This blog was originally posted in Life on the Swingset on January 30, 2013.
I want to initially apologize for writing so deeply within a heteronormative frame of reference, but let’s face it, that’s the world we live in. Many of the issues I find myself confronting when it comes to rape culture and sex-positivity are within the context of stereotypical masculine and feminine traits: the ways that men lust after women, the feelings women have toward one another regarding competition for men, and the way women “ought to” feel about being desired by men. There are worlds of other issues when we consider queer issues alongside this, but mine is just a humble blog and I don’t quite have the training under my belt for all that.
So, now that that’s out of the way, I want to talk about the shame we associate with desire, and how that translates into sex-negativity and rape culture. A friend of mine was discussing with me the Facebook photo referenced in my previous post, and he commented that “Let’s say it is tantalizing: the real issue is that you don’t get to jump on it just because you’re tantalized. […] we (men) can feel sexual, feel attraction, and can (must!) choose our humanity over the leg humping reaction.” While this seems to be a simple affirmation of any sex-positive woman’s argument, that just because you want it doesn’t mean you can have it, it also reminded me that there’s another issue at hand: a man’s right to want it in the first place!
A sickeningly saccharine and unintentionally harmful blog post entitled “Ten Things I Want to Tell Teenage Girls,” advises young women as they enter into their burgeoning sexuality, that boys will desire them, and that’s bad. She says:
If you choose to wear shirts that show off your boobs, you will attract boys. To be more specific, you will attract the kind of boys that like to look down girls’ shirts. If you want to date a guy who likes to look at other girls’ boobs and chase skirts, then great job; keep it up. If you don’t want to date a guy who ogles at the breasts of other women, then maybe you should stop offering your own breasts up for the ogling. All attention is not equal. You think you want attention, but you don’t. You want respect.
There are so many issues with these few short sentences, I don’t know where to begin! She believes that she is empowering young women to demand respect by concealing their bodies. Because it is, in her mind, obvious that any woman who is sexually desirable is not respectable, and that to gain respect you have to withhold sex.
Furthermore, she is demonizing any man who likes to look at breasts (which I think she fails to realize is all of them.) In her mind, for a man to look upon a woman with desire is immediately to disrespect her, because…well, actually I don’t know because why. Because only bad girls have sex? Because men don’t have sex with women they respect, they just marry them? Because being sexually objectified is mutually exclusive with being personally valued? Beats me on the because, but the message is clear that “boys that like to look down girls’ shirts” are not boys you want to be with. Men who desire women are bad men. The comment “You think you want attention, but you don’t. You want respect,” (apart from being incredibly demeaning by telling her readers what they really want, because obviously she knows better) is making the blatant assumption that attention and respect are mutually exclusive.
A view of male sexuality where any man who lusts after a woman is the kind of man you’re too good for creates a confusing, warped framework for a relationship. Where does sexuality fit into a romantic relationship, if women intentionally select men who don’t express sexual desire? My friend that I mentioned earlier was “called out” in an internet discussion because in his profile picture – a lovely photo from his wedding where both parties are positively glowing with bliss – he appears to be gazing at his wife’s breasts. He was criticized for looking at his own wife’s body. I’m going to say that again, because it baffles me so utterly. He was judged, not for checking out random women at the club, not for watching pornography or objectifying his waitress, but for looking at his wife in a way the critic perceived as lustful.
While I’m 100% in support of the idea that a man’s desire for a woman does not instill in him any rights regarding her body, it’s insane to think that for a man to desire a woman at all somehow makes him a lesser man. I sure as hell don’t want a romantic relationship with a man who doesn’t want to fuck me. What would I do with him? It would either be a friendship, or one of those tragic suburban sexless marriages.
Conversely, because women should be vying for “respect” instead of attention, a woman who desires sex, and likes or is attracted to men who lust after her, must have low self-esteem and she just isn’t brave enough to pursue what she really wants. As my friend put it in his own blog, “Our culture for a long time and on both sides of the Liberal-Conservative divide, has imagined that young women have a choice among two alternatives: you can like good boys or bad boys, depending on your level of self-esteem.” Good boys are the kind who “respect” women, bad boys are the kind who look at breasts.
This sort of ideology is often confuscated with feminism, because feminists fight for the rights of women to be treated like people, and sexual desire is often lumped in with simple objectification as a stripping of women’s rights. Unfortunately the distinction between misogynistic objectification, and healthy sexual desire, is often subtle. If a man is staring at my breasts, does he think of me as a worthless piece of flesh, or does he just find my breasts attractive? Has he stopped viewing me as a human being? In that moment of being looked at, I don’t know. But to hate all expressions of lust because they might imply that I’m being objectified and dehumanized is incredibly pessimistic. It’s a salt-the-earth approach to women’s sexual rights.
All of these points are related, so here’s the part where I wrap it all up in a neat little bow.
If sex’s value is based on its unavailability, then the less men desire you, and the fewer men have access to your sexuality, the more you’re worth. Therefore, the more you desire sex, and the more you access your sexuality, the less you and it are worth, and therefore men have the right to take it from you at their leisure. Valuing yourself means avoiding sex and the men who want to have it with you. Men who sexually desire women inherently disrespect them because they want to lower their sexual property value.
This is the sex-negative argument in a propaganda-free, totally not feel-good nutshell.
My sex-positive lifestyle argument is that sex is good, and my body isn’t a commodity. Wanting to fuck me is awesome, and I encourage it. Men, women, and anyone in between have the right to desire me, and to look upon any part of my body exposed to their view. That right does not imply any additional rights regarding touching me, or even addressing me impolitely. I have had many sexual partners over the course of my lifetime, and I would like to have more. Each person I have had sex with does not make the next person’s experience of fucking me any less valuable. Giving my body freely with my consent to another does not mean that I can be assumed to give it away for free.