Thursday, February 20, 2014

The broken gate

There’s kind of a time warp in Facebook Land. On any given day, this strange phenomenon can cough up posts, videos and memes originally uploaded as long as seven or eight years ago. In Facebook Land, the Chuck-Norris-is-tough meme can never truly die.

Thus it was that I didn’t see the RantLifestyle article by Michael Peckerar, “The Girls You Marry vs. the Girls You Hook Up With”, until almost a month had passed since it was published. And not until I read Peckerar’s article did I know about the RantChic article by Regina Phalange, “Men You Marry vs. Men You Bang” to which Peckerar’s article is either a complement or a response. When a man uses an obscenity to describe sex, he’s crude and boorish; when a woman does so, she’s edgy and tough.

I played around with both articles on Monday, hoping to extend them into a commentary on role expectations and the standards of a good spouse. One thing I'd noticed was that, despite the provocative title of her piece, at only one point does Phalange suggest that a man from what we could call the “reject pile” might be good for a one-nighter or “friendship with benefits”; in the other seven categories, we’re almost forced to wonder why any woman would consider sleeping with such a loser, let alone marrying him. By contrast, on several points Peckerar leaves us no doubt that there are women a straight man should want to sleep with ... but not necessarily espouse.

Exempli gratia: The woman you marry, Peckerar contends, lives by herself, in an apartment she pays for herself, decorated with furniture from IKEA and knickknacks from Pier One. She likes to have nice things, “and having nice things is awesome.” However, the girl you hook up with lives:

With roommates. Hot ones.
First of all, her roommates are instant friends when she’s starting to get old [and we’re not talking age here]. You stay over, she’s in the shower, her roommate will pour you coffee. It’s nice to have another pretty girl to look at sometimes.
Plus, the chance to unlock this achievement is just too sweet to pass up. [Do you really need me to decode this last statement?]

Okay, men are pigs. But getting this perennial complaint behind us, let’s acknowledge the difference this shows us. Both titles imply the uncritical acceptance of sexual stupidity as the social norm. Nevertheless, Phalange is much more obviously ambivalent about men who aren’t good husband material. Unlike Peckerar, Phalange can’t give us a rationale for assuming that any of these clowns might be a worthwhile lay, except for the bum who can’t hold a job longer than two months (he’s most likely impetuous, and more likely to be sexually adventurous, y’know). She could have just titled the article “Men You Marry vs. Men You Dump”.

But she didn’t call her reject pile “Men You Dump”. She called them “Men You Bang”.

Perhaps it seems like I’m getting a lot of custard out of a very small cat (sorry, Blackadder reference). As well, it may seem that I’m paying a lot of attention to Phalange’s reject pile and not enough to Peckerar’s, or to the male behavior that drives it. Here I should note that Peckerar actually ends his piece by impeaching his lists:

There’s no clear way to decide who you marry and who you hook up with. When it’s all said and done, each woman is her own person and is a human being. You might find women who have traits of either side who you enjoy or don’t. You wouldn’t want a girl to pass you by because you don’t drive a BMW, would you? Same thing.
Don’t let silly lists tell you who to love.

Nevertheless, both articles occur within the context of our sexually stupid and deranged culture, which takes for granted that women will have premarital sex with men, and that both will have more than one sexual partner prior to meeting Mr./Ms. Right. Both lists essentially reduce the denizens of their “reject piles” to masturbation tools. Yet even as masturbation tools Peckerar’s B-list women aren’t completely dehumanized or stripped of value; they’re desirable as sexual partners (well, if you’re adventurous), and not without redeeming qualities as persons.  By contrast, Phalange’s B-list men are dildos with legs.

Whenever feminists discuss sexual double standards, inevitably the role of women as “gatekeepers” arises. If I remember my Sociology 2010 correctly, since men’s supply of gametes is replenishable and therefore theoretically infinite, his best reproductive strategy is to couple as often as possible. Conversely, because women’s supply of gametes is limited, her best reproductive strategy is to restrict male access (hence, “gatekeeper”).

 This difference of approaches, feminists argue, is inherently unfair, as it puts the onus on women to say “no” even though they enjoy sex as much as do men, and creates a social context in which women must be functionally monogamous but men can be polygamous. To be equal to men, the argument goes, women must be able to have multiple partners and to say “yes” without needing to prescreen men as candidate fathers.

Hence, the presumed need for contraception and the extrapolated need for abortion upon request.

But beyond the confusion of equality with sameness — the concepts aren’t coterminous — the job of “gatekeeping” didn’t go away with the advent of the Pill and the legalization of abortion. Instead, the woman’s ability to effectively exercise that power was severely reduced.

Because the near-omnipresence and darn-near-100% effectiveness of the Pill allows women to exercise less sexual restraint (in theory at least), they have become expected to exercise less restraint. Competition for the most desirable mates practically demands that women put out early and put out often: “If I don’t, another woman will.” Contraception is not simply her right but more and more her obligation and responsibility, especially since sex with condoms is almost universally considered unsatisfactory. Likewise, because whether or not she will give birth is “her right to choose”, pregnancy is “her problem, not mine ... that is, when the presumptive father doesn’t try to push her into having an abortion. (When was the last time you heard anyone express concern over the number of “deadbeat dads”?)

“No Means No” ... but the culture tends to discourage women from actually saying “no”. The gate is broken.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: For women, there is no better expression of reproductive autonomy than to walk away from a sexual opportunity when you’re not ready for children. “No” is an empowering word; “no” puts you in the driver’s seat. If you can say “yes” but not “no”, you’re not really free, and your “sexual freedom” is really a kind of slavery.

But, pace Peckerar, the lists aren’t about who you love but rather whom you build a family with. The lists concede implicitly that certain personality traits and social skills are needed to build a long-lasting family life; sex by itself does not do the job. And Phalange’s gatekeeper list, as cold-blooded as it is, reminds us that in the end sex, childrearing and marriage are still interrelated. The smartest thing feminists could do is allow women to be gatekeepers again.