present: Jon, Dan, Dave
Jon (25) works for a charity
Dan (29) and Dave (50 ish) used to be biologists
we started off the meeting by asking ourselves:
- How are we feeling?
- How did we experience life as a man for the past 2 or 3 weeks? (positive or negative experiences)
Seduction, patriarchy and the hunter/prey relationship
Introduction by A
I would like to chat about our behaviors during the "seduction/flirtation" games. So I'm interested here in the first step, or even the "foreplay" of a relationship, and not the relationship in itself.
The main issue could be: how our behaviors during these moments can be part of/influenced by/perpetuating patriarchy ?
I'm not even confident enough to say that this is an "important" issue or not. Most people I talked to about it basically said: "seduction is just a game, it's fine, nothing wrong..." but this sounds so much like denial that I would like to "dig" a bit more...
maybe we can try to think about the following questions: As men, when we try to seduce someone,
- how did we "chose" this person we fancy or are trying to seduce?
- are we always reproducing a hunter/prey interaction with these persons ?
- can we escape the very stereotypical passive/active distribution of roles ?
- how convenient can it be to fit in these roles?
- how does this relate to the fear of being vulnerable we talked about during the last meeting?
To start the discussion, I will give a personal account about this issue. We thought it could be a good idea to start discussion from personal experiences, so that things don't get too brainy and non-emotional as we tend to do most of the time. In other words, if we go towards maybe more general and global politics about patriarchy, this would hopefully be from personal politics and emotions.
My experience is the one of a white french heterosexual male (evil, evil!! ;-), so I hope that people with different "backgrounds" will bring their own experiences, doubts and issues.
As I already said, I had a long and important relationship with a girl, that ended a few months ago. To cut a short story long, I went into politics during this relationship. Not that she taught me everything, but at least, in terms of gender issues and feminism, she was very important.
Another important thing to know is that my mode of life radically changed since I quit my job a few months ago. Not doing waged work, living in a squat, meeting different people etc.
I face now a new situation. I am concerned with feminist issues, I'm single, and I fancy a lot of girls around me.
Now I'm realising that I'm trapped in a lot of conditioned/stereotypical behaviors when it comes to seducing/flirting/engaging with women.
>>"choice" of who I fancy<<
well, this is something that seems obvious, but I think is really socially constructed: I fancy almost only women. Not men, or transgender etc.
this is a too big subject for here I think. Is "sexual orientation" a choice? Can you be straight heterosexual by choice, or isn’t it that you are just following the stream?
Also, I won't fancy women that don’t fit the norm: very hairy, fat, "ugly".
You'll tell me: well you fancy who you fancy, this is no problem... the question here is not "is it a problem or not", but more "how this can be part of perpetuating the patriarchy system, given that these models of beauty are a part of this system". And I think a very simple fact like: "I fancy only women that are not very fat", is just me following the flow of society...
Another point at this stage: the objectification of women. Looking at only some parts of their body, seeing women only as sexual entities. But here, how to draw the line (if there is one) between simple attractiveness and objectification?
There is this old fashioned cliché about the man that has to be active and do the first steps, and the woman who just needs to send signals saying "I'm available".
I do have the feeling that I have to be the active one (the hunter), do the first steps.
But how true is that? Is that just my perception of reality?
Is being active only about doing the talking (like, "want to meet again?") but it can also be about body language (looks, face, attitude, being touchy). I suppose a big part of communication through body language is not conscious, so how can I say I'm the active one. I might be getting signals as well that I'm simply not seeing or not interpreting, hence my feeling of being the only one sending signals.
this is the most annoying part. still related to this hunting/war mode of relationship. Always having second thoughts,
the main thing at first is:
I don't want to show her too much that I like her, otherwise I'm showing I'm vulnerable, and there will be no "escape", I'm losing control, I'm giving away something of myself to someone else, I want to protect myself from disappointment.
So here the thing is to show the other person I like her, but without really showing it, and hoping that the other person will interpret this in the way I want him/her to... so rubbish!
Other second thought include:
- what should I say/do to seduce her?
- Shall I show her what a good profeminist I am?
- if I say this or that, what would she think?
- let's not be too childish or emotional, this will scare her (or she's not expecting me to behave like this, so it will be counterproductive)
This seems to be quite convenient for me as a man:
using strategies, I'm not straightforward, I don't show my real feelings, I'm not being honest.
Here I have this intuition, not backed up by evidence yet, that between a man and a woman, when there is an unspoken situation, it generally turns out to be at the advantage of the man. But I need to think about that.
This strategy thing is where I feel the most trapped. Going to a random woman in a random place (ie, in a patriarchal context) saying: "I want to have sex with you" would be a very sexist thing to do. But the Strategy/Codes thing is also quite sexist and frustrating.
So to summarise, I'm asking myself two questions:
- Do I directly oppress women when we are playing this seduction game? I mean does the woman feels dominated at this moment.
- How are these seduction/flirtation situations part of or perpetuating patriarchy? from above, I'm thinking about:
- objectification of women (as an ensemble of specific body parts, as sexual entities)
- the man being the hunter/active
- strategies allowing myself not to show emotion and not to be vulnerable
About this intuition (when there is an unspoken situation, it generally turns out to be at the advantage of the man).
We talked in a previous meeting about how when there is an argument, the man often doesn’t speak, while the woman gets very emotional, and by shutting down, being very rational, the man gets away with it.
Also, in most cases, if feelings are not expressed, the unspoken norm of patriarchy tends to dominate.
About objectification: we have to watch out our tendencies to feel bad about ourselves.
About the seduction game: I never felt I was any good at it, always been very confused about it.
With my partner, she was going after me. It was scary.
I always hated the thing about being the pursuer, the hunter. But of course, I always wanted to be good at it
The seduction game:
Surprisingly, I feel I never wanted to be good at it. It might be coming from my evangelical Christian upbringing, a very conservative education about relationships: go out only with Christians, have a girlfriend only to marry, no sex before marriage...
I have very few crushes on women. A very big one recently, that didn't involve much of a seduction game because her cultural background prevented anything from happening (which was both very convenient and very sad).
Never had the desire to "hunt" a woman.
Even fewer crushes on men, and the main one was just as convenient - again no chance of something happening as he was straight and homophobic.
I don't feel like I need a partner because I try to fulfill my various human needs through my friends and other people; intimacy, affection, intellectual stimulation, shared interests etc.
I avoid parties and atmospheres where there are seduction games going on.
And I feel upset when I see friends preparing for parties (making up, dressing up). At best I find it sad, at worst, I find them pathetic.
- I like the idea that when nothing is expressed (unspoken) then the norms dominate by default. For example in a couple, if nothing is said, it will automatically be assumed that it is a monogamous exclusive relationship. This actually works for all kinds of situations, when nothing is expressed, the norm (capitalism, patriarchy, racism) is the default rule. Hence, in a heterosexual couple, when things are not discussed, patriarchy rules, and it is then to the advantage of the man.
- I read the blog feminist allies, (http://feministallies.blogspot.com/2007/06/on-ogling-and-appreciation.html) this guy talking about how he feels about looking at women in public spaces. I found it interesting, but I'm not comfortable with a conclusion like: ok then this is how we should behave as proper profeminists. It can be useful but I don't really like this idea of a profeminist manual of proper behavior (but I don't know exactly why I don't like that...)
- I can be attracted by men, I have the impression that seduction situations with men are much different. I don't feel trapped, I'm being very touchy, more straightforward. Probably because I'm thinking: "they know I'm heterosexual, so there is no pressure, we know that nothing's gonna happen", it's more relaxed.
- About being upset with girls preparing to go parties, I was quite shocked about what J said. But I'm also a bit paradoxical here, because I can feel uncomfortable in a club as well, with this ultra overt situation where people are clearly in the prey/hunter thing, all dressed up to fit male/female archetypes. On another hand, I have feminist and queer friends who are very keen on dressing up, putting on make up, trying to be very sexy before going to parties. What makes the difference then between these two situations? Maybe who is doing it, why, who with, where etc. the context might be important here. Dressing up in order to feel sexy, to be proud of our own bodies, to build some self confidence sounds really good to me.
Yes I'm clearly ambivalent here about the dressing up thing.
There are these feminist arguments against the whole dressing sexually thing
- it is almost always intended for the interests of men
- have to fit frustrating stereotypes
- it is not about celebrating your body or your sexuality
But on another hand, I can’t deny that my negative reaction is also influenced by my very conservative upbringing about all that (sex before marriage is wrong, one night-stands are evil...)
Our society is obsessed with sex and women are under a lot of pressure to be attractive. Sexual attractiveness seems to be one the most important things in life.
There is this thing about more and more women doing striptease classes for exercise and also, apparently, to make them feel more self confident. But there are other ways to get self confidence rather than convincing yourself that "I'm sexy".
About the objectification and the "line" between it and attractiveness:
- there is the influence of our brain being completely sexualised by society in this objectification,
- it is natural/normal to be attracted by other persons.
We are taught through our life to objectify women as sexual objects. That's why men but also women tend to do it a lot.
Yes, just see at school. Girls are perfectly ok with saying: "look how this female singer is sexy, beautiful etc." But it won't really happen having boys saying: "look how this male star is sexy and beautiful"
Homophobia among men is indeed very heavy.
Lesbophobia (?) seems to be less heavy.
It might seem to be less heavy, but isn’t that because its just completely invisible at school age? People don’t even think about it as possible.
There is also this thing about men being turned on by the lesbians thing, having two girls in the same bed (but only for the foreplay obviously!). So its more acceptable for straight women to be flirtatious with each other.
>>the following dialogue seemed important to me, so I tried to note everything down<<
to B: what do you mean exactly by "it is natural/normal to be attracted by other people" ? Do you think of a biological basis for this attraction?
Are you thinking here about heterosexual attractiveness?
Yes, I do think heterosexual attractiveness is natural, we are a sexually reproductive species.
So we don't want to give ourselves a hard time about being attracted by women. It is not by definition necessarily oppressive.
Is it not necessarily oppressive because it's natural?
Well, I guess, yes.
The oppression comes in when
- there is objectification of women
- there is no respect for a woman saying no, or for her ambivalence
If oppression comes only from socialisation, then we can change it.
So if heterosexuality attractiveness is natural, how would you qualify homosexual attractiveness?
I think it is also perfectly natural, plenty of evidence for that, documented cases in other animals.
A and J
If you're saying : "heterosexual attractiveness is natural THEREFORE it is not necessarily oppressive"
Does it mean that everything that we can qualify as natural is not oppressive?
No, I don't want to draw this link here, between nature and oppression (or non oppression).
So to rephrase it without the THEREFORE "Heterosexual attractiveness is natural AND it is not necessarily oppressive"
A link we didn't draw yet, is the link between seduction and the rape culture (which links also with what B said about respecting consent)
The radical feminist position could be: the whole mentality of prey/hunter or active/passive is directly linked to a rape culture (causing rapes, using rape as a threat to control women)
So is being part of the seduction game always part of the rape culture?
Are there other ways/alternatives to engage with women?
My first reaction here, though I'm not sure this is what I think.
In any situation with 2 people, if it goes somewhere, generally it would be one person who takes the lead. In patriarchy, the man generally does.
But inherently, I'm not sure that there is something wrong with the man taking the lead, the question is how you do it, how respectful is it?
Then: What is being respectful?
Back to the over sexualisation of the society. There is such an importance attached to the whole thing that we have to be the hunter and play the game. Because sex is supposed to be the most important thing in life.
You can find profeminist men deciding to go the complete opposite way of what is expected for men, like deciding not to be a pursuer at all, so never seducing women (it can also include not talking during meetings etc.)
I feel quite ambivalent about that. Because this is not what we want, a reversed society where women will take men's place and men women's. And it is also used by antifeminists saying that this is what women want, men to be slaves (note from the facilitator: so they admit that women are slaves in patriarchy!!).
But on another hand, this role reversal thing can be interesting and very useful.
- About the rape culture : I think it is a very interesting angle to think about the seduction issue.
- About men doing the opposite of what they are expected. Of course we don't want a reverse of the current model, but we don’t want either a men-only society, but we are doing a men-only group. I think these can be useful tools. If someone feels like being celibate is his best way to deal with this issue, I'd be completely supportive. This is also about context: at a certain period of one's life, after certain experiences, one might find specific ways to deal with relationship issues and patriarchy. And I think the idea of men being ignored during meetings, cleaning up after women etc. is quite useful and constructive actually, just as I would like to see politicians or company bosses forced to live a year on the dole. If more dominants experiment with what it is to be dominated, maybe this could change things...
- About the over sexualisation of society: this is true, there is sex everywhere. But at the same time sex is still taboo, we don’t talk about it at school, nor with our parents, we learn about it through friends, pornography, lads mags, stereotyped media etc. There is still a big mystification about it, and this paradox creates frustration and neurosis. And frustration and neurosis are important for the capitalist and sexist society to keep going. So I don't know how the paradox works, but I understand why it keeps perpetuating itself
- About "But inherently, I'm not sure that there is something wrong with a man taking the lead": I think that in patriarchy, whenever the man does something in the heterosexual couple, it is linked to the sexist system of beliefs. Patriarchy is in all our behaviors. I'm not saying that we are all evil and should stop having interaction with people in general and women in particular, but I want to admit and recognise that my behaviors are always more or less under the influence of patriarchy (and other domination systems obviously: capitalism, racism etc.) and accepting it, identifying it, might be the first step to fighting it.
(I'm not sure here if I said it like this during the meeting, but it's what I meant...)
Perhaps we have to recognise that our actions are infused with patriarchy and sexism, and condemn them as wrong but still not beat ourselves up about it. We have to make sure we can change these things a bit at a time, not start hating ourselves for being sexist male chauvinist pigs and then end up crippled by shame and not get anywhere.
I do think that even in our today society, men can do things that are not linked to patriarchy.
And my partner used to tell me: I'd rather be with a normal decent human being than a perfect brainy profeminist man behaving like shit.
Statement on "why men-only"
Dave will have a look at the last draft, and we will put it on the blog.