Men talking up “sex distribution” still assume women are their property

Good sex is dependent on the consent of another person. And therefore it is not a right.

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Across the world, a community of people are shunned for their lack of success with the opposite sex.

On online forums, these people gather together and earnestly discuss what is wrong with them. They swap tips, analyse conversations, and bemoan their inability to form relationships.

Offline, magazines encourage the belief that the singleton needs to change in order to have sexual success. Newspapers write in big bold print that not being in a relationship is unhealthy. There won’t be any babies – which will have a knock-on effect on the economy. It’s a social problem caused by a significant individual failing.

Well, never fear because some bright sparks have a plan. It’s called a sex redistribution programme and it’s really quite simple. Those struggling to find a willing partner to have sex with them will be offered a hot bloke who can provide these lonely women with their god-given right to sexual contact…oh wait, sorry, did I get this wrong?

OK, then how about a sex robot? Preferably modelled on Tom Hiddleston. Not your type? How about Tom Hardy? Idris Elba? No?

I’m joking of course. No one is suggesting that we single ladies (disclaimer: I am one) should be gifted men to have sex and procreate with.

Yet in the wake of the Toronto attack, in which a van driver jumped the curb and crashed into a group of people, leaving 10 dead, the words “sex redistribution” have been used with alarming regularity. The idea that men might simply have a right to sex – and providing men with sex will reduce male violence – has reared its rather aggressive head.

To which I say: guys. It’s called your right hand and your imagination. To misquote a famous song lyric, relax and do it.

The latest writing on sex redistribution comes from Ross Douthat in his New York Times op-ed. While not directly advocating that men have a right to sex, he argues that the progression of society over the past 30-50 years is leading us to a point where that right will soon exist.

In his piece, Douthat cites who he calls the “brilliant weirdo” Robin Hanson. Following the Toronto attack, Hanson argued that if a liberal society believes we should have fair distribution of property and wealth, why not sex too? Hanson wrote that “one might plausibly argue that those with much less access to sex suffer to a similar degree as those with low income.”

Well, Ross and Robin, I’ll tell you why redistributing sex is different to sharing the wealth.

First – because whenever we talk about who has a right to sex, we are never talking about a woman’s right to earth-moving or even just nicely enjoyable orgasms. No one is proposing my above scenario of hot, skilled men being distributed to single women, even when it is single women who arguably face the most stigma in current society (he’s a wild bachelor, she’s a lonely spinster). Instead, we are talking about using women’s bodies to placate angry men.

Secondly – and I really can’t emphasise this enough – because women are not property. Nor are we wealth.

I know this is confusing to some men. After all, many have been brought up in a world where women’s bodies are casually displayed on shop shelves next to sweets and crisps. They have grown up around safety-campaigns that compare rape victims to unlocked windows and open wallets. They have been fed a diet of jokes that state “85 per cent of rape cases go unreported. That seems to be fairly good odds” and live near high streets where you can pay to access women’s bodies.

No wonder some men think sex is their right. Which brings me to sex robots.

Douthat isn’t the first person to suggest that sex robots could be part of a technological revolution that will provide “at least some form of redress for the many people that [sexual] progress has obviously left behind”.

But the problem here is that sex robots do not address the “unhappiness of incels" (he says unhappiness, I say sexism). These men aren’t unhappy because they don’t have sex – they’re angry because they can’t control women. A robot won’t change that.

Sex robots do nothing to challenge the sense of angry male entitlement that drives this group’s violent misogyny. If anything, the violence done to existing sex robot models suggest that these pliant, uncomplaining fembots simply normalise aggression. Rather than providing an outlet for violent men, they offer a chance to practise.

As long as we seek to change the violent attitudes of some men via sex robots or redistribution, we will fail. Why? Because we will still be perpetuating the message that men have a right to sexual contact. We will be validating their anger at women who don’t have sex with them. Rather than challenging these men by pointing out how women are human beings with a right to say no, these arguments instead seek to placate them by providing a “sexual outlet”.

The men’s anger at non-compliant women remains. The violent sexual entitlement is entrenched – and so are the accompanying misogynistic attitudes.

We have to fight back against any attempts – including sex robots – to normalise male entitlement and instead challenge the idea that anyone has a right to sex. Because sex is lovely and fun and gorgeous and intimate and all good things. But good sex is dependent on the consent of another person. And therefore it is not a right.

Sian Norris is a writer and journalist. She is the Founder and Director of the Bristol Women's Literature Festival. She is currently the Ben Pimlott writer-in-residence at Birkbeck University's politics department.