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Shorter NYTimes: Girl-parts are weird, girl-brains are weirder

January 27, 2009

“What Do Women Want?: A new generation of postfeminist sexologists is trying to discover what ignites female desire.”

In the writer’s defense, you usually don’t write your own headers or sub-heads, so I can’t really blame him for the “postfeminist” thing. I also can’t blame him for the unfortunate graphic, which seems to suggest that when women really want it, they breathe smoke from their severed heads.

I can, however, blame him for portraying the female sexologists as overly sexual, and for mentioning the fact that socialization influences biology without really seeming to understand or explore it. For example:

Thinking not of the search for chemical aphrodisiacs but of her own quest for comprehension, Chivers said that she hopes her research and thinking will eventually have some benefit for women’s sexuality. “I wanted everybody to have great sex,” she told me, recalling one of her reasons for choosing her career, and laughing as she did when she recounted the lessons she once gave on the position of the clitoris. But mostly it’s the aim of understanding in itself that compels her. For the discord, in women, between the body and the mind, she has deliberated over all sorts of explanations, the simplest being anatomy. The penis is external, its reactions more readily perceived and pressing upon consciousness. Women might more likely have grown up, for reasons of both bodily architecture and culture — and here was culture again, undercutting clarity — with a dimmer awareness of the erotic messages of their genitals. Chivers said she has considered, too, research suggesting that men are better able than women to perceive increases in heart rate at moments of heightened stress and that men may rely more on such physiological signals to define their emotional states, while women depend more on situational cues. So there are hints, she told me, that the disparity between the objective and the subjective might exist, for women, in areas other than sex. And this disconnection, according to yet another study she mentioned, is accentuated in women with acutely negative feelings about their own bodies.

How about the fact that women grow up in a society that is centered on men’s experiences and lives? That the female body is used as a representation of sex itself, whereas (hetero) men’s experiences and understandings of sex dominate our cultural narrative? To go back to an old feminist gem, men watch; women watch themselves being watched.

And women’s bodies are positioned as public property. Whether it’s ongoing political battles about what we can and can’t do with our reproductive systems or a cultural religious/virginity narrative that places female sexuality as a bartering chip between male “protectors” or not being able to walk down the damn street without a reminder that we don’t have the same right to public space as men do, to be female is to be told, “Your body is not yours.”

Plus there’s the fact that female bodies are marked as decorative, whereas male bodies are active. Men’s bodies do things — they represent strength, ability, power. Women’s bodies look like things — they represent sex, beauty, fertility.

Of course we feel disconnected from our bodies. Of course that impacts our sex lives.

But, nah — turns out we’re just narcissists:

A compact 51-year-old woman in a shirtdress, Meana explained the gender imbalance onstage in a way that complemented Chivers’s thinking. “The female body,” she said, “looks the same whether aroused or not. The male, without an erection, is announcing a lack of arousal. The female body always holds the promise, the suggestion of sex” — a suggestion that sends a charge through both men and women. And there was another way, Meana argued, by which the Cirque du Soleil’s offering of more female than male acrobats helped to rivet both genders in the crowd. She, even more than Chivers, emphasized the role of being desired — and of narcissism — in women’s desiring.


She pronounced, as well, “I consider myself a feminist.” Then she added, “But political correctness isn’t sexy at all.” For women, “being desired is the orgasm,” Meana said somewhat metaphorically — it is, in her vision, at once the thing craved and the spark of craving. About the dynamic at “Zumanity” between the audience and the acrobats, Meana said the women in the crowd gazed at the women onstage, excitedly imagining that their bodies were as desperately wanted as those of the performers.

Meana’s ideas have arisen from both laboratory and qualitative research. With her graduate student Amy Lykins, she published, in Archives of Sexual Behavior last year, a study of visual attention in heterosexual men and women. Wearing goggles that track eye movement, her subjects looked at pictures of heterosexual foreplay. The men stared far more at the females, their faces and bodies, than at the males. The women gazed equally at the two genders, their eyes drawn to the faces of the men and to the bodies of the women — to the facial expressions, perhaps, of men in states of wanting, and to the sexual allure embodied in the female figures.

Shocking, absolutely shocking, that when women are raised in a culture that equates the female body with sex itself, that positions the female body as an object of desire, and that emphasizes that being desired is the height of female achievement, women will see sex as a process primarily centered on male attraction to women, and will get off more on being wanted than on wanting.

Shocking, too, that when “naked chick” is cultural shorthand for “sex,” women will look at naked chicks and think “sex.”

It’s not narcissism. It’s a lifetime of experiencing the world secondarily, and seeing ourselves through male eyes; it’s the lack of agency and power that comes with being an object to be looked upon.

And then there’s the rape fantasy thing (trigger warning):

After our discussion of the alley encounter, we talked about erotic — as opposed to aversive ­— fantasies of rape. According to an analysis of relevant studies published last year in The Journal of Sex Research, an analysis that defines rape as involving “the use of physical force, threat of force, or incapacitation through, for example, sleep or intoxication, to coerce a woman into sexual activity against her will,” between one-third and more than one-half of women have entertained such fantasies, often during intercourse, with at least 1 in 10 women fantasizing about sexual assault at least once per month in a pleasurable way.

The appeal is, above all, paradoxical, Meana pointed out: rape means having no control, while fantasy is a domain manipulated by the self. She stressed the vast difference between the pleasures of the imagined and the terrors of the real. “I hate the term ‘rape fantasies,’ ” she went on. “They’re really fantasies of submission.” She spoke about the thrill of being wanted so much that the aggressor is willing to overpower, to take. “But ‘aggression,’ ‘dominance,’ I have to find better words. ‘Submission’ isn’t even a good word” — it didn’t reflect the woman’s imagining of an ultimately willing surrender.

Chivers, too, struggled over language about this subject. The topic arose because I had been drawn into her ceaseless puzzling, as could easily happen when we spent time together. I had been thinking about three ideas from our many talks: the power, for women, in being desired; the keen excitement stoked by descriptions of sex with strangers; and her positing of distinct systems of arousal and desire. This last concept seemed to confound a simpler truth, that women associate lubrication with being turned on. The idea of dual systems appeared, possibly, to be the product of an unscientific impulse, a wish to make comforting sense of the unsettling evidence of women’s arousal during rape and during depictions of sexual assault in the lab.

We spoke, then, about the way sexual fantasies strip away the prospect of repercussions, of physical or psychological harm, and allow for unencumbered excitement, about the way they offer, in this sense, a pure glimpse into desire, without meaning — especially in the case of sexual assault — that the actual experiences are wanted.

“It’s the wish to be beyond will, beyond thought,” Chivers said about rape fantasies. “To be all in the midbrain.”

Rape fantasies are always fraught feminist territory. There are people (and I used to be one of them) who basically argue that women feel enough guilt about sex, and feminist critiques or evaluations or even explorations of rape fantasies are inherently anti-feminist, because, come on, people get off on all kinds of things and we should just leave it alone; if some women like rape fantasies, let ’em like rape fantasies. And there are others (of whom I am not and never was one) who argue that rape fantasies are basically fucked up and shouldn’t be discussed because women don’t “really” have them.

So, first, this isn’t a critique of women who enjoy — or feel guilty about having — rape fantasies (or submission fantasies or ravishment fantasies or whatever we want to call them; in keeping consistent with the article and with feminist discourse surrounding them I’ll use the term “rape fantasy,” with the obvious caveat that the fantasies we’re talking about aren’t actually about any woman’s desire to be raped, and often involve total willingness on the part of the woman, making it not really rape). But like the rest of this post, my thoughts on rape fantasies are a critique of a dominant culture that stokes certain behavior in men and women, and that ultimately has a strong hand in shaping desire and our experience of sex.

Women are sexual objects. Unlike men, we aren’t taught to have the same actor mentality; that is, we aren’t sexual agents, and we don’t dictate the heteronormative sexual narrative in the same way that men do. Sex itself is constructed with women on the receptive end: Men penetrate, we’re penetrated. That isn’t just biology, it’s culture. It sounds ridiculous, but there are other ways that we could talk about and understand sex. I had a professor in college who suggested that maybe men don’t penetrate women, women envelope men. We all laughed, and I still think it sounds silly, but her point wasn’t lost on me — how we discuss and understand sex, and all the social and cultural baggage we throw onto it, influences what we believe to be hard, scientific, biological facts about how our bodies work and what our bodies do.

When we understand the female body as largely sexually passive and receptive and the male body as sexually active and aggressive, it’s no wonder that women eroticize sexual submission (and, to flip the story line, it’s no wonder the dominatrix is a pornographic and sexual staple — embarassingly literal images of transgression do tend to go hand in hand with the erotic). Add to that the fact that women as a class are socialized out of being sexually aggressive, or aggressive at all — that cultural norms demand from us modesty, people-pleasing, and selflessness. Add to that the fact that we’re told that men want to marry a virgin but fuck a whore; that we’d better come across as “nice girls,” but that men will pay more attention to us if we’re flashing our tits on Girls Gone Wild; that there’s some line between “sexy” and “too sexy,” between “hot” and “slutty,” but that’s for every dude to determine himself, so just try to keep up, sister. And add to that the fact that women who transgress social norms and who step over that always-shifting line are shamed as “sluts” or as “asking for it” or as “low-class.” Put all that together and, well, who can blame the girl whose fantasies are peppered with scenarios in which she gets to thoroughly enjoy sex without having to take on any of the baggage that comes with wanting it?

The problem, in other words, isn’t women who have rape fantasies. And rape fantasies are probably less indicative of some deep inner “truth” about female desire than they are of how our society constructs both sex and binary gender roles.

And sometimes Chivers talked as if the actual forest wasn’t visible at all, as if its complexities were an indication less of inherent intricacy than of societal efforts to regulate female eros, of cultural constraints that have left women’s lust dampened, distorted, inaccessible to understanding. “So many cultures have quite strict codes governing female sexuality,” she said. “If that sexuality is relatively passive, then why so many rules to control it? Why is it so frightening?” There was the implication, in her words, that she might never illuminate her subject because she could not even see it, that the data she and her colleagues collect might be deceptive, might represent only the creations of culture, and that her interpretations might be leading away from underlying truth. There was the intimation that, at its core, women’s sexuality might not be passive at all. There was the chance that the long history of fear might have buried the nature of women’s lust too deeply to unearth, to view.

It was possible to imagine, then, that a scientist blinded by staring at red lines on her computer screen, or blinded by peering at any accumulation of data — a scientist contemplating, in darkness, the paradoxes of female desire — would see just as well.

Perhaps, at its core, there is no universal “female sexuality,” and no deep, dark, paradoxical “truth” at the end of the tunnel. Maybe, if unfettered from cultural constraints, female desire would depend on the individual female in question.

Or maybe it would look like “male sexuality,” which, from what I can gather from largely male-produced TV shows, advertisements, movies, magazines, literature and culture, basically amounts to “OMG BOOBS.” Who knows.*

But in the meantime, here’s a tip for those of you wondering What Women Want: Should you ever talk to an actual woman, perhaps consider just asking her.

___________________________________________
*Yeah, kidding. File this one under “patriarchy hurts men, too.”

30 Comments leave one →
  1. John permalink
    January 28, 2009 10:58 am

    Jill,

    “But in the meantime, here’s a tip for those of you wondering What Women Want: Should you ever talk to an actual woman, perhaps consider just asking her.”

    But wouldn’t it then be possible (not to say the logical next step) to deconstruct her response like you did here with the responses of those women who have been asked by the researchers? At what point do you stop deconstructing?

    “How about the fact that women grow up in a society that is centered on men’s experiences and lives? That the female body is used as a representation of sex itself, whereas (hetero) men’s experiences and understandings of sex dominate our cultural narrative? To go back to an old feminist gem, men watch; women watch themselves being watched.”

    This is off topic in this context, but since you mention it, I would still like to give you my personal take – interestingly, I, as a hetero man don’t have that impression. Of course, you’ll deconstruct my perception as invalid due to alleged “privilege” blindness, but I thought I’d just tell you that most men I know feel that the reality you think of as being “centered around men’s experiences” is actually centered on females needs and female sexual power. We may say “OMG Boobs” and enjoy looking at them, but at the same time we feel that they’re a representation of a culture that is making us perform and compete. If you want, you can say that “phmt” captures that sentiment as well, but I don’t think it really does.

  2. January 28, 2009 11:06 am

    I see your point, John, but I wasn’t deconstructing the women’s responses — I was deconstructing the author’s take on what the researchers told him. The author clearly came at the project with a particular view, and seemed more interested in the “female sexuality is so MYSTERIOUS!” aspect than in actually listening to what anyone had to say.

    My point isn’t that we shouldn’t study female sexuality or try to understand it; rather, my concluding line points to the fact that at the end of the day individuals are going to have individual needs, wants and desires which, though shaped by society, are probably better addressed on an individual level if you want to have good sex.

    And I haven’t written off anyone’s experiences as invalid because of privilege blindness.

  3. John permalink
    January 28, 2009 12:20 pm

    Jill,

    “My point isn’t that we shouldn’t study female sexuality or try to understand it; rather, my concluding line points to the fact that at the end of the day individuals are going to have individual needs, wants and desires which, though shaped by society, are probably better addressed on an individual level if you want to have good sex.”

    Hmm, yeah, sure, but then again – isn’t that just another way of either restating “female sexuality is so mysterious” (that it even eludes every attempt to scientifically structure its nature) or of saying that every scientific attempt to cluster human experiences can only predict probabilities because all humans are overcomplex beings and the number of intervening variables is impossible to control for.

  4. January 28, 2009 1:48 pm

    Hmm, yeah, sure, but then again – isn’t that just another way of either restating “female sexuality is so mysterious”

    Actually, it’s a way of saying human sexuality is very individual, contextual, and specific . . . yes, maybe even mysterious in a “we shouldn’t ever be took quick to generalize” way. But the problem with the original article (and a lot of discussion about women’s sexuality, whether scientific or not), is that it treats women’s sexuality as the mystery. Men’s sexuality, sexual desire, arousal, etc., is all supposedly self-evident, straightforward, and explained using scientific data or cultural “common sense.” It’s the gender-specific mysteriousness that I find troubling.

  5. John permalink
    January 28, 2009 2:12 pm

    Anna,

    “Men’s sexuality, sexual desire, arousal, etc., is all supposedly self-evident, straightforward, and explained using scientific data or cultural “common sense.” It’s the gender-specific mysteriousness that I find troubling.”

    I completely agree here. But to question much of what you seem to question about male sexuality in my opinion requires questioning quite a lot of the assumptions inherent to “patriarchy”. That’s what I tried to say above with “If you want, you can say that “phmt” captures that sentiment as well, but I don’t think it really does.”

  6. January 28, 2009 2:35 pm

    But to question much of what you seem to question about male sexuality in my opinion requires questioning quite a lot of the assumptions inherent to “patriarchy”.

    Most likely! I’m not quite sure why that’s a “but . . .” statement. It seems like a pretty clear example of “patriarchy hurts men too” to me. In this particular instance, we’re discussing an article that’s talking about women’s sexuality — hence the focus on how our current cultural narratives frame women’s sexuality as confusing. The focus on studying women as well as men in order to better understand human sexuality is good in that it redresses decades of sex research that focused disproportionately on male subjects. But absolutely the nature of that male-centered research should be challenged as well. It’s just that that particular issue was not the focus on the article (and hence, the critique).

  7. Wendell permalink
    January 28, 2009 10:21 pm

    John, I think the last paragraph of your first comment is put in a useful context in the commodity model.

    I’ve found “The Caveman Mystique” to be a really good critique of the idea of het male sexuality as self-evident, based on neanderthal whatevers, etc. The author specifically critiques human behavioral and evo-psych ways of talking about men, but of course it mirrors much of what the society at large imbues.

    But this men stuff is OT to a degree. Back to it, the first time I heard the reframing “women envelop men” I found it compelling. I love learning things that turn unnecessary assumptions on their heads!

  8. January 29, 2009 2:49 am

    I’m so happy to find your blog and this post. I like it!

    I found another response to the NYT mag article today – essentially critisizing the question What do women want? from the point of view of a researcher. I liked it. Here it is:

    http://neuroanthropology.net/2009/01/24/what-do-these-enigmati-women-want/

  9. January 29, 2009 3:12 am

    I want to post this bit from the post I mentioned above just because it so beautifully reiterates your final lines:

    “One can imagine an article with the title, ‘What do diners want?’, which bemoaned the fickleness and impenetrable complexity of culinary preferences: Sometimes they want steak, and sometimes just a salad. Sometimes they put extra salt on the meal, and sometimes they ask for ketchup. One orders fish, another chicken, another ham and eggs. One day a guy ordered tuna fish salad on rye, and the next, the same guy ordered a tandoori chicken wrap, hold the onions! My God, man, they’re insane! Who can ever come up with a unified theory of food preferences?! Food preferences are a giant forest, too complex for comprehension. What do diners want?!”

  10. perrybc permalink
    January 29, 2009 4:23 pm

    Sex itself is constructed with women on the receptive end: Men penetrate, we’re penetrated. That isn’t just biology, it’s culture. It sounds ridiculous, but there are other ways that we could talk about and understand sex. I had a professor in college who suggested that maybe men don’t penetrate women, women envelope men. We all laughed, and I still think it sounds silly, but her point wasn’t lost on me — how we discuss and understand sex, and all the social and cultural baggage we throw onto it, influences what we believe to be hard, scientific, biological facts about how our bodies work and what our bodies do.

    Well put. I once pointed this out to a room full of (mostly female) victim advocates and (all male) cops. Most folks seemed to think it was a thought-provoking, humorous point, but literally half of the cops in the room got up and walked out. Everyone noticed this, and we briefly discussed why they walked out.

    The other cops talked about how they were definitely uncomfortable thinking of hetero intercourse as being anything other than “penis penetrating vagina”, but stayed b/c they couldn’t deny the bias in that hitherto seemingly objective statement. They talked about how such a reconceptualization of sexuality – even one so basic and simple – is REALLY threatening. It’s basically telling us that it’s not “just natural” to define human sexuality according to a script of traditional masculinity. It’s telling us that maybe all the ways we’ve been taught to experience sexuality and gender are wrong/not -just-natural/questionable…that’s some pretty heavy shit to deal with if you’ve become heavily invested in our unhealthy sexual status quo. It was the opinion of the cops who stayed that the other cops left b/c I was challenging a worldview they’d come to view as absolute…and that angered/disgusted/terrified them.

    The author of that NYT piece was probably also doing his best to avoid coming to any realization in that worldview-threatening neighborhood.

  11. John permalink
    January 29, 2009 6:50 pm

    perrybc,

    “that’s some pretty heavy shit to deal with if you’ve become heavily invested in our unhealthy sexual status quo. It was the opinion of the cops who stayed that the other cops left b/c I was challenging a worldview they’d come to view as absolute…and that angered/disgusted/terrified them.”

    I’m sorry, but do you find that surprising? I mean you seem to be framing this as “you’re wrong, and, moreover, you and everything you stand think about what sexually is is unhealthy, to you, but certainly to women.” Don’t you think that it may have been a good idea not to tell them how they’re wrong but that there are different ways to look at things and that reframing their sexuality may help themselves a lot. When you “threaten” people, they tend to not agree with you, in my experience. If you want people to reconsider their engrained beliefs, tell them what’s in it for them, not that they’ve been doing stuf wrong all the time (according to you).

  12. Wendell permalink
    January 29, 2009 9:19 pm

    John, you assume that the tone of things in the discussion was “stop thinking this way and start thinking that,” instead of “consider for a moment this idea.” Since neither of us were there, we can’t assume the tone.

    I will say this, though: you transposed the word “threatened” from how people were feeling (as it was written in the comment above yours) into how the speaker spoke to them. If they were presented with an idea to ponder, then it was their worldview being threatened *by an idea.*

  13. John permalink
    January 29, 2009 10:03 pm

    Wendell,

    rereading the comment I may have assumed too much.

  14. perrybc permalink
    January 30, 2009 12:30 pm

    My tone that day was not threatening, nor was it my intention to make them feel threatened. Most anyone who’s heard me speak/train will tell you that my style is to engage participants with dialogue and humor as much as possible. Those cops huffed out of the room when presented with the simple and incontrovertible point that hetero intercourse can accurately be described in terms of female-as-actor. Most of the participants (incl the other cops) laughed and gave slightly embarassed expressions of “huh, I never thought about it like that, but that’s true”. The cops who walked out reacted quite differently, and it seemed to indicate they were threatened by this line of reasoning. It was then surmised that the reason for their adverse reactions had a lot to do with how heavily invested they were in our unhealthy sexual/gender status quo (that’s my interpretation of sentiments in the room).

    This anecdote, while not surprising, illustrates the extent to which this unhealthy sexual/gender status quo is ingrained in our experiences. It’s relevant to Jill’s original post b/c it seemed to me that the author of that NYT piece was also doing his best to avoid questioning that same status quo.

    Also, to be clear, it is my belief that the unhealthy sexual/gender status quo to which I refer is a fact. One need only examine the high level of gender-based violence (often in the more specific form of sexual violence) in our country – or for that matter, our elevated rates of STIs and unwanted pregnancies in comparison to other Western countries – to realize that our conditions are far below optimal in these arenas.

  15. John permalink
    January 30, 2009 1:52 pm

    Perry,

    I’m from Europe, so maybe our experiences differ because of that. I sometimes get the impression it’s unfair to judge the more aggressive American discourse by my standards.

    I’m not sure that’s what the author did. All I wanted to say is that I think it’s important to accept people’s experiences as real and not a priori invalid, which is a tendency I note in a lot of feminist commentary and preaching (“But what about the menz??? Bingo!”), to the point where I can understand defensive reactions to ideas that tell them everything they believe in is wrong. Are you really surprised they react with a “look, men are people, too, and our perception is just as valid as yours.” I’m not.

  16. Wendell permalink
    January 30, 2009 2:03 pm

    John, it’s cool. This is discourse/”discussion” after all!

    perrybc, thanks for the anecdote. Like you said it’s a good illustration of things. I’d go even further (though it might be “duh” for most folks) to say that the sex/gender status quo the anecdote illustrates comes from some people’s need to define their identity as a “man” as “not a woman.” By extension, not “feminine,” not “receptive,” not the emotional laborer in relationships. To a lesser extent there are women who do just the vice versa.

    What I love about the anecdote is that half of the people stuck around and really thought about it. I may be overly optimistic, but I love the promise this portends. And when people begin to define themselves/their identities as “not X,” they now have the option of parodying/playing with those scripts interchangeably in their relationships.

  17. Wendell permalink
    January 30, 2009 2:07 pm

    John,

    ”But what about the menz??? Bingo!”

    For me, I’ve found value in much Feminist thought even when men/masculinity is never mentioned. Just my perception!😉

    Also, one could ask the wrench-in-the-works question, with a nod to bell hooks: “which men?”

  18. John permalink
    January 30, 2009 2:42 pm

    Wendell,

    sure – purely intellectually that may be correct. But here’s the thing – you can’t credibly argue in favour of getting out of what’s described as the current “normative” perception, you can’t ask other people to reconsider their point of view by simply reconstructing the same normative perception from the other side. This cuts both ways – if women want to change the general perception that vaginal-penile intercourse is considered “penetration” to “engulfment” then we need both women to become engulfing and men willing to be engulfed. And we need to hear from people from both sides. If this isn’t team sport, no one should be allowed to act like it is.

  19. perrybc permalink
    January 30, 2009 4:47 pm

    John Says:

    January 30, 2009 at 1:52 pm
    …I can understand defensive reactions to ideas that tell them everything they believe in is wrong. Are you really surprised they react with a “look, men are people, too, and our perception is just as valid as yours.” I’m not.

    I never indicated that men aren’t people. A lot of time during that training was spent talking about how the pressure to “act like a man” is limiting, and frankly not a lot of fun (particularly in a sexual context). As a hetero cis-male, I can’t imagine why I would ever want to make an arugment dehumanizing men.

    My (hopefully) informed opinion as someone who has been doing sexual violence prevention work for 14 years leads me to make certain judgments. One of those judgments is that adherence to rigid gender beliefs, and the content of some of those belefs themselves (such as “the man must always be the actor and never the acted upon”) is a product of, and perpetuates, our unhealthy sexual/gender status quo. I conducted what in my experience was a farily unchallenging – even funny – mental exercise to expose a small facet of this concept. How else should I get this point across? They have every right to disagree with me and leave the room if the disagree to point where they can’t even entertain these ideas, and they did just that. But I certainly didn’t try to provoke this defensive reaction – to the contrary I tried to make my point with humor! So yes, I was fairly surprised.

    As far as the validity of their perceptions – why am I not allowed to call that into question so long as I’m not a dick about it? Isn’t that what we do all of the time in debates/trainings/conversations? The purpose of going to a training is to learn new things and perhaps to have your perspective challenged a bit right? I could understand their reaction better if I was some ranting looney talking about the evil of men and the need for mass castration or something, but my tone was quite colleagial and light-hearted – especially considering the subject matter!

    you can’t credibly argue in favour of getting out of what’s described as the current “normative” perception, you can’t ask other people to reconsider their point of view by simply reconstructing the same normative perception from the other side.

    My point – and I would guess Jill’s point – about the “penetration vs. envelopment” framing of hetero intercourse isn’t about trying to change it from man-as-actor-penetration to female-as-actor-envelopment. It’s about allowing any gender to be the actor or acted-upon, OR viewed through a lens of mutuality where the partners are coming (and hopefully cumming) together – so that they’re both actors. And for the record, being enveloped/engulfed is FUN CITY…so is penetrating. I just don’t want these pressures that tell men it HAS to be about action/control/achievement and tell women it HAS to be about being a “good” gatekeeper (and don’t tell trans or genderqueer folks anything) to have such a stranglehold on human experiences of sexuality.

  20. perrybc permalink
    January 30, 2009 4:50 pm

    *…and leave THEY room if the disagree to point…

  21. perrybc permalink
    January 30, 2009 4:55 pm

    Ha ha…man I’m rushing too much before I leave work. What I meant to edit was “…and leave the room if THEY disagree to A point…”

  22. John permalink
    January 30, 2009 5:17 pm

    Perry,

    I completely, whole-heartedly agree with everything you wrote in that last comment.

    “As far as the validity of their perceptions – why am I not allowed to call that into question so long as I’m not a dick about it? Isn’t that what we do all of the time in debates/trainings/conversations? The purpose of going to a training is to learn new things and perhaps to have your perspective challenged a bit right? I could understand their reaction better if I was some ranting looney talking about the evil of men and the need for mass castration or something, but my tone was quite colleagial and light-hearted – especially considering the subject matter!”

    A perception cannot be invalid. It may not even be mutually accessible.
    But if my reaction – someone who agrees completely with what you write – to your comment is any kind of indication, it shows that this kind of issue needs to be dealt with carefully. Masculinity is an important part of most men’s identification – so while you may feel individually that it sucks to be a man in the current achiever paradigm and would like to change things about that it sucks just as much if not more if you feel that this part of your identity is constantly under attack and you’re being told that not even your perception of the world around you is valid.

    “It’s about allowing any gender to be the actor or acted-upon, OR viewed through a lens of mutuality where the partners are coming (and hopefully cumming) together – so that they’re both actors.”

    Again, being a guy who has been too afraid in most sexual contexts to act himself and has been reliant on women to act I couldn’t agree more. But I still can’t get rid of this slight feeling of attack when I read this kind of thing – I suppose that’s partly a consequence of my own insecurities, but as far as I know my insecurities are pretty common among males, even though some are better at concealing them or acting inspite of. There must be a way to include and acccept (even the most conventional) male experiences and work from there rather than trying to invalidate them before moving ahead. This is not how “change management” works.

  23. perrybc permalink
    January 30, 2009 6:13 pm

    OK – now this is making sense to me John. I think maybe the reason we weren’t quite synching up (despite agreeing on most of the content) is because we live in different parts of the world, and thus gender is reinforced differently here than it is where you live. When you said:

    so while you may feel individually that it sucks to be a man in the current achiever paradigm and would like to change things about that it sucks just as much if not more if you feel that this part of your identity is constantly under attack and you’re being told that not even your perception of the world around you is valid.

    I would argue that here in the states – and esp in the particular state where this event occurred – men who perceive the world according to an achiever paradigm are constantly validated by the world around them and are well protected by most prevailing social norms. To that end, perhaps those cops who walked out weren’t threatened as I first stated. Perhaps they walked out b/c they it was their privilege to do so and they knew no one would question them.

    To further illustrate that point, let me flip-the-script. Let’s say I’m a college frat boy, and I quit my fraternity b/c I become upset that coercive sexual practices were being excused as “boys will be boys” (“We’re the ‘deciders’ – it’s just how God intended” or something like that) at a recent meeting. I’d be viewed with some combination of disgust and pitty. My name would be smeared, and my sexuality would likely be brought into question…all of this because I expressed my displeasure with coercing women into sex. All because I bucked the gender expectation. But those cops who left the room after the “penetration-vs-envelopment” point had the gender expectation on their side, and they knew there weren’t going to be any immediate negative consequences for ignoring/dismissing challenges to that worldview.

    The achievement paradigm is reinforced constantly here. Just take a look at the controversies surrounding the JuicyCampus sites. Males get rewarded for being players, but females get villified if they engage in the same player (read: actor) behavior. Obviously there’s a class element here (in that most of these folks seem to be privileged and white), but it shows that this aspect of the unhealthy sexual/gender status quo is alive and well in this segment of our population. You can find similar examples in African-American culture/media (Bryon Hurt has a great documentary about this topic). I’m guessing most ethnicities and classes in the U.S. have their own examples of this.

    I’m not trying to paint an overly bleak picture…I do think female-identified folks are slowly becoming accepted as sexual actors, but it’s taking a long damned time, and the progress seems tenuous at times. I guess I just want to be realistic about what we’re up against in the U.S. Those guys walking out disappointed me, but it also spoke volumes about the power of the status quo.

  24. perrybc permalink
    January 30, 2009 6:13 pm

    Oh, and my name is Brad by the way. Perry is my last name.

  25. Wendell permalink
    January 30, 2009 9:36 pm

    “…but as far as I know my insecurities are pretty common among males, even though some are better at concealing them or acting inspite of. There must be a way to include and acccept (even the most conventional) male experiences and work from there rather than trying to invalidate them before moving ahead.”

    John, I know what it’s like to be in this situation, though of course with my specific experiences. I’m trying to throw out that portion of the masculinity that I was taught (hell, I could even call it masculinities!) which makes male-identified people feel they have to conceal such insecurities. (True, it’s difficult for anyone to be vulnerable, but certain masculinities add that extra dimension.) And it has taken some time to value myself enough to know that those people, male or female, who don’t see my in-/action as “manly” aren’t worth having in my life to one degree or another. Where we differ is you feel more attacked by Feminism(s) than by the proscribed masculinities in your culture, and I felt the reverse. (FWIW, I’m a “cissy” male!)

    perrybc/Brad – I’m not sure how else to put it, but I think the work you do is really cool, and I thank you for doing it!😀 I’m glad to meet such people online.

  26. John permalink
    January 31, 2009 11:10 am

    Brad, Wendell,

    first off, I would like to second Wendell – this kind of work is important. But – and I say this with all necessary qualifiers regarding different cultural experiences implied – it’s also potentially dangerous. Recently, a feminist association of men doing “deconstructive men’s work” got a lot of bad press (and I think rightly so) because they did workshops with teenage boys telling boys that they weren’t really men and they did not really have penises. Telling something like that to insecure teenage boys who are as confused by themselves as they are by suddenly discovering there are breasts around them is more than problematic in my book. They should have taught them how to interact with girls, not that they are not real men.

    Challenging and deconstructing identities is fine with people who are secure and able to handle challenges to their identity. But for most people, identities, gender identities in particular, are crutches they hold on to to make sense of life and of themselves. If you can’t teach them how to walk without a crutch it’s cruel to take it away. And that’s a tendency I feel is present in a lot of feminist deconstruction of masculinity. It’s not helping to redefine the crutch, but to take it away.

    “Where we differ is you feel more attacked by Feminism(s) than by the proscribed masculinities in your culture, and I felt the reverse. (FWIW, I’m a “cissy” male!)

    Well, there’s personal history in this as well – it’s the classic between a rock and a hard place story. Being a 25 yo shy male virgin (read: geek) I suddenly found myself in uni residence with a couple of feminist flatmates, only to find that they don’t like men who don’t fit into the classic paradigm either. Neither sexually (most women simply don’t like shy men, whether they are feminists or not, whether they are sexual actors or not) nor politically (threatening *their* simplistic dichotomic world-view). In my opinion, feminism(s), even third wave feminism(s) are, possibly inadvertendly (or simply by name), reinforcing not just a few of the problems they identified.

  27. perrybc permalink
    January 31, 2009 12:26 pm

    Recently, a feminist association of men doing “deconstructive men’s work” got a lot of bad press (and I think rightly so) because they did workshops with teenage boys telling boys that they weren’t really men and they did not really have penises.

    I hadn’t heard about that, but I agree such an approach is not useful. To me it makes more sense to get boys talking about their experiences of gender. Inevitably they figure out for themselves that rigid notions of gender are limiting, at which point they usually want skills/tools for breaking out of the gender box (since other boys and girls are going to make that difficult). So then we talk about that, provide some suggestions, and brainstorm what would make sense to them. The Washington, DC-based Men Of STrength (MOST) clubs are a great example of this approach, and are well respected by both violence prevention professionals and the school systems in which they work.

  28. CaraS permalink
    February 15, 2009 4:50 am

    For what it’s worth, the fact that all these men are willing to even talk about this subject, and find it important gives me hope. Keep at it gentlemen. We need both men and women to change the world. And maybe we can decide together what that world might look like.

  29. March 20, 2012 10:13 am

    Nice to be going to your blog again, it continues to be months for me. Properly this write-up that ive been waited for so lengthy. I require this article to total my assignment inside the university, and it has exact same topic together with your article. Thanks, terrific share.

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