Tag Archives: sex

The Feminization of Love and Masculinization of Sex

What comes to mind when you think of romance, love, and Valentine’s Day?  Probably things like sunsets, flowers, chocolates, candles, poetry, and bubble baths.  You know, girl stuff.

4

Francesca Cancian, who writes on love, calls this the feminization of love.  It makes love seem like its for women and girls only.  This is a problem for at least two reasons.  First, because men are supposed to avoid girly things in our culture, they are pressured to pretend like they’re not into love and love-related things.  That’s why men are offered the alternative Steak and a Blow Job Day.

Second, it makes other ways of expressing love less visible.  Maybe he shows love by always changing the oil in the car or making sure the computer is updated with anti-virus software.  These can be mis-recognized as not about love because they aren’t the proper socially constructed symbols.  So, if he doesn’t also show up with flowers or candy once in a while, maybe she doesn’t feel loved.

The flip side of this is the masculinization of sex.  The rather new idea that what men are really interested in is sex and that this is secondary or, even, obligatory for women.

The feminization of love and masculinization of sex manifests itself in a myriad of ways across our culture, causing all sorts of problems.  In the case of Valentine’s Day, it makes it seem as if the (assumed heterosexual) holiday is for women but, if he does it right, he’ll get sex as a reward.  How romantic.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Female Celebrities and the “Faint Sexual Flame”

3Thanks to a tip from Jay Livingston, I came across this quote from The Pursuit of  Loneliness by sociologist Philip Slater.  It’s long, but wow:

[I]t can’t be denied that the female ideal in America is nonaggressive and nonthreatening, to the point of caricature.  Take for example the film personality of the much-idolized Marilyn Monroe: docile, accommodating, brainless, defenseless, totally uncentered, incapable of taking up for herself or knowing what she wants or needs. A sexual encounter with such a woman in real life would border on rape – the idea of “consenting adults” wouldn’t even apply.  The term “perversion” seems more appropriate for this kind of yearning than for homosexuality or bestiality, since it isn’t directed toward a complete being.  The Marilyn Monroe image was the ideal sex object for the sexually crippled and anxious male: a bland erotic pudding that would never upset his delicate stomach.

It’s important to realize that this Playboy ideal is a sign of low, rather than high, sexual energy.  It suggests that the sexual flame is so faint and wavering that a whole person would overwhelm and extinguish it.  Only a vapid, compliant ninny-fantasy can keep it alive. It’s designed for men who don’t really like sex but need it for tension-release – men whose libido is wrapped up in achievement or dreams of glory.

Slater wrote this passage in 1970, hence the reference to Marilyn Monroe.  I would have to think hard about whether I think it still applies broadly, but I think it’s fair to say that the “bland erotic pudding” is still part of the repertoire of essentially every female celebrity who is successful in part because of her appearance.  I did a search for some of the most high-profile female actresses and singers today, looking specifically for images that might fit Slater’s description.  I invite your thoughts.

1

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

K-Y Mocks Women’s Lust and Men’s Bodies

Let’s watch and see what issues this K-Y lube campaign raises:

You see, it’s funny because the “warming” lube is so effective, the chubby old slob is irresistible to his more put-together wife.  Here’s another:

While I think mature men like me can take the hit on our egos, there is another angle to consider here.  In an AdWeek post on “Hunkvertising,” my social media friend David Gianatasio interviewed Lisa Wade, about what the trendy treatment of men as sex objects in advertising actually says about women.

Many ad experts and social critics see the whole thing as a harmless turning of the tables following decades of bikini-clad babes in beer commercials. Double entendres abound when dissecting the trend, the overriding feeling being that it can’t be taken all that seriously because, after all, we are just talking about guys here. “We’re all in on the gender-reversal joke,” explains Lisa Wade, associate professor of sociology at Occidental College. “It’s funny to us to think of women being lustful.”

A third:

When the lust is treated even more ironically, as with these men who are not exactly Isaiah Mustafa, both the woman’s lust and the man’s sexual desirability are the gag.

As Dr. Wade added in her post about the post she was interviewed for, “the joke affirms the gender order because the humor depends on us knowing that we don’t really objectify men this way and we don’t really believe that women are the way we imagine men to be.”

And here, the men aren’t either. It’s good for a laugh, but over the long term is it good for men and women?

Tom Megginson is a Creative Director at Acart Communications, a Canadian Social Issues Marketing agency. He is a specialist in social marketing, cause marketing, and corporate social responsibility. You can follow Tom at workthatmatters.blogspot.com.

A Little Theory of Homophobia

Heterosexuality in the U.S. is gendered: women are expected to attract, men are supposed to be attracted.  Men want, women want to be wanted.  Metaphorically, this is a predator/prey type relationship.  Women are subject to the hunt whether they like it or not, so men’s attention can be pleasing, annoying, or frightening.  It all depends.

Accordingly, women know what it feels like to be prey.  Not all men make us feel this way, of course, but some certainly do.  The leering guy on the street, the heavy hitter in the bar, the frotteurist on the subway, the molesting uncle, the aggressive fraternity brother, etc.  It doesn’t matter if we’re interested in men or not, interested in that guy or not, there are men that — with their eyes, mouths, hands, and more — apparently can’t help but get their “sexual energy slime” all over us.

So what’s homophobia?  Sometimes I think it’s the moment that men feel what it’s like to be prey.  See, women are used to it.  It’s a familiar feeling we have to modulate all the time.  We’re used to constantly judging whether it means danger or not.  But when it happens to men for the first time, I bet it’s shocking as all hell.  It’s like they’ve been treated like a human being their whole life and then, POW, they’re a piece of ass and nothing more.  It must feel just crazy bad.

Of course, all that’s happened is that they’ve been demoted in the food chain.  No longer the predator, they’re the prey.  The dynamic between two men is the same as the one between men and women, except now they know what it feels like to be slimed.

facebook_1193239299Thanks to Mike Hrostoski for the awesome phrase and Andy Singer for the spot-on comic.  Cross-posted at Slate.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

On the Sexualized Insult (Not for the Faint of Heart)

We’re celebrating the end of the year with our most popular posts from 2013, plus a few of our favorites tossed in.  Enjoy!

Over at his blog, The Ethical Adman, Tom Megginson asks us to consider the “power symbolism of fellatio.”  His post was prompted by this sign for an Android store (next door to an Apple store) in China:

Get it? Apple is fellating Android, so Apple is inferior. <sarcasm> Obvious right? </sarcasm>

The variations on the insult “you suck” — “suck it,” “suck my balls,” “suck my dick,” “cocksucker,” and Tom’s colorful addition, “this sucks donkey balls!” — are so commonplace that it’s easy to forget where it comes from.  Like the sign implies, and the more elaborate insults make clear, “you suck” works as an insult by positioning the male or female receiver in a position in which they are sexually servicing a man.

This cultural association of power and sex is pervasive throughout our insult vocabulary.  “Fuck you” is an excellent example, as is “fuck off,” “motherfucker,” and “go fuck yourself.”  Sexualized body parts used as insults are part of this too: “cunt,” “pussy,” “dick,” and “prick.”  “Scumbag” is a word that originally meant condom and suggests that sperm is somehow contaminating; sexual partners who receive or are covered with sperm can be seen as exposed to a disgusting or filthy substance.  Even “douchbag” may fall into this category (think about it).

People get pretty creative (or not) with this stuff.  Here’s one of my very favorite pieces of hate mail (in response to this post):

Just a tipoff, to let you filthy feminazi CUNTS know that we are exposing you, you fucking pieces of shit… see [name and organization redacted], a leading men’s rights magazine site, and boy does it expose you and your fucking feminazi cunt blog for what you are…. nothing but awful screaming feminazi harpy cunts who need to suck a dick and calm down… you evil twats…

Aside from this tipoff, all I will say to such feminazi CUNTS like you is, suck my fucking dick you awful feminazi cunts. FUCK I HATE YOU, AND EVERYTHING YOU STAND FOR!!!!! DOWN WITH FEMINAZI COCKSUCKING CUNTS WHO I HOPE GET BREAST CANCER.

So it’s interesting, right, to notice how often attempts to hurt other people come in the language of sexuality.  This reveals why sex can be scary, especially for women who are so often positioned as the one who “gets fucked.”  And this, of course, is what rape is all-too-often about.  It’s also part of how we demean and marginalize gay and bisexual men.  In the language of sex/power, they’ve voluntarily made themselves into lesser human beings, making homophobes feel justified in denigrating or assaulting them.

For my part, I try to avoid all of this language and I encourage you to do so too.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

My Two Cents on Feminism and Miley Cyrus

We’re celebrating the end of the year with our most popular posts from 2013, plus a few of our favorites tossed in.  Enjoy!

Oddly, three high profile female musicians find themselves in a public debate about what it means to be a feminist.  We can thank Miley Cyrus for the occasion.  After claiming that the video for Wrecking Ball was inspired by Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares to You, O’Connor wrote an open letter to the performer.  No doubt informed by Cyrus’ performance at the VMAs, she argued that the music industry would inevitably exploit Cyrus’ body and leave her a shell of a human being.  Amanda Palmer, another strong-minded female musician, responded to O’Connor.  She countered with the idea that all efforts to control women’s choices, no matter how benevolent, were anti-feminist.

I keep receiving requests to add my two cents.  So, here goes: I think they’re both right, but only half right.  And, when you put the two sides together, the conclusion isn’t as simple as either of them makes it out to be.  Both letters are kind, compelling, and smart, but neither capture the deep contradictions that Cyrus – indeed all women in the U.S. – face every day.

Cyrus in Wrecking Ball:

Screenshot_7

O’Connor warns Cyrus that the music industry is patriarchal and capitalist.  In so many words, she explains that the capitalists will never pay Cyrus what she’s worth because doing so leaves nothing to skim off the top.  The whole point is to exploit her.  Meanwhile, her exploitation will be distinctly gendered because sexism is part of the very fabric of the industry.  O’Connor writes:

The music business doesn’t give a shit about you, or any of us. They will prostitute you for all you are worth… and when you end up in rehab as a result of being prostituted, “they” will be sunning themselves on their yachts in Antigua, which they bought by selling your body…

Whether Cyrus ends up in rehab remains to be seen but O’Connor is, of course, right about the music industry. This is not something that requires argumentation, but is simply true in a patriarchal, capitalist society.  For-profit industries are for profit.  You may think that’s good or bad, but it is, by definition, about finding ways to extract money from goods and services and one does that by selling it for more than you paid for it.  And media companies of all kinds are dominated at almost all levels by (rich, white) men. These are the facts.

Disagreeing, Palmer claims that O’Connor herself is contributing to an oppressive environment for women.  All women’s choices, Palmer argues, should be considered fair game.

I want to live in a world where WE as women determine what we wear and look like and play the game as our fancy leads us, army pants one minute and killer gown the next, where WE decide whether or not we’re going to play games with the male gaze…

In Palmer’s utopia, no one gets to decide what’s best for women.  The whole point is to have all options on the table, without censure, so women can pick and choose and change their mind as they so desire.

This is intuitively pleasing and seems to mesh pretty well with a decent definition of “freedom.”  And women do have more choices – many, many more choices – than recent generations of women. They are now free to vote in elections, wear pants, smoke in public, have their own bank accounts, play sports, go into men’s occupations and, yes, be unabashedly sexual.  Hell they can even run for President.  And they get to still do all the feminine stuff too!  Women have it pretty great right now and Palmer is right that we should defend these options.

So, both are making a feminist argument.  What, then, is the source of the disagreement?

O’Connor and Palmer are using different levels of analysis.  Palmer’s is straightforwardly individualistic: each individual woman should be able to choose what she wants to do.  O’Connor’s is strongly institutional: we are all operating within a system – the music industry, in this case, or even “society” – and that system is powerfully deterministic.

The truth is that both are right and, because of that, neither sees the whole picture.  On the one hand, women are making individual choices. They are not complete dupes of the system.  They are architects of their own lives.   On the other hand, those individual choices are being made within a system.  The system sets up the pros and cons, the rewards and punishments, the paths to success and the pitfalls that lead to failure.  No amount of wishing it were different will make it so.  No individual choices change that reality.

So, Cyrus may indeed be “in charge of her own show,” as Palmer puts it.  She may have chosen to be a “raging, naked, twerking sexpot” all of her own volition.  But why?  Because that’s what the system rewards.  That’s not freedom, that’s a strategy.

In sociological terms, we call this a patriarchal bargain.  Both men and women make them and they come in many different forms. Generally, however, they involve a choice to manipulate the system to one’s best advantage without challenging the system itself.  This may maximize the benefits that accrue to any individual woman, but it harms women as a whole.  Cyrus’ particular bargain – accepting the sexual objectification of women in exchange for money, fame, and power – is a common one.  Serena Williams, Tila Tequila, Kim Kardashian, and Lady Gaga do it too.

We are all Miley, though.  We all make patriarchal bargains, large and small.  Housewives do when they support husbands’ careers on the agreement that he share the dividends.  Many high-achieving women do when they go into masculinized occupations to reap the benefits, but don’t challenge the idea that occupations associated with men are of greater value.  None of us have the moral high ground here.

So, is Miley Cyrus a pawn of industry patriarchs?  No.  Can her choices be fairly described as good for women?  No.

That’s how power works. It makes it so that essentially all choices can be absorbed into and mobilized on behalf of the system.  Fighting the system on behalf of the disadvantaged – in this case, women – requires individual sacrifices that are extraordinarily costly.  In Cyrus’ case, perhaps being replaced by another artist who is willing to capitulate to patriarchy with more gusto.  Accepting the rules of the system translates into individual gain, but doesn’t exactly make the world a better place.  In Cyrus’ case, her success is also an affirmation that a woman’s worth is strongly correlated with her willingness to commodify her sexuality.

Americans want their stories to have happy endings.  I’m sorry I don’t have a more optimistic read.  If the way out of this conundrum were easy, we’d have fixed it already.  But one thing’s for sure: it’s going to take collective sacrifice to bring about a world in which women’s humanity is so taken-for-granted that no individual woman’s choices can undermine it.  To get there, we’re going to need to acknowledge the power of the system, recognize each other as conscious actors, and have empathy for the difficult choices we all make as we try to navigate a difficult world.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Gender-Swapping Christmas

Gendered nonsense wasn’t on the Pew Research Center survey about what people don’t like about Christmas, but it’s in my top five!

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Does the Rise of Men’s Sexual Objectification = Equality?

Recently David Gianatasio at AdWeek wrote an analysis of the sudden rise in the sexual objectification of men in advertising.  It seems to have been spurred by the wild popularity of the Old Spice character introduced in 2010, The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.  Gianatasio calls it “hunkvertising.”  Indeed, rippling abdominal muscles suddenly seem to be everywhere.

53Screenshot_3

Gianatasio interviewed me for the piece and I had two thoughts.  First, because the ads are so tongue-in-cheek, they didn’t seem to be acknowledging and validating women’s sexual desire, so much as mocking it.  “It’s funny to us to think of women being lustful,” I told Gianatasio, “because we don’t really take women’s sexuality very seriously.”  In this way, the joke affirms the gender order because the humor depends on us knowing that we don’t really objectify men this way and we don’t really believe that women are the way we imagine men to be.

Second, objectifying men alongside women certainly isn’t progress.  There’s the old critique that, if it is equality, it’s not the kind we want.  But, more importantly, the forces behind this so-called equality have nothing to do with justice.  Gianatasio generously gave me the last word:

I wouldn’t call it equality — I’d call it marketing, and maybe capitalism. Market forces under capitalism exploit whatever fertile ground is available. Justice and sexual equality aren’t driving increasing rates of male objectification — money is.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.