The patriarchy and women's expectations and behaviours in relationships

OK. This GD has been inspired by this Pit thread which was inspired by this thread on the Ms Magazine messageboard.

While both discussions have long since passed the stage of rational discourse, the original issue is one which I feel could make for a very interesting debate given the amazing mix of people we have posting to these boards.

So I guess the questions for debate are :

  1. Are women’s relationship and sexual expectations and behaviours substantially influenced by men and by a male dominated media in particular;

  2. If the answer to 1) is “yes”, does this represent a ‘co-opting’ of female sexuality by men and reduce women to the role of “performers”;

  3. What role do/should men play in redressing these situations?
    My own responses would be :

  4. that in general I believe the women’s media has a far greater (and far more detrimental) influence on the expectations and behaviours of women than does male-oriented media;

  5. while individual men may well attempt to control women’s sexual behaviours, such men are likely to be controlling of women in other ways and seek out media images or social groups which justify and reinforce the “rightness” of that behaviour. The existence of the media itself if not the cause of their behaviour;

  6. more than simply just modifying their own behaviour to ensure that they treat women’s opinions, expectations, and behaviours as being equally valid and deserving of respect as those of males, I believe one of the most valuable contributions men can make to redress many of the inequalities of power between and women is to SPEAK UP when it is their friends, their families, their workmates, or their buddies who are acting in a manner which degrades, devalues, or generally oppresses women.

(1) pretty much agree about the influence on women by women’s media. Though I think male media is also now increasing its influence on the insecurities behaviour of men, in terms of things like “perfect abs” and marathon sexual performance.

(2) the “co-opting” thing is just bollox. If you’re anguishing over the “co-pting” of your orgasm during sex, you’re a sad basket case. The quality of sex is important, not (a) whether you orgasm or not or (b) why you orgasm and how and if your partner gets off on it or not.

Men and women perform for each other (if they want to perform). Sex is a mutual thing. An orgasm should be a “shared” thing. Sex is about close, physical communication and reciprocity.

(3) men and women need to communicate more, though this is the old battle. I think adult men need to teach younger men about the porn=nice-but-fantasy-NOT-real-life thing at a young age. People don’t really fight like they do in The Matrix, they don’t all shag like they do in Deep Throat. They need to
understand that their dick size doesn’t matter, orgasm isn’t the be-all and end-all, and treating women with disrespect is ultimately going to bring them unhappiness, whether with failed relationships or a prison sentence.

I would also say women have a role to reduce the influence of media on vulnerable and impressionable women. Mothers need to be relaxed about their bodies so sons and daughters experience “normal” breasts etc not just silicone mountains. Mothers and teachers and aunts and older sister and friends need to be honest about their real life experiences and body issues, so young women get a better understanding of sex than “20 ways to give a great blow job!” and “The real secrets to mind-blowing-orgasm!!!”

Sallie Tisdale, in response to Mackinnon and Dworkin, had a fabulous take on this in her book Talk Dirty To Me. She said that the problem with pornography is that (to oversimplify somewhat) that there are not enough images of good sex in porn, and that the way to deal with this in a democracy is not to censor the bad ones but to create lots and lots more good ones. She mentions gay male porn (which she adores), real lesbian porn (by which I mean made by lesbians and starring actual lesbians), and quality porn, esp. by women directors (she mentions Candida Royale’s Revelations).

She says there’s much in the porn dialectic that is very favourable to feminism - the nuclear family, marriage, the threat of pregnancy, etc., which have caused considerable harm to women, do not exist in this sexual world. Porn could be a very exciting forum for positive feminist images if women got involved in it in a creative fashion.

Furthermore her argument with the “bad” images is not so much that they are harmful but that they are boring, repetitious, and inane.

I disagree that an image can be harmful. I think that for harm to take place, someone actually has to go do something. When I read Mackinnon and she described porn harming women, I pictured a man hitting a woman upside the head with a rolled-up Penthouse. I suppose porn doesn’t have a great deal of positive images of women (couldn’t say first-hand, because I don’t watch a lot of straight porn :rolleyes: ) but that’s a problem of market, frankly, not the inherent evil of the medium.

Men who believe that women are there to be subjected can rape even if (as many do) they never use porn in their lives, whereas men who are brought up to treat women as equals in their lives will not rape, no matter how much porn they view. Whatever sexism is in a particular work of porn can be accepted or rejected by a critical thinker - what we need is not less porn, but more critical thinkers and more better porn.

I don’t know that it’s helpful in a discussion like this to seperate media with an intended masculine audience from media with an intended feminine audience. Regardless of target audience, almost everyone has some exposure to most forms of media, and different publications, etc., also affect one another. What’s more, portrayls of women tend to be very similar in both male-oriented and female-oriented media.

I personally feel little doubt that the only remotely socially acceptable way for a woman to express any sort of active sexuality is in the context of performance. You just have to look at the way that heterosexual men and women behave to see that women tend to behave like advertisers (“Look what we got over here! Doesn’t this look good? Come and get it!”) and men like consumers (“Hmmm, I think I want that one.”). There is perhaps nothing wrong with this relationship in and of itself, but it is unfortunate that it appears to be the only social model we have to work with. That is very limiting to both men and women.

I think I’m a lot closer to the Ms. side of things. Maybe it’s my Marxist influence ;).

I think that especially when we’re young, we’re trying to figure out the way that the world works. Kids always turn to the stories that adults tell to figure things out; today, these stories come significantly, if not primarily through the media.

And the media have a huge amount of sex in them, both explicit and implied. Of course kids are gonna think that what they see on the screen models how sexuality should really be.

As we grow up, we can gain the critical skills to diconstruct and ignore media messages – but frankly, it’s hard to do, and some people never do learn those skills. Even those that do have a lot of deconstruction to do if they want to unlearn everything they learned as kids.

So, in that respect, I think the media majorly influence lots of folks’ sexuality.

That’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes it provides a nice shortcut: a guy might learn that giving flowers to a girl makes her happy, and a girl might learn that a guy who gives her flowers is a nice guy, and so when the flowers are given, both guy and girl are all gooey inside. Thanks, media!

But it’s sometimes a bad thing. Bulimia, anyone? Or look at the Woodstock rapes. Is there any chance that the guys who were ripping off women’s shirts were influenced by shit like Girls Gone Wild – that they thought women were supposed to be naked at concerts?

(That’s not, btw, to excuse them, or even to condemn Girls Gone Wild. But if we don’t want shit like that to happen again, it’s helpful to understand why it happened).

I think saying that it represents men’s cooptions of women’s sexuality is incoherent. And that’s one of my big problems with some feminists. We guys don’t get together for our weekly conspiracy meeting to plan what nastiness we’re gonna do to women this week. Though men are privileged in society today, “are” is a linking verb, not an active verb.

Some guys obviously do treat women like performers. And if the woman isn’t happy with that, there’s a real problem; and if the guy isn’t being honest about that, there’s a real problem. If a couple is happy in the performer/audience role, yay for them. Otherwise, they need to talk, and possibly break up.

This isn’t any different from cases in which women treat men like performers, of course, except that these cases are probably rarer.

As for how to deal with the pernicious influence of the media: I think that teaching critical thinking skills is paramount. When I have kids, you better believe that’s one of the most important lessons I’ll give them. I want them to recognize bullshit when they hear it, but I also want them to recognize when they’re being fed a line by a media source, and I want them to be able to decide whether they like that lesson.

It’s not just up to individual parents: I think our entire educational system is pathetic in the critical thinking skills department. If we wanna solve this problem, ultimately, we gotta turn to the schools.

I made some other points in the Ms. thread, but it’s not worth repeating them here.


I do think that there is a widespread idea in society that sex is something that men do to women, and women let them, or don’t let them: men “make women come” or “give women orgasms”, while "totally getting off on . . " whatever the woman is doing.

Ultimitly, I do not think this is the best way to look at sex, for either gender: it puts men in a situation where (provided they are not rapists), sex is always the result of someone “letting” them do something–a favor which carries implicit or explicit burdens of obligation. It also puts them in a position where someone else’s responses are totally thier responsibility, even though those responses are, to a great degree, beyond their control.

For women, this view of sex means that their enjoyment is all tied up in their partner’s ego: whether or not they orgasm becomes a statement of their partner’s value, even though there is little real-world coorelation. This puts all sorts of stresses and complications on what could be a simple, fun, rewarding activity. Furthermore, by having only the veto and no vote, women do end up having their sexuality all wrapped up in the mood of their partner. They feel uncomfprtable initiating sex, and often times do’t even consider initating sex becasue they don’t even think of it as an option.

In the end, I think that healthy couples view sex as an activity, not a verb: “Then we had sex”, not “So I fucked her”. I think that we can encourage our children to see sex this way by watching our own language. For example, many “birds and the bees” talks are scripted as “first the man . . then the man . . .Finally, when the egg and the sperm meet in the woman . . .”. Also, we can monitor our own behavoir to look for this tendency to see sex as something that men do and women allow. I believe it is deeply ingraned (like racism, say) and that it takes consistient self-awareness to root it out.

Good points, Manda Jo, although the grammar geek in me is gonna abuse your metaphor. I’d say that sex as a verb is okay as long as it’s intransitive: someone who says, “We spent the night fucking like bunnies,” doesn’t bother me, while, “I fucked her all night long,” makes my gorge rise. But I agree with your point that sex is something you do TOGETHER, not something you do TO somebody.

I think it’s clear how we deal with this problem in our individual lives: we pay attention to having healthy, communicative relationships. Is it a problem worth dealing with on a societal level? If so, how?


PS Lamia, I’m interested in the idea that examining male-oriented media separately from female-oriented media isn’t helpful. Is this what you said? if so, could you elaborate? It seems pretty straightforward to me that the gender-focused media send different messages, and that examining them separately is useful; why don’t you think so, again?

Fie, fie! unknit that threatening unkind brow,
And dart not scornful glances from those eyes
To wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor.
It blots thy beauty as frosts do bite the meads,
Confounds thy fame as whirlwinds shake fair buds,
And in no sense is meet or amiable.
A woman mov’d is like a fountain troubled-
Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty;
And while it is so, none so dry or thirsty
Will deign to sip or touch one drop of it.
Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance commits his body
To painful labour both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe;
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks, and true obedience-
Too little payment for so great a debt.
Such duty as the subject owes the prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband;
And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,
And not obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foul contending rebel
And graceless traitor to her loving lord?
I am asham’d that women are so simple
To offer war where they should kneel for peace;
Or seek for rule, supremacy, and sway,
When they are bound to serve, love, and obey.
Why are our bodies soft and weak and smooth,
Unapt to toll and trouble in the world,
But that our soft conditions and our hearts
Should well agree with our external parts?
Come, come, you froward and unable worins!
My mind hath been as big as one of yours,
My heart as great, my reason haply more,
To bandy word for word and frown for frown;
But now I see our lances are but straws,
Our strength as weak, our weakness past compare,
That seeming to be most which we indeed least are.
Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot,
And place your hands below your husband’s foot;
In token of which duty, if he please,
My hand is ready, may it do him ease.

Cute, Borodog, but couldja be on best behavior? Some weird part of me wants to show that a group can have a civil, informative discussion about this (in addition to the part of me that just wants to have that civil, informative discussion), and I’m afraid that posting beautiful-but-misogynist poetry is gonna drive off people that would otherwise have thought-provoking contributions.


I strongly disagree. If I’ve only once flipped through Cosmo or like magazines, I find it hard to believe that I’m influenced by them. If someone has only once seen a traditional porno, I find it hard to believe they are significantly influenced by it.

I guess it’s just one of my pet peeves when people say things about “the media”. I mean, could that possibly be any more vague? Do they mean magazines and newspapers and television shows and television commercials and websites and radio programs and comic books and novels and nonfiction works and billboards and so on? Most likely, when people have a beef with “the media” they really have a beef with a small subset of “the media”.

I think that’s the case here. Some subset of the media portrays women in such a way that it may give a small minority of men the belief that it is the way women really are. Some subset of the media portrays men in such a way that it may give a small minority of women the belief that it is the way men really are. Some subset of the media does both simultaneously. In no case does “the media” completely homogeneous, and I don’t think it should be treated as such.

Well., then, the English teacher in me is going to point out that there is no metaphor there, only a description and an example. More seriously, I considered getting into the whole transitive/intransitive thing, but it seemed to complicated. Overall, I think we are in agreement.

Frankly, I think that the paragigm of Transitive Sex (we need some sort of term here) is so entrenched that the only way to deal with the problem is to keep talking about it, and highlight it when other people start talking about “I love my boyfriend, he made me come seven times last night” or “I can’t make my girlfriend come, what’s wrong with me?” In my daydreams, I someday have a wider audience than the SDMB to do this in, but for now, this is my playground and here is where I make my point. I have some hopes in a rather foolish idea that ideas can diffuse upwards: that discussing and raising awareness of these things locally may eventually lead to a wider awareness in the popular culture.

Hmm, and which sex really committed their bodies to painful (and dangerous) labor in those days? I’m inclined to think Katharina has her tongue firmly in her cheek.

Manda: there may be a simple physiological aspect to this. Besides the way the equipment works, it’s pretty much a given (although not aways) that a man will have an orgasm no matter what the woman does. She can just lie there. Too often, and sadly for both sexes, they often do.

Since women’s orgasms are (usually) more elusive, mysterious, and require a hell of a lot more work, the unequal amount of effort helps to create the belief that the female orgasm is an achievement, which is exacerbated and shaped by the perception that men actually have to Do Something during sex and women don’t to create the perception that “men give women orgasms” instead of women simply having them.

(It doesn’t help that too many young girls haven’t the faintest clue about their sexual responses, either, thanks to societal mores).

And honestly? Cosmo et al are a hell of a lot more damaging to a young girl’s psyche than porn ever was, IMO. They spend years and years and pages and pages detailing exactly how a woman should act to “get a man” and how ugly and boring and fat they are… unless they do what the magazine tells them. Porn usually just shows overly theatrical and entirely unrealistic sex. I’d say it’s almost more damaging to young boys. “It’s gotta be that big!??!” :smiley:

I have just been reading Cheryl Benard’s novel Turning on the Girls, which is a hilarious satirical sendup of this very idea. Benard is an Austrian humanitarian worker with impeccable feminist credentials (her newest book is Veiled Courage: Inside the Afghan Women’s Resistance), but here she cuts loose with a nonstop barrage of irreverent laffs as if to refute the stereotype that feminists have no sense of humor.

Turning on the Girls takes place after a feminist revolution in the near future, when women have taken over the world and sent men to re-education programs. The Ministry of Thought assigns the novel’s heroine to come up with ideologically acceptable porn to replace the old kind of porn that demeaned women for men’s fantasies. But it isn’t as easy as it sounds! She’s totally stuck for ideas. She gets *really * frustrated when reading Camille Paglia. LOL

I think to some degree women’s expectations about sex and relationships are influenced by the media. Heaven knows, Cosmo et al certainly treat sex as a performance. I do think, though, that female-oriented media such as Cosmo, romance novels, etc. play a greater role in this than male-oriented media. A lot more women read Glamour and Harlequins than Playboy.

However–and I can only speak for myself–my expectations about men, women, and their behavior towards each other has been shaped far more by parents’ relationship towards each other. My mother, as far as I know, has never used the word feminist in her life. But she and her sisters are all strong, independent, no-bullshit-taking women who demand and get respect from the men in their lives. My mother has often expressed contempt for women who let men push them around. As a result of watching my parents and aunts and uncles interact, I grew up believing it was normal for men and women to treat each other as partners, with affection and respect.

Now, I’ll admit I have never discussed sexual expectations with my mom beyond the basic birds and bees talk. But I’m confident enough in myself as a strong woman to know that if I like giving up some control in bed, that doesn’t mean that I’m letting my partner co-opt me or my pleasure. See how this analogy fits: I like ballroom and contra dancing. However, I much prefer to dance with a strong leader. That doesn’t mean that I want to be dominated by a man all the time or that I’m giving up something when I dance.

As far as what men and women can do to address such problems, I would argue that it’s really important for adults to model loving, respectful partnerships for the children in their lives. Sure, kids get lots of messages from the media, but the most important messages come from one’s parents. I also agree with istara that men need to talk with boys and women with girls not just about the mechanics of sex, but relationships in general. And adult men and women need to talk to each other.

But to what degree is this physiological and to what degree is it the result of societal expectations? In my own life, I orgasm considerably moreeasily than does my husband, and I don’t tihnk that we are total freaks. We are constantly bombardded by the idea that man come easily and indiscriiminatly, and there is ofte na bit of a “princess and the pea” sydrome surronding a womans orgasm: it’s a sign of good breeding that you don’t come easily, and a way to test a man, by making your orgasm “a hell of alot . . of work” on his part. I don’t think we can rule out the idea that the phyisiological differences we see are at least emphasized and strenghthed a great deal by the expectations of the parties involved.

For a non-Dworkinish but authentically feminist (i.e., NOT Paglia / backlash shit) take on a lot of this, check out Naomi Wolf’s Promiscuities.

I wouldn’t say that it is never useful to seperate gender-targeted media, but it is foolish to pretend as though male-oriented media has no direct effect on women or that the problems of some male-oriented media are somehow diminished because some female-oriented media is as bad or worse. If negative, unhealthy, or limited portrayls of gender roles in the media are a problem, then they are a problem regardless of where they are found or who the target audience is.

Heartfelt Plaint: Dworkin and MacKinnon are two controversial flavors in a veritable Baskin Robbins of feminist choice.

Dworkin is about as popular these days as a Cabbage Patch doll. MacKinnon, I think, has had more lasting influence. (FTR, I strongly disagree with the former, and find the latter thought-provoking but ultimately wrong-headed. Moreover, this is true from just about every self-identified feminist, including male feminists, I know).

Demosthenesian*"there may be a simple physiological aspect to this. Besides the way the equipment works, it’s pretty much a given (although not aways) that a man will have an orgasm no matter what the woman does. She can just lie there. Too often, and sadly for both sexes, they often do.

Since women’s orgasms are (usually) more elusive, mysterious, and require a hell of a lot more work, the unequal amount of effort helps to create the belief that the female orgasm is an achievement, which is exacerbated and shaped by the perception that men actually have to Do Something during sex and women don’t to create the perception that “men give women orgasms” instead of women simply having them.

(It doesn’t help that too many young girls haven’t the faintest clue about their sexual responses, either, thanks to societal mores)."*

Demos, this reminds me of a joke I heard in a movie a few years ago (can’t remember the name unfortunately).

*Qu: What’s the difference between a G-spot and a golf ball?
Answer: I’ll spend 20 minutes looking for a golf ball" * :wink:

First, what Manda Jo said and much of what Lamia said.

As Manda has indicated, you’re sort of trapped here between remarking on a cultural stereotype that you lament, and naturalizing its effects as though they were the inevitable product of physiological difference.

Is men’s anatomy really so much less mysterious and elusive and than women’s? A penis is a, um, hard fact, while a clitoris is a metaphysical quandary?

It is really “a given” that a man will have an orgasm no matter what a woman does? How can it be when, for many men, the problem is the erection. There are also men who get too nervous to complete the act, or complete it so fast that they don’t feel they’ve experienced a proper orgasm. (I’m sure I don’t have to tell you these things.)

Is it true that women’s orgasms require “a hell of a lot more work” that men’s?

Does it take more calories to vigorously pump your hips for–well you fill in the blank–than to lie at relative ease, employing your digit of choice to stimulate your lover’s body while (optionally) whispering, “Does this feel right?”

I think if we asked an engineer to weigh in on this subject, the harder “work” would fall to the first task.

And, no, it doesn’t help that many men consider it a major effort to ask a simple question–presumably because societal mores have led them to believe that they are failures if the woman doesn’t scream with ecstatic pleasure while she’s lying on her back and he’s doing exactly what his central nervous system is telling him to do.

Demos, you are one hell of a cool dude and I would never want to say anything that puts you off posting here.

But consider. A clitoris is, physiologically speaking, very much like the head of a penis, only smaller and harder to see. But not to worry about that.

We have the technology.

Men: get a flashlight if you need to. If you wear glasses, keep 'em on. Train your eyes considerably above where you boldly go with that other, sightless organ of yours.

Find it. It is there: this is not like looking for the source of the Nile.

In fairness: yes there are women who’ve been mentally messed around by unrealistic body images, or by conflicting messages to be virgin/whore. Such a woman many not feel comfortable enough to help you on your quest. She may feel too guilty to want to keep you away from what she thinks (from reading posts like the above!) you’d much rather be doing. She might even be tempted to fake it just to make you happy.

Suggestion: Tell your lover it turns you on hugely to look closely at her body. Tell her that the most exciting thing to you is to find your lover’s most sensitive body part and to never, ever leave it go.

Then–to quote Captain Picard–“Make it so.”

She is very unlikely to lie flat on her back in response to your body, once you’ve recognized that hers too is hard fact.

Lamia, I agree with your last, especially since it’s hard to tell the difference these days. When porn was porn I had no big issue with it–up on the top shelf, in the X-rated movie theater, or adult section of hte video store.

The problem nowadays (last 5-8 years or so) is that softer edged porn, or porn-inspired images are everywhere. Magazines like Maxim are right next to Scientific American. And the main difference between Maxim and Cosmo, image-wise, is the ads.

The Victoria’s Secret catalogue–the primary objective of which is to get women to buy products–is designed to look as much like a men’s magazine as they can get away with it. HBO et. al. play lame midnight softporn, with men’s nude bodies nowhere in evidence. Video stores display obvious erotica by directors you’ve never heard of alongside Hollywood blockbusters. Comic books, video games and even some Disney movies draw women’s bodies as though the women in question had just left the implant ward. MTV videos for bands marketed to teens and pre-teens are shot by porn directors and feature porn actresses.

Going through this catalogue, I can’t draw any clear and reliable distinction between men’s media women’s media and the problems thereof.

Personally, I don’t find this to be the case at all.

I wonder if maybe the reason it seems like a ‘hell of a lot more work’ is that magazines and movies portray it that way in an effort to convince men that they’ve always got to try harder because ‘it’s just not easy.’

I also wonder if maybe some women do find it harder to orgasm because they’re told by books, magazines and movies from a young age that it IS harder for them, and that it takes a lot of work, and that men just aren’t good enough to please them most of the time.

I wonder this because in my own sex life, I’ve noticed that it was no harder for me to orgasm than it was for my partner.