In this Slate.com article
, Dahlia Lithwick looks at legal beagle and philosopher Martha Nussbaum’s
book From Disgust to Humanity
, about the status of gays in America – where the legal system interacts with (thankfully changing) public opinion.
The “language of disgust” within the social and political arguments struck me as related to the current and historic state of heterosexual norms and assumptions.
Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council warned Larry King if gay soldiers could serve in the military, “we might have to return to the draft” because other soldiers would refuse to serve. Perkins noted that he had showered together with 80 other men during his own time in the military, and he’d feel threatened by a gay man showering there with him.
Is it possible that the fear associated with gay marriage and gays in the military taps into the presumption that men are sexually aggressive and that our society permits this aggression in heterosexual interactions because hey, women get raped? As soon as the mentality that presupposes that is faced with the idea of gay men, possibly at a physical advantage over the fearful straight (?) man/men around them, would have social permission to enact the same sort of aggressive sexual posture, they are put in the same position of women in society.
Are all men rapists? Of course not, but women have to entertain the possibility for their own safety. Creating legal and social permissiveness for homosexuality upsets a sexual power balance that everyone was sort of okay with, since men weren’t ever presupposed to be victims to the same extent that women are.
As she [Nussbaum] traces the genesis of the fear and disgust American feel toward homosexuals, she describes what she calls “projective disgust”—the magical thinking that allows us to believe that things that disgust us (i.e., male homosexuality) are contagious and that heterosexual sex is somehow better and less messy than it really is. So the reason male (as opposed to female) homosexual sex is ultimately experienced as so revolting and so terrifying, Nussbaum contends, is that it is viscerally threatening; it raises the possibility of being penetrated and violated. The very “gaze of a homosexual male is seen as contaminating because it says ‘you can be penetrated.’ “
There are those who believe that all men, if they were assured of there being no negative repercussions, would rape. In this case, then, the same people would suppose that gay men would, again, assuming an absence of punishment or social stigma, do the same. Actions to prevent gay marriage or gays in the military aren’t about the ‘sanctity’ of marriage or military coherance, it’s about maintaining social and legal strictures against the kind of freedom to rape than straight men currently have.
Is it legal? No. But are they going to get caught? Probably not – the woman will probably not report it (60% of rapes are not reported to the police), if she does, her wardrobe and sexual history will be used against her, and punishment is usually pretty meager (e.g. On campus, where serial rapists are allowed to continue their studies and face no legal reprisals).
Imagine if this same predatory assumption and social liberty were applied to gay men. Men might be raped. Can’t have that, now, can we? We might have to start taking rape a little more seriously as a crime against a person, rather than some hysterical women who were probably asking for it in the first place.
Obviously I don’t think homosexual men are predatory rapists, nor do I think there is any justification for inhibiting their liberty to work, live, marry, or serve in the military if they so choose.
My point is that in taking apart the fear and disgust Nussbaum talks about, we can see the sexism underlying the homophobia. And perhaps in drawing attention to it, we can start to treat the threat of “penetration” as universal, rather than a woman’s problem.