Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Sex, Subjectively

About a week ago, the feminist blogs erupted into what is already being called The Great Blow-Job Debate, which debate, by its attempting to categorize and render judgment on specific sexual acts, made me inarticulately livid.

BitchPhd has transformed that debate into an open forum for people to talk about how they feel about sex. Heterosexual women sound off here, heterosexual men sound off here. Lesbian women sound off, unfortunately as an afterthought, here, and gay men are cordially invited to find their own damned sites, I'm afraid.

Then there's a final thread, in which everyone is invited to respond to each other. I must admit that, even though the heterosexual women thread was gutwrenchingly honest, this conversational thread was the most interesting thread for me. The women seemed so much more able to admit to even unflattering desires; the men felt guilty--or were made to feel guilty--about deviant desires. The "come together" thread manages to reinscribe the very very good ethos of "talk about it" and "respect your partner's limits."

I could have had a lot to stay about the above, but the tangent I went off on concerned men's sense of physical unattractiveness. And indeed, what was really remarkable about the men to men thread was how unwilling men were to be frank, truly open, with one another. Teofilo worried about a general sense that men were inheriting according to which male bodies and male desire were a priori declared disgusting.

Precisely because I am a feminist, I regard this sort of belief as something to be combated, allieved, and negotiated. Sexual desire is great. Equitable sexual desire is fantastic. Sincere delight in each anothers' body does everyone a world of good.

[Update: some stylistic editing, and then some more.]

15 Comments:

Anonymous teofilo:

Thanks for the support. I'd been meaning to say more about this (specifically about how overcoming this perception was important for me), but I'm kind of sick of the issue at this point.

6/27/2006 10:58:00 PM  
Blogger Jackmormon:

I'm very much with you, Teo. It's been surprising to me how few men have been willing to join your ranks, as it were.

I'm an equity feminist, to a certain degree. By which I mean that patriarchal inequity has covered up harmful ideas that have effected both men and women.

And in this context, I think I mean that both men and women want to feel attractive and sexually potent.

If women hope that male partners will provide this encouragement, then it's only fair that female partners should make more of an effort to encourage men. Especially those men who are careful, sensitive, and kind--they really should be met with careful, kind lasciviousness, no?

6/27/2006 11:24:00 PM  
Anonymous teofilo:

I think a big part of the problem is that a lot of men buy in to this idea without really thinking about it--they just treat it as a given that men are unattractive physically and women are looking for other things. Getting people to recognize the problem is the first step, and it's been harder than I had thought it would be.

6/27/2006 11:55:00 PM  
Anonymous I don't pay:

I'd like to contribute to this, because I don't feel this sense of unattractiveness, or inappropriateness in thinking of men as physically beautiful and sexy. I can testify that many people, men and women, have always been uncomfortable with that, and at the mildest have frankly suggested I was weird about it. What always seemed most incongruous to me was that common, easily accessible art contradicted this in every way. Comic books? Seemed to be all about the beauty of (idealized) male forms. Streetcar Named Desire, often on TV when I was young, makes no sense without Brando/Stanley's attractiveness. Was all of this leaving people cold?

6/28/2006 06:57:00 AM  
Blogger Jackmormon:

Not me!

[Five minutes of thinking about the young Brando.]

But I do get the sense that the idea of male beauty has changed a lot in the last few decades. Not just what sort of man is found attractive (although that has also changed), but who is supposed to be doing the looking.

Orlando Bloom, for example, was seemingly designed to appeal to gay men and thirteen year-old girls. I doubt that either of those demographics would have exercised significant market pull fifty years ago.

6/28/2006 08:29:00 AM  
Anonymous I don't pay:

I think there's nothing new about segmented appeals, and if I'd been more aware of that demographic I'd be able to come up with an analogy, I think.

Sometimes, in the sixties, appeal seems to have surprised producers. The enormous appeal of David MacCallum in The Man From Uncle is an example I remember, although I "got" that one.

6/28/2006 09:27:00 AM  
Blogger LizardBreath:

Orlando Bloom, for example, was seemingly designed to appeal to gay men and thirteen year-old girls. I doubt that either of those demographics would have exercised significant market pull fifty years ago.

The Beatles hit almost 50 years ago, and that was absolutely driven by screaming teenyboppers. Weren't a lot of bands of that era aimed at the young-girl-heartthrob audience?

6/28/2006 10:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Steve:

Jack, think about bobbysoxer-era Frank Sinatra (pre-ringadingding days, when he was a skinny, pretty Italian boy) who drove teenage girls wild. And my wife mentions Valentino, who was getting attacked in newspaper editorials as a sign of the creeping feminization of the American male back in the '20s.

6/28/2006 03:30:00 PM  
Blogger Jackmormon:

Good counter-examples, all.

Maybe the difference--because I do think something has changed--is that women now earn their own money and are in a position to be able to say to men "No, you're just not sexy enough for me" or "Yes, I'd like to have sex with you, but I reserve the right to call it off when I feel like it," which then leads men to a new insecurity about their looks?

Ok, I'll admit to speculating wildly and in all directions at this point.

6/28/2006 05:51:00 PM  
Anonymous teofilo:

If there's one thing I've learned in the past couple of days, it's that the "male bodies are inherently ugly" idea is not nearly as widespread as I had thought. It's still there, though, and in tension with the (perhaps older, perhaps more common) male-body-as-beautiful-object thing people have been bringing up in opposition. I really do think the two ideas operate on different levels, though.

6/28/2006 06:06:00 PM  
Blogger bitchphd:

I'm getting in on this really late (forgive me), but isn't the very idea that X hearthrob primarily appeals to "teenage girls" itself part of the dismissal of male attractiveness problem? It seems to me that part of why we dismiss the screaming teenyboppers/Orland fans/whoever is that they so unabashedly advertise their sexual interest. They make a big deal out of it. Whereas the appeal of arguably older male sex objects (Clooney, say) is there, but less, if I may, "shrill." And it's also supposed to be there for both men *and* women (the "man's man" thing), which I think desexualizes it just a bit.

7/03/2006 12:49:00 PM  
Anonymous teofilo:

I think so, b. I'm not sure if I said this anywhere during the discussions, but when people were bringing up various icons of male attractiveness to rebut my arguments I did think "well, yeah, but look how seriously we treat their fans."

7/03/2006 07:32:00 PM  
Blogger LizardBreath:

I had some thoughts about this over the weekend. First, I realized that I am familiar (I think) with what Teo's talking about, but I'd seen it as privilege -- from my perspective I'd thought of it as men having permission to be non-sexual -- neither attractive nor unattractive, simply not participating in sexuality -- when they choose not to be. A woman is either dressed sexily or is deliberately covering her sexuality; a man, on the other hand, has the option of simply being neutral. While I'd never thought of it in Teo's terms, I'm betting that that's the same thing he's talking about -- that from his perspective it feels as though men are required to be sexually neutral.

The other thing, and this is dopier, is that this is what Queer Eye For The Straight Guy was about (is it still on?). The point of the show was in allowing straight men access to beauty and sexuality -- in breaking away from that enforced neutrality that Teo, and clearly that the target Queer Eye audience, perceives.

7/05/2006 09:35:00 AM  
Blogger Jackmormon:

I'm not as convinced by the word "neutrality," but what you're saying more generally seems to fit. I think you're right about Queer Eye; that show also addresses directly the problem a lot of men seem to feel (or have felt at formative ages), that being looked at sexually, by anyone, is tauntamount to being called gay.

7/06/2006 08:03:00 PM  
Anonymous teofilo:

LB also posted her comment on my thread; here's my response.

7/06/2006 10:27:00 PM  

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