Musings of an Inappropriate Woman

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Men are from bras, women are from penis

 

”While the feminists and soft men like to kid themselves that they are changing our nature, all they’ve really done is teach men to keep their mouths shut, while our minds still explore exactly the same topics they always have.” – Fairfax reader

”How to explain this to women? There is this thing about men that they cannot completely know. Few people want to believe that there could be a real chasm, a chemically induced difference of sexual drive between the sexes.” - Max Wolf Valerio, The Testosterone Files

I never know quite what to make of Australian sex therapist and professional provocateur Bettina Arndt’s writing on men and sex. Or, for that matter, that certain kind of woman-led-commentary on men and sex more generally. (See also: Vargas-Cooper, Natasha.)

The above quotes aren’t by Arndt, but they are lifted from her latest musings on the subject, published in the Sydney Morning Herald over the weekend.

I don’t disagree with everything Arndt has to say – I too am turned off by the mass hysteria over pornography, sexting and even infidelity (don’t like the latter, but have no interest in seeing it splashed over newspapers and celebrity weeklies, either). But this whole idea that men’s sexuality is not only somehow “different” to women’s, but also darker and dirtier and more repressed (by the evil feminist establishment, natch)? I don’t think I buy it.

That’s because I’m a woman, these writers would say (although, funnily enough, they’re usually women too). And a naive, social constructionist feminist, at that!

But while I don’t deny that Arndt is in touch with a lot of men (Vargas-Cooper, while compelling, didn’t seem to speak to anyone much for her own essay on porn), I also think that, as writers and social researchers, like attracts like. You write about a topic, and then everyone who agrees with you nods their heads and joins your circle. Maybe it’s in the way you frame your questions, or even in the questions you choose to ask. This doesn’t mean that Arndt is wrong, per se, but it does mean that her conclusions are only one piece of the puzzle.

(And as someone who has reviewed her work before, I’d add that there are some internal contradictions there. In What Men Want, for instance, she argues that men have an insatiable need for variety. But she also says that women are more likely to go off sex in long term relationships – not because they don’t want it at all, but because they don’t want it from their husbands.)

Equally interesting is the way in which these writers present themselves as “truth tellers” – the only people brave enough to face up to the dark, seedy underbelly of human sexuality. Again, I’m not convinced. I don’t think we try to bury men’s “lust for life” or rein in our less “savory” desires. I think we love hearing those stories, that there’s something in the way they unsettle that offers a form of comfort. It’s why they’re published so often, and why they do so well on the internet. They play to what we already think we know, and to what we want to be true.

But I’d suggest that this depiction of human sexuality – and in particular, male sexuality – as secretly and innately brute is a symptom of our hang ups about sex, not an act of resistance to it. Why does pleasure have to be dark and dirty? Why should sleeping with lots of people have to mean hating the people you sleep with? There’s no reason, nor any innate link between the two. Many people manage it all the time.

And if (as Arndt, and Dan Savage, who she quotes, suggest) gay male sex is the purest expression of male sexuality? Well, I know gay men who prefer monogamy, too – as well as gay men (and straight men, and women) who would prefer not to be monogamous but whose partners insist on it.

It’s a bit of a “duh, no shit” statement, but when it comes to sex, beware the one size fits all.

Related: You are not your sex drive: the problem with Jong
Ask Rachel: What are your thoughts on SlutWalk?
#Ladypornday: Why can’t we talk about porn?

Elsewhere: Lust for Life (Sydney Morning Herald)
Hard Core (The Atlantic)

Best of 2010: “But women don’t rape!”: sexual pressure, rejection and the male sex drive discourse

Not just my favourite post for February, but also one of my most successful ever posts, and a post that epitomises what I want this blog - and my writing more generally - to be about. Challenging the assumptions we take for granted in the hope of building a more honest, reflective and ethical life.

It seems particularly pertinent in light of debates of recent weeks. Just as men we like and admire are not by default incapable of harmful behaviours and transgressions, nor are women.

We’ve all heard the “but he’s such a nice guy” defence trotted out to explain away sexual assault, but what about the “but she’s such a nice girl" defence?

It’s a question Pluralist raised in the Feministing community last week, and I’m glad she did. She tells the story of her best friend, who “(unknowingly) forced her boyfriend into sex”:



Apparently he had said things along the lines of “I’m too tired right now, let’s just go to sleep” and she had continued to proposition him thinking “welll, this will help you sleep better!” My immediate reaction was that there was no way she had coerced or pressured him into sex. After all, he should’ve just said “No really, I don’t want to do this right now” if she kept at it. It was his fault for not stopping the encounter.

And then I realised that had this been a woman in his place - not to mention my best friend - I would never have given this consideration. I was victim-blaming, basing my assumptions in tropes of male hypersexuality and female passivity. She didn’t handcuff him to a heater and force-feed him viagra. She’s a nice girl, she couldn’t have done that!



Female-on-male sexual assault is a subject people don’t talk about much. I assume it’s because heterosexual intercourse relies on the man having an erection, which to the less progressive, educated eye makes it physically impossible (never mind that a man can physically have an erection and still not want to have sex on an intellectual or emotional level). It’s also because - as I’ll discuss further in a moment - there’s a very real assumption that men always want sex, and conversely, that women need to be talked into it.

Now, I know at least one woman who has physically forced sex upon a man who had repeatedly told her he didn’t want to have sex with her and was pretty pissed off with her afterwards - rape in no uncertain terms, if the genders were reversed. But the situation Pluralist talks about is a little less obvious than that. It’s unethical, certainly, and inconsiderate, and you shouldn’t do it, but I’d argue it’s technically not classified as sexual assault (if you disagree, please debate it in the comments).

It’s also a darn sight more common than sexual assault.

While it’s not the subject of my thesis per se, one of the interesting threads that has come through in my interviews is how very poorly many women take it when their male partners don’t want to have sex with them. They don’t like it at all. For these women, being turned down for sex - even if only occasionally, even if only once - is read as communicating a whole lot of nasty things about them and their relationship. That their partner doesn’t find them attractive anymore, that he’s cheating, that their relationship lacks passion, that they’re bad in bed, that he’s not into women at all.

It’s a similar story with the male orgasm. As one woman I spoke to told me:



I remember one time, he didn’t finish and I was like ‘what are you doing?’ Because guys come really easily. I mean, compared to a woman. They cream really easily. So I thought, “what the hell has happened here that you can’t come? This is not good! This is definitely not me. We’re working on this until you’re gone. I don’t care if you get burns down there. [laughs] I don’t care.”



She acknowledged the irony that she didn’t orgasm once in the duration of their relationship.

So where do these (very common) outbreaks of insecurity come from? I blame them on what feminist psychologist Wendy Hollway calls the “male sex drive discourse” - the idea that men are always “up for it”, forever ready and able to “perform”, and can’t control their desires. In this discourse, there’s no room for being tired, for not “feeling like it”, for just wanting to cuddle, or even for refraining from assaulting a scantily clad woman. Even amongst many progressives, these assumptions are deeply seated.

Which is why you see reactions like the ones described by this Em&Lo commenter:



have you ever seen how a woman gets when she’s denied sex!?!? They’re HORRIBLE! They’ll pout, they’ll rub other guys in your face, they’ll call you gay, they’ll threaten to cheat… Awful!



Not all women, of course, but I’d wager that it is more socially acceptable for women to behave in this way than it is for men.

The flipside of the male sex drive discourse is the other point Pluralist touches upon: that if men are hungry sex fiends, women are too compassionate and docile to ever do something like pressure a man into sex, let alone to assault him. And if they do - well, it couldn’t have hurt that much and he probably wanted it anyway, amirite?

But otherwise “good girls” do unethical things in just the same way that otherwise “good guys” do. And I’d argue that defining people as such blinds us from looking critically at their - and more importantly, our own - behaviour and prejudices.

Related: Sexually assaulting women with your friends doesn’t make you gay, it’s a way to prove that you’re not gay
Kyle, Jackie, Matthew Johns and the most innocent of victims
The Sex Myth

Elsewhere: Nice Girl (tm) Defence: She couldn’t have done it! (Feministing Community)
On learning to recognise “gray area” sexual pressure where you least expect it(Figleaf’s Real Adult Sex)
Comment of the week: women can’t handle rejection in bed (Em&Lo)

"But women don’t rape!": sexual pressure, rejection and the male sex drive discourse



We’ve all heard the “but he’s such a nice guy” defence trotted out to explain away sexual assault, but what about the “but she’s such a nice girl" defence?

It’s a question Pluralist raised in the Feministing community last week, and I’m glad she did. She tells the story of her best friend, who “(unknowingly) forced her boyfriend into sex”:



Apparently he had said things along the lines of “I’m too tired right now, let’s just go to sleep” and she had continued to proposition him thinking “welll, this will help you sleep better!” My immediate reaction was that there was no way she had coerced or pressured him into sex. After all, he should’ve just said “No really, I don’t want to do this right now” if she kept at it. It was his fault for not stopping the encounter.

And then I realised that had this been a woman in his place - not to mention my best friend - I would never have given this consideration. I was victim-blaming, basing my assumptions in tropes of male hypersexuality and female passivity. She didn’t handcuff him to a heater and force-feed him viagra. She’s a nice girl, she couldn’t have done that!



Female-on-male sexual assault is a subject people don’t talk about much. I assume it’s because heterosexual intercourse relies on the man having an erection, which to the less progressive, educated eye makes it physically impossible (never mind that a man can physically have an erection and still not want to have sex on an intellectual or emotional level). It’s also because - as I’ll discuss further in a moment - there’s a very real assumption that men always want sex, and conversely, that women need to be talked into it.

Now, I know at least one woman who has physically forced sex upon a man who had repeatedly told her he didn’t want to have sex with her and was pretty pissed off with her afterwards - rape in no uncertain terms, if the genders were reversed. But the situation Pluralist talks about is a little less obvious than that. It’s unethical, certainly, and inconsiderate, and you shouldn’t do it, but I’d argue it’s technically not classified as sexual assault (if you disagree, please debate it in the comments).

It’s also a darn sight more common than sexual assault.

While it’s not the subject of my thesis per se, one of the interesting threads that has come through in my interviews is how very poorly many women take it when their male partners don’t want to have sex with them. They don’t like it at all. For these women, being turned down for sex - even if only occasionally, even if only once - is read as communicating a whole lot of nasty things about them and their relationship. That their partner doesn’t find them attractive anymore, that he’s cheating, that their relationship lacks passion, that they’re bad in bed, that he’s not into women at all.

It’s a similar story with the male orgasm. As one woman I spoke to told me:



I remember one time, he didn’t finish and I was like ‘what are you doing?’ Because guys come really easily. I mean, compared to a woman. They cream really easily. So I thought, “what the hell has happened here that you can’t come? This is not good! This is definitely not me. We’re working on this until you’re gone. I don’t care if you get burns down there. [laughs] I don’t care.”



She acknowledged the irony that she didn’t orgasm once in the duration of their relationship.

So where do these (very common) outbreaks of insecurity come from? I blame them on what feminist psychologist Wendy Hollway calls the “male sex drive discourse” - the idea that men are always “up for it”, forever ready and able to “perform”, and can’t control their desires. In this discourse, there’s no room for being tired, for not “feeling like it”, for just wanting to cuddle, or even for refraining from assaulting a scantily clad woman. Even amongst many progressives, these assumptions are deeply seated.

Which is why you see reactions like the ones described by this Em&Lo commenter:



have you ever seen how a woman gets when she’s denied sex!?!? They’re HORRIBLE! They’ll pout, they’ll rub other guys in your face, they’ll call you gay, they’ll threaten to cheat… Awful!



Not all women, of course, but I’d wager that it is more socially acceptable for women to behave in this way than it is for men.

The flipside of the male sex drive discourse is the other point Pluralist touches upon: that if men are hungry sex fiends, women are too compassionate and docile to ever do something like pressure a man into sex, let alone to assault him. And if they do - well, it couldn’t have hurt that much and he probably wanted it anyway, amirite?

But otherwise “good girls” do unethical things in just the same way that otherwise “good guys” do. And I’d argue that defining people as such blinds us from looking critically at their - and more importantly, our own - behaviour and prejudices.

Related: Sexually assaulting women with your friends doesn’t make you gay, it’s a way to prove that you’re not gay
Kyle, Jackie, Matthew Johns and the most innocent of victims
The Sex Myth

Elsewhere: Nice Girl (tm) Defence: She couldn’t have done it! (Feministing Community)
On learning to recognise “gray area” sexual pressure where you least expect it(Figleaf’s Real Adult Sex)
Comment of the week: women can’t handle rejection in bed (Em&Lo)