[content warning: discussion of rape, abuse, and human rights atrocities; satirical misandry on my part; actual misandry on Mr. Wright’s part; slurs]
Part two of my post disagreeing with John C Wright’s On The Sexual Nature of Man. Part one available here.
4.4 Men Are Jerks
Speaking as a man, and on behalf of the spear side of the race, let me tell any ladies reading these words that men are jerks. Perhaps the males you know are finer beings than what I describe here: if so, you need read no further. Nothing in my cynical world view will persuade you. None of the dangers I deem it prudent to protect against seem like threats to you. So be it.
I can only base my judgments on the evidence presented to me by my experience. If you have never been abandoned by a father seeking a lover younger than your mother, never been subject to a date-rape, never been dumped without a word by a man to whom you gave as much of yourself as you can give, never been abandoned by a lover and left to fend for yourself, never been driven to the abortion clinic at midnight by your best friend because the father of the baby was nowhere to be found, or never been divorced because your husband sought after a younger and prettier trophy-wife, then let me not disturb the curtain of candy-colored clouds in which your romantic hopes for life are wrapped. My view of the world is darker. I have friends and family members, people I know well, to whom all these things have happened. Time will tell which of us is closer to the truth.
I hope any feminists reading these words – if so impossible a chimera can be imagined as a feminist reading anything written by John C. Wright – will agree with me that females have been disadvantaged, exploited, and betrayed by the lusts of men since the dawn of time, and men seek to keep women in a position of weakness, to rob them of their natural rights, because both masculine indifference and masculine ego urges them to do so.
Well, I’m a feminist, and here are my thoughts:
If I actually believed everything John C Wright said about men, my conclusion would not be “men are so awful that each woman should spend the rest of her life with one of them, live with him, share her finances with him, sleep next to him at night, and generally place herself in a vulnerable position in which he may rape or murder her at any time.” That is a bizarre conclusion. In general, the correct way to respond to threats is to escape from them, not to marry them.
If I believed what John C Wright believed, I would encourage women to start a separatist commune. Any men who tried to enter should be expelled violently. (Men are physically stronger than women, you say? God made man, but Samuel Colt made them equal.) We won’t be unreasonable; heterosexual women can go off-commune for sex and even brief flings, although we will encourage them to be appropriately armed at all times. All male fetuses should be aborted. As this commune grows to slowly include all of womankind (as it no doubt would, given how horrible John C Wright thinks men are), we will shift policies. Now, only ninety percent of male fetuses will be aborted; the rest will be confined in brothel/prisons under strict guard, and any woman who wishes may visit for sex. (Naturally, men will be permitted to refuse sex with those they don’t like; we’re not monsters.) We will research into creating artificial sperm and into transforming all women into lesbians, so that men can be finally, painlessly eliminated.
The observant reader of my blog may note that I do not advocate this policy. Unfortunately, human evil is not so easily eradicated.
I do not wish to disturb the curtain of candy-colored clouds in which Mr. Wright’s romantic hopes for life are wrapped, but: Women rape. Women dump men without a word after he has given her as much as he can give. Women abandon their lovers and force them to fend for themselves. Women divorce their husbands to search for a stronger and more handsome man. And, unfortunately, all those disadvantages, exploitations and betrayals, those keeping women in positions of natural weakness and robbing them of their rights, were supported by women. Women crippled their daughter’s feet so they would never again walk without pain; women circumcised their daughters, causing them tremendous pain and taking sexual pleasure from them; women taught their daughters to throw themselves on the pyre when their husbands died, to graciously accept being raped because they have no right to refuse sex from their husbands, to be secluded so they would never see the sun.
There is, I suppose, one large difference between women and men, which is that men are more likely to hit you, and women are more likely to lie about being on birth control so they can trap you in the relationship because if you leave you are abandoning your child in a situation where you can’t protect them. I am not entirely certain that the latter is superior.
Let me ask the mythical feminist reading these words think about a particular example: when a powerful and well-connected World leader, let us call him Bill, has a young intern working for his staff, let us call her Monica, a lady perhaps half his age, not only convinced that he means to divorce his wife to cleave to her, but also convinced to kneel in his office and suck on his crooked penis, do you think the social rules and institutions surrounding sexual acts were successful in this case in protecting her from exploitation and betrayal? Were they successful in protecting his wife, let us call her Hillary, from exploitation and betrayal? Were the successful in protecting his daughter, let us call her Chelsea, from exploitation and betrayal? If any feminist were ever to read these words (an unlikelihood, I admit) I would wish to ask her whether the interests of the women involved, Monica, Hillary, and Chelsea were being served or betrayed by the Sexual Revolution and the mores and customs it ushered in to predominance.
Do you think the Sexual Revolution invented the concept of mistresses? That would be news to Nell Gwynn and Madame de Pompadour; indeed, it would be news to Maria Crofts Halpin, Lucy Mercer, Sally Hemings, Nan Britton, Carrie Fulton Phillips, and Lucia Calhoun, to name just a handful of presidential mistresses before the sexual revolution.
Today, a woman whose boss coerces her into sex may file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and receive damages. A wife whose husband cheats on her may divorce him without going through the humiliating process of revealing her private struggle to a judge to obtain a fault divorce, and without the fear that the judge will decide to not grant it. These are small improvements, yes, but they are improvements. Prior to the sexual revolution, the hypothetical Bill would have experienced no consequences; now, there is at least a chance he will receive some.
5.1 The Sex Act
John C Wright provides two reasons why only PIV intercourse ought to count as sex proper.
First, he points out that in the common law consummation is required for a marriage to be valid, which means PIV sex (even if contraception is used or the partners are sterile), but not oral sex, anal sex, etc. I am unclear why a Catholic appears to be such a strong supporter of a law that would judge the blessed Mary ever-virgin to have a non-binding marriage. I am equally unclear why the common law says things about the fundamental nature of sex. Notably, nonconsummation is not necessarily grounds for annulment in the civil law, which leads one to the curious position that PIV intercourse is the only proper form of sex as long as one does not happen to be in France at the time.
The purpose of marriage, in the common law, is to minimize the number of bastards. If no act that could possibly produce a bastard has occurred, then there’s no harm to ending the marriage. Oral and anal sex are treated differently because they cannot produce bastards. When the common law was being devised, there was no effective form of contraception and the causes of infertility were not understood, so naturally no exception was made for sex between infertile or contraception-using individuals. Admittedly, in the 1100s people did know that postmenopausal women couldn’t conceive, but also women who got married after menopause in the 1100s and who wished to end their marriages were a tiny percentage of the population who were probably ignored for the sake of a clean rule. While this is all very interesting, this does not mean that the rules devised for minimizing bastards in the 1100s are remotely useful for a philosopher trying to discern the nature of sex nine hundred years later.
Second, Wright argues:
Imagine begin a young bride, wafted off to the Honeymoon, only to hear your loving and devoted young bridegroom, his eyes shining with romance, announce that he will not now and never will consummate the marriage. Instead, you and he will engage in sodomy, fellatio, cunnilingus, and mutual masturbation. Assume moreover that there is nothing physically or mentally wrong with him: he is not suffering from an old war wound to the thigh. You will never mate with your mate. Does that seem like a proper culmination of romantic love to you, or does there perhaps seem to be something missing, even if you cannot at first put your finger on it?
This is a fun thought experiment, and I fully expect that half the comment section will be people sharing their opinions on it. I admit that many people would be annoyed at not getting to have PIV, but many people would also be annoyed at not getting to have oral sex, manual sex, seeing their partner naked, kink, etc. This does not mean that cunnilingus is the true kind of sex and PIV is a mere imitator, it just means that people don’t like it when you take popular sex acts off the table for the rest of their lives. (Personally, I’d rather never have PIV again than never give a blowjob again, but that’s me.)
John C Wright goes off on a tangent about how the “natural” in natural law is different from the “natural” of what trees do when left to their own devices, which I agree with and shan’t argue with.
John C Wright’s conclusion is as follows:
Let us leave this old-fashioned language to one side, and merely point out that copulation with a sterile partner, or during a sterile time of the month, is necessarily and legally in the same category as copulation with a fertile partner, whereas sodomy, fellatio, cunnilingus, mutual masturbation, even if done as preliminaries, or “safer” substitutes, are not only not copulation, in any sense of the word, and they are sexual only in their inessentials, a mockery or substitute for sex, a way to enjoy the sensations without the thing itself, the way vomiting up a meal is an inessential substitute for eating, a way to enjoy the taste of food without the act of really eating and digesting it.
On an emotional level, while the same feelings, base or sublime, lustful or devout, and the same physical sensations which attend the sex act may indeed accompany these surrounding sexual-ish acts, as a matter of biological fact, they are not the same. To confuse the feelings or sensations with the reality is the core the issue: an emotion can be false-to-facts in the same way a statement can be. The thing the emotion represents does not exist; the emotion is false.
I do not consider his evidence to have established his point. Human sexuality is, to take a phrase from the Catholic church, unitive and procreative; I would add a third, that it is pleasurable. That is, human sexuality leads to the production of children, it leads to warm feelings between the people who are having sex with each other, and it leads to feelings of pleasure and enjoyment. Unlike other species, we have concealed ovulation. We do not have sex only when it is possible to conceive a child. Instead, we have sex as an expression of caring, affection, and often love, and we have sex because it feels nice and we like it.
(A caveat: as a card-carrying libertine, I do not consider it my business to meddle in the everyday lives of others. I personally happen to consider unitive and pleasurable sex to be the best form of sex, and I attempt to convince others of the same. However, if someone insists that for them non-unitive or non-pleasurable sex best serves their overall eudaimonia, I do not consider it my place to question them; I recognize that mental diversity exists, and anyway the costs of imposing my viewpoints on others are much higher than the benefits gained. Given that my argument is “non-unitive/non-pleasurable sex makes you less happy”, I trust that people can observe their own levels of happiness themselves.)
Mr. Wright has belabored the obvious point that sex other than PIV cannot produce a child, and that institutions primarily intended to regulate procreation (such as marriage in the 1100s) naturally show a great deal of interest in PIV. But he has failed to establish that they cannot serve the unitive and pleasurable purpose of sex, nor would it be possible for him to do so, as it is obviously the case that all the wide variations of human sexuality– from married PIV for the purposes of procreation to the people who fuck cars– can sometimes be used to express people’s feelings of fondness for one another and are sometimes enjoyable. He could perhaps argue, as the Catholic Church does, that it is not permitted to separate the procreative purpose (at least in formal cause, if not in material cause), the unitive purpose, and the pleasurable purpose from each other. But he does not do this. Instead, he makes bad, fallacious arguments to attempt to show, in defiance of all human experience, that the unitive purpose cannot be served by blowjobs.
5.2 Passions Related To The Sex Act
John C Wright argues that the passions associated with the sex act are lust, infatuation, devotion, and love, and gives reasonable definitions of each. I do not actually necessarily disagree with Mr. Wright here, except for his characterization of lust:
Lust is the physical attraction. This lust can either be friendly (as when it is accompanied by infatuation, devotion, or love) or unfriendly (as when it is without anything more.)
Lust without anything more is how we describe the attraction felt toward whores, or, for that matter, airbrushed pictures of Playboy bunnies. Neither respect, nor any tender emotion is necessarily provoked by lust without anything more. Indeed, to judge from locker room conversations, hostility and contempt seem to be the frequent, if not inevitable, by-products of lust without more.
Now, I’m inclined to agree that lust accompanied by hostility and contempt is all too common in this fallen world. I am even inclined to be against having sex out of pure lust; it rapidly loses its interest compared to masturbation. And there is an obvious reason for Mr. Wright’s observations: people who like casual sex a lot are awful people. But I utterly disagree with the idea that the only emotions lust can be accompanied by are infatuation, devotion, and romantic love.
I think people fall into two categories here. First, there are those for whom lust for someone they like naturally produces feelings of infatuation, which later naturally ripen into devotion if all goes well. Second, there are those for whom lust may be accompanied by other friendly feelings: affection, friendship, admiration, sympathy, even pity. I do not mean to say that the former are monogamous and the latter are polyamorous; indeed, I know many a monogamous person who does not experience infatuation at all, and whose romantic relationships are purely motivated by the combination of lust with friendship and affection. But I do think that the former group is likely to have a quite miserable experience of sex outside of romantic relationships– either unrequited love or dark contempt– and for them it is wise to reserve sex for romance. For the latter group, however, sex because you think someone is nifty, even without romantic feelings, often leads to joyous outcomes for everyone involved.
(To be clear, this is not a stance that is against sex with strangers, assuming one is capable of having positive feelings about strangers and associating them with sex. As Samuel Delaney writes, “Because feelings, emotional and physical, are so foregrounded in sexual encounters, the orgy is soon the most social of human interchanges, where awareness and communication, whether verbal or no, hold all together or sunder it”…)
Psychological studies tend to suggest that people who like casual sex a lot are awful people, and that my observations suggest that people who like casual sex a lot are kind, agreeable individuals with a good word to say about everyone. I think the difference is that in the sex-positive communities I’ve been in, sex is an accepted way of expressing positive feelings for people. Naturally, those who have more positive feelings for people have more casual sex. Conversely, in communities where that is not a norm, those who have lots of casual sex are mostly those who want to get sexual pleasure out of others without having any sort of emotional connection to them whatsoever no matter how brief, i.e., mostly assholes.
Part three tomorrow!
I’m enjoying this series, thanks for writing it.
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I am not even done reading the post and I already have SO MANY FRUSTRATED FEELINGS about this point you predicted will engage us commenters:
THIS IS A STRAW SCENARIO THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN
Idunno maybe it does but that’s stupid
You don’t just announce a thing like this, let alone after your wedding
I guess if I heard about someone actually doing this I would be equally frustrated for different reasons
Actually reasonable scenario: [BEFORE considering marriage] “hey, I’ve realized that I really can’t handle PIV because [reasons]. I realize this may be an important thing for you, can we talk about whether/how we can make this work?”
which for the record would be pretty okay with me
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It’s a standard rhetorical trick.
Make a moral claim. Then offer an example of a violation of the moral claim. Ask your audience to check their gut, and admit they know that the example is wrong. When they agree, claim you’ve proven your argument.
It’s remarkably effective because it feels like a testable hypothesis has been validated. A prediction was made, came to pass, and if the speaker is sufficiently skilled it will, thanks to his framing the issue and queuing you to see it in his chosen way, feel as though you put two and two together on your own and came up with agreement with him.
But the trick is that the example could be offending your moral instincts for other reasons, or for reasons that fail to invoke the entirety of the moral premise.
Once you learn to recognize this trick you’ll find that it’s everywhere. On the conservative end like 90% of deontological philosophy is this trick. On the social justice end like 90% of discourse on cultural appropriation in this trick. And it pops up all the time in tons of other contexts.
1. Make a moral claim.
2. Give an example that violates it but also violates other norms.
3. Argue that your emotional response against the example validates the moral norms.
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Last sentence. Validates the claim. Argh.
I don’t think it’s always a trick, I think it’s sometimes a misdiagnosis of one’s own objection to something. Like sometimes I try to explain an emotional reaction I had by saying “I don’t like situations where X” and then someone asks “but what about situation Y, in which also X?” and I’m like “hmm I guess my generalization was wrong, let me figure out a better one”. (Or alternately “I disagree that situation Y also has X because there’s an important disanalogy”, or “in fact yes I also dislike situation Y”.)
This is both the problem with and the value of analogies, as well as examples scenarios like this. I think the trick is to come up with a whole lot of related but different examples and test them all – then you get better data for a better generalization.
Also if I wasn’t busy being frustrated I could perfectly well still engage with the author’s actual point by constructing a better example that gets at his point which is “I predict that you would not be pleased at the prospect of a marriage without PIV”. I don’t think he is lying about his prediction? I think he would not be pleased at the prospect of a marriage without PIV, and he thinks that others are like him, and so that situation is SO BAD for him that the other incidentals of the scenario don’t really matter. But I can just engage with his actual point and falsify his prediction.
I think his underlying position is that he believes that vaginal intercourse is a Catholic style physical instantiation of the mystical union of husband and wife, while other sex is just carnal release. So a husband who arbitrarily declares that he won’t do the former but will do the latter is refusing his wife the full scope of interpersonal connection they’re capable of having. That’s why the “old war wound” guy gets a pass- he might not be engaging in the whole metaphysical connection rigmarole, but at least he’s offering everything of himself that he can.
His rhetorical goal is very plainly put. He offers an example of something unusual and objectionable- a newly married man apparently arbitrarily and wholly without warning declaring that he will only engage in certain types of sexual intercourse, excluding vaginal intercourse. Then he meanders about how there’s “something” objectionable here, even if you can’t “put your finger on it.” He wants you to read the scenario and “feel” that something’s wrong, an explanation for which he’ll then conveniently supply.
But a simpler explanation exists, that he wishes for you to miss. Vaginal intercourse is considered completely normal for a married heterosexual couple, and abruptly and unexpectedly declaring that you will never engage in it, immediately after vows are completed, comes across as an unfair frustration of the other partner’s reasonable expectations. One doesn’t need to posit a magical overlay on reality to explain why it seems unfair to obtain a lifelong commitment from your partner and then suddenly spring on them that you aren’t going to engage in the usual components of that lifelong commitment.
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Right, I agree with your analysis of what’s going on here, except that I don’t think he is intentionally misleading the audience, I think he himself has missed the simpler explanation.
(To be fair I have no reason for this belief other than general charitability, but it serves me well by making me less angry at people than if I thought they went about lying about their opinions.)
Benjamin Arthur Schwab said:
I should mention that there be spoilers ahead.
Frederick Pohl wrote a book: “The Day The Martians Came,” which is a collection of short stories held loosely together by the narrative of Earthlings discovering a species of animal existing in underground caves in Mars and abducting them to Earth. The last chapter tells the perspective of the Martians as they struggle under the harsh gravity of Earth.
It turns out that they are intelligent and have language but they don’t communicate through sounds: they communicate through touch. A lick on one part of the body means one thing while a lick on another part of the body means something else. The most impactfull communication was that done during sex. The Earthlings tried to keep the Martian’s separated during transport (partly because of safety issues) which provided stress for the Martians.
Now, one could argue that standards of behavior that apply for one species should not apply to a different species with a completely different psychology (for example, I would argue this) but your post reminded me of the book and I thought I would share. Also, I didn’t get the pun in the title until today.
Jack V said:
John C Wright: We should draw an arbitrary line, where all sex that is less like sex than that is 0% “proper sex” and all sex is more like that is 100% “proper sex”.
Me: Why? What possible benefit could that give?
That’s pretty much what I was thinking. I have rarely seen someone more hedgehog than Wright. Though it is quite common to cut the world up in a way that fits your neat little set of boxes, and then coming to believe your boxes correctly represent the world, since it all fits so well now.
As I share neither his premises nor his categories, my brain is pretty much constantly screaming “WTF?!” while reading his quotes. The grammar seems correct, the words all exist, but they don’t make any sense to me in that sequence.
expectedly sharing opinions on the thought experiment!
Since this seems to be a case where Wright has typical mind fallacy and theory of mind issues and then some, let’s introduce some other test cases!
“Imagine begin a young bride, wafted off to the Honeymoon, only to hear your loving and devoted young bridegroom, his eyes shining with romance, announce that he will not now and never will kiss you. Instead, you and he will engage in [whatever list]. You will never feel the touch of your mate’s lips on yours. Does that seem like a proper culmination of romantic love to you, or does there perhaps seem to be something missing, even if you cannot at first put your finger on it?”
(Which is to say, I don’t like (the whole major production type of) kissing basically at all, but as I am given to understand from, well, quite a lot of things, a lot of people really really do and definitely do find it importantly meaningful and connecting. (And simultaneously, it’s one of those things that really differs across cultures! So). And yet it doesn’t seem to be on the ‘sex proper’ list.)
Or, in the other direction:
“Imagine begin a young just-married person, wafted off to the Honeymoon, only to hear your loving and devoted young partner, zer eyes shining with romance, announce that zie will not now and never dominate you. Instead, you and zie will engage in [whatever list]. You will never feel that soul deep surrender as zie fastens the collar around your neck. Does that seem like a proper culmination of romantic love to you, or does there perhaps seem to be something missing, even if you cannot at first put your finger on it?”
I don’t know, it probably depends on *whether d/s things have this kind of meaning and foundational importance to you*.
Also, is he going to get to the LGB thing in part 3? Because,
“Imagine begin a young bride, wafted off to the Honeymoon, only to hear your loving and devoted young bride, her eyes shining with romance, announce that she will not now and and never ‘consumate the marriage’. Instead, you and she will engage in [whatever list, which can probably totally include strapons since I don’t imagine Wright thinks they count for this either].
No shit, you say, we’re both cis women.
(Though, you know, this might help me understand some part of that whole ‘gay lifestyle’ thing. If you think PIV is the One True Meaningful Sex, as contrasted with wanting to kick your partner out of bed immediately and all (which, as noted, is a valid preference if engaged in consensually etc, but not the point), then I can see how ‘[some of, but homophobes are rarely good at trans stuff] these people can never do that’ makes you think There Is No Meaningful There, they just want to kick each other out of bed all the time.)
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Alright. A top level response.
You’re free to feel otherwise in terms of your personal views on men. But there are actually quite a lot of similarities between Wright’s misandry and well established and popular schools of feminist thought. The idea that men are uniquely vicious, demeaning, and harmful towards women in a way that is non reciprocal is so integral to concepts like for example “objectification” in a “patriarchal society” that I do not think it can be cast aside without biting a whole lot of philosophical bullets.
The big difference is in the “why,” which connects to the “and what should we do about it?”
Wright views this as an inherent state of nature, which can be tempered in part by socialization and in part by communion with the divine.
Feminism typically describes this as the historically contingent results of socialization, which can be reversed for existing men by further socialization, and for future men simply not trained into them.
I think both views have elements of truth to them in certain minimal ways. Testosterone and a male physique gifts straight men with 1) muscles, and 2) aggression, and 3) a sex drive that is directed towards a class of people who typically have fewer muscles and less aggression, so it’s not surprising that they get up to some stuff they shouldn’t sometimes. I mean, that’s literally means, motive, and opportunity to victimize. And among other things, admittedly including some less savory things, “masculinity” includes a code about regulating ones sexual and aggressive urges. It’s a broad concept and it is sometimes counter productive, but at least it exists. On the other hand the divine does not, and Wrights code goes way overboard. On the feminism end it’s easy to point to ways that social concepts like masculinity can be harmful. Unfortunately I think that most feminist solutions for reforming matters are extremely likely not to work; when I hear feminists describe the aspects of my personality that are allegedly socialized (easy example- liking breasts) or describing how my brain works (watching a two second clip of breasts in between forty minutes of character development on either side is reinforcing my socialization that women are disposable objects like tissue paper) I imagine I feel an awful lot like a gay man being told that they only think they like dudes because of some unknown trauma in their past, and can become straight if they just try. And I think that solutions stemming from that world view are unlikely to be applicable to real life.
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But there are actually quite a lot of similarities between Wright’s misandry and well established and popular schools of feminist thought.
That was, I assume, the rationale for Ozy’s detour through lesbian separatist feminism.
Also, I’m a big fan of breasts, and the positive response is a visceral one (or a couple inches lower IYKWIM, AITYD), but I’m not sure why that means it isn’t socialized. My understanding is that the modal standard for female sexual attractiveness has varied widely across cultures.
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The fact that the response is visceral is not enough alone to show that it’s biological. You’re correct to note that learned responses do not always feel very different from biological responses.
But while beauty standards vary wildly, visual sexual cueing is common in the animal world, the penchant for breasts seems uniform, and arguments to the contrary seem based on some very shaky and occasionally downright colonialist sociology and anthropology.
Patrick – What is your basis for saying “the penchant for breasts seems uniform”? I know that some anthropologists would disagree with you.
I have no particular opinion about this; I don’t care if the penchant for breasts is uniform or not. I’m just interested in the basis for your claim.
I am aware that some anthropologists disagree. I recall studying this in college.
If you trace back their claims you will find that they’re basing them upon their beliefs about the nature of non western cultures prior to contact with the west, and that they’re drawing an inference that the absence of a nudity taboo with respect to breasts means the absence of sexual arousal from breasts. In all cases once the culture has contact with the west, and perhaps non coincidentally once the culture is open to more in depth study, it turns out that the men like breasts. The purported explanation is that this is due to the influence of western culture. While this excuse certainly appears to be a remarkably convenient way to render one’s beliefs unfalsifiable, it is at least possible… but the alternate explanation is that any anthropologist who observes an absence of nudity taboo and presumes an absence of sexual arousal directed towards the bare body part has failed in their obligation, as an anthropologist, to leave their own western preconceptions at home.
Beyond that there are a wealth of smaller red flags that these claims ought not be trusted. The fact that “breasts are sexy” appears to spread more effectively than literally any other western or non western cultural concept. The fact that other socialized beliefs, sexual or otherwise, have much more readily accessible exceptions (ideals of sexual attractiveness come and go and are adopted to varying degrees, we’ve experienced incredible shifts in cultural norms of all types, and individuals regularly fail to be inculcated with social values and beliefs, and yet “breasts are sexy” seems to be uniquely stable across time, space, and individual). The testimony of other sociologists who claim that “hyper sexualization of breasts is socialized,” a rival and incompatible theory that is much more plausible. General shenanigans from proponents of this theory. Probably some more that I’ve forgotten over the years.
My favorite argument on this topic is as follows: Some claim that Japanese culture, prior to westernization, viewed breasts as purely a means of feeding infants, and stressed that male fascination with breasts was infantile. Breasts were to be bound down, and de-emphasized visually, as a result.
… but would you need that norm if male fascination with breasts wasn’t an issue?
That sounds like an excellent example of the ways in which cultural norms and values can influence our behavior. If true, you could certainly claim this as an example of a culture stressing a de-sexualization of breasts. Emphasis on DE-sexualization. If true it is a very fascinating and interesting point, and definitely tells us a good bit about how social norms can interact with human sexuality. But it doesn’t tell us that culture trains men to be sexually attracted to breasts. It tells us that some cultures try to train men otherwise.
TLDR, you know how someone will occasionally point out that “straight” and “gay”are socially constructed categories that literally didn’t exist until a few hundred years ago? And someone else will point out that while this may be so, since the dawn of time there have probably been some dudes who want to kiss other dudes, and some dudes who don’t, and noticing that “straight” and “gay” are socially constructed doesn’t mean you can socialize homosexuality out of existence? Same issue.
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Also, just on priors, given that the vast majority of people are monosexual, it would be really weird if any super-obvious secondary sexual characteristic wasn’t sexualized at least a little bit.
Ozy: Seems weird to me as well, and my instinct is to think that it can’t be true. But I trust my instincts about something like this less than I trust actual research (although I don’t trust either one 100%).
There’s no reason to believe that super-obvious secondary sexual characteristics must always be sexualized – and certainly not the extreme extent that our culture sexualizes boobs. Consider beards. There certainly are people who find beards sexy; but at least some studies indicate that a majority find beardlessness more attractive.
Patrick: In the approximately fifteen minutes of reading I’ve now done on this, several different authors have said the original source for the “breasts aren’t sexualized in all cultures” belief is a highly respected 1951 book called Patterns of Sexual Behavior by Beach and Ford. The data seems to be based on direct interviews with respondents from many cultures about what they find sexually appealing and what they do during sex.
Other anthropologists who make this claim, say they are basing it on direct knowledge. Kathy Dettwyler writes:
“I have studied breastfeeding in Mali (West Africa) firsthand, and I have read the extensive literature on breastfeeding in other cultures as well. In Mali, as in most cultures around the world, breasts hold no sexual connotations for either men or women. Sexual behavior does not involve the breasts, which are perceived as existing for the sole purpose of feeding children. When I told my friends and informants in Mali about American attitudes toward women’s breasts, especially sexual foreplay involving “mouth to breast contact” by adult men, they were either bemused or horrified, or both. In any case, they regarded it as unnatural, perverted behavior, and found it difficult to believe that men would become sexually aroused by women’s breasts, or that women would find such activities pleasurable.”
Maybe the anthropologists are lying. Or maybe their research was incompetently performed – that can certainly happen. Or maybe you’re misremembering, or maybe your professor got something wrong.
But it’s obvious your claim that anthropologists are merely “drawing an inference that the absence of a nudity taboo with respect to breasts means the absence of sexual arousal from breasts” is false. And, lacking better evidence, I’m inclined to trust people who have done first-person research.
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I put a high prior on humans being genetically more attracted to breasts than [insert null hypothesis here], due to the fact that we are the only species that has prominent breasts when not producing milk. This implies that prominent breasts do not have a biological function beside sexual selection. It is highly plausible that traits sexually selected for are considered arousing more frequently than by chance.
Also, note that attraction to breasts can be common without permeating literally every single culture on earth. Socialisation can trump innate attraction.
Ampersand, I am aware of the researchers with whom I am disagreeing. If citing their names is sufficient to make it “obvious” to you that they are drawing inferences other than what I read from them, then I suppose I should simply take heart in my prescience at anticipating the manner in which our exchange would end.
What? Did you miss the part where Ampersand’s post cited the anthropologist’s reasons for their conclusions, which are not the same reasons you said they used?
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I’m looking at it right now and I’m still missing it.
I knew how this would go down. Ampersand asked me my basis for a claim that is broadly made. I offered my basis. My claim was a negative one (“X is poorly supported and I am unconvinced,”) about a general topic on which a lot has been written, so by definition my response consisted of listing some arguments made in favor of it, explaining why I find them uncompelling, and adding a dew points that, as the kids say these days, suggest a high prior.
The obvious chess move for Ampersand isn’t to respond to any of it, that’s hard. It’s to castle. Argue that there’s other evidence I’m not considering, or, try to rephrase the things I did consider on terms that appear different. For example, I stated that I find western anthropologists claims about sexualization of breasts questionable because they frequently fail to be replicated by other researchers, and the explanation for that failure that I’ve seen on offer seems unlikely. Ampersand responded by naming a specific researcher, and stating a bit of her testimony. It’s a good move because it redirects away from “we keep saying this and seeming to get it wrong and a pattern is emerging” to “you haven’t proven this specific example wrong.”
Replace the logical structure you see here with an analogous argument about Bigfoot, and you’ll see why I don’t find this responsive.
The way I’m seeing this is:
Patrick: Anthropologists are concluding that other cultures don’t find breasts sexy on the basis that they don’t have a nudity taboo about breasts, but that inference doesn’t follow, so I reject their conclusion.
“If you trace back their claims you will find that they’re basing them upon their beliefs about the nature of non western cultures prior to contact with the west, and that they’re drawing an inference that the absence of a nudity taboo with respect to breasts means the absence of sexual arousal from breasts. […] but the alternate explanation is that any anthropologist who observes an absence of nudity taboo and presumes an absence of sexual arousal directed towards the bare body part has failed in their obligation, as an anthropologist, to leave their own western preconceptions at home.”
^ that sounds to me very much like “their only/primary evidence is the lack of nudity taboo”.
Ampersand: Actually some anthropologists have evidence other than the lack of a nudity taboo, for instance the fact that people in other cultures are confused/bemused when told that westerners enjoy breasts, and the fact that if you ask them what they do during sex they don’t mention breasts.
“The data seems to be based on direct interviews with respondents from many cultures about what they find sexually appealing and what they do during sex. […] When I told my friends and informants in Mali about American attitudes toward women’s breasts, especially sexual foreplay involving “mouth to breast contact” by adult men, they were either bemused or horrified, or both. In any case, they regarded it as unnatural, perverted behavior, and found it difficult to believe that men would become sexually aroused by women’s breasts, or that women would find such activities pleasurable.””
^ this clearly lists evidence other than the lack of nudity taboo. If you want to argue against it you need to explain why that evidence is still insufficient for you.
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I remember when I cast aside the concept of “objectification.” It’s so nice to watch porn without feeling like I’m doing something wrong.
I think that another difference between conservatism and feminism is what exactly it means to be “demeaned” or “degraded.” Conservatism tends to treat it as a matter of purity where women are in some way contaminated. Feminism tends to treat it as a matter of power and status. Both ideologies feature rituals for preventing degrading, that are again centered on either maintaining purity or equalizing power and status.
I rejected ideas like this at a fairly young age because I had thoroughly internalized the Dignity Culture ideals I grew up with, and realized they were incompatible with conservative and feminist narratives of sexuality. Since dignity culture views a human being’s inherent worth as an intrinsic part of who they are, it isn’t actually possible to demean or degrade someone.
I’m curious, what do you mean by dignity culture?
Also, I like the concept of objectification (though I use it more narrowly than many) and also do not think porn is wrong, so it took me some effort to read your first couple of sentences without thinking of them as a non sequitur. (Though now that I say that I do find that some porn feels objectifying to me which is an unpleasant feeling, though I do not think people who watch it are doing anything wrong.)
Some sociologists divide different cultures into three types, honor, face, and dignity. These cultures differ in where someone’s dignity and value as a human being is perceived as coming from. No real culture is purely one type, most are mixed.
In Face Culture your value is derived from your ability to perform your assigned role in society and helping others perform theirs. Conflicts between people are usually resolved by appealing to an external authority who is higher up on the social ladder. If someone makes you lose face (by making it harder for you to perform your social role) usually they are more to blame than you. China and other East Asian cultures are archetypical Face cultures.
In Honor culture your value is derived from your ability to defend your reputation. People are expected to personally resolve conflicts, often violently (there’s lots of dueling). People are hyper-sensitive to any slight to their reputation, especially to their ability to defend themselves, reciprocate favors, and perform their gender roles. There’s lots of dueling. If someone besmirches your honor and you fail to enact a reprisal, you are more to blame than them. The Wild West and Medieval Europe are archetypical honor cultures.
In Dignity Culture your value isn’t derived from anything you do. You’re a person and you have value, period. People are expected to resolve interpersonal conflicts by appealing to an external third party, like a court. It is not logically possible for someone to lose their value or their dignity. Modern day America and Europe are Dignity Cultures (although again, no place is purely one culture).
I see the idea that some forms of sexualization “degrade” women to be a relic of Honor culture. The idea seems to be that certain forms of sexuality “degrade” women by taking away their dignity. Honor cultures blame the degraded person for allowing themselves to be degraded. Feminism tries to change that, instead of blaming women for allowing themselves to be degraded, it blames men for degrading them (which is more like Face culture). Objectification was developed as a way of justifying this belief that women are being degraded.
I think a better alternative is Dignity Culture. Under dignity culture, women cannot be degraded by sexuality or sexualization. Their value and dignity are inherent in their being a person, nothing they do and nothing that is done to them can take it away.
Feminism and conservatism both agree that women are being degraded by many types of sexuality, their only disagreement is how to solve that problem and who to blame. I reject their central premise. I don’t think sex is degrading.
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J. Goard said:
“the way vomiting up a meal is an inessential substitute for eating, a way to enjoy the taste of food without the act of really eating and digesting it”
C. S. Lewis used this metaphor in Mere Christianity, although I think he was discussing “sex without love” and he referred, not to vomiting, but to “chewing ones food and spitting it out again”.
I don’t know whether Lewis thought chewing gum was evil, but he apparently smoked a pipe and cigarettes, so he surely knew something of the pleasures of taste without nutrition.
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The Whore Poet said:
“How we feel about whores” ololololol. If Mr. Wright had actually bothered to talk to sex workers socially, he couldn’t fail to miss that a major hassle of the job is diplomatically dealing with clients getting too attached. Clients develop feelings that are outside the bounds of a commercial service all the time. Like ALL THE TIME. Not every time but enough that deescalating client feelings is an essential lesson for all newbie swers. My job would be a lot easier if my clients just wanted a warm hole and to kick me out of bed after. I could go get tacos instead of providing ego-boosting pillow talk!
And I have lots of sweet and feelings-y bonding sex on my own time with my own partners. Context matters for how people feel about sex. Shocking, huh?
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