Musings On Biological Imperatives and Cultural Response

Awhile back I was chatting feminism with a male friend who consistently makes it a priority to demonstrate respect for women in his daily life and whose opinions and views I also have great respect for.

During the course of our discussion, issues of “biological imperatives” were raised. This is a massively important issue when it comes to feminist discourse, because one of the most basic underlying tenets of feminist theory is a necessary belief that human beings in civilized society — rational creatures with the ability to self-actualize, to feel empathy, to make moral and social distinctions, all the things that supposedly separate us from every other known species on this planet — are more than mere slaves to our biology. In other words, feminism firmly rejects the notion that society must accept and normalize (if not outrightly encourage) mens’ domination and objectification of women both sexually and culturally simply because “it’s male (human?) nature.” Feminism rejects the notion that men are powerless to control their sexual impulses or incapable of making rational decisions and conscious choices where sex is involved. Feminism rejects the notion that the systemic sexual objectification of women by men is a biological inevitability which must be fed lest complete societal chaos ensue (i.e. “if men didn’t have porn or strip clubs as an outlet for their enormous and uncontrollable sexual appetites, they’d just end up raping more women.” — yes, I have actually witnessed someone try to use the porn-stops-rape argument seriously).

And for many men (like my friend) who believe in the humanity and autonomy of women; who believe in a woman’s right to be regarded as a whole person who is more than just the sum of her tits, ass and pussy; who believe that a woman’s cultural and societal worth encompasses more than her value as a sexual object; who do not believe that women innately “owe” men sex by virtue of our existence; but yet who also find much of their thoughts, desires and behaviour at least partially driven by their innate sexual attraction to women — attempting to uphold feminist ideals of not objectifying women may often seem like an impossible task.

Part of my discussion with my friend on this topic took place via e-mail, which affords me the opportunity of quoting him directly.

Genetically, Darwinistically, biologically, I am forced to be obsessed with women’s bodies. Yes, forced. I can control how I act on that obsession, and the obsession doesn’t include the urge to hurt women physically. But there is absolutely no changing the feelings. Not after millennia of evolution. And in this place and time, the people whose respect I crave the most are always telling me that my very inner core is dirty, shameful, evil, wrong, disrespectful, backward, brute, and unevolved. But I can’t change it. So I’m stuck in perma-shame. That conundrum has always made me envy gay men. But I crave women. I desire their bodies. I want to fuck them. They’re so gorgeous and wonderful and perfect that I want to make love to almost every one I see. But I don’t try to fulfill that, and I don’t even admit those feelings to most people, and that’s how I get by. But I still feel like I’m acting through all of life. I have to pretend that the evidence of my respect for women lies in the supposed fact that I don’t want to fuck most of them.

There are quite a few points I want to address on this subject, so please bear with me as I attempt to organize my thoughts, as this is quite a complex issue which will no doubt result in a rather long-winded post.

First, I don’t deny that human beings (both male and female) do, indeed, somewhere within them possess an innate biological drive to reproduce which directly translates to an innate biological drive to have sex. And I can even contend that human beings possess an innate biological drive to pursue sexual pleasure in and of itself without reproduction being a factor. After all, if one believes as I do that homosexuality is generally not a conscious “lifestyle choice” but rather a biological drive over which most people who identify as homosexual have no control (to clarify, I say “most” in this case because there *are* some people who consciously choose to have sexual/romantic partnerships with members of the same sex even if they have not always “felt gay” or been gay, for whatever reason) then there has to be some biological factor at work with regard to human sexual appetites over and above just the drive to reproduce and continue the species, considering that homosexual sex acts themselves can never result in reproduction.

I would also like to state up front that not being a man, I can’t claim in any way to understand the experience of male sexual appetites. I can evaluate and analyze what I have observed about male sexual drives and what the men in my life have described about male sexual drives only in the context of what I have felt in my female sexual drives and what I understand my human sexual appetite to be. I personally have a lot of trouble identifying with the feelings that my friend describes. While I have most certainly experienced sexual desire toward men, and have experienced strong physical/sexual attraction that was quite beyond my control and that existed wholly apart from any cerebral or emotional attachment I felt toward the man I was attracted to (in fact, I’ve felt bizarre strong physical/sexual attraction toward men I actually actively disliked), I have never experienced the sensation of being “forced to be obsessed with mens’ bodies” or the sensation of “wanting to fuck practically every man I see.” Despite some occasions where I’ve felt that my sexual attraction to a particular man was beyond my control despite all logical reason (i.e. I found him morally, emotionally or spiritually repugnant), I have never felt powerless over my sexual attraction to men in general. When I meet a man for the first time, my mind does not immediately jump to evaluate his existence in a sexual context (i.e. would I or would I not want to fuck this man).

I’m certainly not saying that these feelings can’t innately exist in men because I, as a woman, have never experienced them. That would just be presumptuous. My friend isn’t the first man in the world to describe what feels like an overwhelming and uncontrollable biological drive to gaze upon the women of the world as a sea of potential mating partners. Some theories of human sexuality purport that men and women experience sexual drives and sexuality differently (i.e. men feel that “forced obsession” where women don’t) because we have inherently different needs from sex/mating. We’ve all heard about how men are biologically driven to “spread their seed” and women are biologically driven to seek out a stable mate who can provide material things (like food and shelter) for her offspring, a precept that dates back to prehistoric cave(wo)man times. This is then used to justify stereotypes about the cheating husband, the studly playboy, the shallow woman who only wants to date men with nice cars and gold cards that exist in our modern and extremely specific cultural context.

I will also say though, as a bit of an aside, that I don’t necessarily think the sexual drives we, as humans, feel can be so easily qualified as innately biological and therefore completely beyond our control and separate from the context of cultural or social factors. For example, how do we explain the way sexual attraction (supposedly a completely uncontrollable biological phenomenon) is deeply and fundamentally affected by trends in culturally fashionable body types? The current “ideal” female body in North American culture, the body type that men (as a general social group in the context of this culture) tend to seek out as the pinnacle of sexual desirability, the one they “can’t help” being innately attracted to and wanting sexually, is that of ultra-slender hips, thighs, arms, buttocks and torso, a flat or concave stomach and disproportionately large breasts. In other words, a female body type that occurs exceptionally rarely in nature without the benefit of cosmetic surgery and/or rigidly controlled diet/exercise regimens. It makes absolutely zero sense that a female body type which is, for the most part, artificially constructed would most strongly stimulate a man’s innate biological sex drive that has existed since the dawn of evolution. If men are hardwired to want to mate with as many women as possible as often as possible, why is it that they are so picky about the weight or breast size or stature or proportions of the women they fuck?

Three hundred years ago, corpulent voluptuousness was widely regarded as the epitome of sexual desirability. Today, our culture is completely fat-phobic to the point where healthy flesh and womanly padded proportions are widely considered not only sexually repulsive but also “health risks.” It isn’t uncommon to hear men talk about how they “can’t help” being sexually repulsed by things like cellulite or a bit of a jiggle in the tummy, things that just a few hundred short years ago were the epitome of hotness. I don’t doubt that the men expressing these sentiments truly do feel repulsed by such things, but they feel so not because feeling so is an inevitable part of their biological sexual response but because they have been taught to fear and loathe them. Airbrushing, breast implants and liposuction have only been around for the last fifty years or so, and I don’t believe for a second that mens’ innate biological sex drives have evolved THAT quickly, so the shift can only be attributed to cultural factors. Hence, I can only conclude that sexual response and sexual drives are at least as influenced by culture and socialization as they are by biology, if not more so.

OK, Kiki, blah blah blah, you’re thinking. That’s all well and good, but what does all this have to do with feminist-friendly mens’ reconciliation of their healthy lust for the female body with feminism’s objection to objectification? Well, let’s assume for the moment that my friend is right, that his experience is universal and that men are innately and biologically forced to be obsessed with womens’ bodies and to desire almost every woman they meet sexually, motivated purely by the animalistic and instinctual aspects of sexuality that are completely beyond their conscious control. Even if this were true (which I am not entirely convinced it is), where it gets problematic for me is when we start to conflate socially constructed demonstrations of sexual desire with the innate sexual desire itself, which then causes us to assume that the method by which the desire is demonstrated is in itself a biological inevitability, and therefore exempt from criticism.

Let me illustrate this with an example. ManY is introduced to WomanX for the first time. He feels an instinctual sexual desire for her beyond his control. Brief images of him having hot, sweaty, carnal sex with her flash through his mind and he is powerless to stop them. WomanX is blissfully unaware that her new male acquaintance is screwing her silly in the privacy of his own mind … until she notices ManY’s gaze focused intently and unabashedly at her breasts. Suddenly, WomanX knows she is being evaluated as an outlet for ManY’s sexual desire. Perhaps, as is so often the case, this makes her feel uncomfortable. Perhaps she doesn’t understand why it is that this man must stare at her breasts within moments of meeting her, why his first action upon making her acquaintance is to evaluate her sexually. Perhaps she turns away or crosses her arms over her chest. Perhaps ManY breaks his gaze, embarassed, realizing he was caught staring. Perhaps ManY simply shrugs his shoulders and raises his eyebrows and smiles in that all too familiar “I can’t help it! I’m a man! I like tits! You have tits! I have no choice but to stare at your tits!” sheepish grin that virtually every woman has seen at some point in her life.

I can concede that ManY simply cannot help his desire to have sex with WomanX, and can’t control his mental images of having sex with her. Even if he didn’t want to desire her sexually, even if he didn’t want to picture having sex with her in his mind moments after meeting her, he’s going to whether he likes it or not. I can accept that possibility. However, while this innate biological drive extends to his *desire* to have sex with her, this drive does not force him to stare at her breasts. It is not a biological inevitability that he must stand there and stare at her breasts. Whether or not he gapes at her breasts is entirely within his control and his conscious choice. It is a socially constructed (and in our culture, socially accepted) demonstration of his sexual desire. Women are told “men can’t help but stare, that’s the price you pay for being hot.” Women and men are taught to believe that the staring, the visual claim of ownership, the obvious objectification, is as much a biological inevitability as the desire itself. And it’s not. Now, I’m not talking about a furtive passing glance that occurs unconsciously, before a man even realizes it. I’m talking about that gaping leer, that fixed stare, those eyes moving up and down your entire body as they evaluate you and then the final nod or smile that tells you “you’ve passed the test. I’d fuck you. You’ve fulfilled your objective.”

Unfortunately, often times these demonstrations go beyond a simple gaze and move into “touching territory.” If you are willing to accept that men are hardwired to stare at women’s breasts and such staring is beyond their control, part of their innate biological makeup, it’s not such a far reach to suggest that “men are hardwired to grab womens’ asses” or “men are hardwired to rub their pelvises up against women they find attractive in crowds” or “men are hardwired to kiss women they find attractive” or any number of potentially unwanted physical invasions. And indeed, all too often both men and women alike do excuse this type of behaviour as inevitable or to be expected. They shrug and laugh and say “boys will be boys” as though each and every time a man decides to stare or decides to grab it is not his autonomous choice. These are all points on the same contiuum. Once you start accepting that the demonstration of desire, in whatever form it takes, is as inevitable as the desire itself, well you’re basically saying that men are not in fact rational and sentient beings capable of consciously choosing to treat women as people rather than sexual objects in spite of any uncontrollable sexual desire they may feel towards them. So which is it? Because if I were a man, I’d be incredibly insulted by the notion that I’m nothing but a slave to my penis and all the other inner sexual biological workings that my penis represents.

It is my belief there is a bit of a disconnect going on here, a bit of a misinterpretation on the part of some men about precisely what feminism is objecting to and what its goals are with regard to male sexuality. Feminism has no objection to the existence of male sexual desire. Feminism does not wish to make men asexual. Feminism does not assert that men cannot respect women or treat them as equals unless they abandon their sexual desire. Feminism does not wish to make men ashamed of their natural and healthy sexual desire for the female body. Feminism does not wish to squelch your lust. Feminism does not think you are a bad person if you find yourself wanting to fuck a woman. Feminism does not condemn you for having a sexual appetite.

Feminism objects to men forcing women to deal with their sexual desires without regard for whether women want to deal with them or not, at any level. At every level. Feminism objects to the removal of womens’ choice in whether or not mens’ sexual desire for us plays a part in our lives. The mere existence of male sexual desire does not obligate us to acknowledge it, indulge it or fulfill it. When we walk past a man on the street or in the mall or at the grocery store, he may not be able to control whether he feels like he wants to fuck us, but he can certainly control whether he tells us he wants to fuck us or whether he undresses us with his eyes or whether he makes some derogatory and belittling remark to his friend about what he’d like to do to us. When we brush past a man in a bar, he may not be able to control his urge to touch our breasts or our butts, but he can certainly control whether nor not he acts on that urge. Feminism asks that men consider a woman’s personhood, consider her autonomy, consider her feelings before blindly acting on their desire. I know this is hard. I know that our society often mistakenly equates this aggressive, selfish flaunting of sexual desire in womens’ faces with what it means to be a man.

Feminism objects to the idea that womens’ status as the sex class is our biological destiny. It rejects the notion that women are innately responsible by virtue of being born female for both satisfying male sexual desire, and simultaneously for ensuring that male desire is not allowed to run wild and out of control (the old “she shouldn’t have worn that/gone there/drank that/said that, what did she think was gonna happen?” argument - we must exercise our influence to control men’s desire because they are incapable of controlling it themselves). None of that has anything to do with any agenda to snuff out male lust. Rather, feminism aims to reach a point where male lust no longer necessarily equals female objectification or disempowerment, where men can freely and comfortably lust for women as whole human beings rather than lusting for a mouth, a pair of tits, an asshole and a cunt, where sex can just be sex and not a positive measure of masculinity or a negative measure of female moral failure or the means by which half the world’s population is controlling the social, economic and cultural status of the other half.


29 Comments so far
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On 06.01.06 at 5:21 pm, witchy-woo said:

Oh, excellent post!
Mind if I feature this?

On 06.01.06 at 5:38 pm, Kiki said:

No, please do!

On 06.04.06 at 11:43 pm, Bex said:

Great, great piece.

On 06.06.06 at 6:40 pm, Sam said:

Very well argued, thanks for the read.

On 06.06.06 at 8:23 pm, Mandos said:

This is very interesting and something I think I’m going to want to come back and quote…but…

Let’s assume as you do that what your friend said is true (I’m not really willing to admit it for myself, but it may very well be true for many men). I think the real problem is this:

Given an acknowledgement of women’s personhood PLUS the whole background of how men were expected to express desire, how does an individual man approach a woman sexually without risking being invasive. ie, male sexual expression has been constructed under an invasive paradigm, and there’s very little model or “line in the sand” of how NOT to be invasive. Of how to be appreciative of a woman’s body and express lust.

Consequently, it’s hard for many men to take feminist admonitions in any other light than negating their own lust. Since if you can’t express lust in they way you’ve been trained, then what good is desire anyway?

BTW, it doesn’t sound like your friend is saying that men desire every woman they meet, but rather that they contemplate sex and perform an instinctive evaluation. Consequently, it’s still quite possible to establish desirability standards.

On 06.07.06 at 9:30 pm, llewelly said:

I decided, about a year ago, the next time I want to date woman, I’m goint start like this:
I lust after you. How should I express this appropriately?

On 06.07.06 at 11:11 pm, alyx said:

“Because if I were a man, I’d be incredibly insulted by the notion that I’m nothing but a slave to my penis and all the other inner sexual biological workings that my penis represents.”

No you wouldn’t. Because Penis=Power=Man, and No Penis=Powerless=Woman. If patriarchy associates pensies with power, then being told you’re a slave to your cock would be a compliment.

“wanting to fuck practically every man I see.”

I’ve felt like this, mostly during my teenage years. It pisses me off that men think they’re the only ones with strong sex drives. I wonder if women occasionally play down their libidos, so as not to damage the masculine egos of their less-libidinous boyfriends, who are of course supposed to be the ones that always want sex–I know I did that with my last bf.

Still, robust sex drive aside, I’ve never demanded an underclass of men to service me sexually–this is a power thing. If you feel you *need* sex, then get your hand, get some lotion and get to it!

Great post, btw. :B)

On 06.08.06 at 5:56 am, Ben said:

“No you wouldn’t. Because Penis=Power=Man, and No Penis=Powerless=Woman. If patriarchy associates pensies with power, then being told you’re a slave to your cock would be a compliment.”

Excuse me. No. I *do* find the idea insulting.

On 06.08.06 at 9:05 am, llewelly said:

“Because if I were a man, I’d be incredibly insulted by the notion that I’m nothing but a slave to my penis and all the other inner sexual biological workings that my penis represents.’”

“No you wouldn’t. Because Penis=Power=Man, and No Penis=Powerless=Woman.”

Discovering how hard it is to control my sexual desires was the most terrifying and humiliating experiences I have ever had.

I do not know how common it is for men to feel this way, but when I was in college, I was able to find several books on the topic. (Sorry, no links - it was 10 years ago.)

On 06.08.06 at 10:11 am, heresiarch said:

Kiki, you clearly have a lot of insight into your friend’s psyche, but I think you are misinterpreting the source of his guilt, and its cure. Someone upthread said that the only person beating him up over this is himself. He isn’t failing to live up to some feminist’s standards, he’s failing to live up to his OWN feminist standards. Or at least he is afraid he is.

Partially it’s the cookie jar effect: slap a kid’s hand when he reaches for the cookie jar, eventually he will feel ashamed for even wanting a cookie. It’s worse when you are disciplining yourself–ask any anorexic. But even more so, it is his fear that no matter how hard he tries, no matter how good he pretends to be, deep down he is still a sexist. That deep down he is still a tool of the patriarchy.

It is something that every feminist male has to deal with. Every time you order first in a restaurant, every time you hold the door for a female friend, every time you take the dominant role in sex: did you do it because that is really you, or because that is what you have been taught is expected of you? Are you just unwittingly playing out the memes that you have fought against your whole life? Are you betraying yourself and everything you claim to believe?

The worse part is that you know that the answer will inevitably be yes. No one is perfect, man or woman, and everyone falls into patterns that they can’t escape. Accepting that and dealing with that is hard.

On 06.08.06 at 11:23 am, Kiki said:

Partially it’s the cookie jar effect: slap a kid’s hand when he reaches for the cookie jar, eventually he will feel ashamed for even wanting a cookie. It’s worse when you are disciplining yourself–ask any anorexic. But even more so, it is his fear that no matter how hard he tries, no matter how good he pretends to be, deep down he is still a sexist. That deep down he is still a tool of the patriarchy.

But the thing is that he doesn’t feel ashamed. He feels that the feminist position is telling him he should be ashamed. He feels it necessary to conceal his lust not because he is ashamed of it but because he fears expressing it to the true extent of it will make him look like a sexist asshole who doesn’t see anything in women beyond their ability to stimulate him sexually, which could not be further from the truth of who he is. He doesn’t fear that he’s a sexist in his own estimation (he firmly believes he is not and believes the natural desire he feels cannot, by definition, make him sexist given that he has no control over it), but rather fears being perceived as a sexist because of his desire for women. The idea of being thought of as a sexist because of desires he feels are biologically beyond his ability to control is unjust to him. However, it is important to him not to be viewed as sexist. He doesn’t feel his sexual desire makes him sexist. He’s just afraid that if he was open about the desire he feels, he’ll be perceived as sexist. I don’t know that he’s completely wrong in this regard.

However, that being said, I would prefer it if further discussion of this post could address some of the issues *I* raised regarding the difference between the expression of lust and lust itself, the nature of objectification, and the problem of feminism’s perceived campaign against male sexuality, rather than performing armchair psychology on my friend.

On 06.08.06 at 12:17 pm, humbition said:

In that spirit let me bring everyone’s attention back to Mandos’ comment above:

“Given an acknowledgement of women’s personhood PLUS the whole background of how men were expected to express desire, how does an individual man approach a woman sexually without risking being invasive. ie, male sexual expression has been constructed under an invasive paradigm, and there’s very little model or “line in the sand” of how NOT to be invasive. Of how to be appreciative of a woman’s body and express lust.”

I have been looking recently (spurred by recent posts at Mad Melancholic Feminista) at college sexual misconduct codes and some literature written by men in anti-rape work. There is a “strong theory” in some such work that the ordinary expression or approach, as men learn it in our culture, of romantic/sexual interest by a heterosexual man to a heterosexual woman, is so fatally compromised by “rape culture” that it should be obliterated and relearned from the beginning. Few of the alternatives presented in such work would seem to be intuitively effective as a sexual approach, to those of us brought up in this culture. One example could be the hyperliteral application of the “Antioch code” of verbal consent, particularly as this applies to such things as handholding, hugging, or even “making out.” The implicit message that seems to be sent by such would-be radical remakings of partly unconscious patterns of reaching toward intimacy, is that anything one does as a would-be feminist man in “making a move” toward intimacy with a woman, is not to be trusted and is to be subjected to an a priori critical analysis before one starts. (Which critical analysis will probably impede the effectiveness of one’s approach.)

My heart is pounding as I write this. Rape at colleges and elsewhere is a serious problem, and I don’t want to be misunderstood. My own evolving position is that, “rape culture” exists and interprets American patterns of flirting and courtship to its own perverse ends, but that American patterns of flirting and courtship are not intrinsically or of themselves “rape culture.” And that to say that they are, is to demand of would-be feminist men that they perform their sexual attraction according to some standard of post-revolutionary praxis that does not exist, while of course leaving the field open to non-revolutionary men (many if not most of whom will use their supposedly contaminated, typical American courtship styles to develop pretty normal, consensual, mutual relationships).

At the same time and paradoxically, men are still culturally expected to take the lead role in “making the move” toward intimacy in relationships — apparently even by feminists, particularly young ones (at least according to what I read on the Internet). This, and yet men are told (implicitly or explicitly) to distrust any way that they might intuitively do so.

To sum up (do I really have the guts to post this?): the problem I think isn’t at the level of private fantasy, or of sex within consensual relationship. These exist within clear boundaries. But to move from the one to the other involves, unavoidably, crossing boundaries, and it’s the man who in this culture (often) has to do it. If all (even the most well-intentioned) methods of crossing that boundary are placed in brackets of doubt, even only in theory, I think it is inevitable that would-be feminist heterosexual men will color their sexuality in the tones of being a negative impediment or original sin. Please note again that I am not imputing this view or message to feminist women as individuals in any way, nor am I making excuses for anything that a “reasonable person” should consider rape culture.

On 06.08.06 at 12:35 pm, Anthropos said:

“If men are hardwired to want to mate with as many women as possible as often as possible, why is it that they are so picky about the weight or breast size or stature or proportions of the women they fuck?”

Well there is actually a simple answer to this: They’re not! The strange obsession with being thin is something women have, not men.

Ergo your whole rather dubious argument collapses.

Aren’t you spotting the slight flaw in your reasoning? Your male friend say’s “But I crave women. I desire their bodies. I want to fuck them. They’re so gorgeous and wonderful and perfect that I want to make love to almost every one I see.” Well that hardly ties in with your assertion that men are “so picky about the weight or breast size or stature or proportions of the women”.

They are either one or the other, but they can hardly be both, can they?!

We do have instinct, we being all humans. You write that “women are biologically driven to seek out a stable mate who can provide material things (like food and shelter) for her offspring”, but actually it is a heck of a lot more complicated than that. Scientific research has shown women are attracted to different kinds of men at different stages of their lives, and that is before we even get on to ‘sperm competition’!

However although all humans are influenced by their innate biology, people are not determined by it in regard to their social behaviour. I would say staring at a woman’s breasts is just bad manners. Manners have declined rather a lot in recent decades. “Manners maketh the man” as the saying goes.

Btw – when you meet an attractive woman, you don’t instantly try to picture yourself having sex with her. Well at least I don’t, can’t read peoples minds though, but I don’t think it is absolutely the case, in some case probably, but I doubt in most.

On 06.08.06 at 1:11 pm, Kiki said:

“If men are hardwired to want to mate with as many women as possible as often as possible, why is it that they are so picky about the weight or breast size or stature or proportions of the women they fuck?”

Well there is actually a simple answer to this: They’re not! The strange obsession with being thin is something women have, not men.

Ergo your whole rather dubious argument collapses.

Really? Then explain to me why the vast majority of mainstream pornography and mags like Maxim, Stuff and their ilk and Sunshine girl calendars and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, which are produced, by and large, by men for male consumption encapsulate this body ideal? The women depicted in these works are there FOR THE SOLE PURPOSE of titillating men and stimulating their sexual response. So if this isn’t what men *most* want to see, if it isn’t representative of what men in this culture, as a general social group, are most stimulated by then why are millions of men spending billions of dollars every year to look at pictures and watch videos and entertain their fantasies of women who look like this?

Are you actually trying to suggest that weight, breast size, stature and proportions of their mates really doesn’t matter to men? I find this absurdly hilarious, given everything I’ve ever witnessed in my life to the contrary.

Aren’t you spotting the slight flaw in your reasoning? Your male friend say’s “But I crave women. I desire their bodies. I want to fuck them. They’re so gorgeous and wonderful and perfect that I want to make love to almost every one I see.” Well that hardly ties in with your assertion that men are “so picky about the weight or breast size or stature or proportions of the women”.

You’ll note that I said men “as a general social group in the context of this culture”. That’s an important qualifier. I acknowledge that there are individual men who do not follow these standards and who individually have much broader standards with regard to what types of women they find sexually attractive (my friend is actually one of the most non-discriminating in this regard … he sees sexual appeal in many many different types of women that span the whole spectrum). I acknowledge there are many men who love and lust for women who don’t fit this ideal.

That doesn’t change the fact that, as a class of people in our current society, time and place, men have demonstrated again and again that this is the body ideal they desire above all others and idolize above all others as the pinnacle. They demonstrate it with the celebrities over whose hotness they obsess. They demonstrate it with the sexually-oriented magazines and videos they consume. They demonstrate it with terms like “wing man” and “moped” and public ridicule of women about their weight. Look at all the controversy over Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign. Are you honestly trying to tell me this is not part of the reality of our society as you understand it?

You write that “women are biologically driven to seek out a stable mate who can provide material things (like food and shelter) for her offspring”

No, I wrote that some theories of human sexuality purport this, not that I myself agree with it. Obviously, any reasonable person would recognize this is a surface treatment of the issue and that in actuality, the theories behind it are more complicated. I assumed this was obvious, but clearly I was wrong. So, for the record, yet it is more complicated than this.

However although all humans are influenced by their innate biology, people are not determined by it in regard to their social behaviour. I would say staring at a woman’s breasts is just bad manners. Manners have declined rather a lot in recent decades. “Manners maketh the man” as the saying goes.

This is exactly the point I was making.

Btw – when you meet an attractive woman, you don’t instantly try to picture yourself having sex with her. Well at least I don’t, can’t read peoples minds though, but I don’t think it is absolutely the case, in some case probably, but I doubt in most.

Fair enough, I intended this as one example of the way in which an inherent biological sexual attraction may manifest itself. Once again, to clarify for the record, not every man’s sexual response may manifest itself this way.

On 06.08.06 at 3:07 pm, llewelly said:

‘wingman’ … ‘moped’
I don’t even know what these words mean.

On 06.08.06 at 3:15 pm, Kiki said:

A “wing man” is the guy who does his friend a favour by hitting on and occupying the attentions of the “hot chick’s” fat/ugly friend so his friend can score with the “hot chick.”

A “moped” is a fat woman - “fun to ride, but you wouldn’t want your friends to see you on one.”

On 06.08.06 at 3:59 pm, Amanda Marcotte said:

Kiki, I wanted to address your points in my post, but I’ve found that if I quote overmuch from any one post, the linkthroughs diminish. I was trying to send some traffic to this post of yours, which I found excellent and thought-provoking.

Also, I didn’t want to be redundant.

On 06.08.06 at 4:01 pm, Kiki said:

I appreciate the shout-out, Amanda, I’ve been getting tons of link throughs because of you so thanks!

On 06.08.06 at 6:19 pm, alyx said:

“Excuse me. No. I *do* find the idea insulting.”

In that case, I hope you openly object to all the sexist commercials, remarks and jokes that reduce men to their dicks, and that countless examples suggest that male culture is quite fond of.

To Humbiton, who said that feminists expect men to make the first move: Whatever. I’ve always made the first move, and don’t mind doing so. Depends on whereabouts on the Internet you lurk.

Er, sorry for the thread hi-jack.

Kiki is right: If there wasn’t a single physical standard of beauty being pushed on us (mostly white, blonde, busty, thin), then why would mainstream porn be so laden with peroxide hair and implants? This article raised a lot of good points; I’ve never been a fan of biologically-based theories as a way of rationalising crappy behaviour.

What Kiki is saying is that feminism isn’t opposed to anyone’s sex drive. You can still lust, hey, feminists lust too, and it’s not lust that’s the problem. What’s problematic is when evpsych is trotted out as an excuse for infidelity, ogling, catcalling, even rape. And this isn’t saying that every single man behaves like this, just that our culture makes excuses for this kind of behaviour.

‘wingman’, ‘moped’

Ugh. I’ve never heard those terms before either. Are they common? They’re repugnant.

T

On 06.08.06 at 6:46 pm, Kiki said:

Ugh. I’ve never heard those terms before either. Are they common? They’re repugnant.

I honestly couldn’t say *how* common they are because I tend to think these are terms men would be more likely to use amongst themselves than in the presence of women. However, I have seen them used with regularity online and I have heard my brother and his friends refer to them — well, “wing man” anyway. “Moped” is something I’ve more often seen used online than actually heard in conversation.

On 06.08.06 at 8:05 pm, humbition said:

Look, I should make it clear that a lot of the male sexual self-loathing that can accompany the beginnings of feminist consciousness comes honestly, as we men find ourselves facing the very bad things men actually do with their sexuality — and as Alyx points out, our culture makes excuses for a lot of it, in ways that it should not.

I don’t make excuses for it. Rape, date rape, groping, street harassment — while these are alien to my sensibility, in that I can’t imagine (empathize with) even the motivation for them, they are things done by men and to say the least, they hurt our reputation.

It is perfectly appropriate for anti-rape work to bring men to an appreciation of how awful — horrific — these things are, and to reinforce that men should not make excuses for them, and should work to prevent them insofar as they can.

It is a matter of opinion, or debate, and I hope it can be a legitimate one, whether these things are fundamentally different from male sexuality as it is experienced and as it expresses itself in the fumblings and hesitant explorations of men exploring their attraction with women they hope to be of like mind, heart, and desire. Some feminist theories of male sexuality, and of course these are prominent in anti-rape work, seem to me to see male sexuality as utterly contaminated by the evils that many men, indeed, do. I do not agree, but I can certainly understand where the impression comes from.

While the culture as a whole makes excuses for too much, I still think it is going too far to see most sexual exploration in the culture as tinged by rape mentality or motivation. I believe that most men want consensuality and mutuality, even from short term experiences — certainly that has always been the case for me.

Perhaps because that is how I have always experienced my sexuality, I do find the blanket condemnations of male sexuality in some literature excessive. I think that anti-rape work could do better by drawing a sharp line between male sexuality motivated by a desire, however skillfully or awkwardly it might be expressed, for consensual exploration, and male sexuality motivated by self-gratification without concern for the other person. This is not a question of miscommunication.

I do think that even ordinary “objectification” often contains the element of wanting to get to know the person who is behind the desirable appearance.

As for women making the first move, I have always welcomed it. I am surprised to read in so many places that it is not the expectation. But I think it is a wonderful thing, and hope that women will increasingly feel free to do so.

On 06.08.06 at 9:47 pm, llewelly said:

The existing dating protocol is soaked in sexism and degraded by domination. What I want, and what I think the other men in this thread want, is a dating protocol which is not compromised by cruelty. The hope that feminism might be able to provide some guidance is inspired by the observation that feminism taught us what was wrong in the first place.

On 06.09.06 at 5:07 pm, witchy-woo said:

“The hope that feminism might be able to provide some guidance is inspired by the observation that feminism taught us what was wrong in the first place.”

Yup. Feminism may indeed be credited with pointing you in the right direction - thanks for noticing! As for guidance, it’s pretty simple really - sexism & domination = bad, humanity & equality = good!

It seems to me that some unusually thoughtful men have contributed to this thread. I find that kind of heartening, really - which says something about my experiences of men, I know. Seems to me though, that, while women can - and do - point out the anomalies and contradictions in male behaviour towards us, it’s up to men (generic) to analyse and refine their approach to women.

Humbition said:
“I do think that even ordinary “objectification” often contains the element of wanting to get to know the person who is behind the desirable appearance.”

What is ‘ordinary objectification’?

And how would women who are routinely objectified (in one way or another) be able to understand that the person who is objectifying them would actually really quite like to get to know them?

I find that concept totally confusing - a contradiction in terms, if you like. Objectification = being a ‘thing’ - getting to know = being a person. The two don’t sit well together for me.

On 06.09.06 at 7:14 pm, humbition said:

Thanks, witchy-woo, for your question. I try to be perfectly articulate in my comments on blogs yet I’ve found myself in this one tripping over my words, over and over again.

By the way, I agree completely that it is up to men to analyze and refine our approach to women.

You are right that what I am talking about is not philosophically consistent with what the term “objectification” means. Of course what I am talking about is the experience that started off this whole discussion — the experience of being a man attracted to women in general, even those we barely know.

I’d like to suggest a different dimension to the experience of “objectification,” though I can’t speak for all men on this one.

I picked up, for four dollars, awhile ago a philosophical conversation between two French intellectuals, a man and a woman, and this is what the man, Bernard-Henry Levy, had to say about what motivates the so-called “Don Juan”:

“No two women in the world — or no two men, I imagine — are alike when it comes to the actual sex act. Each time it is like breaking a new code…there are new emotions, the caresses are imperceptibly different and therefore incredibly moving…How could anyone be misled as to say that eroticism is the realm of uniformity, of sameness? Your Don Juan is a person who is curious about such things, and his curiosity is unquenchable — because reality itself is infinitely diverse, differentiated. Discovering a woman’s other body, her other voice, her other gestures — what an adventure!”

Now, I’m not proposing that being a “Don Juan” is the greatest or most laudable of goals, even in fantasy. And this kind of attitude still objectifies, in the sense that feminism criticizes. In a way you have me to rights. But in a way this passage shows that there is more to fantasy and sexual objectification than simply reducing the other to a thing – fantasy imagines the other’s agency, though it does imagine it to be what we want.

For the record the book is called “Women and Men: A Philosophical Conversation” and it’s by Francoise Giroud and Bernard-Henri Levy, Little-Brown, English translation 1995.

On 06.10.06 at 10:03 am, Anthropos said:

“really? Then explain to me why the vast majority of mainstream pornography and mags like Maxim, Stuff and their ilk and Sunshine girl calendars and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, which are produced, by and large, by men for male consumption encapsulate this body ideal?”

Well let us turn the notion on its head and look at the male body types I could see in mainstream women’s magazines, can I conclude from these that woman are even more ‘picky’ about male body types than vice versa? After all they are even less attainable than the supposed female ‘ideal’. Your logic dictates a ‘yes’ to that question.

But of course we can’t make that sort of connection, it is a Non Sequitur argument, just as the argument that “mags like Maxim, Stuff and their ilk” are therefore proof that the male sex are “so picky about the weight or breast size or stature or proportions of the women they fuck” is also a Non Sequitur argument.

“Are you actually trying to suggest that weight, breast size, stature and proportions of their mates really doesn’t matter to men? I find this absurdly hilarious, given everything I’ve ever witnessed in my life to the contrary.”

Well I can’t comment on your life, but yes that is exactly what I am saying.

“You’ll note that I said men “as a general social group in the context of this culture”. That’s an important qualifier. I acknowledge that there are individual men who do not follow these standards and who individually have much broader standards with regard to what types of women they find sexually attractive (my friend is actually one of the most non-discriminating in this regard … he sees sexual appeal in many many different types of women that span the whole spectrum).”

Actually I would say he was very common, most men – or men as “a general social group” - find most women attractive, but not vice versa. If you are under the impression that the typical man finds very few women attractive, then you are very much mistaken.

On 06.11.06 at 10:21 am, humbition said:

Before this thread is forgotten, and since I always want to modify whatever I said before…

Firstly, just because in fantasy one imagines the other’s agency to be what one wants, i.e. to be benevolently disposed towards one – how else would one imagine it? – doesn’t mean that in non-fantasy life, one tries to control the other’s agency to be what one wants. Because, if it weren’t for 5,000 years or more of cultural bullshit, it would be obvious to everyone that force, control, etc. is a fool’s game, if what one wants is really the diverse and differentiated caresses which are the other’s to give…

Secondly, just because sexual fantasy is, well, sexual, does that mean it necessarily involves fantasizing about interacting with another person only as a part of the person and not as a whole person? Well, that depends on your ideas about sex, doesn’t it, and your ideas of a person. If you see persons as composed of separate parts, the sex part here, the mind part (which is the better part) there, then of course you can be outraged at someone wanting to interact only with the lesser. But what if you have a holographic view of the person, in which every interaction and every “part” of the person somehow involves and portends the whole of the person, then wouldn’t sex be as valid a window into the other person’s wholeness as another? Some people even think it can be a better one than others…

Thirdly, I didn’t mean to inadvertently rain on Llewelly’s idea, that feminists (of all genders) should think about developing new forms of dating. Even though it is up to each of us to guide our own behaviors, our dating protocols are social forms. And social forms can construct and constrict behaviors over and above our subjective good intentions and benevolent motivations. So, there would be nothing wrong with some creative thinking on this issue.

On 06.11.06 at 11:32 am, Kiki said:

Anthropos —

I’m not going to argue this point with you any further. While the examples I gave may have oversimplified the issue in question, my intent was to point out that the sexual impulses of human beings and what human beings are attracted to (in this case the human beings discussed are men) are not simply uncontrollable biological impulses that exist in a vaccuum. They are affected by cultural factors. One of the most basic and obvious examples of this is the way that men in our modern culture consume images of womens bodies that are, by and large, artificially constructed and quite a departure from the reality of most women’s natural bodies. These images are the basis for mainstream pornography and lad mags, etc, and these women are forming the basis of the “ultimate male sexual fantasy.” You have still failed to explain to me why, if men do not hold this as the ideal woman they are sexually attracted to, why they continue to spend their money on consuming images of women who look like this. Simply saying “there are images of ideal male body types too” doesn’t explain it, it’s just a distraction.

It is illogical to suggest that men have an innate biological sexual attraction to a female body type that is extremely unlikely to actually occur in nature without the benefit of plastic surgery and an extreme devotion to rigid diet and exercise regimens. It is equally illogical to suggest that women aren’t affected by images of men they see too, but that’s not what we’re discussing.

I’m still working on gathering links to give you some insight on the way men demonstrate just how MUCH they care about the way their mate looks and what the way their mate looks supposedly communicates about them to the world at large. I’ll get back to you on this soon.

On 06.13.06 at 7:53 am, Dubhe said:

Mando: “how does an individual man approach a woman sexually without risking being invasive.”

You keep asking that question as if it hasn’t been answered a hundred times.

In short, if you are approaching a woman you know nothing about simply because you have decided that whatever physical quality about women you fetishize is hot enough for you to want to fuck her, you’ve already succumed to male entitlement. You lose.

If you’re approaching a friend you know well in the hopes of turning the relationship into something more romantic, you’re not going to have to ask “what’s the appropriate way to approach her” because, knowing her, you’ll already have an idea how to approach her about it. You’ll already know that “Nice shoes, wanna fuck?” accompanied by a leer won’t have the result you want.

Which means if you were thinking about the “woman you already know” scenario, you wouldn’t be asking this question at all in the general sense. You’d be asking it in the specific sense, of people who also know, because ALL WOMEN ARE INDIVIDUAL PEOPLE.

The only reason anyone would ask that question in the general sense is either (A) he thinks all women are the same, or (B) he’s talking about approaching strangers he knows nothing about except their relative tit size and hoping to get sex from them (perhaps after jumping through a few hoops).

Either case is sexist and misogynistic.

Oh, and Kiki: I’m a man, and I can tell you right now that it has not been my experience that I am forced to obsess over a woman. I will call bullshit on men who say that every single time. *nods*

On 06.13.06 at 12:43 pm, harpy said:

I think there is a lot of confusion among young women and men around the issue of feminism and dating. I remember it well from way back when. In my case (and perhaps others) it was to do with finding my own feet and my own confidence in my feminism, and in my sexuality. In my own case, it has become a little easier with age. I’m not conflicted between being a feminist and being a sexual person, and I’m no longer afraid of losing identity in a relationship, or not being taken seriously in my political activism because I am someone’s ‘girlfriend’. Because I’m no longer ambivalent, I don’t fret so much. If men objectify me sexually then they are not of interest to me, and if they are sexually interested in the whole person, and it’s mutual, then maybe we can get something going. Otherwise, there are always good friends.



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