Thanks to the exploits of tons of reality TV stars, it has now become commonplace to know the details of someone’s sexual and romantic history. There are shows devoted to sex rehab! And so, there are some males who feel the need to question me about this aspect of my life. These questions are confrontational and accusatory, as if I’m hiding my adventures from them, even though they are asking for details—inappropriate, lurid, puerile details—that don’t concern them in the least. And when I balk, because I have a right to my privacy, I am met with a torrent of insults.
Listening to these men, it is my duty to go whore myself out, and then report back. I fit the “profile”, based on what I presume to be youth and attractiveness. These men assume that I am hit on constantly and that I am just flat out rejecting all these advances, for reasons that mystify them. And I am mystified that they hold this belief so firmly, when it is so very, very wrong.
Apparently I am not the only one who has wondered where this attitude among men has come from. Does it stem from rejection?
Leah, who has also noticed these assumptions, thinks so. The men are angry and upset because they can’t get laid, and so blame the girls instead. Emily and Petpluto have also written about a version of this (termed The Nice Guy Syndrome, where men feel they own women’s sexuality). I’ve gotten these questions out of sheer curiosity, sure, but also as a way of trying to illuminate The Female Experience for these male friends of mine, even if my experience doesn’t jibe with their experience regarding girls, or what they think is the definitive version of being Young and Female in America Today.
Jezebel also addressed the ostensibly male assumption that women can get laid whenever they want, noting that men view anything less as being overly picky. Prompted by a book review in The Smart Set, Jezebel points out that there are a good many women who are deemed by the culture at large as “unfuckable”. They can fit into a number of categories: old, poor, have weight, genetic, or disability issues, or maybe are just not pretty or conform to a certain beauty standard. Many women fall into this group at a certain point in their life. But they are largely forgotten, ridiculed, always, in popular culture and in real life. For what worth is a women if she is not desirable?
One of the most interesting comments posted to the piece said that men are jealous of women’s sexual power; they are the ones constantly putting themselves on the line:
"a woman can get laid whenever she wants" is an expression of male frustration at female sexual power.
This is not to say that female sexual power is uniformly distributed. Not to say that the world doesn't suck if you've been dealt a poor hand (genetic, medical, social).
Please think for a moment about the male side of this equation. If you're a guy, you don't get hit on. Such an occurance is a memorable life event, not a daily happening. If you're "wing man" to an attractive/sociable/sexually successful guy, then you never EVER get hit on. And you're trying to attract/hit on/get rejected by gals your buddy isn't even looking at. And you adopt this socially demeaning and rejection-filled roll because it marginally increases your odds of some level of sexual success over "going solo".
And in that context, it sucks to be a guy. If the supposedly 'unfuckable' 'hags' in the audience demeaned, debased, and put themselves at the same degree of emotional risk as every guy at the bar, lowered their standards, donned their beer goggles, and shelled out for a few drinks and meals, I'd be willing to bet their "hit rate" would be dramatically higher than for any guy. any. guy.
So yeah, men are envious of womens' sexual power. and being guys, they sum it up (insensitively and coarsely) as, "a woman can get laid whenever she wants".
He’s right that if the game was reversed, the women would do pretty well, but that’s the just the nature of the sexes. But the image that women hold all the power is grossly ill-informed, and by placing the blame onto women, the men just make it worse for themselves.
The statement that all women can get laid easily is also a complete, unjust lie. Undesirable women do feel shame and embarrassment, and no such counseling like “reshape your attitude!” is really going to help; it’s just going to make things worse. Life isn’t a fairytale where a makeover changes everything.
As Leah noted, it’s impossible to live up to whatever the standard is. And being forced to conform to whatever is deemed acceptable is damaging and hurtful. One’s sexual life is only one aspect of a person, and it is mutable.
But the other issue I have with these questions is the appalling assumption that I’m expected to answer such personal and intimate questions, especially in some cases with people I barely know. Why is this acceptable? I consider myself a somewhat private person, in that I believe in privacy and I believe that not everything in my life is up for public consumption, and that attitude, increasingly, some find offensive. There are some things that are none of your business, and no matter how nosy you are, you have to accept that. It’s not impolite or out of hand to say “no.”
So what gives?
It goes back to our increasing TMI culture, and the murky notions of privacy that are constantly being redefined. Facebook has become the very public face of this privacy problem, especially as it has been playing out on the web:
Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg seem to assume that once something is public, it’s public. They confused sharing with publishing. They conflate the public sphere with the making of a public. That is, when I blog something, I am publishing it to the world for anyone and everyone to see: the more the better, is the assumption. But when I put something on Facebook my assumption had been that I was sharing it just with the public I created and control there. That public is private. Therein lies the confusion. Making that public public is what disturbs people. It robs them of their sense of control—and their actual control—of what they were sharing and with whom (no matter how many preferences we can set). On top of that, collecting our actions elsewhere on the net—our browsing and our likes—and making that public, too, through Facebook, disturbed people even more. Where does it end?
Where does it? Technologies increasingly are able to monitor every little thing we do. From security cameras in Times Square to GPS locators on our phones to cookies on web pages, there are very little areas or transactions today that are not monitored somewhere, by somebody. We’re so used to this that we accept that mundane calls to customer service lines are recorded, or, if we turn our settings a certain way, we can be tracked by virtually anyone who wants to find us. We do a lot of this out of convenience and novelty; that’s why we save passwords on our computer, that’s why we enable our tweets to be geographically placed.
We like keeping track of our things digitally. That’s why online banking is a hit, and why we like to see the status of a package on Amazon or FedEx. And as long as only we have access to this information, we’re fine. But this information is protected, by passwords and codes and encryption. The debate has turned to less tangible items—memories and statements, ideas and personalities. It’s this violation of truly personal things that has caused this newest uproar.
A theory floating around is as society has become more permissible, old notions of impropriety will disappear, and future generations will have no need for privacy. This is hogwash. I disagree with Penelope Trunk (and others) who say privacy is basically a way of hiding things that don’t need hiding. Really? So everyone—my mother, my colleagues, my boss, my neighbor, the stranger I spoke to last night at a party—is entitled to know everything about me? And I’m supposed to be fine with knowing everything about everyone I know? Sure, maybe that movie you watched last night isn’t super-secret news, but it doesn’t mean that everyone has to know about it, just like everyone doesn’t need to know every detail of what you did over the weekend. The notion that privacy just equals secrecy is damaging and erroneous. I am all for transparency, especially in companies, but confusing transparency with a lack of privacy, especially for individuals, is dangerous. Everyone should be able to control what information they tell to specific people; there’s a reason we have “work selves” and “friend selves”, why there are some things you shouldn’t say to your mother but will say to your best friend. Penelope Trunk basically acts like things in our private lives won’t get us into trouble in the workforce, but that’s completely untrue. Sure, standards have relaxed, but that doesn’t mean that showcasing your exploits and your baser aspects of yourself won’t cause some problems. Think of it this way: Would you really want to hear about some borderline criminal activity a coworker or neighbor was doing? Would you want to be responsible for knowing every dirty little secret of everyone you know?
Surprises can be good things. It’s an icky feeling to know things about people before you meet them, because you Googled them. Now you’re an expert on their life. But by having everything up already to be viewed by a public, whether Facebook posts or Flickr albums, the element of surprise, of learning about someone through natural, organic discourse is lost. What’s left to tell? What’s left to discover? If everything about you is already up on the web—reduced to mere anecdote, a selection of tidbits that are “you”, no matter how misleading, embarrassing, or untrue—then why should I bother to try to get to know you anyway, when I already know everything there is to know?
People are not just the sum of their experiences, nor are they defined by particular things. Sure, when we describe ourselves, we do so in this language, often because it is the easiest. But people change, interests and experiences and opinions change. People don’t want to be known by something in their past, especially if they’ve moved past it, or if it’s not accurate. Privacy is important because it gives a sense of control, a sense that you are defining who you are and what’s important to you. Others should not be defining who you are or what you can say; you make that determination.