Friday, January 21, 2011

Sexuality, women, and work

At work there is a cork board meant for union business that has become the permanent residence of a dozen or so entertainment section cut-out "hotties" -- or "bitches" as my colleagues describe them in a sincere tone of reverence and admiration.

I've been careful to gauge the response of the larger work group, which ranges from appreciation to ambivalence in the case of the men, and perplexity with regards to the women.

"Why are they so interested in imaginary women? They won't know what to do with a real woman. I don't see the point," was the verdict of one woman in particular.

I thought it was an interesting reaction, because the sentiment didn't deny the importance of sexuality between men and women, even in the context of work; it just wanted it to exist between real people.

This got me thinking about why men are so easily drawn away from what is, or could be, real between themselves and women; and why they show this preference for fantasies they could never achieve. It's almost as if they don't believe they could ever have, or don't deserve, an intimacy with women that comes close to whatever ideas they have about women in their heads. Or maybe it just has to do with controlling the terms unilaterally.

This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately, since I have an advantage in having experienced this myself throughout life: I have known the appeal of content produced by men about women; all the many varieties of pornography -- both as a product and as a way to sell products.

Once I started writing seriously about feminism I feel like something in my brain changed in how I relate to such content, maybe because I finally understood it. Or maybe I am just older, and less prone to trifling sexual distractions (in which case I cannot take too much credit!). Whatever the case, it's very hard for me to look at commercial advertising or pornography and not be awake to the fact that, in all likelihood, some very unappealing dudes are writing the script.

Between these dudes and the women in my life, who even as workplace acquaintances are saying "I'm real: If you're so interested in women, why don't you try talking to one?" the choice is straightforward.

One of the complicating factors, however, is that when straight sexuality is almost exclusively narrated by unappealing dudes, as a guy you can become hyper-suspicious of your sexuality altogether. That's no fun, either; certainly not for your partner, at least. This is another area where I think, as a guy, you have to step back from making unilateral judgments about what is or isn't appropriate, and acclimate yourself to making choices in concert with the people you care about.

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