Desire is so destabilizing
I know I've been hitting the feminist themes a little harder than usual lately, but I really just have to blog about this. Even though it's link bait. Nutbar lifestyle writer Liz Jones, writing for the far-right British newspaper The Daily Mail, did what is usually impossible to do and make me feel really bad for a philandering liar. But reading her essay, how can you not? She admits she only had sex with him to get him to marry her, and then immediately cut him off as soon as she could, and then was surprised—surprised!—when he fell for another woman. The way she's comforted herself, however, is really strange. She claims that her attitude towards sex—that it's a tool used to trap men and not desireable in and of itself—is typical of women. Because her friends are also anti-sex and believe that it's their husbands' duty to hang it up when they do.
The truth is: we don’t really enjoy sex that much. And we definitely don’t want sex as often as men do. That is a cold, hard fact. And women most definitely, incontrovertibly, do not want sex once they have children — or so my friends who have children confess to me. Particularly once their stomachs develop a texture akin to cold porridge.
The only reason we do have sex is to get a man, keep a man, steal his sperm and flatter ourselves that we are attractive.
Once we have a man, his children, his name on a piece of paper, his youth and his house, we no longer want to indulge in that ridiculous, time-consuming, horizontal dance.
The decades of feminism, the millions of dishonest features in magazines like Cosmopolitan, have misled us. We are not equal to men when it comes to libido. We grow up. We have other priorities. Sex slips onto a backburner, sliding to the bottom of an almost endless list of things to do that day.
I'm not going to debunk this or get into a snit over how Jones is using all of womankind to cover up for her inadequacies. (Not being asexual, but demanding that someone else turn of his entire sexual self for her after luring him in with false premises.) Jill at Feministe and Sadie at Jezebel have already done this. What I don't get is why this sort of bullshit gets published in the first place. It's not just Jones; Jill also caught the NY Times running with a "women hate sex" story. Clearly, these stories exist only as traffic bait. But that means that there are whole lot of people who want to hear this lie. Merely getting outraged links alone does not good traffic bait make. Ideal traffic bait is saying some thing that assholes really want to believe and validating them, so you get the asshole traffic and the outraged traffic. So who are the people that want to hear this? Considering that the Daily Mail published Jones' ridiculous nonsense, we have a clue as to who—sexist dudes. Half of their content is viciously sexist claptrap that the misogynist dudes who run the Daily Mail want to hear, as well as the misogynist dudes yelling, "Right on!" along with it. But I don't completely get it.
I get the appeal of most sexist lies. There are a lot of men out there who will sacrifice many good things in life in exchange for getting a leg up on women, and there's many women who will sell out other women by telling these lies in order to get rewarded by said men. Keeping women out of power is why lies are told about income equality and reproductive rights, and while men do better in a pragmatic sense when women are equal (more in the household, better and more frequent sex), what they lose in return is direct power over women in their lives. Many men would rather have less material wealth and less sex if that means that they can keep a woman dependent, and that's the audience for those lies.
But what's the point of believing women don't like sex? I would think it would increase men's power to believe that women desire them. Even Nice Guys® don't really want to believe women are asexual, preferring instead to believe women just have "wrong" sexualities that make them want other dudes. I don't really see what men get in exchange for having to believe that every woman they touch hates every second of it and is simply suffering through it to get access to something else. I guess as I reason it out, it makes a little more sense. Maybe believing that sex is a good purchased from women and not an exchange is comforting, and makes men who need to believe this feel in control. I suppose if women are allowed to have a "yes", then when they say "no", it means something real. It doesn't just mean, "Counter with a better financial offer." It actually means no. In order to have the chance to feel wanted, you also have to run the risk of rejection. Not that I'm feeling sorry for any dude who makes this calculation. The whole thing is just another example of how certain kinds of privilege can make the people who hold it really rotten because they never have to try. See: R.S. McCain, who apparently still gets invited to parties even though he brags about harassing the other guests.
Anyway, I think this whole situation shines more light on Figleaf's famous two rules of desire in a patriarchal system:
- It is simultaneously inconceivable and intolerable for a woman to have sexual desire.
- It is simultaneously inconceivable and intolerable for a man to be sexually desired.
His theory is—and I agree—that the reason this has cropped up is because being desired is cast as "feminine" in our culture, and men are taught to run from anything feminine. But being desired is such a fundamental human feeling that I've often wondered how you really trick men into it. (And you really don't with many men, who are going to keep grooming and wearing clothes that look good no matter how often you fling homophobic slurs at them for doing so.) And I think it may be this. If women are free from desire, straight men are free to see women as consumable goods for purchase. What name you call them—wife, prostitute—depends mainly on the price. Such a system means you're never really rejected. That peanut butter at the store doesn't look at you and say, "Nah." You either can afford it or you can't. Reducing women to that is comforting, I suppose.
But it's also emotionally anemic, as Liz Jones found out. Hearts do long for love, and even people who are determined to be strictly mercenary in their sexual relationships often get bitten. I think that's what happened to Mark Sanford, too. He made a solid, patriachal marriage that was more a business arrangement than a love affair. His church buddies approved, since this is the patriarchal system. His arrangement was fruitful, both in terms of offspring and in his career. And then he felt real desire and everything went to hell.
Some days I wonder why sex threatens authoritarians so much. Often I threw my hands in the air during the Planned Parenthood debacle and said, "Seriously, what's it to you?" And other days, like today, I see fairly clearly how liberated sexual desire—the right not just to pleasure but to real desire and god forbid even love—really can be such a threat.