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April 21, 2007

Pandora's Box

The words, read several months ago but never forgotten, lie unquietly in the back of my mind. Though I never wrote about them, they refuse to go away:

Some of my best friends are women--heck, I am a woman--but I've come to the conclusion that we've seen too much of the fairer sex. For me, the final straw came last month when Britney Spears jauntily revealed her waxed nether-regions to waiting photographers as she exited her limo. Britney's stunt made her the Internet smash of the season. But in providing America's workers with this cubicle distraction, Britney was doing a lot more than making her own privates public.

In fact, Britney was following to its logical end what has become the first rule of contemporary American girlhood: to show that you are liberated, take it off. Liberty means responsibility . . . to disrobe. Paris Hilton, Britney's BFF (Best Friend Forever), taped her sexual escapades with an ex-boyfriend, though even she was tactful enough to pretend that she hadn't meant for the video to go public. Courtney Love, Lindsay Lohan and Tara Reid have also staged their own wardrobe malfunctions. But flashing is hardly limited to celebrities. The girls-next-door who migrate to Florida during spring break happily lift their blouses and snap their thongs for the producers of "Girls Gone Wild," who sell their DVDs to an eager public.

Nor is it just young female flashers who are driven to expose themselves to the masses. Older women, whether because of lingering traces of reticence or doubts about the camera-readiness of their intimate anatomy, use the written word to bare all. There are legions of women bloggers who write about last night's bed tricks, their underwear preferences and their menstrual cycles (yes, Virginia, there is a tamponblog.com). More sophisticated exhibitionists turn to tasteful erotic memoirs. In "A Round Heeled Woman," Jane Juksa gives us a detailed description of her varied sexual adventures after, at age 66, she advertised for sex in the personals of the New York Review of Books. In "Surrender," the ex-Balanchine dancer Toni Bentley tells of the spiritual transcendence she experienced during the 298 times she had anal sex with a former lover--making this the first transcendent sex ever to involve a calculator.

Now, this is the point at which the enlightened always begin grumbling: What's wrong with women showing that they are "sexual beings"? In this vein, the show-or-tell-all is an act of bravery, demonstrating a woman's determination to throw off society's taboos against full expression of her sexuality.

...But this Puritans-are-coming! stance, validating, as it does, someone as cracked as Paris Hilton, finally implodes. The problem with a Britney or a Bentley is not that they are floozies. It is rather that they are, paradoxical as it might seem, naive. They underestimate the magnetic force field created by intimate sexual information and violate the logic of privacy that should be all the more compelling in a media-driven age. People in the public eye always risk becoming objectified; they are watched by hordes of strangers who have only fragmentary information about them. When that information includes details that only their Brazilian waxers should know for sure, it's inevitable that, humans being the perverse creatures that they are, all other facts of identity will fall away. Instead of becoming freer, the exhibitionist becomes an object defined primarily by a narrow sexual datum.

It is perhaps the crowning irony of my short life that, though I heartily share Ms. Hymowitz's distaste for Britney's Brazilian moment, I can't help but wonder why it is we women love to go picnicking on each other? Is this really the best argument we as conservatives can make against such displays; that the acts of today's new age sexual Fem-Warriors should be judged by the reactions of the madding crowd, that where they erred was in making themselves 'too available'?

Would not a better argument be that these women have, perhaps, betrayed their own values? Or even just values worth upholding?

Oddly enough, the fact that Ms. Spears soon depilitated another part of her anatomy in a gesture oddly reminiscent of the ritual humiliation meted out to whores suggests she may not have been too proud of her own actions. Why, then, do Ms. Hymowitz's words continue to fill me with such disquiet? My mind drifts back to a balmy evening under the stars. It seems almost a lifetime ago.

I am lying on my back in the cool grass on the campus green in Hanover, NH, staring at the night sky. Beside me is a young man from my karate class. The day before he broke a tiny bone in my foot as we sparred in the gym. Since then, I've been hobbling around gamely on crutches which I'll soon throw away in irritation. He's been hovering over me contritely (after initially telling me the whole incident was 'my fault', a remark which set off a characteristic bout of eye-rolling on my part and which, I suspect, also caused the mildly annoying behavior of the last two days).

We are talking about the future, about having children. I say I want sons. This is not surprising for I like men very much. Most of my friends are male.

He wants daughters.

This does surprise me, for he freely admits he neither likes nor trusts women (present company excluded, he magnanimously allows). He thinks women are manipulative, meaner than men, and spoiled rotten. So... I ask, not really wanting to hear the answer: why does he want a little girl?

So he can spoil her.

I stare at the sky quietly, feeling intensely sorry for his future wife. And they say women are illogical? Finally, I ask him, "So, how do you think these girls you dislike so much get that way?" He cheerfully admits men like him cause the problem when they raise spoiled, self-centered daughters. But let someone else worry about that. He had to put up with it, now he is going to get "his".

I left college not long after that, stunned by the collision between my somewhat rose colored view of the world and harsh reality. Then, too, I realized I simply was not ready to buckle down and work hard at my studies. I lacked direction, and the temptations of 24/7 Animal House hedonism were not something I cared to abandon myself to. Even at eighteen, if I was going to destroy myself I needed a better reason than a wild streak and way too much time on my hands.

A short three years later I was a young wife, married with a small son while my friends were still in college. The Virginia belle who used to go out partying every night of the week now stayed up late every night working on various projects.

She sometimes didn't see a beer for ages. She didn't even talk to other men, or look at them, or frankly, even miss all that male attention most of the time. She was just too busy making a home for her family, taking care of her children, welcoming her husband back home when he got back late at night after months away, smelling of sweat and dirt and the unfamiliar world of men and big guns. Life was good. Anyway, she was busy.

Every now and then the Spring winds would blow and she would feel restless for a moment, remembering those heady girlish days, some crazy midnight escapade. But in those days life moved at a slower pace. The outside world didn't press in so insistently from every conceivable angle: the 24/7 news cycle, the Internet, cable TV, movies on demand. The world was immediate, limited to what was around you: your family. Your neighbors, friends, perhaps a trip to the mall on Sunday or a leisurely drive down to the city to see what the Other Half were up to, what you might aspire to if you worked hard enough and were patient and diligent.

In such a world, the actions of one person had a limited effect on others because communication was slower, more limited, less instant. Now Britney Spears bares her privates and half the world instantly has access to live Britney-cam. Do we really need to see this? To discuss it? To blame Britney for giving us what we so desperately want?

Because that is what bothers me so much about Kay Hymowitz's essay.

Like my friend under the stars that night, for months I have listened to conservatives berate women young and old for exercising their newfound sexual freedoms, for doing what good old mother nature programmed them to do: seduce men who like to look at pretty, half-clothed women. I listen to them hypothesize that young women who play the field (as young men have done for centuries) are, by definition, "low in self esteem". No one ever seems to worry about the self esteem of the young men they sleep with - multiple conquests being an esteem-enhancing thing for men, you see. I hear them weep and wail over the shameless dress of today's women, yet don't you dare suggest that advertising, or cable TV pornography, or any of the myriad cultural influences one might logically expect (and show marked correlation over time with the rise of such behaviors) have anything to do with such phenomena. Apparently young women dream these things up on their own from some natural desire (heretofore undiscovered) to impress other women, who for some odd reason must be titillated by fake DD breasts and skimpy clothing. The same people who shake their heads at Britney will scream like banshees at the mere suggestion that perhaps - just perhaps - their disapprobation might be equally well trained on the hordes of men who flocked like lemmings to leer at her.

Why on earth do they think she did what she did? This is, after all, a two-sided coin. Why I wonder, is the age-old answer, whether you are a conservative American from the National Review or a Muslim scholar from Islamabad to tell women we have "seen enough" of them? Does it never occur to these people that if flashing her privates were truly considered a shameful act, she would not have done it; that if she'd garned no attention for exposing herself, there would have been no reason to go there? That society sees nothing really wrong with what she did, though we don't want our family, our daughters to do it. But the same man who would punch you right in the mouth for looking sideways at his daughter doesn't think twice about looking up Britney's beaver shot. Offensive, isn't it?

The truth is, Britney gave America what we wanted to see and in classic American style, we despise her - and ourselves - for it. Like my friend on the green that night, we don't really respect women who give too freely of themselves, but we reward them anyway because they give us exactly what we want to see. And the really despicable thing is this: we tell ourselves that men are just being men. That they're programmed by nature to enjoy looking at women. And this is true.

But there is a darker truth we don't really want to face. We women are programmed by nature too: the Madonna-whore complex wasn't made up from whole cloth. Except it's not really an either-or proposition.

Not long ago I found myself again fighting back tears of fury after reading the comments over at Ace of Spades. I can't remember the post. I liked what Ace wrote, but then I often find him to be unusually, incisively, even bitterly thoughtful. Some of his commenters, however, made me want to scream. They are what reminded me so sharply of that young man thirty years ago on that balmy evening.

Sometimes I read remarks from married men to the effect that women stop liking or wanting sex as soon as they are married. I invariably wonder what planet they are from? To me, the glorious freedom to enjoy - nay, wallow, even - in that aspect of life in an atmosphere of trust has been the most wonderful thing about marriage. I often think such men don't really like women much, don't want to know them as people. A women doesn't want to give herself to a man unless she trusts him. I don't think most men appreciate how much, even though we may feel perfectly independent and capable in our own right, we want and need someone strong and masculine to shelter and protect us? Someone who, in turn, we would die for. Someone to "belong" to. I think this need is deeply ingrained in both sexes, albeit in very different ways, and all the modern thinking in the world can't train it out of us.

If try to ignore these needs and remove the cultural traditions developed over centuries of human experience to fulfill them, our bodies propel us in the same age old directions but this time with no purpose. Is it any wonder we end up feeling empty and betrayed?

Proof that the sex lives of college women remain an object of intense cultural fascination can be found in a book like Laura Sessions Stepp's Unhooked which documents the semi-anonymous "hooking up" that is now the norm. Stepp's intention was to study this phenomenon open-mindedly, "hoping to understand rather than intending to censure." But journalistic objectivity was soon replaced by alarm and even horror. She found girls who were "exhausted physically, emotionally and spiritually" by the practice. The girls' behavior is starkly contemporary, but the adult's characterization of it -- and of the specific ways that sexuality can deplete a woman -- could have been lifted from a 19th-century tract. In placing the blame for these developments on three forces ("the ethic of female empowerment; parental expectations for academic and professional achievement; and reluctance on the part of authorities on campus to intervene in students' social lives"), Stepp occupies the squishy middle ground where many progressive women unhappily find themselves: Yes, yes, yes to female freedom and empowerment, but Jesus Christ, why are these girls giving blow jobs to guys they hardly know?

She pulls herself together long enough to conclude the book with a "Dear Daughters" letter. It's the kind of "sex is a beautiful thing, when it's between two loving people" lecture that has been making young girls want to jump out of the nearest window from sheer embarrassment since the early 1970s. (My lecture arrived, in my mother's Palmer Method handwriting, on my bedside table midway through 12th grade, and the extent to which it mortified me -- my mother was a nurse and knew how to draw a fairly precise medical illustration -- cannot be overstated.)

I'm sure that lectures from Mom on how to have super great sex don't always fall on deaf ears. But Mom's voice becomes a distant whisper once a young woman arrives at college, where she will no longer be regarded as a cosseted girl-child in need of protection and limit setting. It is impossible to imagine nonreligious colleges involving themselves in the kind of sexual decision making that concerns Stepp, because to be an undergraduate today is to be treated as a fully independent adult, as even a cursory glance at the admissions materials of most schools demonstrates. (I would never have attended a college that monitored my sleeping arrangements; like most of my friends in the women's dorm, I often spent the night at a boyfriend's apartment.) Obviously, the young women Stepp describes in her book were almost all nice girls raised by nice parents in nice neighborhoods. But just as obviously, they changed in some ugly ways when left on their own. Given the coarsening of the culture, the intense peer pressure and corresponding desire to fit in that have always marked college life, and the way very young women are defined today as at once independent and exploitable, the bitter pill for many parents sending their daughters to college is that there is no possible way to protect them from what they will encounter once they have been dropped off at the freshman dorm.

That last line, the part about protecting girls, is what rankles. Why protect girls, and not boys? Do they have no needs worth protecting? And why should women need protecting from our own sexual desires? There is something a bit dishonest is this prescription, this black-and-white view of men and women. Despite my lifelong distrust of feminism, there has always been more than a grain of truth in the feminist message. It's just that like many movements, feminists only tell us half the truth

Yes, society has always tried to repress and control women. But society has always tried to channel the natural desires of men, too. As I commented long ago, society rightly fears unbridled masculinity; thumos or male aggression and adventurism. So, too, we instinctively fear and seek to limit the unrestricted hedonism and sensuality that lie in the hearts of women. We do this by cherishing and reinforcing the ideal of female purity with morality laws, church, with corsets and layers of restrictive undergarments, purity rituals, debutante balls and symbols of chastity, white wedding dresses, quinceaneros parties. When a woman marries, we bury her in yards of white organza and baby clothes and mounds of household appliances. And so we lull entire parts of her being to sleep, and then we wonder why she doesn't feel like doing the Dance of the Seven Veils after running the kids to soccer practice and cooking a three course dinner? The final insult comes when we accuse our wives of being joyless scolds who don't like sex, when inside each of them is that same young girl, dying to get out, who slipped into the back seat of that Chevrolet on a summer night years ago and made your heart explode inside your chest. She never went away.

You just stopped calling her name.

We can't protect our girls against their natural desires any more than we can protect our boys and it is insulting to them to try. We would do better to recognize that they are driven by ancient forces no less powerful than those which drive our sons. A better response is to teach both our sons and our daughters to couple their desires to moral ends; that sex is fun, but it is even richer and better when there is love and trust and commitment between two people. That like anything else in life, you get out of your sex life what you put into it - perhaps if you're bored, you're not working hard enough. That if you cherish her, she will do anything for you. That it is wrong to bring an innocent child into the world without two loving, committed parents. That sex and feelings cannot always be divorced from each other, even for young men.

We would do better to teach our young that we open Pandora' box when we think we can do whatever we please with no rules. There have always been rules and there have always been consequences. Adults know this. And adults know that the rules apply to both sides and not just to women.

Looking at the clash between Islam and the free West, it is not hard to see why the jihadists fear unrestrained democracy. We are rapidly dismantling age old human institutions with nothing to replace them. They rightly wonder what will become of society when the stabilizing forces of marriage, of religion, of public morality, of respect for law and civil authority are gone and there is nothing to restrain our darker natures?

Posted by Cassandra at April 21, 2007 02:06 PM

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In Christian thought, some believe that God took part of Adam's being, (soul, psych, etc.), along with a rib, when He made Eve. In the process, He created two partial beings that can only be whole when joined together. The older I get, and the further away I get from my wild oat days, the more that I see the truth in one man, one woman. There is a whole psychological and spiritual aspect to joining together that goes way beyond the physical. The hard part is to get a 18 or 25 year old to understand what is so clear to a 45 year old.

Posted by: Russ at April 21, 2007 04:39 PM

There was another article which I think inspired me to write this, but it also disturbed me greatly. Perhaps I will still write about it.

I, too, tend to see things that way. I look at my own life and see a fork; this is something my husband and I have spoken of many times. You see a time when you could have gone one way, but chose another. The person I am today is, in more ways than I can possibly count, wrapped up intertwinably with having known my husband, because for ... gosh, 30 years now he has been my closest friend. Sure, I am a person in my own right, but we have each shaped the other and I think we are both better people for the experience.

Which only makes the article I read the other day that much sadder to me.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 21, 2007 05:26 PM

You just stopped calling her name.

What is her name?

I can tell you what male sexuality is, and what its drives are. I don't understand what you think female sexuality is; the picture you paint is not familiar to me. I don't recognize the colors or the lines.

I have a wife, and love her. I love and trust many women, and like them also. I don't believe any of them, even my wife, ever tried to seduce me. Not one woman ever has, as far as I know.

Perhaps I'm not the sort of man one seduces. Perhaps they know, accurately enough, that there either is or is not a chance for sexuality -- and if there is, any hint of willingness on their part is exactly equal to surrender. I am the sort of man who will tell you the moment he decides that he loves you, and who will then take you if you don't say no.

Still, I do not recognize this. I have seen many women who offered themselves to others, attempted to seduce them -- and they were weak, hurting, and hurt by it. No good came from it to any of them, except through marriage and good fortune. It was no natural drive that they engaged in vitally, and enjoyed. It was a source of pain to them, to all of them.

I think the instinct to protect girls and not boys is because boys are at little emotional risk here; they are hardwired to shrug off easy sex, as stallions move from mare to mare with expectation rather than attachment. It is the women who hurt.

Not that I have never hurt for love of a woman; I have, and terribly. But there was no sex, you understand, just longing. If there had been sex, I suspect, it would have been far easier for me -- and far harder for her -- to walk away. That would not have been fair. A woman of her quality ought to be loved; and since not everyone can be with her, she ought to be the source of pain. That is a very natural sort of justice. It was her due.

Justice, I once told you, was first and foremost about killing men -- about men killing parts of themselves, and about killing outright those men who would not.

You say you want an even share in that, for yourself and for women. I don't think you should have one. The male and female brains are different; there can be no equal justice. Brain scans show that men can shut off the right side of the brain almost entirely, and process on the unemotional left-side. Women process on both sides equally at all times.

If there is to be pain, leave it to us. I do not wish to see women kill parts of themselves. Perhaps, especially, this secret part you speak of, this inner girl whose name I never knew. Whatever her name is, she sounds like someone who ought to be protected, defended, beloved.

Posted by: Grim at April 21, 2007 06:13 PM

I don't think you understood what I was trying to say at all.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 21, 2007 06:20 PM

Indeed, that was what I was trying to tell you. The painting metaphor was not by accident. I don't understand the lines or the colors; it's as if you were painting a kind of world I have never seen.

But understand that I'm trying to understand you. I just don't know where to begin.

Posted by: Grim at April 21, 2007 06:32 PM

"The final insult comes when we accuse our wives of being joyless scolds who don't like sex, when inside each of them is that same young girl, dying to get out, who slipped into the back seat of that Chevrolet on a summer night years ago and made your heart explode inside your chest. She never went away.

You just stopped calling her name."

Oh, Cassandra.
I wish my almost-exhusband could have understood this. Instead, he was angry with me for not being "Britney". If he'd only understood.

Posted by: laurie at April 21, 2007 06:35 PM

Wow. Amazing essay. I can't say whether I completely agree or not because I don't think I entirely understand it. But it gives me much to think about and it resonates in places.

Posted by: FbL at April 21, 2007 07:07 PM

To me, the glorious freedom to enjoy - nay, wallow, even - in that aspect of life in an atmosphere of trust has been the most wonderful thing about marriage. I often think such men don't really like women much, don't want to know them as people...

Beautiful and brilliant, Cassandra. I've never been married, but somehow (perhaps from parental example) I have always believed that.

Posted by: FbL at April 21, 2007 07:10 PM

Laurie,

I don't think you are alone. Sometimes I think there is an unbridgeable gap between men and women. I read once that if we ever really understood each other we'd be miserable. But I don't think that's true at all. Though there are things about men that disturb me profoundly, on balance the more I understand about them, the more comforted I am, even when I don't like what I learn.

We have such a capacity to make each other happy. And such an ability to make each other utterly miserable, too.

I think every time I write one of these I irritate/alienate most of my male readers and my female readers come out of the woodwork. I can't write about politics all the time, and I suppose I can't be anything but what I am.

Annoying.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 21, 2007 07:16 PM

It's one reason I try so hard to talk to Cass about these posts, FbL, though they're always hard even to discuss. Still, the truth is that I both love and like women. I do want to understand. She says things, and I know she believes them; but I can't understand why. And so, we continue.

I am sorry for her frustration with me, though. It is a horrible task, trying to communicate across this divide. I wonder, sometimes, if men and women can understand each other at all -- however much they may love, whether they can ever understand.

Posted by: Grim at April 21, 2007 07:17 PM

You're mighty deep Lady. That's good.

Posted by: Luton at April 21, 2007 07:21 PM

Grim, if men were just logical and rational like women are, you wouldn't have this problem :p

*running away*

Posted by: Cassandra at April 21, 2007 07:22 PM

That's true. If I were only that rational, I'd never notice the contradiction to be bothered by it. :)

Posted by: Grim at April 21, 2007 07:35 PM

Grim, I listen to you and your manly talk of hot wiring painted elephants, and I get very confused too....

At any rate, I don't recognize this:

It was no natural drive that they engaged in vitally, and enjoyed. It was a source of pain to them, to all of them.

What the....???? First of all, I'm not sure we're talking about the same thing when we speak of seduction.

But if I understand what you are saying here, that is the worst stereotyping of women around: that we somehow only engage in sex to make men happy but don't really like (or need) it naturally? Come on. The human race would have died out ages ago if that were true.

What tends to be painful to women is to be used. Sex without intimacy is painful to us. But that can happen even within the context of a marriage, even when there is commitment.

You can watch baby girls and they seduce artlessly: it's in their genes. They practice before they are out of diapers. A woman's seduction is more subtle than a man's but it is no less determined. It is just that for the most part we'd prefer the whole enchilada. We generally aren't interested in men sexually unless there is some emotional attachment too. It doesn't always have to be permanent. Generally, I say, because not all women are alike, just as not all men are peas in a pod.

But I am not saying women should be like men. Just the opposite. I am saying I think both women and men are generally happier when they are encouraged to behave in more moral ways, that we need a better reason for doing things than our own selfish desires.

There are reasons society evolved in the way it has over the years. It is no accident. Suddenly we wish to dismantle everything because we think we have grown beyond institutions which are thousands of years old, yet we still continue to behave in very predictable ways. Young men, if they aren't given something they can protect and defend, tend to feel rootless and become destructive. Despite your 'hardwiring' talk, young men are more than walking glands. They also have brains and hearts and they need something greater than themselves to aspire to, to work for.

Young women, if their sexuality isn't tied to something productive, tear themselves apart in empty hedonism that leaves them unfulfilled because what they really desire is intimacy, not just sex.

When we join together, we build something greater than either of us can create on our own. So I am not a great fan of going about scolding women for their supposed misdeeds while letting men get off scot free. Society - and men - both suffer.

And I'm sorry, I also think we're selling men a bit short, even if they're too dumb to see it until they hit their mid twenties.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 21, 2007 09:21 PM

I very much want to connect with that one man, and share all that can be shared. I don't know if I ever will. As each year passes, and I still have no prospects for finding that one man, I wonder if it is, in part, because I cannot be like the young women described in that article. I've had opportunities in the past to give myself to a man, but I know enough about myself that I cannot be casual about sex. If I were ten to fifteen years younger, I would still be the me who cannot separate the physical from the emotional; luckily, I can know this without learning the lesson the hard way. Have I had my heart bruised in the past? Yes. But probably not nearly as bad as it could have been, had I given of myself that something I can only give once, only to see things end, when my emotional involvement would tell me it should last the rest of my life.

Posted by: Waiting for Mr. Right at April 21, 2007 09:24 PM

Messed up I am yet again. Just being a man I was hanging by a thread for your return hoping against hope that you would straighten out that 50 things list... now I've all this to reconcile!

That sweet girl I married will no doubt notice my confusion and heightened bewilderment. Drats and double drats.

And to think that I thought I understood my place amongst the fairer creatures.

Posted by: bthun at April 21, 2007 09:31 PM

I promise I'll do the 50 things :p

WFMR:

I know enough about myself that I cannot be casual about sex...

Then you know something priceless. We can only be who we are, and if someone is going to love us, he must love us for that and not for pretending to be something we are not :)

Posted by: Cassandra at April 21, 2007 09:41 PM

Just to be on the safe side, I think I'd better go grab a beer, head to the garage, and stick my head under the hood of my pickup while I try to digest this.
I wonder is there is a UFC match on Spike?

Posted by: bthun at April 21, 2007 09:43 PM

"But if I understand what you are saying here, that is the worst stereotyping of women around: that we somehow only engage in sex to make men happy but don't really like (or need) it naturally?"

No, I wasn't talking about sex in a holistic sense. I was talking about the kind of sex you were discussing here -- the extra-marital hooking up and whatnot. As I said, I've known some several women closely who tried it; I think it left them feeling used, which is your point.

And indeed, they were being used. The only question is whether they were "using" the man back, to enjoy themselves or to explore things that were curiousities to them. I'm sure they were, to some degree; I used to know a couple who bragged about their conquests in a way one normally associates with men.

Yet they remained very lonely; these drift-in and -out boyfriends were not fulfilling; and they often confided deep senses of fear for their futures.

This kind of casual sex can be a vital, enjoyable exercise for a man, with no emotional downfalls -- a man can do that for a while, then find the right girl and settle down, and have no regrets about it. I have known several who did exactly that.

They weren't the best kind of men -- men like your sons, who understood the value of women and treated them kindly. They were men who didn't kill the part of themselves that is willing to prey on others. They just outgrew it.

I haven't known any woman who were able to pass through an age of casual sex without emotional harm. The one I thought closest to that, I heard just last night (first time in ages I'd heard her name, but I got an old friend on the phone) had become a born-again Christian, moved away from the city and its hedonism, and started her life all over -- totally rejecting not just the casual sex culture, but everything even vaguely associated with it, all the things she used to love.

That, I think, is the root of the desire to protect daughters going off to college -- the sense that they will be hurt, in a way that a son won't be. It's not a question of treating people unfairly by treating boys and girls differently; it's a question of treating them fairly, in recognizing that they're different.

Posted by: Grim at April 21, 2007 09:47 PM

“We would do better to teach our young that we open Pandora' box when we think we can do whatever we please with no rules.”
Ephesians 5:28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself.

In Christian theology, the wife is called to respect and be subject to her husband. (for some reason, I am always afraid to sleep at night when this verse comes up.) This is possible because the husband is called to love his wife like Christ loved the church and was willing to die for it. I believe the concept of both man and woman treating their spouse as more important then themselves is one of the keys to a happy, long, union.

As to your comment “You just stopped calling her name.” I hear that in a lot of peoples writings, but do not hear the reverse very often, that the wife stops calling for her husband. As a 45 year old Christian that spent most of his 20’s trying to replicate Solomon’s pursuit of pleasure, I am learning that there is a lot to gain in the whole Ephesians 5 list of love, submission, and giving of one’s life.

Women have spent years seeking equality with men, and freedom from men. I believe that equality is a worthy goal, but I think that in women’s pursuit of freedom, most have become unmoored. They have bought into the lie that they are identical to men and as such, should be able to do anything that men do with the same results. As Grim says, we are wired completely different and will receive the results of our actions as different as night is from day.

I believe that the only answer to this dilemma is theological, but your results may very.

Posted by: Russ at April 21, 2007 10:04 PM

Cassandra~

That knowledge might be priceless, but it has not helped me to find that one who will take me as I am. I am closer now to 40 than to 30. When I was a girl, even when I was in high school (and not dating, mostly because I wasn't getting asked out much), I never imagined I would still be single and childless at this age. I've never been a femme fatale. I've known other women for whom turning on the feminine charm is like breathing - they don't even have to think about it. Any time I'd give it a try, I felt like I'm making a fool of myself. Some girls have it, others don't. I'm a don't, and I think I always will be. I just have to figure out how to catch the attention of a man who can see past that.

Posted by: Waiting for Mr. Right at April 21, 2007 10:06 PM

Grim said it much better than I did.

"It's not a question of treating people unfairly by treating boys and girls differently; it's a question of treating them fairly, in recognizing that they're different."

Posted by: Russ at April 21, 2007 10:08 PM

The most sacred secret as to why we fathers love our daughters so much is because we need them to need us. Otherwise, we're just a giant pain in their ass.

The most sacred secret as to why we husbands love our wives so much is because we them to need us. Otherwise, we're just a giant pain in their ass.

I guess I can live with that, just so long as it's kept quiet.

Posted by: spd rdr at April 21, 2007 10:34 PM

You know Grim, I read lines like this and I really have to wonder:

This kind of casual sex can be a vital, enjoyable exercise for a man, with no emotional downfalls -- a man can do that for a while, then find the right girl and settle down, and have no regrets about it.

It must be just wonderful, as you note, to go through life having no regrets about your 'vital, enjoyable exercise' that (as you say) is a soul-shattering thing for the women involved! And yet, this is a matter of treating women fairly by recognizing that men and women are different?

Now if it is simply a matter of teaching your daughters to value themselves, that is one thing, though as a mother I always hoped my sons would value themselves too, especially since if they got some young lady pregnant they'd be looking at an altar right quickly. But that is not what I am talking about.

The entire point of my post is that what is specifically NOT fair to women is when society views the holding of cultural lines as the burden of women, as though men have no responsibility for (as you yourself call it) "preying" on helpless women.

Now I am not quite so sure I would put it quite that strongly, except that if a man is going around impregnating women or infecting them with diseases or deceiving them in some manner then I have a problem with that. But it seems to me that if you don't want illegitimate children, you teach BOTH your sons and your daughters not to do certain things.

It's that simple.

This is not a question of individual fairness. It is a cultural imperative. We don't have one law, or one set of mores, for men and another for women, simply because men find premarital sex with lots of partners "vital and enjoyable". Or at least I should hope not.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 21, 2007 10:41 PM

Cassandra, I believe Grim is trying to say that it is not about fairness, it is about how we are hard-wired, though I disagree about "This kind of casual sex can be a vital, enjoyable exercise for a man, with no emotional downfalls." Even for men there is a price.

Posted by: Russ at April 21, 2007 10:51 PM

I agree that we are hard-wired differently. I have argued so myself. But hardwiring is not everything.

It is not even the most important thing. I have often heard it said that the brain is the most important sex organ. I think that is true, and it becomes more true the older one gets.

This is what I tried to teach my sons. By the way, I erased that part of my earlier comment b/c I didn't mean to post it.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 21, 2007 10:57 PM

Otherwise, we're just a giant pain in their ass.

Spoken like a man surrounded by women who adore him :p

Posted by: Cassandra at April 21, 2007 11:02 PM

It must be just wonderful, as you note, to go through life having no regrets about your 'vital, enjoyable exercise' that (as you say) is a soul-shattering thing for the women involved! And yet, this is a matter of treating women fairly by recognizing that men and women are different?

Let's separate "what the family should do" from "what society should do." They really aren't the same moral processes, because the family is concerned about a particular beloved individual; and society is trying to make broad-scale decisions about how to allocate its ability to affect large numbers of different types of people.

Families:

If you've got a daughter who's going to college, you're right to worry about her and to take pains to make sure she understands how vulnerable she is.

If you've got a son who's going to college, you should indeed make sure he's been raised to treat women with respect. He himself, however, may simply not be vulnerable.

In effect, there are two different sets of arguments needed. Young women need to be warned about the ways in which these things can hurt them. Young men need to be warned about the ways in which these things can hurt young women.

A family can, perhaps, do that. Some try and fail; others don't try, and end up producing good kids anyway. But it is right to say they should try.

Society:

Will that work for society at large? It's always harder to concern young people -- many of whom have yet to learn to think outside of themselves -- with the possibility that they could hurt someone else. Especially someone they didn't really care about anyway.

They should care, of course; but there are lots of children from broken homes, lots from dysfunctional homes, lots from immigrant cultures that don't value women, some who are just bad people in their bones, and so forth and so on. Society's ability to influence them to be better people is, I think we can agree, extremely limited.

One can probably direct an effective campaign at making young women aware of, and concerned about, a particular danger to themselves. As a practical matter, writing books about it, giving lectures, including the information in classes, etc., can do some good.

Telling young men, "Be sure not to hurt young women's feelings through casual sex" is unlikely to have any effect at all. You can (I have found) affect some of them by saying, "If you hurt her I will kill you." But that, really, is about refocusing them on a danger to themselves.

So: if the goal is to reduce the harm to women, I can't see how we can possibly do with anything less than two separate standards. Women need to be warned about the harm to themselves. Men need to be taught to do right by others.

Those are very different ethical propositions. If we want to affect them as a society, though, well... laws and mores are two of our tools. And, frankly, we'll need laws and mores for women that will teach them to protect themselves; but we'll need a wholly different set of laws and mores for men, to teach them to put aside thought for themselves and instead protect others.

Posted by: Grim at April 21, 2007 11:04 PM

I think that I am going to go join BTHUN under the hood of his pickup with another beer.

I am beginning to feel like Sisyphus with his rock.

Cassandra and Grim, thank you both for making me think so hard on a Saturday night.

Posted by: Russ at April 21, 2007 11:30 PM

Well, it is even more unfair that I had to face this conversation with no alcohol at all :p

I am very tired gentlemen, and my head is starting up so I think I am going to hit the rack.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 21, 2007 11:34 PM

"If you've got a daughter who's going to college, you're right to worry about her and to take pains to make sure she understands how vulnerable she is.

"If you've got a son who's going to college, you should indeed make sure he's been raised to treat women with respect. He himself, however, may simply not be vulnerable."

If the parent has waited until the child is going off to college to broach these subjects, the parent has waited too long. The lessons need to start before the kids hit puberty, and need to be consistently presented throughout adolescence, in order that the neural pathways that support responsible thinking are well enough established that the kid can respond and react wisely to the problem situation before it gets to the point of no return.

And as for boys being vulnerable or not, the hard wiring for 'vital, enjoyable exercise' makes the boys "vulnerable" to the situation that presents the opportunity for sex along with other potential dangers (not just STDs), such as emotional needs on the part of the girl that the boys can't or shouldn't be expected to fill. Some girls are so needy emotionally that they are willing to give the boy sex because they crave the feeling of emotional intimacy and closeness that comes with it. If the boy isn't prepared to recognize that some girls have emotional needs that may lead them to freely have sex in an attempt to satisfy some emotional need, he won't be able to distinguish between healthy, mature affection that can lead to physical intimacy, and sexual opportunity that is fraught with emotional risks for both people. Respect for the girl has to include respect for the possibility that the girl may sexually available because she subconsciously is seeking love she didn't receive from her father.

Leaving aside that boys like sex (duh), they too can be emotionally hurt or pressured to follow through with marrying a girl who really isn't right for them because they are so involved with a girl for the wrong reasons (sex) rather than for the right reasons (compatibility in goals, values, background, etc.).

Respect for others, and for oneself, has to be pretty firmly embedded in the psyche in order to be there for strength when the temptations present themselves.

Posted by: Mark In Irvine at April 22, 2007 03:38 AM

Heh. I do so envy you the comment streams, even if time doesn't allow me to read to the end.

Unlike Grim, I understand, at least I believe I do as much as a male can in this situation.

And the description of the perils of the modern college woman are echoed somewhere else, with perhaps even greater pressures and some pernicious aspects of abuse of power.

Gender-integrated military units. I commanded one such - and one of the things I did to the female soldiers who reported to my battery as their first unit in the Army -

"It doesn't matter what your social life was like before you got here - whether you were popular or a wall-flower, once you enter those barracks, you will be Homecoming Queen."

Except it won't really be about you, as a person. It will be about you as new meat to many of the men walking those halls. I'm not telling you how to act, I'm just telling you that if you haven't had to deal with being the subject of an intense sexual interest - you're going to be dealing with it now. Feel free to come to me or the 1SG about these things - but SSG Sigman (my female medic, and a darn good one *and* a good empathic leader) is also available, and she may be more comfortable to approach on the subject, that I understand."

Or words to that effect. Many made it, some were devastated by it, and I put one male SSG in jail for many years, too. I'm not suggesting separating genders, really. I guess what I am saying is that those female soldiers who held on to their sense of self and didn't define themselves by their status with the men, had happier, healthier lives, and were able, if they wished, to find good men. But a barracks can be a *really* tough environment.

Posted by: John of Argghhh!!! at April 22, 2007 10:23 AM

John, I could not agree with you more.

I went to a college where there were 3 1/2 guys for every girl. And a good part of the reason I left was disillusionment with the atmosphere. I was able to stay clear of trouble because I had a boyfriend and because guys treated me with respect and consideration, but I was very shaken by a lot of what I saw. I think if I hadn't had such a strong sense of who I was, it would have hurt me far more than it did - as it was, it really hurt me very deeply. I think that is a big part of what drove me to want to start a family and make my own world the way I wanted it to be. I just totally rejected the values I saw at school - they were so twisted and ugly.

But I think I needed to be shaken up - I was overconfident. But I didn't expect others to "protect" me - I knew it was my job to protect myself and not place myself in vulnerable positions, and if I could not handle a situation I needed to remove myself. I also learned, however, that there were some very obnoxious men at my school who were never raised to behave themselves and I vowed I would never unleash young men like that on the world. I did not. I think I raised moral young men of whom I am extremely proud - they are not wimps but they can be relied upon to do the right thing.

I agree with Grim that men and women are different. But I also disagree with him on some things. For instance, though I agree that there is a difference between how families prepare their children and what we can expect from society, there is also a relationship between the general climate in society and how well that supports how families raise their children, or even when families fail to do a good job of raising their children, whether kids get the right message from society at large or not?

And now, the answer is, they're not getting the right message at all. But the default answer seems to be that society has no 'right' to expect any kind of virtue from its citizens. And I think that is not a good direction to go in. I certainly don't want to impose religion or Sharia law -- that is dumb. Heck - I don't even go to church.

But I did not grow up in a climate where that was the case, yet when I was growing up, if children were acting up, other adults felt comfortable correcting them even if they were not their parents. Nowadays that is rarely the case.

Society has changed radically, and not, I think, for the better. The argument is being made that the rights of the individual to unfettered freedom (or more accurately, license) should prevail over the rights of other citizens not to be damaged by their actions, and I'm sorry but I don't agree with that. I think the balance has begun to tip too far in the other direction and it's time to tap it gently back towards the center.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 22, 2007 10:53 AM

I thought it might be safe to come in from the garage but I see that it's not so I'm going back to the pickup with my stay outta jail voucher.

All I will say is that I think I now understand what Milady is saying after yet another review, but being my age I can also attest to the general behavior Grim describes in males. Hard wired(with which I happen to agree based on nothing more than 5+ decades of observation, and if I’m not mistaken science has proved to almost all’s satisfaction) or not, males are and have been conditioned throughout history to behave as a stud in the pasture. At least when we are young, running in packs with little or no thought about what our stupid old dad’s tried to teach us. That time before our brains fully develop, at around what on average these days? 30?

If I had sons, I am certain that I would have been as hard on them as I have been on my daughters (and their male suitors). Moral, ethical behavior and such. Doing what you know to be right even when it feels wrong, etc.



Before I go I must throw in a harrump in the affirmative for what spd_rdr said.

EEEE-gads! Back to the garage with me!

Posted by: bthun at April 22, 2007 11:14 AM

Men and women, we see life through a different lens.

And as for what mr rdr said, I never argue with redheaded Irishmen. That way madness lies.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 22, 2007 11:51 AM

Bthun and Cassandra,

Regarding "hard-wiring..."

I'll go with the gentlemen on this. But just because something is "natural" doesn't make it an effective and healthy way to interact, as bthun suggests when he mentions what fathers try to teach and finally growing up (and as Cassandra says).

I can't help but think of what a male friend, whose ethics and values I deeply admire, told me once. After a great deal of time spent being very self-centered and irresponsible, he apparently came to his senses in his thirties. His said that he finally realized those rules and standards/values had existed and endured for a reason, that life worked better when one followed them.

It's a terribly sexist idea, but I keep coming back to the idea that women in some senses civilize men. Either we allow them to follow their impulses with us, or we hold them to a higher standard; we become their inspiration to maturity. I'm not comfortable with that idea, but there is a kernel of truth there--so many cases of men realizing that if they are going to "get the girl" they are going to have to act worthy of her. That happens going the other direction, too (boy inspires girl to improvement), but not as commonly.

I also stumbled across a blog of a 30-something playboy recently and started at the beginning. He at first writes about how he's going to do the "clubbing thing" now that he is recently-divorced. He was very successful at it, but somewhat surprised to find out how absolutely empty he felt doing it and soon decided he wasn't going to do that anymore. He's still openly juggling "relationships," but he's no longer content with just a random sexual hook-up. Frankly, I think he still senses he's missing something, but the depth and variety of the relationships he now has are enough to sustain him for the moment. I scanned much of his blog and it's amazing to see the internal thoughts of someone like that from an uninvolved distance.

My point (that I'm taking too many words to make) is that I think both "camps" are right here--it is easier for mean to do the hook-up thing without initial emotional pain. But it does eventually catch up with them, especially if it becomes serial.

Posted by: FbL at April 22, 2007 11:54 AM

Oh the years have slipped away and so has our sanity.The days when you opened doors for a women and said yes mam and she said no,and she did mean no!When a bathing suit actualy covered cheeks to clevage.When a date was home by 9 and feeling a girl up was thru the clothes.A good date was chocking each with your tongues.Now it's g-string bekinis on a two hundred pounder,and who told her it was ok to play volleyball in the damn thing.Who designed g-strings for men and who gave the ok for a 55 year old man with a beer bellie to dig it out of his butt cheeks with one hand and dripping relish off his hot dog with the other.EEEKKKSS!!Parents let our childrens dress codes be up held by the schools!A teenage girl with soft and pink wrote on skin tight sweat pants,on her rearend.young men with t-shirts saying big man on campus and an arrow pointing to his croch!And parents upset because they are sent home to change.When did I fall asleep and where the hell did I wake up.I am glad to see 16 years of showing my son(step son)opening doors and yes mam and no sir will still get you respect!I do not think I'm a saint my wife has refered to me as a(dick with ears)in our early years.The only way to servive and I mean two people living together in harmony is adapting and overcoming obsticles.I learned that part from my military tour.Oh yes having a little military back ground comes in handy before you tie the knot.taking orders,eating crap and learning to grovel.SEE thats where my old dick with ears attitude keeps popping up.Good luck to those searching for love,you are going to need it. Semper Fi good hunting

Posted by: referman at April 22, 2007 05:25 PM

While I agree that men are hard-wired that way, my wiring must have a short; while I understand the appeal, I was never one for the fling. I've never begun a journey that I wasn't prepared to see through to the end. Sadly the women I've chosen in the past have not been as clear on the destination.


I think you're right to regret that society no longer sets a moral standard for people. One can hardly reprove the youthful for their behavior without also opening the door for the shunning of those who behave in the same way as adults.


Society currently only permits that for someone who violates the norms set by the victimhood meme. We can fire Imus for being a racist boor, but we can't reprove boys and girls for acting more like oversexed rabbits than mature adults.


Schools and colleges have abdicated their old role of acting in loco parentis, for fear of being sued. The result is the new amorality: Anything goes. Or at least anything goes as long as you don't step on the wrong meme.

Posted by: WhoStruckJohn at April 22, 2007 08:04 PM

Dating is a weird thing. I have always hated it. Too much dishonesty, and games and I hate both. I am not a saint, but I have been honest with all the women I've dated. But as I've watched it from high school to now, I've equated it to my time in the woods. It really is animalistic. We try to put it in the mold of society, but let's be honest. How many "nice guys" looked at the attractive girl going out w/ the greaser and said, "why the hell is she going out w/ him?" It's alpha male stuff really. At an early stage, the alpha male is the tough, rugged type, the stag of the herd that can fight and win the females. In the teenage years, the situation is more about reproductive juices, more animalistic. As we get older, the alpha male becomes the guy that can breed, support, and raise a family. The ideal man is changed as the women mature and want different things.

It seems over the decades that women have been told to want what men want. Sexually, professionally, etc. This has given way and opened the door for many men to act more on their impulses, because the women are acting like them. The man is less inclined to mature to get the woman. But, while women have been told it is ok, they are not wired the same way, so the repurcussions are worse for them. Emotionally, and also due to the old societal norms, they feel at issue with themselves- eventually. This is a generalization, but it will hold for many. All of our actions have consequences and repurcussions. I figure be honest with yourself and with those around you and the rest comes out in the wash. It's a simple way to approach things, but do we really need to make life super complicated?

Posted by: LBG at April 23, 2007 02:18 AM

I think Grim and many others have missed the point entirely.

Who says the female of the species isn't also so wired? Recent research shows that it is the woman who is most likely to cheat. The pattern seems to have been find yourself a fairly able bodied mate who could provide and defend, but not to good. Bump uglies with the dude you couldn't control behind the providers back. What does that say about hard wiring of brains? It isn't all societal and it isn't all genetic.

But there is something different about what women and what men are allowed to do that is very hypocritical. And I say that being in possession of testicles and not being mr sensitive ponytail man. It's bunk to think, in spite of evidence to the contrary, that men and women are wired differently when it comes to sexual drive. Simply is.

What creates trouble is that we do tell boys, half seriously, that the same standard applies to them as to girls. 'Keep your pecker in your pants,' says Red Foreman to his son. But his friends egg him on. 'Why cuddle when you can DO IT!,' says Micheal Kelso. That isn't hardwired---see above.

Seduction isn't just about extramarital affairs, or desperation for attention. It's a very weird thing. In it's crudest form it is, as Cassie once wrote, meeting him at the door with 'that smile'(but I forget whether it was with anything else. Being respectable I tend to burn those things out of my mind. Please, do remind us Cassie?;)(runs in fear of a hurled marmoset)). It's courting ritual and hints and a whole ton of things I don't notice or understand half the time except to note that things are looking interesting for the evening, and don't I love my couch when I say something like 'Sweets, do you mind, I'm trying to watch the game here.' It's another thing Cassie wrote about puttering around in the garden and simply looking up at him too. Unfortunately it's something that is only known when seen. Like that SC Justice with obscenity. But it isn't simply a loose woman acting loose. It's something good women practice entirely monogamously within their marriages too. It isn't simply The Other woman and her wiles.

Largely what I'm seeing Cassie rail against is the double standard. We tell our girls we don't want her to act like Pam Anderson but Pam Anderson is the one 90% of men look at. We sasy we don't want floozies like Spears but we guys eat that stuff up, or we get labled as squares and losers and uptight(so it isn't quite so cut and dry a double standard from where I sit Cass, just a weird combo of two different ones). Cool guys emulate what they read in Maxim or other lad magazines. Being like the guys in 'Wedding Crashers' is what we should be, they're cool. but we as a collective are schizophrenic about women and sexuality(be britney spears, but don't be britney spears because we hate her looseness) while we're just liars about male sexuality(don't do it, but tell me all about it if you do , wink wink, son).

The problem is that the double standard means we decry Cosmo and Ms. for their encouragement of hedonism while we don't seriously go after the same elements in entertainment pertaining to men. Some of that is simple biology, men don't carry babies, but some of it is well beyond biology and is sociological in origing. It's a remolade that is both fish and fowl.

BUt beyond that, I don't get it much better either. I just noticed the easy errors. I'm a lazy chemist, what do you expect?;)

Posted by: ry at April 23, 2007 02:55 AM

"Who says the female of the species isn't also so wired? Recent research shows that it is the woman who is most likely to cheat.... What does that say about hard wiring of brains?"

It says, "This is another way in which women are different." They are more likely to cheat in an established relationship.

And for different reasons, too. I haven't known a lot of cheating women, at least not on a friendly basis so as to be privy to their stories. But the few I have known have offered one of two justifications:

1) They really loved their boyfriend, but he was not going to marry them; so they offered themselves to other men who seemed more likely to do so until they found one who would.

2) They really loved their husband, but he stopped making them feel beloved and special. So, they went and found someone who would.

Those motivations aren't what drives male cheating, which is (as you note) slightly less common anyway. Men are more likely not to form the committed relationship in the first place.

So, you see -- once again, we're talking about two different kinds of animal. If you want to address the issue of sexuality with laws or mores, you'll need to address their drives and needs with two different sets of rules.

"Largely what I'm seeing Cassie rail against is the double standard. We tell our girls we don't want her to act like Pam Anderson but Pam Anderson is the one 90% of men look at.... 'be britney spears, but don't be britney spears because we hate her looseness.'"

I don't know what other people say about it, but that's not what I said at all. If it's not clear from what I wrote above, the women I knew who were damaged emotionally by casual sex were friends of mine. They were people I liked very much, and cared about. That's why I was aware of their pain, and why it bothered me.

I don't look down on women who act like Britney Spears; but I do feel very sorry for Britney Spears' obvious pain. I don't disdain her at all. Nor Pamela Anderson either -- she seems like a lady of a great deal of spirit, which is the kind of lady I like.

What I said above wasn't about forcing women to do this or that, or condeming 'bad behavior.' It was about warning them, the young ones who haven't learned the hard way yet, in order to help them avoid sorrow. I don't think they're sluts for engaging in what is now common behavior; and I don't dislike sluts anyway.

I like people of good, kind hearts. Some "sluts" are very much that, young women who long for affection and no better or quicker way of getting at least the appearance of it. They were lonely, not bad.

My condemnation is reserved for men who prey on their weakness. That is to say, I do indeed have a double standard, or rather, a separate standard each for men and for women. I make no bones about that. I think that having separate standards in this matter is right and proper, and indeed the only way to even approach justice and right sexuality.

Posted by: Grim at April 23, 2007 10:29 AM

Actually, I didn't want to get into it because I saw no good coming from it but I think Ry understood, perhaps better than anyone else, a good part of what I was trying to say in part of my post. It goes to Laurie's comment too.

I was very heartened by his comment. I had rather given up before I read it. But then he has always been very perceptive.

Posted by: Cass at April 23, 2007 10:51 AM

Maybe the problem I'm having in understanding what you want to say, is that you're wrapping up a bunch of things together: casual sex in college between people not in relationships, with married sex in a happy marriage, with unhappy marriages that failed over sex, with feminist theory's mistakes coupled by what you see as it's successes, and several other things besides.

That's why I asked at the start: what is her name? What should I call her? I don't know how to put all that together; I can't interpret the picture being drawn.

Probably your direct experience with having feminine sexuality makes that understanding seem natural and obvious to you. I really don't know what that's like; I just know what a lot of women I've cared about and talked to have reported to me. But they, like you, couldn't have known where the gaps in our understanding really lay -- it wouldn't be possible to know what they needed to tell me in order for me to understand their experiences.

Maybe there is some overarching female sexuality that can account for all these different phenomena and make sense of them. I don't know how to think about it, though, except to say that Ry is definitely wrong about one thing: we are wired differently. That is the one conclusion to which all the evidence points. Whatever female sexuality is, it isn't what I experience.

I do keep trying to understand you, because I can tell it is important to you, and you're a good person whose thoughts and feelings I'd like to understand. I don't mean to be frustrating. For what it's worth, you don't seem to be understanding what I mean either most of the time we talk about this -- for example, when I was talking about what I saw as the discrete problem of women's reaction to casual sex (that they seemed to be hurt by it), which you read as a critique of female sexuality in general (that women don't like sex ).

That wasn't even close to what I was trying to say; but I think the misunderstanding arose naturally from the fact that you're talking about something that seems like a seamless whole to you. I understand it only in parts, separate entirely from each other, because this part I understand from knowing women X and Y and Z, but that part came from knowing women A and B and C. They were all different women, at different stages of their lives, and with different issues.

Having learned in that way, I think of the problem as several different sets of problems: the problem of being young and lonely; the problem of being married; the problem of wanting more love from your partner; and other problems too. Each of them seems like something that needs a separate solution.

But I can see how it must feel like one thing to you, a sort of background field that is always there at every stage. Doubtless that's a truthful way of looking at it. I just have no sense of what that overarching female sexuality is like. I don't know what name to call it by.

Posted by: Grim at April 23, 2007 11:43 AM

A beer for anyone who will hand me that 17mm open-end wrench...

Posted by: bthun at April 23, 2007 12:11 PM

and you can bet that I spell-checked wrench.

Posted by: bthun at April 23, 2007 12:12 PM

Grim:

I've always been very suspicious of one-size-fits-all theories.

In general, I think women's sexuality is different from mens'. We tend (and again, that's a general thing) to come into our own sexually much later in life than you all do. But that doesn't mean that we don't have very powerful drives very early on either. I just think we're driven to want men, but we don't really know what to do with them sexually - we want physical intimacy but we aren't really quite prepared to enjoy it fully yet. But that said I've known girls and women who from a very early age were very responsive naturally. Can't honestly say I was one of them though - I had a lot to learn, and one of those things was simply how my own body worked.

Another was how to submit, and man was that ever hard for someone as strong willed as I am - I still have trouble with that one! I think that is why women instinctively like strong men, though we also fight with them.

I think language is getting in the way here.

Maybe I'm misquoting Ry, but I agreed with most of what he said. And I'm not sure his intent was so much to say that men and women were wired exactly the same, but more perhaps that they had the same need and desire for sex, which was more my point. I think we want the same things. Not necessarily in the same way, or even for the same reasons because we are NOT the same. But what I think is unbearably wrongheaded and stupid (and results in a lot of unplanned pregnancies and adulteries and other misery) is when parents and husbands go around thinking that men love sex but women somehow aren't "wired" to want or need it.

That is just dumb. And, I think, untrue.

If you could read my mail, you'd know it was untrue. I get mail every time I write a post like this from female readers that would scorch your ears, Grim. And I can't talk about it, but if you could listen in on the conversations at the Cotillion....

We joke a lot but damned near every thread devolves into sex sooner or later. Every. Single. One. And many of them are pretty raunchy. And most of these ladies are happily married conservababes, but they'd burn your buns off :)

Posted by: Cass at April 23, 2007 12:36 PM

I believe you. I never doubted that women were sexual beings. What interests me is the question of how men and women can engage justly in sexual relations, so that we can have (to the greatest degree possible) the good that can come from it without the harm.

That philosophical question is a lot harder to answer than many, in part because I don't think we really understand each other. I wonder sometimes if we even can understand each other. To arrive at real understanding, we'd have to know not just "what do women/men want?" but also "what does it feel like to want it?"

It's that last part -- the part that ties it all together for you, and makes unmarried college girls and teenagers in Chevrolets and older married ladies all seem the same -- that is so hard to get. It's like submitting and wanting to submit, you say; but also like hating to submit, and having to fight it and doing it anyway; and wanting, I can tell, love and faith and virtue from the man -- not precisely "in return" or "in exchange," but as a natural consequence of his sensing the value of the submission.

That isn't a set of feelings I've ever had or would know what to do with. I'm not sure I can really imagine it; submission and dominance are cetainly part of my sexuality too, but there is no set of circumstances I can imagine in which I'd feel both a desire to submit and a hatred of submitting. I'd either submit becaused I wished to do so -- out of respect or love or admiration -- or I would not.

I think that is an honest difference that arises from nature, and not something we can change or do much about. What it all feels like to me is obviously not what it feels like to you; and, to speak at least for myself, I don't think I can actually envision what you're describing. I can't feel it.

What I can do is honor women, love and respect them, and do my best to do by them honorably and right. But that requires the ability to set and form rules that govern my conduct, rules that are for me and those like me. In that way, we can do better, be better, be just.

The same set of rules wouldn't make sense for you, and those like you. They exist to channel desires you don't have -- not "sexual desires," which you obviously do have, but the particular desires that a man has toward a willing woman. Those need to be bound and chained in different ways, and for different reasons, than a woman's desires need to be directed.

The intent of the male rules is to do right by women, by which I mean especially not to hurt them. A woman can hurt a man too, and shouldn't; but only different rules can teach her to avoid it. The two sets of rules together have a unified purpose, if that helps: justice in our relations.

It's just that finding the road that takes you to justice depends a lot on where you begin. And too, when you finally meet and describe to each other how you got there, the landmarks you describe having seen along the way will not necessarily be familiar to those who came by the other way.

Posted by: Grim at April 23, 2007 01:29 PM

"A beer for anyone who will hand me that 17mm open-end wrench..."

Is the beer good and cold?

I have open and open/box with off-set heads, as well as standard and deep-well sockets (1/2 and 3/8's drive) which one do ya need?

Posted by: Sly2017 at April 23, 2007 02:08 PM

To be completely honest Cass, I think I can follow where you're coming from, and thanks to Ry, I can even see some where you're headed (I think).

As a young man raised by excellent parents, I was taught to respect and honor women, be a gentleman and most importantly... respect myself. But I also had very skewed impressions of human sexuality. Cass, I was one of those guys who realized I had these powerful urges, but could not fathom that women had them too. I seriously believed that women had the "lie back and think of England" mentality when it came to sexual congress.

My first hint this was wrong is when one of my female friends questioned me politely if I was going to be taking my prom date to a hotel afterwards. Shocked, I said the thought hadn't even occured to me, as I was a gentleman (i.e. the thought had occured, but I was NEVER going to act upon it). Her response? "Mike, the definition of a gentleman is that he puts his weight on his elbows."

Having a lot of female friends also help disabuse me of any misconceptions regarding female drives. Occasionally they'd forget I was not "one of the girls" and I'd be given small insights into female "locker room talk". Fellas, if you've not heard it... it really is a mind bending experience. Guys are bad. We lie or stretch the truth, we speak in euphamisms, we brag. Women (in my experience) are completely different. They're truthful, and extremely... EXTREMELY graphic and descriptive and it's all very 'matter-of-fact' (I'd almost use the word "clinical" but that's not entirely appropriate). I've heard female conversation that has driven me from the room in embarassment.

But Cass, I'll just state this as well... while I completely understand female desires from a logical standpoint... it's very difficult to internalize that. I've been married 11 years, and I still do not feel I have a good grasp on the female psyche.

Posted by: MikeD at April 23, 2007 03:11 PM

"I have open and open/box with off-set heads, as well as standard and deep-well sockets (1/2 and 3/8's drive) which one do ya need?"

Thanks Sly... which ever one's will help me avoid having my Chuck Taylor's for dinner?

There be dragons in this topic!

Posted by: bthun at April 23, 2007 06:59 PM

I have open and open/box with off-set heads, as well as standard and deep-well sockets (1/2 and 3/8's drive) which one do ya need?

Heh...

I have not one but two socket sets. In fact, I have most of the tools in my family, though in typical female fashion, I couldn't care less what they are called and maintain a 'charming' ignorance of the specs.

I just use them...when I'm not commandeering a kitchen spoon or some other household utensil. I'm all about practicality.

Posted by: Cass at April 23, 2007 07:14 PM

...though I do have to say that one of my favorite Christmases was the one where I got my very own tools. That was so cool. I really liked the little set of drawers with all the screws and nails and little hardware thingies inside it.

Posted by: Cass at April 23, 2007 07:16 PM

Women (in my experience) are completely different. They're truthful, and extremely... EXTREMELY graphic and descriptive and it's all very 'matter-of-fact' (I'd almost use the word "clinical" but that's not entirely appropriate). I've heard female conversation that has driven me from the room in embarassment.

Darlin' you don't know the HALF of it! :D My husband just shakes his head in amazement sometimes. That's exactly the word I'd use: 'matter of fact'. To us, sex is part of life, to be embraced, discussed, learned about, experienced, you name it. I think it may have to do with having babies. We aren't nearly as dewy eyed about the whole thing as men are. It is what it is. Wonderful. But nothing to be afraid of. Certainly nothing we shrink from.

Posted by: Cass at April 23, 2007 07:21 PM

Though, reading what I just wrote, I would like to say I don't believe in discussing one's personal experiences with a particular person. I think that is something that should always remain private and person. And I haven't heard women doing that really, at least not the kind of women I call friends.

I think it would be a betrayal to talk about experiences with your lover. I didn't mean to give that impression. It's just that women will talk about topics in general that I don't think men do, at least from what my husband and male friends have told me.

Posted by: Cass at April 23, 2007 07:25 PM

Cass, well, glad to be of some use then.

Mr. Grim, first let me say I meant no disrespect. In many ways, having read what you put here and at your Hall, you personify much of what my Grandmother Gauvin and my Mother wished me to become. But that's not what I am. I have great respect for you. BUt I think you're wrong here. I think it comes from a cause and effect approach. Very linear. Very much about the parts and the interaction instead of seeing the synergy of the parts as a whole in this.

But I'm at fault too here. I cut out much of something that was intended. Paleo-biology seems to claim that women, because of the cheat, felt a greater need for 'it'. The avg male could brow beat the female for his needs. But the fem still cheated with the Brawny One. You can draw any conclusion you like from that. But the one I draw, since we're talking times of undeveloped culture, is that wiring seems to say that fems have a great desire. Vast even. As a matter of biology only the desire is massive. Individuals vary of course.

I was careless by not specifying what scenarios we were talking about. Should've known better. Sorry. In terms of biologic wiring we're wired to want in great sum. Societal rules and parenting put a break on that, as well as individual variances.

"I don't know what other people say about it, but that's not what I said at all. " I still havent' licked the problem of transitions. Sorry. I shifted from a specific to a general. Wasn't speaking to you personally with that section, but of a societal avg.

"My condemnation is reserved for men who prey on their weakness" Here I will speak to you personally. Dude, women do this too. Out of anger and a host of other reasons too. Friends with benefits and hook-ups aren't a male only proposition. Mrs. Robinson seems to come to mind as well---seeking something easy with which to sate herself. So does the SHaron Stone character from Fatal Instinct. Power matters to them. For some it is a reaction to bad experiences, an assertion that they are in control or getting what they deserve. For others it's just that they're plain mean.

But here we see what Cassie is railing against: Your condemnation of the guy who does it is still treating the woman different---she's weak but not scum, only the guy is worthy of your disdain. It's a sort of soft sexism. The man who does it is a scoundrel, a low life you despise, but a spirited woman doing the same? Well, you look the other way a little bit. She's a girl. At least that's how I'm reading it. I could be wrong, and often am.

But this is what's guiding me to that interpretation: "I like people of good, kind hearts. Some "sluts" are very much that, young women who long for affection and no better or quicker way of getting at least the appearance of it. They were lonely, not bad."
Guy who takes advantage of femal weakness bad. Woman who indulges herself, takes advantage of others weakness, lonely but not bad? Just about every frat boy/'pimp'/playboy I've ever met fits this criteria. He may not have the aura of victim to him, but as Fuzzy writes, dude isn't finding what he wants to make him trully feel good. Same motivators really---the search for that which makes you feel special. But the male is seen preditorily for such actions and the woman either a 'slut' or a victim. Why?

"I don't know how to think about it, though, except to say that Ry is definitely wrong about one thing: we are wired differently."
Nope. We're both wired to desire vast sums(for many reasons, ask the population geneticists why we're actually hardwired for having large numbers of offspring. Malthus only got the economics right, not the genetics.).

Both sexes. Women maybe even more than guys if the paleo-soc people are right. It isn't biology, Grim. I hate to disagree with you so strongly, but this is pure trash. Utter trash.

Simply isn't true. Testosterone and a y chromosome leads men to be more prone violence and more muscular, but not more sexual physically. Simply isn't true sir. There's no biological basis for such a statement. Culturally attuned to the idea? Si. Biological basis? not a whit. Not hard wired. Software.


Posted by: ry at April 24, 2007 05:05 AM

And I will say I agree there.

There are good women and bad women. And weak women and strong women. Bad, strong women seek dominance over others and they will use sex to get it. I've seen that. Women don't just sleep with men out of weakness - they will do it as a deliberate tool to get what they want too, especially if they are beautiful and smart. Some even do it out of spite to hurt other women. It is the easiest thing in the world, and the fastest way for a woman to manipulate a man because believe me, most men pretty quickly become putty when you wield that over their heads.

And a clever woman will combine that with psychology and get hold of a man. She doesn't even always need to be beautiful if she understands men.

Actually, a very smart woman (from a purely genetic basis) finds a steady, faithful man to support her and then cheats on him, having many offspring with several fathers. This is morally wrong but biologically a good thing. And there is a lot of evidence that this is exactly what women are biologically predisposed to do (the studies that show we are attracted to 'duller' guys most of the month except when we are most fertile, when we suddenly like the bad boys).

Fortunately we are, as I said earlier, not walking glands. We have brains, hearts, and souls. I think I'd figured out by 8th or 9th grade that while the bad boys were intriguing, I didn't really want to date them. Or cheat on my boyfriend with them either - I wouldn't like myself much if I did that, and my own good opinion of myself matters.

They will hang around and try to flirt with you, but they are never interested in you. Only themselves. It doesn't take a genius to see that.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 24, 2007 05:34 AM

Recommended reading:

“Why Sex Matters” by Bobbi S. Low
http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s6684.html
http://www.amazon.com/Why-Sex-Matters-Darwinian-Behavior/dp/0691028958

Posted by: Dirty Old Man In Irvine at April 24, 2007 03:42 PM

It's funny... Maybe it's my maturity level. Maybe it's being married to the same wonderful woman for almost 22 years. Maybe it having come to the understanding that sex is much better when you are joined at the soul with the one you love instead of using them as a masturbation tool to scratch a sexual itch.

Whatever it is, I don't really have any desire to look at Britney's beaver waxed or not. I know I'm probably providing way too much information, but my wife's nether regions are supremely attractive to me, for the simple reason they are a part of the woman who I love more than life itself and to whom I am joined forever.

When I came to that realization, porn (and yes, the Britney beaver-shot is porn) has really stopped being attractive to me.

Oh sure, I'm hardwired to peek at a pretty bustline or leg that is flashed in my direction, but I don't take a second look. Not because I'm some supremely moral guy, but because the primary attraction I have is for my wife's soul. And as pretty as the body might be, the soul is all wrong.

Posted by: Tony at April 24, 2007 04:55 PM

I don't know Tony. Every time I open my mouth on this subject I get told I am screwed up or that I think something I don't, so I think I will just keep it shut. I am not going to change, nor change anyone's mind, nor I think, even challenge anyone's thinking.

I will probably continue to tilt at windmills every now and then. That is probably not a bad thing. But I don't really expect anything good to come from it.

But thank you :p

Posted by: Cassandra at April 24, 2007 05:09 PM

Well, from having had babies in military hospitals the privacy is not over rated or understated...not compared to a German hospital.

Talk about being mortified beyond all reason.

No, I won't go into it except to say to the Europeans, nudity is about function, not form.
(Cass being all practical and whatnot) It bothers Americans more and not because we are prudes. It is because Europeans see Paris and Britney and think all American women are like that...and it bugs me.

Posted by: Cricket at April 24, 2007 05:32 PM

"every time I open my mouth on this subject I get told I am screwed up ...."

Sure, we are hardwired to respond to stuff like waxed river mammals, but that's at a very visceral level.

Mature men who aren't afraid to look a themselves, and who see their spouses and mates as EQUALS rather than some stereotype or an "actor in a predestined sex role" aren't afraid to admit that there's more to life [on the human level, anyway] than putting part A into part B (or C or [stop! that is too much information!]).

It's all about equality, baby: from each according to her/his ability ....

But is sure is fun to put part A into part B or ....

Posted by: Mark In Irvine at April 24, 2007 06:03 PM

BTW, nobody has yet complemented the Blog Princess on the EXCEEDINGLY clever title for her original posting here ...

ROTFLMFAO [rolling on the floor laughing my fool a$$ off]

Posted by: Mark In Irvine at April 24, 2007 06:05 PM

And here I thought no one else had as dirty a mind as I do.

Posted by: Night Of The Dormant Commerce Clause at April 24, 2007 06:08 PM

...all the more proof that Johnson O'Connor was probably right when they said I should have been an attorney.

Posted by: Night Of The Dormant Commerce Clause at April 24, 2007 06:09 PM

" ... no one else had as dirty a mind as I do ..."

I've got your back, baby! You should have been an attorney! Then you could get paid for all this palaver of yours ... and have an ulcer, and be an alkie, and divorced, and psychotic .... It's so FUN!!!!!!!

Posted by: We Love Waxed Mammals In Irvine at April 24, 2007 06:22 PM

" ... no one else had as dirty a mind as I do ..."

besides, it isn't dirty ... unless you're doing it right! ha ha ha.

Posted by: We Love Waxed Mammals In Irvine at April 24, 2007 06:24 PM

I don't know Tony. Every time I open my mouth on this subject I get told I am screwed up or that I think something I don't, so I think I will just keep it shut. I am not going to change, nor change anyone's mind, nor I think, even challenge anyone's thinking.

Perish the thought, Cass. I really enjoy hearing about relations from a woman's point of view.

It may be a politically incorrect statement, but I believe your experience is more common to women than people at large. I guess I believe this partially, because I don't subscribe to the radical feminist notion that women are simply men with vaginas.

Keep it up.

Posted by: Tony at April 25, 2007 01:26 PM

Thanks for this post Cass. It was a great reminder to coax that back-seat wonder I married back out of my world weary but oh-so-lovely wife.

Posted by: David at May 2, 2007 02:59 AM

You won't regret it, David. She may wonder at first what you are up to but if she sees it as a sign of your love and commitment to her, she'll appreciate it. A lot of times women, especially if they're already tired, resent feeling pressured to take on one more 'role' at the end of the day. I don't think when I was younger that I understood that for a lot of men, sex is the easiest way for them to kind of let down the barriers and connect.

What women fear is being used. It's true that men seem to be able to separate sex and love and that really scares us because most of us can't do that. We give at least a part of our hearts along with our bodies, or the whole thing isn't as enjoyable. But for a wife to know that you still think of her as that girl you fell in love with is priceless :)

Posted by: Cassandra at May 2, 2007 06:42 AM

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