Tag Archives: male gaze

What Does It Mean For A Woman To “Own” Her Sexuality?

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In a perfect world, human sexuality wouldn’t be so political. From  a biological and societal standpoint, the fundamentals are simple.

Two people meet.

They gauge one another’s interest.

They decide to engage in an intimate relationship.

Together, they make a mutual effort to enjoy the fruits of that relationship.

Ideally, an expression of sexuality is a mutual exchange between two people seeking an intimate connection. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a heterosexual relationship, a homosexual relationship, or something more elaborate. So long as those involved are willing, considerate, and open, everyone shares in the benefits.

Sadly, we don’t live in that perfect world. Like it or not, human sexuality is one of the most politically charged topics anyone can discuss. It’s connected to hot button issues like abortion, sexual assault, domestic violence, child welfare, poverty, crime, human trafficking, and even religion. Considering its role in propagating our species, it’s understandable why discussions about about it get heated.

That said, some of those discussions are political for all the wrong reasons. A few are even built on a foundation of absurdities that only serve to distort our perspectives on human sexuality and not in a good way. One of those discussions involve the idea of a woman “owning her sexuality.”

This idea isn’t new, but it has become a more common refrain in recent years, often in conjunction with media depictions of female sexuality. It’s become a slogan, of sorts, for whenever a female celebrity or fictional character does something that’s sexually empowering. Depending on where someone is on the political spectrum, they’ll either cheer or scorn their actions.

However, what constitutes “sexual empowerment” is poorly defined and exceedingly inconsistent. In some cases, empowerment involves a woman being more sexual than society at large deems appropriate. In other cases, empowerment involves a woman being less sexual or less feminine. Here are just a few examples.

When Miley Cyrus was nude in one of her music videos, some saw this as empowering.

When Lara Croft was redesigned to be less sexy in her 2014 reboot, some saw this as empowering.

When Muslim women justify restrictive Islamic dress codes, some saw this as empowering.

When some women decided to stop shaving their body hair, some saw this as empowering.

Regardless of what form it takes, the empowerment is framed as women either reclaiming or owning their sexual selves. What it means is often vague, but it usually carries a particular set of connotations.

To own one’s sexuality is to break a set of unspoken rules, give the finger to an unjust system, and forge your own sexual path. It’s like that moment in every great sports movie where the underdog beats the odds and triumphs over their evil opponents. In that triumph, their notion of what constitutes a fair and just expression of human sexuality is vindicated. All others are somehow flawed.

I concede that this is a gross generalization, but it’s the most common narrative I see whenever there’s a story about a woman owning her sexuality. It’s built around the assumption that female sexuality is always the underdog and to own it, a woman needs to somehow seize it from the clutches of repressive, misogynistic men.

Now, I don’t deny that there are many injustices in the current social landscape. Historically, female sexuality has been subject to seriously repressive taboos. Even today, there are still various taboos about female sexual pleasure. Many women genuinely suffer because of it. The idea of women enjoying sex as much as men is still jarring to some people. Some even find it threatening.

In that sense, I don’t blame women for wanting to embrace their sexual selves in an environment that treats their sexuality as tool for political issues or marketing. Like men, they have feelings and desires. They have every right to pursue them with the same passion as anyone else. When it comes to “owning” it, though, the terminology tends to obscure that pursuit.

The fact that “owning” your sexuality can mean so many different things ensures it ultimately means very little. It has become one of those vague, catch-all terms that’s supposed to mark something as meaningful, progressive, or enlightened. In many cases, it comes down to people using sexuality to provoke a reaction, garner attention, or protest an injustice.

While I’m in favor of protesting sexual injustices, the fact that “owning your sexuality” is such an ambiguous act makes it a poor form of protest. All it does is assert that you can make choices about how you express your sexuality and you’re willing to endure the criticism. That doesn’t say anything about the injustice itself.

If anything, the very concept of owning your sexuality raises more questions than answers. To own something implies possession. The fact that a woman owning her sexuality is so celebrated implies that the woman didn’t possess it in the first place. If that’s the case, then when was it taken from her? At what point did she not own it? What did she have to overcome in order to get it back?

To some extent, for a woman to own her sexuality, she and others like her must buy into the idea that someone else governs it to some extent. In some cases, it’s the media with their depictions of idealized feminine beauty. In others, it’s repressive religious dogma that seeks to control female sexuality.

While there are real instances of women having to escape repressive environments, there’s a big difference between a female celebrity posing nude for a magazine and a woman being brutally punished for committing adultery. One involves someone escaping a coercive force that causes them real physical harm. The other involves them doing something that will only subject them to harsh scrutiny, at worst.

In that context, a woman owning her sexuality is no different than willingly enduring extra criticism and aggressive slut shaming. Can it be excessive? It certainly can be. Is it the same as someone putting their life and their body at risk in order to express their sexuality? I would argue that it isn’t.

I know my opinion may not count for much on this issue since I’m a heterosexual man. I concede that there’s only so much I can understand about the female experience. At the same time, I feel inclined to point out that men are human too. Men are also burdened by various taboos and double standards. As such, a man “owning his sexuality” is subject to entirely different standards.

The fact that those standards are so different implies that there’s little substance behind the concept. If a woman can act overtly sexual in one instance and exercise extreme modesty, yet claim to own her sexuality in both cases, then where does the ownership come in? At what point is it any different than just making choices and living with them?

If there is no difference, then the concept is ultimately pointless.

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Controlling Women’s Bodies Versus Policing Men’s Thoughts

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Discussing gender issues, whether it’s from a feminist perspective or a male perspective, is fraught with problems. I’m not just referring to the hashtags, virtue signaling, systemic deficiencies, or historic injustices, either. Talk to anyone on any part of the political spectrum for more than five minutes and you’ll realize something very quickly.

Addressing gender issues isn’t just difficult. It’s frustrating.

By that, I don’t mean that it’s impossible to have a productive conversation. There are just certain aspects of that conversation that are intractable. We’ll never be able to agree because we’ll never be on the same page.

Women will point out the historic abuses and injustices perpetrated by men.

Men will point out the inherent advantages and privileges that women are afforded.

Women will bemoan instances of harassment, toxic masculinity, and patriarchal oppression.

Men will cite instances of egregious double standards, male disposability, and cultural marginalization.

Those in the transgender community will point out how both sides are guilty of denigrating their community.

From the most radical of feminists to the most egregious misogynist, there seems to be no common ground. It fuels a great deal of the perpetual outrage culture surrounding gender. Whatever your ideology, it feels like there’s no underlying thread through which we can get to the heart of the conflict.

While I don’t claim to be an expert in feminism, men’s issues, or gender, I’ve written enough about these topics to gain some insight. In doing so, I wish to do something other than complain about the state of gender politics. Instead, I’d like to offer an idea that I believe puts many gender-driven conflicts into a more cohesive context.

The primary catalyst for gender conflicts boils down to controlling women’s bodies versus policing men’s thoughts.

I know it’s a generalization, one that seems too simple to cover so many complicated issues. However, the connections are there. If you take a step back, it’s possible to see how many current and past issues involving gender came down to this simple dynamic.

To understand its implications, take a moment to think about the different ways we judge men and women. Consider how we do it now, how we’ve done it in the past, and the ways we justify it. When you look at the big picture, there are some clear patterns.

Take, for example, the extent to which modesty and chastity is emphasized for women. In both modern Islamic cultures and ancient agrarian cultures, a virtuous woman was one who didn’t show off her body, didn’t have promiscuous sex, and didn’t thrust herself into major issues. At the same time, modesty in men is never mentioned.

Why is this? I know some feminists will cite the nefarious patriarchy as the source of all female marginalization. That makes for a great melodrama, but it does not reflect reality. I know I’ll upset a few feminists here when I say this, but I think it needs to be said.

The obsession over the female body has nothing to do with patriarchy and everything to do with the fact that women bear children. That’s the one intractable difference between men and women that no ideology can deny. One gender has to carry the future of the species inside their bodies for nine months and the other doesn’t.

Any woman who has endured a pregnancy can attest that this process is strenuous, to say the least. Unfortunately, it’s necessary for the continuation of our species and, by default, the growth of society. From a purely pragmatic perspective, it makes sense to micromanage female bodies.

We need female bodies to be healthy and safe in order to bear children. The fact that, for much of recorded history, men needed to be certain those children were theirs for the inheritance of property only increased that need. Women who were promiscuous, injured, or in any way damaged didn’t just result in their own suffering. It could cause the entire tribe to suffer.

It certainly doesn’t help that we had a limited understanding of human biology and disease until recently. It also doesn’t help that these values of protecting female bodies became enshrined in religion and culture, some of which are still practiced today. This emphasis on controlling the female body is the foundation on which many taboos, traditions, and tropes are built.

On that same foundation is the other side of that dynamic that involves policing the thoughts of men. By that, I don’t just mean men acting immature at the sight of a naked woman or cringing at discussions concerning female biology. I’m talking about a mentality that builds assumptions and expectations about an entire gender based on unknowable thoughts.

Think back to what Judeo-Christian morals say about men who look at a women with lust. It’s such an important issue that Jesus himself says outright that just thinking sexy thoughts about a woman is a major transgression. He didn’t say anything about homosexuality, but he made it clear that contemplating lust is as bad as acting on it.

Many religious traditions and cultures place a similar emphasis on the subject. It’s why traditions in Islam and ancient China advocate separating men from women. If they’re in close proximity, they may look at one another. If they look at one another, then they may think lustful thoughts.

This isn’t just cultures being sexually uptight or overly patriarchal. This emphasis on scorning men’s thoughts makes logistical sense when you look at the intent. From perspective of a functional society, it has to emphasize thought over actions because just judging a man for his actions is insufficient when you extrapolate the consequences.

Say a man sexually assaults a woman. The community rightfully convicts him and punishes him as harshly as possible. No matter how harsh or cruel, though, it doesn’t undo the harm he inflicted on the woman. She is still traumatized. She might even be permanently injured. As I noted before, when a female body suffers, it puts the future of the community in danger.

As a result, we have no choice but to attack the thoughts of the man that preceded his assault. The only way to prevent damage to the female body is to prevent those violent thoughts from occurring in the first place. Unfortunately, we can’t read thoughts. We don’t know what a man is or isn’t thinking when he commits an egregious crime. As a result, we’re left with expectations and assumptions.

That’s where we get flawed concepts like toxic masculinity, the male gaze, and mansplaining. That’s also why there’s a greater emphasis on assuming the guilt of men and believing the claims of women. Attacking their thoughts is the only sure-fire way to prevent them from turning into actions that would harm women and their bodies.

Please note that I emphasized the harm to the female bodies with respect to men’s actions. That’s not an accident. The assumptions are the same today as they were in ancient times when protecting the reproductive function of women wasn’t just a cultural tradition. It was a matter of survival. Any effort that could reduce the chances of a female body being harmed had merit. From there, natural selection does the rest.

With this dynamic in mind, look at some of the relevant cultural issues going on today. Even if the connections aren’t direct, the influencing factors are there. Nearly every one of them come back to controlling women’s bodies and policing men’s thoughts.

At the heart of the abortion debate is controlling women’s bodies.

At the heart of the debate over depictions of women in media is policing men’s thoughts.

At the heart of the anti-harassment movement, the anti-pornography movement, and the opposition to prostitution is the control of female bodies and the policing of men’s thoughts.

It’s rarely stated outright. However, that is what many issues comes back to. Often times, the people involved won’t use words like “control” or “policing.” They’ll claim they’re protecting women’s bodies and enlightening men’s thoughts. That may be the intention, but there are only so many ways anyone can go about pursuing such recourse.

To protect anything, you have to be able to control it to some degree. We can’t protect people, pets, or possessions without some kind of containment. The same goes for reforming someone’s attitudes. It’s necessary to police undesired thoughts to promote the thoughts you want.

In both cases, the outcome is the same. It’s both impossible and untenable to completely control women’s bodies. That requires a level of subjugation that even the most brazen misogynist cannot stomach or maintain. It’s just as impractical to police men’s thoughts. We can never know for sure what someone else is thinking. We’re left to assume and that’s usually the first step towards expecting the worst.

Despite the efforts of government, culture, tradition, and organized religion, nobody has come close to controlling women’s bodies and policing men’s thoughts to any sustainable extent. Men will still think sexy thoughts, a small part of which will precede a serious crime. Women will still put themselves at risk to be free, have fun, and enjoy their bodies on their own terms.

Even if 99 percent of what men think results in no crimes and 99 percent of what women did with their bodies resulted in no negative effects, we’ll still obsess over that one percent of the time when something goes horribly wrong. That obsession will continue to fuel the most radical parts of feminism and the most vocal parts of men’s rights activists.

For now, there’s no way to bridge the gap. That may change as a result of major social and technological trends, but this is the current situation. Again, I don’t claim this idea of controlling women’s bodies and policing men’s thoughts is the definitive catalyst for all gender-driven conflicts. This is just an idea I wanted to share in hopes of providing perspective.

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We’re ALL Perverts (According To Cracked)

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In the interest of science, sex, and having an excuse to talk about subjects that get our blood flowing in all the right ways, I’d like to do a quick survey. Don’t worry. This isn’t a pop quiz. It’s not another one of my sexy thought experiments either. It’s just my way of making a point, one that may very well be important to our collective understanding of sexuality.

It’s just four questions. Anyone can take it. They’re simple yes/no answers. If it takes you more than 20 seconds, then you’re just overthinking.

Question 1: Are you a man?

Question 2: Are you heterosexual?

Question 3: Do you enjoy the sight of female breasts?

Question 4: Do art forms that depict female breasts appeal to you?

If you answered yes to all of these questions, then congratulations. You’re a pervert. That’s right. According to a growing sentiment within our culture, any straight man who dares to admire female breasts in any form of media, be it video games, movies, or TV, is somehow a pervert.

That’s the message that a recent article of Cracked.com gave. Usually, I’m very fond of Cracked.com’s work on discussing matters of sexuality. However, every now and then, they write an article that reeks of politically correct horse shit. This particular article talked about how video game developers put a lot of effort into the physics of breasts on female characters. For some reason, that makes them and those who play these games perverts.

 

Let’s step back for a moment and try to make sense of that without hitting ourselves in the head with a baseball bat. This is apparently an issue now. Men admiring women’s breasts is controversial. Granted, women’s breasts have been subject to controversy in the past and I’m not just talking about Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl performance either.

We’re still a culture that gets exceedingly queasy when we talk about sex in any form. We all remember how awkward it was in health class when we learned about the inner workings of a penis and vagina. Boobs have a sexual component to them. So unless you’re on a nude beach, at Mardi Gras, or in a Super Bowl halftime show, it’s going to be awkward.

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Now there’s nothing inherently wrong about feeling awkward about sex or certain body parts. Who doesn’t feel a little awkward when they find out their best friend’s mom got a boob job? That doesn’t mean it qualifies as an outright perversion, does it?

Thankfully, we’ve advanced our society to a point where we have these things called dictionaries and this amazing achievement allows us to actually check the definition of a word to see if it fits a certain context. The definition of pervert in a sexual is actually fairly concise. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition is as follows:

An aberrant sexual practice or interest especially when habitual.

The keyword in that definition is “aberrant.” That means unnatural, improper, or abnormal. Now I know people don’t agree on what’s natural, proper, or normal. In fact, I would argue that most people can’t agree on that. They can’t even agree on pizza toppings. However, when it comes to our biological wiring that helps us survive and reproduce, I think we can find some common ground.

With few exceptions, straight men like breasts. They like the sight of breasts, the feel of breasts, and the depictions of breasts. I know this, both as a straight man and as someone whose readers regularly demand more vivid depictions of breasts in my novels. It’s as natural as enjoying a cold beer on a hot summer day.

So why is this wholly natural, hard-wired predilection being classified as a perversion? Why would the brilliant writers at Cracked.com see the efforts of video game creators to make more appealing breasts as a catalyst for perversion? Do they think men even need a catalyst to admire breasts or want to see them?

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Well, a lot of it is our fault. By our fault, I mean both men and women alike. The media, and video games in particular, has been subject to much greater scrutiny lately in matters of sexism. If something can even be slightly misconstrued as sexist or objectifying, then that’s the end of the conversation. It’s sexist. It’s wrong. It’s immoral. Anyone who enjoys or appreciates it is a monster.

That last part was sarcasm, but I worry that sarcasm can’t do justice to the sheer absurdity of that notion. I don’t want to say it’s entirely a product of feminism, political correctness, or prudishness. However, it is a bad sign.

I don’t doubt that those at Cracked.com and those who complain about breast physics in video games have good intentions. They see beautiful, big-breasted women in media and think that’s objectifying and degrading. That’s an understandable sentiment. They completely lose my sympathy, however, when they try to conflate objectification with basic biological wiring.

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The science is fairly conclusive. Humans are visual creatures, as evidenced by the significant amount of brain matter we dedicate to processing visual images. Art, media, and everything in between seeks every possible way to generate attention and garner interest.

Female breasts naturally create powerful imagery and not just for straight men either. They are a distinct feature within a sexually dimorphic species. As such, we’re going to respond to that imagery. It’s not a perversion in that it’s unnatural. Hell, you could make the case that it’s one of the most natural reactions human could possibly have.

I don’t deny that there are many facets of sex, nudity, and breasts are still taboo. However, it does our culture and our species a disservice when we start identifying natural reactions to natural sights as perverse. That conflicts with our own sexual nature and, as any Puritan will tell you, that nature is hard to suppress.

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So in this case, Cracked.com is dead wrong. We are not perverts for enjoying the sight of female breasts. Game developers who put a lot of time and effort into the physics behind breasts should not be shamed or shunned. If anything, they should be celebrated. They’re putting that much effort into one of nature’s most beautiful creations. On behalf of all straight men who appreciate the sight of breasts, I thank them.

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