Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Notes on 'male sexuality', culture and nature

The inimitable Times reports on yet another survey that will tell us The Truth About Male Sexuality. After all, it's not like we've ever heard anything about it before.

Well, in a way, we haven't. The problem with science is that it often considers itself to be objective and without influence by cultural norms, and the data it produces about a subject such as 'male sexuality' are taken to prove what male sexuality naturally is, rather than how it is expressed culturally. It ignores the social and political milieu in which men express sexuality and refuses to accept that what is cultural is not the same as what is natural.

The first assumption made when studying male sexuality is that Y chromosome (sp?) holders have a sexuality which is intrinsically different, even opposed, to that which XXers have. That this sexuality is untainted by cultural variables and is programmed into male genes. That somehow having different genitals means that men and women must have different brains too, and that any difference in their thinking is a result of nature demanding that it be that way.

In this article, however, the researcher uses the terms 'normal' and 'abnormal' rather than 'natural' and 'unnatural'. A 'norm' can refer to a biological standard, but it can also suggest a cultural one, and presumably is used here to avoid the implicit judgement of 'natural'/'unnatural'. However, there is no discussion in the article as to what precisely is implied by 'normal/'abnormal', and at least one of the rationales for using the term is to get men to admit to sexual fantasies that are violent, under the reassurance that they are 'normal':

An estimated 35 per cent of men admit to fantasising about rape. Waterman says: “If someone fantasises about rape, or forced sex, and does nothing about it, then to argue that that fantasy is abnormal has to be seen as controversial because the literature suggests that rape is a common fantasy. But if a person acts on their fantasy and rapes someone, that’s considered deviant.”

Is 'common' the same thing as 'normal'? Or more to the point, does something being 'common' make it acceptable/ natural? If 35% of men really are fantasising about serious acts of violence then it is essential to look at the culture that surrounds this. That culture is one in which sexualised and submissive images of women abound, where women are deemed 'sexy' when they are wearing restrictive and painful clothing, where sex is considered an act of domination by man of woman.

Sexual thoughts about children are another controversial area. Between 4 and 9 per cent of men report sexual fantasies involving children, with the age of the imagined children usually unspecified. Men are known to prefer younger women, because, as evolutionary theory would have it, youth represents fertility.

This theory makes no sense to me. Children aren't fertile. Young girls aren't fertile. Women are fertile, however, for a long period of their life; fertility does not begin and end in the space of a few years.Women with shaved legs are no more fertile than women with hairy legs. Not all sexual fantasies include the possibility of impregnation. Note the wording 'men are known to prefer younger women'. Men (generic) in patriarchal cultures are known to prefer younger women; this cannot be proven of men outside such a culture. Patriarchal culture consists of hierarchical structures in which the stronger rule the weaker, and in which men-as-a-class control women-as-a-class. This control finds it easiest when women are vulnerable, submissive and physically weaker- that is, more like children.

In our patriarchal culture, force is eroticised to the point where rape is confused with sex, and is then interpreted as being 'natural'. This 'natural' image of men as dominating aggressive beasts and women as submissive masochistic dolls is an insult to the humanity and soul of every man and woman. It dehumanises the sexes. It must be fought.

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