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About men's desires

This article was written after a meaningful conversation on World Pulse with Mauri, an Italian member. I thank her so much for having helped me gather these thoughts with all her insights! And you can read her great article on feminicide in Italy just here: http://worldpulse.com/node/60571

People think that "male lust is inevitable": that's what Mauri wrote in her last comment in our discussion on gender-based violence in Europe and especially in our two countries (France and Italy).This expression triggered a lot of things in me.

This is unfortunately a view too many people, both women and men, hold today despite all scientific results showing it's not as simple as that. But I think that sometimes, people like to hold on to simple things because it prevents them from questioning their own habits and prejudices.

This inevitability of male lust is used in so many situations: to excuse rapes, or domestic violence ("she refused sex too often but well, it's her duty, he should not beat her but one cannot really blame him"), or allowing men to cheat on their wives but not the other way around ("a man has needs, for a woman it's different because she cannot jsut sexually cheat, she has to be emotionnaly involved during sex because it's her nature, and htat's unforgivable") and so on....

The difficulty with that myth, in my mind, is linked with other prejudices people are still taught today about men and women. Men are supposed to be powerful, always proactive, wanting things and being ready to fight to get it. On the other hand, women are more about emotions, support, and care. And when it comes to sexuality, this is how it is built :

- Men want things and are ready to get it whatever the cost

- Men, in sex, have the active role. Women just follow the moves, somehow.

- Men's pleasure in sex is automatic (whoever ever had sex with a man should know this is not as simple as that, by the way) while women are more "complicated"

- Men's desires are, therefore, inevitable. They cannot fully control them. That's why they might be *excused* when they have a violent behaviour, based on sex, towards women. And that is also why a woman cannot be *excused* at all when she did not seem to understand and accept this inevitability. For example, to draw from an example we discussed with Mauri, a woman walking alone at night in a skirt is accused of having forgotten that there are men outside and they have needs. She was inconsequent, and thus, if ever she ends up being raped, it's more her fault than the man's.

Still in Europe, few people openly challenge this point of view. It is sometiems difficult for me to understand why. After all, the image it presents of men is not really bright. Are men really OK to be considered as animals, unable to control their sexual desires? Is not that a high price to pay for the relative freedom to abuse women??

But it's not just all about men. A fair share of women also support these views, and what is especially worrying to me is to hear young teenagers defend it. They are persuaded that men's desires are more pressing than women's and that somehow, it gives them special rights.

I blame many people for this. The education, of course, is key. The way sexuality is taught in our schools does not talk aobut desire. It limits itself to discuss contraception and protection against STDs - and even those disucssions are often exclusively limited to presenting the condom and the pill. Sexuality is not just that.

Other responsibles are the media and especially:
- the so-called "feminine" magazines who tend to support these views by publishing articles on "how to be always desirable for your man" (i.e the article makes you think that your man is always in for sex) or "how to please him even when you don't want to" (so much for marital rape and forced practices!)
- the mainstream media, when they present rape cases. The way a victim was dressed is never discussed in a murder, a robbery or an assault. But when it's about rape, then you can be sure at some point somebody will detail the way the victim was dressed. If she's wearing a skirt, here you go: she asked for it. If she's wearing pants (if you have a bit of logic, it should destroy the precedent argument but no. Why would you be logical.....), she is suspected of having participated to the rape, because pants are difficult to remove so somehow, also, she must have asked for it.

Nobody will ever ever convince me that men's lust is inevitable and therefore I, as a woman, should accept it. And never ever will I accept that rape or other gender-based violence assault victims should be blamed because they did not accept it.

Again, thanks to Mauri for having helped my brain gather all of this!! I would also like to thank all the women from the Democratic Republic of Congo for all their articles about gender-based violence. I translated some of their stories in English and I encourage you all to go and read them. Some are terrible, and many tell the same stories: how men's desires are judged more important than women's rights as human beings.
Warm regards to you all,
A.

This story was written for World Pulse’s Ending Violence Against Women Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring an end to gender-based violence. The EVAW Campaign elicits powerful content from women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as vocal grassroots leaders, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
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Comments

Mauri's picture

Aurore, you have a wonderful

Aurore, you have a wonderful sense of synthesis! It would have taken me ten times more to arrive at one tenth of your clarity!

And besides, you have been even too generous quoting my not-so-important name ;-) Yet, I felt the "resonance": Italy and France are very similar, the problems more or less the same, and what makes us hypersensitive is shared-

I definitely agree with you. We all have a problem, a very big one. In Italy we are concentrated on the "financial crisis" striking hard and depriving so many of a decent future. But I wonder why it seems no one sees the connection between many of our troubles, and the sick sense we have of "being human".

I agree, also, on a very important point. The currently unquestioned assumption that a sort of pecking order "between" the sexes is degrading to both women and men. I could say: patriarchy as a whole is degrading, steals anyone on this planet a huge slice of soul. The problem then could be: how, for men, to yield privileges in exchange of dignity?

My male friends, relatives and colleagues, with different shades of color all share a sense of responsibility, and none of them are violent. Sure, I've encountered some men who were violent, even psychopathic). And a couple of women with similar characteristics, for what matters. But they were a minority. They have had their share of advantages just for the random variable of being born male - and in most cases they do not even imagine this advantage even exists: after all, none of them have been automatically wed out of their career path around age 33 to prevent supposedly dramatic consequences in case of pregnancy. And only a (not too small) minority has a clear gut feeling of what means "feeling vulnerable". Some scientists argue their blood chemistry prevents them to (and we're free to believe this or not: personally I don't think so - and besides, found the statistical "evidence" provided in support of similar claims unconvincing; but my judgment may be severely biased: the kind of evidence I have to give the referees in the field of environment physics is orders of magnitude higher than in the social sciences, just to be barely considered). This all is injust and should be corrected. But on the other side they share a "sense of service" and an integrity I greatly appreciate. This integrity bleeds, under the pretend that "male lust is inevitable".

May I say in an almost heretic way? In the kind of World I'd like to live Junghian psycho-analysis would have to change models. According to Jung (or more correctly: according to the presumably crank way I understood it) our mind has on birth an immense potential. But as soon as the child is exposed to the pressures of society, mind structures in an outwardly pointed conscious side and a huge unconscious. There is where all our human potentialities not overtly praised by society finally end: anything repressed, in particular.

Expressing gender is one huge area of repression. On one side there is the bewildering individuality of all people, in front of which the very meaning of the term "gender" seems to lose meaning. On the other the Norm, enforced often on religious grounds, which prescribes two and only two righteous life paths. The inescapable conflict always results in a sort of defeat: the child adapts to external expectations, and an interesting thing happens: all her/his "undesired", unexpressible gender characteristics organize themselves in a huge unconscious complex (the feminine "Anima" in the male, the masculine "Animus" in females) which is used from then on as a sort of "reference" to judge the relational world. To simplify it, in a limited set of characters whose individuality is irrelevant?

I hope Junghian analysts possibly reading my "explain" will limit their judgement to laughter - and I'm the first to admit saying I'm naive is a piteous understatement. Things are surely infinitely more complex than this. Yet, I've seen so many times people react to others using their second-hand models as if they are a truth. With time, Junghians say, many people develop their view so much to "individuate", breaking the cage of stereotyping and simplification. Not all, however.

Maybe is it that breaking stereotypes is difficult? Our brain is structured to represent a difficult reality build (over)simplified models?

Maybe, would children be lovingly educated to follow their inclinations regardless of what stereotypes dictate allow a healthier mental development? Without the formation of heavy bricks on our hearts like an Anima or an Animus?

In education to relationships of any kind (no less that this, in my opinion, would be the ultimate purpose of "sexual education") I guess the role of scientists to be very important. I've followed the raging growth of "gender science" in the last years, and in the process I've seen how scientific results are communicated to the general public.

First, scientific results are presented as "truths". Of course they are, but in a very specific and technical sense: by their very nature they are always "preliminary" and valid up to instrument and method sensitivity and precision. In addition they should be repeatable and falsifiable. Also, as often happens in observational disciplines, shades are more frequent than crisp black-or-white utterances... Yet non-scientists are often presented a truth as if it is absolute, definitive. In a discipline like gender science shades of gray are much, much more common than anything else, to the point that any prediction made on "women as a group", for example, may predict with sufficient reliability how a specific woman or man will behave. Scientists (and now I include in the number both of us at least) should in my opinion take a honest stand on this idea. Science is a wonderful way of making our life potentially better, but its role is not to give low-cost certitudes. Seconding the desire of society by and large to hear what they would like things to be, "education" is another thing..

I take the example of the "inevitability of male desire". This popular idea pretends a scientific foundation in sociobiology: as any "male" animal or vegetable produces a great number of cheap reproductive cells they will maximize their darwinian fitness by mating with as many female partners as possible. As a consequence, natural selection will privilege sexually promiscuous, lust-driven males.

This assumption, however, is false. I know two reasons, but surely others can be found.

First, the reproductive strategy "many cheap sperms vs one large ovum" is more an exception in Nature, than the rule. If we think in terms of bare biomass, and account for the huge part of it represented by Archaea ("warm spring bacteria") and normal bacteria, the vastly prevailing form of reproduction is just dividing (any of our cell does, too). Imagining the categories of "female" and "male" as dominant, or even common, is a curious form of anthropocentrism. And even if differentiated male and female forms did evolve, the strategy pretended as normal and inevitable for humans is just one of the many "discovered" by natural selection.

Saying "sociobiology proves male desire is inevitable" is doing a bad service to humans, science and our common good sense.

Besides - and that's not very "patriarchal", I'm afraid - the "male" and "female" forms we can see seem non-homologous converging adaptations evolved many times independently in geologic time. That is, a female guinea pig and a female crocodile have in common their producing ova (of very different kinds). But they are not female "in the same way". They develop their "femaleness" in two very different and genetically incompatible way. The end result is a set of vastly differing and non-comparable reproductive organs. Are different life forms. And no evidence exist their two "femalenesses" have evolved by changes to the "femaleness" of a common ancestor.

In the specific case of us placentate mammals, males are a variation of the "basic" female design. It is possible, I wonder, that this has been the accidental response to an evolutionary bottleneck which occurred relatively recently, who knows, during the era of reptile-mammals, around Permian, when some our ancestor returned to sexual reproduction after a partenogenetic phase.

In this respect it might well be that both "male" and "female" placentate mammals are homologous to the female form of some reptilian ancestor. That is, "male" and "female" placentate mammals may both be the "same" of a preceding reptilian female form, in a sense akin to birds "are" dinosaurs. Speculation, unfalsifiable, then non-scientific... ;-)

In this all we human are an even more special case, a sort of evolutionary "monster" - indeed, a fascinating one. We are very "neotenic", that is, we retain many juvenile characters even in the adult form. Thank to this, the human "male" is even closer in shape to the human "female" that other life forms. Take, as a comparison, gorillas: I was stunned to notice how different the skeleton of the male and female gorilla are, and more even stunned to notice how closer the human skeleton is to the female gorilla's. The sexual dimorphism we can see at skeletal level in humans is one or two order of magnitude less than in gorillas. Looking from gorillas' perspective, I guess we humans look decidedly strange: hyperfeminized, juvenile-resembling. (By "hyperfeminized" I mean: if you take a male gorilla skeleton one one end, the human in the other, and apply one of those morphing programs popular among computer geeks, you will find something similar to the female gorilla more or less in the middle. This might be a nice jike among gorilla scientists).

It is maybe for this that our species feels such an urgent need to construct stringent men and women stereotypes? That we can't relax, and just live?

(Sure, the tendency of us humans to neotenize is proceeding quite rapidly, even today. Some people, dr.Manning among them, describe this tendency as a "progressive feminization". And apparently are frightened by it. So my crazy preceding phrases maybe could find some support - if not in science, in emotional perception. Dr.Manning is a physician who studied the "finger ratio" among humans and related it to "feminization" - with extremely scant scientific evidence, in my very modest opinion; he wrote a book and I, incidentally, read it. Science seemed to me a bit slippery, but the emotional content was very, very clear. Of some deep fear, on whose origin I've no data, but akin to the usual "horror of femininity").

But now and after all: what is "wrong" in the neotenization/feminization of our species? It's an evolutionary tendency. A matter of fact. An accident, which may or may not reverse. It is something completely irrelevant to any specific individual, after all. It may even be a happy event: nothing really important prevents us, men and women, to imagine ourselves "similar" - we are, and a lot, after all.

I agree with Aurore on the fundamental point. We are free to make our choices. Whatever our heritage, we can construct our future based on responsibility, love, sense of service. And being human, no more, no less, no different - provided we understand what it means exactly?

With many positive vibes,

Mauri

Sarah Whitten-Grigsby's picture

Thank You, Aurore and Mauri

Dear Aurore,

Thank you for your excellent testimony regarding gender violence. You are clearly well informed, care deeply about this issue and have given much thought to possible solutions.

Two aspects of your report leap out at me: I agree heartily that education is the key -- indeed, in the best way, knowledge IS power -- and I also agree that the media is responsible for a significant amount of the problem. The women -- and men, too, in a different way -- are portrayed in the media had caused staggering problems with young women, as you know. You also make an excellent point in wondering why men would want to continue to be portrayed as lust-driven, violent, robots. (I paraphrase!)

Your report clearly illustrates a larger problem, too, I feel, which is that as a civilization, despite all our centuries of evolution and ever-increasing knowledge and sophistication, we seem to be going backwards when it comes to man's inhumanity to man.

Mauri's testimony is equally well-informed and powerful, and her honesty and truth are very, very valuable: yes, we must call the crap the crap, and yes, sensitivity is, indeed a form of strength! Those of us who are sensitive are the ones who feel the pain of the world and so feel compelled to do whatever we can, however tiny or inconsequential it may sometimes seem, to contribute toward change, thus making the world a more compassionate place.

You and Mauri, by speaking up, spending much thoughtful time and energy on your reports, and by providing suggestions for solutions to the antiquated thinking of those who look upon women as inferior, are already taking significant steps toward helping others.

So, thank you, thank you, and keep speaking out!

With Respect and Gratitude,

Sarah

Aurore's picture

A handful of thanks!

Dear Mauri and Sarah,

Sorry to answer so late to both of you. I just started on a new job and plenty of administrative stuff to deal with at the moment - I'm sure you know how it is :)

Even though I did not answer I read carefully your two messages. Thanks for having paid that attention to what I wrote and to have added some elements I forgot on the way.

Mauri, I really love the scientific input in your messages - makes me want to read Jung an to learn more about steps of the evolution!!! I never thought about it this way, to use evolution processes to question the strict division between male and female and their supposed respective "qualities". Definitly gonna try to go more into the matter.

Sarah, having grown up in what might well be called a "sensitive" family, especially to all issues related to human rights, I fully agree sensitivity is not a weakness but a strength. And even if it makes you more permeable to the distress and misfortune of others it also gives you the energy to wake up everyday and do something positive with your life - something many "non sensitive" people might not have!

Thanks again to the two of you and have a nice WE on both sides of the Atlantic!
A.

kliszk's picture

Thanks to everyone for taking

Thanks to everyone for taking the time to not only have these important conversations, but to translate your thoughts into a well-written and very accessible piece. It is so important to share these powerful issues with our community here.

I look forward to continuing the conversation.

Thanks again,
kirsten

Aurore's picture

Hi Kirsten

Thanks very much for your message. It was great to converse through the "Pulse" and I hope to continue on another topic soon. thanks again for having read the post & comments!
Warmly,
A.

Aurore's picture

A related article on World Pulse!

Hey girls,

Wandering at midnight on World Pulse as usual...it allows to find some little diamonds!
Here is a piece written by a male member of Wolrd Pulse on why the fights against violence against women can also bring a lot to men, and encourage them to take part in the movement.
So, here is the direct link : http://worldpulse.com/node/58041
enjoy the reading!!

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