Monday, January 21, 2008

I Claim this Breast in the Name of all Mankind

It isn't my intent to directly engage this particular blog-writer, for a number of reasons, including the fact that she seems to be fed up with the man-trolls who just don't get it... so I won't mention her by name or link to the post that sparked this thought. I'm sure if anyone really gives a damn it'll get back to her, and if not, best to leave that hornet's nest alone.

But one phrase I saw got me thinking, and that phrase was:

"the co-opting of female sexuality by the patriarchy."

It's a phrase I've heard before, in a number of variations, and if I understand it right, it's saying that men are in control of how women handle sexual matters.

This is not a premise I disagree with.

But (and I say this knowing full well I will likely be called angry names for saying it), isn't that kind of, well, natural?

In the few seconds I have before the torches find me, let me explain.

Although humans, as intelligent, self-aware beings, have more or less grown beyond our basic animal instincts (your mileage may vary), and sex is often more a form of recreation than a biological requirement for species survival, the original purpose of sex is, after all, to get a male and female together to have sex and make a baby. To that end, the male and female must appeal to each other. Appeal is how you get two people close enough to have sex.

If a woman wants to have sex with a man, she needs to appeal to that man's aesthetics, spark his desires. If the woman is not his "type", he's not going to be nearly as interested in sex. In that way, a man may indeed control how a woman approaches sex. She may wear a low-cut dress and expose cleavage, diet, wear high heels, or do any number of uncomfortable things she might not otherwise do in order to attract a man.

She can control whether she does these things to increase her chance of attracting her desired mate; what she can't control is whether the man responds to whatever she offers. Some men are "easier" than others. If, for some inexplicable reason, a man simply doesn't find brunettes attractive, a brunette may change her hair color, or abandon her attempt to attract that particular male. If she isn't targeting a specific male, she may alter her appearance in ways she believes will make her appeal to a large number of males.

This goes both ways; a man may seek to improve his appearance in order to appeal to females, but if it's true that women in general are less interested in the physical and more attentive to the emotional, then the dynamics in that direction are going to be somewhat different.

There's plenty of variation, as well as all the gay/lesbian/bi factors in play, but when you think about it in this way, it seems extremely unlikely that either gender could ever be 100% in control of their own sexuality, since the whole object of sexuality is dependent on getting the opposite sex's attention. To have complete control, women would not only be determining for themselves what they're willing to do to "be sexy", but also be dictating to men what they are allowed to find sexy.

This is why I give a little sideways glance when I hear someone tack on "but we aren't trying to take the sexy away" when discussing sexuality in comics, since the conversations that get punctuated in this way also often indicate that the speaker thinks men ought not to be finding certain things sexy, thus if those things are removed through force or coercion, it's not really taking "the sexy" away, since nobody should find those things sexy in the first place, cuz' we says so, so there.

The Mary Jane statue? Well, first, guys, you shouldn't find a woman in proximity to dirty laundry sexy at all for any reason, so that's out right there, and she's got her butt shoved out, she's presenting just like an animal, and that's degrading, so you shouldn't find that sexy at all. Nope, no MJ statue. Can't have it. Not allowed. But that's not taking the sexy away, no.

Catwoman with her costume unzipped to show her breasts? Have you seen those breasts? They're huge and unrealistic! No, it doesn't matter if you think they look nice. It's an insult, not sexy. Can't have that.

Supergirl? Ew ew ew! That's perverted, not sexy! Gone!

Body-painted Wonder Woman ohmahgawd. Trashing a feminist symbol. This should never ever be sexy, and therefore it is not sexy, and therefore we will take it away and lock it up away from the eyes of man forever.

See? We're not taking the sexy away at all! You're just confused, you don't really know what sexy is.


I will concede that things have been better for men than women in this regard for much of history; I don't dispute that men have been dominant and controlling throughout the world.

The idea, however, that "co-opting" female sexuality is something you could just root out and eliminate through persuasion or legislation, instead of being a byproduct of the whole biological sexual response system, seems to me to be a bit unrealistic. And fighting it would be a Sisyphean task, suitable only for those willing to become dictators...


Merle Whitefire said...

This is a valid point, but usually when they talk about this, they are suggesting that many of the issues of women's sexuality are controlled by men more than the issues of male sexuality are controlled by women.

For instance, this might refer to things like the obsession with penis size (Which multitudes of women have decried as a complete myth,) the fact that most media portrays women as sexual first and foremost whereas it doesn't with men, and the fact that in most "traditional" sexual media, women take an inherently passive role.

Marionette said...

It's okay, we don't want to take away your sexy. You can have all the sexy you want. You can drown in breasts if it makes you happy. Nobody is trying to take your sexy away from you.

What we want is not less of anything, we want more. More strength, more kick-assness, more super in Supergirl, more wonder in Wonder Woman, more marvel in Ms. Marvel. and more bats in Batgirl. So to speak.

Anon, A Mouse said...


See, this is the kind of the thing I'm talking about. You open with "not taking the sexy away", but then go on about wanting more out of the various heroines, which is okay just as far as a pithy quote goes, but what actually does that mean?

Does the bodypainted Wonder Woman somehow subtract "wonder" from the character? Does the MJ statue actually devalue Mary Jane? Perhaps you personally don't feel so, but there's enough blog-flap about these sorts of things that SOMEONE must feel that way, and if the intent is to improve the lot of the characters by removing or discouraging what some feel are negative depictions, then, yes, someone wants to take someone else's sexy away.


Like I said in my post, I don't dispute that historically men have been better at steering women's sexuality than vice versa. I happen to think that nowadays this is less to do with some patriarchal intent to keep the wimmenfolk down and more a result of differing perspectives on what each gender wants out of sex, and perhaps a bit of miscommunication in that regard.

In the context of these comics-based discussions, however, the idea that a bodypainted Wonder Woman photo (or nearly any other cited depiction in comics) "co-opts" female sexuality is something for which I don't follow the logic.