Thursday, January 26, 2006

Compulsive Masculinity

This was written as a paper for a Psychology of Women class and lately I've been looking to rework it, turn it more into a sturdy piece of theory. Let me know what you think. (And don't miss my other new post right below this one!)

Being a woman in this society it is easy for me to find many examples of the different types of ways in which women are objectified by men. I will be talking most about compulsive masculinity and sexualization of women. I will not only be using Horney and Weskott's critiques of sexualization and compulsive masculinity to deconstruct many patterns that I see within my life, as they appear in The Feminist Legacy of Karen Horney (Weskott, 1986), I will also be referencing Shulamith Firestone's critique of male culture, The Dialectic of Sex (1970). The idea of compartmentalizing women is a theme that runs rampant throughout our culture, and one which is destructive to all women no matter where on the spectrum they fall: girlfriend (superficial respect), sex object (no pretense of respect), or unattainable or "emancipated" women (whose company men can enjoy and also have sex with, but ultimately are too demanding to have a relationship with, and therefore also garner a strictly superficial respect). Everyone loses in this situation.

Our reading and discussion of Horney and Weskott's critique of compulsive masculinity came at a time where I saw the same things playing out in my life. I saw myself turn from someone who was unattainable to a certain group of guys into someone that they now saw as a woman who they could have sex with. Among this group of people I have known for some years I was always one of the "bitchy feminist" types who would call them on their sexism, but when I slept with one of them I became attainable to the entire group. Men that never hit on me before are seeing me in a new light and are constantly trying to sleep with me. Like most women I moved (in their eyes) from the unattainable woman who made demands on them in the ethical and intellectual spheres to the "woman of easy virtue" who would not make any such demands on them (Weskott, p. 99).

Firestone's discussion of the "emancipated woman" (the category I am most often placed into by men) includes how these women are not seen as people, but as a more difficult challenge for the man, and therefore a more rewarding experience to brag about to his friends. Firestone discusses the plight of the emancipated woman, Horney's unattainable or "pure" woman, and what waits for her in the world: either give up her ambitions, and her "masculine" type of behavior or "Be the 'other woman' for the rest of one's life, used to provoke the wife, prove his virility and/or his independence, discussed by his friends as his latest "interesting conquest (Firestone, p. 144-145)." Firestone's analysis of societal romance reflects what Horney and Weskott call compulsive masculinity. Horney's theory is that men need to prove their masculinity continuously, and that the harder the challenge, the more satisfaction a man gets from his conquest. Horney talks about how women who are in the group of "easy virtues" who therefore do not make any demands upon the man are already debased in the man's eyes and are therefore not as 'rewarding' a conquest, and how a man derives greater satisfaction from sexually conquering a woman who they saw as unattainable in some way, thereby debasing her (Weskott, p. 105-106). Here is where I "fell" in the eyes of the group.

Whether one looks at Horney or Firestone, the ideas are the same. The woman who refuses to shoulder a man's problems, refuses to stay on her idealized pedestal, or become a part of the man (Firestone refers to this as becoming an appendage of the man) are placed in a category all their own, and are pursued as more rewarding sexual conquests. To be this woman means being treated as a person (this is necessary for the man to gain your trust), and then once your trust is gained to try to have a more sexual relationship with you. If you forget that most men do this, then you will be like me, and continually sleep with these men who, inevitably, the next morning no longer have any words for you and will give you the "You're an amazing, wonderful person, and I care about you, but...." speech (although they don't always do this the next morning, as they may wait until you bring up the idea of a relationship, or until they have found a woman who isn't so demanding with which they can pursue a relationship). Firestone discusses this as the "let's be reasonable" speech (p. 144) with men's excuse for using it in the name of 'true' friendship. One does not want to date the woman who refuses to stand on the pedestal and one who is loud and acts against her feminine stereotype. As Firestone discusses, these men are all too happy to spend time with these women and enjoy their company, but any truly intimate relationship with them is not acceptable.

While I have not changed, and will continue to make demands on them and challenge them on their sexism, the change in how they perceive me is evident in their behavior towards me. Whereas before I was treated more as part of the group and not seen as a sexualized being, or at least one that was accessible to them, I became that person by "allowing" one of them to sleep with me. I am no longer treated with the same facade of respect that I had before, but instead am seen as a purely sexualized being. Their behavior indicates that they didn't respect me as a person before, but at least they had accorded me with the superficial respect that my previous position is given (although in the end this is just as unfulfilling, it is preferable to be treated as just a sex object). It is evident, not only from my experience, but how they treat other women they interact with that they compartmentalize women into the women who are asexual and the women who are purely sexual to them (Weskott, p. 104).

This compartmentalization is not only one that men use to differentiate between the women that they are "friends" with and the ones that they can sleep with, but they also use it to separate out women that they can date. In her book Firestone discusses how men feel the need to separate out a potential partner by placing her above all other women. "A man must idealize one woman over the rest in order to justify his descent into a lower caste (Firestone, p.144)." While this may seem preferable, being set upon a pedestal is a draining and ultimately aggravating and self negating place to be put, as no one can live up to an idealized version of themself. Firestone discusses how the emancipated women differ from the ones that men will date by being all the things that women are not supposed to be: smart, outspoken, sexual, and in possession of high aspirations (Firestone, p. 144). These women are fine for the men to sleep with, and enjoy their company, but are not women that they will date, for as Horney talks about these women make sexual, ethical, and intellectual demands on the men.

While one may seem better then the other, the sad fact is that no matter how they see a woman it is still through a patriarchal and misogynistic lens. Horney made sure to point out that in choosing who men will sleep with it is not a split between respect and sexual desire (Weskott, p. 105). It isn't based on the women who men respect and those they don't. The very way that compartmentalization is set up ensures that women are not respected as people, but are seen as more or less accessible sex objects. The different boundaries that men put up to differentiate the women of "easy virtue," and the "unattainable" or "emancipated" woman, as well as the women that they will date have nothing to do with how much they respect the women in any of the categories, because one cannot see a whole person when one splits them into superficial groups and is seen to be showing more respect towards one group over the other. Again, that respect is nothing but a facade.

The devaluation of all things feminine makes it impossible for a woman to be respected in this society. If she has valuable qualities she is disassociated from her gender, and is seen as "one of the guys," a moniker that I received frequently in my school days. When a woman acts outside of her assigned gender roles, she is trying to be more then a sex object; she is trying to be a person. The way that men compensate for this is to place women into the category of the "emancipated" woman. Unfortunately, this is still, as all categories are, one that is based on the idea that women are sexual beings. As hard as women try to be seen as "one of the guys," men will never view a woman as such because she is physically a woman. For me, all these things have played a part in my interaction with men. As with many other women, I forgot that most men can not treat me as a person, without placing me into different compartments. Unfortunately I realized too late what the repercussions of my actions could mean. I, like most people, tend to think that those I consider my friends respect me and see me as a person. Unfortunately, I have been proven wrong again and again. This is something that needs to be rectified, because it is a world in which no woman can live.

8 comments:

Biting Beaver said...

I think that this piece is excellent! I certainly feel that this is the case as well, women, no matter what 'category' they fall into still fall squarely into the 'sex conquest' category first and foremost.

Here's my question, can you think of any real world phrases that men use to propagate this system? We know that they're not actually out there writing secret letters to one another but the behaviour *is* occuring and is being reinforced by other men.

In what ways have you seen this happening? Are there certain words or phrases that might tip a woman off that this is what's going on, and what 'classification' she falls into?

Very interesting post. I LOVE posts about theory *grin*

lost clown said...

You know, with the example I used it seemed like an unspoken understanding (except with Kelly, he still treats me in the latter category. possibly b/c we were neighbours for awhile and had a lot of conversations. He is still guilty of doing the other things to other women so I have a feeling it was just me. (He thinks I'm smart.))

Although I don't hang out with them when it's just the band hanging out so I don't know what they said in secret. Argh. you thihnk that maybe after being friends for several years beforehand this wouldn't happen.. ARGH. Patriarchy I'm coming to kick you square in the nuts!

(I'll think about it more and get back to you)

Lorenzo said...

A very intersting paper!

However, I would add that a broader unifying theme in compulsive masculinity is that men must only see women as means to their own ends. It underlies all three categories in this case w.r.t. sexual ends (i.e. considering women only in so far as whether the male wants to have sex with them, whether that can be achieved, and in achieving it) and ties very clearly into a conception of sexuality that only acknowleges male desires and their successful imposition on women.

What I mean is that since 'sex' and 'sexuality' are seen as exclusively about men's desires (and women's sexuality is therefore seen as either not existing or as consisting of wanting to fufil male sexual desire) that sex is seen as a conquest and that women should only be considered insofar as they are relatively eager or not to satisfy male sexual desire.

Terry said...

The devaluation of all things feminine makes it impossible for a woman to be respected in this society. If she has valuable qualities she is disassociated from her gender, and is seen as "one of the guys," a moniker that I received frequently in my school days.

Me, too. Great piece. Thanks for sharing it!

lost clown said...

Thanks everyone for the feedback, and I'm glad you like it!

lost clown said...

However, I would add that a broader unifying theme in compulsive masculinity is that men must only see women as means to their own ends. It underlies all three categories in this case w.r.t. sexual ends (i.e. considering women only in so far as whether the male wants to have sex with them, whether that can be achieved, and in achieving it) and ties very clearly into a conception of sexuality that only acknowleges male desires and their successful imposition on women.

lorenzo, yes I completely agree with your comment. It's interesting that it seems as though the harder a woman is to sleep with the more "points" a man will get for finally "coercing" her to sleep with him. (Because as I pointed out a woman who is not in the all ready debased category of "easy virtue" (I love Victorian vernacular) is seen as a conquest, one in which plenty of other men have all ready failed, thereby giving the man who succeeds extra special masculinity because of their amazing ability to coerce 'unwilling" women into sex)

Why it is such a big deal I still fail to understand on a non-critical level (read: I think it's moronic and don't get why anyone would care at all, but then again, I'm not a man) And why it's always the man coercing the "emancipated woman" to sleep with him, because those that I know who fall into this category (w/men, not with me) only sleep with those they want, but a big reason it's viewed as such, I think, is because of what you said. Women who use their brains and think couldn't possibly want to participate in male sexuality, but must be forced to by the "super-man."

Hope that made sense, I've been having trouble being completely coherent lately....lack of sleep)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this article. It confirms a lot of my own suspicions about contemporary culture.
I don’t relate much to your description of men here. My wife is the only woman with whom I have ever been physically intimate; I courted her seeking my soulmate, not a conquest. And her value to me is definitely not as some sort of appendage.

But I suppose that you are nailing the current state of masculinity as it is acculturated in our boys. What are the social causes of this? It's really horrifying and scary to entertain.

Especially poignant is the statement that the only way to be treated in a non-objectified manner was to act like “one of the guys.” This is a negation of femininity, though, and as such, a negation of the person of a woman and yet another incarnation of misogyny. But it’s also become a cover for misogynistic men to practice their pathologies with protested innocence.

I am starting to think these days that there is just as much misogyny in the modern West as there was under the ugly patriarchal predecessor cultures (such as Victorian English culture, etc)… it takes insidious cover under new forms of violence and has exchanged the cover of puritanical hypocrisies with public consumerist expressions.

The son of a self-proclaimed radical feminist, I haven’t experienced a positive existential solution in that camp, either. I am mystified to think of how I saw my mom time and time again allowed men to objectify her heedless to the seemingly manifest fact that they would never give her the love she sought… and yet she seemed to reciprocate the means-to-ends relationship and compulsively attacked men in her life. later in life she alternated between two progressively more extreme poles: from seeking to prove that she was “one of the guys” to increasingly sexualized behavior (and I use that phrase in strictly behavioral terms, without projecting some sort of sick male sexuality on women that says that women somehow are equally responsible participants in their own objectification( of which the appellation, “easy virtue,” that our blogger is fond of is a perfect example)). I have since realized that she had internalized the misogyny from which she suffered so much violence earlier in life. Misogyny is evil, and I hate it. It makes me angry to see it everywhere in our culture from men and marketers.

I have had to go through a lot of personal healing as a result of the misandry that I experienced because of my mother’s internalized misogyny, but still more because of my father’s failure to fully actualize his masculinity and be the nurturing guide and protective presence I needed as a boy who aspired to manhood.

But after certain personal experiences I decided I cannot reject the masculine trajectory that I find in my own identity as much as I cannot reject or trample upon the feminine... for I find both actions to be one and the same.

Consequently, I am prone to think that what we need is a return to modeling and acculturating masculinity... not the diabolical, devouring masculinity you describe here that is reducible to the use of power for control, building of the self at the expense of other selves, but the very opposite: masculinity whose contours are illuminated by the light of Love’s creative intention at the origin of gender itself, a masculinity that fulfills its nature not in power-toward-control but in power-toward-relationalselfgiving.

Perhaps it sounds like I am describing a fairy-land that sprung from wishful thinking and has about as much substance. Perhaps you would alternatively say that I'm patronizing.

I'd think so, too, perhaps. But I've experienced a Fatherly Love that changed everything.

-Nathan

Anonymous said...

Good point, though sometimes it's hard to arrive to definite conclusions

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