Women are taught to fear masculinity, and men are as well. If fear does not work then satire and reduction to the lowest common denominator will suffice. So-called feminist sites like Jezebel are not revolutionary. In fact, what they serve to do is entrench conservative ignorance about male sexuality, and preserve cultural repressions, the very repressiveness that supports abusive expressions of male power.
|Distorted: Overly-idealised feminine forms of beauty have as much of a destructive impact on the sexuality of men as they do on that women|
In word, you can control people. And you can do so without them knowing it. The advertising industry is often criticised for its exploitation of the female body. And rightly so. Much of western culture involves a systematic crime against women in telling them that their bodies are not their own. Far from liberating women, the post feminist, or corporate-feminist culture in fact reaffirms the Christian conservative notion that a woman’s body is the property of a man, or more accurately, society as a whole.
However, as with most abuses of liberation rhetoric in our wonderfully post-ironic, smugness-addicted social mess we call contemporary culture, women’s freedom has become a Trojan horse of repression and materialist subjugation. Thinking that she has been given freedom of choice and opportunities for sexual expression, modern woman is manipulated to volunteer her own sexual slavery, all the while believing that somehow she has been liberated, and empowered.
We only need to take a glance at modern women’s magazines to see this in action. Beauty in the industrial age has taken on rather fascistic characteristics. Symmetry, blandness and most importantly, conveyor belt sameness, mean that only women with a certain kind of tabula rasa quality in their features are considered beautiful. The industry of beauty celebrates and sells itself as spear-heading the women’s liberation movement in the technological age, but its central ideology of beauty resembles the manufacturing policy of Henry Ford more than it does the politics of the Suffragettes.
But the advertising industry, and indeed much of popular culture, works in a similar way for men. In Men and Sex, by clinical psychologist Bernard Zilbergeld, the role of female fantasy figures is shown to have negative affects not just on women, but on masculine sexuality as well. Zilbergeld writes:
‘The women in fantasyland are all gorgeous and perfectly formed. A glance at the cartoons in any issue of Playboy or Penthouse makes the point succinctly: the women men desire are beautiful and flawlessly built; women who do not fit this mold are ridiculed.
‘Average looking women, those whose breasts sag or whose skin is not the model-conforming smooth, creamy, silky - such women rarely appear in the world of sexual make-believe. It is a world where no one ages and no one wrinkles and no one loses her jutting breasts....
‘Feminists and other women have long complained that men are too interested in physical appearance, paying more attention to 'tits and ass’ than to intelligence of women, and being uninterested in women who do not fit the current standard of physical perfection. ‘There is more than a bit of truth in this for men have learned that sex is something one has only with young and beautiful women. Given all the brainwashing we have been subjected to it is understandable that we should pay so much attention to physical attributes and that middle-aged men should prefer to go out with much younger women.’
Setting aside the obvious feminist issues brought up by these destructive forms of fantasy, what we often fail to focus on is the negative impact that reaffirming achievable female sexual fantasy figures has on men. By presenting men, and educating them to accept, ridiculous fantasy objects as the mainstream ideal of sexuality in general, men are cut off from their own sexual intuitions. In fact, I am sure you, dear reader, find it rather cute that a term like ‘male sexual intuition’ should be used at all. The idea is so foreign to us, not because such a thing does not exist, but because male sexuality is treated with contempt in our culture. Anything that does not conform to the standard Jock-like idiocy of Hollywood memes around masculinity is simply overlooked. At best it is treated with suspicion, and thought to be ‘typical maleness’ in disguise.
As well cutting men off from their sexual intuitions, standardised fantasy models also create more repression and erode the individuality of a man’s experience of his sexuality. If a man does not experience himself as having a unique and nuanced sexuality that is intimately related to expressions of his personality in general, then how can we expect a man to treat a woman any differently?
Standaridised, conveyor-belt fantasy models of beauty serve an economic purpose. In corporate culture, the great enemy is true individuality. Billions of pounds are spent on usurping the agency of the consumer in order to keep people buying new products. If you can control sexuality, you can control a person’s agency. Vacuous beauty not only makes for a standard ideal by which people are made to feel inadequate and therefore buy products that promise to ‘transform’ them into that very standard, it also represses people sufficiently enough that their very agency is overthrown - their natural desires are buried and become hidden forces, very often becoming rage-powered and violent.
Again to quote Zilbergeld’s book: 'The problem with the sexual fantasy model that we are discussing is that it is not just a fantasy, one that can be turned on or off at will and has little influence on behaviour. It is rather the description of how our sexual world ‘should be’ and it effects our thinking, feeling and behaviour. Many of us are unaware that the model is indeed a fantasy, one that has little to do with what is possible or desirable for human beings. Since we take the script for the way things ought to be, we measure ourselves by it, striving to match its standards and feeling badly when we don’t. Instead of asking whether the model is physiologically feasible, personally satisfying or enhancing of ourselves and our relationships, we ask what is wrong with us for not being able to meet its standards. And that is precisely why this model is destructive.’