"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Sex: "What Men Want"

Happily, the feminist blogs have been doing the rounds talking about sex. I say 'happily' because it seems to me that the intersections of sex and sexism are many and varied; also because I just tend to think that people don't talk about sex enough, relegating it to some sort of back burner while 'more important' issues are dealt with...as if a great majority of people don't have sex drives in a similar way that they have drives to eat, sleep, have companionship and the like.

And let's just put it out there: Resisting patriarchy makes sex complicated, especially for those of us who are trying to be conscious of it and to undermine it to whatever degree. Among the complexities are things like considering when sexual desire is and isn't simple objectification, being concerned about sexual role-playing around power while embedded in a sexist society, and dealing with the myriad ways in which patriarchy seemingly dictates what we ought to want sexually.

For those of us men striving to be feminist allies, the individual sexual relationships we have are informed by our feminism, and by resisting patriarchy. But there are all sorts of ways that this can play out. (Note: It's likely that patriarchy affects gay and bi men just as much as straight men--even these designations, to the extent that they are seen as rigid, are probably patriarchy-enforced; still, I've mostly got experience sexually as a straight man, so I'll be addressing some of this more from that perspective than others may like.) One thing that I've been focused on recently is the notion that part of feminism is anti-essentialism, and part of anti-essentialism is making sure that one tries to avoid thinking of women as 'an undifferentiated mass' (thanks to zuzu for this phrase, which I found really drove the point home for me). That is, talk about 'what women want' is sexist talk from the get-go. If we're going to make generalizations, they need to be backed up in some real way, and they need to be acknowledged as generalizations explicitly. But in general(!), it might be better to just avoid making generalizations about what women want, because 'women' are a group of varied individuals, and acting as if they aren't is one of the roots of patriarchy.

One reason I'm glad to see people talking about sex is that one almost immediately has to ditch a lot of the generalizations, because 'exceptions' seem to be the order of the day. But I also see (I think) a tendency for it to be more ok to talk about 'what men want' sexually than it is to talk about 'what women want' sexually--as if men were more like an undifferentiated mass than women; as if their sexuality and combinations of sexual desires are relatively simple. For instance: "Straight men prefer PIV (penis in vagina) sex." Zuzu notes:
But in terms of equivalences — and I do have to say that I dislike the very idea of quid pro quo or tit for tat — I see the proper analogue for cunnilingus to be PIV intercourse. A blow job is an appetizer, or perhaps more properly, the tapas of sex. Sometimes it’s just a precursor to a meal, sometimes it’s the meal itself. But by and large, a guy wants an entree.

Now, it may very well be true that some majority of men percieve fucking as more of an entree, while oral sex is seen more as an appetizer. Perhaps there are studies to support this view. But supporting such a view has the same problem as taking a survey of a bunch of women about whether or not they like confident men or non-confident men--not only could generalizing from such a study treat men as if they have no variation in desires, but there are inherent problems with even framing the questions; patriarchy (among other things) has already set up the false dichotomies from which men tend to choose. "Do you like fucking or sucking?" is, most likely, a loaded question. (The sexual puns just never end.)

Getting Personal
In the spirit of the discussions over at Feministe, which tend (to me) to be along the lines of 'well, *I* like X, and that's not supposed to be the norm', I'd like to point out that, on a personal level, almost all of the lovers I have had have liked fucking more than I have. They were, so to speak, much more interested in PIV sex than I was. It could be that I am an aberration (statistically speaking, of course), or it could just be that men aren't an undifferentiated mass.

That said, I do think it's expected of men that they prefer PIV sex. Along the same lines, it's expected that they like 'receiving' better than 'giving'. Whatever the statistical truths of all of this, I still say the dichotomies are false--as people have pointed out, one person's receiving is another person's giving (some people get exactly the pleasure they want, be it orgasm or not, from being the 'giver' of oral sex, for instance). Further, it's expected of men that they prefer getting right to the fucking, rather than, say, making out, grinding, oral sex and the like. Men are expected to like visual stimulation more than verbal stimulation. But how much (if any) of that is true because it's what's expected? How much of that is 'true' because of the false dichotomies created by patriarchy? From experience, it's difficult as a man in our society to say something along the lines of, "I'm not ready for fucking just yet," or even "I'd prefer not to."

I think that we all ought to recognize that, whatever gender identity we have, none of us are just another bit of the undifferentiated mass; just as we ought not talk about 'what women want' to the degree that we treat them as such, we ought to talk about 'what men want' as if their sexuality (or whatever) is simple and homogenized. As feminist allies of all genders, we ought to resist these false dichotomies, and continue to see each other as wonderfully complex beings who happen to exist within a bunch of (percieved) rigid frameworks.
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