By JON ROBINSON
Every day there is at least one story in the news about someone – a corporate executive, a media star, or a priest – misusing their position for sex. I think there is an underlying problem: our thinking muddles together sex and power.
This is a problem in human society, not just in the U.S. Confusing and entangling sex and power is an underlying cause of misdeeds from sexual harassment to rape.
Sex is a necessity, for fun in life as well as reproduction. If the good lord made anything better, she kept it for herself.
The most enjoyable sex is mutually enjoyed.. The measure of good sex is how much happiness you give to the other person. That relationship is reciprocal, of course. Your sex partner’s pleasure gives you pleasure. That’s positive feedback.
Power is a necessity for human civilization.. Without power, we humans would still be living in caves, freezing in the winter, and fleeing larger predators.
We need to distinguish two kinds of power. There is creative power, the ability to make something or to do something. This can range from the ability to build a fire on a cold night to building a skyscraper. The power can be very ancient or modern. It can require cooperation or not. We can create a beautiful oil painting or graffiti or a park. Creative power can be shared, or taught, and its fruits can be shared. In contrast, there is power over someone else, domination.
But the power of domination is not essential for civilization. It can destroy civilization, as well as relationships. Creative power helps bring healing; domination brings destruction.
It is true that creative power can involve domination. People, or at least trees, are likely to be uprooted to make way for a skyscraper. But we still need two different words to keep them separate in our thinking.
Sex offenses, such as rape and sexual harassment, generally involve the entanglement of sex and power. The rapist is motivated more by a desire to wield power than by a desire for sensual pleasure.
What sensual pleasure comes from sexual harassment? Getting pleasure simply by exercising dominance is a perversion of the joy of a relationship. Child molesters are a perfect example of sex perverted by a lust for power. Child molesters are expressing a need for domination, not a need for sensual pleasure. This analysis in no way diminishes or justifies sex offenses. It might provide some insight into curing the underlying mental health problems, and possibly preventing recidivism.
Here is another consequence of the muddling of sex and power, which is generally legal and socially acceptable. Younger sex partners, younger by decades, are commonly supposed to be more desirable. Why do we assume that youth contributes more to good sex than experience? A strange aspect of this assumption is the supposed glory in introducing a young women to sexual intercourse for her first time. (An example of this attitude is found in a verse from the widely known Mexican song, Chile Verde: “The mule I used to ride is now being ridden by my friend. But I don’t care – I broke her in.”) Again, this reflects domination based on greater experience, and has little to do with the shared pleasures of sex.
Bullying, with or without sex, is a misuse of power. It is domination, a lust for domination. It is not a creative use of power, and not shareable.
Those who seek or use power for domination should be opposed. Those who use it to coerce sex should have their power taken away, by their church or other organization, and possibly be prosecuted. But that is not enough.
We need a new, different word for one of the kinds of power. Changing the language takes years of effort. Consider how hard we have worked to create the word ‘chairperson.’ Our language should separate ‘creative power’ and shareable power from domination. This change in language seems necessary to extirpate sexual harassment, sexual oppression, and bullying from normal human society. The goal is a society in which rape is rare, and child molestation is as rare as cannibalism.
Instead of a new word, we can just insist on using the word ‘domination’ for power over people, abusive power. Such a major change in our language implies a change in human society. (Obviously, this language issue is not peculiar to any one language.)
We would use the word ‘domination’ for power over others that is non-creative, a malignancy, and inherently hierarchical. Domination also encourages abusive sex.
The word ‘power’ would be reserved for power that is creative, shareable, or offers a gift to others. Power would become a positive force. Quantitative differences in power will happen. But to avoid hierarchy, differences should be consensual or at least electoral. They must be transparent and accountable.
Maybe I am supporting anarchism, which, as you probably know, does not advocate chaos or reject order. Simply put, anarchism opposes hierarchy.
Awareness that power should be creative and shareable not only benefits society. It facilitates a good sex life, replete with mutual enjoyment.
Jon Robison is a TMC member and long-time peace and social justice activist.
(TMC newspaper VOL. 48 No.8 October 2018. All rights reserved)