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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Porn V. Romance


Men like porn. Women like romance. Thus runs the conventional wisdom.

Porn is exploitive to women. Romance is good harmless fun. Thus runs the conventional wisdom.

Men treat women as sex objects. Women treat men as valuable partners in a relationship with no expectations or unreasonable demands. Thus runs the conventional wisdom.

As a porn-loving, sex-loving red-blooded heterosexual male, I find this a frustrating dichotomy. That doesn't mean I'm a slope-browed Neanderthal ready to drag any convenient woman back to my cave (I'm not in college any more, after all). No, I like relationships, I'm in a fabulous one that has lasted 19 years this past Sunday, and I'm probably one of the more romantic guys I know. But I like porn and I like sex, so to a lot of women out there, I'm a beast and an exploiter with unrealistic expectations of women in the bedroom.

Bullshit.

I came across a great blog post on the subject from the Ms. Naughty Porn For Women Blog (love it!), with the question "Why isn't there romance out there for men?" I was stumped by this, until I realized something. There is romance out there for men. It's called porn.

Okay, I can hear you screeching already that porn and romance are miles apart in so many ways that even mentioning them on the same page is suspect. But both media are designed to elicit an erotic response in the audience. Some might argue that romance has more merit because it deals with character and plot and motivation and feelings and life and all of that, while porn is the one-dimensional portrayal of a singular physical act, bereft of emotion and meaning. How can it be art, how can it even be entertainment, the cry goes, if it doesn't focus on these women as people, first?

But I would argue that those issues are largely of strong importance to women, not to men. Give the average male one of the better romance novels out there, and he'll end up shaking his head in disgust about the grossly unrealistic portrayals of the men in them, and if he's got a brain at all he might even start to realize something he's always suspected: that women in these books -- and by extension the women who read these books -- place a high value on men who they can economically and emotionally exploit.

That's a kind of devastating revelation for most men, believe it or not. While most women in our culture feel justified in their revulsion of being objectified by porn and it's cognates, say beer commercials and Hooter's, they think nothing of doing exactly the same thing to men, only using economic data instead of perceived prettiness, sexual availability and cup size. No man wants to think that a woman is just after him for his money, or his title, his tangible symbols of success. But if you take a good, long look at the dominant form of sexual entertainment women enjoy, the stuff that really gets to the dark heart of their fantasies, there's a thin veneer of sex over a massive desire for a credit check on perspective guy.

I have a good female friend of mine who was, until recently, single. She played the dating game pretty hard core, since she'd already had one failed marriage behind her, and she didn't want to repeat any mistakes. So I helped her get out there and get dating again after the divorce, because I'm nice like that, and after a few weeks she was back in the game.

Only when I checked in on her, I was appalled by what I found. This woman had always been adamantly anti-porn, insisting that it degraded and exploited women on the basis of their physical appearance and sexual availability. How could a man really get to know a woman, she complained, when he wouldn't date anyone in a B-minus cup size? Or with too big a nose? Or with any other of a hundred perceived physical flaws? It was unfair, she'd say, over and over again. It was unfair and it was wrong, and institutions like cheerleaders, Hooter's waitresses, strippers and pornstars purposefully poisoned the well for the rest of women by portraying standards of beauty that most women had no hope of achieving. I could see that, I suppose. If I was a flat-chested woman with an unfortunate face and a big ass, I might get a little grumpy about the buxom blonde who serves beer sans bra. I mean, isn't that every man's fantasy? (I tried to show her that no, it wasn't every man's fantasy, and probably not even a plurality's ultimate fantasy, but she refused to consider that).

But when I checked in on her, I found her screening her dates based on far more rigorous standards than mere penile size. I got to watch her in action one day when a new internet date popped up. She made a cautious, general inquiry, got his name and address, and promised to meet him for coffee. Then the real work began . . .

Within moments she had run his credit report, gotten verification of employment, evaluated his career path and speculated about his earning potential over a five-year period. She researched which high school and college he went to. She found out his parents' names and addresses and evaluated their home to establish their approximate net worth. She ran a criminal background check in both our town and his hometown. Next she had a Google maps aerial shot of his home, ran a search to verify that he owned it (but was pissed when she couldn't find out how much equity he had), speculated about how much left he had to pay on student loans assuming his initial starter salary in his field was x and that he had proceeded up the ladder at rate y . . . you get the picture. Before the Starbucks had even touched her lips, she knew more about this guy than a Secret Service background check would reveal.

I didn't just find this obsessive, I found it creepy. I thought it was an appalling aberration and quietly mentioned to my wife how our friend needed to invest in some therapy. Then my wife floored me by wishing out loud that she had access to those kinds of resources back when we were dating. I almost left the room in disgust.

This is the thing, ladies: you cannot criticize the false expectations and essentially exploitive nature of porn, and the powerful role it plays in the development of male sexual psychology, unless you're also willing to admit the false expectations and essentially exploitive nature of soap operas and romance novels. Does seeing a big-titted blonde writhe around in her panties while she proclaims how aroused she is make you mad? Well, seeing a successful businessman who's ecstatic waiting fifteen minutes after the dinner reservation for a date with a primped-out "strong, intelligent, caring and universally desirable woman", only to declare his love for her, insist that they wait for marriage to have sex, and offer to support her even though she has her own successful career turns my freakin' stomach.

The cartoon above spawned this whole tirade on the other blog, and I think it's worth studying. Because the two sides are equivalent, if not equivalently judged by our society. A woman can want her "prince" -- that is, a handsome, financial and/or careerwise successful man willing to risk all of his power and resources for her sorry little butt -- and be considered a "romantic idealist"; whereas when a man voices his desire for a "whore" -- that is, a reasonably attractive, sexually adventurous, sexually available woman without stifling inhibitions, hang-ups about sex, or an ungodly amount of relationship baggage -- we're considered "pigs". That is, when women follow their idealized fantasy, they are rewarded. When men follow ours, we are castigated and condemned.

That may not seem like a big deal to some of you, but I have sons. I don't want to see them exploited in the prime of their lives, no more than I want to see my daughter exploited. I plan on teaching them to be wary of the pernicious women out there who would treat them as “success objects”. I'll teach them that “So, where do you work?” is the moral equivalent of “So, how big are those boobs?” and “What kind of car do you drive?” is roughly the same as asking a woman, “So, what kind of birth control do you use?”. In essence, it's none of their damn business. Maybe you ladies don't think that how often you perform fellatio is a vital statistic worthy of making or breaking a relationship, but I assure you that it matters to a whole lot of men out there. About as much as most women desire their men to be gainfully employed. But inquiring about either subject on short acquaintance should be off-limits. You want to know how much that handsome guy you met in the bar last night makes? Then in the interest of fairness you should go ahead and tell him up front just how far you'll go on a first date before he invests one dime in the relationship. Fair is fair.

I do not want my boys falling prey to the same humiliating pop-culture exploitation of men that previous generations were exposed to, where a man is valued only for his abilities as a provider and his visible success, not his value as a human being. A woman doesn’t need to know how much a dude makes — or even if he has a job or still lives with his parents — before they decide whether or not to pursue a relationship with him, any more than a man needs to know whether or not a woman is open to the possibility of anal sex before he’s willing to pursue a relationship with her. Fair is fair.

Likewise, I'll condemn my single comrades' obfuscations about such things (and downright trickery) only when a woman is willing to give up all the cosmetics, clothing enhancements, and other obfuscations about her body and sexual availability. My wife was appalled when she found out a single male friend of ours was using other people's ATM receipts showing extremely high balances to give his number out to women. The dude works in a computer store. When he's out tom-catting, he has no compunctions about using whatever trickery necessary to get in a woman's pants -- without explicitly lying. I pointed out that he never claimed that was his ATM receipt, he just provided them with the information and they drew their own conclusions. My wife wasn't impressed.

So then I asked her if her single friends would agree to go out on a blind date with a guy they knew up front was only average-looking, who worked in a computer store with no hope of advancement, and who considered comic books and superhero figures as worthy investments in his future. She scoffed, of course. No woman in her right mind would date such an obvious loser, not unless she was desperate. They wouldn't, she assured me, even dress up much for a date like that, since they didn't need to impress a guy they had no intention of seeing again. Oh, he might be good for a date, but I couldn't seriously expect her pals to risk their hearts and tender parts on a guy who, let's face it, just wasn't going anywhere in life?

Why the double standard? So I asked her, If the dude was a real "prince", with limousines and a stock portfolio and real estate holdings, would her friends dress out then? Yes. Oh, mais ouis! Would they put a little effort into their cosmetics and clothes? Of course! Would they consider hiding their blemishes with cosmetics, concealing their saddle bags under Spanks, hoisting their boobs up in frilly bras that countered gravity, put their butts in the air with 4 inch heels that made their legs look great -- essentially all the traditional "feminine wiles" stuff that women spend so much time learning -- well, of course, if the guy was a "real prince" then every effort should be made. And if that didn't work, then lying to him outright about just about anything was acceptable, as long as they agonized about the guilt later.

But using a fake ATM receipt was deceitful and misleading, in her eyes.

Only it's not. Women can use the oppression meme and throw all the equality crap out the window and get away with it. But when men stand up for our sexual self-interest, we're monsters.

So, let's be blunt about this, shall we? Ladies, if you'll be our insatiable whore, then we'll be your handsome prince. Anything less on either side, and, well, I think we'll have to take it to arbitration.

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