** PART TWO: Politics and Lust for the Body **

Stop right there! I gotta know right now
Before we go any further,
Do you love me? Will you love me forever?

-- Meat Loaf ("Paradise by the Dashboard Light")

You ask why sometimes I say stop
why sometimes I cry no
while I shake with pleasure.
What do I fear, you ask,
why don't I always want to come
and come again to that molten
deep sea center where the nerves
fuse open and the brain
and body shine with a black wordless light
fluorescent and heaving like plankton.

If you turn over the old refuse
of sexual slang, the worn buttons
of language, you find men
talk of spending and women
of dying

You come in a torrent and ease
into limpness. Pleasure takes me
farther and farther from shore
in a series of breakers, each
towering higher before it
crashes and spills flat.

I -- open then as a palm held out,
open as a sunflower, without
crust, without shelter, without
skin, hideless and unhidden.
How can I let you ride
so far into me and not fear?

Helpless as a burning city,
how can I ignore that the extremes
of pleasure are fire storms
that leave a vacuum into which
dangerous feelings (tenderness,
affection, love) nay rush
like gale force winds.

-- Marge Piercy, "You ask me why sometimes I say stop"

Love, perhaps even more than childbearing, is the pivot of women's oppression today. It is generally agreed: That women are monogamous, better at loving, possessive, "clinging", more interested in (highly involved) "relationships" than in sex per se, and they confuse affection with sexual desire. That men are interested in nothing but a screw (Wham, bam, thank you M'am!), or else romanticize the women ridiculously. . .that they mistake sex for emotion.

-- Shulanith Firestone, (The Dialectic of Sex)


When I was in High School, it was the essential assertion of girls who were proud of themselves and assertive about what they wanted: to "fall in love" and be loved in return by a cute guy who would be the boyfriend, and, within that context, good sex. But there was an image as well as a collection of words for the girls who were open to the possibility of sex without love. They weren't naughty girls who were getting away with socially taboo behavior so much as weak male-dominated girls with no self-respect. Love was the prerequisite for sex with any girl who meant anything to herself, everybody knew that.

And, of course, everybody knew that it's different for boys. Boys were designed differently and could definitely enjoy sex without love, and were expected to try. Dating and sexualized behavior varied a lot, but it was all variations on a theme that everyone seemed to have in the back of the head, the image of an adversarial girl-boy game: the game begins when the boy comes on to the girl, and she draws the line and delays the process to see if "falling in love" will occur. If there was anything akin to the male social equivalent of the girl slut, it was probably the boy who was all too available as a boyfriend. Male reluctance was expected and sort of admired when it came to getting seriously involved.

But High Schools are notoriously conservative places, and I did come from a small town. At roughly the same time, the feminist movement and the sexual revolution had led many people to say that all this was well on its way out. It was old-fashioned prudery and double-standard ideology that kept girls and women from having the same straightforward access to their own sexuality and sexual experiences, and that's all there was to this "falling in love" crap.

The feminists, of course, are not dumping their contempt on women who buy into the "good little girl who has to be in love first" model. Germaine Greer opened up the topic with her analysis of how women have been estranged from their own sexuality, and others added to and elaborated on her theories. The notion of being "in love" is really a codeword for being married, and marriage is an economic arrangement in which women are thoroughly exploited for their sexuality and their ancillary domestic services, in return for which men have traditionally contributed only marginal material support and the trappings of social legitimacy. Marriage, in other words, is prostitution by the long-term contract, as opposed to street-corner hooking, which is sex sold by the piece. The ideology of "falling in love" hides the truth from women. In its insistence that self-respecting women wouldn't consider sex outside of a loving relationship, the ideology is really saying "don't screw around with the market." Advice columnist Ann Landers has warned female correspondents who wish marriage to avoid sex with the guy they wish to marry until after the ceremony, adding that the farmer can't expect to sell the eggs at the market if the customers can walk into the barn and pick them up for free. Meanwhile, the glorious condition of being truly loved by a man (rather than just desired sexually) really just boils down to being seen by him as a person despite her femaleness -- which will make her seem special among women, different from all the others, who are not seen as people by men. In return for this wonderful consideration, the often brief and temporary recognition of her personhood, the woman accepts being pitted against the rest of her sex, praised for the ways in which she is not like the rest of them; and, as the poster says, she sinks into his arms only to wake up a few years later with her arms into his sink and the brief, temporary state of being viewed as a real person gone like a puff of smoke in the wind.

Sigmund Freud is probably best known for his proclamations about sexual development and the sexual energy he called "libido". In the wake of his theory that almost all achievements and behaviors are displaced or redirected sexual lusts, it became easy to conceptualize the process of "falling in love" as no more and no less than plain old sexual desire that has been denied plain old satiation.

The women in the office and the couple who are newly "in love" find this vulgar and reductionistic. There is more to it than that, one says. Some things shouldn't be analyzed to death anyway, adds another, and many nods follow. As feminism has moved farther from the attitude that male experiences and male behaviors and attitudes are normal (and women, in order to be equal, need to be free to be the same way), there are more and more feminists who reject the sexual-liberal expectation that "liberated women" will be in agreement with men about the irrelevance of love to sex. Instead, there are questions about the long-standing male definition of what sex and sexuality consists of. Men circumscribe sex, focus everything on the dick and the cunt and the orgasm, the fuck, they say; but although Freud was so wrong about so much, he so often came so close to being right. It isn't misplaced or displaced sexuality that goes into all aspects of life -- that's the essence of sexuality. The unnaturally warped form is the form that is confined to genitals, to penilevaginal matters, and which insists on portraying everything else as means to that specifically heterosexual behavior as an end goal.

Sexual feelings do not come with a guarantee of emotional safety; as the author of the poem ("You ask me why I say stop") attests, there is far more at stake here than the mere risk of being turned down. Aroused, stimulated to orgasm, there is the risk of being more open to "falling in love" with one's partner than one might wish, with subsequent vulnerability and pain to follow.

And yet, the closeness, the intimacy of sexual sharing and sensing the vulnerability of the other's appetite and needs, makes sexual interaction for some people something to be shared not with strangers but only with trustable, known friends. To be so open and intimate with a person you love (and who loves you in return) would certainly seem far safer than risking such experiences with a stranger. Women, who are not encouraged to be adventurous takers of risks in general, and for whom sexual experience has for so long been loaded with naturally real and socially constructed dangers and risks, would be expected to prefer a safer format in which to be sexual creatures.

If the conventionally-ascribed "feminine" aspects of sexuality such as love, deep openness, and trust, which are reminiscent of the sensations of afterglow, are also the results of deferred sexual expression, and if sexual stimulation and orgasm are risky because they leave one vulnerable to falling in love just as sexual stimulation and arousal are risky in the absence of love because of the vulnerability of intimacy with a stranger. . . if these things are true, then the most useful comment might be that of the young lover who said that some things defy analysis! Perhaps the key is a closer look at the phenomenon of "falling in love", which is not really the same thing as being with a person with whom there are feelings of mutual love, after all.

From a thoroughly different angle, far from the fields with which I have much familiarity, comes another challenge to the notion that "falling in love" doesn't exist except as an ideology disguising ordinary sexual desire. Sexual desire, after all, is an experience that has observable, measurable physiological characteristics: pulse rate, engorgement of erectile tissues, pelvic congestion, respiration rate, and so on. Interestingly, physiologically-oriented psychologists are starting to think that the condition of being "in love" may also have objective physiological characteristics, many of which will probably sound familiar: changes in digestion and appetite patterns for food, disruption of sleep patterns, enhancement of sensitivity to visual and auditory sensory stimuli. In addition, biological neurochemicals are alleged to be involved, with resultant changes in affect and behavior that include a diffused attention span, sighing, and euphoria. Release of the chemicals is prompted by incidents of companionship with the person one is "in love" with, and symptoms persist over a protracted period of time when compared to the symptoms of sexual desire. The phenomenon may begin, it is thought, when sexual desire and proximity keep reoccurring in a context where orgasm and resolution is deferred. Withdrawal symptoms occur when meaningful contact with the "love object" is delayed or discontinued, bringing sluggishness, severe depression, loss of appetite, and a powerful craving for the missing person. Some of the endorphins alleged to be connected with the phenomenon of "falling in love" are said to be chemically similar to one of the natural components of chocolate, which might explain the popular association between chocolate and romance, or its popularity with the "love-lorn". In short, being "in love" may have at least as much in common with the essentially bodily experience of sexual desire per se as it does with the more mental/emotional experience of loving someone because of your appreciation for who they are.

I have been in love a couple of times in my life. I do not know how much of it is a neurochemical-biological thing, but I do have some observations of my own -first, that it is definitely its own vividly real experience, distinctively not the same as merely being sexually attracted to another person, whether that other person is a stranger or a partner in an ongoing intimate relationship; second, being "in love" is not the same thing as loving someone (that's why the persistent quotation marks, in case you were wondering), -- which is a deep and profound state of empathy and caring that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with sexual desire or sexual relationships even when that is where it occurs -- but is instead a giddy and definitely sexualized condition of being high as a kite on someone who seems (at the time) to be perfect and incredible. To go back to the notion that sexual desire is casual and impersonal in comparison to falling in love which is deep and meaningful, it does seem to have at least a couple of grains of truth to it, since part of being in love definitely involved really liking the other person and becoming emotionally involved on a very intimate level, but it is also important to consider how distorted the understanding of the other person is, and the extent to which falling in love really has no more (and maybe less) to do with the inherent specialness of the other person than a good friendship has. I can also testify that, thirdly, falling in love was the most intense experience of happiness and joy I've known, but the withdrawal symptoms are hell and make you do undignified and bothersome things that are embarrassing to recall later in an attempt to hold onto or recapture the endangered or interrupted relationship. Getting over unrequited love, if that's the right expression, is a hell of a lot worse than surviving unrequited sexual desire: a cold shower can cure the latter, but having to fall out of love can take months, or even years, of reeling around as an emotional basket case. In other words, it is an emotional roller coaster ride of an experience for thrill-seeking hedonists, much as sexual flirtation and expression is in general, except especially so. The stakes are much higher for both pain and pleasure. And, yeah, ultimately I think it is a subset of the larger category of sexuality and sexual feelings, so although I neglected to include it in this paper as originally drafted, I've decided to address it as part of the same topic.

The comments of my friend the witch start to come into better focus in light of this line of thought. I'm pretty sure of what she's say about the image of "falling in love" as an especially adventurous emotional experience fraught with high-stakes risks and payoffs; she'd probably say that of course men, being emotional cowards and far more insecure and conservative than women in such all-important matters (legends of men's courage and women's temerity to the contrary), are scared chickenshits and can't handle what women thrive on: the fullness of what erotic sexuality (which includes "falling in love") was naturally intended to be.

If that's the essence of it, the impersonal, more surface-appearance oriented casual sexuality associated with the "masculine" could be called trivial or pathetic; but it is hard to defend the claim that it is oppressive.

There is still a sort of "emotional politics" about it, though: there's a recurrent theme when women discuss pornography, sex objectification, and male sexuality -- a sense of the male attitudes and feelings as oppressive by way of being lewd and raunchy. In the critiques that feminists have made of "games" such as bondage or sado- masochism, the target is not limited to actual coercion or damage -- they are concerned about the politics of connecting erotic feelings with conflict and power. In response, I've heard anti-feminist women as well as men accuse feminists of promoting a "sanitized" version of sexuality, in which feelings about power and vulnerability are declared politically incorrect. And certainly, these are sexual feelings and attitudes that are especially apparent in sex when it doesn't involve love and trust.

As I was saying before, the masculine images associate the erotic with the emotions and experiences that I, personally, associate with arousal; meanwhile, much of the feminine and/or feminist representations that are offered as a contrast to that are imbued with the emotions and experiences that I tend to associate with sex and the afterglow that follows it -- not in addition, but instead.

As a colleague of mine commented recently, there is a shortage of acknowledgements and portrayals of appetite and lust in the feminized version of sexuality. Admittedly, there is also a shortage of sources, since the female perspective is more often neglected entirely, but to the degree that I am familiar with what is there, it tends to reflect the passivity of traditional femininity when it comes to sexual appetite: women may experience powerful feelings of arousal in romance novels, for example, but they are reactive; they exist in reaction to overt instigatory behavior on the part of a male character, and female lust is constructed as a response to having the right buttons pushed. In some of the cultural-feminist writings about female sexuality (especially when posed as a counterexample when critiquing male sexual behavior/nature), the powerlessly passive naughtiness of the reactive romance novels is replaced with praises for the glowing sharing warm togetherness of sex that is distinguished from objectifying lusts, sexual power-tripping, and badness-naughtiness attitudes and feelings altogether (these being associated with men and their tendencies). When you back off from it enough to see the whole picture, it seems to take the form of a denial of the existence of an independent female sexual lust; and, as part and parcel of the same phenomenon, a denial of the male as sexual object. The man becomes sexy to the woman, and she attracted to him, because of what he does. That makes it his doing. There is an active female principle of sexuality that has been ignored here.

"Gloria Steinem once said to me (while waggling her eyebrows á la Groucho Marx): 'Every woman deserves a parking-lot attendant at least once in her life.' She meant, of course, that archetypal slender young man in tight jeans with slightly scruffy hair and a devilish smile... His charm lies in his casual footloose-fun ambience and his physical grace. His charm also lies in the fact that one would not ever wish to spend one's life with him. He is of the moment. . . It is deplorably true that the majority of women look at him and look again, but drive away--sensibly, in most cases, since. . a casual acquaintance for a woman trying to act freely in a nonfree situation can spell danger. . . Our antenna, as women, are so continually put to use to warn us of jeopardy that we barely know how to receive good sexual vibrations anymore, or when or if to trust them.

-- Robin Morgan (The Anatomy of Freedom)

To account for the general lack of male sympathy for women's problems with being treated as a sex object--including visual objectification, overt harassment, and even rape--I think it's important to focus more analytical attention on the fact that the experience is largely foreign to men; and that, furthermore, the experience of not being on the receiving end of the casual lust of the opposite sex is an experience, not just the lack of one (as in, "You don't have to put up with this and we do.")

This is once again an area where I'm shy about speaking from personal experience, but here it is: for the most part, my life has not been chock full of experiences in which girls or women have come on to me. The shyness factor stems from two sources--it could be uniquely my problem, and due to my deplorable personality or ridiculous appearance or something (in other words, women are doing it all the time, but not to me); or I could be dense and oblivious to it when it does occur, and I'm missing the signals (in other words, women are doing it all the time, but I'm not tuned in). It doesn't help that guys often brag about the extent to which women are approaching them and taking the sexual initiative on a regular basis. I em sure that there is more talk than truth to this, but in the absence of a time and place where the truth is spoken, it is hard to tell to what extent men are lying when they recount such experiences. It also doesn't help to have heard many women claim that, in real life, it is nearly always the women who start it, but that they do it in a sufficiently subtle way that the man is able to think that it was his idea (I've heard such comments from my feminist studies teachers).

For comparison, here's a "reality check" that might be useful. I was hanging out with a close male friend one day, and he started to come on to me. There was a degree of subtlety about it--I mean, I was not propositioned in blunt verbal terms, nor was I fondled, groped, nudged, or anything that could offend or put either of us too much on the spot. I liked him a lot, but I didn't want him sexually (boy shapes and boy-bodies just don't do it for me), and I found it natural and easy to respond in a similarly non-blatant way so as not to offend him (I was rather complimented, in fact, I just didn't want to take him up on it). Another time, when I was working late in a trendy-counterculture restaurant, a woman I was having a conversation with did much of the same thing, propositioning me without saying so in so many words or touching me in any way. In both cases, it was somewhat disconcerting, exciting in an adventurous way, and entirely effective as a way of communicating. During my life, I've had far more experiences of this sort with males (most of which were far less complimentary, I'm afraid) than with females; the event with the woman in the restaurant was one of a small handful of this sort.

I think that flirtation and coming on to a person are two distinguishable (if related) processes. Flirtation is different. Flirtation is much more noncommittal; it asks "Do you find me attractive?" rather than saying "Will you?" These are not dry and crisply defined terms, I realize, but I am hoping your experiences and observations are similar and that you know what I'm talking about. Perhaps most of the world's sexual beginnings are initiated by the woman flirting, which might be what my teacher was saying, but two people can flirt with each other without either one giving the other anything to say "yes" to. Again, it is a series of gestures, body language, facial expression, and verbal cues that does the trick. Many men seem to think that women who complain about sexual harassment are just complaining about flirting; and I've heard some women argue that the term "harassment" should be limited to overtly hostile, threatening gestures and comments for that very reason. But other women are concerned about men coming on to them and giving them the squirmies by not letting up about it, and insist that this be included in the definition of oppressive sexual harassment.

The notion that men (still) play the majority of the active "aggressive" role in sexual liaisons, especially if we ignore ongoing relationships and concentrate on beginnings, has also been commented on directly by Warren Farrell, who once wrote something along those lines for the "Back Page" of Ms. titled "Sexual Initiative: Women's Last Frontier?" or something like that. More recently, John Stoltenberg has conceptualized the ordinary dynamics of everyday heterosexuality as being similar to rape--he takes, she is taken. As he acknowledges that the sexual pass is socially male, he joins Dworkin and other feminists in indicting male sexuality for its subject-object tendencies, equates them with pornography, and condemns the package as oppressive. Meanwhile, back in the "redneck" camp, I think there is a reservoir of male resentment about all this, despite the fact that the male role is considered "privileged" and even though female sexual initiative is perceived, often by the same resentful men, as a threat (so much for consistency!). The resentment flares when women criticize men's sexually aggressive behavior, which the men see as a necessary role that has been delegated to them exclusively, along with the ego-risks involved: we have to do this, and you don't. And therefore don't understand.

So -- here we are at the core of the matter, I think. This behavior, men "coming on" to women, has often been identified by feminists as oppressive to women, at least under some conditions; but men, with the rare exception of a Stoltenberg, aren't inclined to see it that way. Is it oppressive? Certainly it can be. The propositional gestures and behaviors do indeed have the capacity to give the person on the receiving end a bad case of the squirmies. Females are more accustomed to coping with it, I guess. Personally, I've become more conscious of how women deal with it by watching, and women don't seem to become uncomfortable unless it continues even when they are sending back "not interested" signals ("bird-dogging", I've heard it called). Unfortunately, that is a lot of the time. Men coming on to women seem to think that what they are doing is harmless and, at the same time, may be effective if they keep it up. Unwilling or unable to identify with the women they are doing this to, they seem oblivious to how creepy it can feel to be on the receiving end of this behavior. On the other hand, when men really are on the receiving end, they often get upset and even violent much sooner. I think a lot of homophobia is directly tied in with the inexperience and resultant squirminess of being nonverbally propositioned in an indirect sort of way. I've also overheard and read of women's experiences in which women who do take a more assertive sexual role and put the make on men are sometimes cursed at and called "slut" and other things. I think the attitude is "Look, girlie, if I was interested in you, you'd know it by now." For not waiting passively for the man to make the pass, she is assumed to be more desperate and in some way short of feminine dignity.

Be that as it may, it seems reasonable to me that less obnoxious versions of coming on to someone you are attracted to is not only not intrinsically oppressive, it is also somewhat necessary if anyone is to get laid. It is also true, I think, that to acknowledge and express sexual desire for another person is to acknowledge and embrace a rather binary difference between yourself-the-wanting and him/herself-the-wanted; it is subject-object, and although the emphasis may be on the desire to transcend those differences through the sexual spark that jumps the gap and share in the oneness and mutuality of sex and all that stuff, it starts out with an emphasis on separateness and division. I would even go so far as to say that the emotional material I've called "naughtiness", an objectifying delight at the power to appetize and the vulnerability of being appetized, is a natural and crucial part of human sexuality and not an oppressive thing per se. But by freezing this difference and objectification and the emotions of lust into gender-specific patterns, the essential underlying mutuality of sexuality is denied and the ugly characteristics of subject-object binary oppositional thinking become woven into the construct called masculinity. But that's not intrinsic and natural, whereas the appreciation of difference and separation, and the lusty power/vulnerability emotions and sensations of sexuality are.

Suppose it's like this -- sexual feelings (for all of us) is halfway composed of feelings of naughty lust, feelings tinged and imbued with delicious power of causing another person to be out of control; and at the same time (for all of us) the other half is edged and tainted with fear and awe, the sense of being overwhelmed with uncontrollable and powerful feelings that put us at the mercy of another person...

and we polarize that, we project the vulnerability onto the women (we men do that), we think we're imagining the women's experience of being swept away unconsentingly on a tide of irresistible erotic feelings--but at the moment we're doing that we're having those feelings, they are our feelings even if the woman in question is actually just a two dimensional representation or a passing fantasy in the middle of a boring class. Meanwhile, what do you suppose the women are doing? Would the readers of romance novels and fantasizers of being tied up and betrayed by their traitor bodies have half as much fun if they weren't imagining the wickedly happy lustful aggressor-male who is getting away with this sexual plundering of their assets? And yet once again at the moment they fantasize such Lotharios and their triumphant leers they themselves are having those feelings.. well, aren't they?

There is definitely one place in which women are perpetually involved in sexually aggressive posturing, gesturing, and facial expression: the essential body language of nonverbal propositioning is used to pose models to sell products on the billboards and posters everywhere you look. I think these are specific poses and movements that have biological significance beyond the level of interpretation by the eye of the beholder. I can't demonstrate that here, but I've heard anthropologists break "flirtation" down into specific gestures, poses, and expressions that are consistently present across all societies and even across primate species; and I think the same is true for the process of coming on to a person, making a pass.

Anyway, I'm claiming that the presence of female come-on's in advertising and so forth is an objective characteristic and not merely my interpretation by way of my masculine socialization. We experience sexuality through all of our sensuality, and in one sense vision is just one more sense.

But visual is different; it does seem to be important to acknowledge that as of yet there is not a "Playboy Magazine" edition of the ideal feminine skin texture -- whatever you get to touch is usually the real surface of immediately present sexual woman. Neither are most of the rest of the bodily attributes of women to which Sappho and her modern-day counterparts sing their praises marketed for male consumption in the same sense that visual images of women are. She likes it when I become intoxicated at the warm hugginess of holding her, the smell of her, the texture of her, the sound of her voice, the taste of her. These are hers and it is only good and happy-making for both of us that there is enjoyment here. And of me, reciprocally. But this looks thing is an ugly and sore and painful subject.

You consume these images, you eat them up, and then you measure me against them and I don't like that, she says.

I really hate to acknowledge that it is such a problem. I mean, the essence of what the commercial image-mongers are stealing is a good thing, a powerfully good and warm and exciting part of my sexuality, and I categorically deny that enjoying the appearance of these fascinating woman people, enjoying the appearance of their female bodies, is a bad or oppressive thing. But the stealing of this, the alienation that is involved here, that's not a good thing at all. And I don't want to acknowledge the extent to which I'm being jerked around by people (men) who use these stolen images to manipulate me.

In the background all over the place, surrounding us, are all these depictions of women flirting, beckoning, offering, promising, .. .but not delivering. Teasing. The teenager going home from the Mormon Church didn't tease anybody, but anonymous poster women did it for her. Standing motionless in an eternal come-on, they encourage the men to look and look and look, until men have spent more time looking at two-dimensional women than at real ones, who are in motion, not posing (or not very often), who have other things to do. So the women seen for the longest intervals, for most of the time, are promising sex. Yes. Yes. Yes. Except they aren't really there, this is only the advertisement. Revved up, the men pass by the genuine female of the species. Surely she is the product who was advertised! Hey, don't get mad, I'm a customer, I'm serious, I really want to buy! Hey, ain't I good enough for you? When I go into Macy's, no one treats me like I'm not really there to make a purchase, I get respect, I get waited on, they're glad I'm looking, they're glad I'm thinking of buying. What's with you, girlie? Saving it for someone with better credit ratings? You don't think I mean it, do you? I want, really I do! Try me! I'll prove it! Hey, come back here!! Hey...

Oh, yes. It's true, it's true. Everything hinted at by Andrea Dworkin and company. Yes, they are advertisements for rape and woman-hatred. Except not just the overt porno. Not just the nude ones and the explicitly sex ones. If the men were not being promised sex -- and not just sex, but good sex that makes everyone smile, sex without wariness or anything that has to be won, sex from women who are ready without men having to do anything except say yes -- then men would not be expecting sex.

On the other hand, if men and women were on good enough terms as a general rule for good close warm accepting readily shared cuddly scary naughty thrilling sex to be a regular part of our lives, the advertising would not frustrate men. Of course that would defeat the whole purpose of using sex to advertise products and otherwise manipulate us...

Other than knowing better than to blame women, what can I do, directly and day to day, put my eyes out? Unplug my sexuality from the naturalness of my gaze? Is that any less distorted? I am inclined to think that no matter what I do here I am bound up in patriarchy and what it does to people. I feel rather strongly that if I try to excise that part of myself that accepts and celebrates my sexuality (including visual aspects of it), the result will be some prudish version of patriarchal masculinity. Instead of trying to change me, myself, on the inside, I think I have to make changes between myself and the outside world. I have to take responsibility for the way I interact with the world, for the ways in which my interaction play a part in making the world what it is and what it is becoming.

I agree with some of the feminist indictment of the social organization of the male gaze. Okay, yes, you do have a point and, as usual, you make a lot of sense. For my own part I've decided to avoid as much as possible buying things that are marketed by (or as) the stolen imagery of women's appearance. I will keep it in the forefront of my head that the feelings I sometimes get that I've been promised sexual experiences that aren't happening that way are feelings that have been largely created by those stolen images. And I will take the risk of being laughed at and ridiculed more often; I will talk about this and I will not let it be dismissed as non-serious or non-political "fluff" at the fringes of the real issues.

But I will also in many ways be a man -- for once the term has meaning and distinguishes me from the feminist women with whom I politically identify -- and sometimes that will mean that my eyes will see you, woman, and there will be sensations and emotions, lust and eroticized longings, and this will be true even though I don't want to be your colonizer and your oppressor.

What I will also be feeling is my own defenseless sensitivity to those very feelings. I'd like it if women understood that. It's a bit scary when women I'm attracted to hold it against me.


This paper was featured in the Sheffield Electronic Press in 1994

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