"A Welcomed Rape:" Sex And Ayn RandS

"He moved one hand, took her two wrists and pinned them behind her, under his arm, wrenching her shoulder blades." So goes one of Ayn Rand's sex scenes — are young objectivists learning to condone rape?

In her fascinating post on the topic, the Washington City Paper's Amanda Hess quotes the following passage from The Fountainhead:

She tried to tear herself away from him. The effort broke against his arms that had not felt it. Her fists beat against his shoulders, against his face. He moved one hand, took her two wrists and pinned them behind her, under his arm, wrenching her shoulder blades.…She fell back against the dressing table, she stood crouching, her hands clasping the edge behind her, her eyes wide, colorless, shapeless in terror. He was laughing. There was the movement of laughter on his face, but no sound.…Then he approached. He lifted her without effort. She let her teeth sink into his hand and felt blood on the tip of her tongue. He pulled her head back and he forced her mouth open against his.

What's interesting here isn't the writing — leaden, as was Rand's wont — but the reactions of some of the young people who read it and other works by Rand. Hess talks to Angela Huynh, now 24, who read The Fountainhead at 19. She says,

Yes, there are elements of nonconsensual sex in that scene, but I was aware of Dominique's feelings towards Roark and to me, she internally agreed to it. I guess in the way that a lot of females may enjoy ‘rough' sex and want domination behind closed doors.

Huynh's concept of "internal agreement" jibes with how many Randians view the scene. Hess writes that Rand herself once said, "If it was rape, it was rape by engraved invitation." And Joshua Zader, founder of objectivist social network and dating site the Atlasphere (which we wrote about in 2008), says,

It was a welcomed rape is what it was. It was a rape where both people wanted that sort of contact.…Now, one hopes that not too many people would actually go out and treat a woman that way.

Of course, "welcomed rape" and "rape by invitation" are both contradictions in terms, but it's worth asking whether Rand's books inculcate teens with a view of sexuality based on violent male domination. Kate, now a 22-year-old college student and ex-Randian, says,

[I]t's a little disconcerting that at 12, 13 years old, I was stamping myself with this complete and total interest in submission, when I didn't have any experience with sex at all. It's an interesting seed to plant in a teenager's mind that that's how sex operates.

Kate says she now dislikes Rand's philosophy and those who believe in it — but that she might return to the books "just purely for the pornographic effect." And 24-year-old Angela Huynh felt lasting effects from The Fountainhead:

It changed the way I viewed men. The way they are supposed to be. Their motivations. It also made me look for raw dynamics when it comes to relationships.

Everything we read at an early age affects us, and sexual material probably doubly so, and it's no surprise that Rand's words have stuck with their readers well into adulthood. The question is, are their effects damaging? If Randians really believe there's such a thing as "welcomed rape," the answer is obvious. But what if The Fountainhead merely "plants a seed" in readers' minds, much as any other book might? Should we worry if that seed is a rape fantasy?

On the one hand, many men and women do fantasize about violent sex without acting or seeking it out — and those in the BDSM community can channel an appetite for dominance and submission into consensual sex. Just because you dream about having your wrists pinned behind your back doesn't make you a rape apologist. On the other hand, what's a little sad about the sex scene above is how run-of-the-mill it is. So many of the sexual narratives teens are offered — on TV, in movies, in popular books, in (mainstream) porn — involve either implicit or explicit male domination. Stories of female domination, of enthusiastic consent, of anything outside the male-aggressor-female-capitulator paradigm, are way less likely to plant their "seeds" in our nascent sexualities because they're just so much rarer. I wouldn't suggest anyone not read Ayn Rand — for one thing, that's the number one way to make something more attractive — but I do wish the stories available to kids who are curious about sex were a little more various. And better written.

Internal Affairs: How Ayn Rand Followers Rationalize "Welcomed" Rape [Washington City Paper Sexist Blog]