I Feel It In My Fingers, I Feel It In My Toes

It must be spring, because we’re talking about sex again.

Althouse had a thread about prostitution in New Zealand and, predictably, like clockwork, the “all women are whores” meme surfaced. Though this was “all women trade sex for material goods” which is the complement to “all men pay for sex,” I guess. (You don’t hear “all men are johns”, much, though, do you?)

I stayed out and let Freeman tangle with it for a while, and then Darcy added her two cents, and finally–I swear, it’s like a mouse to cheese, putting up these dubious philosophical propositions–I caved and wrote a very lengthy response. Which I’m going to repost here and add a few things because, believe it or not, I had even more to say.

First off, the emphasis is wrong. And men are likely to make this mistake because they’re so strongly sex driven, but relationships aren’t “about” sex. Sex is part of a relationship. If it’s the reason for your relationship, you probably are better off with a prostitute or–if you’re more monogamously inclined–a mistress.

But it’s such an impoverished view of the whole man-woman dynamic. Anyway, here’s what I wrote, with some additional notes:

Actually, the theme of the “cheapskate girlfriend” is not at all uncommon in a relationship where the woman has or controls the money. That particular phrase isn’t common, I’d grant. (“Stingy bitch”, maybe.) This reflects more the fact that men don’t complain much about their women not giving them money because society associates masculinity with economic prowess.

Women talking about cheapskate men was used as evidence of their material natures. But women also complain of stingy lovers and, truthfully, stinginess in all areas of life. Sometimes people just complain. Other times, well, it’s easier to say “He’s tight with money” than “he doesn’t love me.”

And, certainly, women make this association, too, to a degree. Women who use this as their primary criterion are known as “gold diggers”, a phrase which most wouldn’t appreciate as a descriptor much more than “whore”.

Saying that “most women trade sex for material goods at one time or another” but then trying to defend it as “well, it’s not professional, so they’re not whores” seems a bit specious to me. Isn’t “trading sex for material goods” the very definition of prostitution? How is it not “professional” if they’re getting paid for it? Are they pro-am?

I also don’t buy Sofa King’s addition of “a close personal relationship”, either. The phrase was “material goods”. There’s a qualitative difference between “close personal relationship” and “jewelry”.

There was a little sleight-of-hand here. Revenant used the word “material” and Sofa King added relationships as something men give women for sex. This is one of the creepier notions. Young people get into relationships because of sex–and, certainly, women were traditionally the gatekeeper (“no sex until we’re married”) because they were risking more.

I’ll get into this more later, but sex sex. In other words, if a man and a woman have sex, it’s not necessarily an equal exchange. In fact, it’s probably almost never an equal exchange. The woman’s risk is greater, partners’ sexual apettites are almost always going to be different or out of sync, and just the raw value of time and attention is unequal from person-to-person.

Men and women in relationships do things that lead to sex. You could cynically attach a monetary value to all those things, and say they were both trading things for sex.

This is belied by the fact that the exchanges continue even when sex isn’t in the picture. And sex continues even when there’s no material trade.

One might: have sex to strengthen a unit that better survives in the word; have sex to get pregnant; have sex because it has a physiological and psychological benefit for your partner; have sex just for sex–because it’s fun.

None of this is prostitution or “trading for material goods”. Most of it falls into the category of “moral”.

Sofa King actually said “What is the moral basis for saying that any one of these forms of compensation is superior to any other?” Which is just kind of silly. Morality has all kinds of things to say about when sex is okay and when it’s not. Sex is one of the driving forces of morality.

But the part that made Darcy sad and which I thought was–well, demonstrably false as well as cynical–was when Rev said “A guy who tries building a relationship on kind words and deeds and going dutch on everything isn’t going to get any. The relationship is probably going to die early on, too.”

If I were to make an observation about women, it might be that they’re shallow. I’d say the same thing about men, too, though, and I’d add a caveat: They’re superficially shallow. Heh. That is to say, we all judge based on outward appearances at first. Guys go for the pretty girl, women go for the rich guy–and, frankly, I’ve never seen good looks work against a man, or money work against a girl.

But ultimately, most of us look a little deeper, and a guy can go a long way on kindness–even if he doesn’t mean it.

As clichéd as all this stuff about women + gifts is, isn’t there also a cliché about the poor young couple starting out with nothing but love? (True story: A friend of mine is celebrating his wife’s birthday by taking her to the park and picking flowers from their garden, etc. Guaranteed he’s “getting some” tonight.)

There are a lot of other clichés that don’t fit neatly into the women-as-whore paradigm. Lots of men are supported by women. Medical students hook up with nurses (and then when they’re established drop them for showgirls). Starving artists hook up with waitresses. Starving artists mutually work menial jobs, supporting each other as best they can.

No, in practice, there are only a few situations where this idea works out at all.

Do women sometimes receive an expensive gift that they respond to with sex? Sure. Some relationships degenerate to the point where the only worthy expression of affection is money from him and sex from her.

But in a healthy relationship–one that isn’t going to end when her beauty or his money runs out–when an expensive gift moves a woman to sex, it’s because it represents something else: The attention of the male and his demonstration that he values her, that he’s willing to work or sacrifice for her, and so on.

In other words, there is an exchange going on. It’s just not a material one.

Rev and I have locked horns many times over materialism. He’s a materialist; he believes in nothing but matter. I think that’s pretty silly because, you know, why would I bother with a piece of meat? Heh.

But a materialist is sort of stuck here: If there is no spiritual component to life then there has to be a material exchange of some sort, if you are kind to someone, that has to trigger something in their brain that releases a chemical that makes them feel good, or some damn thing.

In the stereotypical situation, where the man wants sex more than the woman, his sexual attention is at less of a premium. It can be self-centered. If she’s not in the mood, sex can be her gift to him. (Wise women know this and wise men appreciate it.)

But how does he reciprocate? However good and considerate a lover he may be, where’s the exchange in terms of doing something for your partner that you wouldn’t necessarily be inclined to?

You think women respond to expensive gifts? Try doing the dishes. Paint a room. Fix something around the house. Rub her feet. Give her a back rub (that doesn’t end up as a breast massage). Try easing her burden a little bit. Do something you wouldn’t do except that it makes her feel good.

Try writing a poem or a song or doing something that demonstrates her place in your heart. Yeah, you stink at it, and it’s embarrassing, but she loves it. Perform it in front of an audience.

Hell, just show her affection during day-to-day life. Maybe you both have jobs and kids and things are crazy, but you give out the same sort of “we’re on our honeymoon” types of signals as you pass in the hallway, and see if that that diamond ring doesn’t turn brass.

The “sex for stuff” paradigm only works with particular sorts of relationships with particular sorts of women.

Most women won’t put up with it.

Boy, is that last line true. My favorite female commenters: knox, Darcy, Freeman, Ruth Anne, Amba–I can see them kicking a guy in the nuts who gave them a shiny bauble and expected sex in exchange for it. Women with any sense of self-esteem have a sharp sense of when you’re calling them a whore, no matter how masked.

Women are funny that way: They’ll give freely and generously something you couldn’t ever buy from them.

XX v XY

I lived with just my mother and sister from age 10 onward. The classes in the schools I went to were 80% female.

Women are not now, nor have they ever in memory been, mysterious to me. I mention this because the blogosphere seems awash in dating advice (Ace) this morning (Althouse) and to me it is all so much hieroglyphics.

After 4-5 years of hormonal torment–some of which could have been disastrous had I acted on one set of impulses rather than another set–I decided that my best bet for happiness was to get my own self together and not worry about having a relationship with someone else. (In contrast with the times, and perhaps dysfunctionally, I was more interested in finding a life partner than a sex partner.)

A few months later, I became best friends with a girl. A few months after that, we started dating. A little while after that came marriage and not too long after that, children. I’m glossing over some of the messier details and completely eliding the romance; such things are hackery and puffery when you consider that the story arc I’m describing is pretty close to the way previous generations operated en masse (in situations where one was allowed to choose one’s mate).

The stuff I read–the dating advice, the stories of dating, the game playing, the unhappiness and lack of fulfillment, the questing for some mythical other that will, one way or the other, keep a person from having to get his own self together–makes me think we made the right decision lo those many years ago. Life has had many challenges, to be sure, and to have gone through them together has created a shared experience that is really otherwise unattainable.

It gets really weird for me when Allah and Ace talk about alpha males. They paint a picture of the beta male that wants but cannot have because of the alpha male. I’m no biologist, but animals (specifically chimpanzees) who are beta defer to the alpha. They bow down, they appease, they propitiate. They essentially fear the alpha male, and this keeps their behavior (and presumably their weak-ass genes) in line.

The beauty of being a human–especially one in a society without governmentally-backed royalty–is that you never have to defer to anyone. Right? Isn’t that what all those old westerns were really about? A Man for All Seasons? Horton Hears A Freakin’ Who? They talk about being beta as if it were their genetic birthright, but if you’re a man, isn’t it really always a choice? (A choice with some occasionally hugely horrible consequences, like beheading or being made into beezlenut stew, but if it were easy, it wouldn’t be particularly admirable, would it?)

Maybe I’m oversimplifying. It’s worked for me.

Lies We Tell Women

Women get beat up pretty badly on Dr. Helen’s site and advice column–well, for a number of reasons. And I think, in part, she’s providing a counter-balance to the deafening drumnbeat of “Woman good, Man bad”, so she may not be looking too hard at the fact that women hear the same drumbeat as men. And where men may hear they’re not wanted, women may hear they’re all precious snowflakes, irreplaceable and priceless. The latter is arguably the more damaging message.

I mention this because in the Unicorn post, the always insightful Synova points out that:

Women my age (dare I say 43?) have been told certain things our whole lives. One of them is that it works to plan to have a child who doesn’t *have* a father.

And I hear similar things from other women. Indeed, like Synova, I grew up on the whole fish/bicycle/if-women-were-in-charge-there-would-be-no-wars claptrap as well. And so it occurred to me that there are a whole bunch of lies we, as a society, tell women.

I’m probably going to get into trouble here, but what the hell. Here’s a few lies:

  1. Raising children is not the most important thing you can do.
  2. A father can do the same job as a mother.
  3. Anyone can do the same job as a father.
  4. A second parent is completely unnecessary.
  5. Single parenthood won’t impact your career in any way more challenging than can be resolved by a couple of magazine articles and ‘80s movies. And it sure won’t affect your child negatively.
  6. It’s wrong to depend on a man.
  7. There’s weakness in having a man around for the traditional reasons.
  8. Chivalry is a form of condescension.
  9. You can have sex with anyone you want whenever you want with no repercussions.
  10. That perfect guy–the one that you don’t need at all, but whom you plan to bless with your companionship–isn’t going to care about the previous item.
  11. Abortion is comparable to an appendectomy.
  12. If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.

This last one gets me because it’s one of the great bumper sticker lies. Ladies, it’s not men who threaten your right to an abortion, it’s other women. To a guy, an abortion is a “get out of jail free” card. I used to do a lot of work (indirectly) for CARAL and NARAL, and every survey I saw showed that men were the majority in favor of preserving abortion rights, while women were the ones more likely to want to restrict them. This makes perfect sense, not just economically, but because an abortion is relatively abstract to a man.

Anyway, that’s a very narrow set of what is basically a large group of lies being told for decades. And it’s fair to have a degree of sympathy for women who end up hunting unicorns as a result.

Now, I tend to look at these things from an engineering perspective. (Granted, I’m a software engineer, so my results can’t be trusted or duplicated, and will fail in leap years. Nonetheless.) There once was a set of male activities and female activities. When societies start, they carve these “gender roles” in stone and punish transgressors heavily. As survival becomes–or seems–more secure, the punishment begins to look cruel and arbitrary, and elements in society start to tear down those roles.

Shortly thereafter–in a civilizational time scale–the society collapses.

It would be nice, and I think entirely possible, to preserve the roles while not punishing “transgression”–nor even viewing transgression as such. I say this as someone who has seen enough baby girls gravitate toward dolls–not only without encouragement but with active discouragement going on. And seen boys turn flowers into guns and monsters.

It’s just as wrong to force boys and girls to give up their traditional roles as it was to enforce them. Arguably worse.

And I’ve seen women shamed about being devoted mothers. (Devoted meaning that was what they did as their primary occupation.) Some women aren’t cut out for it–but shouldn’t that make the ones who do the job even more valuable? (They are, of course, even if they’re not regarded that way generally.)

So how does this relate back to Miss Unicorn? Well, she’s already squandered a lot of her prime market value (as the economics-minded put it), but one should never underestimate the value of a kind woman to a man. On Volokh, when they discussed this, there was an interesting sub-thread by a woman who absolutely refused to consider any offspring not genetically related as worthy of anything from her. (Wow, it was Daniel Plainview in drag!)

Fortunately, most people don’t feel that way. So, what Miss Unicorn should do, is to assess what she brings to a relationship versus what she’s expecting. This should be a humbling act. (We all need to do this from time-to-time: Look at what we expect of our significant others and be grateful for kindness received.) Fortunately, for children–and for wives and husbands–love is a valuable commodity.

It’s all our kids can give us, at first, in the form of smiles, hugs, hand-crafted ashtrays, whatever. And it is, of course, the currency in which romantic relationships are built. (Sorry to slip into triteness again but it can’t be helped.)

It’s free. It’s easy. The more you do it, the easier it gets. It’s paid back with dividends.

But you can’t do it if you don’t feel the other person is worthy.

Woman Wants Unicorn, Now Almost Willing To Settle For Pony

I want to cut the author of this horror some slack, since I think there’s a pressure to be entertaining and to crackle, and all that. I’d hate to conclude that I, you know, knew her after reading a single article she’d written (which may, as I said, have been engineered to fit the perceived audience rather than her own true self).

But, good Lord, I wouldn’t touch a woman like that with a ten-foot pole.

The article is about “settling”, specifically encouraging women to “settle” for men that don’t meet all their expectations. And it’s telling that she idolizes the relationship from the sitcom Will & Grace between the gay titular character and his roommate, as well. All some women seem to want is a man who won’t make demands but will go shopping with them.

The money quote, to me, was this:

My long-married friend Renée offered this dating advice to me in an e-mail:

I would say even if he’s not the love of your life, make sure he’s someone you respect intellectually, makes you laugh, appreciates you … I bet there are plenty of these men in the older, overweight, and bald category (which they all eventually become anyway).

She wasn’t joking.

“She wasn’t joking”? To suggest that a woman might do well to look for signs that a man loves her, rather than the state of his hairline or waist? Can you imagine what the reciprocal article in a men’s magazine would be like?

Just because she’s only a B-cup (and one of them is lopsided), not open to having sex with other woman, and reluctant to go ass-to-mouth, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do her once or twice. A lot of less attractive women are quicker to have sex and more eager to please than their prettier counterparts.

Dude. That’s hard for me to even write, and for all I know such articles have appeared in Hustler or Swank. (Not Jugs mind you, since a C-cup would be a minimum there.) I doubt it would get play in the Atlantic, though.

I guess that stage that most people go through in their adolescence–you know the one where they dress up funny, and don’t bathe or get their hair dyed green and dress like a slob, so they can criticize society for being “superficial”–I guess that the author never went through that stage or did it without grasping that there is a lesson to be learned there once you get past the stridency.

The funny thing is that if you’re in love, you don’t feel like you’re settling. The Other may annoy you, drive you downright nuts sometimes, and yet through it all, you see only beauty. You can have passion after ten, twenty, fifty years, even as the body slows down and becomes less urgent with its needs. Why? Because love really is in the mind. (As trite as that sounds.)

But you’ll notice that this article is, in essence, about being effect. This woman has been waiting her whole life for someone to come along who creates a positive effect on her. But not just any positive effect: A solely positive effect greater than anything else she has experienced. Her role in this is limited to eliminating those who cast the shadow of a displeasing effect upon her blessed countenance. Her cognition is that she must be willing to accept, to some degree, an effect that might be negative–though her own role hasn’t changed, just the parameters in which she performs her task of judging.

Even as she accepts that, however, she doesn’t really, since she’s added a “perfect father” head to the previous chimera of “perfect mate”. She’s merely transferred responsibility for her problem to her child. Where it used to be that she was too picky to find a mate, now it’s that she’s too gosh-darn responsible. (And notice that she uses the term “subpar” here, indicating that perfection is par.)

And the most damning thing? Not only does she never once refer to any personal flaws she might hypothetically have, nowhere, in four pages of writing, does she talk about what any poor sap who might find her attractive might get out of a relationship with her. There’s no mention of fun or sex or laughter, cooking, holidays, shared hobbies, or even sitting on the couch watching trash TV–all the things that couples and families do that bring joy to what otherwise could become a grind.

Those who are in love, or have been in love, know that a huge part of what makes it good is being able to make the other person feel good–to make them see themselves in a better light than they’ve ever imagined.

Of course, if you already know you’re perfect, you can’t receive that.