More Women Talk About What Women Want

Anna and I were not the only ones to weigh in on the New York Times Magazine story about research into female sexuality. Much of the female blogosphere weighed in today as well:

Tracy Clark-Flory at Salon beat the rest of us to the punch on Sunday, though, like for too many men, coming too early to the party doesn't necessarily make for the best time. Clark-Flory mostly runs through the findings, points out that there are sexually aggressive women and women who openly enjoy gay porn and then questions — as pretty much everyone does — the idea that so-called female narcissism is biological:

But I have a fundamental problem with the semantic framework. How is a woman's arousal at witnessing a man turned on by another woman's body narcissistic? Why isn't it simply that she's delighting in female sexual power? Is it necessarily narcissistic to enjoy driving your partner wild? And might it be that women focus on the idea of a man being turned on by a woman because our sexual culture revolves around that dynamic? The "narcissism" inference seems akin to suggesting that men's undivided focus on the female porn star being robotically pounded demonstrates an inborn interest in female pleasure. (Please!)

Actually, I think the studies sort of indicate that it's not "delighting in female sexual power," but that would be a good theory. Clark-Flory does hit it on the head with regards to Meana's work: that women's sexuality very tied to what we're taught are erotic images: the female form.

Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon says much of the same things with more intellectual rigor.

There is nothing inevitable about the sexualizing of the female body and not the male one. I suppose it’s “politically correct” to say so, but I think women’s bodies represent sex, and therefore cause arousal responses, in both sexes because we live in a male-dominated society where men who control our media-saturated culture put forward women’s bodies as sex objects while often avidly downplaying the sexual representation of male bodies, because they think it’s demeaning to be looked at as a sex object.

I do love when she gets a full head of steam up, so I'll just let her continue:

Women live in this culture, too. I can testify that it took me years to get past my cultural training that put all of men’s allowable physical appeal above the neck. “He has nice eyes/hair,” was the extent of girl talk about men’s physical characteristics. Now I’m happy to talk about men’s legs or ass or what have you, but I think that puts me on the far side of the “slutty” scale in our culture, still.

Honestly, with “being aroused by men’s bodies” taken off the table, and with much of your life being dedicated to living up to the image of a sexually attractive woman, is it any wonder that women eroticize being desired so strongly? Most women spend much of their time looking at themselves and trying to imagine what a straight man would see, because it’s our social duty to be sexually attractive.

Her best line, though?

The only people who think about women’s bodies more than straight men are women, for which you can thank/blame the patriarchy.

Courtney at Feministing takes aim at the article more than anyone else, from the inaccurate subtitles to the all-white illustrations. But she, too, is fascinated by Meana's assertion that women get turned on be being desired.

Wowzer. I think this is fascinating. In a world where women are often objectified against their will, is the ultimate turn on being able to control and even illicit our own objectification? This line of thinking also holds up when considering the number of women who have fantasies of being dominated, and sometimes raped. Is it sexually arousing to feel a sense of power over your own decision to submit in a world where you feel vulnerable to others domination against your will? (See Stacey May Fowles' essay in Yes Means Yes.)

And if this is the case, is it something we should problematize (i.e. why should my sexuality be determined by my experiences of a patriarchal society? what would it look like if it was truly created from my own original physiology, emotional states, and ideas? is that even possible?) or should we embrace it and get off, counting it as sweet revenge on a half-changed world?

In other words, should we spend so much time worrying about what gets us off as much as just getting off? I have a preferred answer to that.

Courtney does have the best parting shot — and criticism of author Daniel Berger— of anyone:

All fascinating questions, not really explored in much depth by Berger, who by virtue of writing this piece, controls how the researchers' voices and ideas get organized and communicated (interesting parallel to how female sexuality gets processed through a male lens so often).

Jill Filipovic at Feministe strikes just the right tone between rant, intellectual rigor and just plain kick-assness:

How about the fact that women grow up in a society that is centered on men’s experiences and lives? That the female body is used as a representation of sex itself, whereas (hetero) men’s experiences and understandings of sex dominate our cultural narrative? To go back to an old feminist gem, men watch; women watch themselves being watched.

And women’s bodies are positioned as public property. Whether it’s ongoing political battles about what we can and can’t do with our reproductive systems or a cultural religious/virginity narrative that places female sexuality as a bartering chip between male “protectors” or not being able to walk down the damn street without a reminder that we don’t have the same right to public space as men do, to be female is to be told, “Your body is not yours.”

Plus there’s the fact that female bodies are marked as decorative, whereas male bodies are active. Men’s bodies do things — they represent strength, ability, power. Women’s bodies look like things — they represent sex, beauty, fertility.

Of course we feel disconnected from our bodies. Of course that impacts our sex lives.

I love a good nurture-over-nature partisan. She then takes on, and eviscerates, the biological "narcissism" argument.

Shocking, absolutely shocking, that when women are raised in a culture that equates the female body with sex itself, that positions the female body as an object of desire, and that emphasizes that being desired is the height of female achievement, women will see sex as a process primarily centered on male attraction to women, and will get off more on being wanted than on wanting.

Shocking, too, that when “naked chick” is cultural shorthand for “sex,” women will look at naked chicks and think “sex.”

It’s not narcissism. It’s a lifetime of experiencing the world secondarily, and seeing ourselves through male eyes; it’s the lack of agency and power that comes with being an object to be looked upon.

Way to put her finger on the problem with the argument that it is somehow a biological impulse for women to view nude women as sexual.

What Do Women Want? [New York Times]
Narcissism: The Secret To Women's Sexuality! [Salon]
Women Want Less Condescending Articles About What We Want [Pandagon]
New York Times' Post-accurate Framing of Female Desire [Feministing]
Sometimes just reading the headline is enough to know an article will make you feel stabby [Feministe]