The paradox: masculinity is strength, power, and dominance… but femininity is terrifying. Gender rules insist that men must avoid association with the feminine at all costs because, if they do not, they are weak. They are pussies, bitches, women, girls. Femininity is weakness and yet, oddly, it has the power to strip men of their manliness. It is as if, as sociologist Gwen Sharp once put it, “masculinity is so fragile that apparently even the slightest brush with the feminine destroys it.”
Behold the best example of this phenomenon ever:
Let’s be clear. The reason he’s afraid of femininity is because it’s reviled. It makes you a woman, which makes you worthless. Which is fine for the ladies, but dudes are advised to avoid personal denigration if at all possible.
Let’s imagine that a woman — we’ll call her “you,” like they do in relationship advice land — is trying to calculate the odds that a man will call back after sex. Everyone tells you that if you sleep with a guy on the first date he is less likely to call back. The theory is that giving sex away at a such a low “price” lowers the man’s opinion of you, because everyone thinks sluts are disgusting.* Also, shame on you.
So, you ask, does the chance he will call back improve if you wait till more dates before having sex with him? You ask around and find that this is actually true: The times you or your friends waited till the seventh date, two-thirds of the guys called back, but when you slept with him on the first date, only one-in-five called back. From the data, it sure looks like sleeping with a guy on the first date reduces the odds he’ll call back.
So, does this mean that women make men disrespect them by having sex right away? If that’s true, then the historical trend toward sex earlier in relationships could be really bad for women, and maybe feminism really is ruining society.
Like all theories, this one assumes a lot. It assumes you (women) decide when couples will have sex, because it assumes men always want to, and it assumes men’s opinion of you is based on your sexual behavior. With these assumptions in place, the data appear to confirm the theory.
But what if that those assumptions aren’t true? What if couples just have more dates when they enjoy each other’s company, and men actually just call back when they like you? If this is the case, then what really determines whether the guy calls back is how well-matched the couple is, and how the relationship is going, which also determines how many dates you have.
What was missing in the study design was relationship survival odds. Here is a closer look at the same data (not real data), with couple survival added:
(Graph corrected from an earlier version.)
By this interpretation, the decision about when to have sex is arbitrary and doesn’t affect anything. All that matters is how much the couple like and are attracted to each other, which determines how many dates they have, and whether the guy calls back. Every couple has a first date, but only a few make it to the seventh date. It appears that the first-date-sex couples usually don’t last because people don’t know each other very well on first dates and they have a high rate of failure regardless of sex. The seventh-date-sex couples, on the other hand, usually like each other more and they’re very likely to have more dates. And: there are many more first-date couples than seventh-date couples.
So the original study design was wrong. It should have compared call-back rates after first dates, not after first sex. But when you assume sex runs everything, you don’t design the study that way. And by “design the study” I mean “decide how to judge people.”
I have no idea why men call women back after dates. It is possible that when you have sex affects the curves in the figure, of course. (And I know even talking about relationships this way isn’t helping.) But even if sex doesn’t affect the curves, I would expect higher callback rates after more dates.
Anyway, if you want to go on blaming everything bad on women’s sexual behavior, you have a lot of company. I just thought I’d mention the possibility of a more benign explanation for the observed pattern that men are less likely to call back after sex if the sex takes place on the first date.
A new study on the differential earning power of male and female movie stars beings with a quote from Jennifer Jason Leigh:
It’s the nature of the business. People equate success with youth (source).
She’s half right. Irene Pater and her co-authors looked at the pay of 265 actors and actresses who appeared in Hollywood films from 1968 to 2008. They found that the average earnings of actors rises until the age of 51 and remains stable after that. The average earnings of actresses, in contrast, peaks at 34 and decreases “rapidly thereafter.”
There is still a discrepancy in earning power between men and women in Hollywood. And it becomes doubly unfair when you think of our earning potential in terms of years. Actresses are like football players. They have a small window of prime earning ability (source).
So, is this sexism or just “market forces”? That is, is female acting work devalued compared to men’s because people in positions of power don’t value women? Or is it because casting women over 34 decreases box office returns, whereas casting older men does not? Pater and her colleagues suggest that it’s sexism. One study, they explain,
…actually examined the combined effect of gender and age on box office performance [and] revealed that casting a female lead older than 32 years of age does not influence a movie’s box office performance, whereas casting a male lead older than 42 decreases box office revenues by almost 17% (source).
So the presence of male actors in their forties and over decreases box office revenue, but they still get paid more than women of the same age. In contrast, casting women in their mid-thirties and over doesn’t bring down profits, but she’s still less valuable in the eyes of producers. Sexism sounds like a plausible explanation to me.
We have an ever-growing collection of ways in which men are frequently positioned as people and women as women. We’re always on the lookout for new examples and sociologist Nathan Palmer recently highlighted a nice observation about how this happens in language.
He asked readers to consider a quote from a textbook (not to single Conley out, he’s using standard language and I use it as well in my own textbook). Here’s the quote with the relevant part in bright white:
Applying an insight by sociologist Michael Kimmel, Palmer then updated the slide with slightly different language:
If a dollar is the amount by which all other wages should be compared, then the first sentence centers men’s experiences and positions women as a deviation from that. The second sentence switches that around.
By switching the referent, this change in language shifts the center of the discussion from women’s disadvantage to men’s advantage. Of course, there is both unfair disadvantage and advantage in this story, and we need to make both visible, but always talking in terms of the former makes women and their disadvantage the problem and hides the way that we need to be addressing men’s unfair advantage as well.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. This granted women the right to have a credit card in her own name. This translated into an unprecedented degree of independence for women. Feminists and their allies fought for this new world and it’s a good thing because we love to buy things with our credit cards sooooooo muuuuuuuuch!
And, thankfully, credit card companies like Banif know just how to make us comfortable, by combining feminism and infantilization and kissing our asses because We. Are. So. Special. “Every day is women’s day!” Wheeeee!
The husband in this ad, though, likely thinks he would have been better off if his wife wasn’t allowed to make financial decisions without his approval. Stupid women and their stupid financial decisions. Ruining everything.
It’s okay though because we are multiracial and credit is love.
Of course, sometimes the men still pay. Amirite, ladies!?
We’re celebrating the end of the year with our most popular posts from 2013, plus a few of our favorites tossed in. Enjoy!
@bfwriter tweeted us a link to a college design student’s photograph that has gone viral. Rosea Lake posted the image to her tumblr and it struck a chord.
What I like about the image is the way it very clearly illustrates two things. First, it reveals that doing femininity doesn’t mean obeying a single, simple rule. Instead, it’s about occupying and traveling within a certain space. In this case, usually between “proper” and “flirty.” Women have to constantly figure out where in that space they’re supposed to be. Too flirty at work mean’s you won’t be taken seriously; too proper at the bar and you’re invisible. Under the right circumstances (e.g., Halloween, a funeral), you can do “cheeky” or “old fashioned.”
The second thing I like about this image is the way it shows that there is a significant price to pay for getting it wrong. It’s not just a faux pas. Once you’re “‘asking for it,” you could be a target. And, once you’re reached “prudish,” you’ve become socially irrelevant. Both violence and social marginalization are serious consequences.
And, of course, all women are going to get it wrong sometimes because the boundaries are moving targets and in the eye of the beholder. What’s cheeky in one setting or to one person is flirty in or to another. So women constantly risk getting it wrong, or getting it wrong to someone. So the consequences are always floating out there, worrying us, and sending us to the mall.
Indeed, this is why women have so many clothes! We need an all-purpose black skirt that does old fashioned, another one to do proper, and a third to do flirty… at the very least… and all in casual, business, and formal. And we need heels to go with each (stilettos = provocative, high heels = flirty, low heels = proper, etc, plus we need flats for the picnics and beach weddings etc). And we need pants that are hemmed to the right length for each of these pairs of shoes. You can’t wear black shoes with navy pants, so you’ll need to double up on all these things if you want any variety in your wardrobe. I could go on, but you get the picture.
Women’s closets are often mocked as a form of self-indulgence, shop-a-holicism, or narcissism. But this isn’t fair. Instead, if a woman is class-privileged enough, they reflect an (often unarticulated) understanding of just how complicated the rules are. If they’re not class-privileged enough, they can’t follow the rules and are punished for being, for example, “trashy” or “unprofessional.” It’s a difficult job that we impose on women and we’re all too often damned-if-we-do and damned-if-we-don’t.
We’re celebrating the end of the year with our most popular posts from 2013, plus a few of our favorites tossed in. The original of this post can be found here.
Trigger warning: Graphic descriptions of sexual assault. Note: The opinions expressed in this post belong to Sezin Koehler alone and should not be attributed to anyone involved with Project Unbreakable.
Robin Thicke’s summer hit Blurred Lines addresses what he considers to be sounds like a grey area between consensual sex and assault. The images in this post place the song into a real-life context. They are from Project Unbreakable, an online photo essay exhibit, and feature images of women and men holding signs with sentences that their rapist said before, during, or after their assault. Let’s begin.
I know you want it.
Thicke sings “I know you want it,” a phrase that many sexual assault survivors report their rapists saying to justify their actions, as demonstrated over and over in the Project Unbreakable testimonials.
You’re a good girl.
Thicke further sings “You’re a good girl,” suggesting that a good girl won’t show her reciprocal desire (if it exists). This becomes further proof in his mind that she wants sex: for good girls, silence is consent and “no” really means “yes.”
Calling an adult a “good girl” in this context resonates with the the virgin/whore dichotomy. The implication in Blurred Lines is that because the woman is not responding to a man’s sexual advances, which of course are irresistible, she’s hiding her true sexual desire under a facade of disinterest. Thicke is singing about forcing a woman to perform both the good girl and bad girl roles in order to satisfy the man’s desires.
Thicke and company, as all-knowing patriarchs, will give her what he knows she wants (sex), even though she’s not actively consenting, and she may well be rejecting the man outright.
Do it like it hurt, do it like it hurt, what you don’t like work?
This lyric suggests that women are supposed to enjoy pain during sex or that pain is part of sex:
The woman’s desires play no part in this scenario – except insofar as he projects whatever he pleases onto her — another parallel to the act of rape: sexual assault is generally not about sex, but rather about a physical and emotional demonstration of power.
The way you grab me.
Must wanna get nasty.
This is victim-blaming. Everybody knows that if a woman dances with a man it means she wants to sleep with him, right? And if she wears a short skirt or tight dress she’s asking for it, right? And if she even smiles at him it means she wants it, right? Wrong. A dance, an outfit, a smile — sexy or not — does not indicate consent. This idea, though, is pervasive and believed by rapists.
And women, according to Blurred Lines, want to be treated badly.
Nothing like your last guy, he too square for you.
He don’t smack your ass and pull your hair like that.
In this misogynistic fantasy, a woman doesn’t want a “square” who’ll treat her like a human being and with respect. She would rather be degraded and abused for a man’s gratification and amusement, like the women who dance around half naked humping dead animals in the music video.
The piècede résistance of the non-censored version of Blurred Lines is this lyric:
I’ll give you something to tear your ass in two.
What better way to show a woman who’s in charge than violent, non-consensual sodomy?
Ultimately, Robin Thicke’s rape anthem is about male desire and male dominance over a woman’s personal sexual agency. The rigid definition of masculinity makes the man unable to accept the idea that sometimes his advances are not welcome. Thus, instead of treating a woman like a human being and respecting her subjectivity, she’s relegated to the role of living sex doll whose existence is naught but for the pleasure of a man.
In Melinda Hugh’s Lame Lines parody of Thicke’s song she sings, “You think I want it/ I really don’t want it/ Please get off it.” The Law Revue Girls “Defined Lines” response to Blurred Lines notes, “Yeah we don’t want it/ It’s chauvinistic/ You’re such a bigot.” Rosalind Peters says in her one-woman retort, “Let’s clear up something mate/ I’m here to have fun/ I’m not here to get raped.”
There are no “blurred lines.” There is only one line: consent.
We’re celebrating the end of the year with our most popular posts from 2013, plus a few of our favorites tossed in. Enjoy!
Philosopher Sandra Lee Bartky once observed that being feminine often means using one’s body to portray powerlessness. Consider: A feminine person keeps her body small and contained; she makes sure that it doesn’t take up to much space or impose itself. She walks and sits in tightly packaged ways. She doesn’t cover the breadth of the sidewalk or expand herself beyond the chair she occupies.
Likewise, burping and farting, raising one’s voice in an argument, and even laughing loudly are considered distinctly unfeminine. A feminine person doesn’t use her body to forcefully interact with the world, she lets others do for her when possible. ”Massiveness, power, or abundance in a woman’s body is met with distaste,” Bartky wrote.
Stunningly, when you think about it, these features of feminine body comportment are, in fact, not uniquely feminine, but associated with deference more generally. Bartky again:
In groups of men, those with higher status typically assume looser and more relaxed postures; the boss lounges comfortably behind the desk while the applicant sits tense and rigid on the edge of his seat. Higher-status individuals may touch their subordinates more than they themselves get touched; they initiate more eye contact and are smiled at by their inferiors more than they are observed to smile in return. What is announced in the comportment of superiors is confidence and ease…
Acting feminine, then, overlaps with performances of submissiveness. Both men and women use their bodies in more feminine ways when their interacting with a superior, whether it be their boss, their commander, a police officer, or their professor.
New evidence suggests that this is not pure theory. Psychologist Andy Yap and his colleagues tested whether “expansive body postures” like the ones associated with masculinity increase people’s sense of powerfulness and entitlement. They did. In laboratory experiments, people who were prompted to take up more space were more likely to steal, cheat, and violate traffic laws in a simulation. A sense of powerfulness, reported by the subjects, mediated the effect (a robust finding that others have documented as well).
In a real world test of the theory, they found that large automobiles with greater internal space were more likely than small ones to be illegally parked in New York City.
Research, then, has shown that expansive body postures that take up room instill a psychological sense of power and entitlement. The fact that this behavior is gendered may go some way towards explaining the persistence of gender inequality and, more pointedly, some men’s belief that they have earned their unearned privileges.