Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Just a Number

To repeat, my three cardinal rules of dealing with men are as follow:

1. Men are who they are, and not who you want them to be.
2. Men are attracted to whom they are attracted and not to whom you think they should be attracted.
3. You can find out what men think, but you won't always like it.

This is not to say there is not a certain amount of pain wrapped up in this. An older woman I know--once a great beauty, if this adds to the story--bought a computer from her son's pal. She found p*rn on it, and she was devastated. She could hardly believe that that nice young man thought of women that way, and when next she saw him, she gave him a look. He blushed to the ears.

In this case a woman had merely stumbled on a guilty secret. The young man had no idea that his pal's mother had taken it personally--something the defenders of p*rn don't really get. They think the women who admit they don't like it are joyless prudes, but in fact we don't like it because we don't like what it says about women, which is to say, ourselves. Every dirty photograph is a judgement, a measure, standard: this is what a man thinks a woman is supposed to look like. And this is why breast implants and Brazilian waxes are now mainstream, and why some women now submit to genital cosmetic surgery. Such women want to be "normal", and this is what "men" (and women long for men) have said is normal and desirable.

But then there are men who make no secret of the fact that they have certain, quantifiable standards. Older men tend not to reveal them in front of women; either they have become kinder or they have learned some sense. But there are still, as there were when I was a teenager, young men who will shout numbers out car windows as women walk by.

Such a trivial incident, and such an ugly suburban parking lot, outside such a 1980s excuse for a suburban dance club--and yet I can still remember the three of us girls looking up, startled, as a car pulsating with music cruised past and young male voices shouted "6! 7! 7.5!"

In case the ranking is different where you are, these numbers were out of "10." "10" was the name of a film starring Bo Derek; when it appeared in cinemas,I was too young to see it, but I understood that "10" was what Bo Derek was, and her braided hair inspired a craze for braids among white girls, including little white girls like me.

I know the numbers change from country to country because a man casually bragged to me of the magical golden proportions expected of women in his country, and I went blind for a second. Actually blind. I've met one of his country's most elite scientists, a young Single woman, intense, incredibly intelligent, devout, attractive--and possibly not fitting into the magical golden proportions although how would I know? It would never have occurred to me in a million years to see her that way. Although I suppose if she walked down the street back home, that's all certain men would see: Oops, no golden proportions. Not for me.

My momentary blindness was caused by rage, and please don't ask me what the golden proportions are because I don't want to ruin your day. It's bad enough to have to tell you that some men--and not just sociopaths on the internet--still think like that. And I was not just mad for this scientist, and all of you, but for myself, because of course I do not fit those magical golden proportions either. And although it was completely illogical to feel hurt by that, I did. In A Handmaid's Tale (Opowiesc podrecznej), the Unwomen are all sent out to clean up radioactive areas; I think Atwood was channeling women's deep, deep fear of being considered Unwomen by men, any men.

But I should stress that some men still think like that. Not all men think like that. Very sensibly, I did what all happily married women should do when they are grappling with male psychology and consulted my husband.

"Is there some sort of magical proportion standard for women's bodies in Britain?" I asked.

Poor B.A. Now that I think about it, this is a heck of a question to ask a fellow when he first wakes up in the morning.

"No," said B.A. "Well, there was a lot of interest in Pippa Middleton's bottom, of course."

"I don't think anyone talked in terms of numbers, though, did they?" I said, greatly cheered.

"Maybe British men are bad at maths," said B.A.

Good. Or rather, good that they haven't agreed on a way to reduce women to numbers. Being reduced to mere bodies is bad enough, being reduced to numbers is truly dehumanizing.

19 comments:

Young Canadian RC Male said...

Good post Seraphic. Glad to know someone has common sense about relationships. If only women knew those three rules just think how many relatiohsips between the sexes would be easier, friendship or romantic. This should be not kept a secret but promoted amongst the rooftops!

Anna said...

Yeah, YCRCM, that's true, but the corollary to that is that women do not exists for men's sexual fantasies and gratification. If only men would understand that, relationships between the sexes would easier etc.

Seraphic Spouse said...

I think he is just addressing the top 3 points, Anna! I definitely do not expect a chorus of male voices to chime in on the rest! ;-)

Anna said...

I do so wonder what your male readers think about the rest.

Seraphic Spouse said...

See Rule #3!!!!

Anna said...

Hey, I may not like what they think but at least it will help me remain happily single. ;)

The Sojourner said...

I read part of this post aloud to my husband and he pointed me to this comic: http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/1995-05-09/

I feel like it's pertinent.

(Yes, he has an uncanny ability to remember every comic he's ever read.)

Charming Disarray said...

I think those rules are good advice, but at the same time I don't think women should shy away from wanting to know what men think just because it might be painful. Who is going to tell them "I find it disgusting that any man has that attitude towards women" if we don't? Men know, deep down inside, however much in denial they are about it, that when they objectify women they are doing something wrong. I'm not saying this is a problem women can fix--just that I don't see a need to keep silent about it. And it's always refreshing to hear a guy speak up against this kind of thing as well, which often doesn't happen unless they're prompted.

Seraphic said...

@ Sojourner: Hee hee hee!

@ Charming Disarray. Well said.

Marimba said...

I agree with Charming - and it's interesting/telling to see how men respond to other's comments against objectification of women. I dated a guy who said he didn't see anything wrong with his daily viewing of certain websites. He had been doing it since he hit puberty and thought it was normal. We had several painful conversations about it, and when I finally realized he wouldn't change and we broke up, he told me he wished he had never even admitted to his habit. *Tellingly - not that he wished he had never looked, just the admitting part.

I thank God he did tell me the truth, because it would have been a million times worse had I not found out until we got more serious or even married. Not only is that behavior toxic, but it can become downright addictive to men who otherwise try to be decent, which is sad and scary and messed up for everyone involved.

Johannes Faber said...

The rules - dead right.
The rest - vile.

(male reader)

Seraphic Spouse said...

I'm not sure how to take that. Are you talking about men reducing women to numbers or my feeling that they ought not to do that?

Anna said...

@Charming Disarray: What I was trying to say, only much more articulate!

Johannes Faber said...

Sorry!

I meant: your thing about the rules is dead right. You understand men better than they do, until they read something like that, and suddenly everything they do makes sense (and the immoderate bits can be addressed properly I guess).

What is vile is the rating women by number thing.

Gilbert said...

OK, as a male reader, I'll bite:

Obviously objectifying woman is evil, mean, illicit, immoral, vile, obnoxious, and wrong.

Now for the rule #3 part:

Objectification is a feature of most, perhaps even of all sin. Old Kant had a point there though he wasn't right about everything. And single men do pretty universally experience strong sexual temptation. Taking that together we do have a tendency to sexually objectify woman. Now you can reasonably expect a NCB to let the rational part rule and suppress that dark part when it rears its ugly head. In other words to be chaste. But if you are looking for a guy who never ever could think that way even for a second and is disgusted by the very idea even before the rational faculties kick in, um well maybe that saint exists somewhere but I would suspect you are much more likely to find a convincing lier. And to be even blunter, even almost all otherwise good men will have at least past solitary failures of the self-control you can reasonably expect.

On Seraphic's mention of "women's deep, deep fear of being considered Unwomen by men", I'm afraid this fear is justified in cases of porn addiction and the like. But if it's just the typical unrealistic standard of beauty I think we actually know it's an illusion and can quickly set it aside for a woman who has the incomparable advantage of actually being available. So there I don't think we classify real woman as Unwoman, like a royal wedding watching woman doesn't qualify commoners as Unmen either.

And before you write all that off as so much lame excuses consider that woman aren't free of the analogous defect either, though they typically objectify more by status than by looks. For example, and as far as I know, the male protagonists of romantic literature (i.e. porn for woman) typically don't work as bank tellers or computer programmers. On the mostly harmless end there is still something wrong with woman happily living in a republic but taking lots of interest in other country's royal weddings. And then divorce is typically the wife's idea and I have seen it happen because the husband didn't deliver as much status as had seemed initially likely. For illustration and apropos idealized female measurements, such numbers actually exist in Germany, which is where I am. Since Seraphic didn't want to quote them I won't either, but for context I'll have to tell you they are quoted in centimeters, i.e. about 2.5 times what they would be in inches. Now a long time ago back in school I heard a girl make the joke that an ideal husband had the same measurements, just with a different interpretation: age- millions on bank account-centigrades fever. Of course I know most woman aren't like that. But I'm cynical enough to suspect that the actions of the few evil woman are a window to the temptations faced by the many good ones. Because I know that heuristic is valid for men. And going by that I think you shouldn't write us off for having a dislikable part


So to sum up my conflicting messages: Yes, this is a question where men on some level think things you won't like. But on the level that does the real thinking, and is mostly in control, and wants to find woman likely to read this blog, which I maintain should be the level that counts, on that level we seriously aren't like that.

JC said...

@Gilbert:

I see a lot of commenters on Catholic blogs arguing that envy is to women as lust is to men. But regardless of which sex is more prone to which sin, the two sins aren't analogous. It's not that lust is worse than envy, but "objectifying" someone for their wealth or status is not the same thing as objectifying their body, and the latter is arguably more threatening to the person who's objectified.

The desire for jewels, cars, fat bank accounts, etc. is shared by just about all of us, but it's not as closely bound up with one's sense of personhood as is sexuality - for the simple reason that our bodies aren't possessions but an integral part of our selves. Someone who lusts after my Porsche loves an object and doesn't love me. But someone who lusts after my body not only doesn't love me; he makes me into the object. To rob me of my Porsche at gunpoint hurts me far less than to rob me of my virginity.

This is not to say that women are less sinful than men, of course, but mooning over royal weddings just isn't the same sort of thing as viewing porn.

I do agree that expecting men never to struggle with the temptation to lust would be unreasonable - temptation isn't sin, after all. The original post seemed to be about those who, rather than struggling, engage enthusiastically in objectifying women. That's very different from a man who experiences the temptation, occasionally (or even often) falls, but doesn't want to sin and keeps striving to avoid it.

Anonymous said...

@JC

I probably should have dropped that paragraph. I was trying an appeal to empathy and it came of as "I'm rubber and you're glue".

Still I said it and I said it in an easily misunderstood way so now I'll have to make it worse with an explanation.

You are absolutely correct to note that being robbed of a Porsche isn't as bad as being robbed of virginity. But let me present a different case: Suppose you met the most charming guy ever. And suppose you fell in love with him and by all appearances he also fell in love with you. Then you married and maybe had some kids. Over the years you had put a lot of heart blood in conforming yourself to him. Maybe you would end up liking to watch football initially because that was something you could do with him. And there would be a million of other small things; your life would have pretty much become organized around him being there. Then one year your business was going badly and you had to sell your Porsche. Now suppose on hearing that your husband told you his type was woman with Porsches and since you no longer fit it he was going to divorce you. I don't think this would hurt any less than if he left because you were no longer as nubile as at marriage. In both cases you would have been used in a very brutal and unfortunately legal way.

Now to put it more abstractly:
Envy is not at the core of what I'm talking about, though it may be involved in its crassest forms. I called "romantic novels" "porn for woman" and while there is some polemical exaggeration in that I stand by the core idea. The hero will shower the heroine with love and affection and adoration, and becomes very protective of her, probably proving it by fighting off the meanies. There is nothing wrong with a woman wanting all that. But then there is nothing wrong with a man wanting sex either. What is wrong is, in both cases, abstracting that from the reality of a complete person, thus reducing it to a service and the provider to a mere instrument of gratification.

If we want to blame that kind of sin on a single passion I'd say it's narcissism. It's just that in the strictly sexual case the desire will be projected on someone sexually attractive, while in the more social case it will be projected on someone socially attractive. Thus we get constructions like knights in shining armor (though real armor wasn't shiny and real knights stank) and benevolent pirates (though real pirates were just common criminals). Such ideals are unfair competition to real men just like photoshopped woman are to real woman. While our society connects status to wealth they are not equivalent. For example, I think medical doctors are more likely to end up as female gratification fantasies than are investment bankers. And I don't think it is about the status rubbing off either, after all men don't expect to become handsome by having sex with pretty woman. But I do think people idealize other people before reducing them to tools and the dimension on which they get exaggerated is different for men and woman.

Now where envy actually does get in is in the crassest form of reducing it to numbers, because the number closest to measuring status is probably wealth. So I say a gold digger is the equivalent of a number shouter. I'm emphatically not saying that woman are generally gold diggers. Far from it, a gold digger is a cruel and absurd parody of a woman looking for a respectable husband. But the number-shouters Seraphic was talking about are equally cruel and absurd parodies of men looking for a pretty wife.

Now the first few comments on this here thread gave me the vibe that the female audience around here is afraid we men are all secretly number-scorers. Perhaps I'm paranoid, but that suspicion would be unfair. I say it is equivalent to the suspicion that all woman are secretly gold diggers. But then the Internet is full of men raving about precisely that suspicion, so maybe I should just shut up.

Gilbert said...

In case it wasn't obvious that last comment was by me. I accidently hit return when I was about to put in my data.

Cordi said...

Gilbert,

That was very well articulated, and I, for one, appreciated hearing your insight. Thanks!