June 5, 2008

Sometimes Cosmo readers say interesting things

Posted in double standards, objectification, pornography, sex work, sexual politics, Sexuality Blogs and Resources at 1:00 pm by LB

The problem this Cosmo reader encountered is one that I have always been irked by.

From a semi-related post on Female Impersonator:

This attitude was shown in one of the “Cosmo Confessions” featured monthly in Cosmopolitan magazine:

“Once a month, my boyfriend has a guy’s night out with his buddies. Normally, they shoot poll or go to a ball game. But last month, I overheard him making plans to go to a strip club. It really upset me that he didn’t bother asking how I felt about his sticking dollar bills in other women’s G-strings. Instead of confronting him, I did some investigating and found out that the night he was planning to go to the club happened to be amateur night, which meant that any girl could get on stage and dance. So I called a few girlfriends, and we headed to the club. After a few drinks, I surprised my guy as one of the novice strippers. He was so shocked that he just froze–until I started undressing. Then he jumped on the stage and begged me to come down, promising me he’d never go to a nudie bar again.”

I think it’s great that the male partner in this story realized how his female partner must feel about his being there by how he felt seeing her up there. I wish more men could have the visceral experience this one did. Many men say that they should be able to go to strip clubs, but wouldn’t want their girlfriend to strip. They justify this by saying that they themselves would not strip, and that they wouldn’t care if their girlfriend saw a male strip show. This is not a equivalent comparison to me, and I’m going to try to elaborate a little on why I think this.

Readily available and (in more recent times, thanks to the internet) unlimited and oftentimes free access to ‘sexy’ men’s bodies has not been part of (my) privilege as a woman and as such has played no substantial role in producing (my) feminine sexuality.

I’m not saying that women don’t enjoy looking at men’s bodies. However, the ‘looking’ takes place in different contexts. For men, the looking is a part of a larger cultural production of their sexuality, a big part of which includes male sexual centrality, the right of (visual) ownership and consumption of women’s bodies as products, the virtually unlimited access and ease of availability to them, the presentation of ‘female sexuality’ (well, most any heterosexuality) in terms of male desire. And it’s a collective ownership of women-products, whereas one’s partner entails exclusive access to each other’s sexuality. Of course, women nowadays are much more into drooling over male bits and what not than they used to be, but the culture of each is nowhere close to the same, and don’t think it even happens under the same circumstances…If nothing else, I think that women see access to men’s bodies as more of a privilege and less of a right; images of male bodies that are sexualized are rare, those made for a hetero-female audience are even fewer and far between, and male bodies sexualized in a non-dominating way are practically non-existent (no wonder so many hetero women watch gay porn!). I read this great comment on an unrelated thread on feministing:

I was just thinking yesterday that it seems like the only way men can be sexy in our society is to try to look as powerful and dominating as possible. It can be incredibly sexy to see a man who is vulnerable in some way, or posed/viewed in a physical position that is predominantly associated with female sexiness, but we almost never see it. For instance, I came across a Cosmo online “male pinups” thing and there wasn’t a single vulnerable, non-muscular (like I like!) guy in the bunch; they all looked like they were about to rip my head off, or at least capable of it.

In any event, ‘owning’ visual access to my male partner’s body has very little if any meaning for me, and I think this is part of my own ethic but that it’s largely based on being female. Bottom line is, I could honestly care less if my partner was a male stripper or ‘posed.’ I’d probably giggle or at least be amused. Further, I have no desire to see a male strip show and if I did, again I would probably find it amusing. (I think this is mostly based on how the male body is not constructed as sexual for heterosexual women. See previous posts on the lack of eroticization of the male body.)

(I’m specifically talking about still images and stripping. Couples/groups in video porn is a whole other issue that I feel is very different for no other reason but that it involves technical cheating. I also think that consuming ethical, non-racist, non-sexist video porn as sexual fantasy is a bit different than what goes on in consuming still porn imagery or stripping that is more about display and objectification than sexual encounters. I’m not saying this to denigrate women who pose or strip, I’m just clarifying why I’m discussing that as opposed to non-solo porn stuff. Because clearly I’d be pissed if my partner shot a porn video but not so much if he ‘posed.’)

Most men I have spoken to do not have the same point of view as mine. While they insist on their right to look at porn mags and go to strip clubs–it’s no big deal, the human body is beautiful (well, you really mean the female body because you would be repulsed at, say, a mixed-gender strip show), it is about sexual expression, creativity, it’s appreciating sexy women, etc etc–at the idea of their female partner, say, stripping, they doth protest. To which I ask, if it were really about all those things, why would you have such a problem with your partner posing or stripping? Where do you get off thinking it’s ok for you to attend strip shows but not ok for your partner to strip?

Typically, it comes down to that he doesn’t want to “share.” There is a level of sexual ownership that appears to be assumed in monogamous sexual relationships. As I said above, the unlimited, free, easy availability of (beautiful) naked women means that part of masculinity is this privilege and that in their relationship, typically men want their partners unavailable to anyone else. In my book, “not sharing” is fine, except they do not see that they should do the same by giving up ownership of the infinity of women’s bodies available on display to visually own and consume…and don’t care all that much about their looking at other people’s partners.

The man posing is not the opposite analogy: it does not have the same symbolic meaning. The way I feel about my partner looking at strippers or posing women is the same way he would feel about me doing the posing or the stripping. Yet men seem to only be able to analogize in terms of literal analogy (we can both look, we both can’t do) rather than the gendered effects and production of the looking or doing.

Anyway, this is a double standard that bugs the hell out of me. Men think women stripping and posing is a wonderful thing, expressive, creative, sexual, but not particularly meaningful to the viewer….yet no one wants their partner or daughter doing it.

If it’s so wonderful for the women and meaningless to you, why not? I ask.

(again, I’m not in any way speaking ill of the women who do this work or the work they do. I’m solely critiquing it from the consuming perspective, and how men’s justifications don’t follow through when it’s their partner who wants to do the work.)



  1. earlgreyrooibos said,

    Have you ever seen a book called Porn for Women? It’s published by a group called the Cambridge Women’s Pornograpy Collective, and it consists of photos of men cleaning and cooking with captions like “you should have another piece of cake. I don’t like you looking so thin.” It’s maddening. But it’s also interesting because it’s men not being “powerful and dominating.” Most of them are pretty muscled, but they’re doing “women’s work” which is stereotypically not associated with power.

    I think what bothers me most about Porn for Women is that it makes the nonsexual sexual. Women get aroused when men do things they SHOULD be doing: helping with cooking and cleaning. It’s so rare for them to do it that when they help out it’s a sexual experience. So women don’t appreciate men sexually; they appreciate them for “lowering” themselves into doing women’s work. Which is interesting if you see porn as a form of degradation (which I do, but I know not everyone shares that viewpoint).

  2. Mike said,

    “Typically, it comes down to that he doesn’t want to “share.” There is a level of sexual ownership that appears to be assumed in monogamous sexual relationships.”

    I have to agree with you wholeheartedly on this point – particularly from a male perspective. Obvious, it’s not a tangible ownership, but there is a connection in partnerships that’s akin to a kind of possession (heard Death Cab’s “I Will Possess Your Heart”? – kinda like that).

    But, when the relationship is a wholesome, edifying one, the ownership goes both ways. In the Cosmo story, the guy obviously doesn’t want the girl to strip. But he should have taken the next step and said to himself, “I’m also obligated to respect her. Would she want me in the strip club in the first place? No. Then I won’t go.”

    Love and relationships aren’t one-way streets. There’s a give and there’s a take – which is why I won’t be appearing at any amateur nights (on or off stage, ha) at any point in the near future.

  3. earlgreyrooibos said,

    Love and relationships aren’t one-way streets. There’s a give and there’s a take – which is why I won’t be appearing at any amateur nights (on or off stage, ha) at any point in the near future.

    I think it would be interesting to see how different couples handle each member’s interest in porn. I, for example, have no interest in it, and I don’t like it. My fiancé doesn’t like strip clubs, but he does like Playboy and other such magazines. Basically, I’ve told him what I find objectionable about porn, but also said that since it wasn’t illegal, as long as he wasn’t overdoing it, I wouldn’t care. The condition being that he couldn’t have any pictures where I would see them, because I don’t want to look at it. It works for us. Ideally, I want to change his mind about porn, but I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon. So this solution makes everyone reasonably happy.

  4. lindabeth said,

    I have heard of that book and I find it maddening too, possibly for different reasons.

    However individual couples deal with porn and sex is obviously their issue.

    But this isn’t so much about porn itself.

    I just so personally get irked with this double standard that we all seem all too easy to swallow-and also how we don’t use to really think about posing in porn/stripping and what it means to us as people and as couples.

    “Women posing in Playboy is great…liberating…expressive…as long as it’s someone else’s girlfriend/not my girlfriend”?

    Sorry, not buying it.

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