Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Euphemistic sophistication

Whenever a lowest-common-denominator straight male desire gets cast as sophisticated, my thoughts inevitably turn to the Seinfeld where Jerry's sleeping with his maid, and by the end of the episode accepts that he has, in fact, been paying for sex. His defense, when friends call him out on it, is that the arrangement is "sophisticated." This is a standby euphemism in hetero sex work marketing - there are gentlemen's clubs, and the silk robes, and fine European ladies (white women?), and men are going to be escorted, as though hiring a sex worker were akin to being accompanied to a cotillion. It's a way of drawing a connection between whatever Mr. Schlub is up to, and the activities of various French prime ministers. It's all incredibly sophisticated. If it were a movie, yellow subtitles would definitely be involved.

Which brings me to this latest entry, from Dan Savage's letter of the day. A 35-year-old woman is being cheated on by her 50-year-old husband, who was still with an earlier wife when they got together. There's a young child involved. What should she do? Buried in her letter, but crucial, is the following: "I don't care that much that he had sex with these women—in fact, I had brought up the possibility of having an open marriage, but he wasn't into it." Now why do we think this man, who slept with everybody and has no plans to stop, "wasn't into" the very arrangement that allows for such behavior? While the thing we're supposed to say in such a circumstance is that it's surely dude's sexual proclivity to sneak around, the common-sense reason is that there's a double-standard. Not for dude-the-individual. In society. A 'traditional' marriage model allows him, but not her, to have other partners. That's what he wants. For him to have a wife means to have a woman who's fully his, whose children are of course his, because who else?

Savage offers up a precedent for the letter-writer, should she choose to stay in her marriage: an elderly (now-deceased) British duchess married to a serial philanderer. This duchess, it seems, considered divorce a "bore," as well as - sniff - American. (Side note: why do upper-class British people find everything so tiresome? Or is that just on "Upstairs, Downstairs"?) And... I guess I'd be OK with "sophisticated" as a euphemism for that which is adult, that which only adults understand, and that which perplexes the simple, childlike bourgeoisie (of which I - someone who would have borrowed the DTMFA acronym if advising this woman - am probably a part), if it could just be used in a gender-neutral sense.

1 comment:

Peter said...

You're completely right about the double standard, and I suspect it persists even when the relationship is mutually open. Anecdotally, it's often the husband who pushes for an open marriage but the wife who can take more advantage of it, if only because there are more single men willing to date a married woman than single women willing to date a married man. In this sense, it seems like many of the rules that couples set (only someone we both know / only together / only other couples) are actually favoring the male partner even if they seem neutral.

I also wonder how much the appeal for the outside partner (whatever the genders) is actually driven by the illicit element, so that it's actually harder to find a partner when the marriage is open. Or maybe when your spouse doesn't know, it's easier to string your lover along and say you'll leave for them.