Today, while making my daily blog-reading rounds, I found this article on Slate‘s Human Nature blog. The article is about female sexuality, and how new studies are discovering that, whoa, female sexuality is really complex! And not at all what we expected based on reading What Women Want columns in men’s magazines!
I come bearing excerpts:
During shots of lesbian coupling, heterosexual women reported less excitement than their vaginas indicated; watching gay men, they reported a great deal less; and viewing heterosexual intercourse, they reported much more. (emphasis mine)
Is anyone reading on this blog surprised by the fact that women are turned on by gay men (or by lesbians, for that matter), or surprised that women who are turned on by gay men (or lesbians) are not likely to report it?
Human Nature then goes on to discuss another facet of the study, which is that some women (a good number, based on the numbers quoted in the study) have rape/assault fantasies. There is much uncomfortable tiptoeing around the question of why. I get the feeling that all involved–the researchers, the blogger–are uncomfortable with this fact about female sexuality and what it might imply about the nature of women and (perhaps worse) mean in terms of fueling those cretins still intent on arguing against the right of women not to be raped, no matter what they wear, how much they drink, or how much the male perpetrator perceives that they “want it.”
But, again, I find myself utterly unsurprised by the study’s revelations. There is, after all, a niche of fandom that writes “rapefic” and “noncon,” and discussion concerns less the appropriateness of this (and never, to the best of my knowledge, dissects what went “wrong” with the authors and readers of such stories to make them enjoy this particular fantasy) but rather how to best flag such stories to protect victims, how not to be exploitative in one’s writing, and so on.
As I read about the study, I couldn’t help but to feel annoyed at the gape-mouthed surprise that some of the study’s revelations met with. None of the study’s conclusions seemed odd to me. Female sexuality is complex. A half-day in fandom would demonstrate that women really do want something more than rescue fantasies and to feel taken care of. If you can imagine it, I can guarantee that somewhere, in a dusty corner of the Internet, there is a woman writing it, probably with at least a handful of readers enjoying it.
I remember Bobby once got an issue of Men’s Health (or something along those lines) in the mail as a freebie to lure him into subscribing. Hey, I’m interested in men, so I picked it up. “What Women Want in Bed” was the subject of one of the articles. Now I was really curious! I wanted to know what I wanted in bed! (Or, at least, what I was perceived as wanting. This is the same urge as listening in on a conversation about myself when those talking about me don’t know I’m there so that I can giggle or blush or seethe later, depending on what was said.)
The only item on the list that I remember in retrospect was that women like it when men make them feel “secure.” The article suggested that men should support their partner’s buttocks or the back of her head to accomplish this. The back of her head?! This calls to mind the instructions given to not-kid-people like me when we’re required to hold babies: “Support the back of the head.” I always have this image that, if I don’t, the head will drop right off from its own weight and go rolling across the floor.
Needless to say, this particular piece of advice nauseated me. These people propositioning my husband wanted to teach him to use the same gestures with me during sex that he would use with a newborn infant, and for the same purpose? I felt vaguely horrified and offended and tempted to write whatever imbecilic (male) author came up with this ridiculous idea to tell him that, no, women do not want that! At least, this woman didn’t.
And I think that’s when I realized that women’s desires and sexuality can’t be neatly organized in the same way that you’d sort nails and screws when cleaning the garage. (Yes, that pun was bad, and intentional. Sorry.) Someone had given this poor columnist the idea that women like to be treated as infants in bed. So, sure, some do. But the thought of well-meaning guys everywhere treating their partners like infants sickened me.
Given the surprise that the whole homosexuality- and rape-kinks met with (and these are fairly common, at least based on the number of women in fandom who regularly write these sorts of stories), I don’t even want to imagine what these people would think about, for example, twincest or Morgoth-tortures-Maedhros-in-Angband fantasies. Or mpreg. Oh my Eru, mpreg. I can only imagine bloggers trying to twist evolutionary explanations for women who like to fantasize about Sam impregnating Frodo and then Frodo giving birth to his hairy-footed Hobbitling through his butt.
But you know what? For the first time possibly ever, I felt like fandom had let me in on a secret that the rest of the world was just catching on to. I felt somewhat savvy, flicking my fingers at the people gaping over all of this and saying, “Rape fantasies? Homosexuality fantasies? You ain’t seen nothing yet!” As someone whose “savviness”–at least in this community–is defined by the ease with which she can defend the morality of Fëanor’s actions using obscure textual quotations learned by heart, this sudden plunge into worldliness was surprising but not too uncomfortable. Having been through the knee-jerk “What? NO!” reaction to the fantasies of my fellow fans, and gotten over it, I imagine that there were a lot more “savvy” women (and probably even more men) squirming at the ideas presented in this study. I felt relatively cool and … well, cool, for once.
Then I got annoyed because it felt like, in the attempt to explain the results of the study, there was a need to defend or legitimize the fantasies and desires of not even some but a good number of women. There was the need to squeeze their fantasies into an explanation that was at once scientific and feminist. Pulling and tugging over the right to explain rape fantasies as “evolutionary” or “narcissistic.”
Feministe picked up on the same study and, in the post, I found a sentence that pretty much summed up why I was feeling annoyed:
There are people … who basically argue that women feel enough guilt about sex, and feminist critiques or evaluations or even explorations of rape fantasies are inherently anti-feminist, because, come on, people get off on all kinds of things and we should just leave it alone; if some women like rape fantasies, let ‘em like rape fantasies.
It seems to me that the same people shocked that women like watching gay men would not be shocked at the fact that men like watching lesbians. Or that some men like being dominated. Or that some men are turned on by pregnant women. I mean, all of this stuff is eight-o’clock sitcom fare. When we discover the same diversity among women, we wince and get tongue-tied and pull out the microscope.
Not for the first time, I find myself wishing the world could take a lesson from fandom and worry less about why people are different and–from each individual’s point of view–weird and just accept that it will always be that way and move on.