Friday, May 31, 2013

What I Meant By That Thing I Wrote on Slate about Objectification


Prologue

Yesterday was my birthday.  

If you must know, I'm now 46 years old.  I'm in my late mid-forties.  That's okay, I guess.  Anyway, there's not much I can do about it.  

I had a great day.  Really, really great.  The kids were in school and my wife took the day off.  We went to brunch and then pretty much goofed around the rest of the day.  It was truly wonderful to hang out with my wife and no kids during daylight hours, with no projects or chores to do, for pretty much the first time since the kids were born.  We also received the great news that my wife passed the brutal Medical Board exams (!), which she has to take every ten years, so there was a lot to be thankful for. 

But I was a little distracted by the damn internet, because a lot of people were talking about me over there.  

My first piece on Slate was published in the morning, and by the time I found out about it, there were over a thousand comments on it, most of them aggressively negative.  I mean, it was awesome that I got something published on Slate, which I've been enjoying since I first learned about the internet, and that people were reading it.  But, it wasn't so awesome that everyone seemed to hate what I had written.  

So what I'm doing here pains me a bit.  I don't love the idea that I need to explain something that I already wrote.  I've written about a number of controversial issues, but I've hardly ever been attacked by the self-styled critics known on the internet as "trolls."  I like to think that that's because I try to be thoughtful, avoid generalizations, qualify any bold claims, and preemptively address concerns or counter-arguments readers might have.  This also makes me long-winded; but issues aren't simple and I try not to oversimplify them.  So I feel like I have screwed up when the tone of something I have written doesn't get across to the reader.

That's what happened with my piece on Slate, which some editor or another named "Heel."

What I Was Trying to Say

 

Among the flaming comments on Slate, a ridiculous response to my piece on Jezebel, a virtually incomprehensible satire on NYmag.com and some bashing on twitter, there were a few thoughtful comments and genuine questions by people who were puzzled about what I was up to.  

Most of the people I know, including my mom and my wife, got it.  They thought it was funny, honest, and thought-provoking.  Some of the commenters on Slate got it.  Most didn't.  Others weren't so sure.  A couple writers emailed me and asked if it was satire.  One of them was interested in the evolution of the article--whether something had been compromised in the revising and editing process that made its tone unclear and evoked such outrage and disdain from Slate commenters.  I think that answering his question is the best way I can explain it.

I started writing this story months and months ago.  It was inspired by a bit that Louis CK does where he talks about being a "prisoner of perverted sexual thoughts."  I could relate to it, and I wanted to see if other middle-aged dudes could as well.  I found a clip of the bit on YouTube and posted it to my super-secret Dad Bloggers page on Facebook.  The conversation it inspired went on for nearly 300 comments and was hilarious and raunchy.  Virtually all of the guys copped to being susceptible to sudden sexual fantasies about attractive women on a regular basis.  Most of the guys didn't see it as a problem.  In fact, they embraced it as a healthy expression of straight male sexuality.

I'm mostly in the same camp as far as thinking an erotic fantasy life is normal.  Why not, right?  Everybody does it.  It's not hurting anyone if you don't act on your impulses.  

But part of me has always found it troubling, or paradoxical anyway, that the feminist (a word many of my new critics claim I don't understand) values that I believe in are in conflict with my flights of sexual imagination.  I mean, there have been times when I have been having serious conversations or just casual interactions with women, and suddenly part of my brain is locked in (fleetingly, most of the time) on what they might look like naked, or...you know...typical sex daydreams.  I'm thinking about them in a way completely unattached to who they are as people or what their desires are.  I call this objectification, although many of my new critics also say I'm misusing that term.  

If I were to say, "By the way, your rack looks awesome and I would love to knock boots with you right here in the line at Costco," that would be decidedly sexist (a word which, according to many of my new critics, I am using completely wrong), right?  But to think those things is okay, as long as I keep them to myself?  This is what I would call cognitive dissonance, and it seems like something worth talking about.    

This situation is a pretty small concern of mine, in the grand scheme, but it's something I've thought about, and it--the fantasizing part, if not the concern about fantasizing--is something that seems almost universal among men (although many of my new critics say that I'm an asshole for thinking that men are more preoccupied with sex than women).  Naturally I thought, "Hey--I should write about this."  I write about gender stuff.  This is a gender thing.  Perfect.

So I pitched it to my editor at the Atlantic, and we went back and forth on it for a while.  The last draft I gave her went something like this:
  • 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.
The conclusion was not very strong.  The editor didn't love the whole piece, and, honestly, I think she was kind of creeped out by it.  I moved on.

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.

********

In other news, I have an article up on the NY Times Motherlode blog.  I also wrote that one a long time ago.  The editor warned me that it might be controversial and people might leave mean comments.  So far, everyone has been perfectly lovely about it.       

 


63 comments:

  1. Keep talking about uncomfortable things Andy. And many congratulations on your first piece in Slate.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ah ha! I actually did not pick up on the fact that your bits about burqas or your Women's Studies professor was meant to be tongue in cheek.

    Actually, mostly my reaction to this was kind of, "get over yourself, mate; it's not that big a deal." Turns out that's basically what you were trying to get at...that it's something worth talking about, but it's not the end of the world. I think since a lot of the humour didn't quite get through, it came across as a hell of a lot more earnest than it was, thus making it seem as though you were treating the whole subject as Really Important. And yet, because of the gimicky nature of the article...that you were treating it as something that was Really Important, but not worth serious, studied consideration and conversation.

    Side note: Don't pay attention to Jez; it's gone to pot.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

      Delete
  3. Two points here:

    1) In all forms of typed communication these days, people are missing what you gain from inflection in normal conversation. Often people seem to read text as being the worst case scenario, like "he's clearly being mean here" or "man, they are PISSED off". This happens often in emails and results in an escalation of misunderstandings.

    In an article, you can't just pick up the phone and call the person you have the misunderstanding with and sort it all out. That's how I solve most email misunderstandings. The only way to avoid the misunderstanding is for the reader to understand the writer's background and writing style. That's on them, not you. Instead of trolling, lots of those commenters could have questioned and read some of your other writing to see what your writing style is and if the piece was meant to be funny or serious. They clearly didn't, or it would have been obvious.

    Writing this blog post is as close as you can get to picking up the phone and trying to sort it out. Good for you for trying! I bet the people who didn't get you before... the trolls... won't read this. At least it probably felt really good to get it off your chest.

    2) " I assure you, as much as I am sometimes a little conflicted, I am not beating myself up." Not beating yourself "up", sure, but with all those sexual thoughts...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can honestly say I have never had aggressive sexual thoughts about a person who does not want to have sex with me. Those are called rape fantasies and they are a problem. This is normal for men? That is sad. Men are not worth loving if that is the case. I might think a person is handsome and want to speak to him but I have never wanted to violate the person. Ever. It is not a madonna-whore complex as many on other blogs are arguing. It is a human-whore complex. It is truly confirmed that men were just meant to kill bears and fight wars. Our society has made them into something they are not capable of being. They are not meant to be husbands. Ladies stop getting married. Just get yourself a sperm donor boyfriend and raise your kids. Leave him out of it once he has done his job.

      Delete
  4. I read your piece on Slate and yes that it was on XX made me pause because the article looked more like it should be in a lad mag. There have been a number of articles lately (Ive seen them mostly on mens sites) that have a kind of "women tempt men on purpose, poor us we are tortured" kind of feel to it. Or "Men, we are so simple right? Women don't understand anything about lust."

    So I assumed, wrongly, that the piece was one of those. I'm tired of those pieces. I'm tired of magazines editing for link bait. I'm tired of fake conversations about sex. All the things that Theblissfollower said above ring true for me and for that I blame the editor for making you take your earnest questioning and puzzlement and turn it into something that wasn't necessarily your authentic voice. There was a piece on GMP about yoga pants and this reminded me of that when you brought in the burqa. We've all seen that that doesn't stop men from objectifying women, and in fact may make it worse. Covering women up makes them even more of a fetish item. Anyway...

    The questions you bring up are interesting indeed. What we do in our head is often very different than how we express or act. We are socialized to take the impulse amygdala thought and filter it through the frontal lobe. "Hot naked person omg must mate with omg" into "Hi, I love your shoes!" And I suppose this goes for violence and theft and craving things and so forth and so on. Women (many at least) in our culture right now are particular pissed off and particularly verbal about assault and objectification. AND we also have to learn to filter our thoughts. In fact, women probably filter their sexual desires as much or more (or in different ways) then do men, because when we freely act on lust we get into big trouble for being worthless sluts.

    Women (at least the ones I know and have talked to) have had amazingly perverse thoughts go through their heads about all kinds of people they see. Some are possibly bothered by it. Some never admit it, some just let it fuel their fire.

    We live in a conundrum most of the time. Animal brains and human brains. Ancient urges and modern understanding. An awareness of our own intent without being able to control for the impact our words or actions have on others. Those are amazing things to talk about with sex. I'm sorry you weren't given the chance to explore that more.

    Women don't exist to tempt men, nor do I think you were saying that. But I think a lot of men seem to feel that way. That we are a burden to them being free and autonomous, that they crave us more (or they think they do) and because we have rights and freedoms they can't just reach out and have some. But they still have to see us. If they were (those men anyway) seeing us as human first and sexual second it might help. I hope they can see us as human first because we are.

    It's exhausting seeing posts where it's clear those writers don't see us the same way we see them or as we see ourselves. I'm sorry I assumed that was you and I'm sorry you had your birthday mangled and I'm mad that your first time out on a national site you didn't get to say what you really wanted to say.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

      Delete
    3. The thing is? I don't like the piece. I think it's problematic and maybe if he'd written it from a more vulnerable pov it would have been a better piece. What I'm really truly most offended by right now is that it seems that there is an absolute rage reaction to nearly any piece going up on the internet these days if it's about race or gender or homophobia. Like, this wasn't a good article. There were problems, big ones. John below remarked on most of them and well, and in a measured way and with compassion and interest in dialogue.

      Most of what I'm seeing is just Mr Hinds being pilloried. Whether he deserves critique, yes of course. The level of nastiness and shrinking amount of time it takes to get to that nastiness...why would anyone want to write publicly these days.

      Between feminist and MRA people are getting trolled, threatened, treated like crap and not listened to. I find it really depressing.

      Clearly someone didn't like my post above which was basically-hey didn't like your piece, would like to see you do it with more transparency, men don't get to tell women how to be.

      I guess because I didn't call him evil, I"m part of the problem?

      Delete
    4. Nice post! Yes, animal and human brains, and the difficulty of managing them both. In my view, to see any person as human first and sexual/role/race/whateverprojection second is not easy (the amygdala is fast, as you point out), and many people don't seem to be hip to working on the problem. Sometimes we wish we could coast on the animal brain and call it good. Or we don't have a vision of how far the human can go, like "just don't be crude." But I think we're capable of relating to one another at quite deeper levels, if we want to go that way.

      Delete
    5. Julie--Thanks for your great comments! I really appreciate civil criticism. And yes, the overriding theme (inasmuch as there was one in my kind of sloppy Slate piece) was that to live in constant paradox and contradiction is what it means to be a human being. Because I am a man, I am especially aware of the paradoxes inherent in being a male human.

      One of the criticisms that surprised me, and which you mentioned, is that I blamed women for being "temptresses" or whatever. I blame no one, except for maybe myself for not being "mature" enough to ignore the urges that conflict with my beliefs.

      Delete
  5. My reaction to it was that it was trying to be funny, and was in parts but not as much as it needed to be to be a full humor piece. But your earnestness did come out, and I got the feeling that you were really trying to address honest feelings,and I didn't think that was wrong, Andy. Maybe part of the reason I give you the benefit of the doubt is because I read your blog here, and I "know" (big air quotes) your personality, so it seemed a little incongruous, but I could read between the lines. I admire your effort to step outside the box; and in the end, if your wife and your family and friends understand, screw the rest of 'em.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

      Delete
  6. I got the tone the instant you mentioned Louis CK because by a stupefying coincidence my brother and I just watched the Beacon show. You represented yourself accurately and maintained your dignity and sense of humor regarding a difficult subject. KUDOS!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Dude, I wouldn't worry about--or feel the need to explain--anything you write online after you've published it. Hope it was a happy birthday! I can't believe you're nearly 50. You're too handsome to be nearly 50.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I (40 year old man) was in the kitchen doing dishes and watching the British version of the show "Coupling" where the men are extremely stereotypical horn-dogs. My wife suggested I read your article and wanted my thoughts on it.
    I read it pretty much as you intended and related to parts of it, though mostly from years distant in my past. My wife wanted to discuss it and we did. I told her that as a teenager and into my 20's, this was very much a correct characterization and that over time a guy develops speed brakes on the run-away thoughts. For me, those brakes came into being during my first corporate job (age 23). I told her it sounded like you might be hitting that stage later in life. She asked me about my most recent spontaneous sexual thought and I could instantly remember a young lady in the crosswalk in a summer dress from Tuesday (two days previous). Those thought-speed-brakes seem to be active most of the time. It makes me curious if you have lived a life where it was never necessary to strip all co-workers of gender.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. From a different Mark :)....I wonder if you experience these "speed brakes" as oppressive. Some might read your post and think you'd lost some zest for life. Do you?

      Delete
  9. christ the way things are going by the time I'm your age I'll have less testosterone than a tick on a nun.

    ReplyDelete
  10. The editors at slate don't want you to write a "good" article. They want you to be troll the internet with a contrarian opinion that will get a lot of hits. They don't have your best interests at heart.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I read your article on Slate and thought it was very dryly funny. I saw it as a bit of a send-up, honestly, on earnest virtue gone wild. I read it, correctly, I think as a piece written by a very content, happy man who has the time and space to recognize certain inconsistencies between his primal and social beings. Look, I loved it. I will be watching this blog from now on. Hope you had a wonderful birthday.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Dude, you hugged my wife at BlogHer last year. So like WTF? :-) (PS. I understood what you were saying.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

      Delete
  13. So the people who have opinions different than yours are trolls....but men who eye rape women are feminists. got it.

    ReplyDelete
  14. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  15. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  16. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  17. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  18. You are misusing "objectification". Objectification means considering a person not as a person but ONLY as a sexual object. It's possible (in fact common) to think about someone sexually in addition to considering the rest of their personhood - most of us like sex, and most of us that like sex like being desired by people we desire - that's viewing someone as sexually desirable, aka sexualization. However, objectification means not considering the other parts of the person's humanity, thinking of and treating that person ONLY as a sexual object with no agency. Sexualization is fine as long as it doesn't lead to harmful behaviors, and it's only bad in itself in a worldview where sex is somehow intrinsically seen as harmful (sex-negativity).

    As for "feminism", that's a hotly contested term, but it most generally means opposition to a social system that privileges men over women on the basis of gender. The issue with you bringing feminism into the article is that it really has about nothing to do with your content. Institutional systems have almost nothing to do with the thoughts going on between one's ears (unless those thoughts are translated to behaviors, but again, it's the behavior that matters), so actionless thoughts have little to no connection to feminism. Your article is about intrusive thoughts (ones that happen to be sexual and also happen to be problematic for you because you feel they're in conflict with some sort of feminist ideals you hold): the nature of the thoughts and your discomfort aren't really relevant. There also isn't a whole lot of sex-negative feminism left; it's mostly holdovers from the radical lesbian separatist and anti-sex-work branches from 30 to 40 years ago.

    Finally for terminology, "cognitive dissonance" refers to holding two contradictory ideas in one's thoughts at once, not a disconnect between thought and action, which is what you're describing (it's okay to think something but it's not okay to do it - we all make this distinction on a daily basis - I, for example, fantasize about shooting motorists who nearly hit me bicycling on my way to work every morning, but I don't do it and I know I'm not going to do it, so it doesn't bother me). Unless you think (hetero)sex is inherently degrading, sexual fantasies and valuing women as full people are not contradictory thoughts. (There's apparently a character limit, so I'm posting in pieces.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think your definition of Objectification doesn't quite work. Objectification is what the mind does: it object-ifies, it makes "objects," things. A person can't be a thing, like a cup, because a person has an inner subjectivity. The deeper nature of persons, most would agree, is that subjectivity, not whatever their outer appearance is.

      You write that Objectification is when one ONLY objectifies. As if, when you objectify, but also do something else, then that's not objectification. But why not just let objectification be objectification? There may be political reasons to define good and bad sorts of objectification, but I think the intrusion of morality muddies the water. We all objectify; it's how the mind works.

      Maybe it seems I'm making a distinction without a difference, but the more we can see objectification for exactly what it is, the more we have freedom to do something different. Whereas if we prescribe a certain type of objectification as okay, i.e., "if you objectify AND you do XYZ, then that's good objectification," or "if you objectify but forget to do ABC then that's the true/bad objectification," then we stifle creative inquiry into objectification, itself.

      Regarding "actionless thoughts": I dispute that possibility. Causes have effects. Sow a thought, reap a deed, sow a deed, reap a character....and so on.

      Delete
  19. The humor didn't come through well, at least not for me. It reads like an MRA attempting to write a conciliatory article but failing because ze's making jokes that depend on buying into certain sexist (or at least gender-essentialist) framings and tropes (this is how men are, hurr hurr; we're not, by the way - I love sex, with women at that, and yet I've never been one to fantasize about random strangers I meet, gay men don't fantasize about random women, asexual men mostly don't fantasize about anyone, etc.). That's going to raise the hackles of any feminist on the internet, as we have to deal with this crap in bad faith daily. Part of it is that you immediately set a deeply patronizing tone by saying your 4-year-olds are smarter than you. They're not, and insincere praise for women is a long-standing tradition in patriarchal societies like ours. Starting with some immediately sets a tone that is at very least privilege-blind, if not outright patronizing. Also, citing a crypto-misogynist (if you don't know what I'm talking about, Google "good men project rape apologetics") organization like The Good Men Project and likely sociopath (and definite creepily-privilege-blind asshat; I'm serious about the sociopath thing, between his history of sexual predation, his attempted murder-suicide of his girlfriend, and the fact that his writing sets off wild misogyny-apologetics alarm klaxons) like Hugo Schwyzer as sources of feminist expertise is a bad move, possibly contributing to the impression that the entire thing was a failed attempt at satire. Sadly, Slate's editorial staff (I'm actually a little surprised to find out they have one) is atrocious, so they're not about to offer much help. It worries me that you might consider Slate's editors at all respected, let alone highly (I think you're joking again there, but I'm not sure).

    Dropping the evo psych stuff was good, not because science is boring or because we "already know how men are", but because nearly the entire field is pure fabrication, most of which has no purpose other than to biologically essentialize gendered social constructs (and in doing so it is, in its present incarnation, an anti-feminist project). Sexology isn't quite as bad, but its reliance on essentialist concepts is likewise problematic, especially when it wanders from measuring data (which is almost always misrepresented when reported in any sort of way accessible to laypersons, especially insofar as it almost always ignores the context of the research and fails to detail the demographics of the experimental groups and thus to bound the generalizability of the results - mostly-White, college-aged people in the USA who can afford to attend college are not exactly representative samples for all of humanity, neither socially nor genetically, and claiming that results obtained from such a study sample are representative of humans in general is bad science, and also ethnocentrist, racist, and classist) to proposing explanations.

    Hopefully you'll find this helpful; ragey, name-calling feedback rarely is, and I thought that perhaps a straightforward dissection by a Women's Studies scholar who's active in a number of feminist spaces on the internet might be informative with respect to some of the things that triggered the responses from the feminist side that your article did. Also, Slate has some great content and contributors and worse editing than FOX News or The Daily Mail - if anything, they should be excited whenever someone deigns to give them content to abuse (I realize one has to take work/exposure where one can, but I'd exercise caution in taking writing advice from people who edit what is basically a tabloid). This apologia is WAY better than the article it's explaining.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I appreciate your measured response. I have some rejoinders in mind that I might try to write up tomorrow, but I'm a little exhausted now. Seriously though, thanks for being one of the few people who have been able to criticize this piece without going apeshit.

      Delete
  20. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Really enjoyed the piece. If I can speculate a minute about the reactions you got: I've noticed, more and more, that "personal" writing gets the harshest reactions. Especially when it shows the vulnerability of a person. People's ears are not attuned to irony, humor, hyperbole, etc. they're simply reading for something different than you were offering. Most of the negative comments reveal that people think your "problem" doesn't deserve space. They're trying to fix the problem for you. They're trying to suggest that your own thoughts (about your thoughts) are unhealthy. They're trying to psychoanalyze. They're trying to dismiss you. I think people are uncomfortable with someone being a bit vulnerable and letting it hang out. God forbid you don't have an clear "point" to make, one that will help me draw lines between myself and my ideological enemies. Anyway, the most vulnerable essays seem to get these reactions, and I'm starting to wonder if it's not a bit of self-hate from readers. Like, "What makes YOU so special that you want to write this?" That's not how anyone should approach personal writing if they want to experience another person's inner world in all of its complexity. But there isn't much of that on slate, is there? The personal articles all seem to be contrarian political nonsense, designed to enrage.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

      Delete
  22. You might notice that a bunch of comments have been "removed by a blog administrator." I appreciate all the comments that are civil on here, even if they are not flattering. But I'm not going to leave up a bunch of disturbing, furious, obscene rants that involve my family. So, Of40784whateverwhatever--please chill. I get the message. You don't like me.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Aaand...I had to engage comment moderation, because someone can't stop posting crazy shit. Sorry for the inconvenience to anyone who had something worthwhile to add. I'll try to stay on top of the moderation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The internet is home to a lot of very, very unhappy people.

      Delete
  24. As someone who didn't like your Slate piece, I will say that I think it might have worked if you had kept it to "I am going to go on this quixotic, humorous, pointless quest to reduce eliminate sexual thoughts and fantasies that I find bothersome or distracting." That's kind of what Louis C.K. did. To me, it went wrong when you unnecessarily brought feminism into the mix. By doing so, you took your problem and made it everyone's problem.

    The underlying idea (that you don't exactly disclaim here) that I think really rubbed people the wrong way is your conflation of normal, not-acted upon sexual fantasies and daydreams with sexist objectification. This is, as you've probably noticed, a pretty controversial viewpoint, including among feminists and implicit in this idea is that everyone (not just you) is doing some sort of harm by having these fantasies. So your piece raised this very controversial point that has some serious implications, treated your own view on it as if it were self-evident, and then glided along as if this weren't something anyone would notice while you proceeded to the fun stuff. That, I think, is what kept it from being funny.

    This isn't to say that you can't or shouldn't write about issues on which you have a controversial viewpoint (although I hope you decide to engage more thoroughly on the fact that your article didn't exactly achieve universal feminist acclaim - John above did a much better job than I could of articulating the reasons for this), but inserting such viewpoints into a humor piece that's predominantly about something else, in this case, your own personal discomfort with your sexual fantasy life, isn't helpful to the humor.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yep. That is the crux of the criticism, and it's kind of one of the points of the essay (inasmuch as it's anything but an exploration of my own feelings)--the line between "normal fantasizing" and objectification is anything but clear. Yet I keep hearing that I'm an idiot because I question where that line is. Especially in the response from Amanda Marcotte. She was like--"Look, sexualize, fantasize; but don't ogle and drool--simple." It's not that simple. Most of the criticisms against the piece (and the piece had problems and deserved criticism) assume that all these ideas are settled: THIS is what feminist means. THIS is what objectification means. THIS is the proper way to perceive your own sexuality. Etc.

      Delete
    2. Yet I keep hearing that I'm an idiot because I question where that line is.

      I agree that questioning where that line is entirely valid and I don't think it's completely out of the realm of reasonable disagreement. If you wrote a piece for Slate treating this as a valid question (rather than presupposing that the behaviors you describe were harmful as the piece actually did), it's possible that the reaction might not have been as strongly negative.

      For what it's worth, I don't think you said anything that suggests you're an idiot and I think it took guts to face up to and write about the reaction your piece caused. And I agree that there's nothing wrong with you deciding these thoughts are a problem for you and saying that you want to work towards solving that problem. The legitimate issues with your essay go to the extent that you went beyond that implied that other people are victims and victimizers according to a definition of sexist objectification that a lot of feminists don't share (I, for one, don't understand how the woman in Costco is possibly being victimized by thoughts that remain entirely within your own head). If you want to continue to drive that perilous road, such is your prerogative, but I would suggest that humor isn't an effective approach for that.

      Delete
  25. Why do you consider it "cognitive dissonance" to find it OK to think something but not OK to say it? Unless you literally blurt out everything that comes into your head, you do this all the time. If someone has bad breath, you don't just say "Wow, your breath smells like ass," do you?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's not the contradiction between thinking and talking that I wonder about; but the contradiction between how I rationally think and the way my imagination reacts. And again, I don't want to dwell too much on the extent to which it's a "problem" (despite what it might seem like from the Slate piece), but rather that it's a curious thing that's worth acknowledging and thinking about.

      Delete
  26. I so want to know what Of40784whateverwhatever is harping on about!!!

    as for the piece, you've written other things I have enjoyed more, but I got the point and relate. Maybe the humour didn't quite come through enough for some about your actual position, but hey - certainly provoked some intense conversation!

    ReplyDelete
  27. Andy: I really liked your piece. And I want to take it seriously, maybe even more seriously than you do (at least from what you write here), because I think it points directly at a hidden cultural problem.

    To be honest, I don't actually buy that the piece is fundamentally humorous...my sense is that this is a real issue for you, and you use humor to lighten it up for yourself (and to try to make it more palatable for readers). Even so, people freaked out. Not because you did anything wrong, but because most people in this culture simply aren't willing to go where you were taking them.

    I'm also 46, strangely enough. I added some responses on Slate, some under Mark, some under Mark Robert (not sure why Slate was posting both names, but whatever). Part of the reason for the attacks, I think, is that many of the responders are simply too young and/or immature to understand the suffering you are pointing towards. They can't "feel" your concern, so misread you.

    I should disclose right away that I've had a lot of Buddhist training, so that affects how I think about this. A couple things it's given me is the propensity to be extremely honest about calling a spade a spade, where suffering is concerned, and also to know, through my own experience, that the mind is extraordinarily flexible and trainable. And that it tends towards...uh, dysfunction, let's say...unless one has come to the point that one sees the need to work with it. That is, train it.

    I think it's fair to say: You love your wife. Maybe you'd like your love to go to her and not leak out all over the place towards the (images of) women we've trained to fixate on the minute we leave our cave. The culture says: No problem! Enjoy it! It's biological! It's an evolutionary necessity! What, are your balls in a vial in your wife's briefcase?

    But...but...but....something seems not right, right? One might couch it as cognitive dissonance, or as an ethical dilemma involving objectification of women, or in some other way, but the fact is, the little obsessions don't feel good. Don't feel good. SEEM to feel good, maybe, in the moment, like the promise of a chocolate shake as you pull up to the drivethru...but they end up not satisfying. Feel a bit dirty, wrong.

    Ohmigosh. Did I just shame myself and you with Victorian moralizing? Have I not caught the 3rd wave of feminism? Do I not understand that if we all respect and treat each other as horn-dog equals that we will sex positively drown in bliss and freedom from Right Wing prudes?

    Um, first off, if something doesn't feel right, perhaps it isn't. We can tell ourselves til the cows come home that there's nothing wrong with being mentally and emotionally fixated on desire of whatever flavor, but that doesn't make it so. We are culturally brainwashed to think that desire is pleasure, and the more of it the better. The Dalai Lama once said that Samsara has been perfected in America, by which he meant that we've trained our minds to WANT and created an economy which expertise is to manufacture and then satisfy an endless series of whims. And we think that's good and normal and equals some kind of happiness. But there's been a steady critique of the idea that happiness can be found in desire throughout history, mostly residing in the world's religions. We may feel as moderns that we've freed ourselves of religions, but we haven't freed ourselves of the problems they've tried to address.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's exactly how I feel. Sometimes. On some levels. I'm strongly ambivalent, which seems to anger people. One of the most absurd parts of the "scandal" or whatever, is being told that my conflicted feelings are incorrect. I am feeling the wrong way about this, according to almost every orthodoxy.

      Delete


  28. I don't want to go off on a philosophical tangent here. Mainly I want to say that I think your perception that it sucks to be fantasizing left and right every time you walk out the door, is dead on. Most men have learned to normalize and accept the practice. Some go on to have affairs; most apparently let their minds do what they do and manage not to feel bad about it. Good for them, but I wonder: Is that all? Can there be no more evolved response?

    The not feeling bad about it is great; shame isn't useful. But the fixation itself, as you well point out, is NOT FUN. We've brainwashed ourselves to think so, but isn't the actual experience of it like being pulled about by a nose ring? Is it not irritating, tiring? Nothing comes of it. And since it's fantasy, it's a mental projection, like a sort of cloud that gets between you and whatever woman you're having the fantasy about.

    So it prevents us from seeing the actual person that's there. That's one point. Of course, we're not discussing here the caveman level of drooling and encroaching on some woman's space, but we're simply prevented -- for some time at least -- from seeing the person in front of us, because we're focused on a fantasy. That's objectification, however subtle. No crime, sure, but the more sensitive we are to others, the more we wish to encounter people as people and not props in our daydream, the more this is going to irritate us, to some degree.

    Second point: it's not just that the practice is (slightly, we might say, but still) dehumanizing to women, it's also emasculating to us men. Yep, emasculating. A warrior is not so easily moved. A warrior is not like a cow being pulled by the nose every which way.

    Here's a concept: Mental horn-dogging is not a very mature expression of masculinity. There are far more satisfying expressions of masculinity. Loving one's wife whole-heartedly and not scattering sexual energy to others, for example, is a powerfully masculine experience. Walking through a crowd of delicious women, enjoying their beauty but remaining in one's own power, head failing to snap left and right not because it's being policed or bolted in place but because one feels at ease, nourished by one's wife, not like some kind of hungry little ghost....that feels extremely masculine.

    How to accomplish this? Certainly not by shaming oneself. The commentators are right on that of course. But our culture has no understanding of mental training. Meditation is only beginning to enter public understanding, so the idea that one can have a relationship with one's thoughts and urges in which one learns that they neither have to be followed robotically or rejected (repressed/suppressed/oppressed), is virtually unknown, at least in the pages of Slate.

    I guess I want to encourage you, if training your mind is what you want to do. This is a TOUGH area to do it in, because sexual energy is so powerful, but that's also what makes it so thrilling. Can you feel into being a man who's not plagued by this shit as he walks down the street? Who is self-possessed and centered in his own energy, not "controlling" everything, not making himself neurotic, but just at ease and using his sexual energy with his wife, where it can actually result in satisfaction, love, humor, depth?

    I'm still learning myself, but I'm pretty sure the direction is the one you're trying to stake out by following the inner dissatisfaction that lead to your article. I hope you keep taking it seriously! The reason you caused such a kerfuffle is that people are groping in the dark without a clue and you're touching a quiet little doubt that maybe they've been pulling the wool over their own eyes.

    Well. Thanks for the fun past couple days considering this issue.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Whoa. I like your philosophical tangents! That's a lot of stuff to think about. As I've said, I'm ambivalent. Being in control of my thoughts and centered as you described sounds very attractive. But it's also tempting to listen to the (many) voices that say, "Go ahead...look, imagine, enjoy...it's fun!" I've never REALLY meditated, but I've done quite a bit of yoga, including Bikram (I know, Bikram is an asshole), and it's definitely true that you can override your thoughts that tell you to lie down, drink water, run out of the blazing hot room. And the rewards are pretty great.

      Delete
    2. Even as you post your piece about this you know the NYT had a piece up about women, sexual desire and medications increasing it. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/26/magazine/unexcited-there-may-be-a-pill-for-that.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

      Of course the article did point in the direction of "just the right amount and only in monogamy" because we are messed up about sex in the US.

      My point is, if you are troubled (truly troubled) by too many sexual thoughts maybe ask a doctor to test your T? Or other hormones that might be causing you distress? I always consider the biological. Sometimes depression etc isn't life orientated (or lack of control etc) but chemical.

      Delete
    3. Awesome articulation of what I've been thinking as I've read through all this, Mark. As an educated, feminist, sex-positive woman, I get that my wonderful, faithful husband likely notices when a lovely woman crosses his path...but it's a little hurtful as a wife to see how Andy describes this hard-core fantasizing. As you wrote, it's like the love for me is getting scattered to others. Our culture, men and women alike, are for some reason SO QUICK to normalize casual fantasy and casual sex. Why? It's so immature. So un-enlightened. We all do it, but why is it so celebrated as a badge of masculinity (or of strong, sex-positive womanhood?) I don't get it. I understand the logic of the reasons I hear offered up, but as Mark astutely points out...it just doesn't feel right. Not if you truly LOVE your partner. Is true fidelity, or at least, the EARNEST ASPIRATION for true fidelity, just hopelessly uncool?

      Delete
  29. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  30. I liked this article a lot. I was interrupted reading at work and interrupted reading it at home. And came back both times. I experience the same cognitive dissonance. Not sure why people get so worked up but I think it has to do with them feeling like they're being judged. Don't know though...I didn't read most of them. But I just wanted to say some people totally got your article.

    ReplyDelete
  31. I shares a plate of fries with you that last night at Mom 2.0. Should I be worried? ;)

    Seriously, though. I am married to a man and from what I can tell, you are a perfectly normal heterosexual man. And also, a really nice guy.

    Happy Birthday, dude.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I totally objectified and lusted after your fries. Be very worried.

      Thanks, friend.

      Delete
  32. Hey, Beta Dad. Thank you for attempting to write about a very difficult topic, putting it out there on the internet, and then doing a follow-up clarification post because you are sensitive enough to see the real concerns within the melee of overreaction, trolling, and hate speech stinking up the internet. Thank you for explaining your intentions and reflecting upon your article's shortcomings in a way that is not defensive or aggressive. Your Slate article may have been problematic (perhaps only in its delivery), but your management of the backlash is impressive. P.S. I don't think you're creepy. :) Happy birthday!

    ReplyDelete
  33. Here are two reasons I think your article got such an absurd reaction. One is, as another commenter pointed out, you bring up some very personal, uncomfortable issues that many people do not want to think about. They attack you because you made them think about hard things.

    Another is a deep-rooted communication barrier between men and women (of course I am generalizing here). Many men do not understand the experience of being a prey animal in a world ruled by predators. Women know this feeling. Women who know this feeling all too well may be hurt and disturbed by a man writing publicly, in a jokey fashion, about how he and his friends have sexual fantasies all day. It may be true, but it's scary--and it can be offensive to compare the "tyrrany" of unwanted sexual thoughts with the more-real tyrrany of constantly fearing actual physical assault.

    On the other hand, many women, from their place of fear (I'm there often), forget or do not understand that most men are disturbed by their own thoughts on a regular basis because they do love and respect women and sometimes feel monstrous in their inability to control their thoughts. Most women don't have constant pornographic thoughts about strangers and don't know what that's like or how it feels.

    In college, I did an exercise to build empathy for those with schizophrenia. We wore headphones all day with voices whispering and shouting gibberish and sometimes obscene or threatening words. It was hard to function. I gather it can be hard to function when you have intrusive sexual thoughts all day, too. No, it's not as bad as being scared of being raped by one of those guys with constant sexual thoughts. But here's the irony: The article you wrote, the conversation we're having now--this is the key to feminism's goals. It is not enough that women learn how to defend themselves or not be victims. Sexism is a man problem. For men to make peace with their masculinity, for men to be self-aware and in control and mindful of their sexuality and maleness, for men to "do their own work" by having these uncomfortable conversations--this is what we need to end gender violence and oppression.

    Your article was valid, and so are many of its criticisms. And this conversation is important.

    So. Thanks for being a warrior in this messy fight.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your great comments! I'm so glad that we can talk about this calmly here.

      Delete
    2. Wow. Beautifully said. Something "clicked" a bit when you wrote about being habituated to the experience of being prey in a predator's world. Perhaps finding oneself as prey is a helpful experience for men to have, to gain a feeling for a root fear that colors the emotional lives of women. But what is the corollary experience for women to have, to know what it’s like to walk around as a man? Is it, as "0f407840etc.etc." said above, to experience oneself as a predator? I really don’t think so. Perhaps it’s simpler and far less cruel: merely to feel active, to feel oneself as an actor. It’s the masculine tendency to be perceiving objects and doing things to them. If a woman feels into this, she might feel some of the natural emotional threats that come along with that particular role/energy/experience: “Am I doing it right” perhaps being the most obvious. “If I do it wrong am I bad/incompetent/a monster?”

      A man's sexuality is also, by nature, active. It's simply in the mechanics of sex. Since it's in the mechanics, it's also in the psychology and in the emotions around it.

      A guy walking down the street having sexual thoughts about various women naturally – if you accept what I just said – has an active vibe in his intention. This is the key thing – within these “meaningless little powerless sexual fantasy thoughts” is still the feeling of an active intention. Why active? Because that’s what male sexuality, at root, is like. One can’t get away from it.

      This is also, at least as I write this, why I think it can be troubling for some of us men, because we feel the active intention in there…it’s like, if the conditions were right, we fear we might even act (ohmigod! I could betray my beautiful partner and destroy my life!). Not because we WANT to, but because the feeling of acting can be quite close there. This is why I don’t think women generally grok male fantasizing. I think fantasy is different for women, less threatening to all involved – because there is naturally less threat for action. Now the “threat” in civilized partnered men may be approaching zero, but the feeling is there, and can cause the kind of feeling of incongruence with ideals/wife Andy wrote about.

      Delete
    3. That's really interesting, Mark. It's given me a lot to think about.

      I believe there's something else in the discomforts of both women and men here, too, beyond fear of violence (on the receiving or perpetrating end). It's like what Andy talked about in his original article--even if you're not afraid that you will actually act on the thoughts (and as a woman, even if you are not afraid a man will actually attack you) there is still a disappointment in a missed connection. I've discussed this with my husband, who is a hyper-sexual dude who has these thoughts all the time. He's also not at all afraid he will act on them, because he feels completely in control of his actions. He also doesn't feel guilty about the thoughts, because he recognizes he doesn't choose to have them. (This is also a personal example he uses to defend his gay friends when people accuse them of "choosing" to be gay.) Yet the thoughts are sometimes a problem for HIM, inside himself, simply because they are distracting and irritating. And because he adores his mother, wife, daughter, and female friends and knows that other dudes are having those thoughts about us.

      I think it's also uncomfortable sometimes for men to be aware of their own power and agency because they have a lot of pressure to "do it right," as you said. In sexual and non-sexual contexts. It isn't fair that women are oppressed; it also, I can see, isn't fair that men have powers and impulses they never asked for.

      This insight does not justify gender violence or certain men's misplaced rage at women (or gay men, or anyone) for "making" them feel or think or do violent things. But it does help me, as a woman, empathize with men better. Thanks for engaging in this conversation, Mark. I'm working on a book right now that deals with culture and gender relations and human biology, (and I'm also raising a daughter), and this whole conversation is fascinating to me.

      Delete
    4. Thanks Jeannie. Disappointment in a missed connection: think you've got something there. Maybe sexual attraction isn't the main anxiety-producer. We find ourselves attracted to certain others ... why? What's it about? The cultural story seems to be that what we *really* want is sex. But it doesn't actually feel that way to me. Might be part of it, most of it, little of it, depends. To label it (merely/only) sexual reduces the possibilities.

      And merely ignoring can feel like a missed connection. Not a missed opportunity for sex, but a missed ... something. Sometimes it feels to me like, every person I'm supposed to meet, I'm supposed to meet. I want to play my part, whatever it is. But I'm also married, so this alters the types of roles I would want to play. And I don't want to scatter my attention and energy on fantasies that merely distract. No nourishment in that, as far as I've found.

      Yet...the meaning of all this isn't always so clear. I tend to be an ambivalent person, like Andy described himself, above, perhaps why the article resonated with me. (I wonder actually if this whole thing is more about the workings of an ambivalent sort of mind, than a sex-obsessed one.) Ambivalence: Always seeing different sides, doubtful, seeking after hidden meaning, hesitant to act, but feeling an urge to act. Confused about what is "right." That was the article, no?

      Sexuality is a thing people tend to want to have nailed down, and whatever they do, they want to think it's good/normal/appropriately kinky/valid. Those of us who can't quite nail it down -- perhaps because we can't quite nail anything down! -- might make people a little irritated if we start talkin about it in public, like Andy did.

      Anyway, I look forward to your book, and also find this a fascinating topic. For me the trail leads in the direction of "who are we, if we let ourselves be ourselves?" and "whatever/however we are, can we change it? Should we want to?"

      Delete
  34. Riffed on it at my blog: http://theredpillroom.blogspot.com/2013/05/you-know-who-hates-gamma-rabbits-more.html

    ReplyDelete
  35. You just can't stay out of trouble can you, you old rascal? Happy Birthday! Geminis

    ReplyDelete
  36. It seems like you are experiencing massive cognitive and emotional dissonance. That's what happens when you try to reconcile a naive postmodern value system with your deeply rooted instincts as a man. It's also why so many people see the phrase 'male feminist' and start laughing with contempt.

    Try going to a quiet place for 30 minutes or so and look inside yourself. Put aside any ideologies you've attached yourself to, forget any notions of what is 'right' or what is 'wrong' and feel your core desires. You might not like what you feel and if you pursue action in accordance with those emotions it might lead to drastic (and at times highly uncomfortable) changes in your life, but I bet in the long run you'd be way more fulfilled and at peace if you lived in accordance with your own nature.

    ReplyDelete
  37. I don't know you from Adam, but I thought the post was brilliant - it was a spot-on observation from a real-life, honest man who considers himself a feminist but is realistic about the world. As a matter of fact, I shared it on Facebook, which I rarely (if ever) do, and then promptly started following your blog. Some people take themselves too seriously - you take a humorous bent to a highly relevant issue that, if most people who commented on your article were honest, is something every man and woman deals with (unless they are completely asexual, which while possible, is highly improbably for most). Don't explain yourself - just keep doing what you're doing. And happy birthday.

    t.

    ReplyDelete

Don't hold back.

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails