Bullying the Bullies or Challenging the Creepers? On Ending the Demand For Creepshots

Today’s column at Role/Reboot looks at the recent exposure of two of the Internet’s most spectacular “creeps” — and at the culture of male complicity that sustained them. Excerpt:

We need to see that in their own bizarre way, cyber-predators are as much exhibitionists as they are voyeurs. They derive obvious pleasure from violating young girls’ privacy. But as their boasting makes clear, an equally vital turn-on comes when they are recognized for their ability to source and post images that no one else can. It’s “kiss and tell” behavior in which the blackmail of children substitutes for the kissing, but the payoff is the same: other men’s praise.

It’s important to warn teens about the dangers of webcams, and it’s vital to hunt down nasty trolls like Brutsch and sadists like Maxson. We need to acknowledge, however, that this is a strategy that focuses on drying up the “supply” of images and videos that get posted online. The real solution lies in ending adult men’s demand for visual access to the bodies of the underage and the unsuspecting. That’s only quixotic if we believe that most straight men’s sexuality is both naturally predatory and naturally directed toward adolescent girls.

The currency of “creepshots,” “jailbait,” and blackmail isn’t sex. It’s power—the power to capture the image of a girl who doesn’t know she’s being photographed, or to shame her by endlessly reposting what was meant to be a private image. What drew male fans to Brutsch and Maxson wasn’t just the chance to see pubescent boobs, but to bond over the experience of another human being’s humiliation. Ending the allure of these forums will mean challenging men to make this kind of exploitation fundamentally unacceptable.

Kissing, telling, and homosociality

At Role/Reboot this morning, I write to answer an old question: why are men so much more likely to kiss… and tell? Excerpt:

Why would ostensibly straight men spend so much time thinking about other guys while having sex with women? The answer is what Kimmel calls “homosociality,” the idea that for American men in particular, the approval of other males is more important than virtually anything else. As strong as their libidos are, guys in this culture have an even more compelling urge: to be validated by other men.

Homosociality explains much of what seems so nonsensical about certain kinds of male sexual behavior. For example, a woman who finds herself harassed by construction workers or by men hollering at her from a car may wonder what expectation the harassers have. “Do they really think I’m going to go over and talk to them when they whistle like that?” a woman may ask. Relatively few men think street harassment is an effective pick-up strategy; these guys are showing off for other males. Women are the glue young (and not so young) male harassers often use to accomplish their real goal: bonding more closely with their buddies and mutually affirming their masculinity.

Homosociality doesn’t just show up in harassment; it drives many men’s actual sexual behavior with women. It does it in obvious ways, as with a group of bachelors at a strip club. It does it in a more oblique fashion as well in terms of men’s seemingly private sexual choices. The frat brother that Kimmel interviewed never speaks of how he feels about the hot girl he hooks up with; his enthusiasm is reserved for how his bros feel about her. That willingness to do virtually anything to win the admiration of other guys—including cheat on a wife or a girlfriend, or share sexually explicit photos of an ex—is a heartbreakingly familiar, if often unnamed, dynamic.

“Bros”, Players, and Bachelor Parties: The Sad Triumph of Homosociality

It’s June 27, the 42nd anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising and the 13th anniversary of my last drink.

My Further Up, Further In column runs one day earlier than normal at The Good Men Project. This week, it’s Bros Before Promises. It builds on a Marie Claire article about bachelor parties, and brings back up the issue of homosociality. Excerpt:

To put it simply, a man is “homosocial” (it has nothing to do with homosexuality) if he values his relationships with his male buddies over his romantic relationship with a woman. At its crudest, this idea is expressed in the old maxim “bros before hos.”
But while same-sex friendships are wonderful and necessary, there’s something very troubling about the way so many American men act out their homosociality. In Dutton’s article, men are consistently faced with a choice between remaining faithful to their female partners or engaging in competition with other guys. Over and over again, these men choose to break their vows. The “bros” win out.

In the Marie Claire piece, “Kevin” uses the language of scoring to describe having sex with a stripper (one point) and kissing a bride-to-be (half a point.) This isn’t new. Since at least the 1920s if not before, American men have used the language of sports, especially baseball, to describe sex. The terms are familiar to generations of American teens: first base, second base, third base, home run. (While there’s general consensus that simple kissing is first base and intercourse constitutes the home run, there’s long been heated disagreement as to what sexual acts “count” as reaching second and third.) As in baseball, one must “get home” (have intercourse) in order to “score.”

The obvious question hardly ever gets asked. Who’s the opponent against whom you’re trying to rack up points and runs?

Read the whole thing.

Impressing other men

I connected with Holly Kearl at last November’s NWSA conference in Colorado. Holly is the author of Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women, an invaluable analysis both of harassment and of the various strategies we can use to stop it. Holly is also a fellow marathoner, and during the conference, she and I slipped away for a quick seven through the frozen streets of Denver. While she ran me off my feet, I got the chance to hear more about her important work.

And yes, Holly is available to speak on a variety of topics. Read a great two-part interview with her here and here.

Holly also runs the Stop Street Harassment blog. On Wednesdays, it features short pieces by male allies. Today, my first short piece is up: Street harassment is about one thing: impressing other men.

The challenge of confrontation: dismantling rape culture one conversation at a time

Clarisse Thorn wrote a Thanksgiving post, in which she raises an all-too-familiar problem:

One very intense, very important issue I grappled with this week was having a friend email me to inform me that another friend — someone I like and admire a lot — has been credibly accused of sexual assault by a person who will never press charges. This has come up before in my life; every time it’s a little different, and yet so many things are the same: a person is assaulted, the news gets out among friends, the survivor doesn’t press charges, there is confusion among the friends about how to act, eventually things die down, and I feel as though I should have done more.

Clarisse wrote to an ex of hers for his take, and he replied:

Nobody is composed of unmixed goodness or evil, no matter how much of a paragon/fiend 1) they seem to be or 2) their principles require. People we respect and love are not forces of nature or avatars of their cause of choice, no matter how thoroughly they embody it to us… I can’t see how it could ever be good to allow things like this to just slide. Honestly, I’m not sure what else you can do but (as you suggest in one of your messages) politely ask your friend about their take on the story. If nothing else, it will demonstrate that people are paying attention to this thing…

I agree with Clarisse’s ex, both about the necessity of confrontation in some form and the wisdom of acknowledging that those around us are never entirely what they seem. (This doesn’t mean that most people are fraudulent, merely that we tend to see blacks and whites more clearly than we see shades of gray.) And I think this willingness to raise hard questions is particularly important for men.

I’ve often made the case that the true measure of a man’s commitment to gender justice doesn’t just lie in how he treats women, but how he interacts with other men when there are no women around. Most young women have had the utterly infuriating experience of having a male buddy, boyfriend, or brother who is sweet and sensitive when she’s alone with him — but who turns into a troglodytic jerk when other men are around. That sudden shift from kindness to doltishness can be chalked up to the homosocial pressure to be “one of the guys”, a pressure that tends to trump everything else in young men’s lives. And so I repeat the message that I learned a long time ago: part of being a good male ally lies in challenging the sexism of other men even when there are no women around. Actually, if there is a litmus test that distinguishes a boy from a man, that might be it: the courage to stand up to other men and to endure the homophobic insults that will surely come when he challenges the attitudes and actions of his “bros.”

Feminists often talk about “rape culture.” Rape culture doesn’t just mean a culture in which rape happens — it means a culture in which sexual assault is condoned, or excused, or minimized, or even actively facilitated. For example, fraternity parties to which young women are invited and encouraged to binge drink are part of rape culture, as they involve the use of alcohol and social pressure to undermine young women’s capacity to give or deny meaningful consent to sex. Rape jokes are part of rape culture, as is the loathsome use of “rape”idiomatically to refer to any action of domination or success. (An example I overheard in the hall last week: “Dude, I totally raped that test.”) But nothing — nothing — sustains rape culture like silence. And given that men are raised to be homosocial (meaning they place intense value on the opinion of their male peers), and given that it is men who are doing almost all of the raping, it is the reluctance of the so-called “good guys” to challenge other men that allows rape culture to survive.

A true story:

As I’ve written many, many times, I had a series of consensual sexual relationships with my adult students when I was first a professor at PCC. The fact that most of these students were my chronological peers (one or two were even older than I), and that the relationships were often initiated by those students does nothing to mitigate the unethical and irresponsible nature of what I did. It was an abuse of power, and all sexualized abuses of power fall on what might be called a “rape spectrum.” What I did wasn’t rape in that it didn’t violate the consent of the adult women with whom I was having sex — but it was on that spectrum nonetheless because the power imbalance may have had at least some impact on the capacity of these women to give meaningful consent. (I acknowledge agency, but also acknowledge the social and cultural pressures that can undermine agency.) Continue reading

Homosociality and homophobia: why the distorted rules of “manhood” are the real problem

As sociologists and others have noted for years, suicides, particularly among the young, seem to happen in clusters. In the last few weeks in North America, more than half-a-dozen gay or lesbian youngsters have taken their own lives in response to bullying or harassment. On this National Coming Out Day, I’d like to point towards a site — and a movement — that has gone viral in recent days, the It Gets Better project hosted at Youtube. It Gets Better features videos from celebrities and ordinary folks alike; the messages are funny, moving, and consistent in their reassurance that the pain and heartache and loneliness that GLBTQ teens suffer will not last forever. My favorite is BD Wong’s deeply moving contribution.

As it is National Coming Out Day, it’s important to point outthe role that homosociality plays in the harassment of gays and lesbians. Homosociality is a primarily male phenomenon, particularly common among young American guys. Simply put, it’s the idea that the approval of male peers (and male authority figures) is the driving factor in men’s lives. Well documented by sociologists, the theory of homosociality suggests that winning approval from other men is more important to young men than anything else, including validation from women.

A few years ago, C.J. Pascoe wrote a marvelous study that I reviewed here on the blog: Dude, You’re a Fag. A study of compulsory heterosexuality and gender norms in a California high school, it’s the best work I’ve ever seen on the role public displays of homophobia play in shoring up fragile masculinity. From that post:

Pascoe writes of what she calls the fag discourse. The discourse manifests itself in the almost incorrigible way in which young men label each other “fags” while seeking to avoid having that label applied to them. According to this discourse, fear of being called out publicly as a “fag” is the primary driving force behind what Pascoe cleverly calls the display of “compulsive heterosexulity.” Playing on Adrienne Rich’s classic notion that contemporary society functions with a discourse of compulsory heterosexuality, Pascoe notes that among young men desperate to establish their masculine bona fides with their peers, what we see in American high schools amounts to compulsive, almost frantic efforts by young men to prove their manhood.

Anyone who has worked with adolescent boys knows how much anxiety many of them feel about their own masculinity. It’s not news to say that our sons, like their fathers before them, often have to endure or participate in physical or at least verbal violence that we tragically and falsely believe is necessary to transition into manhood. It’s not news that boys torment each other with the “fag” epithet. And it’s not news that the real stigma in being labelled a “fag” doesn’t lie in the association with homosexuality, but with being seen as feminine. Continue reading

Homosocial anxiety, the virginity obsession, and the sexual double standard

In my “Beauty and the Body” class yesterday, I revisited the topic of homosociality and male anxiety. Homosociality is the notion that winning validation from other males is the primary concern for young American men. Contrary to popular wisdom, “getting laid” matters less than the social cachet of being seen by other guys as someone who “gets laid” regularly and easily. (Michael Kimmel introduced the concept of homosociality in his magisterial Manhood in America; A Cultural History). I wrote this in an earlier post on the subject:

To use one cheap and easy example, homosociality explains the function of catcalls and wolfwhistles. I’ve often been asked by female students why men whistle and hoot at them from construction sites and passing cars. “Why do they do it? Do they think this actually ‘works’ to pick up women?” I usually inquire whether the whistling was done by a single man or a group; the answer is almost invariably that it was the latter. The answer, seen through the lens of homosociality, is obvious — men whistle and yell to connect with other men. Women are, alas, mere devices for creating non-sexual, same-gender bonds. This doesn’t explain all catcalling behavior, but it goes a hell of a long way towards doing so.

In yesterday’s class, we connected homosociality to male “performance” anxiety. We were talking about Susan Bordo’s wonderful, albeit dated, The Male Body, and her discussion of men’s anxieties about penises and performance. (I’ve written about this topic before as well, here and in this archive. I offered the not very original suggestion that the longing for homosocial approval is inevitably wrapped up in competition. Men gain status in other men’s eyes by competing with and bettering other men; the whole culture of sport, of course, is rooted in this. This relentless pursuit of dominance and validation is exhausting, painful, and anxiety-producing for everyone involved, not least the women who are turned into mere yardsticks with which male competitors can measure their success. Continue reading

“If they could see me now”: sex, homosociality, and the internalized male audience

In the comments below yesterday’s post about Tiger Woods and homosociality, Tom questions my use of the concept in describing the golfer’s infidelities with a certain type of woman. If homosociality drives men to use women to seek status in the eyes of other men, he wondered, how does it explain the behavior of men who have (what they thought were) clandestine affairs? Doesn’t the desire for secrecy vitiate the argument that the behavior is driven by a longing for validation from other men? It’s an important question, and deserves a longer answer than can fit in the comments.

In 2005, I wrote a long post about the task of helping women silence their internalized audience. The internalized audience is that Greek chorus in one’s head, made up of parents, peers — perhaps pastors and professors — and so forth. When one does something, even in secret, that one imagines might either delight or scandalize members of that audience, one spends time ruminating “What would they think if they could see me now?” For many women in particular, that internalized audience is incapacitating and shame-reinforcing, as I wrote in that post and again in this one.

The notion of homosociality dovetails nicely with the male version of the internalized audience. In other words, status-seeking young men don’t just perform for other flesh-and-blood males (fathers, brothers, coaches, Alpha guys) — they perform for the internalized audience of those figures. In Guyland, Michael Kimmel’s marvelous work about contemporary young men, Kimmel interviews a fraternity member who recalled having sex with a young woman whom all of his “brothers” thought was incredibly hot. The young man remembered that all he could think of while hooking up with this woman was what his “bros” would think if they could see him at that moment. The homosocial boost to his ego, in other words, was more powerful than his own sexual excitement — even though his fraternity brothers were not, in fact, watching or (yet) aware of his “conquest.”*

This young man wanted his male peers to find out eventually. But his pleasure came not merely from letting them know that he had sex with a particularly desirable woman, it came from contemplating their reactions before they knew about it. This is a not-uncommon scenario; the actual revelation of “what happened last night” is almost anti-climactic compared to the delicious validation that comes with imagining other men’s envious, even awed responses to this evidence of his masculine prowess.

In describing his own coming-of-age in rural Mexico, Amherst professor Ilan Stavans writes in the anthology Muy Macho of his ritualized first visit to a brothel:

Losing our virginity was actually a dual mission: to ejaculate inside the hooker and then, more importantly, to tell of the entire adventure afterward.

It’s not a leap to imagine that the thrill while with the prostitute lies chiefly in the imagination of how the recitation of the night’s events to one’s peers will go down!

For men who, for any reason (often because of adultery) need to be secretive about their extra-marital sexual lives, it’s certainly possible, even probable, that the validation that comes from imagining the status-boost that would come if their buddies knew who they were bedding is almost as good, or perhaps even better, than actually letting them know. Just as so many little boys, playing alone on a court or a field, imagine that they are in a stadium in front of a huge cheering audience, so too slightly older boys, getting it on in a hotel room with a gorgeous young woman who isn’t their wife, may imagine something remarkably similar.

*It is popularly believed that in single-sex groups, it’s common for women’s discussion of the sex they’ve had with men to be much more graphic than men’s discussion of the sex they’ve had with women. If this is true, then it reinforces the point that men’s story-telling is not about the exchange of detailed information, but about the opportunity to gain status in the eyes of other men. Other men may want to know that you got the “hot chick” into bed, they may want to hear your claims of how good it was (and how good you were), but any further detail about what transpired is positively unnecessary. For homosocial reinforcement to work, that it happened is enough — how it happened is irrelevant.

Tiger Woods and the “misogynistic homosocial economy” of desire

(The title of this post differs slightly from when it was first put up this morning.)

Lots of discussion in the blogosphere these past few days about this Eugene Robinson column in the Washington Post: Tiger’s validation complex. Robinson, who is African-American, is troubled by more than the famous golfer’s equally famous multiple infidelities. He’s troubled by the type of woman that Tiger seems to have pursued:

Here’s my real question, though: What’s with the whole Barbie thing?

No offense to anyone who actually looks like Barbie, but it really is striking how much the women who’ve been linked to Woods resemble one another. I’m talking about the long hair, the specific body type, even the facial features. Mattel could sue for trademark infringement.

This may be the most interesting aspect of the whole Tiger Woods story — and one of the most disappointing. He seems to have been bent on proving to himself that he could have any woman he wanted. But from the evidence, his aim wasn’t variety but some kind of validation…

…the world is full of beautiful women of all colors, shapes and sizes — some with short hair or almond eyes, some with broad noses, some with yellow or brown skin. Woods appears to have bought into an “official” standard of beauty that is so conventional as to be almost oppressive.

His taste in mistresses leaves the impression of a man who is, deep down, both insecure and image-conscious — a control freak even when he’s committing “transgressions.”

There is a long and painful history in the African-American community revolving around the penchant that a great many successful black men have had for pursuing white women. Indeed, the problem (if we can name it that) is a staple of magazine articles and fiction aimed at African-American women. I’m not a commenter on race, so it’s best that I merely note that the reaction Robinson is having is connected to a bitter and complicated history that is a good deal older than the now-disgraced superstar golfer.

But there’s a part of Robinson’s piece that isn’t just about race; it’s about the way in which men of all ethnicities use certain types of women as “trophies.” It is almost axiomatic that female beauty is a commodity which men employ to boost their status with other men. I wrote about this in April 2006, in a post about men, women, homosociality and weight. An excerpt:

Men are taught to find “hot” what other men find “hot.” The whole notion of a “trophy girlfriend” is based on the reality that a great many men use female desireability to establish status with other men. And in our current cultural climate where thinness is idealized, a slender partner is almost always going to be worth more than a heavy one. For men who have not yet extricated themselves from homosocial competition, their own self-esteem and sense of intra-male status may decline in direct proportion to their girlfriend’s weight gain.

Let me stress that this is absolutely not women’s problem to solve! My goal is not to make women who gain weight feel bad; protecting a fragile male ego is not a woman’s responsibility. The key thing men need to do is get honest about their own desire to use female desireability to establish status in the eyes of other men. And here’s where pro-feminist men can do a terrific service by challenging one another and holding each other accountable for the ways in which we are tempted to use our wives and girlfriends as trophies.

“Whiteness” can function similarly to “thin-ness”, particularly for men of color. America has a long and bloody history of violence towards dark-skinned men who were even suspected of a sexual interest in white women. For some men of color, to be with a white woman — particularly one who embodies the all-American “Barbie” ideal — is to say to the world “See, I’ve made it. You can’t touch me; I’ve achieved sufficient power and wealth so that I can have ‘access’ to what was once forbidden and could have gotten my grandfather lynched.” I’m not saying that was Tiger’s motive (Robinson is, and he’s in a better position than I to do so). I am saying that bedding whiteness, in the misogynistic homosocial economy, gives status points.

One of the important challenges we all need to take up is that of separating out what aspects of our desires are organic to us, and what aspects are socially constructed and reinforced. Men who are afraid to date heavier women “because of what my buddies will say” or women who are reluctant to date shorter men “because of how we’ll look together in public” do have, I think, an obligation to distinguish their fear of losing status from their actual desires. As we all know, the human libido is flexible but not infinitely so; it can be influenced but not entirely molded by culture and experience. Most of us have preferences and types, as I wrote in 2005, that are to some degree essential to us:

…feminism is not hostile to the body, nor to human sexual responses to the body. Feminism does ask the hard questions about why our culture suggests only some kinds of bodies are worthy of being deemed attractive! Feminism is critical of the extraordinarily narrow range of women’s bodies depicted as beautiful and desirable in the culture. But there’s a difference between speaking out against the ways in which popular culture limits the definition of beauty and desire, and rejecting the idea of lust and physical attraction altogether.

Most of us — not all — have certain physical “types” to which we are often drawn…A “type” does become a problem when certain physical attributes are presumptively linked to certain anti-feminist qualities (submissiveness, docility, and so forth). Most feminists are rightly troubled, for example, by white men who have an “Asian fetish” that is clearly linked to fantasies about submission and sexuality. But a man who simply prefers brunettes, without attaching any cultural baggage to his attraction, is not violating any vital feminist principle. We are allowed our individual quirks and our individual preferences, as long as those quirks and preferences are not linked to racist and sexist assumptions that certain types of women “know how to treat a man better.”

I’d add the Tiger corollary to that, which is that individual preferences are fine insofar as they are not thinly (sorry) disguised excuses for pursuing a particular type of woman in order to gain validation and status in the real or imagined eyes of other men. Untangling what we want sexually from what we ourselves want in order to meet cultural or familial expectations is a universal challenge. Unlike my postmodernist friends, I do believe we have an identity and desires that are deeper than our culture; our sexuality, although more malleable than many imagine, isn’t entirely a tabula rasa. (If that were so, there’d be far fewer GLBT kids growing up in conservative Christian households than there in fact are.)

Part of becoming a responsible, sexually mature adult is doing the often difficult work of discerning what one craves inherently from what one has been taught one ought to crave, and what one has learned will win approval from parents or peers. It ain’t rocket science, but it isn’t easy either. And while Tiger may “organically” crave youthful white women with Barbie-esque proportions, one suspects that for all his achievements, he has not yet come close to gaining insight and understanding of the role sexuality plays in his life. And the consequences of lacking that understanding are, as we have seen in his case, devastating.

Bonding through revulsion and desire: a note on homosociality and strip clubs

A reader named Sarah recently wrote in about a conversation she had with her husband about strip clubs:

My husband today mentioned the time he took his younger brother to a strip club when the brother turned 21. I laughed a bit, and said, “wow! i never heard that story before!” A few more teasing words were said between the 3 of us, and Imentioned that if he ever took our (still non-existent) son to a strip club i’d be furious. I assumed no more needed to be said, as the whole idea of it was so ludicrous and that my husband wouldn’t do something so creepy and so anti-women with a son of ours.

My husband shocked me by saying that yes, he would take our kid to a strip club and he doesn’t see why it would matter to me if “our son is getting married, and we all go to a titty bar for the bachelor party. it’s not like i’d encourage him to cheat!” I was left sputtering and a little disturbed, and totally unsure on how to proceed with this conversation as my husband is a man who’s always respected women and agreed on these matters. (or I obviously wouldn’t have married him!)

I’m no fan of strip clubs for a host of reasons. But Sarah’s email isn’t really about strip clubs — it’s about the problem of homosociality, a topic I’ve written about many times before. (Homosociality is the notion that for American men in particular, the approval of other males is of paramount concern, even more sought after than validation from women.) One of the most odious features of homosociality is the way in which it employs women’s bodies as devices for bonding men together. For example, many women are perplexed (as well as infuriated) by the habit young (and not-so-young) men have of cat-calling female pedestrians from passing cars. “Why do they slow down and whistle at me, making those comments?” a young woman asks; “Do they really think I’m going to get in the car with them?” The answer, of course, is that the fellas in the car are far less interested in the woman they’re harassing than in bonding with each other. They demonstrate their heterosexual bona fides to each other, and in the process of humiliating women on the street, forge a closer homosocial relationship. (It’s more than anecdotal to point out that groups of men, having just harassed a woman sexually, will high-five each other; one of the most devastating depictions of this comes in the rape scene from “Boys Don’t Cry”.)

Going to a strip club, of course, isn’t necessarily analogous to participating in a gang rape. But fathers and older brothers have been taking their sons and younger brothers to “titty bars” and brothels for a long time; in parts of Latin America, the practice is particularly common. The stated purpose may be an “initation into manhood” for a teen boy, or a bacchanalian farewell to bachelorhood for a man about to be wed. But there’s invariably more to it than that. Wives and girlfriends, not unreasonably, suspect that the motive is sexual: fathers and brothers may claim to be doing it as a favor for a son or a sibling, but in reality they’re just looking for an opportunity for “justified infidelity” of one kind or another. That may be true, but there’s a deeper and more common reason: a longing for homosocial intimacy.

Going to a baseball game is the paradigmatic “father-son” bonding activity. But for many men, sporting events are less effective than strip clubs as homosocial strategies. Women haven’t been excluded as spectator from ball parks for generations; very few wives and mothers actively disapprove of sports. (They may find watching sports dull, but that’s hardly the same.) Men in our society, as countless scholars of gender have pointed out, are socialized to find particular delight and meaning in activities from which women are excluded, or which most women find repugnant and objectionable. American boys prove their manhood, after all, through their rejection of their mothers’ values; to care too deeply about what mom thinks is to be a sissy, a mama’s boy. And need I point out how many American men have relationships with wives and girlfriends that closely resemble the mother-son dynamic? Mama might not object to taking little brother to the Yankees game — but she’s likely to be less pleased with a sojourn to the titty bar down the block.

The effectiveness of strip clubs as a homosocial bonding strategy is thus linked to two things: the shared sense the male patrons have that their wives and mothers disapprove of their being there, and the opportunity to establish their credentials as “red-blooded, straight American guys” by sharing the experience of objectifying women’s bodies. A single man in a strip club, nursing a beer, is seen as a vaguely pathetic — or perhaps threatening — figure; a group of men on a “stag night” in that same club are anything but. What is unacceptable in solitude is admirable and manly when done in solidarity with other males.

For men who, perhaps like Sarah’s husband, who have not yet done the vital work of learning how to establish intimate relationships with other men which do not require the objectification of women as “bonding glue”, the homosocial appeal of the strip club experience is tremendous. But women aren’t cement to hold together that which can’t otherwise be joined. Emotionally competent adult males don’t use either women’s revulsion or women’s bodies in order to establish closeness and cameraderie with each other. And men’s universal capacity to become emotionally competent — at a relatively young age — is very real. The fact that so many choose not to exercise that capacity is not evidence that they lack it.