"There is difference and there is power. And who holds the power decides the meaning of the difference." --June Jordan

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Problem with Mars/Venus

Survey of heterosexual married men: Imagine that your wife offers all the sex that you want, but does it reluctantly or simply to accomodate your sexual needs.  Will you be sexually satisfied?
Yes: 26%
No: 74%
This survey statistic comes from the book For Women Only, by Shaunti Feldhahn - a little relationship self-help title intended to help women learn all about the "inner workings" of the men they love. The book resides in the Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus genre of gender stereotyping, in which "doctors" and authors take survey statistics and study findings about men and women and use them to support their claims about certain natural and inherent desires and needs of the genders in the hopes that these "understandings" can improve human relationships. 
I can't help picking up books like this when I see them in the library, because the blatant assumptions and ridiculous conclusions that result from their gross biological essentialism is downright laughable.  Sometimes they do offer nuggets of wisdom that could probably improve the most heteronormative of relationships, but always at the expense of reducing men and women to the most simplistic stereotypes.  And they never, ever seem to get at what I would be most interested to learn:  the real reasons behind different behaviors and survey responses of men and women.  It infuriates me that this writer gave hundreds of men a survey, noted the trends, and then assumed that the answers were based in biological reasons.  And then she used this information to basically tell us, that, "Well, ladies, you saw the survey results.  It seems that menfolk are 'hard-wired' this way, so we had better get used to it, learn to deal with it, and massage their egos." 
I suppose I shouldn't expect so much from literature that is so obviously un-feminist.  Only feminist studies of such phenomena would take the same results and try to examine what in our envirnoment is behind them and then try to propose measures for social progress that would lead to a more desirable outcome.  I guess, in most instances, that's just too much to ask for.  Epecially since this particular text is based in Christian teaching, which means that it is completely supportive of the assumption that men are to be respected and women are to be loved and provided for.  I swear I gag a little bit every time I sit through a Christian marriage ceremony and the reverend says something about the groom being the "spriritual leader" of the household.  I think I was maybe eight years old when I first heard this at a wedding and made a mental note that no such thing would ever be spoken at my future wedding. (Due to cultural conditioning from Disney movies, it hadn't occurred to me yet at that age that it could be an option to simply not have a wedding at all.) 
I got really off-track here, though.  I hadn't planned on going into a tirade about the book in general, but I did want to comment on the particular survey question that appears above.  In the book, Feldhahn uses this particlar statistic to reassure women that, despite what negative things they may have previously thought about men, the majority of them really do care about our desires and our sexual willingness.  In other words, we should be pleasantly surprised that so many men responded positively.  Call me a pessimist, but I looked at this number and my brain immediately focused on the flip side.  Twenty-six percent of the heterosexual married men surveyed answered YES to this?!  So ONE IN FOUR married straight men really don't care how willing or satisfied their wives are, as long as their sexual needs are satisfied.  The gagging has returned. 
Maybe one of the reasons I masochistically read these books is so I can ignore their conclusions but make my own from the deeply disturbing evidence they provide. 


Sage said...

On "only feminist..." - I think some non-feminist (or non-identified-as-feminist) social scientists are smart enough to be anti-essentialist. Well, I hope so anyway.

These books make me nuts too. And the results that 3/4 of men want the woman to like sex doesn't necessarily imply that they care about their partner's feeling. It can alternatively point to a need to be a winner in the sack - look how much I'm turning this chick on, woohoo I'm an amazing lover, blah blah blah. Their own ego boost from believing they're great in bed might be necessary for their enjoyment of sex. Otherwise, why do prostitutes fake orgasms for their clients? It's not because the client is concerned about her enjoyment.

Tracey said...

Tanks for commenting, Sage! I totally love your writing, and I'm honored for you to pop in here.

You're right about the statistic. There's no reason to think that even that three out of four have good intentions for answering yes, but the book sure made it sound like it was something to be excited about. I just surprised me that one of four really doesn't care about that at all. But maybe that accounts for that "one in four women is raped" statistic.

And I think I used "only feminist", because I tend to think of anti-essentialism as feminist in general whether or not a writer personally identifies as such. But you're right. I think there are plenty of people who don't identify that way who are entirely intelligent and capable enough to not reduce everyone to biological stereotypes.

Thanks again!