Jill Filipovic of Feministe jumps hard on last week’s New York Times Magazine article “What Do Women Want?: A new generation of postfeminist sexologists is trying to discover what ignites female desire“ by Daniel Bergner. She ably dismantles the most egregious assumptions Bergner brings to our attention, but I’d like to pile on with one more point.
A compact 51-year-old woman in a shirtdress, [psychology professor Marta] Meana explained the gender imbalance onstage in a way that complemented [psychology professor Meredith] Chivers’s thinking. “The female body,” she said, “looks the same whether aroused or not. The male, without an erection, is announcing a lack of arousal.
Not to sound cruel or dismissive or anything but… is she mental? Or just really inexperienced around aroused women and men?
Because, pardon me, but arousal in both men and women is at least moderately (almost said “modestly!”) obvious from the collarbones up. And while contemporary beauty standards do their best to camouflage hints of arousal behind (peculiarly) the simulated arousal of makeup on lips, eyes, and cheeks, and posture-altering heels and foundation garments visual signs of arousal still peek through. And if everybody’s naked there are even more perfectly visible evidence. And…
That’s all assuming arousal is to be detected in the absence of, oh, I dunno, social and context, body language and conversation. Which, even in the extravagantly stylized “primitive state of nature” happened exactly how often?
And about the male-erection thing. Thought experiment for anyone with sexual experience with men: Imagine the various men in your life when they’re aroused and not aroused. Now imagine a little black cartoon-style “censored” label across their lower midsections so it’s impossible to see if they’re “announcing” anything with their erection or lack thereof. Are signs of male arousal so binary and limited that it’s impossible to tell if they’re aroused without peeking behind the black bar?
I mean… seriously?
Yes, in those circumstances where men or women are visible only from navel to upper thigh, where there’s no possibility of verbal communication or body language, where they’re too far apart to listen to their breathing, assess their posture, feel their body heat, watch them move, or smell them and you’re either color-blind so you can’t see genital and non-genital flushing or too far away to discern vulvar engorgement and lubrication, and for some reason you have to assess whether someone’s aroused then yeah, thank goodness you can check for an erection. Oops, unless they’re wearing something that’s not quite form-fitting. Oh, and you can somehow confirm that he didn’t just wake up and he has to pee… or conversely that he’s actually quite aroused but dealing with erection dysfunction. But yeah, in those circumstances it’s obvious whether men are aroused but not when women are.
I mean, seriously?
It would be one thing if we were talking about evolutionary psychologists because it’s generally agreed they’re fascinated by sex because they’re too dweeby to have had it themselves. But these people are supposed to be flipping sexologists and that’s the best Meana can do? Because, seriously, as far as insults to grown men and women’s intelligence goes that’s way over the top.
In her post Jill suggests an alternative
How about the fact that women grow up in a society that is centered on men’s experiences and lives? That the female body is used as a representation of sex itself, whereas (hetero) men’s experiences and understandings of sex dominate our cultural narrative?
Now that makes a lot more sense. I was really struck by one of the panel discussions on orgasms with a partner on Cherry.tv where one of the women said she never masturbated because she grew up believing it was “just a thing guys did. ... I think I found out about it when ‘American Pie’ came out. It was like ‘girls masturbate?’ ... It was, like, foreign to me.” So yeah, in a culture that communicates that to women (and, of course, men) then you’d also expect it to communicate that a man’s erection is the only conceivable or detectable sign of arousal in all of humanity.
[** Also what’s with this “the female body…” “the male…” business? Maybe it’s because if researchers used direct words like “women’s bodies…” they’d have moments of self-identification and balk at the absurdity of blanket statements like that. —fl]