24 February 2014

Wearing the Skirt

Been thinking a bit recently about gender.

Thanks, primarily, of all things, to being more active on Facebook than I've ever been.
Which exposed me to:

(A ruler can only lead with the consent of at least most of the people. Women make up slightly more than half of the population. Sure, today institutions are set up that hold the status quo, but how did it get this way in the first place? This is a pretty plausible theory of how and it puts a lot of other stuff into a different perspective too.)
and this

(I'm afraid the larger issue is that we all assume the standard lego person is male. The standard lego person looks like this:
which has no features which indicate gender.
Kind of like when cartoons give a female animal character long hair or eye lash
es, lipstick, or (human type) breasts - even if she isn't a mammal - because if a cartoon animal just looks like an animal "obviously" it must be male(??)
It goes way deeper than corporations and marketing. We have all internalized it. Even the girl who wrote the letter.
and then this

(Overall, this was great. I love that it was made, and I hope some of the guys who treat women so disrespectfully see it, and it gets through... There is one problem I have with this video though - the last scene perpetuates a belief, shared by almost everyone, which is based more on misogyny than fact.
The guy really was "asking for it" when he yelled back at the gang members. Not because of how he was dressed or any signals he gave off, but because he YELLED BACK AT GANG MEMBERS!...
every male above about the age of 13 who lives in an area with street crime knows that doing that will get the shit beat out of you.  Because the reality is that men are the victims of violent crime by strangers over 1/3 more often (down from twice as often a couple decades ago). What any male with even an ounce of street smarts does when a group of 4 dangerous looking teens starts harassing him verbally is ignore it, let it go, and continue with his life. Sometimes women yell or insult them back - and the reason they think this is ok is because most of the time they can get away with it - almost all men, even the low life scum who look for excuses to attack strangers, have internalized the (sexist) rule of "never hit a woman".
But then, in the few instances where it does escalate to violence - and despite the fact that it escalates to violence more often with men - we take those examples and pretend it proves that women are disproportionately victims. It isn't because the statistics actually support it. Its because our misogynist society starts out with the premise that women are victims as a given, and then looks for the evidence to support it.)
followed by this

(It may be true, as far as it goes - but I can think of more than a couple examples where the FriendZoner does choose to go out with the guy who WOULD take advantage of her when she's drunk, or who WON'T listen to her when she is upset. As though she is only attracted to people she wouldn't actually be friends with. Not saying it is universal, but it seems to be pretty common. She might even be even be attracted to The Nice Guy - if only he acted like more of a jerk. That doesn't make her an evil bitch. But it does maybe make her judgement a little suspect.)
and then, finally this:

(I can say, for me personally, I feel no pressure to fit a masculine role, but I have experienced what it talks about first hand - it could easily have been about my marriage. And it was mostly her; she wanted equality and friendship in principal, but was attracted to the jerk who didn't respect women. It looks a lot to me like what I was talking about earlier about the Nice Guy not being sexually attractive by virtue of being a nice guy - that makes him seem like a brother, which is anti-sexy... If it is because of societal expectations and gender roles, then why do lesbian couples experience the exact same patterns?)

all of which, of course, I had comments on, usually lengthy (compared to a typical online comment) and most of which drew responses from others, which in turn got me thinking even more.

I feel like there is a bit of a common theme running beneath the surface, one which is touched on, or at least alluded to, by things I've written before

but is never really spelled out explicitly, mainly because even I take the world as it is for granted, and even though I actually have thought about this in the same terms before, I didn't actually remember in the moments I was writing any of those.
Its nothing particularly revolutionary - in fact, it seems it should be obvious, and I'm sure many others have thought of, and have written about the same thing, but it still seems to escape our daily consciousness, even people whose primary focus in life it these sort of issues.

I had been trying to pin down what exactly it is that I don't like about the word feminism, why I prefer "egalitarianism", for several months now.  It isn't just that all people should be treated fairly and with respect - I think it's totally valid that any group which has disproportionate challenges in society get more focus in order to change that.  And its not just that using the root "fem" to apply to females implies that all women are (or should be) "feminine", which is a social construct to which not all females conform (so does feminism not aim to help them?).

The last of the essays I read finally helped solidify what it actually is...

Back in the 1800s and early 1900s, the focus was on allowing women to participate in democracy.  Around the time of world war II (due to necessity) women entered the work force in large numbers and after, due partly to that, partly to politics, and partly to technology, women were more and more free to be something other than a house wife, even if they got married.  In the 50s and 60s there was a struggle to change American culture to allow women to wear pants - and while that success has become so common place that its a complete non-issue today, the phrase taken from that transition still has the same meaning today - if a woman "wears the pants" in the relationship, it means she is the head of the household.
We've come a really really long way in allowing a woman complete freedom to choosing any role in life that she is capable of and interested in, even though we aren't quite all there yet - there are still some roles in the military that are closed off by gender, regardless of ability, and we still have yet to have a single female president - but those last few are within sight of changing.

But what was neglected all along, because of the focus on women specifically, was, well...    men, and their roles. 
I don't mean that in a "it's so unfair" kind of way. 
The vast majority of women are heterosexual, and the vast majority have at least one serious intimate relationship at some point in life.  So the social roles expected of men are directly relevant to women.  For one thing, the things that women traditionally did still need to get done.  Allowing women to enter what was once men's sphere, while not allowing men to enter women's, leads directly to the modern challenges of women who want to have both a career and a family.
See, while it has become acceptable for women to - both literally and figuratively - wear pants, it never became acceptable for men to wear the skirt. 
Again, both literally and figuratively.
A woman wearing pants is not a transvestite, no one assumes she is gay on that basis alone (never mind that the majority of male cross dressers are straight anyway, I'm just talking about public perception), and it doesn't even make her not "feminine".  A average man wearing a skirt (not a kilt, an actual skirt), who isn't dressing up as a female as a sex fetish, joke, or political statement, simply isn't done.  Anywhere.  Ever.
In the figurative sense it is slowly changing to at least a small degree.  There are male school teachers, flight attendants, receptionists, and nurses, and none of those are seen as particularly shocking.  There is even such a thing as a stay-at-home dad, though its extremely rare (~3% of married couples - and this includes involuntarily unemployed fathers), and depending on the specific American sub-culture, still frequently (usually?) stigmatized.
I can imagine attempted explanations for this going along the lines of male machismo, or that patriarchy controlled the terms of change as women were allowed political and economic power, but those explanations wouldn't really explain why men would want to deprive themselves of choice, and besides, they are a bit circular.  They tend to assume that half the population of the world has no influence on culture - even after political and economic power were won / granted.
I would expect some people's responses to point to the theoretical "matriarchal" societies prehistoric societies - unfortunately, as nice as that myth is, there isn't any actual evidence to support it having ever been true, anywhere: https://www.nytimes.com/books/first/e/eller-myth.html  and  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matriarchy )

I remember reading an article about the difficulties of modern educated Russian women in finding husbands. 
Manufacturing and other traditionally-male semi-skilled labor jobs - jobs which once provided a comfortable and respectable life - were in decline, leaving a lot of men struggling to adapt.  Meanwhile, more women graduated universities than men, and began taking higher level professional jobs.
The trouble finding husbands wasn't due to a deficit of smart, kind, hard-working men.  It was that the women, even though they had enough income to support themselves and a family, were unwilling to partner with someone who earned less than them.
Surveys found that the average single man was willing to marry a woman with more education or more income (as well as one with less) than himself, but this was not reciprocal.
It was women's choices, preferences, biases, that was controlling the situation.
suggested that the reason women insist on their partner's being traditionally "masculine" and dominant (in sexual relations, if nowhere else) is because of their internalized sexism.
I could see that.  It certainly fits with the conclusions I came to in my "perceptions of rape and feminism" blog post. 

That explanation definately would make sense: men have had about about half a century to get used to the idea of strong independent women, several generations have grown up taking female police officers and business leaders and politicians for granted - men my age or younger don't actually remember the time when women were barred from traditionally male roles.  However the stay-at-home-dad, the sensitive nurturing husband, the sexually submissive boyfriend, these things are relatively new.  Perhaps it will just take more transition time for women to adapt to egalitarianism, to start seeing "feminine" men as being sexy, the way men have accepted "masculine" women can be sexy.

That explanation is appealing, but it begs the question of why similar patterns seem to emerge in the generally egalitarian gay female relationships, but not in the generally not egalitarian gay male relationships. It also doesn't explain satisfactorily why so many straight women accept, or prefer, egalitarianism in every aspect of a relationship, except for sexually, where she enjoys it more if the male takes charge.

The alternative is that this may be rooted in biology.  That could make sense too: the creep who sees every attractive female primarily as a potential sex partner, who doesn't want to take "no" for an answer, is likely to get more lifetime sex partners than the respectful guy who sees women as people first and foremost, and prefers his partner to be his friend and equal - if only because of the numbers; the bad boy is constantly trying to get some, while the nice guy is waiting for someone to give him a sign that she's interested.  Pre-birth control it means jerks are going to have more children.  Assuming that some degree of personality traits are genetic, from the stand point of a female who (subconsciously) wants to maximize not just the number of offspring, but of grand- and great-grand-children, then it makes sense to have sons who will have lots of kids with lots of different partners, and so it makes sense to find a partner who will pass on some disrespectful womanizing genes.  She would still want a relationship with a guy who actually cares about her, who will take good care of the family, but the jerk would be sexy - after all, humanity also evolved hundreds of thousands of years before paternity tests.
This explanation is much less encouraging - it implies that this phenomenon will be a hell of a lot harder to change overtime, maybe even that there may be relatively little we can do about it.  It could mean we may never expect to eliminate sexual harassment or date rape, since the dynamic set up by women being turned on by "alpha males" actively encourages both.  It would mean nice guys would always continue to finish last, sleazy pick-up-artists would always be successful, stay-at-home-dads will never become common. 

But not necessarily.  The human brain is pretty complex, and culture has managed to have us go against instinct before (most notably in the suppression of violence).
Either way, in order to address it, we have to understand it.  And before we can understand it, we have to become aware (and/or admit) that it even exists in the first place.

Tell me, my heterosexual female readership:
Am I totally off-base on this? 
I could be totally wrong. 
Correct me if I am. 
I am very open to being proved wrong. 
I would love it if I was wrong. 

All of my personal experience, not to mention the statistics, tell me I'm not, but I'm still open to new information.

Are there actually lots and lots of exceptions, and I just don't know about it?
Do you, personally, find it sexier when your partner takes charge in the bedroom?
Have you ever turned down a male friend who was interested in you, even though you liked him and he was attractive because you "see him like a brother" or you "know him too well" or "you just don't see him that way? 
If so, why are trusting and being comfortable with a person anti-sexy traits? 
If you would want your partner to be your friend, why would you not consider a close friend as a candidate for partner?

Have you ever not said what you wanted, or not made the first move, because you wanted the guy to be the one to initiate?
Have you ever had a guy be uncomfortably sexually aggressive, perhaps even to a point that made you dislike him as a person, but still found yourself turned on by the situation?

Regardless of if you would actually want it in the real world, have you ever had a fantasy of being forced, or does the idea seem at all sexy, or if you ever actually have been, was it, on any level, sexy or enjoyable?

Do you prefer to be submissive, (even if only in terms of sex)?
Do you tend to think of intercourse as him fucking you, (as opposed to you fucking him)?

Do you sympathize with the women from the article?

How about the examples in my blog post on the topic? 
It certainly resonated with my own personal experience (of course, a couple of the anecdotes were drawn from my personal experience), but I have a fairly small sample size.

Do you prefer that your partner be physically taller than you?
Has the guy been the one to first express romantic interest in more than half of your relationships and/or dates?

You don't have to tell me, or answer out loud, I'm just asking you to question yourself, to be aware of the answers. 

If the answer to, not necessarily all, but even just any one of them is yes, why do you think that is? 
Is it something you've learned, something you've internalized from cultural expectations, or do you suspect its something deeper, more primal than that?

If the answer to any of them is yes, how do you reconcile that with your values and principals around feminism and equality and power?
I could see if it was just any one individual, a person can have any particular preference - "that is what I believe in principal, this just happens to be what I personally like, and my personal tastes have no political meaning". That seems to be the most common self-justification, the most common way to reconcile principal and practice, politics and desire.  On the surface it seems like a perfectly reasonable answer, and it allows a person to not have to think about uncomfortable questions.
But if its universal, or an overwhelming trend, if even just more than 50% of straight women answer "yes" to any of the above questions, then there are obviously sociopolitical implications. 
Or, at least, it seems obvious to me - yet it seems like nobody notices.
I come across sexually assertive women, anti-sexism activists, queer women who challenge traditional concepts of gender, all wanting to be dominated sexually.
In a different context these same women will object to, for example, sexual harassment, but somehow see no connection between the two.  Men who harass are like spam or telemarketers or junk mail - all it takes is one positive response in 10,000 to make the strategy successful, but if the positive response rate was absolute zero, they wouldn't waste their time.  And it shouldn't be surprising that some women respond positively to what others call harassment, if in other contexts a power differential is seen as desirable.

As I pointed out in the rape and feminism blog post, if we want to reduce date rape, it is absolutely vital that women not ever say "no" when they really mean "yes" - and surveys find that the majority of young, sexually active women, by their own admission, have done exactly that at some point in their lives (61%).  When I first read the statistic, I assumed it was due to cultural expectations, a way to avoid 'slut shaming' - "There's bound to be talk tomorrow" ... "At least I'm gonna say that I tried" - but after reading the NY Times article that inspired what I'm writing now, I wonder if there's more to it after all.

"Ninety percent of these women said that fear of appearing promiscuous was an important reason for their behavior.  Many said that they wanted their dates to wait, or “talk me into it.”  And some said that they told their dates no because they “wanted him to be more physically aggressive." [emphasis mine]

So far the push for equality has been focused on the tangible for women - legal status, employment, dress; and the mental/emotional for men - how they are supposed to think about women.
We've pretty much ignored the physical world of men - there is no law protecting men who choose to wear a skirt to work - while the mental/emotional for women has been pretty much ignored too.

There are no college or corporate educational videos, no pamphlets or handouts, no protest rallies or petitions, that address how women view men or sexuality.  We tell men not to look at women as sexual objects, and leave it at that, as though it were a given that we don't need to tell women not to want to be looked at as sexual objects - even though there is a lot of evidence that says they many (most?) do.  The former will never succeed without the latter, because the message men get from women in their personal lives will always outweigh the message they get from activists or the human resources department.
Whoever reads this:
speak up! comment.  I want to hear different ideas and viewpoints and opinions and theories and personal experiences and thoughts and feelings.
I know people stumble across this blog somehow or other - I can see the internal statistics.  Some of you even stay on the page long enough to read.
You can even comment anonymously if you want.
Could you have a passionate and fulfilling sex life with a man who, figuratively speaking, wears the skirt in the relationship?
Why or why not?
Is it possible that the current dynamic will ever change, and, if so, how might that happen?


  1. I suppose what you wrote puts this text conversation into a more understandable context:

    her: I am uncomfortable with how things went last time. 3:40 PM
    him: I'm sorry to hear that. Wishing you the best for today. 3:42 PM
    him: Assuming it was the sex part? 10:41 PM
    her: Yes 10:41 PM
    him: I felt some mixed signals from you. I know you were clear about not wanting that but at same time you also were clearly enjoying it. Right? 10:43 PM
    her: Yes, and I told you that. 10:44 PM
    him: So overall why uncomfortable? 10:45 PM
    him: Just trying to understand as best I can. I know that I was full on. I'm insanely attracted to you. Doesn't happen every day. 10:54 PM
    her: There is only so much effort in me to fight something before I give up. I repeatedly told you I didn't want that yet and you kept pushing. I'm uncomfortable continuing something with someone who disregards my clear requests. 11:46 PM
    him: Sometimes, 'a no is a yes that needs convincing' (that's an answer on ok cupid). I know what a firm no looks like, and yours seemed like a soft no. It's clear there was another part of you that wanted and was enjoying what I was doing. If I felt you really were unhappy, then I would not have kept escalating. This is what seduction looks like for some women. I'm sorry if I misread the situation. From my perspective, women rarely give completely clear signals about anything. There is often ambiguity and contradiction.

    1. More understandable for who? For him, for her, or for you?
      I imagine if she were somehow completely unaware of other women, it might make it more understandable for her.

      Granted "There is only so much effort in me to fight something before I give up." is a pretty ridiculous excuse for claiming consent isn't really consent - if a homeless person asked for her car keys enough times, would she just give in and hand them over? After a certain number of emails from Nigerian Royalty, does she reluctantly send her bank information? If what her date was asking for was some extreme and strange fetish that she wasn't in to, would she say yes if he was persistent enough? If she genuinely didn't want it, instead of making requests of him, she could change her own actions. This was clearly not him holding her down and forcing her, and she could have made the decision to go home (or ask him to leave) at any point during the escalation.
      But this interaction isn't quite what I'm talking about - unless this is the only way she knows how to experience sex, or she picks one partner after another who disregards her requests, or she is just claiming she regrets her choices after the fact to be consistent with pretending not to want to. Which are all possible, but not obviously true from this text exchange.

  2. It is crazy. I am in an egalitarian (lesbian) marriage, and I think I have the happiest marriage of all my friends. But at the same time I would prefer about 10x as much sex as we have! I have a straight married female friend in the same position. It is too bad as a culture we haven't found acceptable, non-hurtful ways of being married, but getting our sexual desires met outside of marriage. Maybe that will become the next step in the evolution of marriage?
    Also, I think it is common to want what you don't have. My needs for companionship, affection, respect and mutual purpose are filled, so I do not have day dreams about those! (Also, as I am bi I tend to think about women when I have been in a relationship with a man, and vice versa.) But I would have to be some kind of stupid to give up what I have. I do find the whole saying no when you mean maybe or yes is bizarre. I can't imagine doing that, and I guess I didn't realize women still did that. How stupid. - Your Reader Heidi

  3. That's an interesting proposal for a solution. I wrote about the topic of extra marital sex very recently: http://biodieselhauling.blogspot.com/2013/09/some-thoughts-on-partnership-and-extra.html
    But I hadn't thought about the two going together.

    The whole saying no, meaning yes, I understand it. I can't think of many times in my life I said no and wasn't secretly hoping to be convinced to change my mind. I wouldn't exactly call it stupid, I just think its important it gets addressed, that people realize the consequences, and how all this stuff tiestogether


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