As a barely pre-teen boy, I’ll never forget the first time I set eyes on a naked woman. I’d found a pornographic magazine rummaging around town, finding myself immediately drawn in, not by the women posed (and clothed) on the cover, but by the brightly colored words written on the front. The strong, powerful red tones and bright yellow hues spoke to me not unlike a comic book has done to young boys for decades. Intrigued I grasped it, opening the pages to find it filled with photographs of naked young women posing for the camera — for men who were once like me, young and naive.
Fascinated and overwhelmed, I’d by lying if I told you that there wasn’t a sense of shock. I’d briefly seen women partially in the nude during makeout sessions and games of truth or dare, I’d seen breasts, I’d touched and kissed vulvae before, but this was powerfully, strikingly different. These were grown women, they were adults, unlike my youthful self who was just a boy, as well as my peers. This was adult sexuality, and it was off-limits. Not only was it female but it was adult, it was everything I was supposed to come to understand, but had no idea how.
Further compounding the issue was the relative mediacy between myself and the naked female form up until that point. While I’d had a small handful of experiences with women already at around 12-years-old, I was far from familiarized with being around women in any intimate sense. Now, approximately 20 years later, I’m asking the question, “Why?”
While there may have been some reduction in the segregation of children and youths based on their sex over the two decades since this life-changing event, something tells me it’s still a pretty constant practice. I find it curious that we separate people based on sex in a lot of facets of life, from sports to gyms, and I’m certain there may be some merits to doing so, just as I’m certain there are merits to integration. This raises the looming question: what are we afraid of?
We talk often of a total lack of understanding of the opposite sex by each sex and, while I try my best to help individuals at whichever place they find themselves in life, I also feel that this is much bigger than individual choices.
When we come of age, we tend to look at the opposite sex like some member of some sort of alien species. We don’t quite understand them, and like drugs became under Nancy Reagan’s, “Just say no!” campaign, they become elusive, slightly dangerous, and off-limits in all the right ways. I think this is unhealthy.
The fact is, most boys don’t get very much contact with girls and vice versa, most men haven’t had much contact with women, by the time we’re all shuffled into the greater society and have to rapidly try to figure out how we respect one another. For boys who grew up in abusive or even neglectful households, ones where the mother was often absent or didn’t demonstrate what healthy and robust femininity looks like, there isn’t much actual experience of the opposite sex taking place. Boys can only learn from other boys, often older, slightly more mischievous boys. When we discuss racial segregation in our institutions, most people don’t bat an eye at telling you it’s horrific, yet, sexual segregation permeates our institutions into adulthood.
This is the soil from which many of our problems with adult men spring forth, and by the time we come around to old age, we have groups of men of different age groups who feel entitled to legislate about women’s bodies without their consent, because they’ve discussed it with other men — we find that not much changes. We have men ignoring the words and needs of women in favor of advice from other men pertaining to how we should interact with those very women. Whenceforth comes the patrairchy? The boys being groomed to view women as “the other sex,” and, ‘“mysterious creatures, difficult to understand, people who will never be honest with you, and these sorts of lingering, covertly sexist beliefs that people teld to hold, and our social institutions themselves are doing the grooming. The following meme puts it beautifully…
While I admit, this would do away with a lot of the mystique which surrounds our sexually charged culture, as well as removing a lot of the ‘magic’ of ‘chemistry’ that comes along with that mystery and finding romance, perhaps our culture could do well to eliminate some of these toxic dispositions which characterize it throughout. Maybe we would do well to integrate so that the sexes may see their opposites as just another member of their peer group, rather than a distant class of ‘others’ who are different from they.
I question what life would have been like, how different it would have been had I set eyes on that magazine for the first time with the understanding that female nudity was just a fact of life and not some holy grail that’s forever beyond the reach of a curious and not-even-very-sexual, prepubescant boy. What would it have been like without the mystery of that veil that society places across the eyes of children? Would I have grown up to see women as just other people perhaps, rather than obscure curiosities who were somehow different? The fact is, I will never know, and while I came to learn, understand, and respect women for who they are, rather than who I’m told they should be or who I want them to be, it took a long time and a lot of resolving of internal conflicts and mixed messages. Might future generations experience something different? I can only hope. But, we may be wise to begin to criticize that our institutions are setting the sexes up to objectify one another, rather than just see each other as human beings.
While I don’t pretend to know all of the answers, I do know that this set up of segregating the sexes, especially early in life, fosters a male-centric society, with male-centric workplaces, male-centric public spaces, and male dominated institutions — and then, under the guise of caring, men pass laws which segregate girls and sometimes women, further solidifying their dominance, controlling their bodies, their healthcare, and their freedom. Thus, the cycle continues…
Should boys and girls be integrated? What’s your take?
© 2019; Joe Duncan. All Rights Reserved