Last week, gender thinker Tom Matlack wrote a piece about men’s dismay at feeling “blamed for everything” that was scoffed at as risible garbage by Amanda Marcotte. I thought Mr. Matlack’s piece was extremely vague and a bit of a nothing-burger which didn’t leave much to chew on. Yet I do think there is one important way in which men are “blamed” and constrained in self-expression, and that’s in the sexual realm.
Obnoxious displays of masculine sexuality are everywhere, of course, so at first blush it may not seem as though men are so constrained. Yet while men are allowed to be crass, it seems universality understood that women have the moral authority in sexual matters. Consider this passage from Tracy Clark-Flory’s essay about her sexual coming of age:
I lost my virginity at 16 with my first love and best friend; it was all champagne and roses. It was also as-porn-ational sex: I enthusiastically guided us into nearly every position I’d long marveled at online. At one point, midcoital, I actually pinched my chin and asked aloud, “What positions are left?” Afterward, he observed: “That wasn’t what I’d imagined, exactly.” He had imagined: 1) the missionary position and 2) ceremonial crying.
If this passage were written by a man, it would likely sound something like this:
I lost my virginity at 16 with a girl I was in love with. At the time, I’d been looking at a lot of porn, and when we tried lovemaking I actually tried twisting her into all the positions I’d seen on the internet. I was so caught up in porn back then, and so emotionally detached, that at one point I actually stopped, midcoital, and asked “What positions are left?” Afterward, she observed, “That wasn’t what I’d imagined, exactly.”
Men write about sex either to confess (as above) or to play the fool. It’s quite possible, of course, for a sixteen year old boy to have a first sexual experience similar to what Tracy Clark-Flory experienced – all champagne and roses. But he’d be loathe to write about it in Clark-Flory’s sex-positive style, for fear of being seen as a selfish porn-addled sleaze. For her part, Clark-Flory is going to be seen as lighthearted and innocent, and she knows this, so she can write about her coming of age with gusto. (And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Tracy’s ride on the sex carousel, by the way. Her essay is worth a read.)
Another example of a woman talking about sex is Amanda Marcotte, this time in a post about a common sexually transmitted infection, the human papillomavirus:
Personally, I’ve had HPV at least twice, which is incredibly common for a woman my age. … [B]oth times I had bad Pap smears that showed positive for it, I was in monogamous relationships. I could have gotten it from them, or they from me. Or from a former monogamous partner or a hook-up. Who knows? More importantly, who cares? It’s the sinus infection of STDs.
What Amanda is saying here is that women ought to be able to explore their sexuality, have a few hook-ups along the way, and not get too bent out of shape about the occasional STD. She knows that nobody is going to think any less of her because of it. At least, nobody about whose opinion she gives a flying fuck. Yet it’s different for men. A man would be reluctant to talk about getting an STD unless he was either confessing to being irresponsible or making a joke. Unlike Amanda, a progressive feminist man might avoid mentioning an STD he “could have gotten from a hook-up” for fear of losing respect from people about whose opinion he does give a flying fuck. Because for men, there’s a presumption of irresponsibility.
Of course, it’s difficult to prove a broad proposition such as “women are granted more moral authority than men in sexual matters”, but men’s silence speaks volumes. Feminist thinker Thomas Millar says that men have “ceded the field” in talking about male sexuality, and says this is because men are a prisoner of privilege. But how privileged is a man who continually and strategically keeps his mouth shut?