a heterosexual man may be, even if he has saved the world from nuclear apocalypse, he will never be able to do whatever he likes, with whoever he likes, whenever he likes. Yet whenever a famous man stands accused of rape, some fan will always ask the sincere question, "But who on Earth would say no to him?"  Nobody ever says no to James Bond.  Nobody ever says no to any decent, brave or talented man in a movie - at least not for long.

    If you're not winning or questing for anything in particular, then sex may become the objective. I'm not talking about folks going out on a Saturday night with the hope of getting laid (or whatever the hi-tech equivalent is). Such people, for the most part, do so because they enjoy the experience. They enjoy the company of friends, they enjoy alcohol and the nightlife and, if they are lucky, they enjoy the experience of meeting, talking to and having sex with an attractive stranger. If they don't get lucky, then there will be other nights and even in the absence of sex, there are always stories to tell. It's what some people do for fun. Sex is sometimes part of that fun. At its absolute basest level, sex is a fun activity that two or more people enjoy together.

    I'm talking about the aspect of our culture which treats sex like the acquisition of points in a video game. You don't enjoy the points, but they give the game purpose, they show you are good at the game and you may boast to your friends about how many points you have.  Young men who have no points at all are in real social trouble; their masculinity will be questioned and they may be treated as strange, incomplete. But any man may feel anxious about the points he has. On a recent television programme about how many of us have Neanderthal DNA, the comedian presenter listened to the theories*** about cross-breeding and concluded, "Every hole's a goal!" The Good Men Project's pet rapist joked that the violent rape he committed, cheered on by his buddies, could be described as a "particularly harsh third base". The fact that folks even talk in terms of first, second and third base is pretty grim - especially as there are four bases in rounders.

    Sex is not a thing to be acquired, like points in a videogame. Sex is an experience, which occurs when two or more people want the same thing at the same time.  This is mostly down to luck and circumstance.  Given the great variety of people who manage to have sex, it is hardly an achievement in
    itself.  Sex can be lots of things, but fundamentally, it is an enjoyable activity.

    Edit: Stephen pointed out to me that there was an early computer game which scored points in this way. I imagine there have been many more since, but it sure started early.

    7. Sexual Violence or Coercion is a Joke.

    We joke about things to make them less horrific, and rape is among them. In A Woman In Berlin, victims of rape joke about their horrendous - but in postwar Berlin, very commonplace - experiences. Unfortunately, we live in a culture where rape victims are usually the butt of the joke. Only this last week, there has been Virgin Mobile's visual rape joke and FHM telling chaps not to wear women's socks:
    “If you run out of socks, you have two options: recycle, or go sock-free. No matter how cold it is, it’s never acceptable to wear your girlfriend / mother / victim’s socks.”
    Alyssa Royse jokes about her rapist friend's victim "But if something walks like a fuck and talks like a fuck, at what point are we supposed to understand that it's not a fuck?". The GMP rapist titters throughout his piece about how he's going to keep on "partying", whatever. This is humour about massively traumatic incidents in women's lives. Things that can effect them in profound ways for years to come.

    Rapists joke about rape to render their crimes less serious.  Rape in humour, especially gendered humour about what men and women are like, normalises violence and rape along with men being poor cooks and women being obsessed by footwear. If it's a joke, then it doesn't count as a crime, it couldn't be too bad. Most people who tell rape jokes are not rapists, but we need to be aware that rapists, as well as victims, might be in the room. And as I've said before on numerous occasions, you need to consider who you might be hurting and who you might be comforting with a joke. 

    Most people, including the vast majority of men, do not commit rape. Without needing a discussion, we all understand the absolute basics of consent. Many of us have made small mistakes, misread signals, make a fool of ourselves, even made someone else feel a little uncomfortable and culture often plays a part in that - like the character who thinks all straight sex concludes with the man coming on someone's face. Rape is not like that. It is not a misunderstanding of a situation. But rapists, however, tell us it is like that and, because we're decent and inclined to believe the best of others, we sometimes get sucked in.

    Alyssa Royse says "...we're all accomplices in making women's bodies and sexuality a prize and something to which some men feel entitled".  I don't think that's true. But we are all part of a culture which allows a rapist to tell his friends about his dreadful confusion, and to receive empathy and reassurance in return.

    The final word to the great Cliff Pervocracy;
    "So when you hear all the totally plausible ways it could have been you, realize: nope, probably couldn't have been. Most people don't struggle not to commit rape. Most people don't have trouble understanding sexual refusal. The vast majority of people go through drunken blunders and miscommunication and bad breakups without committing or being accused of rape, just as the vast majority of people don't have trouble restraining themselves from torture or murder.  
    And forget the numbers for a second. If you, personally, make a commitment to never have sex without unambiguous consent, your odds of being a not-rapist are 100%. It can't "happen to you" if you decide not to do it."

    * My copy is in a box, in an attic, two hundred miles away. So there's a small chance I'm remembering the wrong book or it wasn't quite as I describe in some way.

    ** Except possibly New Zealand.  Everyone I've come across from New Zealand is lovely. They produced the classic movie Tongan Ninja, the great band Flight of the Concords, everything looks like Middle Earth and they have those funky green endangered owls that tried to mate with Mark Carwardine. If it wasn't so far away from everything, I'd move there!

    *** It's not an irrelevant point that all the theories of interbreeding asked the question, "Why would human men decide to have sex with Neanderthal females?" and most of them relied upon human masculine sexual aggression. This is the nature of our cultural imagination.