Thursday, December 28, 2006

Rules of attraction

I was about to respond to two different posts in two different posts, then realized that they're on much the same topic: should the personal be the political? From a Jewish perspective, should one go out of one's way to date and marry other Jews, and under which circumstances (and from which Jewish perspective)? And from a left-wing, open-minded, American perspective, is it racist to say that there are entire races you do not find sexually attractive?

I will say this up front: I believe Jewish concern over intermarriage in the United States is missing the mark. It is in fact a good thing that secular American Jews feel more American than Jewish and are considered as such by those around them. For observant Jews, it's another matter. But as for the Jews Laya of Jewlicious speaks of, who advocate marrying other Jews "just because," they are the reason the Portnoys and Singers of the world so delight in flaunting the non-Jewishness of their partners.

Jewish continuity is either religious or national in nature, and all the education programs in the world aren't going to reverse Western secularism. So what's left is Israel. If you care enough about Jewish continuity but do not wish to become religious, move to Israel, where you're far more likely to marry a Jew, and where you will not be forced to come up with reasons for why your children should do the same. If you stay in America and are not observant, you have no right to expect either yourself or anyone around you to marry another Jew.

Jewish nationhood should not be dependent upon secular American Jews being made to feel separate from the rest of the country, to think it's lovely when an African-American and an Italian-American couple off, but despicable when a Jew intermarries. No, America and Israel are different things for Jews--in America, we should be allowed to embrace universalism, and in Israel, we should have the option of particularism, of promoting one's own. If Israel did not exist, perhaps I'd suggest something else. But it does, and the burden's on those who care to hop over there, not on those who don't care to all of a sudden see the light, or to pair off with the wrong people out of guilt from years of being told to marry a Jew "just because."

Now, onto race. Pam Spaulding at Pandagon quotes a gay man who on some message board apparently said the following:

"I personally am not racist but I don’t date black people. Nothing against black people, I’m just not attracted to them. The same reason I don’t date woman. I’m not attracted to them."

Spaulding responds as follows:

"Given the range of what 'black' looks like, how can this person make a blanket statement about all black people when it comes to dating? Is it a matter of perceived physical features (many blacks who can pass for some other ethnicity), a perceived cultural difference ('all blacks are poor or into thug culture'), etc."

This response brings up an obvious counterargument: Given the range of what "woman" looks like, how can a gay man make a blanket statement about the features of all women when it comes to dating? A gay man does not want to sleep with a very butch woman any more than a very feminine one, although he may well have female friends across the spectrum.

While sexual orientation is typically framed as a preference for men, women, or both, it is in fact a spectrum of attraction to different degrees of masculinity and femininity within one's preferred sex or sexes, not to mention one's degree of attraction to any number of other traits, many of which are impossible to articulate, but some of which can be easily enumerated. Plus, there's the automatic sorting people do in which they eliminate from the list of potential partners those far less or far more conventionally attractive than themselves. A simple test, for the New Yorkers among you: sit on the subway and look around, and go over the reasons you are not sexually attracted to every last person in the car.

To sum up: we like what we like. Education can do something in making Jews care about dating other Jews (mainly, though, in the realm of making it so that Jews meet other Jews at an age when they're looking to pair off), and education can help to make Americans more racially tolerant, but on an individual level, you cannot possibly be happy unless you are with someone you consider, for whatever reasons, immensely attractive.

1 comment:

VJ said...

All well & good Phoebe. But some of this is also an age graded problem. This sentiment: "you cannot possibly be happy unless you are with someone you consider, for whatever reasons, immensely attractive" is perhaps the common conceit of youth. Most people are indeed attracted to a wide range of types of people, and would have to admit that a wide variety would be perfectly acceptable to them.

When people marry, they marry one person, but that person will change with time. Sometimes this process will be accelerated with each additional child for women, or unforeseen health issues for the guys. (Sometimes vice versa & both)! So the person you might marry in your 20's is not and will not be the same one you'll wind up with some 20 years later. Some folks will age more successfully. Some will make a point out of working out regularly. There's little sense in trying to predict which partner might share which fate, but know that chance and intelligence and many other factors (access to good health care for one) will have a great deal to do with the outcomes here.


So Yes, attractiveness plays a tremendous role in 'mate selection'. But all the traits that one typically looks for in that 'hot' guy/gal while in your teens & 20's may not be what you want or need in your 30's. But by the time you figure this all out in your 30's, the game has changed again, and the chairs in the room have been emptied of many of the people that once occupied them.


So 'relative' attractiveness is very important at critical stages of life when searching for a mate. This is now heavily influenced by the media. The media do not 'do' Jews all that well. When present they are rarely identified, and always the gals for one are bent on searching for that movie star ideal of 'tall, dark and handsome'. But on most days, many Jewish guys (and gals) can not measure up to this 'Hollywood' ideal. They'll not realize that this may not be wholly necessary condition for a perfectly acceptable and very loving husband or wife, until well in their 30's. This then is the crisis many face. Plenty of people who have finally discovered what they really want out of life, and they're now pressed for time by various biological clocks to attain a family, and preferably start their own Jewish family. They gets lots of advice, some help, but little in the way of solid 'leads'.

Technology does help here with introductions, but the importance of being open & willing to look for another's heart, no matter how battered or indeed plain or even homely the outside package may appear at first, is indeed the first step. Plain ages well. Homely really never changes much. True movie star Beauty is the most fragile condition of all. It should never age, and there's a huge industry built around this largely unobtainable but tremendously expensive fantasy.


So first there's the mindset change, but few are willing to venture this until they are indeed quite desperate, which is an unfortunate way of approaching the issue. But suffice it to say that if you truly want to get married, and if you wanted to marry a Jewish mate, you'd be doing things vastly differently than what the larger society is currently participating in with regards to finding 'the one'.

Cheers & Good Luck! 'VJ'