Who Is “Undateable:” How Pop Comedy is Feeding Misogyny

Undateable book coverThere is a new comedy playing on NBC entitled “Undateable.” The program is based on a book of the same name by Ellen Rakieten and Anne Coyle. I confess, I have not yet watched the show, but the idea that this book – which I have read – could be turned into a TV show, gave me serious pause. The book is a list of traits which, the author assures, will make a man completely undesirable to women. Most of these traits are incredibly shallow and completely arbitrary. To fit oneself to the author’s ideal of manhood would be challenging at best, but more likely personally limiting, stifling personal expression in order to make him ideal mate material. For example: it’s unacceptable to have body piercings or multiple tattoos, but it’s also unacceptable to wear tube socks or fanny packs (don’t be too edgy or too wholesome). It’s unacceptable to go shirtless in public or to go to conventions (don’t be too confident or too nerdy). It’s unacceptable to try to look rich if you aren’t, to wear the wrong hairstyle on your head OR your body, to read on the toilet (no, really), work out too much – or not enough, own the wrong pet (which apparently is anything but a dog), and the list goes on. Frankly, from reading this book I can’t imagine what kind of man IS dateable.

There’s a point to this, let me get there.

This new TV show inspired a lovely (as-always) “article” from Buzzfeed entitled “11 Signs You are Definitely in the Friendzone.” The entire notion of “the friendzone” is one I keep hoping will be abandoned because we’ve all finally figured out that it’s the product of whiny misogynists with a massive sense of entitlement. The problem is, the innate misogyny in the entire cultural notion of “the friendzone” is constantly being softened by articles like this that make it look like a simple experience we can all relate to and smile at together.

The Friendzone is not a simple or a benign concept. There are generally two states of existence labeled as “the friendzone.” First is the one propagated by popular media, the amusing shell we like to pretend misogynists are referring to when they lament being “friendzoned.” This is the simple, common, experience where you have two people in a platonic relationship where one person has unrequited romantic desire for the other. We’ve all been there. Either the person with the crush gets over it and then it’s just friendship, or the person with the crush can’t handle the discomfort and the relationship ends. Pretty simple. By that definition, I’ve been “in the friendzone.” But that’s not some classification I was stuck in because I’m not good enough dating material, or because the other person thought they were too good for me, or anything like that. We were just…friends. That’s it. And this simple go-to definition is all most of the world pictures when we hear those words.

The second definition of the friendzone is the complicated, dangerous, insidious one that is perpetuated by the aforementioned whiny misogynists. It’s where a “nice guy” has a crush on a girl. So he becomes her friend, or at least behaves as such, in the hopes of it leading to a romantic relationship. When it doesn’t, for any reason, he believes he has been cheated, that he has put in the time and effort required for repayment in romance and/or sex. He feels slighted by her lack of interest, and because he’s sure that he’s “nice,” that he’s “the good guy,” he begins to believe that girls only like “assholes.” In his mind, this is obvious, because if he is nice, and she doesn’t like him then clearly she doesn’t like people that are nice.

That idea, that girls only like assholes, can go bad in two ways (yes, I know, I’m branching and branching, but they’ll come back together in the end I promise). The first is that the guy decides to BECOME an asshole. This gives rise to pick-up artists and RedPillers who objectify and assault women because they believe that it’s the best way to get laid. If they don’t take what they want (often in the form of sexual assault) they believe that they’ll never get it. The worst part is, in a literal sense, these strategies work. Because yes, if someone gets a girl drunk, or psychologically manipulates her, he might wind up having sex with her. The fact that this sex is barely consensual at best doesn’t matter. It still counts as a success, and thus the man can tell his buddies “See? I told you women only want assholes. When I was nice I never got laid, but now I do.”

The other end of the spectrum is groups like PUAHate, the forum frequented by Elliot Rodger before his shooting spree. This group seethes against the women who won’t have sex with them. They believe they deserve women’s bodies, and that women are simply awful for not sharing. An article on Jezebel.com described them most aptly:

“PUAHate, as other outlets have discussed, is an offshoot of the Pick Up Artist community populated by men (and, allegedly, women) who believe Pick Up Artistry to be a sham waste of money not because women are more than “targets” and “prey,” but because women are fucking hopeless cunts who can’t be convinced to give nice guys a chance. Women, argue PUAHaters, will only go out with good looking alpha males and would never look twice at anyone who isn’t a musclebound dreamboat with a six-figure income, and most men will never be those things, and so the world is against them and life is unfair.”

If your head works like mine, you’re starting to see the branches come back together. If not, here goes.

PUAHaters, who gave rise to a multiple murderer, believe that women are only interested in a very narrow category of men, an unattainable ideal, that they can never achieve.

The book Undateable, written by women, is describing the exact, very narrow category of manhood that has permission to be with women.

In short: pop culture, you’re not helping.

I’m not blaming this book for misogyny. That would be insane.

What I am saying is that when pop media insist on perpetuating the stereotype that women only desire this very specific, “ideal,” type of man, existing misogynists feel justified in their hatred. When a misogynist has formed his opinion that women will never want him because he wears the wrong clothes, has the wrong hobbies, has the wrong body, or is just plain “too nice,” he needs to be disillusioned, not shown examples showing him that he’s right.

I am not failing to acknowledge that this is comedy. I know this. But comedy needs to take on stereotypes, satirize them, and thereby tear them down. The book Undateable, instead, laughs at the “undateable” men, rather than the prejudicial attitudes that determined these qualities to be negative in the first place. I hoped that the book’s conclusion would at least provide me with some hope. That it would say “yeah, we’re saying these men are undateable, but hey to each their own, it’s really not our place to judge anyone.” That’s not what I got. What I actually got was additional mockery with a splash of self-objectification (“Lose the nasty flavor saver and go pull some ass.” PULL some ASS? Really, ladies? Do you want the man you’re dating to think of you as “some ass” that he’s “pulling?”).

This is here solely to prove that despite my long absence, I am not dead, and this is not a ghost writer.

This is here solely to prove that despite my long absence, I am not dead, and this is not a ghost writer.

Again, I am not contending that this sort of material, or the jocular attitude toward the “friendzone,” or any other misguided forms of comedy are the source of the deep misogyny found in PUAHate, the MRA, or The Red Pill. But when misogyny has become as widespread and dangerous as Elliot Rodger has proven it to be, I truly believe it is the responsibility of every media outlet, from the news, to comedy, to this dinky little blog in a corner of the internet, to make itself part of the solution. The ongoing refusal of the aforementioned media to acknowledge the depth of the problem, and therefore to deny responsibility for creating a solution, is what I find deplorable.

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No Means No: A Feminist Fantasy.

In the fight against rape culture, many feminists feel we need to work beyond the “no means no” catchphrase toward a more cooperative, positive view of consent, where consent means “yes” instead of just “not no.” I agree with that idea, but I don’t think it’s time to leave behind “no means no,” yet.

Many folks, on an intellectual level, acknowledge that “no means no,” but there are certain parts of our minds that say “well, but maybe it doesn’t this time.” The incredibly sad reason for that is that sometimes that part of the mind is right. There are still people out there who use “no” as a tool for manipulation, for whom “no” is a tease that means “maybe” or means “work harder.” It sucks, but they’re out there. And as long as “no” is used to mean anything other than “I don’t want this to happen, please stop,” we can’t abandon “no means no” for greener, more enlightened pastures.

So, here’s my fantasy. Let’s imagine a scenario, where one person is attempting to use “no” to sexually manipulate their partner. Heck, let’s roleplay it out.

Person A: Hey, do you want to come upstairs?

Person B: (blushing, using engaging body language) No, I don’t know if I should.

Person A: Ok, well, have a good night. (Exits)

Here’s what just happened: person A, the sexual initiator, can tell that person B is being manipulative and deceptive, but has accepted the “no” answer and terminated the encounter. B is probably going to be really annoyed by this. S/he’s going to try to chew out A later, and A is going to say  “but you said no, and I took you at your word.” Thus B will learn not to do that any more.

This is my fantasy, and I say fantasy because I know that for most people instilling a lesson about consent and rape culture is less important than the immediate opportunity for a sexual encounter. But when “no” sometimes really does mean “keep going,” how are we supposed to teach people the universal statement that “no means no?” The lesson becomes disingenuous. So, in addition to teaching people that as the sexual initiators “no means no,” we need to also teach clear communication of consent, and to never use “no” unless you really mean it.

“Nobody Wants To See That!”

“There are some people you just don’t want to see naked.”

This is a phrase I’ve heard bandied about so often that it almost seems like a truism, especially when I hear it from the mouths of people that I value and respect. These are, generally speaking, good open-minded people, and so when they say something that sounds so obvious, the first response I think is “well, yeah.”

Then I thought about it.

And I thought about what it meant. I thought “is this true?” and “is this shaming?” The answers were no, and yes.

The first question: Is this true? For me, no it isn’t. There is not a single body on this planet that I wouldn’t love to see with enough confidence, freedom from fear, and shamelessness to be exposed openly. If every person I saw walking down the street every day was nude without fear of reprisal or violence, without self-consciousness about their sexual appeal, and without the baffling moral notion that to be exposed is to somehow disrespect oneself, I’d be downright thrilled. I would look at each and every body with respect and pleasure, and there is no person on this earth that I would not want to see that way.

The second question is, I think, more important because it applies more to the rest of the world that doesn’t have my desire to liberate naked bodies. “Is this shaming?” Absolutely yes, and I think that’s a question that more of us need to ask ourselves every time we open our mouths. The shaming question goes back to an issue I’ve already tackled, the fact that sexuality and nudity are needlessly conflated, and that a body that is not sexually desirable is considered repugnant. “There are some people you just don’t want to see naked,” translates to, “If a body is not sexually appealing to me, it ought to be covered up.” There are many bodies in this world that are not sexually appealing to me – in fact, I’d venture to say most of them – but I have no right to expect my sexual preferences to control others’ bodies. Nor should those preferences affect the way others feel about their bodies.

So, you know. Think about what you say. Don’t say shaming crap. If you think you might possibly be saying shaming crap, imagine someone was saying it about you. If that hurts your feelings, then it’s shaming. Don’t say it.

Prom: Slut-Shaming and Teen Sexuality

I am asking for trouble. I am begging for the internet world at large to hate on me. Am I this much of a masochist? Am I really going to go here?

Yeah, yeah I am. I’m a 25-year-old with no children, about to write a post about parenting teenagers.

The only excuse I can offer is that I was a teenager myself less than a decade ago. Please don’t kill me.

Recently I read this article regarding high school prom dress codes, and the accusation that they are “slut-shaming” female attendees through tight restrictions on acceptable female apparel in an attempt to avoid creating a “distraction.”

This is a deeply complex issue, and being not a parent I can’t even hope to cover every aspect of what’s happening here. But I will try to break it down into as many cogent pieces as possible.

First, let’s look at the motivation behind restrictive dress codes for female students. For anyone who has never read a school dress code, “distraction” is public school code for “boners.” The goal of these rules – which usually include provisions for length of skirts/shorts, exposure of bellies and cleavage, and general skin coverage –  is to prevent teenage girls from looking too sexually provocative and giving boys boners. That reasoning in itself is problematic because of its assumption that an exposed body is inherently sexual, a concern I have posted on at length already. Girls are being taught that to expose their body is to provoke sexual responses. If A, then B, no mitigating factors. Even the people militating against the dress-codes as “slut-shaming” are buying into this argument, because if an exposed body is not sexual, then there is no slut to shame, just a girl in shorts.

The exposure of the body is not necessarily sexual, but it certainly can be. Working from a position where girls are specifically wearing revealing clothing to look sexy, we can see a lot of reasons why they might be prevented from doing so:

1) Adults don’t believe teenage girls are capable of understanding and controlling their own sexual availability. If a girl looks like she wants sex, that might mean that she does. Obviously she’s too young to make informed sexual opinions, so if we make it LOOK like she’s not interested in being sexually provocative, then she will no longer BE interested. This argument is clearly fallacious. If you put a girl in a nun’s habit, it won’t actually change her sexual interests, it will just create a false front.

This particular issue is complicated by the fact that many teenage girls aren’t actually interested in being sexually provocative out of any sense of desire, but merely because that’s what girls are “supposed to” look like. Female teen sexuality is deeply damaged by the fact that many girls feel the need to exude sexual desirability, but without sexual desire of their own that goes with it. In this regard, I absolutely understand the impulse to control what she wears, so that she can be forgiven for not putting on a sexual facade she may not want in the first place. However, that’s something to have a conversation with a girl about, instead of simply legislating her wardrobe. If she feels uncomfortable among her peers because of sexual expectations, discuss them and work to change the expectations.

2) Adults don’t believe teenage boys are capable of controlling their own sexual impulses. We have a wealth of news stories about teen boys sexually assaulting girls, and the classic knee-jerk response is to try to make girls less sexually interesting to boys so that boys will stop doing awful things to them. The trouble with this is that we’re placing the onus on the girls – as usual – to control boys’ impulses, instead of teaching boys to control those impulses. Instead of teaching young people about consent, we’re trying to shut off their urges by concealing temptation. That’s simply not going to happen – and, worse, we’re punishing girls for supposedly creating these urges if they don’t properly conceal themselves.

3) Adults are uncomfortable viewing teenage girls as sexually desirable. A high school girl is, physically, pretty much an adult. She may grow another inch or two, she may gain half a cup size in college, but her body is a grown-up body. How I feel about her emotional or sexual maturity is a question for another insanely long post, but because of their physical maturity, adult authority figures become uncomfortable seeing sexually appealing teenage girls. They are unavailable due to the difference in social stratum, but stir desire nonetheless. That’s a little scary for a lot of people. (I’m not talking here about parents. I’m talking about teachers, administrators, chaperones.)

4) If a teenage girl dresses in a sexually provocative manner, adults believe that she is sexually active and that is “icky.” This one is more about the parents than the other authority figures. Many parents want to live under the illusion that their teenagers are not having sex. Most people start their sexual lives as teenagers, so this is very much an illusion. But it’s much easier to maintain the illusion that my (hypothetical) daughter is not having sex if she does not look sexy.

In the end, I’ll say that teen sex is incredibly problematic. I don’t think that sexually objectifying dress codes fix anything. If a girl shows up to prom in an outfit that causes concern among the adults, maybe ask her about it instead of sending her home. If the problem is that we’re worried whether teens are having safe, joyful, consensual sex lives, the issue is not her dress, it’s why she’s wearing it. If, as I suspect, the issue is not that we’re concerned about teenagers having healthy sex lives but are, rather, attempting to prevent teenagers from having sex lives at all, well then stop it. Just stop it. Restrictive dress-codes are about as effective at controlling teen sexuality as abstinence-only education: which is to say, not at all.

One last thing, and I promise it will be brief: a lot of folks have commented on the gender disparity between explanations of “appropriate” prom attire. I don’t know what kind of proms these people were going to, but all the ones I’ve seen the guys wear approximately one thing: a tux. It comes in colors, vest or no vest, bowtie or straight tie, but it’s all the damn same. It just is. The difference in rules isn’t sexist, it’s a fact of men’s formalwear. Whether or not the difference between men’s and women’s formalwear is inherently sexist is a question for not right now.

I Am Not An Erotic Writer

I don’t write erotic fiction. I used to, a long time ago – well, I started a long time ago, then wrote in fits and starts for a few years. I don’t any more, though sometimes I want to.

I have thought about writing new erotic fiction. I’ve thought about it while I’m fantasizing, thinking maybe someone else might enjoy this as much as I do. Sometimes I will send a fantasy to its object, and usually that person enjoys reading it. But it never makes it into solid narrative form.

Today I was thinking about why that is. I am generally of the opinion that a strong narrative needs a compelling visual element, and my sexual arousal is usually not very visual. That is, when I’m imagining pleasure, I’m not thinking of the cut abs, angular cheekbones, and throbbing manhoods that represent sexually appealing masculinity (ok, so maybe I’m thinking about throbbing manhoods sometimes). What I’m thinking of is a person who makes me feel good. I’m thinking of the feel of their lips brushing my neck, the weight of their body on top of me, or the sounds they make when they’re about to orgasm.

Much as they make me drool, I’m not thinking of Sean Maher, January Jones, or John Barrowman. I’m not imagining a beautiful body, I’m imagining the beautiful things that a person can do to me, and the ways that I can make someone feel.

I think about the powerful, direct jolt from the nape of my neck straight into the depths of my pussy whenever someone buries their fingers in my hair and pulls, hard. I think about the way their tongue feels on my nipples, or their fingernails digging into my hips when I’m getting fucked from behind.

Photo by Molly Algernon

Photo by Molly Algernon

I don’t really think about the look of a body. I don’t dream of perky breasts or long legs. I am conscious of such things, and even somewhat adept at describing them. My old fictions can attest to that. But those descriptions always read as disingenuous, because the way a body looks is never what draws my interest or fuels my desire. I will admit that looking into someone’s eyes and seeing lust in them certainly does move me, but that look, no matter the writer, is one that can’t be truly shared in print. Words never really capture that flame that hides behind the iris and says “I want you, you take my breath away.”

Something seems to be missing from my story when I share the touch of a hand, the grip of teeth, the strength of a thrust, but my reader can’t see us. If I’m sharing with a person while I’m fantasizing, it’s easy. I am me, and you are you, and the image is ready-made. But for a wider readership, I want to be able to offer something real, something tangible, not the passionate affair of ghosts.

So I don’t write erotic fiction, though I still want to. I find myself inspired by another writer, who intersperses his sexual interludes with bits of internal monologue, sometimes wandering along tangents for several paragraphs, before reminding me that he’s got a woman’s mouth on his cock. That kind of narrative makes me feel like I’m inside his convoluted mind while he’s fucking, rather than being an observer. I love that. Perhaps, if I can capture that feeling within the context of my own experience, it won’t matter if my actors have no visages. We’ll see.

Drinking and Kinking in Christina Aguilera’s “Not Myself Tonight”

I wrote this several years ago, and never really had anywhere to put it before now. And now, I have a venue where I get to write about WHATEVER I WANT. So, I tidied it up a bit, and now you’re getting a critique of a sexy music video.

If you haven’t seen the video I’m talking about, the song is “Not Myself Tonight” by Christina Aguilera.

This is an example of a surprisingly common phenomenon where the imagery of a music video has almost nothing to do with the content of the song. The song seems to be about a girl who’s getting drunk, grinding on the dance floor, and making out with strangers. Pretty standard fare, really, with the exception of Christina Aguilera employing the word “fuck” – something I don’t recall her ever doing.

notmyselftonightImage-wise, this video is PRETTY. It’s a bit of a kink clusterfuck, ranging from kitten-play-style crawling on the floor in a collar, with a bowl in front of her; to playing dance-floor dominatrix, pulling hair and making a room full of back up dancers kneel around her. You also see such costume gems as a high-fashion gimp and what appears to be a drag queen in a vinyl teddy and big big hair. Also, my personal favorite, the blinged-out ball-gag.

So, yeah, ok, I’m not telling you anything you wouldn’t know watching this video by yourself. However, there’s something else going on in there. Most of the song doesn’t match up with the imagery Christina is presenting, but what does align is lots and lots of kink with lines like “I’m feeling unusual,” “I’m out of character,” etc. The implication, of course, being that sometimes nice girls want to get naughty. As the type who likes to be naughty pretty much all the time, I’m not sure how much I like that message. I think Christina is trying to dance around kink, not quite embracing it, but showing it to us so we believe she’s edgy.

rihannasm

Say what you want about the much more popular Rihanna song “S&M” (which took a lot of judgment from the vanilla and kink communities alike when it came out), but she went all out with her message. She said, shamelessly, “Feels so good being bad, there’s no way I’m turning back.” Christina is saying “I’m out of character.”*

“If you really knew me you’d know it’s not the norm,” are Aguilera’s words. What I hear is, “If I don’t embrace this fully, then you can’t judge me.” She’s walking that fine line that appeals to the vanilla man: she’s a freak SOMETIMES. She thinks that vinyl is sexy SOMETIMES, but she won’t threaten your manhood by being a dominant woman. She likes to make out with girls SOMETIMES, but don’t worry, your manhood is not threatened because she’s still straight. “If you don’t like it fuck you,” she says, but she also says it’s just for tonight. In the long term, she’s safe, vanilla, heteronormative Christina.

I just stuck this photo in here because I have a shoe fetish. Ballet heels. Yum.

I just stuck this photo in here because I have a shoe fetish. Ballet heels. Yum.

It also plays to the more dangerous stereotype of the sexually uninhibited drunk woman. She says “I’m taking shots,” and “I’m normally in the corner just standing,” but because she’s drunk she’s “getting crazy.” Yes, alcohol does reduce inhibition. Obviously I’m not saying that it doesn’t. But perpetuating the image of the girl who acts wild because she’s drunk sucks for many reasons. First, is the problem of guys who intentionally get girls drunk to create this effect and thereby get laid. The logic is, it’s not that the girl doesn’t WANT to have sex, she’s just uptight and needs to get loosened up with some drink. Feminists and other people with brains call this acquaintance rape or, at best, coercion.

The second problem is that it feeds the idea that women AREN’T sexually free when they’re sober. A normal, sober, woman ought to be standing in the corner. And when you’re sober you shouldn’t want to kiss the boys and the girls. But when you’re drunk you get a pass. That both encourages permissiveness of bad behavior while drinking (“I didn’t mean to cheat on you, I was drunk”) and discourages sexual freedom while sober. Sexual uninhibited-ness, within the confines of safe, sane, consensual activity, is a GOOD THING. It’s not something to be excused away with drink.

After watching this video a few times, my feelings remain mixed. I do have all of the previously listed moral qualms with her message. At the same time, I think the costumes, the choreography, the whole production, are all breathtaking. I could watch her pour liquid latex on herself all day and never get tired of it. Freeze the video at 1:09. Thank me later. Aesthetically, I am in love with this video!

notmyselftonight2

You’re welcome.

So I am left ambivalent. Perhaps I’ll superimpose another song onto the video for this one, so my eyes can be happy while my ears are left unoffended. I wonder how “Hotel California” would line up?**

*Fun fact regarding timelines: Christina Aguilera’s “Not Myself Tonight” video was released in April 2010 (the full album “Bionic” was released in June). Rihanna’s “S&M” video was released in January 2011 (the album, “Loud,” was released the previous November). In every way, Christina’s song was first. So obviously Christina was not riding the coat-tails of Rihanna’s successful video. And “Not Myself Tonight” was nowhere NEAR the hit that “S&M” was, so we certainly can’t say the opposite. If the two influenced each other at all, maybe Rihanna saw Christina’s video and wanted to take it one step further? Who knows?

** The “Hotel California” thing was totally a joke, but if you play “S&M” over the video for “Not Myself Tonight,” it almost works. Sadly, “S&M” is almost a full minute longer, so that kinda fucks that up. But other than that, the music and choreography look uncannily good together.

Star Speaks Out, Part 2: Feminism and a Man’s Right to Desire

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.

Star Speaks Out, Part 1: A Non-Monogamist’s take on Sex-Positivity, Exhibitionism, and Rape Culture

This blog was originally posted in Life on the Swingset on January 23, 2013.

Alternately titled, let’s see how many current events buzz-words I can fit into one title.

Recently I’ve become very interested in the debates surrounding American rape culture, specifically its intersections with sex-positivity and feminism. I stipulate “American” rape culture, because the cultural norms and expectations that produce drunken frat-party violations are vastly different from those that produced the recent gang-rape reported in India, or others outside our Western frame of reference.

As a sex-positive non-monogamist, I often feel that in the mono-normative world where sex is a commodity, subject to supply and demand, my sexuality is devalued and I am one of “those women.” Those women are the bad girls, the promiscuous girls, the ones who (gasp!) like to have sex. We’ve all heard the phrase “no one will buy the cow when they can get the milk for free,” and when I refer to the commodification of sex, that’s the perfect accessible example. People, and women especially, are taught that sex is a good that we have to offer someone else, and that we have to preserve, and even amplify, the value of that good. We make our sexuality more valuable by decreasing the supply, to thereby increase demand. Because apparently my vagina is a widget.

(Please don’t confuse this symbolic commodification of women’s sexualities by mono-normative society as the same as the literal commodification of a woman’s sexuality in the cases of pornography, prostitution, or stripping. These are their own issues, involving another scale of consent, objectification, and economics. That’s not what I’m talking about here.)

The worldwide SlutWalk organization has coined the slogan “still not asking for it,” to encapsulate their philosophy that a woman’s personal behavior is never an invitation for sexual contact, and consent has to be offered, rather than assumed. I think the reason that these sorts of organizations even have to make those sorts of slogans, is because if a woman’s sexuality is a commodity, wherein its value is based on its availability, then a woman who is sex-positive, sexually active, or just confident enough to display her body, has a low to non-existent sexual value. Thus, sex with her can or should be “free.” Payment, in the forms of consent and mutual enjoyment, is unnecessary because her sexuality has no value. This sounds like the view of a sociopath when put forth that explicitly, but I’ve seen comments from average men (and worse, other women!) in internet forums that put forth this very idea in less direct terms. A woman at a SlutWalk stood topless with body-paint proclaiming “Still Not Asking For It,” and one woman’s comment on this Facebook photo was “I love and respect my body to the point where only one man deserves to look at my naked breasts.” The point she’s making is that she believes that her body and her sexuality will decrease in value the more people it is exposed to. That if she exposes her breasts to other men, that means that they will be worth less because the sight is something someone has to “deserve.”

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My wardrobe choice for the Pride parade in 2012. Photo by Allan Crain.

Let’s connect this to me, the sex-pos polyamorous exhibitionist. Yesterday, I intentionally wore a revealing, provocative outfit to work because I wanted to be looked at. I felt delightfully objectified as I saw my friends, coworkers, and customers staring at my body. One of the men I work with said it took him at least the first hour of the shift before he wasn’t staring at my ass constantly. I love and respect my body to the point where I want every damn person to look at it, and beyond that to the point that I believe that even if every person on this earth saw my naked body, that wouldn’t give a single one of them the right to touch it without my consent. I believe that the value of my body is not based on who I hide it from, it’s based on my value as a person, a human being with rights.

Another Facebook comment, also by a woman, on the aforementioned photo, said, “Keep that shit in the privacy of your own home, and maybe you wouldn’t be giving off slutty vibes to everyone. You don’t buy a fucking skin tight dress that pretty much shows your breasts and beaver just because you want to, you do it to get looks from others, and guess what BAD PEOPLE LOOK TOO.” (Internet-style typos corrected.) She’s telling us two important things. One is that she believes that “giving off slutty vibes” is inherently bad, and puts a woman in the position of being in the wrong even before she may be violated. She later says “You walk around like a slut you will get treated like one.” Which, to those of us who value sluts, and the freedom to be one as a life choice, sounds like a fine deal. Treated like a slut? Ok, great, that means you’ll respect my sexual decisions, which happen to be open and varied. That is, of course, not what she means. When she says I may be “treated like a slut,” she means treated like my sexuality has no value, and that I don’t deserve respect because I don’t demand it in the traditional method of hiding and fearing my own body. Her other point is a more subtle and insidious implication. When she says that dressing slutty is an invitation for people to look, and that this will include “bad people,” i.e. rapists, what’s she’s quietly implying is that the invitation to look is an invitation to touch, to molest. That simply being exposed and gazed at, and allowing herself to be seen by “bad people,” she deserves whatever she gets, because the responsibility for respect is not being placed upon the toucher, but the touched.

Eve Ensler‘s piece from the Vagina Monologues entitled “My Short Skirt,” comes so close to hitting the nail on the head for me. She says “My short skirt is not an invitation, a provocation, an indication, that I want it, or give it.” Yes, Ms. Ensler! True! She also says, “My short skirt, believe it or not, has nothing to do with you.” Well, maybe she misses the mark a bit. My short skirt has everything to do with you. Unless I wear my short skirt all alone in my living room, my short skirt is for you to look upon, for you to see me and consider my body, with desire, disgust, confusion, or whatever feeling moves you. It is not an invitation to touch or to approach, but it is present to your gaze and you may look, because that’s why we choose any clothing. Unless we’re wearing camouflage, when we pick our clothes we’re picking what we want people to see when they look at us.

As any active kinkster or swinger can tell you, consent is king in our minority communities. The sort of behavior shrugged at by the general public, things like street harassment, or unwanted touching by friends or peers, are absolute taboo within the context of a dungeon or a swinger party. I admit I’m reaching a bit out of my element regarding swing clubs/parties as I’ve never been to one, but as I understand the rules are very similar to that of a dungeon, where I do have quite a bit of experience. In these environments it is simply unacceptable to touch another person without their explicit consent, even if they are stark naked, sexually aroused, or otherwise wildly desirable. Because these communities know that our desires do not convey to us any rights.

This is already becoming very long, so I’ve decided to split the post into two. Tune in next time for the tie-in to feminism, and the issue of respect for sexual men as well as women.