Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Women are socialized to

Oh, here we go: Are women perverts if they find younger (but over-18) men attractive? The Jezebellian community does some soul-searching to that effect here. One Direction was no doubt formed with the express purpose of launching such conversations.

While arguments abound, online and off, over whether straight men are 'naturally' only attracted to 15-year-olds, or whether it's physically possible to be aroused by a hag of 22, a woman who so much as notices a pack of shirtless early-20s men running by is, if she is mid-20s or older herself, on shaky ground. Even if she isn't exclusively or even especially attracted to younger men. There's a kind of nudge-nudge acknowledgment that men are, ahem, perfectly capable of finding girls-who-pass-for-women attractive, while a woman finding a definitively adult but not-quite-old-enough man even slightly attractive gets filed under something akin to pedophilia. What to make of this?

Another entry into the 'Women are socialized to ...' category: women are socialized to find men younger than themselves unattractive. Which has its plusses - female teachers tend to think of their male students as 'boys,' even if the boys in question are of legal drinking age. And 'boys,' that's not supposed to be a good thing. Whereas 'girls'...

Given the ethical and potential legal iffiness of finding 18-year-olds attractive (given that many who are a few years younger can pass for 18, an issue even for those who aren't teaching or otherwise working with these individuals - even for those not much over 18 themselves), there's something to be said for not even seeing the potential for sexiness in the the not-much-older-than-18 set. Point being, I'm not sure straight women should mind that we were socialized in this way, that unless Harry Styles himself struts by (One Direction, the exception that proves the rule), we may remain blissfully indifferent to college-age men.

It would probably be better if men were similarly socialized, than if in this realm, as in so many others, we declared the feminist goal as the one that would make female sexuality keep pace with male. That is, if men felt squicky about whichever attractions to much-younger women. Cue here, though, the pop-evo-psych comments about how female fertility peaks at 12 and it's only natural for men to see 17 as over the hill, but there's no arguing with such people, so why bother. Cue 'boys mature later,' although how that squares with men ogling 10th graders and women self-flagellating for admiring 22-year-olds, I don't entirely understand.


But the problem here is that the right to admire the young seems very much wrapped up with the right to actively seek out the people you find attractive, as vs. passively accepting the offer of the best of the bunch who've noticed you. Whereas pursuing vs. being pursued, this ought to be a separate matter. And on that matter, Rachel Hills is spot-on as always. A woman is supposed to want to be spotted across the room for her beauty. That a woman may also notice the most beautiful man in the room is not really supposed to matter, or is not even supposed to be a thing that happens. The best a woman can hope for is that the man she's noticed will coincidentally notice her.

But the world may well be divided between those who prefer to choose and those who prefer to be chosen... without the former always being men and the latter always being women. It could be - and this is my sense - that women are socialized to articulate desire as the desire to be desired. And that some women do genuinely experience desire in this way, whereas others simply learn, at a young age, to frame it in those terms.

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