The ease with which men imagine women as prostitutes

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012 · 45 Comments »

Prostitution is serious business. Women tend to understand that. I’ve never known a woman (a real woman, as opposed to some online twit-bot) who didn’t regard prostitution as a very serious and dangerous line of work. Certainly it’s not something you’d do if you had other options. It’s scary as hell, since johns are insane and god knows what they might do to you. It’s physically repellent, since human beings are designed to have sex with people they’re sexually attracted to, not with unattractive strangers in exchange for cash. It’s probably painful a lot of the time, and emotionally traumatic. So: dangerous, scary, unnatural, repellent, painful, traumatic. And that’s not even factoring in the pimps, those ubiquitous parasites who terrorize prostitutes in exchange for “protection.” Of course there are exceptions to all this, but as a general rule I think we (women at least) can agree that prostitution is a largely unappealing line of work.

Men, on the other hand, don’t seem to get this. At least not in our society; at least not in a patriarchy. There’s this thing that men do where they imagine women becoming prostitutes for fun, or for some easy extra money, or because the brothel has an opening coming up sooner than that assistant manager spot at Barnes and Noble. Three examples:

1. The Freakonomics book. If you don’t know about it, google it. Asshole economists use prostitution as an example of how any woman can make a fine living if she puts her mind to it, and conclude that the only reason a woman wouldn’t become a prostitute and make said fine living is if she doesn’t like men. This makes sense only if you, like the authors of Freakonomics, are unaware that women are human beings.

2. A short story on the internet I read ages ago, title and author’s name both forgotten. It was about a ballerina with the New York City Ballet who—get this—turns tricks on the side for fun. I kid you not. Because of course that’s exactly what a highly trained artist at the top of her profession would secretly want to do. I knew nothing about the author when I started reading, but when I got to the prostitution part I knew one thing for sure: he was a man. He was no doubt inspired by all those idiot movies (also written by men) where glamorous women become prostitutes for thrills or a change of pace or whatever. It’s like a whole parallel universe in men’s heads.

3. A book about Bonnie and Clyde which I just started reading, and which I have now stopped reading in order to write this post: Go Down Together, by Jeff Guinn. It claims to be the “True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde.” To which I say: horseshit. I’m thinking it’s more like the true untold story of the inside of Jeff Guinn’s head. He has decided, on the basis of absolutely no evidence whatsoever, that Bonnie Parker was probably a prostitute before she hooked up with Clyde. Why? Because she could have been. It was theoretically possible for a poor girl in Dallas to become a prostitute, so that’s probably what happened. In Jeff Guinn’s mind.

Bonnie and Clyde.

Here’s the story: teenage Bonnie Parker gets a job working as a waitress in a cafe, where she’s popular and successful with the customers. She makes friends with the other women, including the laundry workers next door, and helps out the homeless street people with food. She dresses nicely, even though she’s only pulling a waitress’s pay. Guinn:

“Her wardrobe might have reflected income from occasional prostitution. If so, she wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary for working-class girls from the Dallas slums. If they were cute—and Bonnie was—they had to at least consider the option. Hargrave’s was in a much more affluent neighborhood than the greasy spoons of Cement City and West Dallas. As a waitress there, Bonnie would have been in position to judge prospects among Hargrave’s patrons. If they were friendly and tipped generously, why not?”

Reading that, you would be forgiven for thinking that Guinn must have some other evidence for Bonnie’s turning to prostitution. But he doesn’t. There’s nothing. Nothing in her life, nothing in her family, nothing. His chain of logic is just: poor girls sometimes became prostitutes, Bonnie was a poor girl, thus Bonnie became a prostitute. After all, nice clothes. (This will be news to my entire family of poor but well-dressed women who always looked great on a shoestring. Seriously: the women in my grandmother’s family were always sharp dressers, even as dirt-poor farmers and mill workers in the South in the Twenties and Thirties.)

It’s the “why not?” in Guinn’s reasoning that kills me. Why not, indeed? Gee, Jeff, how about: dangerous, scary, unnatural, repellent, painful, traumatic. Also: Bonnie already has a good job waitressing! She’s making good tips, she’s popular with the customers, things are going well. Most women with a safe job making adequate money are not going to be drawn into prostitution. Of course to understand that you’d have to know that women are human, which appears to be a problem for Jeff.

Two pages later, Bonnie’s “might have” has now become fact:

“Early in 1929, Bonnie changed jobs. She began working at Marco’s, a restaurant in downtown Dallas near the courthouse and post office. The tips were undoubtedly better, since Marco’s customers included lawyers, judges, and bankers…If she was still turning occasional tricks, the move from Hargrave’s to Marco’s meant a more well-to-do clientele.” (emphasis added)

Nice rhetorical sleight-of-hand. See how Bonnie-as-prostitute has become fact? First it was a conjecture; now it’s part of Bonnie’s established past, and we can speculate on whether she’s “still” doing it. Jesus.

At this point I stopped reading the stupid book and went online. That’s how I know that there is no evidence anywhere for Guinn’s remarkable assumption that Bonnie Parker ever worked as a prostitute. It seems the “Bonnie and Clyde historical community” (yeah, such a thing) is as irritated about it as I am. Not because they’re feminists fighting the patriarchy, I imagine, but because it’s just asinine and unfounded on any evidence.

Oh, wait, Guinn claims there is some indirect evidence: years later, after Bonnie and Clyde were outlaws and Bonnie had spent time in jail, she wrote a couple of poems mentioning prostitutes. Understand, Bonnie wrote lots of poems. She wrote poems all her life, about the people she’d met and the things she’d seen, all mixed up with stuff from the movies. After she started running with Clyde she incorporated the gangster lingo she’d picked up; after her time in the slammer she wrote about the women she’d encountered in jail. One of her poems (actually the authorship is disputed) is about prostitutes using heroin. Another is about a woman who leaves a Nebraska farm for the big city, becomes a chorus girl, falls for an opium addict, becomes addicted herself, and ends up working in a Chinese brothel/opium den. (In case you’re wondering, Bonnie wasn’t from Nebraska, never worked as a chorus girl, was never involved with a drug fiend, and never worked in a Chinese opium den.) It’s easy to see where this material came from; it’s hard to see why any of it means that Bonnie herself ever worked as a prostitute. Do we think that Joni Mitchell was really a free man in Paris?

But never mind all that. Jeff Guinn’s patriarchal fantasy of Bonnie-as-prostitute has struck a chord in our patriarchal society. It’s so appealing, so compelling, so natural-seeming (and why would that be, Chet?) that it’s rapidly becoming part of the Bonnie and Clyde lore. Potted biographies include it, book reviewers refer to it as the “reality” behind the myth. And now a movie based on Guinn’s book is in the works, which means that Bonnie-as-prostitute will be enshrined in the public imagination as fact.

And so it goes.

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45 Responses to “The ease with which men imagine women as prostitutes”

  1. Toonces says:

    Men (in general) don’t understand vaginas. I know, I know, I’m blowing your mind. But they seem to not be able to conceive that it’s actually a part of our bodies. They think it’s somehow separate, or encapsulated or something, like a cool, abstract, space-age pocket that’s good for sticking things into — not some real, actual, human part of human bodies that has real, human-like nerves and feeling. So to men, prostitution (and rape) is as simple as someone sticking their hand in your pocket to borrow a quarter or something. They (in general) can’t connect it to what it would be like to sell their mouths or their bums to any and all takers. Simple! Quick! Easy! Fresh! Right d00ds?

  2. Unree says:

    Cosign Toonces. Another thing men (in general) don’t understand is danger from a woman’s perspective. They think some men are dangerous to women–perverts, ax murderers–but not men as a group. Gavin de Becker remains an anomaly years after The Gift of Fear was published.

    Like Toonces’s point, this one is yet another reminder, sigh, of how men (in general) think women are humanish but not really human.

  3. tinfoil hattie says:

    I’ll never forget the time I was explaining to my then-8-year-old son the anatomy of the vulva and vagina. He looked puzzled. “But you once told me the clitoris is the only human body part designed strictly for sexual pleasure,” he said. “That’s right,” I answered. “But it’s not inside the vagina,” he mused. Suddenly, an indescribable expression crossed his face: “Wait. Do you mean that women don’t get sexual pleasure from intercourse?” he exclaimed, horrified.

    “You got it, son. A lot of women don’t. What does THAT tell you about how ‘sex’ is defined?”

    I was so proud of him for making that connection, since I didn’t make it until I was 13 and having non-insertion-related orgasms regularly.

    Let’s hope he remembers it years from now.

  4. Violet Socks says:

    They (in general) can’t connect it to what it would be like to sell their mouths or their bums to any and all takers.

    Speaking of which: I went back to reading the book, and you’re not going to believe this next bit. No, you will believe it, but still. If you wanted an audiovisual demonstration of The Mind of Patriarchy, this book would be it. So now we’re on to Clyde Barrow, and his terrible experience when he’s sent to the Texas prison farm as a young man. He’s victimized by a big burly inmate who rapes him repeatedly over the course of a year. I don’t know if this is true—I no longer trust Guinn as a historian—but what’s stunning is the way Guinn treats this material. It’s clearly horrible what’s happening to Clyde. Horrible. Having to have sexual relations with someone you don’t want to have sex with! It’s demeaning, it’s “the ultimate degradation,” it’s physically painful, and so on and so on. Guinn considers it the turning point in Clyde’s life, the thing that hardened him and turned him into a killer.

    I read that and was so fucking gobsmacked I just put the book down and stared. It’s incredible. There is clearly no connection in Guinn’s mind between the rape and sexual exploitation of a man and the horrors endured by a female prostitute. No point of similarity, nothing. Because men are human, obviously, so Guinn is full of empathy. Not like those inexplicable space aliens with the vagina pockets. This is the same author who a few pages earlier was breezily suggesting that a waitress and babysitter would happily take on some prostitution for extra spending money because “why not?”

    They really don’t see us as human, do they? I mean, I know that already, but somehow it never fails to amaze me all over again.

  5. LabRat says:

    I think part of it may be a more basic empathy failure. Like Unree alluded to most men have simply never imagined fearing or being preyed on by a sexual partner, so it doesn’t occur to them it’s a top concern for women, especially sex workers. They imagine prostitutes as gorgeous and sexually driven, and sex as automatically desirable and pleasurable, so a prostitute equals, in their imaginations at least, a gorgeous woman fulfilling a male fantasy of having unlimited sex, being pursued, and getting money for it on top of everything. They may have no idea what they’re conceptualizing is their own fantasy with a woman slotted into what they (imagine) they’d like to be able to experience themselves, and not even close to the reality of prostitution.

    Imagining a man getting raped, they identify with the victim; imagining a john going to a prostitute, they identify with the john, because the male is the automatic viewpoint. Women know what it’s like to see from a man’s eyes because that’s the societal default, but a man may go his entire life without ever really being asked to see from a woman’s point of view.

    Imagining himself in the john’s role, he doesn’t think of himself as predatory or wanting to hurt the prostitute or even not wanting to give her pleasure, because unless he’s a psychopath with violent fantasies he thinks of himself as a good guy.

    Therefore john having sex with a prostitute = guy paying to have sex (he imagines) they both enjoy, whereas Barrow getting raped in prison = incredible violation.

  6. Darragh Murphy says:

    I love this post Violet. Sharing it far and wide. Thank you.

  7. Violet Socks says:

    I think empathy failure is the same thing as not seeing us as human. Different words, same thing.

  8. Darragh Murphy says:

    I think it’s even worse than that. We feel empathy for practically anything that reminds us of ourselves, including dogs, cats, even stuffed animals (a torn and broken Minnie Mouse doll on the tracks of the subway once reduced my five year old to paroxysms of weeping that lasted at least 5 hours). I read somewhere that clever marketers design laundry detergent containers and other “woman products” in neoteny shapes in order to appeal to our maternal instincts — “Ooh look at that CUTE little container of fabric softener! I must bring it home and make it my own!!”.
    So men, being human, should find it not difficult AT ALL to be empathetic to us, seeing as how we are a lot more human than dogs or cats or stuffed animals or laundry detergent. But apparently not.

    Never mind human, I sometimes think they dont even see us living, complete organisms.

  9. Violet Socks says:

    Never mind human, I sometimes think they dont even see us living, complete organisms.

    I’m sorry to say this thought has crossed my mind as well, many times. Though I should insert a caveat here that I’m not talking about all men; I’m talking about widespread patterns of behavior associated with the male sex. For example, think about how men get obsessed with women’s body parts. Yeah. There is a whole continuum of that sort of thing, from foot-fetish and T&A stuff at the most innocuous end (very common) ranging up through women’s mouths as urinals (hilarious!) or women’s boobs as mouse pads (brilliant!) all the way out to the serial killers, the freakazoids obsessed with obtaining various pieces of women’s bodies. No doubt there are a few women in the world with similar fixations, but the body-part thing is overwhelmingly the preserve of men.

  10. Irlandese says:

    And now a movie based on Guinn’s book is in the works, which means that Bonnie-as-prostitute will be enshrined in the public imagination as fact.

    Worked on Mary Magdalene. Just the mere suggestion of whoredom sticks like glue.

  11. LabRat says:

    “I think empathy failure is the same thing as not seeing us as human. Different words, same thing.”

    Don’t disagree at all. It’s a reframe to analyze it. Like with animals and dolls- there’s a difference between a failure to feel compassion, and an inability to see from another’s perspective that is fundamentally different.

    Hurting is a universal; understanding that sex can come with profound threat is a thing that is not generally shared at all between men and women.

  12. albrt says:

    >And so it goes.

    Linda Ellerbee was awesome. Probably still is.

  13. Violet Socks says:

    Is it just the fact that men don’t routinely experience sexual threat, though? I keep coming back to this inability of men (some men, okay) to imagine things from the woman’s point of view, even absent a threat. For example, the simple fact that someone having sex for money is almost invariably having sex with people she doesn’t actually find desirable or even tolerable. Men certainly don’t have a problem imagining having sex with someone undesirable; they do it all the time. A large part of male discourse in fact seems to revolve around whether they would “hit that,” and just how disgusting it would be to have to “wake up to that” if the female object in question is unappealing. So men can and do readily imagine the unpleasantness of having sex with someone they don’t find appealing.

    Yet they never make the teeny tiny infinitesimal Zeno-like leap to realizing that that’s how female prostitutes feel about their johns all the goddamn time. Not a big leap of empathy is required here; just a basic recognition of shared human psychology. But men can’t seem to do that.

  14. cellocat says:

    Maybe it has to do, in part, with the fact that while we sometimes require boys to behave in a certain way because it’s “right”, we don’t require them to empathize with others in the way we do with girls. Girls are expected to behave well because, ultimately, they want to because they want to be nice (as the theory goes), because they’re girls. We don’t expect boys to want to be nice because they’re boys. So the only thing we can do is use rules and punishments to enforce a code of conduct. One thing I absolutely hate is the whole father-will-beat-crap-out-of-boyfriend if boyfriend touches daughter. It’s the assumption that the boy is an animal, and can only be constrained from bad behavior by the threat of force from dad. No mention of empathy, respect, courtesy, etc. And boys are crushed by their peers and adults early on if they display “girly” traits like compassion, etc.

    I don’t mean any of this as an excuse, of course.

  15. Sameol says:

    I have a hard time believing that that many men are really that naive about the realities of prostitution. I don’t know any men would would admit (to me, at least) that they’ve paid for sex, but I know several who will admit that their “friends” have. None of them think prostitution is a dream job, but they’re indifferent because they hold them women in contempt. They don’t have to imagine these scenarios, more men than we’d like to admit actually live them, and they just don’t care.

  16. Ciccina says:

    I think the higher up you are on the food chain (any given good chain) the less empathy you learn to feel, and the less flexible your thinking becomes. In our US mass culture, the apex is the youngish white hetero male – most of our entertainment, infotainment and advertising is framed to appeal to his sensibilities. Pretty much everything he encounters – from video games to internet porn to detergent ads to tabloid newspapers – reflects his (constructed) sensibilities.

    Everyone else has to bend around him. Women are supposed to overlook / work around their lousy representation in movies and government; African Americans are supposed to work around lending discrimination; gays (and women and everyone) are supposed to overlook the overt bigotry of the Seth MacFarlane empire.* The further you are from power the more accommodations you are expected to make.

    Meanwhile the guys at the apex become intellectually and emotionally brittle. Your stereotypical frat boy is also the biggest cream puff on the plate – he simply falls apart if he encounters a man wearing a dress, or a vegetarian, or a feminist. The rest of us are supposed to tip-toe around and not show our “controversial” “minority” faces and views, lest he notice us and lose his shit.

    These guys – the frat boys, the Seth MacFarlanes, the Jeff Guinns – are cosseted and catered to, and it makes them stupid and weak. They don’t develop the ability to think critically. Along with being misogynists, they’re also incredibly dumb.

    *http://www.metroweekly.com/news/last_word/2010/08/seth-macfarlane-surprised-by-g.html

  17. Ciccina says:

    And another thing…. I love how its so easy to believe she’s a prostitute, yet her authorship of poems is disputed.

  18. anna says:

    I would also point out prostitutes have to do what the client wants or they don’t get paid. They can’t say, as you would to a boyfriend, “No that hurts” or “Please do this.” Prostitution is sex with someone you’re not attracted to and someone who doesn’t give a damn about your pleasure or even you not being in pain. It is far removed from “Being paid to have sex” as most men seem to think about it.

  19. Sweet Sue says:

    Men don’t see us as humans; they see us as functions.
    Fucktions?

  20. quixote says:

    “…yet her authorship of poems is disputed.”

    Yeah. If you pointed that curious anomaly out to whats-his-name, he wouldn’t even be able to grasp what you meant. But I’m sure he thinks of himself as intelligent.

    But what I initially got on to comment about was Violet’s sentence: They really don’t see us as human, do they? I mean, I know that already, but somehow it never fails to amaze me all over again.

    I know. Exactly. Sometimes I’ll read something, and then just sit and stare out the window for I don’t know how long.

    As to whether the empathy failure requires effort or not, I’d say the answer is very much “yes.” Empathy of some degree is the default mode for social animals. There are millions of years of evolution behind it. Imagine how fast social ostracism would happen to an autism-spectrum person in a primitive environment, and imagine how long an individual would last without social support.

    So why do men expend all that effort? I’d say it’s because it’s essential to retaining their man-cards. Genders don’t belong in a caste system, but that’s where the patriarchy puts them. People being what they are, if you’re in a higher caste, you’ll do anything to keep your membership. It’s a social reflex. It doesn’t require any thought. You don’t have to be conscious of it. It requires thought not to do it if you’re trying to break the pattern.

    And since the P defines men primarily as not-women, empathizing with women feels damaging. In another context, it could be sort of similar to how you’d feel eating a burger in a fast food joint and noticing a cattle truck drive by with steer on the way to the slaughterhouse. If you think about it even for a second, it’ll put you right off that burger, and yet it’s also what’s for dinner.

  21. quixote says:

    I first had that “Whuuuut??” experience the one and only time I read Vonnegut. It was in some short story collection. Something Monkeyhouse? Slaughterhouse Five? In one story, a women is hung up about sex. The solution is for her to get raped. Didn’t make a lot of sense to me, but apparently this was a great writer, so I kept reading. (I was young.) Further on there was a story about a man who’s hung up about sex. The solution is for him to meet the most alluring woman in the universe and be swept off his feet.

    That was one of those cases where I just sat there. Gobsmacked.

    I stopped reading at that point and haven’t glanced at him since.

  22. Sweet Sue says:

    Does everyone go right into moderation?
    I’m just wondering. Can I get on the party list?

  23. LabRat says:

    If your worldview is such that sex is always a net win, always resulting in physical release and always resulting in social reward, so that even sex with a “troll” is still better than no sex, AND you don’t easily make the mental leap that “wait, that’s a male fantasy, we punish women who act that way and it wouldn’t be rewarding in any sense at all for her”…

    It isn’t even necessary that this have that much to do with actually directly experienced reality as opposed to the manhood narrative. Patriarchy gives us all a lot of blatant bullshit to absorb, including “you must get sex to maintain manhood, and since you are a man, the warm hole is enough- but high five, bro”.

    I’ve seen at least one retired sex worker say that easily 70% of what johns really paid for was not the release, but the performance of affection and enjoyment. That’s fucked up on so many sad levels.

  24. LabRat says:

    Or, turned over a bit…

    Maybe there are two kinds of men imagining women as prostitutes- those who are imagining them as whores, who tend to not be the slightest bit confusing at all in the way they clearly revel in the idea of a sexually degraded women… (hi Frank Miller, stay the hell away from me)

    …And those who are, unconsciously, imagining them not as whores- but as studs?

  25. Violet Socks says:

    SweetSue, you’re not in moderation. See this: http://www.reclusiveleftist.com/2012/01/10/a-mormon-a-fascist-and-another-mormon-walk-into-a-bar-in-new-hampshire/#comment-53880

  26. Violet Socks says:

    I’ve seen at least one retired sex worker say that easily 70% of what johns really paid for was not the release, but the performance of affection and enjoyment.

    Yeah. I think this is all connected somehow to the fact that men, as a rule, have massively inflated egos. And not just inflated, but strangely impervious to reality.

    I know we’ve talked about this here on the blog before, though right now I can’t remember where. I’ve talked about it in real life with my friends. Bottom line is I have never in my life known a man who had the same body issues and shyness that virtually all women do. We women tend to automatically worry whether we’re attractive enough and are very critical of ourselves and see ourselves through our lovers’ eyes — does he want me? Am I good enough? Perhaps some women with fantastic figures don’t feel that, but most of them have at least some degree of that (recall interviews with gorgeous models/stars who talk about what they hate about their bodies).

    Men, as a rule, do not seem to experience this, at least not to the same degree. I’ve asked every boyfriend/husband/lover I’ve ever had if they worried about how they looked with a new lover and none of them even seemed to know what I was talking about. And most of them had a grossly inflated estimation of their own physical desirability as well. Men have incredible egos.

    This is one reason (among many) that there will never be a female market for male prostitution the way there is this massive global male market for female prostitution. Women automatically wonder if they’re sufficiently attractive to their partner, even if he’s a paid gigolo. This is not an issue for male johns. And it’s beyond the fact that they don’t care how the woman feels; as Lab Rat points out and as countless interviews and case studies have shown, lots of johns fantasize that the female prostitutes are actually enjoying the experience. It’s a level of self-delusion that I personally find mind-boggling.

  27. Violet Socks says:

    To continue that thought, sometimes I wonder if the problem is that men can’t see women as subjects—as actors with feelings and perceptions, like themselves—or if the problem is that they can’t see themselves, men, as objects. Do you see the difference?

    The result would be the same either way as long as we’re in a purely heterosexual world. So the only way to test which one it is would be to see how men behave in a homosexual world. And when I think about gay men (and I used to live with gay men and have spent much of my life with gay people), I am struck by how gay men seem to worry much more about their appearance and desirability than straight men do. In other words, gay men do not seem to have a problem thinking of themselves as objects. And I think this might be because they have no problem thinking of their lovers (other men) as subjects with feelings and perceptions.

    However, that is a gross generalization—actually a whole giant boatload of gross generaltions—so I wouldn’t necessarily put too much weight on it. And I’ve never been a gay man or had a gay man as a lover so really I have no intimate knowledge of how gay men behave.

  28. LabRat says:

    As to whether the empathy failure requires effort or not, I’d say the answer is very much “yes.” Empathy of some degree is the default mode for social animals. There are millions of years of evolution behind it. Imagine how fast social ostracism would happen to an autism-spectrum person in a primitive environment, and imagine how long an individual would last without social support.

    While I agree with the rest of your comment that to a degree it’s for psychological protection both from the shame/stigma of tainting oneself with femininity, and from realizing how shitty their own behavior is, I don’t think it’s quite that simple.

    Empathy is different from sympathy is different from compassion. Even dogs and dolphins seem to be able to feel compassion, and children start sympathy fairly young, but empathy requires seeing clearly and accurately from another’s perspective.

    People living at the band-and-tribe level all share a world and a worldview, often quite intimately. It’s much more likely to be a given that they share common or very close perspective.

    If aspects of your worldview are fundamentally and drastically different from another and you don’t know they are or what the differences are, real empathy becomes much, much more difficult. I also think that Ciccina is spot on in that the more privilege you have, the less likely it is you have ever been asked or expected to empathize with someone significantly different from you.

    If part of your fundamental “the sky is blue, these things are true” outlook is that sex is the most desirable thing in the universe in and of itself, and is never actually a net loss to you, just less-good, then prostitution must be the most awesome job ever. If part of your outlook is that women never really want sex and men trade other things to access it, then rape is basically shoplifting and victims could be blamed for false advertising.

  29. LabRat says:

    To continue that thought, sometimes I wonder if the problem is that men can’t see women as subjects—as actors with feelings and perceptions, like themselves—or if the problem is that they can’t see themselves, men, as objects. Do you see the difference?

    I do, and I think you are right.

    I know two men who are extremely concerned about their bodies and their attractiveness. One of them is a gay man, and one of them is a feminist straight man who suffers from a generalized hangup that women wouldn’t find him attractive because men aren’t attractive in general. He knows it’s an irrational hangup, but it’s the basis of his own body image issues.

    If, in your universe, the state of your body was irrelevant because there was no possibility you could ever be the desired rather than the desirer in the same way there was no possibility you could breathe underwater, would you have body image issues around a lover? Especially if seeing others in a sexual way was coded as a male thing, and thus seeing male bodies in a sexual way was “gay” by default?

    How often is Justin Bieber called “gay” by straight men even though he’s built his entire career on sexually attracting women?

  30. Ciccina says:

    To continue that thought, sometimes I wonder if the problem is that men can’t see women as subjects—as actors with feelings and perceptions, like themselves—or if the problem is that they can’t see themselves, men, as objects. Do you see the difference?

    Reminds me of one of my favorite poems, by the late underrated Jack Spicer…

    Sheep Trails Are Fateful to Strangers

    Dante would have blamed Beatrice
    If she turned up alive in a local bordello
    Or Newton gravity
    If apples fell upward
    What I mean is words
    Turn mysteriously against those who use them
    Hello says the apple
    Both of us were object.

  31. Violet Socks says:

    sex is the most desirable thing in the universe in and of itself, and is never actually a net loss to you, just less-good

    Right, this is another important point. I wrote in my original post that human beings are designed to have sex with people they’re sexually attracted to, but really it’s not quite the same for men and women, is it? Men are quite a bit less finicky, are they not? It never fails to amaze me the extent to which men can get it up no matter who or what is involved. Think about those British explorers who reported that the indigenous Australian women were repellent, less than human, totally hideous—but somehow they had no trouble using and abusing these women sexually. Or (out of left field here) I’m remembering how the Prince Regent was utterly sickened by Caroline of Brunswick, banished her from his presence after two days—but not before impregnating her. Amazing.

    So it really is kind of different for them. And they can’t seem to figure out that it’s kind of different for us.

    (ETA: I’m not saying that indigenous Australians really are hideous, because of course they’re not. I’m just pointing out that the creeptastic British sailors had no problem sexually abusing women whom they, by their own admission, found repellent.)

  32. quixote says:

    (I’m using “empathy” as a stand-in for “able to see the other’s feelings.” Not only the exact shade of meaning that, you’re right, it’s limited to. And, yes, all social animals have it. There’s a whole slew of animal behaviorists, such as Frans de Waal, who’ve looked at the question in detail.)

  33. Unree says:

    As a postscript to our host’s post @26: elevating PIV above all other sexual acts entrenches the problem. As long as the man “needs” to be aroused for real sex to happen, his female partner’s appearance and presentation must please him. That’s probably part of the reason the patriarchy works so hard to glorify and extol penetration. It brings hierarchy into the bedroom of even an enlightened couple.

  34. Unree says:

    Whoops, I got somewhat superseded by Violet @31. Too slow to refresh.

  35. Violet Socks says:

    Maybe Ciccina’s mention of cream puffs put this in mind, but I’m thinking that men look at women (sexually) the way we look at food. It’s food, you know? It’s to be consumed. You don’t think about whether the food on the plate finds you appetizing; that wouldn’t even make sense. No such thing. Food is there to be eaten and it’s a one-way transaction. Bad food is — well, it’s bad food, but at least it’s food. If you’re hungry you can choke it down at least.

  36. Carmonn says:

    Sort of off-topic, but I’m reminded that years and years ago, maybe as far back as TV Nation, Michael Moore hired a pimp to go and threaten members of Congress with violence. Members of Congress are whores for corporations, and whores need pimps to keep them in line, or else. Lots of interview with the pimp describing in detail how he takes care of his girls and how he’s going to do the same to Congress, all adding to the hilarity. And not one little qualm from anyone involved, from the network to Moore’s team.

    I’d say inability to recognize humanity is about right.

  37. anna says:

    For a man no matter how bad the sex is he’ll still have an orgasm and he won’t be in pain. And men are never afraid of the women they have sex with. If that was the case for women, prostitution might not be such a bad job, as men like to say it isn’t.

  38. Lucy says:

    I just read a comment elsewhere (it had to be from a man) that said: “I respect a hooker more than a woman who sits on her lazy ass and collects Welfare.”

  39. angie says:

    Yet they never make the teeny tiny infinitesimal Zeno-like leap to realizing that that’s how female prostitutes feel about their johns all the goddamn time. Not a big leap of empathy is required here; just a basic recognition of shared human psychology. But men can’t seem to do that.

    I honestly believe men don’t make the connection that female prostitutes feel that way about johns because it never once, and I mean not once, crosses a man’s mind that any woman — especially a woman who has sex for money — would not want to have sex with him (and, by extension, any man out there) — unless, of course, she’s a lesbian. {rolls eyes} After all, our number 1 purpose on this earth is to have sex with men. To support my premise I offer this: (1) men usually only care about their own pleasure when it comes to sex; not many actually care if “it was good” for the woman; (2) I have, on a regular basis, seen men who are at least 50 lbs. overweight at the beach/Jazz Fest/whatever, with huge beer bellies hanging over their pants, talking smack about a woman with a slight pouch with no irony; (3) look at the men cast in porn movies — ugly, disgusting trolls like Ron Jeremy — women “willingly” (in a man’s mind) have sex with him, of course they’d want to “do” them too; and (4) rape laws/difficulty of obtaining a conviction in rape cases — regardless of how a particular law in a state may be written, in actual practice, consent is presumed; that is, in order to get a conviction, the victim is going to have to prove she didn’t consent.

  40. Nessum says:

    I have never in my life known a man who had the same body issues and shyness that virtually all women do.

    Neither have I.

    And doesn’t it kind of apply even when we’re not actually visible? As in the blogosphere? At least it’s my impression that female commenters on blogs are much more prone to use “FWIW”, “IMO”, even “IMHO” … and smilies than male commenters. Like we always try to excuse our appearance?

  41. anna says:

    Guess what’s getting all sorts of raves at Sundance? The movie The Surrogate, “based on the true story of Mark O’Brien, a poet paralyzed from neck down due to polio who hired a sex surrogate [aka prostitute] to lose his virginity.” Naturally the “sex surrogate” will be played by the gorgeous Helen Hunt, and undoubtedly be depicted as ever so happy with her work.

  42. monchichipox says:

    “And another thing…. I love how its so easy to believe she’s a prostitute, yet her authorship of poems is disputed.”

    I love you ciccina.

  43. monchichipox says:

    Oh and for the record I don’t even want to have sex with everyone I find desirable. I may want you in my fantasies but not in my house. Because I know, eventually, I’d only end having to clean up after you.

  44. lorac says:

    At least it’s my impression that female commenters on blogs are much more prone to use “FWIW”, “IMO”, even “IMHO” … and smilies than male commenters. Like we always try to excuse our appearance?

    This reminds me of “tag questions” – the questions women often put at the end of declarative sentences – such as “That’s a really pretty painting – don’t you think?”

    Tag questions were historically characterized as exemplifying the “hesitancy” or “insecurity” of women. Until feminists reframed it, and accurately I think, as women being more concerned than men about including others, being careful not to bulldoze someone else’s opinion, trying to engage a discussion with the other, etc. It’s not bad to express your opinion and wanting to engage the other person in conversation – it’s just that men framed it that way!

    I think that “IMO”, “FWIW”, etc, are also ways to express your opinion while not being uncaring about others’ opinions. I think the problem is men tending to assume that their opinions are shared by all, or at the very least are the “right” opinion, and not caring if they offend anyone, not that the problem is that women – well, are more “social” and empathetic (not that I’m saying you would disagree!)

  45. Jenny says:

    Well hey…men can be prostitutes too. Has anyone ever suggested to those Freakonomics dudes that they too could be earning themselves a fine living…if they just buckled down and put their minds to it?

    Is Bonnie’s poetry available anywhere? As far as that goes,so she wrote of prostitutes, how is that proof that she was one.Does this guy also presume that people who write science fiction stories or whatever are actually aliens, because they talked about it?