Thursday, September 28, 2017

On just reading about Justin Trudeau for the articles

What does "sexy" mean to you? What does the word evoke?

If you're wired any way other than standard-issue hetero dude, there's an awfully good chance your answers to those two questions will not be the same. The word "sexy" evokes young blonde women with large breasts. And yet, people who meet that description - and images of the same - do nothing for me. How can that be? Does this mean I'm... sex-negative?

I've been vaguely following the discussion around Hugh Hefner, who has died, and who was - I am now learning, this is not something I'd ever given any thought - apparently not just a tame-ish middlebrow pornographer but also a social liberal in some important and before-his-time ways. What does it all mean?

Sexual liberation without feminism is not sexual liberation for all. It's sexual liberation for men. Mostly for straight men. When women push back against male sexual liberation, this gets mistaken for prudishness, when what it oh so often is, instead, is a lack of interest in... women, or women presented for a male gaze. Or sexual acts involving a man and two women, at the man's suggestion. (Our society's default where Sexual Adventure is concerned.) A lack of interest, that is, in the things straight men tend to/are expected to find sexy, paired with a visceral understanding that a good number of things men find sexy aren't the greatest for women. (As it would go, for men, were women in charge.)

Ours is a society already centered around male desire generally, straight male desire especially. More to the point, it's one centered around men - their needs, what's convenient for them - in general. So abandoning rules, unless intentionally done with feminism in mind, means giving further freedom to men, while decreasing that of women. It's not always zero-sum, thank goodness - the pill seems a fine case of everyone benefitting - but it sure can be. 

The mistake is to think differences in male and female interest in sexy-as-society-defines-it are rooted primarily in an asymmetry of desire, rather than an asymmetry of power. To imagine that men lust, women lust after push-up bras and, later, eye creams that might make them look lust-worthy.  

Remember that we are living in the era of the Savage Lovecast and nuanced, mature conversations about cuckold fantasies, but also that of "cuck" as (revived) insult. Of consensual post-monogamy arrangements and Very Modern (ostensibly) gender-neutral forgiveness of dalliances, but also of Trumpian men-can-do-whatever, women-not-so-much. We are not living in gender-neutral times, no matter what pockets of doing-its-best enlightenment might suggest. This means we haven't the slightest idea how male and female sexuality would differ without all the cultural constraints that are most definitely still in place.

Let me put it another way: Is a magazine featuring sexy photos of men, plus serious articles, even conceivable? A niche one for gay men, perhaps, but one with a mainstream or presumed-female audience? Because it's not that women just aren't visual creatures. Looking at photos of attractive men, being aware of attractive men, this is absolutely understood as a part of female heterosexuality, but one to be outgrown. In a woman, sexual desire - for men, maybe in general - is seen as incompatible with seriousness. Incompatible with maturity. Thus - maybe? - why so much of the recent feminist move to reclaim female heterosexual desire (reclaim it, that is, from the assumption that it's merely the desire to be desired) has centered not merely on younger men but on boy bands and teen idols.

The (misguided) thinking is that mature female sexuality - once you age out of caring about Jordan Catalano or One Direction or whatever - is about flexibility, malleability, being agreeable. Thus the refusal, on the part of... society? too many men?, to ever really believe a woman when she says she's straight or - for that matter - gay.


Andrew Stevens said...

In a woman, sexual desire - for men, maybe in general - is seen as incompatible with seriousness. Incompatible with maturity.

Yes, I think that's true. Not just that it's seen that way, but that it's actually true as well. Of course, it is just as true for men. Who takes Hugh Hefner seriously? Who believes he is mature? Who takes (post-revelations) Bill Clinton seriously? Who believes he is mature? Who takes Anthony Weiner seriously? Eliot Spitzer? Donald Trump? And so on and on.

I wish I could say that nobody takes these men seriously, but of course that's not true. Sadly, plenty of people do, but nobody should. Not one of them has ever contributed anything positive to our culture and the reason is precisely because none of them ever grew up and put sexual desire in its proper place for an adult. There is of course nothing at all wrong with sex as entertainment (and the people who take sex terribly seriously are never interested in its procreative, or even bonding, aspects, only its entertainment aspects) - I happen to be a fan, but it ranks considerably below opera and poetry, and probably below even television. Sex is so unsophisticated a form of entertainment that even chipmunks do it.

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