Monday, September 06, 2004

Feminist men unattractive?

We know that Ann Marlow is a liberal for two reasons. First, she writes for Salon magazine, which openly boasts of its support for the American Democrats. Second, she writes about sex with unusual frankness.

So it's all the more remarkable that Ann Marlow should have written this article, No intercourse, please -- we're enlightened (from last October, and you need to push a few buttons for a day pass for access). In the article, Ms Marlow not only declares feminism to be a failure (with much wounded feeling), but she also puts forward a remarkably conservative alternative.

Feminism is basically liberalism applied to women and the family. Therefore, its message is that women should be self-created by their own individual will, rather than by their inherited sex. Feminists, in other words, think of manhood and womanhood as something limiting to the individual, an oppressive "biological destiny" to be overthrown. They prefer the alternative of gender sameness or even gender role reversal.

Left liberals add a little twist to feminism. They see society as a collection of competing wills, and believe that any group with power in society must be acting oppressively toward a victimised group. Feminists, of course, identify men as being the oppressor group and women as the victims of men's institutionalised power: of "patriarchy".

Which brings us back to Ann Marlow. She's a woman who enjoys sex and who mixes in social circles deeply influenced by feminist ideas of gender war and gender role reversal. And she's not happy. Why?

Because she believes that the emasculation of men destroys their sexual attractiveness to women. And this belief is understandable. After all, heterosexuality is by definition the appeal of opposites, with men being attracted to the femininity of women and vice versa.

For Ann Marlow, men have to have authority as men in order to be sexually appealing. Furthermore, she believes that sex has much to do with a woman trusting herself to the power of a particular man, a trust which is undermined by feminist beliefs that male power is somehow exercised at the expense of women.

Here are a few quotes from Ms Marlow herself:

The polymorphously perverse, gender-is-just-a-construct future that radical feminists and academics used to dream of has actually arrived. Men no longer have any authority, either in their own eyes or in women's ...

Women secretly want men with authority ... The collapse of the patriarchy was supposed to make women happy .... But instead men treat women worse than ever, women are retreating to 1950s notions that sex is something that men like, and the nearly successful effort to stamp out gender contrast has made upper-middle-class American sex miserably dull ... Men and women are just too much stylistically alike now for much erotic energy to arise from their conjunction.

Men in their 20s - well, the Ivy League, professional sorts I meet ... just aren't masculine enough to be bedable.

Thus the legacy of two decades of feminism in academia. Younger people have bought into the idea that your lover or spouse is a friend of the opposite sex -- although one who will exhibit bad manners you wouldn't expect from your friends' pets ... The bad manners and androgyny go hand in hand; along with the erotic aura, tenderness and respect have disappeared.

These young guys feel free to admit to physical fears, grooming preoccupations and social anxieties their fathers had the good sense to conceal, if they had them ...

The new joylessness: Talk with someone in their 20s about marriage and they bring in the word "work" within the first three minutes ... now that the patriarchy's gone, everything isn't pleasure, as radical theorists imagined, but business.

... with the absence of tenderness and trust between men and women, we're more and more inclined to banish deep emotion from our post-patriarchal lives.

What's often lost in the insistence on equality is quality -- how the people feel about each other, how much love they can give each other ... Love does involve two people putting themselves in the power of each other. We've forgotten that what we are looking for between men and women is fairness and compassion, not identity, and there can be justice between people who acknowledge that their balance of power is unequal. The heterosexual act of love does involve women putting themselves literally in the power of men. And we no longer trust enough to do so.

All of this is eminently quotable. I especially like the insight that the tenderness and respect men once showed women was connected to an "aura" arising from a sense of gender difference. I think Ann Marlow is also correct to suggest that the current understanding of gender equality is part of the problem, and that it would be better to aim at something like "fairness" which allows for dignity and respect without requiring the abolition of the natural distinctions between men and women.

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