I stood in front of the bathroom mirror running my hands over the marks he’d left on me. Little nibbles and scratches, like sexual graffiti on my skin. Flashes of his flesh surged through my mind and I smiled as I fantasized about what we could do the next time.
Humans are not prairie voles. We are not guinea pigs or mice. We’re humans.
Pop science loves to trot out research on rodents to confirm or challenge behavioral assumptions. But what the writers often miss is that our behaviors are shaped by far more than food, fights, flights and fucking. Humans are highly complex social primates and, because of this, our responses to the world can be difficult to explain with simple biology or neurotransmitters.
Yesterday I did a take down of the myth of the sexually aggressive male using science. Now I want to share some stories as further proof that we’re buying into a harmful lie.
In my teen years I regarded romance as something created by men to convince women to have sex with them. My very few unsatisfying sexual experiences combined with a rabidly sex-negative culture reinforced my viewpoint that sex was solely a man’s prerogative.
The tired trope of aggressive male sexuality is a pervasive one. The story goes like this: because men are full of testosterone and sperm as well as unhindered by the consequence of pregnancy, their sexuality is naturally brutish and promiscuous. Testosterone fuels aggression, billions of sperm want hundreds of outlets and nature failed to offset these desires with physical dangers associated with reproduction.
The compliment to this heterocentric sex story is that women, with their limited eggs, lack of testosterone and pregnancy burden are naturally chaste and self protective. Any sexual adventurousness or licentiousness is only done to please men and keep them around so they will help with the child rearing.
Despite pervasive public images depicting men as violent, sex-crazed, idiotic, irresponsible louts, I can never believe men are somehow inherently bad.
I’ve met too many good ones.
Not just friends, family members, lovers and boyfriends. Perfect strangers who could have done any number of unspeakable things to me if they wished. Yet the overwhelming majority of men showed me nothing but charitable kindness.
I started traveling through North America when other kids my age were wrapped up tight in comfy but suffocating blankets of homework and high school drama. With no money and no job I made big tracks in big rig trucks. For two years I spent time in the male-dominated world of long-haul trucking, learning as much about CB radios and swearing as I did about the basic decency of most men.
Out of hundreds of rides, the overwhelming majority talked to me about their lives, their families, what they had seen in the world and swapped some really good dirty jokes and limericks. Often they bought me food or gave me an extra pair of socks when the weather began to turn cold. One guy was hauling a shipment of canned foods and gave me several cans of Dinty Moore Beef Stew from his haul when we parted.
Outside of the truckers, other men I met on my travels showed similar hospitality. Men invited me into their homes with no other motive than to provide me shelter and have some company around. My collection of bawdy jokes and one-liners began to come in handy.
So, for me, the fact that so many perpetrators of sexual and physical violence are men is an uncomfortable truth. But I don’t think sexual and physical violence is so much urged by biology as it is encouraged by gender perceptions. The few men who tried to hurt me were always from geographical areas where the population adhered to traditional mandates of gender, an interpretation I’ve found to be backed by research. (This is only one study, but if you wish to see more studies about masculine gender ideology and behaviors, I will be happy to provide others.)
What I find more amazing is that, in a culture that still echoes misogynistic sentiments, the majority of men I have known are good men. They’ve heard the same messages but through experience (and maybe that simple human desire to be a good person) they make the decision to act decently towards others.
I dedicate this post to all the good men in my life, past, present and future. Please know how much I adore you.
Last week I went to Santa Cruz to see “The Lost Boys” on the beach boardwalk. That campy horror flick is a classic from my childhood and it looked a little different this time around.
The movie is still brilliant, of course, but a line in the film bugged me to no end. Gramps is talking to his freshly-divorced daughter and remarks “Lucy, you’re the only woman I ever knew that didn’t improve her situation by getting divorced.”
There is a strange social myth that women are pulling a fast one with divorce and leaving men in the poor-house. On the radio this morning I heard women quipping about alimony payments of the obscenely wealthy as if this is the norm for everyone else. It’s not.
Overall, women experience a 27% decline in standard of living while men experience a 10% increase after divorce. The big reason? Women taking on more domestic and primary caretaking work than men. You can’t really put “MOM” on your resumé.
The subject is complicated and I want to read more about it, but my finances are a big barrier right now. I can’t justify spending money on academic journal article access right now.
If you would like to read more about this subject, check out the following articles:
In case you haven’t heard, Israel developed a male birth control pill. The drug, which works by stripping protein from sperm that is necessary for conception, is about to go into clinical trials. Aside from being the first male oral contraceptive, this is also the first non-hormonal oral contraceptive. Awesome.
But the awesomeness is dampened by blatant sexism from men’s female partners. A snip from the Telegraph article:
A big drawback against men being in control of fertility is the fear they would forget to take a pill.
Polls have repeatedly shown wives and partners do not trust their men to remember to pop a pill every day.
But now that problem has been solved. The new pill can be taken either once a month or once every three months.
Professor Breitbart said: “I think most women would trust their man to remember once a month or once a quarter.”
So, women never forget to take their birth control pills since we are paragons of domestic and sexual responsibility? Spare me.
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Every last one was a male-centric plot line. Nearly every last one is an action movie. All of them were directed by men, produced by men and starring men. Women are a minority behind and in front of the cameras. (For insight as to why, read this Salon’s roundtable with 10 powerful Hollywood women).
So what’s the real dirt on women and power in this country? Gender equality isn’t as equal as this guy is shouting about. Yes, women are making gains in education but at a time when educational systems are crumbling. Yes, women make up 52% of the workforce but in low paying positions. In the Forbes top ten richest there are two women from the Walton Family (Wal-Mart) but their wealth was inherited.
Really, the U.S. ain’t doing so hot with gender equality. According to the World Economic Forum, the U.S. ranks #31 out of 115 for equality. Read the WEF report here, relevant snip below:
The Global Gender Gap Report measures the size of the gender inequality gap in four critical areas:
Economic participation and opportunity – outcomes on salaries, participation levels and access to high-skilled employment
Educational attainment – outcomes on access to basic and higher level education
Political empowerment – outcomes on representation in decision-making structures
Health and survival – outcomes on life expectancy and sex ratio
The Index’s scores can be interpreted as the percentage of the gap that has been closed between women and men.
This was out of 115 countries. When I read about women’s lives in other parts of the world, I really want to cry. Rape, honor killings, systematic abuses, minimal autonomy. Horrifying. We so often forget that in our own country, women have only really been making gains over the last century. Women around the globe need a leg up after centuries of unequal treatment. Please read this article in the New York Times about women’s rights around the world.
So to the haters out there: women’s rights are still an issue. We’re making progress, but not enough. I struggle to understand why people (usually men) direct such vitriol at women trying to succeed in life.
What boggles my mind even further is that Matthew Fitzgerald’s writings center around women as shrewd manipulators using sex as bait. I read his book’s Amazon reviews to get a feel for his audience and what I saw…well, it’s disturbing to think he’s right about any people in the world. But what he says resonates with some. In half of the reviews people exclaim “OMG! Women are totally like that!” but the only women I’ve seen use their bodies for financial gain were sex workers. So, women of the world using sex for manipulation: stop lying. Go ahead and be a sex worker. It’s OK. Just be upfront and tell the guy you’re fucknig him for rent money or a new purse.
And to the guys complaining/writing about those women: stop dating them. There are plenty of women that enjoy their financial freedom. There are also women that enjoy sex for its own sake.
At the heart of his writing, and much of the anti-feminist parading as anti-misandrist writing, is a very true frustration.
Are Equality Policies Rooted in Sexist Thought?
“The modern man walks around on eggshells, afraid of saying the “wrong thing,” scared of showing his natural sexual interest to a woman, scared of being scorned, humiliated, or even fired — scared of his own true self.”
Exaggeration (and heteronormative) but a phenomenon I see with some men of my generation. They’re…. Peter Pans? No. Hesitant is a better word. Prone to inertia. And I think the writer is on to something when he points out the role of politically correct speech and sexual harassment charges.
Before you get all riled up: sexual harassment is serious. Anyone in a position of power manipulating an underling sexually deserves punishment. But the way we lay out the law sometimes hinders equality and political correctness can be an ineffective solution.
I am thankful to have laws that prevent my higher-ups from sexually harassing or coercing me. But I resent a law on the books stopping someone from calling me “babe” or “chick”. I’m a grown woman and I should be able to easily say “Stop it”. If I have to, take the matter to a higher-up and keep pursuing it. There is something creepily paternalistic about some of the sexual harassment guidelines, particularly when schools use suspension as a behavioral intervention for inappropriate touching. I am also frustrated with a world that lumps flirting with sexual harassment, that pegs any sexual move from a guy as predatory and aggressive. Sexism underlies these policies. We assume men to be sexually aggressive and women always dislike sexual attention and need outside intervention. The regulations are necessary but we need to look at ineffective and harmful aspects of these policies, lest our solutions create more problems than answers.
Which leads me to an uncomfortable question, still unresolved in my own mind: when we create policies to spur equality through encouraging preferential treatment for disadvantaged groups, should those policies only be short term? By carving them in stone will we, over time and gains in equality, have laws with unequal treatment? And are we sending the message that women need this protection permanently? We certainly need to give a leg up to historically oppressed and disadvantaged people but at what point can we resume an even playing field? Do permanent laws of preferential treatment hurt in the long-term and uphold racist and sexist ideals?
The Blame Game
Whatever the answers to the above questions, one thing is certain: we cannot sit and point fingers at other groups or nebulous ideologies. Yes, it’s comforting name our monsters but ultimately misleading. Men are not at fault for all the world’s problems. Women are not at fault for the current masculinity crisis and anxieties. Feminism (whatever you think that is) has not ruined gender relations. Agitated, yes, but that needed to happen. The old gender order wasn’t working.
But when we agitate a cultural bedrock like gender roles we need to think critically about how to reconstruct gender relations in society. Some would say eradicate gender, but I disagree. You will find cultures with two, three, four, five or six genders but you will not find gender-less socieites. So while I feel so sad when I see inflammatory, gender-stereotyped, sexist analysis that plays the blame game, I know it’s a mistake to write it off wholesale. Just because someone else won’t engage in critical thought (or provide any evidence to back their claims) doesn’t mean the frustration isn’t valid.
The problem is not feminism or women withholding sex. It’s that we need a new construction of masculinities, alongside femininities, that deal with harmful aspects of male gender while encouraging men to shine and succeed in life. We need to deal with the sexist man-bashers of every gender. We need to deal with restrictive gender roles in general because the times, they’re a-changin’.
I wanted to write about orgasms today. I hoped to finally post the orgasm advice article that’s been sitting in my post queue for two weeks. But the net is aflutter with more pressing things than pleasurable chemically induced sensations. (Still want to read about orgasms? OK, here you go.)