Thursday, March 08, 2012

Dan Savage's blind spot, continued

Dan Savage just received, reprinted, and responded to an excellent letter from a reader. The reader notes, correctly, that Savage gets a lot of questions from straight women who want to be "GGG" ("good, giving, and game" - Savage's acronym for being an agreeable romantic partner by going along with things your partner wants, within reason, and by not being judgmental, again, within reason), but not a whole lot from straight men in the same predicament. The reader picks up on the fact that however progressive and noble Savage's concept of GGG might be, in practice, it ends up reinforcing some old-timey gender roles: the woman must play at being naive and free of her own desires, yet prepared to do this or that for the man she loves. It's not that women couldn't come up with out-of-the-ordinary requests. They're just not asking.

Savage admits that part of what's going on is that he's getting more letters from women, skewing the results. But then adds, bafflingly, "Men are likelier—far likelier—to be kinky. So kinky requests tend to be made by men. And most men have female partners."

I mean, maybe? Savage would know better than I would. But it would seem that if gender dynamics were taken into account, one would have to admit the possibility that men and women desire the unusual at comparable rates, but do not demand it of their partners at equal rates, because it's expected for men, but not women, to be "pigs." A woman who admits to desiring sex with a man in its least exotic variety is already pushing it. (Do we not remember the Limbaugh episode?)

It's the same as with the classic-for-Savage, mildly-risqué-for-family-audiences question of straight couples bringing in another partner. The default assumption - in popular culture,* and going by Savage, in the real lives of the couples who do this - is that the "third" will be a woman. Do we assume, as Savage does, that this is because women are more likely to be bisexual? Or might this have something to do with a) women being socialized to be agreeable, esp. when necessary to "keep a man," and b) it being socially unacceptable for women to request another dude, whereas it's presumed that straight men fantasize about being with two women, and are prepared to go ahead with that scenario at the drop of a hat?

Anyway. The reason Savage's blind spot when it comes to the straight female experience strikes me as such a big deal is that he's the best we-as-a-society have got in terms of defining a proper morality around sex that isn't based on shame or ignorance. We need something like this, and his heart is in the right place. It's like he almost gets it, and then... not.

*This is so thoroughly a part of our popular culture that if I were to add an "NSFW" disclaimer to this post, one would have to do the same with even the most staid and tired of sitcoms.


Anonymous said...

If you buy the Sex at Dawn hypothesis (which I think Savage does, at least somewhat), it would actually make more sense to add a man as the third partner. Men are (the theory goes) turned on by hearing/watching other men have sex with women, etc. And generally once a man comes, he's done for a while. And so forth. Of course, it's totally subjective, but my guess is that M-M-F makes more sense than M-F-F as a general matter.

Phoebe said...

True enough - he does mention that book, as well as the "competition" point, quite a bit. But he also has his doubts about the authenticity of male bisexuality, pointing out (and fair enough, really) that lots of "bisexual" men turn out to be gay. He also assumes that straight women's only feelings about male homosexuality are disgust and, specifically, fear of discovering that the husband is actually... you know...

So - and yes, this is putting words into his mouth - I suspect that if a woman wrote in to say her male partner enthusiastically agreed to an MMF scenario, he'd assume a) that dude was gay, and more importantly b) that the woman would be too traumatized by the possibility to ever even suggest that scenario.

And this isn't total speculation - Savage recently got a call from a woman who was wondering if a certain act her guy wanted to do with her meant that perhaps he'd want to be with another guy. I read her tone as, hey, wouldn't that be interesting. But Savage responded by reassuring her, in an annoyed, here-we-go-again tone, that a man who wants to do X with women, even if X is known for happening between men, is still straight, because it's with a woman. He completely missed that this woman might be not so much worried her husband was gay as wondering if he'd be interested in fooling around with a dude. Whereas if a man had called in to say he was wondering if maybe his girlfriend had some secret lesbian inclinations, I'm 110% sure Savage would have made that connection.