Our sons, our brothers, our guys: part one of a three-part review of Michael Kimmel’s new book

This is the first of a three-part review of Michael Kimmel’s new book.

I order a lot of books (which I then pass on or recycle dutifully), but I’ve awaited no book in 2008 more eagerly than Michael Kimmel’s brand new Guyland: The Perilous World where Boys Become Men. As anyone even remotely connected to the gender studies field knows, the last half-decade has seen an explosion of alarm over the “boy crisis”. Pundits and physicians, mostly on the political right, have written anxious and angry jeremiads about how, thanks to feminism and other innovations, our sons are ignored, stifled, shamed, and alienated. The astonishing rise in autism and ADHD diagnoses among boys, and the increasing demographic domination of women among the college-educated, are regularly cited as evidence that the system is failing our young men.

Of course, concern for young people is not a zero-sum game. Success and opportunities for young women has not come, and indeed never need come, at the expense of their brothers. Much of the “boy crisis” (or its counterpart, the risible notion of a “War Against Men” recently promoted in a lamentable bestseller) is manufactured as a vehicle to push a tired anti-feminist agenda. But the fact that the problem with boys is often oversold (in order to market books to anxious parents and indignant right-wingers) doesn’t mean that growing up male in American society today is particularly easy. Young men today must navigate through a confusing and contradictory series of messages about their identity, their purpose, and their relationship to others. There is a real problem, and those of us who care about young men cannot let our exasperation at the flagrant misdiagnosis of its cause distract us from working on a solution.

This is why Michael Kimmel’s new book is so welcome. Kimmel (professor of sociology at SUNY Stony Brook) is perhaps the leading American scholar on the subject of men and masculinity. Indeed, it would not be a stretch to say that the growing field of “Men and Masculinity Studies” owes more to Michael Kimmel than to anyone else. His indispensable primer, Manhood in America, is now in its second edition. (I use it in my men’s studies course.)

Guyland focuses in on young men in one crucial decade: the years between 16 and 26. For the book, Kimmel interviewed more than four hundred men who fell into that age range, from a wide variety of economic and cultural backgrounds. (He notes how easy it is for academics to focus their research on their own students, who tend to be predominantly middle and upper-middle class. Kimmel assiduously seeks out young men who aren’t the sort to be found in selective four-year colleges, as well as those who are.) His conclusions, as a result of these extensive interviews and his own decades of work on masculinity, are sweeping, profound, and immensely important.

Kimmel, blessedly, skewers those who suggest that the “boy crisis” is in some way a consequence of feminist advances in education and elsewhere.

The idea that feminist reforms have led to the decline of boyhood is both educationally unsound and politically unstable. It creates a false opposition between girls and boys, assuming that the educational reforms undertaken to enhance girls’ educational opportunities have actually hindered boys’ educational development. But these reforms…actually enable larger numbers of students to get a better education, boys as well as girls. Further, ‘gender stereotypes, particularly those related to education’, hurt both girls and boys, and so challenging those stereotypes and expressing less tolerance for school violence and bullying, and increased attention to violence at home, actually enables both girls and boys to feel safer at school. (Emphasis in the original.)

What then of the evidence that girls are starting to surpass boys in terms of academic achievement, not only in the humanities but increasingly in maths and science? Kimmel makes the case that this is a less a result of anti-boy prejudice and more a consequence of the disastrous attempt on the part of many young men to live up to what he calls the “Boy Code” (more on that later).

At adolescence, girls suppress ambition, boys inflate it. Girls are more likely to undervalue their abilities, especially in the more traditionally “masculine” educational arenas such as math and science. As a result, only the most able and secure girls take such courses. The few girls whose abilities and self-esteem are sufficient to enable them to “trespass” into a male domain skew data upward. By contrast, too many boys who overvalue their abilities remain in difficult math and science courses longer than they should; they pull the boys’ mean scores down. (Emphasis in the original.)

It sounds as if Kimmel is boy-blaming, but he’s not. The problem lies with the “Guy Code”, a system of conduct that boys encounter when they first head off to school. In order to be accepted as a “guy” (the antithesis of which, as C.J. Pascoe has so brilliantly pointed out, is “gay”) young boys (and later, young men) must be hyper-vigliant about maintaining a very specific veneer. The effort to maintain that veneer not only has negative consequences for many young men academically, but it is connected to the rage and alienation that so often manifests in the compulsive and much-remarked use of porn, pot, and Playstation.

The Guy Code, and the Boy Code before it, demands a lot — that boys and young men shut down emotionally, that they suppress compassion, and inflate ambition. And it extracts compliance with coercion and fear. But it also promises so much as well. Part of what makes the Guy Code so seductive are the rewards guys think will be theirs if they only walk the line. If they embrace the Code, they will finally be in charge and feel powerful.

Any teacher who works with young men recognizes the lads who are in thrall to the Guy Code. They aim to project cool indifference, but to any adult with a pulse and a smidgen of intuition, the anxiety and anger seems to pour off of these young men like sweat. They are big on their long-term goals (the cars they will own, the marriages they will have, the “sweet” jobs they will ease in to) — and heartbreakingly vague on exactly how it is that they will get there. Often, they imagine that some other, older Guy — or a network of Guys (like a college fraternity) will magically open all sorts of wonderful doors, when the “time is right.” Thus the Guy Code is more important than studying, more important than careful planning. Young men who buy into this myth believe that if they can successfully pull off “guyhood”, with all of its apparent effortlessness and je ne sais quoi, they will reap all sorts of wonderful future benefits that come with membership in this elite club of Real Guys. But of course, they are only being set up for failure — and rage.

Much has been written about the difficult, and often nearly non-existent bonds of sisterhood among young American women. Television shows, books, and movies depict young women (particularly those in that same 16-26 age range) engaged in orgies of same-sex betrayal and rivalry. For every “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”, there are ten counter-examples sending a signal to girls that other young women are not to be trusted. Young women may have many illusions about the world, but very few imagine that if they can just posture well enough all the way through high school and college, a community of sisters will ensure that all sorts of doors open for them! In the 21st-century, young college-age women, who so often struggle with what I call the Martha Complex, have very little sense that their success is contingent upon their femininity alone. Young men, in thrall to the Guy Code, are often convinced that their futures hinge on their ability to perform (if not embody) masculinity.

Kimmel offers a brilliant indictment of what he calls the “culture of entitlement” that has seduced so many of these “guys.”

Many young men today have a shockingly strong sense of male superiority and a diminished capacity for empathy. They believe that the capacity for empathy and compassion has to be suppressed, early on, in the name of achieving masculinity. That this is true despite the progress of the women’s movement, parents who are psychologically aware and moral, stunning opportunities for men and women, is disappointing at best. But there is no way around it: Most young men who egage in acts of violence — or who watch them and do nothing, or who joke about them with their friends — fully subscribe to traditional ideologies about masculinity, The problem isn’t psychological, these guys aren’t deviants. If anything, they are over-conforming to the hyperbolic expressions of masculinity that still inform American culture.

The culture of entitlement is the reward for subscribing to the Guy Code. As boys they may have felt powerless as they struggled heroically to live up to impossible conventions of masculinity. As William Polllack argues, ‘it’s still a man’s world, but it’s not a boy’s world.’ But someday it would be. Someday, if I play my cards right, if I follow all the rules, the world will be mine. Having worked so hard and sacrificed so much to become a man — it’ll be my turn. Payback. I’m entitled. (Emphasis in the original.)

Kimmel makes the case that so much of the anger (and its frozen cousin, numb alienation) that we see in young men (either displayed in actual violence or in an obsession with video game mayhem) is a response to the disconnect between that sense of entitlement and what is actually received. This sense of entitlement is particularly pervasive among young white men(who, as we’ll discuss in the next post of this three-part review, are according to Kimmel the most likely to be addicted to video games and pornography). Young white men live in a world in which they used to be privileged, a privilege built on the deliberate exclusion of men of color and all women. Thus any attempt to move towards equality is falsely perceived as deprivation, as it directly contradicts that intense sense of entitlement so many of these young men have.

Young men feel like Esau, that sad character in the Bible who sold his birthright for a bowl of lentils and never felt whole again. From that moment, everything belonged to Jacob, and we never hear of Esau again. And, like Esau, young men often feel that they’ve been tricked out of it, in Esau’s case by a pair of hairy arms offered to his blind father, and in the case of guys today, by equally blind fathers who have failed to pass down to them what was “rightfully” supposed to be theirs.

Kimmel’s a bit off on his Old Testament, as we certainly do hear from Esau again when he has that famously touching reunion with his brother in Genesis 33. But that doesn’t spoil the point. Indeed, Esau’s spiritual growth trajectory (to the point where he can become forgiving and loving) is one of the most impressive of all the stories in the Torah. As he moves from self-indulgent anger to an open, no-strings-attached embrace of his brother, Esau represents the very sort of transformation that the entitled young men Kimmel describes need to undergo.

In the second part of this three-part review, I’ll look at young men and what I call “the four Ps: Pot, Porn, Poker and Playstation.” Kimmel has much that is good to say about the role of these addictions in young men’s lives, and much to suggest about how we understand their hold on our brothers, our sons, and our “guys.”

63 thoughts on “Our sons, our brothers, our guys: part one of a three-part review of Michael Kimmel’s new book

  1. This is really fascinating…as the mother of two boys, I sometimes have a sneaking fear that no matter how happy and hardworking and well-adjusted they SEEM (and they do seem to be all those things), that I am missing important pieces of what’s going on in their heads simply due to the difference of experience in growing up as a member of the gender male vs. a member of the gender female. Keep writing, please.

  2. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series, and I think I may need to pick up this book. The one thing that doesn’t quite ring true, from my experience, is the connection to future success. I’ve interpreted the necessity to maintain the guy code as an imperative, largely, to maintain an identity in the present. I’ll be thinking about this in the upcoming term. (Although I don’t observe it first hand as much anymore. Happily, I now teach at a school where the guy code is actually a fair bit rarer and weaker than anywhere else I’ve taught. I don’t know if it’s a matter of self-selection in the application process or the school itself. Either way, I heart the Jesuits)

  3. Hugo,

    don’t girls/women, does sexual attraction feature anywhere in the reasons for what you/he call “guy code”. If I remember correctly the only thing that counts at that age is female attention/sexual success. It’s revealed female choice, as opposed to publicly expressed female opinion, that’s in my opinion, largely responsible for male behavior in this age bracket.

    With respect to feminism, I don’t think it’s fair to only look at the achievements and disregard the collateral damage – Male sexuality is, in my opinion, been constantly villified by the dominant feminist discourse. There is no feminist approach to male sexuality that doesn’t involve sexual assault and violence. Just wait until you write the next part of the series and you’ll see what I mean. There’s no positive way to look at male sexuality in feminism, not even “modern” third way feminism, as I see it. Sure you can always say that’s not feminism’s concern, and rightly so. But then you shouldn’t complain that other people mention male shaming and fairness issues in your ideology.

    Looking forward to reading the next parts.

  4. “There’s no positive way to look at male sexuality in feminism, not even “modern” third way feminism, as I see it.”

    So no third wave feminist finds men positively sexy, you’re saying..? …maybe you’re just trying to be funny.

  5. Lisa,

    maybe you’re just trying to not understand what I’m saying?

    I’m not saying feminists, really any kind, even radicals in their “weaker” hours ;), don’t find men positively sexy. If they’re heterosexual, there’s a significant chance they will find male sexuality attractive. Depending on their desires, they may even find assertive male sexuality attractive. That’s not the point I was making.

    I’m saying that their personal interest is not mirrored by their political activism and theoretical debates – whenever male sexuality comes up in feminist discussions it is STILL only in the context of “violence”, one way or another. Sex class oppression, objectification, privilege, male gaze, sexual assault, rape – you don’t need Andrea Dworkin to make those points today. They’re everywhere. And I’m talking about the mainstream, not the fringes. Feminism simply has no positive language for male sexuality. In my opinion, not even a male feminist like Hugo sees male sexuality in a positive light. If he does, I certainly haven’t read it.

    It’s just not there – in the mainstream and certainly not at the radical end. There are some people at the fringes who probably do, and maybe you’re one of them. But if you were to go to feministing.com and find a positive post about male sexuality in particular, you’ll be busy for a long time.

    Then take the ratio of posts that are concerned with sexual violence and any of the concepts I mentioned above and compare the two figures. That will likely give you an accurate idea of how positive male sexuality is seen in modern mainstream feminism.

    Again, you can reasonably claim that’s not what feminism is about. Fine. But then don’t complain that feminism is blamed by those who happen to be the collateral damage. And in that case feminism certainly isn’t all about “more justice for everyone.” If that’s a notion that’s part of your concept of feminism, I’d really like to hear about the positive feminist discourse about male sexuality.

    Really, I’d like to hear it. I just don’t think there’s anything out there.

  6. If you choose to define male sexuality as sexual violence, what you say is quite correct–but I think that’s a failing in your definition, not in third-wave feminism. Certainly third-wave feminists object strenuously to the items you list–sex class oppression, objectification, privilege, sexual assault, rape–but I’d hope you and any other reasoning person would object strenuously to them as well. Again, however, those items are not the definition of male sexuality…unless you’re trying to state that they are?

  7. Again, however, those items are not the definition of male sexuality…unless you’re trying to state that they are?

    He’s trying to state that those items constitute the feminist definition of male sexuality (or at least the majority thereof), which isn’t that difficult to parse from either of his posts.

  8. Lisa,

    what Craig said.

    If “those items are not the definition of male sexuality” for you, assuming you identify as feminist, how would you (positively) define it? In addition, I wasn’t only talking about definitions, but the entire discourse. Still, very interested in your definition :).

  9. Sam and Craig, I think your problem is that you’re seeing that feminism shows up that male sexuality is often used as and framed by men as violence against women and presuming that this means that feminism thinks that male sexuality IS violence against women.

  10. I realise that the above may not be entirely clear so let me try again : feminism points out that men often use and frame their own sexuality as violence against women. Pointing this out does not mean that feminism thinks that male sexuality IS violence against women.

  11. “feminism points out that men often use and frame their own sexuality as violence against women. Pointing this out does not mean that feminism thinks that male sexuality IS violence against women.”

    What Jane said.

    As a feminist, I don’t vilify healthy expressions of male sexuality. I vilify sexism. Unfortunately, a significant portion (In my life, every man I’ve ever had any form of relationship with) of men define their sexuality to some extent or another in a manner which is sexist and harmful to women. Male sexuality is typically defined by men as being in some manner biologically dominant to women’s sexuality. This view is harmful. This view is sexist. This view hurts women, creates sexual abuse and violence of women, and denies women the ability to truly own and develop their sexuality completely and fully.

    This is the problem that I, and many other feminists, have with the current typical expression of male sexuality. Again, I do not have an issue with healthy, respectful expressions of male sexuality in which the man does not attempt to subjugate an individual woman or women as a whole with his penis, i.e. his sexuality.

  12. “He’s trying to state that those items constitute the feminist definition of male sexuality (or at least the majority thereof), which isn’t that difficult to parse from either of his posts.”

    Except that isn’t the feminist definition of male sexuality. It is, in fact, the anti-feminist definition of male sexuality. Feminists attempt to point out the fact that male sexuality – as typically defined by people who aren’t feminists – leads to violence and abuse of women, and not to mention children. Male sexuality in and of itself is not harmful or sexist. That is not the problem and it is -not- what Feminists believe either.

  13. I think Jane and Faith have already summed up the big differences between the third-wave feminist objection to sexual violence and a third-wave feminist’s ideal of positive male sexuality. If you’re interested in my personal preferences, Hugo actually inspired me to write a blog post a while back that touched pretty specifically on how I found positive male sexuality to be the exact opposite of violence–in spite of how advertisement media seemed to want to portray it and my suspicions that I was far from alone among women. My small crew of commenters seemed to heartily agree with me. You can draw your own conclusions if you care to check it out: http://punkassblog.com/2008/07/30/the-details-of-desire/

  14. Jane Tweed, Faith,

    “… presuming that this means that feminism thinks that male sexuality IS violence against women. … Pointing this out does not mean that feminism thinks that male sexuality IS violence against women.”

    Well, ok. Let’s assume I’m an activist for cat ownership and consistently point out how clean and self reliant, not to mention all their other beneficial traits, cats are compared to dogs, who I publicly claim need much more attention, and have all that “men’s best friend”-provilege, and are a real social problem as they leave their piles all over the place.

    Wouldn’t it be a rather rational assumption that I don’t like people to own dogs even if I state that “that’s not the case, to the contrary,” whenever I’m asked about it? Why should people believe that I secretly like people owning dogs as much as I like them owning cats when all public statements are to the contrary?

    Wouldn’t it be entirely sexist to believe that feminists actually don’t believe in something they constantly claim? To not believe they are able to accurately express what they actually think?

    “Male sexuality in and of itself is not harmful or sexist.”

    Thanks. I guess… I don’t know what feminism secretly believes – but what I can read and understand from discussions with feminists is that I don’t think feminism has any kind of language to say that. That it is NOT part of the feminist discourse. You find oh-so-many posts about the beauty of female sexuality, but when it comes to male sexuality, it is only ever not negatively characterised when it is not specifically talked about – ie in general conversations about sexuality, assuming that all the women must be having sex with someone. At best, in my opinion, feminism assumes male sexuality to be there, not needing any positive attention at all. At worst, it is painted as a dogpile (“all men are potential rapists”).

    As a feminist, what you do you think is positive about male sexuality in general?

  15. “Thanks. I guess… I don’t know what feminism secretly believes – but what I can read and understand from discussions with feminists is that I don’t think feminism has any kind of language to say that. That it is NOT part of the feminist discourse. You find oh-so-many posts about the beauty of female sexuality, but when it comes to male sexuality, it is only ever not negatively characterised when it is not specifically talked about – ie in general conversations about sexuality, assuming that all the women must be having sex with someone. At best, in my opinion, feminism assumes male sexuality to be there, not needing any positive attention at all. At worst, it is painted as a dogpile (”all men are potential rapists”).

    As a feminist, what you do you think is positive about male sexuality in general?”

    But what about the men! Almost the whole of culture gives male sexuality center stage, we focus on female sexuality because it’s portrayed consistantly as negative and dangerous – something to be repressed and ashamed off. I’m so sorry that in a movement that’s at it’s core about women we don’t seem to focus enough on straight men for your taste. I don’t understand why you seem to think that pointing out that the way in which many men are often encouraged to treat and think about women sexuality can be damaging is problematic for men. Hell, why aren’t YOU writing about male sexuality in a possitive way that doesn’t degrade women. Why exactly do you think this is womens work rather than mens?

    I like sex, that’s one of the reasons I’m a feminist. One of the best frames for possitive male and female sexuality I’ve read is here

  16. That last bit should have read :

    I like sex, that’s one of the reasons I’m a feminist, however I’m not going to pretend that male sexuality as culture portrays it is unproblematic.

  17. Jane Tweed,

    “Almost the whole of culture gives male sexuality center stage, we focus on female sexuality because it’s portrayed consistantly as negative and dangerous – something to be repressed and ashamed off.”

    Funny thing – my perception is the exact opposite…

    “I don’t understand why you seem to think that pointing out that the way in which many men are often encouraged to treat and think about women sexuality can be damaging is problematic for men. Hell, why aren’t YOU writing about male sexuality in a possitive way that doesn’t degrade women. Why exactly do you think this is womens work rather than mens?”

    Well, of course you don’t understand that. Because your sexuality is not villified by feminist discourse. That’s YOUR privilege, and you’re not even aware of it, apparently. Maybe listening and a bit of empathy instead of defensiveness and outright dismissal of arguments would be a good start.

    I’m not exactly sure why MY writing positively about male sexuality would help alter the mainstream feminist discourse that I find problematic. But I’ll think about that….

    I’ve not said that it is mainly women’s work. I’ve said that feminism doesn’t have a positive language for male sexuality. I stand by that. Your suggestion that “it’s not women’s work” is, in my understanding, basically a concession that this is not something women do and there is no need for it.

    As I said at the very beginning of this discussion, it’s a reasonable claim to say that this is not feminism’s job. But if that is not feminism’s job, then that implies that feminism is not “more justice for everyone”. Then feminism should not be defensive when those who are the collateral damage of its shaming discourse complain about that. Then it is dishonest, as is the case in the post above, to only point out the positive aspects of feminist change but not even note the collateral damage that has been done and is being done by this kind of discourse.

    Will read the link, and possibly reply later.

  18. “Funny thing – my perception is the exact opposite…”

    Really? Well as someone who has no chance of being trapped in the virgin/whore dichotomy then perhaps it’s no surprise that you can’t see it.

    “Well, of course you don’t understand that. Because your sexuality is not villified by feminist discourse. That’s YOUR privilege, and you’re not even aware of it, apparently.”

    Actually as someone who does BDSM I think you’ll find my sexuality is villified by much of feminist discourse. What I’m saying is that pointing out problems with mainstream male sexuality is not that same thing as villifying it and that doing so doesn’t not somehow make it the job of women to construct an entire possitive male sexuality, that’s the job of the men involved. As someone once perceptivly wrote : no, it isn’t fair but I can assure you that it’s much less fair living as a women.

  19. Jane Tweed, thanks for the link. That’s an interesting post, indeed – in a way, it underscores the point I am making here. I’m in a hurry right now, but I’ll try to explain why when I’m back tonight.

  20. briefly, as an addendum -

    “As someone once perceptivly wrote : no, it isn’t fair but I can assure you that it’s much less fair living as a women.”

    Well, that’s not my interpretation of gender justice. Maybe that’s why I don’t think of myself as feminist. Again, I’ll write more on this tonight. I think this *could* become an interesting discussion helping to increase mutual understanding.

  21. “Well, that’s not my interpretation of gender justice. Maybe that’s why I don’t think of myself as feminist. Again, I’ll write more on this tonight. I think this *could* become an interesting discussion helping to increase mutual understanding.”

    I think you may have missunderstood, what I am saying is that it is hard for men to do and that it does have it’s own problems in so far as resistance can often be met by violence and estrangment but that it’s still less traumatic than living as a woman.

  22. Sam Seaborn asksAs a feminist, what you do you think is positive about male sexuality in general?

    That’s an easy one. The same things that are positive about human sexuality.

    You can’t seem to imagine a distinction between male sexuality and male sexual privilege. It’s pretty clear and obvious to me that feminism (with very few exceptions) is neutral to positive regarding the former and takes a dim view of the latter. If you can’t tell the difference between the two (and “the guy code” teaches young men not to), then you get confused and hostile. But that’s not feminism’s fault.

  23. “That it is NOT part of the feminist discourse. ”

    Uh, yes, Sam, it is. You’re missing it not because it’s not there, but because you are likely focusing on posts in which feminists are likely discussing sexual violence and the impact of -traditional- views of male sexuality on women. I also suspect you are missing it largely because you don’t want to see it.

    “I guess… I don’t know what feminism secretly believes – but what I can read and understand from discussions with feminists is that I don’t think feminism has any kind of language to say that.”

    “Feminism” doesn’t secretly believe anything, Sam. Contrary to popular belief of some, feminists are not engaging in some vast conspiracy to completely eradicate and emasculate males.

    “As a feminist, what you do you think is positive about male sexuality in general?”

    A healthy expression of male sexuality is one in which the male does not attempt to subjugate the woman he is having sex with, or by proxy all women, by use of his sexuality. A healthy expression of male sexuality is one in which the man views the woman, and women in general, with respect and consideration. A healthy expression of male sexuality is one in which the man respects the woman’s body, and the rest of her, and seeks to engage in a mutual exchange of pleasure rather than taking pleasure from her at her expense, and the expense potentially of other women as well. A (hetero)man with a healthy well-defined sexuality adores the female body and seeks to actually increase a woman’s pleasure, while experiencing pleasure himself. He does not objectify women; he does not view us as inferior; he does not degrade, dehumanize, shame, or humiliate. And he is able to do this not only because he respects women, but because he has confidence in his own self. The more confident and secure a man truly is in himself – without believing that he must be dominant or superior – the less likely he is to engage in sexual activity that is harmful to women.

  24. “Funny thing – my perception is the exact opposite…”

    I missed this part.

    Sam,

    Female sexuality has been completely vilified for thousands of years. Whereas (unhealthy) views of male sexuality have reigned supreme. Women are only just beginning to define their sexuality, and celebrate it. And we are still -savagely- oppressed in that particular arena.

    One more time:

    Feminism does not vilify healthy expression of male sexuality. Feminists seek to eradicate -unhealthy- sexist forms of male sexuality.

    This is really not difficult to grasp if one wishes to engage with an open heart instead of a bruised ego.

  25. I’m coming in late on this one, but, frankly, what I’m seeing is erasure of male sexuality, typified by djw’s comment “the same things that are positive about human sexuality”, and the general examination / construction of male sexuality exclusively insofar as how women see it. Has the question been asked what we want and whether that qualifies as “healthy”?

    And that goes for the links too. Saying what gets you off about Bowflex Boy is talking about your sexuality, not male sexuality.

  26. Tom, the point is it’s not womens job to create a male sexuality that doesn’t activly harm women, as I’ve said before that’s the job of men. Running round telling women how mean we are for daring to point out that aspects of the cultural contruct of male sexuality are harmfull will not stop us from doing it. If you really think that male sexual priviledge and male sexuality are the same thing then no-one can help you think otherwise. I realise that it’s easier to whine about how the feminists are ruining things for men than face up to the negative impact it has on women (regardless of whether or not you mean it to) or do something about it, but that doesn’t make you right. Seeing as men couldn’t create a female sexuality that wasn’t harmful I’m not sure why you’re expecting us to do all your work for you.

  27. I think that the wall we seem to be running into here may be as follows : Tom, Craig and Sam are complaining that feminism doesn’t make them feel accepted or center it’s ideas around them (as straight white men) myself, Djw and Faith are pointing out that making our male sexual priviledge and male sexuality to be the same thing is damaging to yourselves and women and that the rest of culture is focused around straight men. It’s not about you, I’m sorry that you don’t find feminism to be comfortable enough for you but you may have to accept that it’s just not about you. If you guys want a possitive idea of male sexuality there’s nothing to stop you from creating it yourself and doing the work to promote it.

  28. Tom, Craig and Sam : I often find it useful to compare the way that I, and others, deal with being called on on white priviledge to how men respond to being called out on male priviledge. This post is a good example :

    “Um, yeah. It’s good to aspire to being an ally. Like it’s good to not be a jerk. But if someone tells you your behavior is jerky, like those other jerks, getting all bent out of shape about how alienating it is to be called on your jerkiness just makes you sound like, well, a jerk.

    And, you know, you don’t get to decide you’re an ally, other people call you that when you act like one. Allies don’t get offended every time someone they’re supposedly being allies to gets angry. “

  29. “what I’m seeing is erasure of male sexuality, typified by djw’s comment “the same things that are positive about human sexuality”, and the general examination / construction of male sexuality exclusively insofar as how women see it. Has the question been asked what we want and whether that qualifies as “healthy”?”

    Tom,

    When you are having sex with women, it matters what we want. And most women I’m sure would likely agree largely with what I wrote in regards to healthy expressions of heterosexual male sexuality. If you honestly have some real objections to my framing of healthy sexuality, then might I posit that feminism/ts is the least of your problem, to be quite frank.

  30. That’s an…interesting take on my blog post, Tom. :) On the very off-chance that you’re engaging on it in good faith, I will quote the summarized description of my interpretation of positive and specifically male sexuality: “sex without violence–with self-knowledge, with ease and without aggression…wanting to please and to be pleased…grace…strength, but without force or crushing.” It is of course quite true that I find these things attractive as well, being a het female, but I can’t imagine why that would be a disqualifier in pointing them out.

  31. Jane Tweed,

    sorry, took a bit longer than expected to reply.

    “As a feminist, what you do you think is positive about male sexuality in general?”

    A healthy expression of male sexuality…”

    First off, thanks for your reply. Can you see that you’re doing just what I’m talking about. You’re doing it right here – I’m asking you to describe what you think is positive about male sexuality and you describe what you say is positive about a “healthy” male sexuality, thereby implicitly defining the default condition of male sexuality as “not healthy”, otherwise the qualifier wouldn’t be needed, would it?

    Marcotte, in a way, does the same with respect to the teamsport/music analogies in the post you linked to (really good one, I agree). I agree that winning isn’t defined by scoring points against the other team. I don’t think that’s a “liberal-feminist” frame to think about sex though, it’s common sense to me.

    But I also think that the playing music analogy isn’t capturing the whole picture, or that, at least, it leaves out that playing music really requires rules to the same extent that playing basketball does, if not more. I whole-heartedly agree with a standard of “enthusiastic participation”, but that doesn’t really solve the consent question if both people are participating enthusiastically while, say, drunk. And quite frankly, the feminist tendency to require the man to be more responsible when both participants are drunk smells a bit of a ballgame analogy (foul) than of “badly” composed music. So, basically, while useful to think about the problems at hand, the analogies have weaknesses as well.

    That said, I would like to ask you to think about reframing what she said about “rape trolls discussions” in her music framework. Putting “the trolls” in the ballgame frame is assuming something about male sexuality that is informing your reply about “healthy male sexuality” as well: That the default condition isn’t healthy.

    It’s not assuming that men are really interested to understand harmony theory to get to play more beautiful music together, it’s assuming that they want to find out how badly they can foul and get with it. That’s a mindset, and it’s a mindset that is informing the feminist discourse of male sexuality.

    And, in my opinion, it may well be that this feminist tendency and discourse is really what keeps society in general from whole-heartedly accepting the music frame as dominant way to think about sex as such. Whichever way you think about it, feminism talks about male sexuality in a way that – possibly inadvertendly, but I doubt that for a theory that’s basically built on assumtions about social construction – reinforces the ballgame framework.

    Moreover, the problem is how to define what’s healthy in a mutually accessible way – take BDSM – you probably think it’s a healthy expression of your sexuality while other feminists think you’re a collaborator in the demeaning of women as such (as you say, demeaning “by proxy” all women).

    “Female sexuality has been completely vilified for thousands of years. Whereas (unhealthy) views of male sexuality have reigned supreme. Women are only just beginning to define their sexuality, and celebrate it. And we are still -savagely- oppressed in that particular arena.”

    Yes and no. I think sexuality as such has been, and is being villified by a number of social groups for a number of reasons. I would disagree though that female sexuality has been vilified for thousands of years. I would say that it was controlled in a very problematic way while still being idealised, not villified (madonna/whore). It wasn’t a fair view either, sure, and it was certainly keeping women from living a healthy sexuality, no doubt. But it wasn’t vilification, in my opinion.

    “One more time:
    Feminism does not vilify healthy expression of male sexuality. Feminists seek to eradicate -unhealthy- sexist forms of male sexuality.
    This is really not difficult to grasp if one wishes to engage with an open heart instead of a bruised ego.”

    Ouch. That hurt. Yes, you’re probabyl right. I disagree with you because I don’t get enough sex and resent women because they don’t like me… (wasn’t there a time when that was the standard assumption about feminists?)

    See what you’re doing? If I disagree with you it must be because of my bruised ego and inability to empathize instead of the possibility of you propositioning a faulty position. I’m sorry, but that’s a very problematic way to engange in a discussion, in fact there’s no need for a dicussion if the answer is already defined from the outset by the deductive pseudi-logical setup: The theory is right, if someone disagrees the problem must be with that person, not with the theory (The president is right and he’s a patriot, so everybody who disagrees cannot be a patriot). You seem to have an open heart, and I think I have one, too, otherwise we wouldn’t be talking about this, so I’m sure we can have a better argument than that.

    “I think you may have missunderstood, what I am saying is that it is hard for men to do and that it does have it’s own problems in so far as resistance can often be met by violence and estrangment but that it’s still less traumatic than living as a woman. “

    I thought I understood, but now I think I don’t. Well, I think, while having learnt to be happy with myself being a man despite having grown up in a – sort of – emasculating feminist environment – and sexual success was a big part of that learning -, I think today I’d rather be born as a woman in the western world, but, of course, only in the western world. I think my sister has more liberties, more opportunities in life without being constantly pressured to perform and conform. But that’s what I think, I don’t know, I’m not her.

  32. Ahem, my post was a clarification of Sam’s, not indicative of my taking sides. The only reason I posted at all was my interpreting Lisa’s misunderstandings as intentional. That tactic never sat well with me.

  33. “I’m asking you to describe what you think is positive about male sexuality and you describe what you say is positive about a “healthy” male sexuality, thereby implicitly defining the default condition of male sexuality as “not healthy”, otherwise the qualifier wouldn’t be needed, would it?”

    Oh, good gravy, Sam. You are seriously misinterpreting my meaning. I’ve already stated quite clearly that male sexuality is not inherently harmful or sexist. I’ve also stated quite clearly that it is -traditional- views of male sexuality that are harmful.

    Stop seeing things that aren’t there.

    “I would disagree though that female sexuality has been vilified for thousands of years. I would say that it was controlled in a very problematic way while still being idealised, not villified (madonna/whore). It wasn’t a fair view either, sure, and it was certainly keeping women from living a healthy sexuality, no doubt. But it wasn’t vilification, in my opinion.”

    Yes, female sexuality has been vilified for the past few thousand years. It is still being vilified. Using the past tense is completely inaccurate. There are no if, ands, or buts on that particular area. Female sexuality has been and still is being vilified. Period.

    “See what you’re doing? If I disagree with you it must be because of my bruised ego and inability to empathize instead of the possibility of you propositioning a faulty position.”

    No, just because you disagree with me does not automatically mean that you are engaging with a bruised ego. In this instance, I’m pretty damn positive that you aren’t seeing what is clearly there largely because of a bruised ego. You’ve said so yourself before. You felt that feminism had a negative effect on your sexuality. That’s clearly coming into play in your seeming inability to see what is right in front of you.

    “I think my sister has more liberties, more opportunities in life without being constantly pressured to perform and conform. But that’s what I think, I don’t know, I’m not her.”

    What planet exactly is it that you live on, Sam? Here on planet Earth, women do not have less pressure to perform or conform than men. And we sure as shit do not have more opportunities in life.

  34. Lisa,

    Liked your post. I particularly like that you did not seem to feel the need to emphasize a difference between a “healthy” and “default” male sexuality. I also like Hugo’s post that inspired you. One of the very few posts that gave me the feeling he’s (male) human.

    I think a lot of things in this debate come down to definitional issues of terms like

    Aggression/Assertiveness
    Violence/Force

    I’m sure there’s more.

    For a rare example of the opposite -http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/2008/06/do_you_love_a_b.

  35. Faith,

    “No, just because you disagree with me does not automatically mean that you are engaging with a bruised ego. In this instance, I’m pretty damn positive that you aren’t seeing what is clearly there largely because of a bruised ego. You’ve said so yourself before. You felt that feminism had a negative effect on your sexuality. That’s clearly coming into play in your seeming inability to see what is right in front of you.”

    Well, both my egos are doing fine these days. But you’re probably right that I’m in this conversation because I’d like to create an awareness for the problematic collateral damage of feminist discourse. That doesn’t mean I’m blind to what’s there, I’m just having a different point of view. Again, where is that positive discourse of male sexuality, one that doesn’t feel the need to differentiate between a “healthy” and a “default” condition? I really can’t see it or hear it. If you’re so positive I’m just being blind, please let me know where to find that discourse.

    I’m not deliberately trying to not understand you. I think I do understand you, I just don’t have the feeling that it matters for men if you’re talking of a “healthy” and a default condition.

    And I would really like to hear what you think about my thoughts on the Marcotte article you linked to.

    As for my sister’s and my opportunities in life – that’s my perception and I stand by it.

  36. There’s an error in my point above -

    “I’m not deliberately trying to not understand you. I think I do understand you, I just don’t have the feeling that YOU FEEL it matters for men if you’re talking of a “healthy” and a default condition.”

    It does matter.

  37. Sam, et al. –

    I think it is important to understand that patriarchy (to use a loose term) has crippled male sexuality.

    The Madonna/Whore dichotomy comes from a patriarchal sense that our sexuality is a weakness. Yes, I mean that male sexuality has been shamed in the most important sense already by *men.* Hence, traditional “unhealthy” male sexuality treats sex as a release of tension, an opening of a valve to release pressure, etc.; my desire for a woman is caused by her and is an assault upon my equalibrium.
    This is only the flip-side of the old melodramatic-Victorian notion of male desire per se as a defilemet of a woman.

    A healthy male sexuality has time for pleasure for its own sake, and is an expression of my own vitality, respectful of and intensified by the pleasure of the woman I make love to. (Heteronormative language herewith apologized for.)

    Sam, I gotta ask – are you trying to get the women commenting here to tell you what gets them off? Really, now.

    A positive male sexuality is *our* responsibility, not teh wimmenz.

    You don’t need to ask them for permission to improve yourself, bubba.

  38. “Tom, the point is it’s not womens (sic) job to create a male sexuality that doesn’t activly harm women, (your term) as I’ve said before that’s the job of men.”

    Well, see, here’s the rub: from where I’m standing, I can’t say that I see, that so far as I’ve heard very many men see, or indeed that much of anyone but feminists seem to see or speak of a need to “create a male sexuality” of any particular type, nor for that matter what that would even mean. It appears to be very much a parochial and unilateral concern of feminists, and one at that without very much in the way of understanding what it would even mean or look like, as evidenced by the defensiveness and paucity of details and perspective offered here when the proposition is presented with skeptical questions. Indeed, I can’t seem to see that the feminist suggestion of a “healthy” male sexuality amounts to anything more than a collection of “thou shalt nots” (thou shalt not be threatening, overly aggressive, obsessed with appearance or porn or whatever). Frankly, as presented thus far, it doesn’t sound terribly appealing.

  39. “I think that the wall we seem to be running into here may be as follows : Tom, Craig and Sam are complaining that feminism doesn’t make them feel accepted or center it’s ideas around them (as straight white men) myself, Djw and Faith are pointing out that making our male sexual priviledge and male sexuality to be the same thing is damaging to yourselves and women and that the rest of culture is focused around straight men. It’s not about you, I’m sorry that you don’t find feminism to be comfortable enough for you but you may have to accept that it’s just not about you. If you guys want a possitive idea of male sexuality there’s nothing to stop you from creating it yourself and doing the work to promote it.”

    Look, as long as we’re on the subject of walls that we’re running into, let’s try looking at this in the bigger picture a moment. I’d qualify Kimmel as a pro-feminist or feminist ally or something along those lines (if I’ve got the nomenclature right). He wrote this book for a reason. At this point, a significant course of contemporary feminist discussion seems concerned with what men are or aren’t doing that is holding up progress by feminist definitions (not helping out with the “second shift”, not being involved with their children, not having a “healthy” sexuality, etc.). One can proclaim to wash their hands of these issues and say that feminism “just isn’t about men” or that this or that “isn’t women’s job” but the discourse described above suggests that at least some things of concern to feminists are most definitely about us. Whoever genuinely is not concerned about these issues or the impact of men on them can then honestly declare it not to be their concern and not about men. Otherwise, some issues in feminism are about men.

    The problem is that nothing necessitates that men take any particular path, not the path that feminists would want us to nor any other. Not without some compelling benefit to ourselves. Whenever dealing with anyone from whom you expect or demand things, you need to consider what their next best alternative is. Unless what you would offer is better than that, you have no reason to expect them to accede.

    Going back to Kimmel, in reference to the attitudes and behaviors displayed by his subjects, I hear bandied about the description “traditional masculinity”, several times in this thread in fact. It seems odd in context. When I would picture “traditional masculinity”, I would picture something out of Ozzie and Harriet or Father Knows Best or something in that vein. Kimmel is describing young men who have put off, quite a ways off into their adulthood, many of the trappings of adulthood and traditionalism that would be assumed normal in that era. Isn’t Kimmel describing something quite a bit “untraditional”? In fact, isn’t “Guyland” a relatively new phenomena?

    My point is that, given a “traditional” masculinity that is untenable in the contemporary social context, and the nebulous ideas from feminism of a “new masculinity”, largely defined in negative terms, “Guyland” and things like it may well be shaping up to be the next most attractive alternative for many men. If it isn’t something that you like or would wish to see, than you are going to have to come up with a more attractive alternative (more attractive to the men who will be making the choice).

  40. That’s an…interesting take on my blog post, Tom. :) On the very off-chance that you’re engaging on it in good faith, I will quote the summarized description of my interpretation of positive and specifically male sexuality: “sex without violence–with self-knowledge, with ease and without aggression…wanting to please and to be pleased…grace…strength, but without force or crushing.” It is of course quite true that I find these things attractive as well, being a het female, but I can’t imagine why that would be a disqualifier in pointing them out.

    Lisa, I’m always endeavoring to engage in good faith. :) What I read from what you wrote here and on your post is what you find attractive and appealing about male sexuality as you perceive it, or as you would like it to be. That’s all well and good so far as it goes, but saying that you may find men, or more to the point, certain aspects of certain men, sexually appealing is very much not the point. To put it in relief, it’s an uncontroversial assertion that women’s sexuality was repressed and vilified for centuries, if not millennia, but it would be absurd to assert that for those centuries or millennia, men could thus not be attracted to women and what they fantasized women’s sexuality to be.

    Just some food for thought: what do you suppose that the real Bowflex boy might have wanted to do?

  41. “It does matter.”

    Sam,

    I really don’t know what else to say to you. I’ve stated quite clearly that I believe that innate – or default if that’s the language you prefer – is not harmful. Male sexuality has been defined and shaped in a harmful manner for thousands of years, however. The problem is the current construction of male sexuality as defined by a misogynistic, patriarchal society.

  42. “Indeed, I can’t seem to see that the feminist suggestion of a “healthy” male sexuality amounts to anything more than a collection of “thou shalt nots” (thou shalt not be threatening, overly aggressive, obsessed with appearance or porn or whatever). Frankly, as presented thus far, it doesn’t sound terribly appealing.”

    Tom,

    Yes, thou shalt not be threatening, overly aggressive, obsessed with appearance or porn or whatever. However, there’s a helluva lot more to it than that. Even in the little sound bite that I wrote. I’m personally largely of the opinion that as long as all parties are consenting fully and enthusiastically that there isn’t much at all that I believe is strictly off-limits are innately harmful. And the things that I do feel that way about are so extreme that most people have never even heard of such activities or would not participate even if they had.

    And men do have a lot to gain by developing their sexuality in a positive, respectful manner. By doing so, they are more able to fulfill and please women. And if women are more fulfilled and pleased, then womean are able to appreciate men more and actually take joy in pleasing them in the bedroom. It’s a two-way street…and speaking from experience, it works wonders for both the man and woman involved.

  43. “And I would really like to hear what you think about my thoughts on the Marcotte article you linked to.”

    I don’t have much to say about Marcotte’s article other than I believe it’s a pretty good post explaining -conservative- or -traditional- male sexuality. And most men, I fully believe, are still operating from that particular definition. If you are not defining your sexuality in such a manner, then you are not part of the problem.

  44. Oriscus,

    “A positive male sexuality is *our* responsibility, not teh wimmenz.”

    Again, I wasn’t talking about a “positive male sexuality”, but about the lacking feminist discourse about it. A lack that leads to a problematic tainting of male sexuality as “problematic” in the default set up.

    You correctly point out that the tainting of male sexuality has not been started by feminism, but feminism is clearly the most audible voice in that discourse today.

  45. Faith,

    sorry, you didn’t reference that article, JaneTweed did. Thanks for your reply though. I was mostly wondering about my additional thoughts concerning her frames of thinking which I’m outlining in my long reply to JaneTweed yesterday.

    Quoting myself from above -

    “Marcotte, in a way, does the same with respect to the teamsport/music analogies in the post you linked to (really good one, I agree). I agree that winning isn’t defined by scoring points against the other team. I don’t think that’s a “liberal-feminist” frame to think about sex though, it’s common sense to me.

    But I also think that the playing music analogy isn’t capturing the whole picture, or that, at least, it leaves out that playing music really requires rules to the same extent that playing basketball does, if not more. I whole-heartedly agree with a standard of “enthusiastic participation”, but that doesn’t really solve the consent question if both people are participating enthusiastically while, say, drunk. And quite frankly, the feminist tendency to require the man to be more responsible when both participants are drunk smells a bit of a ballgame analogy (foul) than of “badly” composed music. So, basically, while useful to think about the problems at hand, the analogies have weaknesses as well.

    That said, I would like to ask you to think about reframing what she said about “rape trolls discussions” in her music framework. Putting “the trolls” in the ballgame frame is assuming something about male sexuality that is informing your reply about “healthy male sexuality” as well: That the default condition isn’t healthy.

    It’s not assuming that men are really interested to understand harmony theory to get to play more beautiful music together, it’s assuming that they want to find out how badly they can foul and get with it. That’s a mindset, and it’s a mindset that is informing the feminist discourse of male sexuality.

    And, in my opinion, it may well be that this feminist tendency and discourse is really what keeps society in general from whole-heartedly accepting the music frame as dominant way to think about sex as such. Whichever way you think about it, feminism talks about male sexuality in a way that – possibly inadvertendly, but I doubt that for a theory that’s basically built on assumtions about social construction – reinforces the ballgame framework.

    “obsessed with appearance”

    I agree on the relational aspects of your statement, but I’m sorry, isn’t it a bit over the top to believe to have the answer to what people should be turned on by?

    Tom,

    My point is that, given a “traditional” masculinity that is untenable in the contemporary social context, and the nebulous ideas from feminism of a “new masculinity”, largely defined in negative terms, “Guyland” and things like it may well be shaping up to be the next most attractive alternative for many men. If it isn’t something that you like or would wish to see, than you are going to have to come up with a more attractive alternative (more attractive to the men who will be making the choice).

    Very true. Given the discussion in this thread I’m wondering if at least some feminists don’t actually believe they *are* in fact offering that alternative. At least that’s how I’m reading Faith’s contributions – she seems to believe that the alternative *is* out there and we’re just not seeing it.

    I don’t think so – I mean, I’ve been reading a lot of feminist academic material and websites and I don’t think it’s out there. Or it’s so coded that I don’t get it. But then it seems a bit strange to believe that people who haven’t read feminism and aren’t familiar with its slang and sociological axioms will actually be able to understand anything of that alternative.

    And there’s the problem of definitions – men’s interests and desires are only relevant to feminism to the extent that they are compatible with or even complementing women’s interestes or desires. If there are possible conflicts of interests feminism’s point of reference for a solution isn’t a negotiation of equals, it’s women’s interest (which is relatively easy to justify in the framework of axiomatic male privilege).

  46. Well, Tom, I can only write about what I perceive about male sexuality ’cause, you know…I can only write about what I perceive, period. Until we all become telepathic and/or empathic, I’m afraid that’s all any of us can write about. Am I attempting in any way, shape or form to declare that my perceptions of male sexuality are superior to any man’s? Absolutely not–that would be nuts, as nuts as any man marching up and declaring that his perceptions of my sexuality are superior to mine. However, I was asked specifically for my perceptions of positive male sexuality, so I provided them. If you have objections to a woman answering such a question about male sexuality, you might wanna take them up with the male questioner, eh?

    I couldn’t begin to imagine what the Bowflex Boy wants in his personal life; far as I know, he might not even share my sexual orientation. He was a model, and projecting a certain mood or pose is what models do. He did a very excellent job of projecting the mood and pose representative of my most positive experiences with male sexuality, which is why he came up in my conversation. Whether he was simply a very good actor or whether he was projecting something that was actually an innate part of himself, I couldn’t say.

  47. Pingback: Woman as Knight Errant: Escapism for Her vs. Escapism for Him at PunkAssBlog.com

  48. “Am I attempting in any way, shape or form to declare that my perceptions of male sexuality are superior to any man’s? Absolutely not–that would be nuts, as nuts as any man marching up and declaring that his perceptions of my sexuality are superior to mine.”

    Ditto. And I’m only personally interested in defining males sexuality in as much as it must exist without harming women. In other words, (hetero)men can not define their sexuality in a manner which does not harm women. Other than that, it’s up to men to define male sexuality.

    so for instance, men can not define their sexuality as being able to rape women with impunity. They can not define committing rape as being a natural part of their sexuality. Committing rape is harmful to us and is therefore not healthy. That would be one example. I think I gave a pretty good explanation of other activities, or attitudes in my other list.

  49. “Am I attempting in any way, shape or form to declare that my perceptions of male sexuality are superior to any man’s? Absolutely not–that would be nuts, as nuts as any man marching up and declaring that his perceptions of my sexuality are superior to mine.”

    Ditto. And I’m only personally interested in defining males sexuality in as much as it must exist without harming women. In other words, (hetero)men can not define their sexuality in a manner which does harm women. Other than that, it’s up to men to define male sexuality.

    so for instance, men can not define their sexuality as being able to rape women with impunity. They can not define committing rape as being a natural part of their sexuality. Committing rape is harmful to us and is therefore not healthy. That would be one example. I think I gave a pretty good explanation of other activities, or attitudes in my other list.

  50. Grr…double posting because of mistake in first post.

    Clearly, “In other words, (hetero)men can not define their sexuality in a manner which does not harm women.” should be “In other words, (hetero)men can not define their sexuality in a manner which does harm women.”

  51. “men’s interests and desires are only relevant to feminism to the extent that they are compatible with or even complementing women’s interestes or desires. If there are possible conflicts of interests feminism’s point of reference for a solution isn’t a negotiation of equals, it’s women’s interest (which is relatively easy to justify in the framework of axiomatic male privilege).”

    Inaccurate. Men can not define their sexuality in a manner which harms women. It’s a simple as that. Men’s actions in regard to how they interact sexually with women must not cause harm. This is really not difficult to grasp. The fact that we are even having this conversation is depressing. And it’s because of attitudes like this that women need feminism. Again: Men CAN NOT define their sexuality in a manner which is harmful to women.

    PERIOD.

  52. Faith,

    “Inaccurate. Men can not define their sexuality in a manner which harms women. It’s a simple as that. Men’s actions in regard to how they interact sexually with women must not cause harm. This is really not difficult to grasp. The fact that we are even having this conversation is depressing. And it’s because of attitudes like this that women need feminism. Again: Men CAN NOT define their sexuality in a manner which is harmful to women.

    PERIOD.”

    Careful, please. I think that’s becoming a semantic and definitional problem. I completely agree with your statement. What I was referring to is the way in which the definition of the term “harm” in the statement is determined individually and socially. There may be disagreements about the appropriate frame of reference.

    I think a useful way to think about this would be to wonder if the requirements of the categorical imperative are fulfilled by the definitional process – to always act in a way that would allow the guiding principles to become a general law. At first sight, that’s definitely the case with your statement.

    However, the mutual recognition of the validity of that rule requires mutual agreement about the actual content. Who decides what “harmful” is? And to whom? Is pornography inherently harmful to any individual women? Is it sufficient to be axiomatically “harmful” towards an abstract group “women” according one sociological axiom or another? Who gets to decide these things?

    And even though I love the music framework, playing in a duet implies a lot of opportunities to misread the other’s harmonical ideas. Who decides where harm starts? A girl I never saw before grabbed my hand and put it on her behind – have I been harmed? Who gets to decide about the appropriateness of communication? What’s plausible assumptions about what’s ok in an interaction and what not?

    Again, I basically agree with your statement, it is not just a moral necessity, it is apparently what nature had in mind by creating brain structures for sexual pleasure, particularly complex ones in the case of the human female. But the beahvioral content of the norm must be mutually accessible and the process in which the terms are defined must be mutually agreed on. Otherwise all this is power politics and we all play a big game of “battle of the sexes” with a particularly negative payout structure…

  53. Faith,

    And men do have a lot to gain by developing their sexuality in a positive, respectful manner. By doing so, they are more able to fulfill and please women. And if women are more fulfilled and pleased, then womean are able to appreciate men more and actually take joy in pleasing them in the bedroom. It’s a two-way street…and speaking from experience, it works wonders for both the man and woman involved.

    So, it basically boils down to quid pro quo? What we have to gain is basically because women gain and thus (presumed without qualification), women will do for us? Hmmm…

    Lisa KS,

    Well, Tom, I can only write about what I perceive about male sexuality ’cause, you know…I can only write about what I perceive, period. Until we all become telepathic and/or empathic, I’m afraid that’s all any of us can write about. Am I attempting in any way, shape or form to declare that my perceptions of male sexuality are superior to any man’s? Absolutely not–that would be nuts, as nuts as any man marching up and declaring that his perceptions of my sexuality are superior to mine. However, I was asked specifically for my perceptions of positive male sexuality, so I provided them. If you have objections to a woman answering such a question about male sexuality, you might wanna take them up with the male questioner, eh?

    I think that you hit on it there Lisa. Problem is, and what’s piqued at least my skepticism regarding this whole topic, is that “answers” are being proffered about male sexuality in absence of questions being asked prior, answers that appear when skeptical questions are asked to be rather undeveloped and uninformed.

    And that hits at heart with a lot of the problems that I see about what contemporary feminism apparently has to say about men, as I discussed above. Making presumptuous demands and pronouncements, and then attempting to wash one’s hands of everything else, like saying “your sexuality must not harm women and beyond that we’re not concerned with it”, or “you have to help out more with the housework and the kids and beyond that, we don’t care what other demands you have”, or “you must enthusiastically make women feel welcome and comfortable in every institution you are part of, and beyond that, we don’t care how comfortable you are”, that all just won’t sell. Not in ten years, not in a hundred.

  54. Tom, I can actually understand that viewpoint. I am sorry if I appeared to be making presumptuous declarations about male sexuality. Not my intention, I assure you.

  55. No apologies necessary Lisa. As I said, I actually think that you hit on something rather significant. A communications disconnect between the sexes is a significant part of the problem here I think and, in all fairness, men haven’t been very good about communicating or even examining a lot that is of significance about ourselves. No fair reason that women ought to be expected to understand us any better than we do ourselves.

  56. “Who decides what “harmful” is? And to whom? Is pornography inherently harmful to any individual women? Is it sufficient to be axiomatically “harmful” towards an abstract group “women” according one sociological axiom or another? Who gets to decide these things?”

    That’s an easy answer and one I’ve already provided.

    Women get to decide what is harmful to them.

    I really fail to see why anything else needs to be said.

    “Making presumptuous demands and pronouncements, and then attempting to wash one’s hands of everything else, like saying “your sexuality must not harm women and beyond that we’re not concerned with it”, or “you have to help out more with the housework and the kids and beyond that, we don’t care what other demands you have”, or “you must enthusiastically make women feel welcome and comfortable in every institution you are part of, and beyond that, we don’t care how comfortable you are”, that all just won’t sell. Not in ten years, not in a hundred.”

    I hardly believe saying “hey, you can’t hurt me” is a presumptuous demand or pronouncement. As for “washing one’s hands of everything else”, I’d have thought men would be happy to hear a woman state that it’s up to men to define their sexuality beyond what does or does not harm women. It seems to me that saying women have no ability as women to define male sexuality beyond what does or does not do them harm is a pretty reasonable, and respectful, statement. And if it won’t sell to many men, then it’s not women who have failed, to be perfectly blunt.

  57. Faith,

    That’s an easy answer and one I’ve already provided.

    Women get to decide what is harmful to them.

    I really fail to see why anything else needs to be said.

    I hardly believe saying “hey, you can’t hurt me” is a presumptuous demand or pronouncement.

    Faith, if you can’t see the that your infinitely elastic definition of “harm”, and your nebulous definition of “women” (which women? All women? Feminists? The Berkeley chapter of Tri-Delta?), make your criterion fatally unworkable, then I guess we have nothing to talk about. Like I said, no sale.

  58. Tom, Faith,

    “if you can’t see the that your infinitely elastic definition of “harm”, and your nebulous definition of “women” (which women? All women? Feminists? The Berkeley chapter of Tri-Delta?), make your criterion fatally unworkable, then I guess we have nothing to talk about. Like I said, no sale.”

    That’s the dilemma with standpoint epistemology. It’s obviously true that no two people will ever define “harm” alike, whichever their gender. But standpoint epistemology is also an oxymoron, if taken literally – no one will be able to understand the other, no common ground can possibly be found.

    Wittgenstein was right – whereof we can’t speak, thereof we must remain silent. So there’s really only two options. We either come up with operationalisations that we can both speak of, we both have access and sufficient empathy to understand the other’s standpoint, or we don’t, in which case everything is down to domination.

    The fact that a feminist would choose the latter over even attempting the former is puzzling to me, at least as long as he/she actually believes the philosophical foundations of feminism are not entirely and cynically made up for the political advancement of generalisations about the needs of a group that cannot logically have a common standpoint even according to the philosophy’s proponents.

    Speaking of Berkeley, Judith Butler is quite insightful in this respect.

  59. And the other issue with the Standpoint Epistemology is that it fails to translate into worldview should there be a single variable unaccounted for. There’s a ton of theory, but no “practice” when it comes to sexuality.

    All too common feminists claim it’s “Not about the Menz.” But the issue is in part that it has to be at least a little bit about the Menz. Otherwise feminism would be nothing more than empty idealogy with vague catchlines like a Rovian list of bullet points. The reason why is simple, feminism claims to be a gender idealogy that brings justice to the whole world but fails to account for any significant variable in half the world’s population aside from isolating factors that need to be contained or repressed.

    Failure of such an idealogy to account for such variables dooms feminism into being unrealistic. The reason why Sam is concerned with this is because by nature, since Feminism does not concern itself with heterosexual male sexuality except to attack its bad points, a heterosexual feminist having sex with her boyfriend is at best a morally neutral act, and at worst an example of his moral failing.

    If women have no good model of a man’s sexuality besides a series of commands, of “Thou Shalt nots,” then any man willing to at least try to measure up to feminine standards is forced to engage in a struggle of trial and error, with no prior instruction, and no positive reinforcements. In fact, a man only succeeds by cessating prescribed bad actions, and since they can happen again, he is quickly villified again should he fail, whether it be a trivial or major offense. It’s all sticks, no carrots.

    Yes, I know, cookies taste great. Not the issue. Feminism has the unfortunate ability, like all good causes, of degenerating into catchphrases. And before anyone considers bringing up “invisible” privilege, remember you’re invoking Standpoint epistemology, and that any man is therefore equally entitled to infer that if there was a female-centered privilege, she would by the exact same reasoning, be unaware of it.

    I think good feminists want more, and I think good men want more, too. I also agree with Sam that a focus on standpoint epistemology and gender solipsism will, left unchecked, ruin any gender argument.

  60. “And before anyone considers bringing up “invisible” privilege, remember you’re invoking Standpoint epistemology, and that any man is therefore equally entitled to infer that if there was a female-centered privilege, she would by the exact same reasoning, be unaware of it.”

    That is why the matter of privilege is always brought up in discussions like this. Many people claim “others” are privileged, and at the same time vehemently deny that they themselves have privilege. They do this so that opposing views can be discounted, since they are advanced by privileged people who are blind to injustice, and who lack insight about the suffering of others.

    But I say that people who discount opposing views because of privilege are just claiming the rhetorical (and supposedly epistemic) advantages of Victim Privilege.

    And, yes, all this privilege-based standpoint epistemology is complete nonsense.

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