Either a penitent or a buffoon.

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?

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12 Responses to Either a penitent or a buffoon.

  1. Clarence says:

    While you raise good points, I think I know what Mr. Matlock was talking about.

    There are tons of articles written by either females or feminist /traditionalist men telling me that I must do this or that, that I can “end” this or that, etc. Apparently, if you believe the articles, if only men would get off their lazy and privileged and (in some cases it seems like they are saying this) evil duffs, we could end rape, war, sexism, violence (against women, of course, what you thought violence against men, esp by women, was a problem?) , poverty (if only we’d be perfect partners so she wouldn’t “have” to divorce us and if only we could always pay that child support on time despite the larger economy we find ourselves in) and probably a few other things that I’m forgetting. Violence against men by women is often the subject of humor in society and the “he probably deserved it” attitude is still wide spread though maybe, perhaps, there might be some lessening of that effect over the past ten years or so. In churches (ask most Christians in mainline churches) male culpability in any problems within the family is often preached from the pulpit (because in the past the church was more actually patriarchal, today men merely shoulder blame and responsibility for family ills but get none of the power and respect within the family the church used to give them. In flims, men make up by far the majority of the bad guys, same as on TV. Evil female protagonists, while not non-existent, are a very distinct minority.

    So yeah, given all that, I can see where Tom is coming from.

  2. elementary_watson says:

    First of all, good to see you back ragularly posting new, thought-provoking articles.

    Second of all, I think you’re totally right about men’s silence wrt, say, sexual intimacy. I’ll be a little mean and say that “even feminists” have noticed this (and how different it is for women), and tracked it back to misogyny, in this case the slut-shaming culture – men don’t talkabout sex with their female partners because that would make her a slut in the man’s friends’ eyes, making him also considering to be a slut (more consciously than he did already).

    I’d say that most men would consider a discussion of their sexual partners sexual doings a betrayal of implicite trust and the intimacy between the two, but this notion, while definitely more noble than the slut-shaming one, is probably pretty problematic for both genders, too. We desperately need more open dialogue about sex, between men and men, women and women, men and women and everyone else, but in a way that still respects the privacy of the sexual acts themselves.

  3. Amanda Marcotte once wrote a post saying that when girls bully a girl, the blame belongs with…men, because in our society approval of men is considered the most important thing a woman of any age can have, and so when girls bully someone to get male approval that’s the only reason.

    Someone once wrote–either here or at a site linked to here–that Marcotte’s “prime directive” is that no woman ever be blamed for anything. So who does that leave?

  4. I doubt she actually said “when girls bully a girl, the blame belongs with men” or that her prime directive was that “no woman ever be blamed for anything”. Not that Amanda Marcotte is always the platonic ideal of fair minded, as she occasionally takes liberties in paraphrasing what someone else wrote or said. However, in this case it sounds like someone took liberties in paraphrasing her, so I’d be interested in reading the posts where she actually said that, if you have the links to them.

  5. Uncalledfor says:

    I first read the phrase “Marcottian Prime Directive,” or something close to that, in a satirical comment at Pandagon. It wasn’t something AM ever said about herself; rather she was being accused of slavishly promoting the feminist Prime Directive, which is to maintain that women, taken as a group, are never wrong and can never be legitimately criticized. I don’t know if that was the origin of the phrase or if it was something earlier; but I found it catchy and have re-quoted it in a few places (such as at FC just yesterday).

  6. Danny says:

    But how privileged is a man who continually and strategically keeps his mouth shut?

    He probably isn’t. But the people who would like for him to keep his mouth shut have an interest his mouth staying shut. And we all know how powerful shame can be.

    But I think some of the reactions by feminists to Tom’s post is a bit telling. While “everything” may have been a bit of a stretch some of them just can’t handle the fact that someone recognizes that men are being treated unfairly. With some of the reactions included trying to chime off how women are really the ones that get blamed for everything (because that’s not stretching at all apparently) its pretty clear that they are willing to engage in some of the very behavior that they accuse others of doing.

  7. Jon says:

    Have you ever read anything by Tucker Max?

  8. I read a vignette on his website a few years ago, which tended toward the “buffoon” side of the spectrum as I recall.

  9. Jon says:

    You may read him as a buffoon, however for his (large) fan base he is not. I’d also point to The Game, Swingers, and Entourage as examples of guys who are non-penitent non-buffoons (except Drama in Entourage).

  10. Why would you doubt that? You’re awfully generous in giving the benefit of the doubt. Here is what I was referring to:


    The wrap-up:

    “Sadly, at the heart of these incidents [of girls bullying other girls] is always boys and popularity. So yes, I blame the patriarchy.”

    The whole thing is worth reading.

  11. Well, if having a large fan base who thinks you’re okay meant someone weren’t a buffoon, buffoons would be harder to find than white rhinos.

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