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Inherent Female Submission Follies: Ogi Ogas Is Full Of Shit

April 12, 2011

He’s full of shit is a particular way:  he’s claiming simple, clear answers to questions, where the research is wide open and  every answer is contested, and much of what he says he doesn’t back up at all and a lot of that he probably couldn’t with a dozen research assistants and six weeks to do it, because the science isn’t there.  But that’s not surprising, for reasons I’ll return to.

In case you’re feeling like you missed the memo, Jill has an excellent debunking of a bunch of half-assed evo-psych claptrap, here. I’ll repeat below in longer form what I said on the comment thread, because I already wrote it and I have a lot to do.

Ogas’s cherry-picking starts right up front. By the second paragraph, he’s already claiming that the Sleeping Beauty novels support his thesis, when in fact there are men and women both topping and bottoming throughout the three-book series. There is, in fact, a good deal of female dominant/male submissive erotica and porn.  I don’t always like it, I often feel it doesn’t represent me, many male bottoms and female tops I know feel that way too, etc., etc.  But it exists.  Which tells us … very little.

There’s a fundamental problem with using a data-set drawn largely from fiction: it’s fiction! And it’s not necessarily representative. If 80% of fanfic is written by 5% of fans, does it overrepresent the interests of those 5%? Who knows! We don’t know how the part relates to the whole, because it’s not representative! Same thing with romance novels and porn. Some people may be underserved, others overserved.  I can throw out a factoid to illustrate:  women have about 27% of the speaking roles in Hollywood movies.  (I can back that up.  See p. 41.)  How does this reflect the inherent differences between women and men in conversation?  Do man do 85% of the talking?  Do women prefer to sit quietly?  If not, then why would it be this way?  Is that because that’s how writers prefer it, or because directors and producers intervene or put pressure on the writers?  Do audiences prefer that?  Or do they just lack alternatives?  Does the success of Tarantino, who has comparatively talky parts for women (see Deathproof and Kill Bill, where I believe the majority of dialogue is from female characters) indicate that audiences actually prefer more dialogue equality? 

The answer is “who the hell knows?”  We can make some limited claims about the fact that a piece of work is produced, and that it is consumed, but there are a lot of things that intermediate, like what the money people in say publishing or filmmaking are receptive to, what advertisers will accept and what ratings boards or the government might have a problem with that distort the connections between producer and audience such that we can’t really tell what an audience likes from what it consumes without first accounting for what’s available to it.

Ogas is smart enough to recognize that he has to deal with the existence of  men who bottom or submit.  So he makes an empirical claim about me (as I’m one of those men):

But here’s the intriguing part. In humans, the hormonal vagaries of prenatal development appear to cause a substantial portion of men to be born with active submissive circuitry. These men find sexual submission as arousing–or, quite often, far more arousing–than sexual dominance. Such submission-wired men are fans of the equally popular, inventive, and varied genres of male submissive erotica, such as femdom porn, transformation fiction, golden showers, CBT (penis and testicle torture), and CFNM (clothed female naked men).

Active submissive circuitry!  That sounds scienc-y, like something you could see on a scan!  In conversations, what I often say to things like this is, “that’s quite an empirical claim you’ve got there!”  Which is a more polite way of saying, “you can’t possibly back that up and it’s probably bullshit.”  This is their attempt to keep the number of bottom-leaning kinky men from invalidating their stupid theory. Ogas makes a dramatic claim: that we are how we are because of prenatal hormones. He can’t prove that. They assume it because it’s the conclusion they can most easily deal with. In fact, research has so far come up with pretty much a goose-egg in trying to determine the etiology of BDSM interest in humans. Folks’ favorite pop-psych theories have not really panned out.  Not much correlation to childhood physical discipline, and while sexual abuse survivors are overrepresented among kinksters, they’re still a minority of kinky people. Genetics as etiology is pure speculation; entirely untested.  Everything researched so far admits of too many exceptions to give rise to one unified theory of why we are the way we are.

There are prenatal and post-natal hormone rushes that make long-term differences in people’s brains.  The science of determining basic sex dimorphism is still new, and I recomment Lise Eliot’s Pink Brain Blue Brain for a review of the research (you can watch her at length here).  The idea that sexual orientation is related to these endocrinological effects is tantalizing but still developing.  The idea that our kinks also are influenced in this way is also very interesting.  It’s a conjecture.  I know of no peer-reviewed study that draws that correlation.  (It’s suspect in any event to work from kinky adults and assume that any brain difference is causal and dates from the prenatal or neonatal period, because we don’t really know how plastic the brain is.  I await a longitudinal study that identifies the brain chemistry or anatomy differences in babies and finds that they predict people’s kinks when those people are thirty.  But AFAIK that study hasn’t started, so we have about thirty years to wait.)

Ogas doesn’t delve into any of this complexity.  He merely asserts causation without backing it up.  That’s because he’s full of shit and can’t back it up.  My bullshit detector works best when authors talk about areas I know well, and when Ogi Ogas proposes a cause for men’s interest in bottoming or submission … well, I know the terrain, and so I know he’s full of shit, making offhand claims about something that’s completely unresolved. He didn’t say “promising research suggests …” which might indicate a study I have not read yet showing brain differences in men who bottom (and given the people I know I probably would have heard about it and had someone pull it from Medline for me). He said he has the answer and it’s settled. That’s bullshit.

I said at the top that I’m not surprised that Ogas is full of shit.  I’m not surprised because he already has a reputation in at least some communities as a sketchball.  Boston University, where he got his PhD, had to tell him to stop using his BU email and webpage to do research on the fanfic community, because it could create the impression that he had IRB backing for his research, when he was totally unaffiliated with the school and hadn’t gone through any IRB.  The whole thing was a fiasco, apparently recorded and well-known to fandom: SurveyFail.  All he was doing research for was a book, that he’s making money off.  And we all know that caveman conclusions about men and women sell very well.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Schala permalink
    April 19, 2011 9:55 am

    “It’s suspect in any event to work from kinky adults and assume that any brain difference is causal and dates from the prenatal or neonatal period, because we don’t really know how plastic the brain is. ”

    We know hormones affect certain parts, and that certain parts, even if they only reach maturity in adulthood, had a predetermined path of development – based on pre-birth factor (we assume prenatal hormones).

    This is, for example, the case of the BSTc, the differentiating part of the brain in transsexual adults (in children it’s undifferentiated – and it doesn’t care what kind of puberty you go through -> the body would get testosterone or estrogen in mega doses that it wouldn’t change the outcome).

    This part will tell you about sex identity, it seems it does little else. Nothing to do with your visual-spatial abilities, or your verbal ones.

    They haven’t found a similar part for submission yet (or looked for it, I bet). It’s not clear cut to start with, what would qualify as a “submissive brain part” or not, because the definition of submission itself is foggy.

    Some people who write erotica fiction like femdom, seem to have as a concept that male submission is doormat level, or not submission at all. No nuance like there is in the BDSM concept of female submission.

    • April 19, 2011 10:13 am

      The construction and policing of male bottoms is one of Maymay’s major issues — he runs Male Submission Art and the associated blog and twitter feed, and is a friend of mine. I agree that male bottoms have don’t get represented well and often don’t get any respect, in or out of the scene. I’ll be writing on that soon.

      • April 20, 2011 2:24 am

        I agree that male bottoms have don’t get represented well and often don’t get any respect, in or out of the scene. I’ll be writing on that soon.

        Ooh, really, Thomas? Color me interested. :)

Trackbacks

  1. Despite Ogi Ogas, Why Feminism and Submission Are Great Bedfellows « Sex Positive Activism
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  4. Despite Ogi Ogas, Why Feminism and Submission Are Great Bedfellows | Queer & Now

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