Friday, June 21, 2013

Science proves Rufus good-looking

So there's a new book out explaining that women experience sexual desire, much of it being lust for men. As someone who's been saying this to skeptical audiences since forever (that would be 2004, folks, the year WWPD was born), I suppose I ought to be unequivocally thrilled that Science now backs this up. Elaine Blair writes in her NYT review:

[Daniel Bergner] sets this tour of contemporary sex research against one particular shibboleth: the notion that women are naturally less libidinous than men, “hard-wired” to want babies and emotional connection but not necessarily sex itself.
Gah! Finally, someone points this out! Finally, there no longer need to be individual women popping up here and there to say that they feel like gay men trapped in women's bodies - but not in a transgender sense, just in a gosh-men-are-pretty one. Some men. Keanu Reeves comes to mind. And to take this to an ever-more-unattainable level: Rufus. Finally, women's desire for men (and yes, obviously, some women only desire women, and some are asexual, and that's fine too) need not be treated as perversion or immaturity. (Teen girls can think guys are hot. Women somehow can't think the same of men.)

And yet. I mean, I'll read it, I'll pitch responses to it once I've read it and can therefore respond. It does sound pretty great.

But there's something about the mere fact of the existence of such a book that reminds me of when NYT food writer David Tanis told readers that it's OK to eat out-of-season asparagus, something ordinary shoppers had already been doing, given the asparagus in stores. An imperfect analogy, fine. But I guess what I mean is, there's something kind of strange - mansplaining even if not intended as such - about learning that a man is out there with a book explaining that which women's wiring has been telling us since we were 16, 12, or 8 years old. (What it means to like boys/men - or girls/women - will of course vary according to how old you are, but lots of us know long before middle school. I can remember who some of my celebrity crushes were from that era, but I'm not saying.)

I'm having trouble articulating this. Because it's really not that I think the book itself sounds mansplainish. Not at all. It's just that perhaps on some level, I'd have preferred it if a woman had written this book, and if it were sufficient authority to hear this message from a woman.


Kayla said...

"that which women's wiring has been telling us since we were 16, 12, or 8 years old..."

Well, my wiring tells me stuff about me, but if I don't have sex with women, I don't have a lot of information about how my sex drive compares to that of other women. It's easy to come to the conclusion that you're much more or less sexual than *normal* women, based on nothing more than the feedback you get from men...or the fact that your female acquaintances don't tell you about their sex lives. So there is a place for this sort of quasi-authoritative statement about what is normal.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

What I say is absolutely right. We can only know about ourselves, and it takes a study (or many, or, as in this case, a book synthesizing a bunch) to tell us what's typical.

But what I find frustrating about this specifically is, I think, kind of separate from *how* interested any individual straight woman is in men. My objection is to the fact that it's suddenly been discovered that women *have* sexual interest in men. If that makes sense.

Kayla said...

Isn't the question more about the nature and quantity of women's sexual desire, i.e., who thinks about sex more, pure lust vs. affection, degree of kinkiness, visual quality to sexuality?

"What I say is absolutely right." The motto of bloggers everywhere.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

I do see your point (and am not sure how insulted I should be!), but what I'm trying to convey is that women just know - that heterosexual women are often-if-not-always interested in men, not simply husbands or whichever social status comes from being partnered with a man. This should never have been a question in the first place.

Now, whether what I experience is what you experience, or what some other woman experiences, who knows, and that's the sort of thing a book like this might answer for each of us. It seems most unlikely that ever woman who likes men does so in the same way, or to the same degree. But 'straight women like men' seems just so knock-you-over-the-head obvious that there's something vaguely insulting about experts needing to come in and declare it so.

As I said, I'm having trouble articulating this. Obviously, as you sure do insist, but you're right, simply my saying 'I've long known how I'm wired, and all women are the same,' would be absurd. And I see how that's what may have come across. I don't think how I'm wired is exactly how all other women are. But I do think sexual attraction to men is at the very least not unusual among heterosexual women.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Or think of it like this: imagine if a study came out showing that (some) women can have orgasms. Imagine if women had been saying this all along, but popular assumption was, such a thing wasn't possible. But then a male writer arrived to say that it was in fact possible, and lo and behold everywhere was an article announcing the "discovery" of the female orgasm.

caryatis said...

It sounds like your problem is with the NYT review/general reaction to the book, not with the book itself. Just looking at the Amazon description, it doesn't say "female lust exists," it talks about more interesting questions:

"Daniel Bergne disseminates the latest scientific research and paints an unprecedented portrait of female lust: the triggers, the fantasies, the mind-body connection (and disconnection), the reasons behind the loss of libido, and, most revelatory, that this loss is not inevitable.

Bergner asks: Are women actually the less monogamous gender? Do women really crave intimacy and emotional connection? Are women more disposed to sex with strangers and multiple pairings than either science or society have ever let on? And is “the fairer sex” actually more sexually aggressive and anarchic than men?"

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


"It sounds like your problem is with the NYT review/general reaction to the book, not with the book itself."

That could be. The book itself sounds great. What bothers me probably is just the response, which does seem to be, 'Male author discovers that women experience sexual desire.'

caryatis said...

I think you may be misinterpreting that "what I say is absolutely right." I was quoting what I suspect was a Freudian slip on your part.

I don't have high expectations for the book. This sort of thing tends to be very journalistic science: this is what the studies say, with no addressing potential alternative explanations for the data. This drove me crazy when I read "Happy Money" recently.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Uh, so what *were* you saying with "what I say is absolutely right"? Now I'm confused.

As for "journalistic science," I doubt if I'd be able to make much sense of the data itself, so a book that synthesizes what's out there sounds useful. With whichever caveats - findings that say the opposite might not be mentioned. But given that this is a book arguing against what everyone else has long been saying, I could forgive it that.

Any more thoughts on this book, though, will probably have to wait until I've at the very least laid eyes on it.

caryatis said...

I was quoting you because I thought it was funny. I should never try to be funny on the internet.

"Phoebe said...

What I say is absolutely right. We can only know about ourselves, and it takes a study (or many, or, as in this case, a book synthesizing a bunch) to tell us what's typical."

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Oh my goodness, that is my best Freudian slip ever. It might need to replace "Francophilic Zionism" as the subhead.

So yes, funny!