Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Conceptual Art

Yesterday's car conversation reminded me of the literalness of men-in-general and of the multi-layered thought processes of women-in-general. For example, for an American man a man's car is a man's car, an expensive object upon which he has to lavish money. For an American woman a man's car is a symbol that a man has it together enough to take care of his and his future family's basic transportation needs.

Women-in-general are great decoders, antennae bobbing towards any possible hidden meaning. Girls who are not good at reading micro-signals are, therefore, rather out of the loop in schoolyard conversations. Innocent-seeming questions like, "So do you think you look pretty in that?" are, in fact, challenges to battle. The trick (I see in hindsight) is to answer back immediately, e.g. "Yes, I think I look smokin'!", instead of goggling in silence wondering if the question is a trap.

Boys and men don't usually say one thing when they mean another. This is why you should never say to a man, "Sure, I'm okay with this," when you're not. He won't get from your tone, watery smile and red eyeballs that you're not okay with this unless he has dated a lot or grown up with sisters. Incidentally, this is why you should listen carefully to what men say and take their words literally. When a man says, "I have a drinking problem", it means he is an alcoholic. That's all it means, and he means it. Don't think "Oh ha ha. He's exaggerating." Believe me on this one.

(Of course men lie a lot, but they mean you to believe the literal meaning of their lies. Which makes them more dastardly liars than we are, because when we say things like "Of course I love you" most woman within two yards could tell we mean the opposite.)

But what interests me today is not so much the figurative nature of female speech but the figurative nature of the female sexual imagination. Women are simply not as visually-oriented as men are when it comes to sexual attraction. Our imaginations are more important than our eyeballs, and as evidence I will scoot right down to the lowest common denominator, which is porn.

Women do not surf for internet porn (later correction: as much as men do). Women do not buy pornographic magazines. Women do not go to strip joints, except maybe once or twice in their lifetimes for a laugh. The tired, lonely businesswoman does not mosey up to a barmaid and say, "Tell me, pal, where can I see some boys in this town?" And the barmaid does not slip her a card that says "Boyzboyzboyz! 135, Rue St-Catharine" on it.

No, what the tired, lonely businesswoman is much more likely to do is sit in her hotel room and take from her briefcase a fat paperback book with a woman in 18th century partial dress on the cover.

This woman's hair is whipping in the invisible breeze that somehow does not even ruffle the sails of the pirate ship behind her. Just behind her, with his nose just above her hair, is a man in 18th century partial dress. He might be a pirate, or he might be an officer in the Royal Navy, or he might be an officer in the Royal Navy who is a pirate in his spare time. He is probably not a mere Able Seaman, anyway.*

No woman on earth would confuse this book with Treasure Island. This book is an example of the bestselling fiction genre on earth: the erotic novel. Women buy millions upon millions of copies of this trash.

To get a sexual thrill, our businesswoman cannot just look at a picture. She has to decode a whole lot of text in her imagination. And the text has to convey important symbols to her subconscious. It is not enough to have a hero who is nothing but a man. He must be an officer (not an able seaman) because a man who gives orders is higher caste than a man who takes orders (A pirate chief beats his boatswain for the same reason.) An officer must be a British officer, not a Portuguese officer, because really, Portugal was rather a waning power in the 18th century, so--unless you yourself are Portuguese--who cares?

And so on. Women are not very good at compartmentalizing at the best of times. We usually cannot separate erotic enjoyment from feeling proud of the object of our erotic attentions. A famous funny-looking guy like the French premier is a zillion times more attractive to women than an unemployed male model who can barely read. (Newsflash to men with SSA: women don't think like you, so don't kid yourselves.) Undergrads of my generation thrilled when the uber-flirty 80-something former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau smiled at pretty little them in the street.

Men do not really get this. They look at the women who throw themselves at Manchester United's Wayne Rooney and sneer that he is so ugly, the women are only after his money. Er, no.

And when Wayne caves in to the women but his wife doesn't divorce him, the men sneer again that his wife is only after his money. Again, no.

The women are throwing themselves at Wayne Rooney because he is one of the best football players in England. He is famous for it. He is better than almost all men at something millions of men think is the most exciting job on earth.

I am sorry that Colleen Rooney has to put up with women throwing themselves at her husband, but imagine how she felt when Wayne gubbed Arsenal on Sunday. (Probably something akin to how I felt when my husband managed to gub David Hume in a BBC special on Hume so cleverly that the gubbing wasn't left on the cutting room floor. Ah ha ha ha!)

Women want to be proud of the men we date and especially of the men that we marry. That's all there is to it, really. If a rural woman wonders why a man doesn't have a car, it's not because she's materialistic. It's that she doesn't want to end up with a man she can't respect because he keeps getting rides from friends.

Today my husband is giving a lecture on the Italian Renaissance. He is giving it at a rather high profile, high status place of learning. He wondered if I would like to go along with him and hear it. I was already thinking out my outfit.

*Scottish Note: The romantic heroes of The People's Friend magazine are almost all good-hearted working-class types. They are all incredibly capable. Most either run their own businesses or have decided to run their own businesses by the end of the story. However,
style="font-style:italic;">The People's Friend
is read mostly by Presbyterianish ladies over 60 whose fathers were Communists and their bored visiting grandchildren. There is no sex in The People's Friend. I would love to write for The People's Friend but you cannot have a sense of humour do to it. I would be incapable of writing a story in which the nice carpenter did not turn out to be a wicked rake and the handsome banker up from London a saint.

Update: I've had another anonymous "shame on you" comment, which I won't put up because I won't put "shame on you, Seraphic" comments on my blog, even from recovering porn addicts. However, I think the thoughts of Catholic women who have somehow found themselves with an overwhelming attachment to porn worth reading. (I wonder if this is a fruit of the internet age because I never, EVER, EVER heard of a woman compulsively viewing porn before the subject came up.)

At any rate, my reader says she recovered from porn not by "just stopping" and "talking to a priest" but through years of therapy. And although I don't like "shame on you, Seraphic" emails, I think she deserves credit for turning her life around.

And now that we know some people--women--get hooked on internet porn, we have absolutely no excuse to click on it even once out of curiously, do we? Because when we do that we are supporting a disgusting industry from which we can draw a straight line to the sexual abuse of adults, children and even babies.

Refraining from viewing porn is not just about our own personal chastity. It's about social justice. It's about other people.


kozz said...

Probably your best post till date, Aunty Seraphic. Thanks!

sciencegirl said...

Yep, this is a great one! So true, so true.

theobromophile said...

Wow. Auntie Seraphic pulls out quill pen, dips in Awesome.

Thank you for mentioning that men with SSA are not women. This is something that they often forget.

Men do not really get this. They look at the women who throw themselves at Manchester United's Wayne Rooney and sneer that he is so ugly, the women are only after his money. Er, no.

Likewise, that is a man forgetting that we are not them, nor gold-diggers. I would wager that a pro athlete who makes less than an accountant has many more women throwing themselves at him. Or a Senator probably gets more attention than does Bill Gates. We're attracted to confidence and the ability to succeed.

Interestingly, men want women to be proud of them. Ask a man what he most fears about the way a wife would treat him, and he would probably say disloyalty or being scorned in public. Men (real men, not whiny ones who complain that scantily clad young things don't throw themselves at them) want their wives to be proud of them and to express such pride.

theobromophile said...

Ack, a little fuzzy today. While Bill Gates is obviously outstanding at what he does, and Melinda is probably bursting her buttons with pride in her husband, a lot of women probably don't put much stock into his field.

fifi said...

I would have to agree wholeheartedly that passion and aptitude for his work are hugely attractive qualities in a man. It can be really hard (for both men and women) to find the work that is a good fit, but it makes all the difference.

I personally don't even notice what kind of car a man has. It never occurs to me. I can't tell them apart anyway. I know what kind I have because I have to when I take it to the service center occasionally. I've never understood why having a flashy car was so important to some people. I think it would actually be a turn-off to me. Why not give that money to charity? Why draw attention to yourself in that very materialistic way?

Maybe I would feel differently if it was a vintage car. Maybe. Not sure...

Seraphic said...

I had an anonymous comment saying shame on me for stereotyping, and we all know how much I love cowardly anonymous comments saying shame on me. So of course I have taken it down.

However she (or he) had something interesting to say.

Anonymous claims that many women (including Catholic ones) do watch adult porn and then go weeping to Anonymous to confess and worry about female porn addiction.

I'd like to know how many of these women are watching porn at the behest of men, that's what I would like to know.

Listen, I KNOW women have a porn problem. The female porn problem is called erotic novels. As I said above, erotic novels are the best-selling fiction there is.(And it's not men who are buying them.) It makes me sad to think of how many women are getting a buzz off of really lousy prose about British officers, pirates and half-brothers (hello, V.C. Andrews).

The one thing that comforts me is that no real British officers, pirates or half-brothers were exploited in the making of these novels. Photographic porn is, of course, disgusting exploitative.

I have less sympathy for adult porn addicts than I have for heroin addicts. The one exception is the guy who got hooked when he was a kid because his irresponsible father or brother left his porn stash where a child could find it.

That's very sad. If fact, that's child sex abuse. No Christian household should have porn in it, and every Christian woman has the right to scream to the rafters if she finds it in her house.

It fills me with dismay that women might be both consuming erotic literature AND photos and films that completely exploit people the sex industry treats like garbage.

I also annoys me that I'm supposed to feel sorry for women like that. I do not. They are women and they are adults and they should know better and they can certainly do better.

Calling a filthy habit "an addiction" does not absolve the filthy habit-haver of blame. In fact, men and the few women who consume pornographic photos and films are complicit in sexual child abuse, because the more porn people consume, the "edgier" more "transgressive" stuff they need, and hence the explosion of child porn.

I suppose Anonymous is upset because my post assumes that watching porn is unfeminine. You bet it's unfeminine. It's not too manly either, since for two thousand years true manliness was linked to self-control and protecting the weak. But it is decidedly unfeminine.

Are women capable of enormous sexual longings? Yes, of course we are. Is it hard for us to be chaste? Yes, of course it is. (Men swear up and down that it is harder for them, although I wonder how they know that.) But watching porn Just Like Men is not exactly the red badge of courage.

When I first went to university, I was greeted by gay rights posters showing photos men and women shoving their tongues down each other's throats over the motto "Enjoying your Orientation?" There were also posters saying things like "Did you know that [X]% of women masturbate?" I think the people who liked to put up such posters targeted my Catholic college in particular.

Anyway, I was surprised that [X]% of women (as opposed to 99% of men) masturbated, and I wondered how they did it and why. But most of all I wondered why some anonymous person thought it was SO IMPORTANT that I and everyone else at my college know that.

Seraphic said...

Here, for the sake of any women who have been watching porn Just Like Men, is a Guardian article on the topic. I don't recommend that men read it because it is probably an occasion of sin for men to read about women reading pornography. And I don't recommend it for ordinary Single women who don't watch porn because the easiest way to deal with sexual temptations is to NOT THINK ABOUT THEM.

The Guardian has a good point: women are somewhat "visual" (of course, or we wouldn't have looked at all those Tiger Beat/Jackie pin-ups when we were 12), just not as visual as men.


berenike said...

Here, for the sake of any women (or men) watching porn, is a site helping people stop doing so:

The Porn Effect

Seraphic said...

Erotic novel readers will just have to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. I suggest they read Georgette Heyer.

Seraphic said...

By the way, I wouldn't read the link Berenike posted just out of curiosity. It's sort of like what Father Z says about possession and the occult: realize it's out there, but don't get too interested.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all your posts...about men or women who watch porn: I heard a priest who was saying something interesting: many of these people watch porn because...they feel lonely. of course, this is not a justification at all, but it just made me think of the deeper root of the problem- they simply need affection and company, and they look for it in the only place that WILL NEVER give them what they want, even if they get the immediate immpression of finding company by feeling stimulated and excited by someone else... so, it made my think that many of these people just need REAL friends and more courage to go out and look for them

Eowyn said...

There are excellent people involved in the ministry at the Porn Effect, and I was going to suggest it if Berenike hadn't.

Also, from personal stories I have heard, there are certainly some women who struggle with visual pornography, and part of their struggle is sometimes that the shame of seeking help can be much more present because the addiction is not "expected" of women as it (sadly) is of men.

Seraphic said...

Well, Eowyn, they should be ashamed. Looking at porn so much that they get addicted to it is quite shameful. Staring at photos or films of adults being paid to have sex with each other, or of children being abused is horrifically shameful. Shame is the good and healthy message of an active well-formed conscience.

But of course it is wrong not to "get help" (as opposed to just "STOP") if really someone's free will really is that compromised.

Serious sin is egregiously shameful, but people who commit serious sins and are that bothered by it manage to get to confession and tell a priest. And people who think they have sexually transmitted diseases manage to go to a sexual health clinic to tell a doctor. Therefore, shame should not get that much in the way of a woman who realizes that her serious moral failing has taken over her life.

Seraphic said...

It is interesting that in at least one way women are not proud to be "JUST LIKE A MAN." One of the great ills of our age is women striving to be JUST LIKE A MAN instead of just working or waiting for what they really want, as if it was sooo much better to be JUST LIKE A MAN than to be a "typical woman."

caveat said...

Auntie Seraphic, I understand your shock but I think it is not as simple as it seems to you. (Though for those people for whom it is simple, I pray it will stay that way.) And it is not just women trying to "be like the boys" (though for many young feminist women, it is apparently seen as a part of their sexual liberation).

You know porn exploits women - not just in its production but in the very 'gaze' of the character of the male fantasy itself, which is very demeaning. So what does that say about the women who watch it? For some women the self-destructive impulse paired with old habits and wounds of one kind or another can lead to viewing porn. I'm not addicted to visual porn, thank God, but I have viewed it too often for my own good and recognize the sinking spiral of that kind of urge. I'm not sure that emphasizing shame is the way to lead someone out of that, when self-repugnance is already such a part of the mix. But this is not an excuse, just as it's not an excuse for girls who, for one reason or another, seek out men to dominate or demean them. But girls who struggle with masturbation (it's a habit I've, very sadly for me, had since early childhood) and with erotic stories and with porn -- and who are religious in one way or another -- are probably already convinced this makes them nearly unlovable. The priests who have heard my confessions have never heaped shame or even seemed shocked. They seem to have learned that "feminine" activities include much more than we women tell each other, at least for some of us.

I've enjoyed reading through your blog this weekend, and it's given me a great deal of reassurance and encouragement, but I can't help but think you have a bit of a blind spot here. I just wanted to leave a comment for anyone else "like me" who wanders by to read this.

Seraphic said...

Well, that could very well be true. I am not at all shocked by women reading erotic fiction, since it is quite obvious that thousands of women do; erotic romance novels are, I believe, the best-selling kind of fiction out there. I'm just still trying to get my head around women viewing pornography online.

However, I have had to get my head around it because enough readers have convinced me that addiction online porn is a problem for women, too. So I am very sorry that this post has caused women with a visual porn habit distress.