Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘Feminism

truth in feminism.

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I only first read this morning about this battle re: Hugo Schwyzer & feminism. It’s the kind of thing that stirs me out of blogging apathy—though it helps that all I want to do this week is drink red wine, make vegan desserts and read & write about feminism, anyway; happy February!because it strikes at the root of what bothers me about web feminism à la mode. I’ll ramble on about that in a moment. But in short, I think the anti-Schwyzer sentiment is both ridiculous and sadly typical of the feminist blogosphere.

I don’t know a ton about Hugo. I’m dimly aware of having read him on various lady-feminist blogs. For a while I regularly read The Good Men Project, a site focused on exploring what it means to be a good man now, absent cultural scripts and yada yada yada. I liked the Good Men Project. It published good sex writing (male and female). Sometimes Amanda Marcotte (whom I also like) wrote there. It was heavy with personal-experience driven writing by Schwyzer and others on sex, marriage, masculinity, relationships, fatherhood, feminism.

An instructor in history and gender studies at Pasadena City College, Schwyzer is explicitly feminist. He writes in the language of contemporary feminism (i.e. “I haven’t been always been able to see how my writing reflects my privilege as a cisgender white male…“) and blogged at Jezebel, FeministeHealthy Is The New Skinny, the Good Men Project and elsewhere about gender issues, body image, rape prevention, why men like to cum on women’s faces and the “myth of male weakness.” He recently withdrew from The Good Men Project after founder Tom Matlack published a piece arguing men and women were fundamentally different, writing that it was no longer “ethically possible to remain silent” while the Good Men Project “took an increasingly anti-feminist stance.”

Schwyzer also wrote often about his past, as an alcoholic and druggie in the 90s (born in 1967, Schwyzer hugs the line between Gen X and boomer). He wrote about failed marriages, mental breakdowns, his Christian faith and having “consensual relationships with adult female students” in his early years teaching. It was that last part which provoked the ire of Feministe commenters and other feminist bloggers. Then someone pointed out a year-old post of Hugo’s in which he wrote about attempting to kill himself and his then-girlfriend by turning on the gas in their apartment. He was an alcoholic and addict. This preceded a stay in a mental hospital. But people called Schwyzer a sexual predator who should be excluded from the discourse on feminism (sample comment: Why is a confessed attempted murderer allowed to comment about feminism?). They made it about the role of men in feminism, a role which the feminist blogosphere is still all kinds of conflicted about.

This tendency of many feminist bloggers to be so self-consciously non-offensive gets tedious, though this just makes them boring. It’s the tendency of large segments of the feminist web to cluster and ostracize dissenters from feminism’s PC master narrative that makes them damaging, to the quote/unquote feminist project, anyway. A feminism that doesn’t allow for paradoxes and contradictions in the ideals versus lived experiences of its’ proponents is not terribly useful. And any modern conception of feminism needs not just to include men in the conversation but see men as integral to feminist issues. The movement’s history of sisterhood served it’s purpose, but for Gen Y women and men accustomed to the idea of gender equity, doesn’t we’re-all-in-this-together make more sense?

How to be an adult in an age of anomie is a question central to men, women, feminists and fundamentalists in America. And it’s a big project. I don’t know how many Gen X/Y articles I’ve read about marriage ages, fertility, dating, relationships, careers, unemployment, sex, technology, health that conclude we are all screwed. We’re all going to live into our 90s and our parents and grandparents are going into retirement broke and getting fat and getting dementia and it not only looks sad but how are you going to take care of them? How is anybody going to take care of them? That’s all we hear about is old age programs bankrupting the world. And home health care is one of the fastest growing U.S. industries, but it’s largest companies don’t even want to pay their (mostly female) employees the minimum wage. And a lot of people in the entertainment industry still think violence against women is pretty swell. Birth control is still something people are legitimately against. Women writers still can’t write about sex like Henry Miller. And for some reason people persist in publishing articles about who should pay the check on first dates. Plus, you know: The rest of the world.

I mean, I say, the more men the merrier! Let’s all talk about birth control and blow jobs and the difference between domestic violence and rape fantasies. Gender issues, marriage equality and the contradictions inherent in trying to be good men and good women in a culture with completely schizophrenic ideas about femininity and masculinity. These are problems for all us.

And there should be room in feminism for all of us to talk about them. For Schwyzer to be honest about his path to where he is now without facing this kind of hysterical backlash. For all of us “imperfect feminists” to be honest about where we fail to live up to ideals (and where ideals fail to live up to their usefulness in our lives). Freddie deBoer (who, um, full disclosure: is my boyfriend) has written about how feminism is general but relationships are specific. So are individual paths to feminist beliefs. You can comfortably call yourself a feminist even if you subscribe to less than total egalitarianism in your own relationship or sex life. You can be a feminist even if you were once so fucked up that you tried to kill yourself and your partner. You can have an imperfectly feminist past and be a feminist now. The underlying assumption between people should be respect, non-violence and equity, but people can negotiate different degrees of these amongst themselves. Besides which: The outside world, again. Sometimes it influences us. Sometimes we learn from it. Sometimes we are always getting better.

see, I like baking too. I know sites like Feministe and Feministing serve an important purpose in feminism’s mission. I never considered myself a feminist until I started reading them (along with Pandagon, Shakesville, Ilika Damen, others) back when I was 22. This year over Christmas break I ended up in a late-night bar crawl conversation with a 22-year-old female cousin who is dying to have babies and stay home with them. Until she recently began reading feminist blogs (the only one I remember her mentioning is The Feminist Breeder), she told me, she thought feminists wanted to take things like that from her. Now she’s all OMG I’m a feminist, duh. I’m a feminist and I like babies and crafts and women being treated like human beings. Awesome.

So that’s what these types of intro/activist feminist blogs do: They introduce young women and men to the idea that feminism doesn’t suck. That there are still lots of gender issues to consider and problems to solve. That feminism is relevant.

But as a feminist writer, Schwyzer has always been more essayist than activist. Both of his recent controversial posts were confession—not celebration—of past wrongs. This is what good memoirists and essayists do: They tell the truth about themselves, even when it makes them look bad. It’s in admitting to inconsistencies in their own ideals v. behavior that they have the best chance of finding something universal. Think “Mad Men.” Think Didion. It’s the space between the zeitgeist and convention that’s the most interesting.

For the feminist blogosphere to so consistently stifle voices from that space … I mean, it impedes on feminist discourse, sure. But it also tells writers that it’s not okay to be both honest and feminist. That part of being a publicly-feminist writer means a certain amount of activism, a certain amount of party-line PR. It’s a lot like how conservatism encourages its journalists and bloggers and TV reporters to be partisans first. It’s bad for the truth.

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Written by Elizabeth

February 16, 2012 at 10:32 am

Blogger Crushes, Redux

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A long, long time ago,  in blog years, anyway, I wrote a post about two bloggers I was newly in word-crush with: Phoebe Maltz (now Bovy) of What Would Phoebe Do (at the time one of my fellow bloggers on the ill-fated Culture 11’s regrettably-named “Ladyblog”) and Freddie deBoer, of L’Hote .

Considering I’m now living with Mr. deBoer, one of these turned out to be a little more relevant to my life than the other—but, damn if Ms. Maltz-Bovy doesn’t still continually impress me and makes me laugh to this day. Here’s Phoebe on why she took her husband’s name when she got married recently:

What feminism hasn’t meant, for me, is wheel-reinvention. In other words, I do not lose sleep over the fact that I do not defy gender norms in all areas. I recognize that it’s convenient to say the least to identify as the gender you were born. I don’t think that my relationship with my husband is something so complex and unique and snowflake-ish that the word “marriage” fails to describe it. I’m lucky that the kind of relationship I wanted is the one society wanted me to have. So the fact that wife-takes-husband’s-name is how it generally goes was not in and of itself a reason, for me, to be suspicious of it.

This nicely captures one of my favorite habitual Phoebe peeves: Progressive/feminist/hipster writers who go to all sorts of elaborate rhetorical lengths to justify their utterly normal but—gasp!—utterly bourgeois wants (see: the Jessica Grose paragraph here). You can also always count on Phoebe to cut through the bullshit on media panics, as in here, on some recent controversy about a 10-year-old Vogue fashion model:

Like I’ve said about these scandals before, the issue is not – no matter how many times Jezebel or whichever other site tells us it should be – Think of the Children. (Somehow I doubt that even in France, pedophiles are buying let alone created by French Vogue.) It’s always fundamentally Think of the Grown Women, who will never measure up if an ideal is defined as preadolescent.

Yes yes yes yes yes.

Written by Elizabeth

August 19, 2011 at 7:26 am

On Feminism, Neural Circuitry and Men Being ‘Rapey Enough’

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I just came into the TV show Weeds at the beginning of Season 5, and one of my favorite parts so far was when the Andy character explains to Mary Louise-Parker why it would never work out between them:

(Link) View more Weeds Quotes and Sound Clips and Andy Botwin Quotes and Sound Clips

A few days after watching that episode, my friend Greg said to me, “Dude! [Ed. note: That is really how he talks] Did you read about Rihanna talking about how she likes whips and chains?”

Actually, Rihanna does not like whips and chains, at least not most of the time, at least not if her quotes in Rolling Stone are to be taken at face value. Here is the passage in question:

“Being submissive in the bedroom is really fun,” she says. “You get to be a little lady, to have somebody be macho and in charge of your shit. That’s fun to me…I like to be spanked. Being tied up is fun. I like to keep it spontaneous. Sometimes whips and chains can be overly planned – you gotta stop, get the whip from the drawer downstairs. I’d rather have him use his hands.”

We could get into all the Oh My Oh My Oh My’s about this, in light of … but it all seems too obvious. And this is not a post dedicated to pointing out the obvious. I bring up the Weeds clip, and Rihanna – and while we’re at it, I’ll toss in this post by Jessica Grose at XX Factor about fashion moguls and the submissive ladies who love them – as a little pop cultural S&M appetizer before we get to our wonky, scientific main course: The Neural Circuitry of Dominance & Submission.

Writing on Psychology Today’s “Billion Wicked Thoughts” blog, Ogi Ogaswhose claim to fame seems to be “using cognitive techniques from his brain research to win half a million dollars on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and co-authoring a yet-to-be-released book called A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals about Human Desiremuses on “why feminism is the anti-Viagra.

Link-baiting much?

But all right, all right, I’m biting; tell me, Ogi, why is feminism the anti-Viagra?

Gender equality inhibits arousal.

That’s a pretty bold statement there, Ogi. But you’ve got a PhD in this stuff; you must have done your research. What kind of hard-hitting evidence have ya got?

From classic romance The Flame and The Flower to classic erotica The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty to Twilight BDSM fan fiction, submission themes are immensely popular in cross-cultural female erotica.

[…] Romance heroes are almost always high status alpha males—billionaires, barons, surgeons, sheriffs. Avon Books and Ellora’s Cave feature no heroes who are kindergarten teachers, accountants, or plumbers. Even though there’s been a trend away from the conspicuously rapey bodice-rippers of the seventies and eighties, women still want strong, dominant men.

Huh. You’re starting to disappoint me a little bit here, sir (I decided I should drop the calling you by your first name; wouldn’t want to start inciting flacid penises left and right). I’m not a doubter about a lot of men and women having dominance/submission fantasies. But … romance novels and Twilight fan fic? It’s just not striking me as a representative sample of human sexual desire. Maybe we could get a little misguided interpretation of evolutionary psychology thrown in here?

“We’re portraying men the way feminist ideals say they should be—respectful and consensus-building,” muses erotic romance (EroRom) author Angela Knight. “Yet women like bad boys. I suspect that’s because our inner cavewoman knows Doormat Man would become Sabertooth Tiger Lunch in short order.”

Ah, there we go! But … then comes this:

One of the most startling findings from our desire research is this: men and women’s brains each come wired with the neural circuitry for both sexual dominance and sexual submission. When Nature builds our brains, it installs both the “male” and “female” subcortical circuits, but apparently only links one of these circuits to the arousal system. Scientists can trigger lordosis in male rats by activating their dormant submission circuitry, and can trigger masculine mounting in female rats by activating their dormant dominance circuitry.

In humans, the hormonal vagaries of prenatal development appear to cause a substantial portion of men to be born with active submissive circuitry. These men find sexual submission as arousing—or, quite often, far more arousing—than sexual dominance.

Wow. That is actually interesting. And seems to actually, scientifically, tell us something about the neural circuitry of dominance and submission. But in order to get to this – in order to get to this in a blog post on Psychology Today, not some lad magazine or MRA-site, mind you – we’ve had to sift through several rounds of feminist bashing, romance-novel-based evidence and bastardized ev-psych theorizing. On behalf of all folks (and feminists!) who truly are interested in the neural components of sexual arousal… it’s just insulting, Ogi.

Fortunately, Linda Young, also writing for Psychology Today, offers a much less sensationalistic (and idiotic) take:

To say “feminism” is causing loss of desire and damping male arousal is totally misleading. In fact, there is research that supports the opposite. Rudman and Phelan (1) found that men who had feminist partners reported being in more stable relationships and greater sexual satisfaction.” Brezsnyak & Whisman (2), showed that more egalitarian decision making was associated with elevated levels of sexual desire. Schwartz and Young summarized a number of studies showing a relationship between equitable couples and greater sexual satisfaction (3).

Feminism is about social, economic and political equity and is independent of what turns someone on in a bedroom or fantasy. Ogas, like lots of folks, finds it easier to parse people and ideologies into black and white polarities than to consider the complex grays that don’t fall neatly into categories. A feminist with cleavage in high heels who wants to be ravished in bed is not a contradiction!

And neither is a man who’ll smack you around one minute and beg to be tied up the next. I mean, so I’ve heard …

Written by Elizabeth

April 28, 2011 at 11:26 pm

Defending Betty Draper

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I didn’t know what was going on with LeBron James.

My college friends—mostly ex-Clevelanders now living in Chicago—were appalled. It was the night he was making his big announcement, and our friend Greg had canceled on dinner plans. “He probably just wanted to stay home and watch LeBron,” someone said. “What’s going on with LeBron?” I asked.

Embarrassed silence, dismay, horror spread throughout the room! I hoped never to have to meet with such abject group shaming any time soon—but it was not my night. Because later that evening, my tongue loosened from a little too much Malbec and some concoction my friend calls “Kari juice,” I let slip a far graver statement. What, you wonder, could beat the horror of telling a bunch of Cleveland kids that you, a former Ohioan yourself, have no idea what’s going on with LeBron James?

I admitted I liked Betty Draper.

With the Mad Men season four premiere this evening, the chattering classes and us that orbit them have once again begun fawning over the series, and though I know it’s not fashionable, though I know it’s downright heretical, I want to come clean once and for all: I don’t only like Betty; she is, in fact, my favorite female character on the show. I think she’s sexier than Joan. I think she’s more interesting than Peggy. Yes, we’re all supposed to admire Christina Hendrick’s brave curves, and Peggy’s ambition. And I do. But my heart belongs to Betty.

Yes, she’s  used to getting her way. Yes, she’s rich, and insular; cold, and certainly not the world’s greatest mother. Betty’s not perfect—but none of the character’s on Mad Men are. And yet none of the others seem to be met with the same audience scorn as Betty Draper. Why?

When I’ve admitted to friends, recently, my feelings about Betty, they asked me if I’d finished season 3 yet. I had not. Wait ’til you finish season three, multiple people told me. I bet you’ll change your mind.

But I finished season three last night, and I just don’t see where I’m supposed to start perceiving Betty as especially horrible. Sure, she’s leaving Don for another man, but Disney princesses get more action that Betts got during the lead-up to this affair. Meanwhile, Don has been screwing around on her since the beginning of their marriage, and hiding a secret life (which Betty finds out about at the same time as all this is happening). I’m not one to cast fidelity as the be-all end-all of marital commitment, but for what it’s worth, I think the point clearly goes to Betty here.

So what then—what is it about Betty that turns people off so? Is it that she was raised rich? That she’s pretty? That’s she’s a certain kind of pretty? That she’s not a bastion of maternal compassion? All of it together? What?

I began suspecting folks’ hatred of Betty Draper had less to do with what Betty was, and more to do with what she was not. And what she was not was behaving in the way we like our victimized mid-century housewives to behave. Justin Miller at the Atlantic just comes right out and says it:

Betty was “hazily presented as a stultified victim,” as Ben Schwarz wrote in The Atlantic last year. And victimhood requires a sort of innocence, which is destroyed when she cheats on Don with an anonymous man at a bar and sets up an affair between her married friend and another man. Betty is no longer a victim of infidelity, by the end of the second season, but a believer in it.

So when our lonely housewife heroine feels such so thoroughly isolated she can only speak candidly with an 8-year-old boy, that’s sympathetically adorable, but this sympathy is conditional on her remaining totally helpless?

Well, either that or getting all Betty Friedman on our asses! Miller continues to lament that

… Betty isn’t the agent of her own salvation. It’s another man that’s letting her escape the Draper name by seducing her, proposing to her, and convincing her to leave her family. Betty is hardly an epitome of 1960s feminism. After all, what sort of heroine needs a man?

Most heroines, I’d say, just like most heros need a leading lady. What exactly are Don’s numerous affairs but proof of his “need” of a woman?

As one commenter on Miller’s piece says:

I actually like the fact that Betty’s kind of a jerk. It would have been too easy and obvious a trope to have written her character as a more morally (and emotionally) advanced and perfect creature whose frustrations, limitations and heartbreaks have been foisted upon her by the other jerks in her life and/or by the inequities of the time.

Written by Elizabeth

July 25, 2010 at 10:52 pm

Fetishizing the Good Wife

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The problems start with the subhead: A new generation of female bloggers is championing the importance of being a good wife and partner.

Yes, a new generation of bloggers, eons removed from those paleolithic female bloggers of 2003 who, incidentally, aimed to be terrible wives and atrocious partners! But blah blah blah; people like to cover housewives. The green/locavore/whatever movement is providing a wonderful new hook for doing so.

What’s more interesting, I think, are things like this:

And then there’s Taryn Cox, who isn’t afraid to put it all out there, unabashedly writing about stereotypically uxorial topics ranging from themed baby showers and creating her own cocktail-style dresses to the art of ironing a newspaper and how to clean with vodka at a blog she has titled TarynCoxTheWife.com.

Cox’s posts showcase classic glamour and gorgeous parties as songs such as “Sunny Side of the Street” play in the background.

“I’ve always just been so completely fascinated by the idea of marriage and dedication,” says Cox, a trim 26-year-old with a penchant for pastels and an e-mail address that starts with “stepfordwife.”

No, she’s not married and she doesn’t have kids, but “this [blog] is for those dreams and fantasies. I believe my own vision. I believe there’s an art to being a good wife.”

Clearly, Taryn is taking things a little far. But I think for a certain subset of post-post-feminist (or whatever we are) Gen Y women—especially the particularly horrifying strain who perhaps read a lot of Sylvia Plath or worked in a vintage clothing shop in high school, who were raised by Republicans or Catholics but later got a lip ring or an ill-advised Kanji tattoo, and who appreciate a good cocktail, a man who will take out the garbage and the erotic possibilities of gender roles—well, it’s not too hard to get sucked into the ‘good wife’ allure. Not to the degree Taryn has, heavens no. Just a little bit.

Maybe it’s seriously all libido. Or maybe it’s just another facet of that grasping 20-something desire for some model for how to be Good at Life®.

The rest of the article—which ran in Sunday’s L.A. Times—is mostly a rehash of some book about being your husband’s “at home business partner” or something that came out a few years ago, sprinkled with a little bit of two-bloggers-as-Trend anecdotes. And of course there is the Angry Feminist response:

“They want to live in this perfectly art-directed world,” says Michele Kort, senior editor at Ms. “It’s an illusion that if you have all the right clothes and right accessories that your life will be perfect. This is a throwback to stuff like [Marabel Morgan’s 1974 self-help book] ‘The Total Woman’ … that a wife should be subservient and be all about making a man comfortable and having the perfect household … for the women of the ’50s, it wasn’t so happy-making.”
Which is one of those arguments that just seems silly, for anyone to endorse or for anyone to take as the standard belief of all feminists. To me, it seems that for some women of the 50s, it probably was “happy-marking,” to use Kort’s awkward phrasing. It’s possible that then, as now, there were some women who really did enjoy being completely dedicated wives and mothers. And that this being true in no way negates the fact that many women do not enjoy being full-time housewives, and that women should pursue whatever path makes them happiest. I mean, while I appreciate all the current research and publicity about how women who don’t work could be in for a lot of financial misery if their husbands dump them … at a certain point, god. All of our life paths are a gamble. If we really want to protect our young women’s financial futures, we should tell them not to become journalists, or actors, or major in sociology.

Written by Elizabeth

May 18, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Curio: Earhart the Heartbreaker

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More amazingness from “Letters of Note” – a letter from Amelia Earhart to her fiancee, GP Putnam, on their wedding day in 1931:

On our life together I want you to understand I shall not hold you to any midaevil code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly. If we can be honest I think the difficulties which arise may best be avoided should you or I become interested deeply (or in passing) in anyone else.

Please let us not interfere with the others’ work or play, nor let the world see our private joys or disagreements.

I wikipedia’d it – Earhart and Putnam remained married until she disappeared six years later (no word on whether they stayed faithful).

Written by Elizabeth

April 1, 2010 at 9:40 am

Posted in Asides, Curio

Tagged with ,

Simone de Beauvoir Made Me Keep Chickens

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My goodness. When I first read this Amanda Marcotte post on Double XX about the New York Times article on upper-class housewife chicken keepers, I thought Marcotte was probably right about the gist but must be using her characteristic hyperization when she said it was “was yet another one of those expensive NY Times pieces about how some rich ladies found an out from the supposed demands of feminism, a space where they can stay at home without being so bored they have to subsist on Valium.”

But that is actually what the article explicitly says.

All of these gals — these chicks with chicks — are stay-at-home moms, highly educated women who left the work force to care for kith and kin. I don’t think that’s a coincidence: the omnivore’s dilemma has provided an unexpected out from the feminist predicament, a way for women to embrace homemaking without becoming Betty Draper. “Prior to this, I felt like my choices were either to break the glass ceiling or to accept the gilded cage,” says Shannon Hayes, a grass-fed-livestock farmer in upstate New York and author of “Radical Homemakers,” a manifesto for “tomato-canning feminists,” which was published last month.

Writer Peggy Orenstein goes on to actually call it “femivorism,” and asks, “who these days can’t wax poetic about compost?” Plenty of people, Peggy Orenstein!

I get that this is a style section article. I think she’s trying to be, shall we say, tongue-in-cheek. But still … She actually suggests that should a wife no longer be able to rely on her husband for financial support, homemaking and chicken-cooping skills may be better positioned to “provide a family’s basic needs” and “guard against job loss (and) catastrohpic illness” than a salary or savings.

Orenstein does end on a skeptical note, to be fair. And it’s not that the article itself is inherently uninteresting (Marcotte made pains to point out that she loves organic gardening and once considered keeping chickens; I’ve got a hallway full of seeds sprouting and a boyfriend who sells raw vegan nut pates around town). It’s just … why does everything women do – and I was going to say outside the realm of paid work, but really, it’s everything: working, not-working, part-time work, hobbies, etc. – have to be considered as a reaction to or against “feminism?” Why can’t we accept that there have, are and always will be myriad ways for arranging domestic, social and professional life, and the periodic, cyclical “discovery” of them by magazine or style section reporters says close to nothing about the state of gender relations, the nature of egalitarianism, feminism or the rejection thereof? *

* said with love, as one whose greatest ambition is secretly to write these types of articles.

Written by Elizabeth

March 15, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Elsewhere

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Over at Brooklyn Home Companion, I tackle the assertion that bread-making is not a proper use of an ambitions young lady’s time.

For the record, I hate bread-making. But I think we’re using it as a stand-in for all things culinary.

Written by Elizabeth

March 1, 2010 at 10:23 am

Posted in My Life, Self-Promotion

Tagged with ,

Eco-feminism

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From Bitch:

Admittedly, I don’t see much disconnect between environmental issues, feminism, and animal rights issues (not to be confused with animal welfare, which I’ll discuss in another post).

… In the next weeks, I’ll be looking at a variety of intersecting issues including the human cost of chocolate, the use of fur in northern climates and indigenous cultures, soy and soybean farming, nuclear power’s environmental effects, ideas for carbon-free transit, the links between racism and animal oppression, and how you can be a pro-choice vegan.

Aside from the pro-choice veganism issue, I don’t understand how any of these topics could be considered feminist issues. There are enough feminist issues. There are enough ecological issues. Outside of perhaps academic research, I don’t understand the imperative to conflate them …

Written by Elizabeth

January 26, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Narcisisstic Desire Disorder

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So this has been blogged about all over the place, and I’ve already posted about it on Ladyblog, but I’m still pretty intrigued by the New York Times Magazine article on women and sexual desire [seriously, read the whole thing if you haven’t yet].

Yes, the article has a few flaws—the “post-feminist” tag on the headline is sort of annoying, since several of the researchers within are quoted as considering themselves “feminists,” but that’s hardly the writer’s fault; and the ending— “women’s sexuality is an unknowable forest” and all that—is, in addition to being kind of a cop-out, just kind of cheesy. But I think, overall, the (male) writer does a really great job of handling the topic and the material, presenting it in a way that avoids falling into any particular ideological pigeonhole or falling back on the old “women—man!, aren’t they crazy and inexplicable” trap.

The part that most intrigued me was the research about women’s desire based on a feeling of being desired:

[One researcher] emphasized the role of being desired — and of narcissism — in women’s desiring.

The critical part played by being desired, Julia Heiman observed, is an emerging theme in the current study of female sexuality. Three or four decades ago, with the sense of sexual independence brought by the birth-control pill and the women’s liberation movement, she said, the predominant cultural and sexological assumption was that female lust was fueled from within, that it didn’t depend on another’s initiation.

Meana made clear, during our conversations in a casino bar and on the U.N.L.V. campus, that she was speaking in general terms, that, when it comes to desire, “the variability within genders may be greater than the differences between genders,” that lust is infinitely complex and idiosyncratic.

She pronounced, as well, “I consider myself a feminist.” Then she added, “But political correctness isn’t sexy at all.” For women, “being desired is the orgasm,” Meana said somewhat metaphorically — it is, in her vision, at once the thing craved and the spark of craving.
This whole narcissism business has, of course, sparked some complaints from a few feminist bloggers. Jill at Feministe writes:

Shocking, absolutely shocking, that when women are raised in a culture that equates the female body with sex itself, that positions the female body as an object of desire, and that emphasizes that being desired is the height of female achievement, women will see sex as a process primarily centered on male attraction to women, and will get off more on being wanted than on wanting.

Maybe so. I like my cultural constructs as much as the next person and all that. But regardless—whether it comes from some innate position or from acculturation (which, sure, is an interesting exploration in and of itself, though really, an impossible one)—it’s still a fascinating finding. Women get off on being desired. And yet, one researcher notes:

… in comparison with men, women’s erotic fantasies center less on giving pleasure and more on getting it.

Women are far more selfish and narcissistic in terms of sex—if not in practice, at least in fantasies—then men? Come on, this is good stuff! I don’t understand how this research can be construed as some sort of tool/effect of the patriarchy. And—I have to admit, though I have spent my formative years adamantly denying that gender differences exist at all—that, uh, based largely on anecdotal evidence, I’m beginning to come around to the idea that (while mental/emotional gender differences still be damned!) sexual desire/behavior may be an area of innate difference between the sexes. Not in the typical “men want it/women don’t” or “men can separate sex from love/women can’t” dichotomy that is often presented [one researcher thinks that women may be even less emotional/relational in their lust then men are], but in more subtle ways—which is what a lot of this research seems to be saying.

Written by Elizabeth

January 27, 2009 at 10:52 pm

I am not blogging about this over-blogged article, I’m just blogging about people blogging about it

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I’ve read a lot of posts about Lori Gottlieb’s Atlantic Monthly article about why women should just go ahead and “settle” before their “marital value” decreases, and this has to be my favorite title: The Atlantic Discovers its Inner Va-Jay-Jay

Written by Elizabeth

February 13, 2008 at 7:51 pm

Posted in Culture, Feminism

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Oh, Susan Faludi, I adore you.

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And someday very soon, I will get around to reading The Terror Dream, which I got for Christmas, and have put off reading because I’ve been distracted by Murakami and Elizabeth Hardwick thus far in 2008. Until then, I am very glad you write awesome — and shorter — things like this:

Susan Morrison, the editor of Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary (who’s also the articles editor of The New Yorker, and former editor in chief of this newspaper), defends the absence of political analysis in the book thusly: “There’s plenty of Hillary Studies literature out there that parses the candidate’s stands on policy issues, her Senate votes, and her track record as first lady. This book isn’t aiming at that kind of op-ed territory. Rather, it’s an attempt to look at the ways in which women think about Hillary (and why they think so much about Hillary), how they make their judgments about her, which buttons she pushes in them and why.”

Actually, the op-ed territory is awash with exactly the same sort of trivializing dissection. Hillary Studies pundits are obsessed with the candidate’s hairdos, outfits, cookie-baking comments, supposedly “cold” personality and even, most recently, her failure to apply “The Rules” style of dating in her politics. The ratio of trenchant political commentary to personal pot-shotting on the subject of Hillary Clinton in the larger media realm is precisely echoed in the pages of this book, which seems intended to reprise the op-ed fixations, not to bury them. The result is a good deal of convenient psychologizing, self-absorbed meanderings and unearned snipes—and a handful of efforts to take a respectable step back from how-do-I-personally-feel-about-Hillary thumb-suckery.

Written by Elizabeth

February 5, 2008 at 2:48 pm

Posted in The Best Things

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