Friday, April 29, 2011

the sexual revolution happened for a reason

So first I just want to echo and endorse everything ENB says here about yet another "provocateur" saying that women were happier before the women's rights movement, that "feminism is the anti-Viagra," that Phylis Schlafly has, like, the most mind blowing sex life of any woman in the world, blah blah blah.

Can I add the simple fact, largely ignored both here and in these kinds of arguments generally, that a big part of feminism originally was precisely that many or most women were sexually dissatisfied? We couldn't even have this conversation about feminine sexual satisfaction without the feminist movement. And women in America were sexually unfulfilled precisely because of these 1950s era He-Men of yore. I know there's this Don Draper image out there now, but the actual 1950s husband didn't give a shit about his wife's sexual satisfaction, and it showed. A major element of feminism was and is that women's sexual desire is real, legitimate, and important, and that women like orgasms as much as the boys. (You'll note that this project is still ongoing, and not without opposition.) If these traditional male figures were such dynamos in the sack, there wouldn't have been any need for women to agitate for equal access to a fulfilling sex life.

Ultimately, the important point is as Linda Young, quoted by Liz, says: "Ogas, like lots of folks, finds it easier to parse people and ideologies into black and white polarities than to consider the complex grays that don’t fall neatly into categories. A feminist with cleavage in high heels who wants to be ravished in bed is not a contradiction!"

The fundamental failure of so many "big-think" pieces about gender roles and the sexual/romantic marketplace is that they severely undersell the realm of the possible. It is, I assure you, entirely possible to do one's best as a feminist and as a boyfriend or husband and when having sex. You can, depending on the dictates of the particular pairing, treat your woman partner as a complete equal in, say, discussions of politics, open doors for her and refer to her as your girl, and occasionally throw her over the arm of the couch. Maybe your first instincts in that direction won't track perfectly with her desires, but the beauty is that human beings have the capacity for human communication, and your partner can say "you need to stop interrupting me whenever we talk about money/I can pull the chair out for myself/I want you to take without asking sometimes." I do have sympathy for some men who feel clueless about how to walk these lines, and yes, I do think that occasionally the way we talk about this stuff is dismissive of male anxiety to the point of being unfair. But just ask. Talk it over. That's part of the nice part, right, that two people who like each other and want each other to feel good can almost always get there if they are open and communicative.

Of course, I imagine some commenter will pop up and tell me that it is all so much more tragic than that. Well, because it's my jam, I want to say again... chill. I think there's a danger in reading too many of these sex/gender/feminism/the future/whatever trend pieces. Because of the media's endless insistence on the sensationalistic, most of these pieces are written with a breathless, panicked attitude and expressed in exaggerated terms. (It's the End of Men!) But remember, trend pieces are dangerous not merely because they often have low standards of evidence, but also because nobody individually is a part of a trend. A person is in his or her own life. Wherever these trends are taking place, you don't live there. You live in the ebb and flood of your own life, and in that space you have agency. I'm saying: you can choose.

I do have sympathy for men who feel lost, inasmuch as I have sympathy for anyone dealing with loneliness. Loneliness is a fissure in the human condition. But you can't fix things by retreating to sexist tropes, you can't do it by investing everything with a tragic attitude, and you can't do it by imagining that you are caught up in psychosexual forces that are plotting against you. When in doubt, assume equality between men and women in expectations, needs, and desires, ask questions when lost, and remember that the elementary rules of treating other human beings well transcend questions of sex and politics.

54 comments:

  1. Freddie,

    Great post, but I wish to clarify what you mean by "investing everything with a tragic attitude"? Are you referring to people who behave with a fatalistic belief?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yeah. Like, I've known a few guys who allow themselves to get so down about issues of sex and romance that every aspect of those things becomes leaden with fear and risk. So when they approach a woman, they can't help but project what a big deal it is to them. People sense that, and in my experience it's death for the kind of weightless fun flirting usually needs to be.

    ReplyDelete
  3. So what were you talking about re 'certain online creeps'?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Uh, if you "occasionally throw her over the arm of the couch" any feminist is going to cry rape.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I found out I was catching some flack out here in real life regarding some of my online presence, and as I'm in a transitional period, I was kind of spooked. But I thought about it and I just decided I can't live in fear that way.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Actually, no, women cry rape when they've been raped.

    ReplyDelete
  7. So you're denying that women make false allegations of rape?

    ReplyDelete
  8. This sentence:
    Uh, if you "occasionally throw her over the arm of the couch" any feminist is going to cry rape.

    ...and the follow-up question:
    So you're denying that women make false allegations of rape?

    ...are a fabulous display of anonymous logic in action.

    ReplyDelete
  9. No, I'm not denying that. That's why we have a legal system and the presumption of innocence.

    I'm not sure what exactly your complaint is here, but if you're asking if I think that two people, in a sexual relationship, can have sex that is both consensual and yet aggressive/semi-violent, then yes, I do.

    ReplyDelete
  10. dictateursanguinaireMay 1, 2011 at 7:59 PM

    This is excellent through and through - especially the "no one IS the trend" and the bit about people getting burnt out are unfortunately accurate. Still, we do have agency (maybe) to an extent

    ReplyDelete
  11. Freddy: When did you go all Dan Savage on us?

    Marcel

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