Category Archives: women
Cross-posted at Sociological Images
Let me ask you a question: Do you have a good friend of the opposite sex?
Odds are you do. In fact, the odds are overwhelming.
When I first began teaching, 25 or so years ago, I asked my students how many of them had a good friend of the opposite sex. About 10% said they did. The rest were from what I called the When Harry Met Sally generation. You’ll remember the scene, early in the film, when Harry asserts that women and men can’t be friends because “sex always gets in the way.” Sally is sure he’s wrong. They fight about it. Then, thinking she has the clincher for her position, she says, confidently, “So that means that you can be friends with them if you’re not attracted to them!”
“Ah,” says Harry, “you pretty much want to nail them too.”
Young people today have utterly and completely repudiated this idea. These days, when I ask my students, I’ve had to revise the question: “Is there anyone here who does not have a friend of the opposite sex?” A few hands perhaps, in the more than 400 students in the class.
But let’s think, for a moment, about the “politics” of friendship. With whom do you make friends? With your peers. Not your supervisor or boss. Not your subordinate. Your equal. More than romance, and surely more than workplace relationships, friendships are the relationships with the least amount of inequality.
This changes how we can engage men in the efforts to end sexual assault, because there are three elements to sexual assault that can be discussed and disentangled.
First is men’s sense of entitlement to women’s bodies, to sex. This sense of entitlement dissolves in the face of an encounter with your friends. After all, entitlement is premised on inequality. The more equal women are, the less entitlement men may feel. (Entitlement is not to be confused with resentment; equality often breeds resentment in the privileged group. The privileged rarely support equality because they fear they have something to lose.) Entitlement leads men to think that they can do whatever they want.
Second, the Bro Code tells those guys that they’re right – that they can get away with it because their bros won’t challenge or confront them. The bonds of brotherhood demand men’s silent complicity with predatory and potentially assaultive behavior. One never rats out the brotherhood. But if we see our female friends as our equals, then we might be more likely to act ethically to intervene and resist being a passive bystander. (And, of course, we rescue our male friends from doing something that could land him in jail for a very long time.)
Men’s silence is what perpetuates the culture of sexual assault; many of the excellent programs that work to engage men suggest that men start making some noise. We know the women, or know people who know them. This is personal.
Finally, we’re better than that – and we know it.
Sexual assault is often seen as an abstraction, a “bad” thing that happens to other people: Bad people do bad things to people who weren’t careful, were drunk or compromised. But, as I said, it’s personal. And besides, this framing puts all the responsibility on women to monitor their activities, alcohol consumption, and environments; if they don’t, whose fault is it?
This sets the bar far too low to men. It assumes that unless women monitor and police everything they do, drink, say, wear etc., we men are wild, out of control animals and we cannot be held responsible for our actions.
Surely we can do better than this. Surely we can be the good and decent and ethical men we say we are. Surely we can promise, publicly and loudly, the pledge of the White Ribbon Campaign (the world’s largest effort to engage men to end men’s violence against women): I pledge never to commit, condone, or remain silent about violence against women and girls.
Our friends – both women and men – deserve and expect no less of us.
Michael Kimmel is a professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Stonybrook. He has written or edited over twenty volumes, including Manhood in America: A Cultural History and Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. You can visit his website here.
What’s the appeal of Fifty Shades of Grey? As I’ve written before, release from power, fetishizing disempowerment, and random happenings may all play a part.
Internalizing a culture that eroticizes the degradation and torture of women surely plays a role, too.
A post from Feministing reads:
I am in no way surprised that many women, who have been socialized in a culture in which male sexuality is linked to domination and in which women are taught their sexual power comes from being wanted, have fantasies of submission.
When you are bombarded by images, ideas subconsciously get inside your head. And we are drenched in “male dominance is sexy” imagery.
A Tom Ford eyewear ad seems to say F-you to a woman, in a BJ kind of way.
Fashion ads suggest that black and blue is beautiful.
At Superbowl XXXVIII Justin Timberlake slapped Janet Jackson around before ripping off her bodice.
Rhett Butler “takes” Scarlett in an act of marital rape – and she awakens sexually satisfied in the morning. Luke rapes Laura on “General Hospital” — and they fall in love.
Meanwhile, The Secretary indulges in a little D/s on the side.
Or go to the ballet and watch a man overtake a woman in “Petite Mort” or “little death” (in idiom: orgasm).
On the music scene sexy women are routinely debased as bitches and ho’s while Eminem chants “I’m in flight high of a love drunk from the hate” while Rihanna submits saying, “I like the way it hurts” — and periodically returns to a lover who beat her.
Women are also watching more porn these days. Now showing: violence and degradation of women. Watching, they increasingly find it all arousing.
On the High Court Justice Breyer asks why thirteen-year-olds are protected from Playboy while video games that let boys bind, torture and kill a woman are just fine – so long as the she’s not topless.
As a kid I checked out Grimm’s Fairy Tales at the library only to read a tale about a woman who was punished by being stripped and driven through the town in humiliation as sharp spikes pierced her skin. Another childhood memory emerges of a woman being thrown over a man’s knee to be spanked on TV.
When young girls are steeped in these sexy images, is it any surprise that they come to see male domination and violence as sexy, themselves?
So really, it is no surprise that so many women are enthralled by the domination and submission of Fifty Shades of Grey.
I’ll talk more on what I make of all this later.
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Every day, girls are kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery. Stella Marr was attending Columbia University, working to make a good life for herself and escape the abuses of home. But the more she succeeded, the more violent her mother became. Her mom finally kicked her out of the house. A friend knew a friend who needed a roommate. But when she got to the apartment three men beat and raped her and locked her in a tiny room with no window. Next, they forced her into prostitution. Men bought her for sex, and some who knew she was enslaved didn’t care.
Not so long ago, even Osaka’s Mayor, Toru Hashimoto, excused sex slavery – at least in times of war — explaining that soldiers need “comfort women”:
When soldiers are risking their lives by running through storms of bullets, and you want to give these emotionally charged soldiers a rest somewhere, it’s clear that you need a comfort women system.
Then there are men who kidnap girls for their own uses. Like Cleveland’s Ariel Castro who was arrested last month for locking three young women in his house — even chaining them in his basement in the early years — while he emotionally, physically and sexually abused them.
And right now trial has begun in the Bay Area over the gang rape of a 16-year-old Richmond girl who was lured by a “friend” who saw her walking home early from a high school dance. The girl was “slapped, punched, kicked, robbed, urinated on, groped and raped by both people and objects,” according to a news report. As many as 20 men were involved. Some laughed and took pictures. The ringleader said he wanted to “pimp her out.” Her enslavement was more short-lived, but nearly fatal.
Do these men have no sense of women as human beings? Are they mere objects that exist to sexually satiate men?
Instead of living fulfilling, growing lives, developing their potential and creating bonds with family and friends, these women are kept in small, dark rooms, beaten and raped. They are denied health care. Some are starved. One of the women Castro kidnapped was starved and beaten to induce miscarriages — from five pregnancies. About three quarters of Japan’s sex slaves died, while survivors were often left infertile from trauma or from STDs.
Kris Mohandie, a forensic psychologist who works with long-term kidnapping cases says, “These are some of the most catastrophic kinds of experiences a human being can be subjected to.”
He also says that when a man abducts a woman for his own personal pleasure — and for her pain — he has “had longstanding fantasies of capturing, controlling, abusing and dominating women.”
And that, in turn, comes out of a pornified culture that objecifies women and ties eroticism to their abuse.
You don’t find sexuality and violence tied together in every culture. Indians of America’s east coast were free from that sort of violence when Europeans first arrived. The Arapesh still don’t “get” rape.
But inside of violent, objectifying porn cultures, some men both find violence against women arousing and enact their fantasies in real life.
All the more likely when women are seen as mere objects that don’t deserve empathy as a result of objectification.
Violent pornography is also correlated with both aggressive behavior and men becoming more callus toward women who are sexually assaulted, says Robert Johnson of the University of Texas.
But the whole culture has become pornified, so it’s not just pornography that’s at fault. As Slippery Rock University’s women’s studies director observed about the Ariel Castro case:
Sadly, in a world that endlessly replicates and sexualizes male domination of women, I am not surprised that this “fantasy” narrative has been literalized. Though there are doubtless myriad factors that contributed to this nightmare crime, I hope that one positive outcome is broader critical analyses of how pornography normalizes the domination and degradation of women in pervasive and damaging ways.
Some wonder why we don’t talk about this. Maybe because critiques of violent, degrading porn seem anti-sex. But there are plenty of non-violent and non-degrading ways to enjoy sex!
“All women are b*tches — or need to be in order to succeed at, well, pretty much anything, judging from the publishing industry,” to paraphrase the Huffington Post.
Here are a few examples HP presents (for more, go here):
Run (And Be Fat)
So this has got me thinking. Why must women be bitches in order to do stuff?
Maybe it depends on what you mean by “bitch.”
If a guy says, “She’s a bitch” it means she’s difficult — or she sleeps with everyone but him!
If “She’s my bitch,” she’s submissive. If “He’s my bitch,” he is, too.
But if she says, “Yeah, I’m a bitch!” then she’s assertive, she has self-respect and she looks out for herself.
I know, it’s confusing. So let’s go with that last one.
Maybe to get married, be slim, run — and be fat, stay on a budget, do yoga, date men, have great sex and be happy, it helps to be assertive and stop worrying about giving yourself completely over to others… and stop worrying about how everyone else sees us?
Or, to date, marry and have sex with any man that you’d want to date, marry and have sex with, it’s best to be a bitch?
Hmmmmm, maybe the books have a point.
A pill that boosts female desire might work too well?
Scientists developing Lybrido (due in 2016) fear the pill may create orgasm-hungry, sex-craved nymphomaniacs who cheat on their husbands and splinter society.
Or at least they are afraid the FDA might reject the drug for that reason. Andrew Goldstein, who’s conducting the research says, “There’s a bias against — a fear of creating the sexually aggressive woman.”
The female libido has been oppressed and repressed for millennia by means of slut-shaming, chastity belts, genital mutilation (in which the clitoris, along with the inner and outer labia are removed), honor killings (killing daughters who may have been unchaperoned, had sex outside marriage, been raped or chosen their own husbands), and more. Even vibrators have been outlawed!
Just jealous of our multiple O’s?
A desire to feel powerful and in control by controlling women’s bodies?
Or maybe men just don’t want to support kids who aren’t their own, as evolutionary psych claims? (So why do so many of these same dudes want to keep women out of the workforce and unable to support children, themselves?)
If the FDA worries that women – and their partners – will have too much fun and freedom, well, that’s just stupid.
But if they’re worried about cheating and social instability then “female Viagra” might actually help.
First, a big reason men seek divorce is a partner’s low sex drive (which likely stems from repression). So if women desired sex more, there’d be less divorce from that cause.
Meanwhile, even as repression depresses a woman’s natural desire and ability to enjoy pure sexual sensation, we also fetishize women’s bodies and not men’s. All this leads to a convoluted way of getting aroused that could encourage cheating:
Many women get turned on by sensing a man’s lust for her, and from feeling chosen because she’s so attractive. She kind of makes love to herself, vicariously through his eyes… his desire for her. But if she’s been with one man for a long time she may sense less lust as he grows used to her. And if it’s a committed relationship, she may feel like he simply has no choice but her. That’s no turn-on. And then there’s the “everydayness” of seeing the same guy all the time, morning and night. She cherishes him, she’s bonded to him, but the sexual magic is gone. UNLV psych professor, Marta Meana, says men don’t seem to experience this problem so much because they have a stronger sex drive – one that is less repressed.
If a woman had another option – a pill that boosts desire – she would feel less need for a series of new, lustful guys to make her feel desired and chosen, and the “everydayness” wouldn’t be the same problem.
The truth is, most women stay true to their partners even when their sexual desire for them drops. But for those who are bored and stay, or for those who might otherwise stray to recapture that spark, this little pill could boost monogamous relationships.
And should a woman’s sex drive grow so strong that it wears her husband out, well, there are vibrators.
We can debate whether monogamy is preferable or not, but as New York Times writer, Daniel Bergner put it,
Perhaps the fantasy that so many of us harbor, consciously or not, in the early days of our relationships, that we have found a soul mate who will offer us both security and passion, till death do us part, will soon be available with the aid of a pill.
I’d rather women enjoy sex because our culture stopped repressing their desire, but if a pill works in the interim, that’s a-okay by me. So long as she is empowered in having this option, and not pressured by her partners or society.
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Not so long ago you could go to Facebook pages called “Violently Raping Your Friend Just for Laughs” or “Kicking Your Girlfriend in the Fanny because she won’t make you a Sandwich,” or pages promoting sexual violence against female Marines – and fb didn’t really care.
But after letting companies know that many of us would not buy products that were advertised on these pages, Facebook began including gender-based hate among its banned content, including racial and religious hostilities.
And so we move further away from normalizing women’s debasement.
But some guys are pitching a hissy fit. As Make Me a Sammich declared,
It’s amazing to me how many people seem to think that rape culture on Facebook is something to be protected and defended by coming to #FBrape and calling campaigners “bitches” and “cunts” and “fascists.”
All these guys with their knickers in a twist.
Really, why’s it so important to call women cunts?
I can see how women and girls are harmed by the name-calling and celebration of violence against them. Psych 101 says that when we are repeatedly called names many of us internalize and believe it. So girls and women could be left feeling degraded and secondary.
A lot of people accuse feminists of thinking that all men are rapists. That’s not true. But do you know who think all men are rapists? Rapists do.
Calling women cunts may buttress some guys’ sorry egos, making them feel “superior” by putting women down.
They don’t get that they make themselves look worse: depraved, small-minded and immature.
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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.
But how do pregnancy fears heighten romance?
Back when birth control was illegal, men were told to “sleep on the roof” if they didn’t want more kids.
Yeah, that really helps romance.
Sleeping on the roof didn’t work for many couples. And then too many women died from self-induced abortions because they couldn’t afford more kids.
I suppose being dead enhances romance, too.
Meanwhile, despite a drop in hormone levels, some women are more interested in sex after menopause — because they have fewer children underfoot and fewer worries over pregnancy.
Is Polanski mourning a lack of romance? Or a lack of power over women?
Some abusive men destroy their lovers’ contraception, hoping to make their partners dependent — and stuck with them. (How romantic.)
As it happens, Polanski is an abuser. Years ago he was accused of child sex abuse of a 13-year-old girl. Facing imprisonment, he fled to France.
Of course, it would have been more romantic had the girl gotten pregnant.
It’s interesting that Polanski would add, “Trying to level the genders is purely idiotic.”
If by “masculine” Polanski means “empowered,” then by all means, I do hope the pill has made women more masculine.
This man’s comments wouldn’t matter except that some conservatives are trying to make contraception illegal and some are using these sorts of arguments to dissuade women from using birth control: you wouldn’t want to be “masculine” or lose romance! Don’t know how persuasive they will be. But some in the W. Bush Administration and some states have worked or been working to end contraception as we know it.
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Sexual objectification hurts women.
Women who see themselves as primarily objects of desire for others have higher levels of body shame, clinical depression, eating disorders and experience higher levels of sexual dysfunction. They also have lower levels of self-worth and life satisfaction, cognitive functioning, motor functioning, access to leadership and political efficacy. And they waste a lot of time primping. As they age they lose even more value in their own eyes.
So says Occidental College professor, Caroline Heldman.
In the post below, originally published in Ms., Dr. Heldman suggests daily rituals that interrupt harmful objectifying scripts. (This is the last of a four-part series. See Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.)
Sexual Objectification 4: Daily Rituals to Start
1) Start enjoying your body as a physical instrument. Girls are raised to view their bodies as a project they have to constantly work on and perfect for the adoration of others, while boys are raised to think of their bodies as tools to master their surroundings. Women need to flip the script and enjoy our bodies as the physical marvels they are. We should be thinking of our bodies as vehicles that move us through the world; as sites of physical power; as the physical extension of our being in the world. We should be climbing things, leaping over things, pushing and pulling things, shaking things, dancing frantically, even if people are looking. Daily rituals of spontaneous physical activity are a sure way of bringing about a personal paradigm shift, from viewing our bodies as objects to viewing our bodies as tools to enact our subjectivity.
Suggested activity: parkour,”the physical discipline of training to overcome any obstacle within one’s path by adapting one’s movements to the environment,” can be done any time, anywhere. I especially enjoy jumping off bike racks between classes while I’m dressed in a suit.
2) Do at least one “embarrassing” action a day. Another healthy daily ritual that reinforces the idea that we don’t exist to only please others is to purposefully do at least one action that violates “ladylike” social norms. Discuss your period in public. Swing your arms a little too much when you walk. Open doors for everyone. Offer to help men carry things. Skip a lot. Galloping also works. Get comfortable with making others uncomfortable.
3) Focus on personal development that isn’t related to beauty culture. Since you’ve read Part 3 of this series and given up habitual body monitoring, body hatred and meaningless beauty rituals, you’ll have more time to develop yourself in meaningful ways. This means more time for education, reading, working out to build muscle and agility, dancing, etc. You’ll become a much more interesting person on the inside if you spend less time worrying about the outside.
4) Actively forgive yourself. A lifetime of body hatred and self-objectification is difficult to let go of, and if you find yourself falling into old habits of playing self-hating tapes, seeking male attention, or beating yourself up for not being pleasing, forgive yourself. It’s impossible to fully transcend the beauty culture game, since it’s so pervasive and part of our social DNA. When we fall into old traps, it’s important to recognize that, but then quickly move on through self forgiveness. We need all the cognitive space we can get for the next beauty culture assault on our mental health.