Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Misogyny, Feminism, and Sexual Frustration as a Motive Force in History

You forget how much of an island you live on. Being so long out of the locker room and shuttling back and forth in my cozy pro-feminist life between my office next to Aspazia and Kerry then back to the homestead with TheWife, you forget how isolated you are from so much of the other America sometimes. This post at feministe, "Dr. Helen on Why Men and Women Don't Want Sex," gave me one of those "oh, right" moments. The conversation there discusses a stunning display of misogyny (hatred of women) and massagony (intense dislike of backrubs) from the conservative end of the blogosphere. The original post brings several points to mind.

First, the obvious three that should not even need stating:

1. Feminists are not anti-sex. Indeed, a major thrust of the feminist project is to think long and hard about the nature of sexuality and sexual activity. Far from hating sex, feminists have intense discussions about what makes good sex -- good in both the operational and moral sense -- and what are the causes and ramifications of the difference between good sex and what most people engage in. They don't hate all sex, they hate bad sex.

2. There is no "feminist" answer to the questions about what makes good sex. Feminism is a rich and diverse intellectual movement with many voices speaking. There is a wide variety of methodologies and starting points used by thinkers well-embedded in the feminist tradition. The discussion from someone working out of second-wave thought will radically differ from a third-waver and be different still from someone with largely continental influences.

3. There is a fallacy in your thinking about your phallussie -- it's called premature generalization. Just because a specific contemporary American woman has little or no desire to have relations with a given contemporary American man does not mean that there has been a major shift in the way the majority of men relate to their female partners. This sort of universal claim needs many more data points to be legit. Logically, one must be careful not to go off half-cocked.

There are many, many more that should also be discussed. Having sex is not purchasing an orgasm, it is a relating between humans, the nature of equality and the social conditions that have fostered a false sense of male entitlement, and on and on, but I want to step back for a minute.

It is easy to adopt the Enlightenment pose and treat the vile discourse as coming from rational actors who chose to be nasty. It is too easy and self-satisfying to simply write off these folks and condemn their characters. Not that their hatred is justified. It isn't. Nor is it constructive. It is ill-informed, badly thought through, and dangerous. BUT, it is interesting. What you see is not the result of people writing from a purely intellectual place. They write from sexual frustration and repression and these form a powerful force.

There are, of course, effects on a person when any physical need goes unsatisfied, but sexual needs seem to have deeper ramifications. Not having those urges met not only bring them even more front and center, making the desire even stronger, but they are tied to so many of our deep insecurities -- am I attractive, am I a good lover, am I a "real man," am I worth being close to, am I desirable, am I desired. It is no doubt true that those guys are not "getting any" because they don't "get it," but in this case the negative reinforcement does not lead the person to conform his behavior or beliefs; to the contrary, as we see in that thread, it often leads to a state where they lash out more aggressively.

But that aggressive energy also gets channeled elsewhere. As a surmise, I put forward the hypothesis that the course of human history has been significantly driven by sexual frustration. What would lead to mass migration from fertile lands, especially dangerous expeditions over seas to lands unknown? Hey, there might be hot chicks over there who love foreign guys. Wars, materialism, consolidation of power and the technological advances that accompany them -- fueled by repression?

The only evidence I can offer in support of this hypothesis comes from our cousins the Bonobo or pygmy chimpanzee. They are more intelligent and less violent than their common chimp (and possibly, human) relatives and live in groups that have a matriarchal structure that is enforced through the use of sexuality as a means of conflict resolution. Should disharmony arise, the hostility is dissipated through sexual means and that is not limited to heterosexual couplings.

Would this model translate from chimp to human society? Dunno. Bonobos don't have computers, cable, or Thai restaurants with a really good massaman curry. Worth the trade for peace and love? Either way, it seems that the misogynistic blowing off of steam over at Dr. Helen's place may be showing us the ugly side of what got us to where we are today.