Sexytime, Gender Roles, and Credit Where Due
Women and the Internet: Part Three
This is part three of a four-part series. Part One, Part Two, Part Four
For all those men out there who have over the years suggested that what I need is a good fuck, don't worry, guys, I got this one covered.
I am not shy about sex, nor shy about enjoying it. Consistent with various online suggestions I have received over the years, I have had every size cock in many of my orifices. and I have enjoyed them. But I have chosen them. The men I choose to fuck these days, the men attached to these penises, have enjoyed the hell out of it too. My partners and I talk as equals about how to give and get the most out of our sex. We tell each other what we're into, make suggestions, set limits, and see to our own and each other's enjoyment. This is what makes good sex, and I have very good sex. The men and women I have sex with have admired me, my talents, my mind, and my work, at least as much as my tits. They don't want me reduced, weakened, or humiliated in any way. They find my social power sexy, and haven't ever sought to demean my professional and intellectual life, even if they're taking me from behind.
When this sex has been part of a long term relationship, being supportive to my partners is incredibly important to me. My partners of recent years have been people of the world, engaged in issues around technology and politics. They make difficult and complex decisions; they work on important problems. I do far more to support them by being engaged in the world myself and being able to bring my own wisdom and experience to the table than by bringing just dinner to the table.
I am also very good at bringing dinner to the table.
I can be a professional, an activist, a caretaker, and I can clean house. I can and do require these qualities from my partners. Not everyone needs to require all that from their partners, and I haven't always, either. But I can, I do, and I've have no shortage of romantic options.
The internet and the world are full of men who get this. They know how to treat the women in their lives as colleagues, partners, and friends. They understand that women don't fulfill them or challenge them -- but that women are people getting along as best they can. These men are not emasculated in any way. Their penises are within all the normal size ranges. Some of them really can fuck like gods, do housework, and even live happily with a woman who is more famous or more successful than they are.
The men in my life, both lovers and friends, are invaluable to me. We consult each other on our decisions and our work. We encourage each other behind the scenes when we face public criticism. The men in my life are successful and sometimes famous, and don't need to diminish the women in their lives to be men.
I have one criticism of them, which is that they don't talk about these issues in public space. I get why, they've watched me and other women they know get threatened, stalked, insulted, and hammered with every horrible thing people can say. But while their silence may damage women, I have come to believe they rob other men more.
They rob their fellow men of the deep exhale that comes with being free of fulfilling the lives others, free of having to always be invulnerable before women.
This equality and its benefits hasn't always been an option. Historically, and still in many parts of societies around the world gender roles -- those nasty assumptions about what men can do and women can not, what women are for, shape not only what women can hope to be, but men too. Where gender roles prevail, men can never take a break from justifying their power over the women in their life, and women often tear apart the men in their lives that show any human weakness.
When I think of the damage of gender roles, I often think of a moment in shame researcher Brené Brown’s popular TED talk, where she relates the story of a man who told her, “(My wife and daughters) would rather me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall down." It’s women trapped in gender roles that destroy the inner lives of men trapped in gender roles.
Gender roles keep the enemy in your bed. Every failure counts for at least two people, but rest on one set of shoulders. Modern life lacks a distinct path that promises success and stability for men, and an interloper wife can halve success while doubling failure. In the mean time, she lives in the frustration of her man being her only expression in the world, forced to live through him. She is his first judge, the first to be disappointed in his missteps.
There is an epidemic of male suicide around the world, out-pacing female suicide despite a higher rate of mental illness in women. (The major exception to this is China; but study data coming out of China is incredibly suspect, so it's hard to tell what's really going on there.) Male suicide is inversely proportionate to economic status, and has dramatically shifted into middle age. In countries that rate high on gender equality men often commit suicide 2-3 times as often as women. In countries that rate low on gender equality -- and where such statistics are gathered -- that number can jump to nearly 8-10 times as many men killing themselves. Correlation is not causation, but it certain suggests a good looking over, especially when there's a clear mechanism. The mechanism here is not hard to understand.
If you fail in life, and you fail you, you lay down for a while and feel sorry for yourself. If you fail in life and have to face a family that depends on you for not only livelihood but for a place in the world, and you fail them, best to not come home.
The world is so much more mutable than it was even 100 years ago. And if you live in constant fear of failing all these people that depend on you, eventually your heart gives in.
In a completely non-metaphorical way, men all over the world die of broken hearts all the time.
The men who have escaped this trap, for whom a woman is an equal who is responsible for her own life, have a calmness. I see it in my friends. There is tremendous power in just falling apart and being taken care of when the time comes. I am so proud of my male friends and partners, and the amazing work they do, even though I have held many of them while they fell apart. We have watched each other grieve and fail, and in the fullness of time picked each other back up.
My male friends are not feminists just because they respect me, they are feminists because it makes their lives work better. But they watch other men eat poisonous messages about what it means to be a man and stay silent, because that conversation is a lot to deal with. Still, the men in my life, the men I love, are letting other men down.
In the absence of a useful conversation on building a manhood that serves men better, women keep talking, mostly to each other. Like other men do, we find it scary to talk to men about men's issues, even when they affect us.
Women's advice to women on how to avoid gender violence is usually very insulting to men. It admits of them no agency, as if they were nocturnal unhuman rape bots fueled by alcohol, rather than people with their own stories and their own struggles.
What women tell women to do to prevent rape and violence takes on the character of magical thinking -- rituals and talismans and rites of cleanliness meant to prevent uncontrollable circumstances. The advice is always terrible in some way, and it has a certain desperate powerlessness to it. These rituals have come to be because they are comforting and allow many women to function. The alternative to this advice is for many women even worse than this advice, even though the advice is awful. It is admitting that we live in a world of men's violence, and that we can do nothing about it. Comforting the victim means accepting that tomorrow, you could be the victim, your daughter or son could be the victim, and there is nothing you can do about it.
So we dress a certain way and tap the door three times and only walk down certain streets at certain times of day, but so many of our teachers and bosses and fathers and pastors beat us, rape us, degrade us, or coerce us into servitude anyway. There isn't a magical formula, and any of us anytime can become a victim, and we have to live with that uncertainty.
Unlike many feminists, I'm not ready to tell women they should stop giving terrible advice and face the reality of uncertainty. Uncertainty does terrible things to mammalian brains. It ups cortisol levels, causing long term stess diseases and cognitive decline. It destroys livelihoods and relationships by impairing decision making. Stress from uncertainty is associated with worse long term outcomes for the brain, the heart, and many other organs. Coping with uncertainty makes you worse at long term planning. It is not merely unpleasant, but a physiological albatross. Just-so stories that allow even an illusory break from the stress of uncertainty allow women to function. The idea that women can do something to fix gendered violence is a lie, but it's a useful lie. To a point.
Magical thinking is no longer useful when it gets in the way of real reform. When we stand on the threshold of men being able to critique and change this behavior, when men are ready to talk about and reinvent manhood, magical thinking no longer serves either men or women.
But we rarely talk to men about these problems. Women talk amongst themselves, debate the finer points of correct feminism, debate how to deal with sexism and violence in all their many forms. Of course it's reasonable that we do this, but it's also a little silly. We treat men like they're the weather, and we must simply learn to cope with them when they are bad or even disastrous weather. But men are not the weather, they are other humans, and we can talk to them about these things. We can encourage our feminist friends to talk, to argue, to try and turn this into a global conversation about what it means to be a man, now. Men need to speak up, and women need to encourage them, gently, and fully, and honestly.
This is a place where the internet shines. The internet is a place where we can take these myths apart in safety, and try out different stories of manhood.
In a world where challenges to traditional manhood are often met with physical violence, the net gives men and women the chance to reinvent our genders in ways that could not only improve the lives of women, but save the lives of men.
Both our anger and our magical thinking have served us, but like many tools, they serve to get us to a point where we don't need them anymore. When we open up these lines of communication between men and men, as well as between men and women, when we drain them of anger and magical thinking, wonderful things can happen. Not the least of which is that amazing sex the internet has so kindly suggested I go get.