What I Was Trying to Say
- I'm a sensitive feminist guy (tone was meant to be a little self-mocking, but ultimately sincere)
- I saw this funny Louis CK bit and related to it
- I confirmed with my buddies that most guys have sexual thoughts about random women, and most of them think that's not a problem
- Part of me feels like these thoughts aren't completely harmless though, so I wanted to research what literature was out there that offered a reprieve from what Louis CK called a "prison" and a "nightmare." And here's the gimmick: I make like I'm on a quest to tamp down my own erotic imagination. A funny premise under which to explore the existing research. (Also, it wouldn't kill me to try not to think about sex so much. Maybe I could get more stuff done.)
- Here's what the sex research and evolutionary psychology says about how men's and women's sexual fantasies differ and why. It's interesting, fairly predictable, and none of this research talks about trying to control sexual ideation as long as it's not harmful to the person experiencing it or the people around him.
- The only place I found people talking about reducing or controlling sexual thoughts that fall into the "normal" range were religious websites, which promoted the practice of self-shaming, which I'm not really into.
- Here's what a couple experts on male sexuality told me: Don't worry about it. Be a grownup. Don't ogle women, but feel free to daydream about them.
- Conclusion: mumble mumble I don't know I guess I can just try to grow up blah blah mumble maybe evolution will catch up to our sex drives and make them less urgent and more selective than they were when we had to try and impregnate every fertile-looking female in the valley.
Months later, I happened to be in contact with an editor from Slate (a long story in itself), and mentioned my "pervert" article. She looked at it and saw some potential there.
She had an idea: get rid of the boring science parts because everyone already knows how men are, and make it more about my quest to control my sexual thoughts. Make it funny and light-hearted. Oh! Oh! Oh! I could look into recommendations about how to stop objectifying women, and then spend a day trying to implement them, and write about the experience!
Yes! Of course! Bring the funny more. It'll be kind of a fool's errand: a snipe hunt for the "cure" to my sexual preoccupation, which is mostly a silly simplification of a complicated issue, but during which I actually make legitimate points!
We went back and forth on it for over a month, at the rate of maybe a couple exchanges per week, and then finally got to the point where it was ready to go. It had shrunk from about 4000 words at its most sprawling to whatever it is now: 1400 or so, I guess. We ditched a long intro in which I more thoroughly established my feminist bona fides. We chopped the part where all the dad bloggers embraced their own sexual daydreams. We scrapped all the sex research about men's fantasy life. We stripped down the quotes from the sex experts and the articles by other men who had examined their own sexual thoughts and ogling.
My editor told me it was "totally delightful and hilarious" She is a highly respected writer and editor. Who was I to doubt her?
Then it went live.
Commenters on Slate are crazy. That's just the way it is. Any article that's slightly controversial brings out all kinds of rage, often of the right-wing and "Men's Rights" variety; but really, all agendas are represented.
So I didn't take it personally when commenters called me a creepy perv, an emasculated eunich, a closet homosexual, a cuckold, a sexist, a religious zealot, a Puritan, and so forth. That happens all day every day on Slate.
What did bug me though, was that so many people took the piece so seriously. My tone didn't come across. It's tempting to say, oh, the idiot commenters were just too dense to get it; but that's not really fair. Something didn't work.
I'll take some of the blame for not fully committing to the humor piece, although I thought phrases like "cloaking them in imaginary burqas" and the idea that I would use the image of my Intro to Women's Studies professor as my "higher power" would be a pretty good indicator that I was not taking myself, or my "quest" completely seriously. It wasn't satire, exactly, although it had some satirical elements. It was meant to come across as self-deprecating, hyperbolic, and quixotic. But I also wanted to have a conversation about this vexing, complicated, contradictory thing that happens in the monkey-minds of men who would never consider hollering or wolf-whistling at an attractive stranger. It didn't seem impossible to do and still have jokes.
I'll put some of the blame on my editor, for telling me I was funny.
I'll put some of the blame on context. As one of the more reasonable commenters on Slate pointed out, it was hard to tell if I was trying to be funny when she first read it, because the article appeared in the "Double X" section, which is generally devoted to "women's issues" and almost always comes from a strong feminist slant. So it seemed feasible to that reader, at first anyway, that I was being 100% sincere about trying to purge dirty thoughts from my mind and that I was relentlessly beating myself up about having sexual urges. I assure you, as much as I am sometimes a little conflicted, I am not beating myself up.
I'll put some of the blame on internet pundits whose default setting is snarky outrage.
I'll put some of the blame on the topic for not being simpler and less uncomfortable to talk about.
And next time, I'll make sure to be less subtle.
*Update: I usually don't do comment moderation because I want to encourage everyone to engage if they feel like it; but I had to this time because of some disturbing comments. I'll try to stay on top of the moderation as possible. Sorry about inconvenience.