Sex, Lies, and Power
“Male and female He created them.”
Sexual dimorphism, the physical differences between the male and female of all animals, have created in humans a vast social and cultural medley. Reproduction in most “lower” animals defines and delimits the relationship between males and females. “Higher” animals go beyond reproduction to acquire attachments sometimes based on caring for offspring and on affection. Humans have outdone them all. We have evolved a more complex, much more diverse story.
The MeToo phenomenon exploded the gender gap along a new dimension: a difference between the baby boomer generation and the millennials. Rowan Farrow, whose article in the New Yorker exposed examples of major sexual harassment, has suggested that men of his generation are immunized against such harassment because of a new, perhaps feminist enlightenment.
What enlightenment is this? Has there been a radical shift in the psychological dimorphism around sexuality? Do men and women perceive each other truly in a different light? Are the concepts underscoring LBGTQ sensibilities also in line with the new enlightenment?
Social media has, in partial effect, weaponized these very questions. The age-old, cliché-engulfed battle of the sexes rages on in online dating sites, in Facebook preenings, in undeclared fights for face recognition on Instagram and Twitter, and on text and sext messaging, not to exclude TV and cable and film fictions, books being a possible low backdrop.
Whose sexual plumage will win the moment — if not the day? And in what does that plumage consist?
Men’s clothing has migrated toward the working class and even, in some younger quarters, the incarcerated. Slashed jeans, hoodies, t-shirts, rugged footwear and sneakers have even emerged with elite labels and high-end price tags. Women are wearing much the same gear, though often tighter around the pelvis and buttocks. They are also wearing skintight legging tights. Bosom and breast emphasis for women seem relegated to occasions for dressing up. On such occasions, men revert to the tried-and-ever-so-true business suit.
“The reality that men and women face in every generation is how to court one another within the constraints of culture and outside the eyes of others.”
Women wearing full-on male drag only add to the mystery and allure of what’s hidden. The work clothes style that both men and women have adapted as leisure wear, especially when tagged with luxury labels, also signals social status. When it’s time to step out on a date or for a party, women are overtly displaying their breasts, their legs toned by high dagger-heel shoes, and their round curvy bottoms. Men in evening outfits display their virile rectitude and masculine redoubt.
So how are their feelings about each other evolving? How — if at all —is our psychosexual dimorphism changing?
The backlash against the #MeToo movement, loudly proclaimed in the letter signed by 100 French women, declared that while #MeToo is a “legitimate wake-up call to the sexual violence exercised against women … [it[ really only serves the enemies of sexual freedom…[and] chains women to the status of the eternal victim…[making them] poor little things who are dominated by demon phallocrats.”
Brigitte Bardot, sexpot of the 1960s, furiously denounced #MeToo (and thereby defended men of her generation): “lots of actresses try to play the tease with producers to get a role. And then, so we will talk about them, they say they were harassed . . . I was never the victim of sexual harassment. And I found it charming when men told me that I was beautiful or I had a nice little backside.”
Meanwhile men of the current generation are doing their sexual harassment and gross abusive behavior on social media, trading among themselves digital photos and videos of girlfriends in sexual acts with explicitly denigrating captions.
The reality that men and women face in every generation is how to court one another within the constraints of culture and outside the eyes of others. Pile on the different social statuses every culture imposes on both men and women and also on LBGTQ persons.
Displaying and responding to sexual attraction has always been a keenly contrived art, its ardent fires fueled by the very restrictions and openings allowed. Shakespeare, who often wrote about relations between men and women, opined in his play the Merry Wives of Windsor: “O powerful love, that in some respects makes a beast a man, in some other, a man a beast.”
When all comes down to sexual attraction and the behaviors that allow and disallow their realization, that inflame and constrain lust and love, we seem always at square one cubed.
The social and psychological conditions that stimulate and inhibit us seem always to be with us. The subtexts vary and our need is to rally around our best intentions and to reign in our worst. This remains our great challenge.
The great game of love should play fairly. And, for all of us, it should still be fun.