Libido, the 0.7 rule, and sexual harassment: Excuse, explanation, or neither
Angels may fear to tread here because, well, it’s a subject that’s less than angelic. But even if you believe that you are a spiritual being having a physical experience, you’re still a spiritual being walking around in a meat suit. If you believe only that you’re a meat suit, you’re still a meat suit that perhaps supports moral standards among politicians, actors, musicians, business colleagues, merchants, and others with whom you might interact on the highways and byways of life.
I’m a heterosexual male, and I know for a fact that on several occasions in my career I’ve said or done things that have made women around me uncomfortable. I’ve tried to learn from these occasions, and none, I believe, measures up to the misdeeds in the recent popular discussion. But I’ve seen no male commentators in the mainstream press discuss what has always seemed to me to be a defining characteristic of modern American masculinity — the visual aspect of sexual attraction. Also, at least in the case of Kevin Spacey and Roy Moore, sexuality blurs with pedophilia. I have normal curiosity in the former, only disgust with the latter, and consider the blur a new low in male equivocation.
But back to the point: It’s something I first noticed in art classes. At some point, it occurred to me that there is something about positive and negative space that could trigger a sexual response in men. It occurred to me that a master artist might be able to capture or trigger that response with only a few well-drawn lines. The accompanying Picasso sketch comes close, but even then, I think the response might be elicited by an even simpler drawing, perhaps only of elegantly drawn lines demarking the female waist, buttocks, and legs.
That males are more visual-oriented than females has become a cliché, one that can become even more boring and incomprehensible by an academic paper on the subject, where all types of conditions and obfuscating parameters are discussed (although that paper does contain a line noting that lesbians appear to be more responsive to visual stimuli than non-lesbians, which is at least not boring). I’m unaware of academic studies of the power dynamics of sexual harassment. I’m also unable to convincingly, as a fiction writer, put myself in the position of a rapist. I’ve been able to talk in the first person as an adolescent girl, an old woman, a serial killer (minus the sexual motivations), an alien in human form, and speak as other fictional characters. But I don’t pretend to understand rape and am glad I don’t. So I’m not talking rape here anymore than I would anywhere else.
Just the other day, however, a TV commercial came on that showed the backside of a young woman wearing cutoff jeans. And I felt the jolt. It’s the jolt that a male can experience from these positive-negative spaces I described.
Shortly after my Picasso revelation, I learned of the 0.7 rule — the “ideal” waist-to-hip ratio for a woman whose waist is about 70% the circumference of her hips. Marilyn Monroe was said to have it, as was Sophia Loren. (There are other more modern examples you can Google yourself; and, interestingly, the ratio varies among cultures.) I thought at the time that this ratio may be a rough quantification of my earlier thoughts on line drawings.
There was also, layered on top of recent discussions of sexual harassment, the sense that I had as a young man — flush on testosterone — that I could walk through brick walls. These days the prospect of brushing only slightly against a brick wall brings to mind only the series of bleeding scratches I’d likely receive. My testosterone level, as I’ve confirmed (speaking of blood) by blood tests, is in the mid-normal range for my age group. That’s a pallid satisfaction, as the ability to walk through brick walls seems to linger on psychologically much longer than it does metabolically.
I’ve known very few young women who have shared with me their equivalent of my walking-through-brick-walls aspiration, and that was usually related to their ability to leap majestically over brick walls, as a gymnast might launch off a springboard or pommel horse. Similar, but not identical.
So I’m a man, subject to the 0.7 rule, hyped on testosterone, who has managed to live my life among women the vast majority of whom were comfortable with me and perhaps even valued my friendship and mentorship, no strings ever attached. I’ve made my apologies and amends for those occasions where I fell short. I never thought a power dynamic, which appears to run through the current discussions of sexual harassment, had anything to do with my experiences, although I acknowledge the possibility that it may have in a way I’ve never considered before.
I simply wanted to bring positive-negative spaces, the 0.7 rule, and walking through brick walls, into the discussion, not as an excuse, but at least as an awkward and embarrassing explanation. It’s awkward for obvious reasons, and embarrassing because I’m sure that these things I put forward could easily be used to beat me senseless in this debate, and then would disappear like the leg of lamb in the Hitchcock episode, where the murder weapon would later appear as a harmless entrée for dinner.
That boys will be boys, and men will be men, is simply insufficient in this argument. I know this. But the discerning reader will know that that characterization itself is perhaps too simplistic. You could go find a better-known male writer to discuss this. Good luck. Even if they were angels, they might be afraid to go there.
Originally published at kcroes.wordpress.com on November 24, 2017.