Category Archives: gender
College students were surveyed on over 100 different behaviors, each of which are thought to be either feminine or masculine. Half the students were also hooked up to a polygraph machine (which didn’t work, but they thought it did).
Many men said they liked to cook, write poetry and pet kittens. A number of women had changed a tire or driven 90 mph. Lie detector or not, the answers were the same. People told the truth about behavior that didn’t fit gender norms.
Until it came to sex. Then, men exaggerated the number of partners they’d had, while women subtracted.
Researchers aren’t sure why.
I can speculate.
First, we have a long history of men repressing women’s sexuality so that men will know who daddy is. Among other things, “impure” women have been shamed and shunned. Evolutionary psychologists say men don’t want to squander resources on kids who aren’t their own. I have some other ideas on “why,” which I’ll discuss later. Regardless, today in the western world women still face plenty of slut-shaming.
Add to that, pressures on young men to prove manhood through sexual prowess with women.
For young men — especially those in fraternities and sports teams — having lots of sex with lots of women is a huge measuring stick. Men aren’t measured so much by whether they might like to pet a kitten or write poetry. And neither of these things are obsessed over and ritualized.
But men often use sex to see who’s on top. It’s a major game. There is even a “how to” book on nailing women that is entitled, The Game. In this, men compete by conquering women — meaning, who can get more women to “submit” to having sex with him? As they succeed they “score.” Men are congratulated and high-fived all around. They earn the proverbial (or literal) notch on the belt, or headboard.
This game may explain why it’s so important for women to bring their numbers down. Even as women increasingly gain equality in sexual behavior, there is not yet an even playing field. Men discussing “the game” of hookup culture say that women lose a bit of status when they “give it up.”
Between this game culture and a long and strong history of keeping women chaste so that men know who dad is, sexually adventurous women have routinely been demeaned as “easy,” or worse: slut, whore, ho’, tramp, skank, nympho, hussy… the list goes on. What positive word labels a woman who enjoys having sex with lots of men? Even here, today, men may still take the walk of fame as women take the walk of shame after a casual romp.
In a society that has not quite overcome shaming and faming it is no surprise that women and men cling to gender expectations that have such big effects.
In one study — consistent with many others — women claimed they’d had about six partners while men said they’d had about 12. So mathematicians tried to figure out how that could work.
Let’s see… prostitutes don’t do surveys and some guys may be having sex outside the US.
But the math still won’t work.
And really, how can men be polygamous if women are monogamous?
Other researchers hooked people up to a lie detector and asked the same question. The polygraph didn’t work but respondents thought it did. Result: both men and women claimed four partners.
A new study of college students also found that men exaggerate and women minimize. Compared with participants who were hooked up to (non-working) lie detectors, men typically added one fake partner and women subtracted a real one.
And, women had more partners than men, among the polygraph group. So are women more polygamous? (Perhaps women were more likely to be having sex with older men while men were less likely to be having sex with younger women?)
One of the study researchers suggested we should question the veracity of sex research, given people’s tendency to lie about their sex lives — more so than about other things, according to “lie detection.”
Important, because we often judge ourselves in light of survey findings.
Maybe we shouldn’t worry so much about fitting in with how we’re “supposed to be,” and focus instead on what most of us say we want from sex: pleasure and connection.
Egypt’s fight for freedom and democracy is increasingly met with public sexual assaults. In addition to assault, rape and sexual harassment, rape-like virginity tests and tortures may also be administered. Or perhaps a woman will be dragged naked on the ground.
There’s a reason for that.
Many sexist men fear women’s power or the chaos of a receding patriarchy. But women’s rights are also symbolic of freedom for all, so best to snuff it out and demoralize other agitators.
The tormentors are aided, wittingly or not, by the media. As Laura Bates at The Women’s Media Center points out, article titles typically label it all “sexual-harassment” even though the behavior is much crueler: “grabbing, groping, stripping, touching and penetrating—acts that are more accurately described as ‘sexual assault’ or ‘rape.’”
She says the dismissive language is part of a wider trend:
In India, the term “Eve teasing” is popularly used to describe the public harassment, assault, or molestation of women. The term has gained global familiarity, spreading to other countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal and being used by the international media.
“Eve teasing.” Eve, a weak, lying temptress. Suspicion is cast upon the woman, herself.
And if it’s all her fault, she feels shame. Leopard, over at Crates and Ribbons, says shame can lead a woman to see her whole self as flawed with self-worth fading until she can no longer face public scrutiny and defend herself.
“Eve” joined by “teasing” tells us that the crime is small, “a bit of fun,” Bates says. It’s not serious or threatening and the perpetrators mean no harm. Anyone who objects can’t take a joke.
The problem is so severe that it has caused at least 14 women to commit suicide in Bangladesh, young men have been murdered in Mumbai for trying to protect their female friends, a 17-year-old Indian girl has acid thrown in her face for daring to resist it. It doesn’t seem particularly funny.
If women are at fault and the “teasers” mean no real harm, who will stop the assaults?
Check out the Diet Coke ad above.
Do you react like these women?
- Aaaah, awesome
- I was like :O when i saw this commercial
- ooh la la! like like like, all I need, no sugar, no calories!
And Coke’s personal favorite:
- Hot damn I need a Coke.
Or like these men?
- Bad commercial, kinda degrading for women…
- kinda sexist, no? Imagine a group of guys rolling the coke can to a hot girl, that then gets splattered with coke on her top and takes it off while they stare… yeah … id wanna see that commercial!
- I feel very violated as a man to be viewed as a slave laboring, sex toy meant for the amusement of females. It’s almost to hard to bear watching this demonstrable evidence of female oppression in our society. I don’t think women would be laughing if this video was the contrary. Women are nothing but misandristic swines. We have to unite my brothers and break this new established misandry system. Wahh
Oh no, do I have to start competing with guys who look like THAT?! (We ladies can relate having had to compete with Brooklyn Decker-types for years.)
I don’t like how he’s demeaned before he’s ogled. (On being demeaned — or being demeaned and ogled — the ladies can relate and commiserate.)
An alternative translation:
Women aren’t the only ones who are objectified! And women like to objectify, too, so quit yer whining!
If so, these guys think this ad is equivalent to what women are pelted with every day. It’s not.
First, sexiness is a part of the human experience. So if either men or women are portrayed as sexy some of the time, no big deal. Our sexuality is a part of our humanity.
The problem comes, in part, from bombardment by an impossible beauty ideal, leaving plenty of women feeling bad about themselves. Guys increasingly face this problem, but not at nearly the same level.
Also, women are almost ALWAYS the sexy ones, and that is the PRIMARY way they are portrayed. The imbalance communicates that women exist to sexually please men. That’s their main purpose, and without reciprocation.
And then women are hurt by men who learn — however unconsciously – to think of women as sexual-pleasure objects. So women may be treated as things and not people. Some men will use and abuse them. Their lovers may only care about their own pleasure and not make emotional connection. Their lovers may treat them like interchangeable objects. They may rudely ogle others while ignoring their partner. Taken to extreme, some men kidnap women for sex slavery, or go to prostitutes who have been kidnapped and enslaved.
Because if women are just objects, no feelings to worry over.
If women and men were BOTH portrayed in multidimensional ways, with one part being “sexy” — and outside of impossible body ideals (variety is the spice of life!) then “sexy” images needn’t be a problem for either gender.
As you drive to work you see billboards with scantily clad men drawing your attention to products that they gracefully caress. Other men bend over in ways that make you want sex with them. In some ads women lord it over submissive men.
You arrive at your ad agency, and as Creative Director you take a look at new ideas your copywriters have brought:
2) The silhouette of a man with a beer body and a foam head appears. Copy reads, “You never forget your first guy.”
3) Two women surgeons sit near a male patient who is sprawled over an operating table, dressed in just a thong. A scalpel “knife’s” his body in an ad for a TV show called “Nip Tuck.”
4) A man didn’t make coffee right so his wife spanks him.
In this world women are the dominant sex consumers who expect men to “turn them on,” passively open to them, and submit to them — sexually and otherwise. And if they don’t behave, the men will be punished.
Here’s a video on how such a world would look:
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Modeling scouts—known for weighing young girls in public like cattle and targeting down-and-out families, but perhaps not for exploiting the life-threatening delusions of sick teenagers—were gathering—in the plural, so more than one person thought this was okay—outside of Sweden’s largest eating disorder clinic.
Agents say they’re seeking “healthy, normally slim women” and “never urge weight loss.” Yet one girl who was approached was so frail that she needed a wheelchair. And they’re all hospitalized.
On never urging weight loss, Waldman muses, “The eating disorder will do all the urging for you!” Indeed, about 40% of models are eating disordered.
Anorexic-thin is unnatural and unhealthy. About 1/5 of anorexic girls and women die.
Next, the models will become even more unnatural-looking as implants are inserted into their chests.
Now add photoshop to complete the other-worldly look.
Why would a sickly, does-not-exist-in-nature look be used to model feminine beauty?
A couple of things could be happening.
As women gain equality in status and opportunity, images of men and women are changing in ways that exaggerate their natural physical differences. By nature, men have more muscular bulk. And men’s images in movies, professional wrestling, and magazines like Men’s Health – not to mention boys’ toys like G.I. Joe – have gotten more muscular over time. Meanwhile, images of women have grown thinner and frailer. At the same time, women’s breasts have gotten bigger, exaggerating another sex difference.
But there is also a profit motive. With an impossible ideal, people will spend endless sums trying to attain it through diets, exercise, gym memberships, surgeries, miracle bras, fashions that create optical illusions, and plenty of magazines to tell you all about all the stuff you can buy.
So in the interest of heightening a sense of gender difference and selling product, we create a very sick feminine ideal.
Flipping images of women and men can flip our way of seeing.
This picture of Steve Carell, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert posing like female supermodels is making its way around the web:
(Is Stephen Colbert so hot because he’s not wearing glasses? Or is it that pose?)
Over at The Gender Press a “side-by-side” comparison of real Victoria’s Secret models and men posing to look like them is jarring. The women look sexy, but I’m not sure the men do. We are definitely not used to seeing men posed “sexily” in that way.
This superhero image has also gotten around:
Ready and willing, these guys may strike terror in the hearts of villains. But not for fear of getting beaten up.
The Gender Press offers another take on the theme:
No if’s, and’s or butts with these Avengers. Unless gender is switched — in Kevin Bolk’s parody.
Men come across as tough and strong, as assertive or aggressive. Or at least standing upright.
Women are more likely sitting or lying on the floor, maybe caressing themselves or an object. And if at all possible, their butts or breasts are aimed at us.
Even when women are depicted as tough, best to add sexy and stir? Even as we move outside the box, we get put back in it.
Did Hermione Granger really say “I can’t” during the climactic battle in the final chapter of the Harry Potter film saga? Presented with her chance to destroy one of the horcruxes she had put her life on the line to hunt, she backs away and needs her almost-boyfriend Ron to insist that of course she can.
The transformation of a brave, adventurous girl into a young woman who becomes weakened by, or defined by, her sexuality, has a long literary tradition. The next step, it seems, is to become a mom who is sick or dead.
I discovered this pattern one year when I let fiction take over my usual nonfiction reading habit.
In The Sound and the Fury we meet adventurous, determined and nurturing little Caddy Compson who is busy exploring the local countryside, climbing trees and sometimes bossing her brothers. Later, she becomes a promiscuous woman, shamed and rejected by her family. And the mother in this story? She’s a neurotic hypochondriac.
Faulkner introduces us to a mother who is dying, and later dead, in the appropriately titled, As I Lay Dying. Her daughter is upset and fixated on her out-of-wedlock pregnancy (instead of her dying/dead mom).
In Atonement creative young Briony Tallis has an over-active imagination that leads to serious trouble. Her older cousin gets raped, and her older sister is overcome by romance. Mom is constantly bedridden with headaches.
Plain Song revolves around a shy 17-year-old whose mother kicked her out after learning she was pregnant. Two young boys have a mom who spends her days locked away, depressed.
I could go on, but you get the point.
If strong, adventurous girls grew up to become strong, adventurous young women,who were also sexual, that would be fine. But too often, sexuality diminishes them or becomes the only thing they’re about.
Maybe that explains why older women (moms) end up sick or dead. Upon reaching womanhood the grown girl leaves behind everything that had empowered and engaged her to become defined by her sexuality. When her allure fades, there’s nothing left.
Which suggests a lesson for real live women. Best to avoid a one-dimensional focus on sexuality that rests on narrow beauty notions. Instead, stay strong and develop many facets of yourself, including an ageless and radiant beauty and sexuality (a la Meryl Streep and Hellen Mirren, et al) to enjoy over a lifetime.
I became the detective, trying to determine whether he was right for me. Was he devoted, caring? Empathetic? Did he appreciate me? Was he in love with me or was I just a passing fancy?
He thought understanding each other was overrated.
My sleuthing confirmed my initial attraction – that he was deep. Unless the subject was sex and relationship, which he thought were the same thing. Big problem!
I eventually learned that this dynamic – men seeking sex and women seeking answers – is not unusual. It is even reflected in the erotica we seek.
Cognitive neuroscientist, Ogi Ogas says that men search the internet for two-minute clips that are all about skin and explicit sex. Women’s erotica is more like detective novel meets romance, and takes hours to read and digest. (The number of women romance readers and male online porn viewers are about the same. About one in 10 men are into romance while one in 10 women check out porn clips.)
The men’s interest is simple, uncomplicated. But women more likely want character-driven stories that reveal the lover’s nature. Sex is not for its own sake, and not with impersonal strangers.
As Ogas notes, the female cortex is highly developed and skillfully scrutinizes all available evidence – social, emotional and physical, somewhat consciously but largely not. All this leads to a general feeling of favorability or suspicion: Is he committed and kind? Is he a rouge? A player? Only if the detective work leads to a stamp of approval will physical and psychological arousal unite.
Men’s desire has been likened to an on/off switch, while women’s to a complex circuit board.
Why? Who knows? Some will point to evolutionary psychology: To best reproduce themselves women need a man who will stick around and support their children with resources. So women must be careful, picky. But men (having a great deal of sperm) best reproduce themselves by willy-nilly spreading their seed. It’s a popular theory, but I have my doubts since women in some cultures behave a lot like our sexual stereotype of men. American Indians prior to European contact, for instance.
Others say that in a world where women have less power, women’s lives are more affected by men than vice-versa, so they need to be more careful, even if their sleuthing isn’t very conscious. Women are more likely to follow husbands who are transferred in their careers than vice-versa, for instance. Also, men’s social status affects women more than women’s status affects men’s. When a waitress marries a dentist, her social status immediately rises to his. Not so much for the trucker who marries a female business executive.
And since men are typically bigger and stronger, abused women suffer greater injuries and have more difficultly defending themselves.
Women are also more likely to depend on men, financially, because they are more likely to stay home full-time with kids. Is he dependable? Can he keep a job? If men leave, women in our society bear all the responsibility for children (versus Ancient American Indians who parented communally).
Also, women’s sex drive is typically lower in our culture (largely due to repression, which is due to sexism), perhaps leaving women wanting emotionally connected sex more than variety and experimentation.
And of course, women were raised on a diet of Disney princesses living happily ever after with their one and only true love. Could have an effect.
Meanwhile, bombarded by women-as-object images, men come to see women’s bodies as objects that are all about sex, and women’s body parts sex-signals. Hence the simple look-arousal response. (Surprisingly, the breast fetish seems to be learned, not natural.)
When women and men so often have contradictory ways of seeing and being, you have to wonder why (for about 95% of the population) women and men are thrown together in the first place.
Yet, when it comes to relationships — and not mere erotica — there is more coming together. In fact, guys are getting more romantic and seem to be quite relationship-oriented. So maybe in real life it’s more often a match, after all.
Last month’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition featured bikinied women and women whose nude bodies were painted to look like they were wearing bikinis. (Swimsuits are related to sports, get it?). The scantily clad ladies sell a lot of magazines.
Now SI wants to appeal to its female audience of 18 million. The ladies will get makeup tips. And after all the lovely swimsuit models, women readers may feel badly enough about themselves to want them – a common advertising trick.
But why no Beckham in the buff for us? We aren’t supposed to enjoy ogling sexy men? Instead, we are supposed to be sexy ourselves, so that men can enjoy ogling us?
But SI is hardly alone.
Cosmo, Glamour, Elle, et al., highlight sexy ladies, and at best, lowlight sexy men. In fact, Cosmo and Maxim look an awful lot alike.
But it’s not just magazines. Nearly nude women, but rarely men, draw our eyes to billboards peddling products. The camera hones in on women’s boobs and butts on TV and film. You don’t see much focus on men’s buns and chests.
Why are sexy women marketed to both men and women?
And why aren’t sexy men marketed to women?
Historically, men have controlled media and they put out what they find attractive. Then, flooded with pretty women, we all drink them in. They sink into our minds, and we unconsciously develop notions that that’s the way the world is and the only way things could be.
But the unsaid message is that women’s sexual needs aren’t primary. Men’s are. We are meant to be beautiful decorations for men. We are there to turn men on. Men need sexual pleasure, and we are the one’s to give it to them.
Not the reverse.
As a result, when men look at nearly-nude women, they love it. But when women look at nearly-nude men they can feel uncomfortable.
Shouldn’t women’s sexual pleasure be as important as men’s? And wouldn’t men and women both enjoy sex more if it were?