The upcoming French vote on the burqa ban has got me thinking. We hear talk of how women should keep their culture. But did women have equal power to create the burqa? And who benefits from this garment?
Meanwhile, some charge that rejecting the burqa comes from fear of the other, or ethnocentrism. I’m in sync with cultural relativism, so long as no one is being hurt. But buqas and “burqa cultures” don’t give women equal power. And women certainly did not have equal sway in creating the customs of these societies.
Think about the laws that exist in places where women are required to cover up in garments like burqas or niqabs (facemasks).
Is it likely that women decided that men could easily demand a divorce, but women could get one only with difficulty?
Is it likely that women created the notion that sharing a husband with other women might be nice?
Did women create the idea that an adulterous man be punished by burial up to his waist before being stoned, while a woman must be buried to her breasts – and the one who escapes, escapes the stoning?
In these cultures, when a woman is raped it is her fault. She obviously let some hair fall from her covering, or she allowed an ankle to show. Everyone knows that no man could resist such things. Did women decide that women, and not men, are responsible for men’s sexuality?
Did women originate the notion that after rape, the victim must be killed to restore the family honor?
Did women clamor for a burqa that limits their power and autonomy – keeping them from driving and getting jobs that are far from home? Did women design this garment that prevents small pleasures like seeing clearly or feeling the sun and the wind?
And who benefits?
Men benefit from easily obtaining a divorce, but not allowing their wives the same privilege. Men benefit from the sexual variety of having many wives, while women are left to share one man. Men benefit by more easily escaping a stoning. And men can rape with impunity since women fear reporting sexual assault, lest their families kill them. Men gain power when women are incapable of getting jobs and income. How much easier is it to beat women for the infraction of straying outside the home, or letting a wrist show, when they are black and blue blobs, and not human beings?
It is common to make accusations of ethnocentrism when one culture rejects the practices of another. Often the fears are valid.
But if a powerful group creates a culture that benefits themselves to the detriment of others, the critique is not about ethnocentrism. It is about human rights.
Also see: Early Islam’s Feminist Air
Don’t Reject Your Culture, Even When It Mutilates You
The Burqa and Individual Rights: It’s Complicated
Cultural Relativism: Must We Be Nazis to Criticize Them?
Why Are We More Offended By Racism Than Sexism?
- I seem to be different than the study, but then so are most males I know.
- Divorced at age 33, I experienced a natural heightening of sexual interest and there were a number of men with whom I had sex during the next 7-8 years. I enjoyed it all tremendously and learned at lot about men and about myself. During that time, I met only one man I would have considered as a life partner. Now I realize that the relationship was great because the sex was great.
- If women were paid equally and had equal opportunity in the job market, I think that monogamy would be weakened. When I earned more my husband, and could survive financially on my own, my sexual behavior changed as well.
- Sex is so pleasurable. Why limit yourself from pleasure so long as everyone knows the ground rules – that this is about pleasure and not about commitment or love.
- Sex is magical. I would like to have sex with as many women as possible. But I always thought women experienced sex the same as I do. It hadn’t occurred to me that they might not.
Research suggests that women, on average, don’t enjoy sex as much as men do. U.S. women enjoy sex less than women in some cultures, but more than women in others. I’ll explore why later.
Jealousy and not loving equally
Women who are interested in polygamous sex can discover difficulties:
- As a lesbian I have a perspective that is completely woman oriented. I personally have had more than one lover at a time and found it difficult since I was always trying to explain why I was leaving to visit someone else. One always seems to love one more than the other.
Meeting social expectations: Women
- Here is my confession – two or three times I allowed myself to be picked up at a party or a bar. I am still so ashamed of those incidents. Remembering them makes me feel so dirty! I thought it was expected. You know – times were changing. Everybody did it. I now believe I let myself be used by men who were only after a little fun and had no serious intentions.
- I let myself be used by men who were only looking for fun… then I felt ashamed! Many women were brainwashed into believing they would enjoy it as much as men only to realize they were no more than a toilet bowl or conquest. I am sorry to disappoint but sex ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Many may hide the shame and humiliation they feel by saying they liked it.
Women are punished for sex
Some women feel pressured to have sex, but they are also punished when they have it, labeled “sluts”:
- The stigma attached to women likely keeps the number (of lovers they report) low
- (At least men) seem to have each others’ backs. Women don’t. They’re often quick to stab each other in the back.
Meeting social expectations: Men
- Men might be lying too since the cultural expectation for them seems to be quantity rather than quality.
- Men also have cultural expectations to live up to: amass notches on their belts.
Agreed. Women claim 5 lovers and men claim 12. Women must be underestimating and men exaggerating. The real number for both is likely in between: 8 or 9.
A man’s view:
- I wanted to have threesomes for the longest time. Then I realized it was largely about feeling left out of something I thought everyone else was doing.
There’s also plenty of research on how men feel pressured to notch up “conquests” in order to be valued by other men.
Shallow, one-dimensional vs deep, connected relationship
- Women prefer depth, romance, quality in a relationship. They know that the closer one is in spirituality, emotions, the better the sex. Women need that depth to be fulfilled.
- A purely physical relationship requires little work. You don’t have to concern yourself with messy thoughts or feelings beyond the immediate moment. It’s shallow and one dimensional. Real relationship takes depth: looking at someone’s worth beyond pretty eyes, nice butt, and teeth.
- I have heard some women say they enjoy casual sex – but in 62 years I have heard far more say they haven’t enjoyed any sex let alone casual – meaningless sex. It’s intimacy we want! But I am still waiting for the rush of women who can honestly tell us about all the hot meaningless sex we have been missing! I’m all ears?
Men desiring depth, connection too:
A woman’s perspective
- I met both kinds of guys when I was dating. I met guys who seemed downright anxious to connect on a deeper level and guys who would lie in a NY minute if they thought it would get them into my pants faster.
A man’s perspective
- Our sexuality and the expression of it before and during (and after) marriage is, I am convinced, one of the more complicated aspects of what it means to be human. One could argue that God created men and women different sexually (in all the ways!) because to come together in meaningful intimacy (erotic or sexual) requires the development and expression of our deepest and highest virtues—sacrifice, humility, and kindness (even long-suffering at times!), and especially love. It is among the most meaningful and challenging dances we do.
And, don’t forget the men in men’s studies. Both Michael Kimmel and John Stoltenberg recommend men do sex from a place of love and commitment, and they say that is where the come from, themselves.
SOURCES: Comments from:
Blogs: BroadBlogs and FreeMeNow
Various lists responded either to the list, or to me via email
We know that women aren’t destined to be monogamous by nature. Culture affects our sexual psyches.
Polygamist inclinations vary from person to person, but today’s Western women are much more monogamous than our Tahitian or American Indian sisters were before European contact. We are now also much more monogamous in our inclinations than men.
In surveys, men say they would prefer to have 14 partners over a lifetime. Over that same lifetime, women prefer to have only one or two.
A friend suggested that women were lying because they feared seeing themselves as sluts. Yet women admit to five real-life partners. (Here they are certainly underestimating. The real number is likely 8 or 9 for both men and women, given men’s estimate of 12.) But if they’re so worried, why not say they’ve had only 1 or 2 partners?
I was surprised by the low number of “one or two” as the preference, but I doubt women feel the need to go that low just to feel socially acceptable.
Younger women’s preferences may be higher. During the first year of college many willingly experiment with sex – and freely admit to it. But they quickly tire of random sexual contacts. Most drop out of the casual sex scene by sophomore year.
Men, on the other hand, don’t tire of the casual hook up, and want to continue even after college.
When it comes to open marriage or swinging, men are usually more enthusiastic, and more often initiate the idea.
So women seem less interested in casual sex than men. Quite likely because they are more repressed.
I feel that women are more repressed than is healthy. But I’m not sure that limits are all bad, for women or men.
When I read women’s studies literature, women are often advised to have sex more the way men do: have fun without guilt.
Yet men’s studies, which comes from a feminist perspective, often advises men to have sex more the way women do it. Don’t follow the 4 F’s: Find ‘em, Feel ‘em, F- ‘em, and Forget ‘em. Do not use women as a means of gaining a notch on your belt. Have sex in a context of love and care.
What do you think? How would you describe women’s ways and men’s ways of having sex? What are the positives and negatives of each approach? Is one way better than the other? Is there an optimal in-between? Do men and women tend to have different views on this issue?
I’m interested in exploring the matter. I’d like to year your thoughts, too.
Sources: Brizendine, Louann. The Male Brain. Crown. 2010, Kimmel, Michael. Guyland. Harper. 2008
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Children have the best shot at surviving if their mothers mate with only one man, who sticks around to provide support and resources. Thus, women prefer men who are older and richer. Moms put a lot into their kids because they have a small number of eggs compared with the millions of sperm that men produce. And all this is genetic, so says evolutionary psychology.
On the other hand, men will have more children (and reproduce their genes) if they are promiscuous because of their large sperm count. Again, the behavior is in the genes.
This premise seems to contradict the prior point that children are more likely to survive if their fathers are around to support them. Maybe more survive than don’t. Or perhaps it’s a survival of the fittest worldview: Babies who can survive without resources improve the gene pool?
The bigger dilemma: How do men manage to enjoy many partners when women are monogamous?
Men also value beauty above all else because attractiveness indicates health and an ability to reproduce. Oddly, supermodels are the most sought-out, yet they’re often so thin that they no longer menstruate. And I hadn’t known that so-called unattractive women were infertile. But never mind.
Returning to Darwin’s concern – and it doesn’t take a genius like him to make this observation – while evolutionary psychology had fit nicely with British middle-class behavior, where women sought resources and men sought beauty, Darwin pointed out that the theory did not fit with the British upper class. There, men were more concerned with wealth than good looks.
Now that Western women are able to make their own money, they have become more concerned with looks than in the past. And men now like to marry women who can earn some money – it’s a plus.
Other cultures don’t fit the theory so well, either.
Gauguin’s infatuation with Tahiti likely came in part from the women’s desire for many sex partners (prior to European influence).
Meanwhile, Europeans who were among the first to arrive in the Americas were shocked by similar behavior among the native women.
In these Tahitian and Native American societies the entire community cared for children, and property passed through women, so men’s resources weren’t an issue. These women weren’t called sluts, either.
Once Europeans transformed the cultures, things quickly turned around.
It appears that social structure and culture trump biology in explaining women’s monogamy.
There is more to discuss, but I’ll leave that for later.
For now I must ask: Are evolutionary psychologists unfamiliar with this information, or do they simply ignore it because the theory so well justifies a status quo in which women are told to stay monogamous, but understand men’s need for many partners, aka the double standard?
After all, it’s in men’s genes – or was that jeans?
Sources: Lips, Hilary M. Sex and Gender, 4th Edition. Mayfield. 2001; Eagly and Wood 1999. “The origins of sex differences in human behavior: Evolved dispositions versus social roles.” American Psychologist, 54 (6)
See also: Angier, Woman: An Intimate Geography; Fauso-Sterling, Myths of Gender; Hrdy, Mother Nature; Meston and Buss, Why Women Have Sex; Ryan and Jetha, Sex at Dawn