Is It Okay to Ogle Hotties, Male and Female?

In the comments on my post on the hollowness of Seventeen magazine’s promise to avoid Photoshopping, beloved readers Tod and Will brought up some related points.

Tod asks:

How do we collectively, and also women specifically, square the desire to have women be portrayed more realistically in the media, at the same time we see the applause for male eye candy on the rise?

I’ve noticed that a lot of the bloggers I know that write really well about the harmful effects of female body image issues and the media are raving about the social implications of Magic Mike, for example. Is this a tit for tat thing? An evening of the playing field? An acknowledgement that men ogling women is ok? Cognitive dissonance? Something else?

Will says:

The implications to women of hyper-attractiveness of women on television get a fair amount of attention (though it usually seems to be limited to airbrushing and abnormal physiques), though I think it should be said that this causes problems for men, too. Which is to say that I think television and movies have the capacity to warp young male perceptions and expectations. To picture something that’s not normal as being normal (and thus, if you are a normal male, “within reach”) and nudging men to view actual normal-looking women (or women whose position on the attractiveness hierarchy matches their own) as background furniture. When this gets attention, it is often laid out like men are dumb or superficial, rather than that they are responding to their environment.

And a post to which Will linked from his own site, he says:

With the exception of a fascination for certain actresses (Angelina Jolie comes to mind), [women] seem to line up behind whomever it is that men are supposed to line up behind. Indeed, it seems at times that they flock to Kate Moss and then get upset at men for being fixated on waifs. Not that there aren’t men that consider anybody above a size two to be fat, but there seems to be far more women. The patriarchy is so successful in this regard that it no longer requires further male involvement.

To sum up, I take these comments to be asking the following questions: Is there a moral difference between ogling hot female images and hot male images? Are females the only ones who are hurt by images of hot women? Have females absorbed patriarchal values when they find images of hot women fascinating? My answers are sort of, no, and sort of. Something both Tod and Will touch on is something I agree with: the discussion of mass media images of hot people does not begin and end with the way they can make women feel bad about themselves.

I include the picture up top, which is of Douglas Fairbanks in Thief of Bagdad from 1924, to show that ogling men in mass media is far from a new phenomenon. From the beginning of visual mass media, there have been men much hotter than your average guy, and often shirtless or otherwise sexily posed. Not nearly as often as women, but the ogling of men is definitely not a by-product of women’s liberation. Here’s another from It Happened One Night, 1934, where Claudette Colbert is doing her damnedest not to ogle hottie Clark Gable, who is deliberately sexually provoking her.

Is It Okay to Ogle Hotties, Male and Female?

Actually, I’m not even sure we could safely say there are more hottie males per movie now than in the first half of the 20th century. So whatever we say about hottie male phenomenon, it shouldn’t be that it’s a victory of feminism.

Is it moral to ogle anyone, male or female? Or objectify them?* We objectify people all the time. I use my husband’s stomach as a pillow, I get him to rub my back when I have a sore muscle. Without getting into too many particulars, I will say that I strongly believe it is perfectly consistent with a loving relationship to have moments of objectification during a healthy sex life. I think it’s even okay to use people merely as a means. When I call UPS to arrange a package pickup, I am using the UPS guy merely as a means. I don’t consider him at all as an end in himself. But of course it is sometimes, perhaps most of the time, wrong to use someone merely as a means. It is wrong to drug a woman to have sex with her, even if she never finds out, isn’t injured, doesn’t get pregnant, doesn’t get an STD. And it is wrong because she is being used merely as a means.

Objectifying is wrong, when it is wrong, due to the context in which it arises. In the context of a loving relationship, or a legitimate business transaction, fine. If it occurs without consent and/or respect, and if it co-occurs with injury, not so fine.

As such, I don’t think anything is wrong necessarily with ogling people on a screen or in a magazine. I think it would depend on the inferred attitude of the photographer/director, the circumstances under which the person is displaying him or herself (is she freely choosing or is she reduced to posing because she has a drub habit that she feels compelled to support?), and the attitude of the viewer (contemptuous, dismissive, violent, cheerful, sweetly longing).

There is a difference between ogling men and women because the stakes are higher for women. Women are more valued for their looks. It seems likely that a greater-than-ever degree of insecurity about looks afflicts women at least in part due to the ever-increasing frequency with which we view images of impossibly hot women. Our objection to valuing women for looks seems to be that it looks are morally arbitrary. When we value women for looks we value them for something over which they have no control. They have some control over it, of course. But women shouldn’t be forced to spend time on cultivating what looks they have in order to be valued. I’ve written before about valuing morally arbitrary traits, and I do think we are somewhat inconsistent about it. Forgive me for quoting myself, but I already wrote about this briefly in our inequality forum:

Someone can take significant measures to make himself more attractive, but he has inherited certain facial features, tendencies to obesity and acne, etc. To paraphrase Cathleen Schine, no one deserves to have been born with strawberry blond hair and no one deserves not to have been born with strawberry blond hair. The fact remains that some people are born with strawberry blond hair, and others are not. And those with strawberry blond hair get more rewards.

Even if you are suspicious, as I am, that there are innate differences in sheer abilities, one’s motivation or interest in developing a talent is probably partially inherited. So is temperament, which may affect someone’s ability to persevere with the development of a talent. A person is also not morally responsible for her early childhood education nor early opportunities to practice a talent. Some parents encourage diligence while others do not. So, some significant part of our talents are the result of luck.

Interestingly, although most would agree that talent is partially inherited and the opportunity to develop talents are afforded to some children more than others, we see talent as more constitutive of a person’s identity than looks. Indeed, looks are supposed to be entirely not constitutive of a person’s identity. Someone who accords much weight to looks in her evaluation of a person is considered superficial. Why should that be? Presumably because looks are distributed with partial moral neutrality. No one earned good looks. But so too are talents. And for a guy to say he loves his girlfriend because she is so smart would never incur the opprobrium that he would get from some quarters if he said that he loves his girlfriend because she is so hot.

I’m not entirely sure, in other words, why talent is considered part of our essential identity and looks are not. If a woman cultivates a talent in order to be economically and socially valued, this seems praiseworthy. If a woman cultivates her looks in order to be economically and socially valued, she is to be pitied for cultivating something that is not really part of her essence. I should say that I think it is a good idea for women to cultivate talent over looks. Cultivation of talent earns more stable and long-lasting economic and social benefits for women than cultivation of looks. It is indubitably sad when someone who cultivates looks is valued over her talent. But the reason it is sad cannot be because looks are not part of who a woman really is while talent is part of who shereally is. More that cultivated talent is really more useful, ultimately, for everyone involved.

And of course, there’s anorexia and crazed diets and plastic surgery. It is regrettable when anyone feels they have to injure themselves in one are to further their interests in another. It is regrettable when that happens with cultivation of talent (wrestlers who sweat down pounds) or looks. To the extent that in ogling women, we are furthering the gains that beauty brings, and thus giving women more of an interest in harming themselves to achieve it, we should be more mindful of ogling women than men. That is not to say that ogling women is unmitigatedly wrong and ogling unmitigatedly right. It’s contextual. But there’s an extra reason to be cautious about ogling women.

This not solely men’s fault. Women don’t only pursue images of beautiful women because they’ve somehow been brainwashed into having male tastes. Women want to study women men find beautiful, in part, because they want to learn how to be beautiful. They want to be seen as beautiful. I suspect strongly that this is a large part of female sexual desire. Women don’t consume nearly the rate of porn that men do, and even more rarely by themselves. Going to a male strip club is much more of a social activity than a sexual compulsion.

Men like to look at hot women, and women like to look at hot men less. This doesn’t mean that women are less sexually interested. Women’s sexual interest lies, in a much greater degree than men, on being seen and being attractive. I think women get off more more than men on being found hot. I think men believe that the woman in a provocative outfit wants to get laid. I think she wants men to want to sleep with her, and both men and women underestimate the primacy of that desire in women. I am agnostic on whether this is cultural or innate, and for the purposes of this writing, it is irrelevant. I also think that of course, as with any generalization by gender, there are bazillions of counterexamples on either side. There are plenty of women who get off more on looking, and plenty of men who get off on being desired. I remember this bit from an expert in female sexuality in an article in the New York Times magazine a couple of years ago:

When she peers into the giant forest, Chivers told me, she considers the possibility that along with what she called a “rudderless” system of reflexive physiological arousal, women’s system of desire, the cognitive domain of lust, is more receptive than aggressive. “One of the things I think about,” she said, “is the dyad formed by men and women. Certainly women are very sexual and have the capacity to be even more sexual than men, but one possibility is that instead of it being a go-out-there-and-get-it kind of sexuality, it’s more of a reactive process. If you have this dyad, and one part is pumped full of testosterone, is more interested in risk taking, is probably more aggressive, you’ve got a very strong motivational force. It wouldn’t make sense to have another similar force. You need something complementary. And I’ve often thought that there is something really powerful for women’s sexuality about being desired. That receptivity element. At some point I’d love to do a study that would look at that.”

I kind of agree with this, although the way it’s phrased is infuriating. To say that 1) men get off on seeing hot women, and 2) women get off more having their partner think they are hot is most emphatically not  to say that men are aggressive and women are passive or reactive. After all, who holds more power – someone who is desiring or someone who is desired? There are ways in which each is the card it is more powerful to hold.

I believe that women have not only an economic and rational interest in cultivating their looks, but a sexual interest as well. And women watch closely what men generally want, and try to be that. It is incumbent on men to be aware of that, and be mindful of desiring unhealthy goals, and incumbent on women not to lose all sense of all their interests in pursuit of looks.

As for whether porn and images of hot women harm men – I think definitely yes. The more porn you see, the more you set up a system in your brain where you are rewarded with an orgasm every time you see a certain type of image. Or, to a lesser degree, when you get sexual pleasure watching a hot woman in a movie. The more unrealistic that image is, and the more pleasure rewards it, the more you’re going to rob yourself of the ability actually to achieve your desires. To the degree that you reward yourself with pleasure for watching violent or degrading images, you reward and develop your vices rather than your virtues.

So, overall. Ogling pictures of men and women is not necessarily wrong, but can be. Ogling hot women is somewhat more problematic than ogling men. Ogling hot women is, to one degree or another, counter to the interests of males as well as females.

*My view on this is informed by some writings of Martha Nussbaum.

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63 thoughts on “Is It Okay to Ogle Hotties, Male and Female?

  1. This is a really smart post, Rose (as per usual.) I think that finding pleasure in beautiful people is essentially inevitable. But there’s a difference between deriving pleasure from seeing someone who is beautiful and “ogling” them.

    For instance, it’s pretty much impossible to expect men or women to not look at someone attractive that walks by, or notice an attractive image of someone in a magazine or film. But I always take “ogling” to mean you don’t just glance and register the attractiveness, you continue to do so beyond what would be considered “polite.”

    Obviously this is much less of an issue with images than with real people for obvious reasons.

    We’re watching “True Blood” right now, which is essentially a soap opera with gothic imagery and gore, and it’s pretty much designed to titillate (though it’s good for other reasons, like it’s melodrama and cheesiness and sheer dumb entertainment value.)

    But I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with all the images of attractive men and women. Both Jason and Sookie are, by and large, just there as eye candy. Lots of other characters, too. It is what it is, and I don’t think it’s harmful because you can’t take it that seriously. It has its soft-porn moments, too, which are also pretty harmless.

    Maybe a good rule of thumb is that for every hot woman you ogle you have to ogle at least one hot guy as well.

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  2. “When we value women for looks we value them for something over which they have no control. They have some control over it, of course. But women shouldn’t be forced to spend time on cultivating what looks they have in order to be valued.”

    I absolutely agree with that third sentence. I know some drag queens who would probably disagree with the words “some control” in the second sentence though.

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    • As I get older, I find that I also notice looks differently (though, perhaps, not less).

      When I worked at Global Conglomerate, there were two people who, based on looks alone, I misjudged. One was exceptionally photogenic and one was… shall we say… not particularly photogenic.

      The photogenic one was always cheerful, always smiled, always just on the tasteful side of flirtatious, and her smile could make you nervous.

      And then, one day, I overheard he say that “we need to nip that in the butt!”

      Her laughter, to that point, was melodious. After that point, it was jangled. She then became effortless to speak with.

      Another was a person on a team that I had been assigned to and I thought of her as a bit frumpy. Then I caught her making jokes that had two or three different levels to them. Back-handed compliments that only had their full effect by the time you sat down at your desk. We had conversations about cooking, and music, and Harry Potter and the wicked, wicked jokes she made about any and all of the above. To use a bad analogy from Twilight, she sparkled.

      But you’d never know it from a mere glance.

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      • My wife is gorgeous. I’m frequently told this by the young men (and women) in the music scene whose bars we frequent, most often before they realize that she’s my wife. I don’t know if I’d use the word objectifying as much as sexualizing- some of them do sexualize her, which happens in bars where people are playing rock’n’rolll, which is a very sexual genre of the blues. (It was called “rock & roll” as a lewd reference to having sex- it’s sex music in other words) She doesn’t mind it either, provided they don’t invade her space.

        I met her through an online music list and then emails, so I was way smitten with her long before I had any idea what she looked like. She’s funny and smart and memorizes episodes of Ren and Stimpy. By the time I knew that, it wouldn’t have made any difference if I’d met her at the bus station and found out she looked any which way. Since it was the Internet, I half expected she’d be a dude. It probably helped my case that I knew her well enough at that point not to be intimidated or even really care that she’s a knockout. Most of the knockout girls I know are pretty lonely because nobody ever hits on them because they figure they don’t have a chance.

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        • there’s a dating service for that… give a woman a makeup job that makes her “interesting and approachable” Makeup artists like doing “ordinary” more than “perfect” anyhow — lot more interesting for them.

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  3. I really liked this post, but as is my wont, I’ll quibble with a very tangential point you made because, well, I’m an annoying guy:

    When I call UPS to arrange a package pickup, I am using the UPS guy merely as a means. I don’t consider him at all as an end in himself

    I agree you’re “using” him merely as a means. (And I might wonder whether there is any other way to “use” someone in any meaningful sense of the word “use”.)

    But you’re not “treating” him merely as a means. You’re polite (I presume) and would refrain from saying anything nasty to him unprovoked. When I worked telephone customer service at a bank, almost all my callers observed a minimum of politeness. Even when they were angry (about fees, etc.) and even if they were swearing, there would be some words they wouldn’t use or some places they wouldn’t go. In short, almost everyone, even the “rude” ones, treated me in part as an end to myself.

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    • I meant to finish with:

      I don’t think you or most people abandon all consideration for the customer service rep as an end in him-/herself. It is probably easier to do so on the phone–because the person might seem like just a “voice”–and in practice, any one might approach treating someone only as a means, but I think they (and you) would say it would be wrong to do so completely.

      Maybe I’m being negative, focusing on what one doesn’t do. But I think that refraining from abusive behavior can be part of treating someone as an end.

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      • You can also include the fact that the UPS guys is doing this voluntarily. Your purchace of his services also serves his ends. Unless you are totally not giving any consideration to why he is there (i.e to perform a srvice for you and get paid) it is difficult to say that you are treating him as a mere means to your ends. You are also treating him as an end in himself

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          • This may be a semantic issue (and this response goes for James below, as well) about what it means to treat someone as a mere means. I mean something relatively non-value-laden. When I say treating someone as merely a means, I mean that you are using him to complete your ends while not entertaining his ends in your mind or checking to see that your ends mesh with his ends. It’s just a matter of the goal you’re pursuing, and whether you are including the ends of the other person at all. That can be done with or without consent, and with or without respect. If it’s done with respect and consent, then you are still treating them as a mere means (to my understanding), but permissibly.

            So I call the UPS guy, and I don’t think about his ends at all (most of the time). So on my understanding, I use him as a mere means. What makes it permissible is that I don’t treat him with disrespect, and I assume in virtue of his employment and my belief that UPS does not employ slave labor that he has given his consent.

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            • Also, you may safely presume that his interaction with you is in keeping with his own ends, in that it is part of his employment and generates income for him. His ends may not be of proximate concern to you, but should you consider them you may be reasonably confident that on some level they harmonize with yours.

              [Edited to reflect that I could have spared myself the trouble of commenting thusly if I’d just taken the time to read Murali’s comment and noted that he’s already said pretty much the same thing.]

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            • I have been brooding on this exact issue lately due to how much I love Amazon Prime, and how aware I am that they treat their shippers like crud…. I’m thinking of those shippers purely as a means, and I’m pretty sure that’s not ok, even though the shippers have consented.

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  4. And I originally thought that was a picture of Njinsky until reading further down.

    I don’t know if there is a clear answer here except that this is one of the many areas that shows the contradictions and hypocrisies of the human condition. The previous sentence was probably a bit too grand.

    I know a lot of women who dislike Zooey Deschanel. They seem to dislike her for being too girly and being the current crush d’jour for many men or at least a certain kind of young man. Yet these same women have huge crushes on Ryan Gosling or post pictures on facebook of Ewan MacGregor in nothing but a kilt*.

    Yet I have never heard a woman question me for my crush on Maggie Gyllenhaal. And I have a very big crush on her. Most women seem to find my crush on Maggie to be a sign of good taste. I’m guessing that this is because Maggie is seen as a serious actor and very intelligent**. However, as far as I can tell, Maggie Gyllenhaal has done more publicity shots in sexy underwear than Zooey Deschanel. Mary-Louise Parker is another very attractive women in the free from complaint category and I am guessing for similar reasons.

    In the end, there is probably no rhyme or reason to this and looking at someone for being aesthetically pleasing is part of our biological programming. I would say that the vast majority of people do oogle someone at one point or another and feel jealousy when someone else gets oogled because it makes them feel undesirable.

    *I have never been able to understand why kilts are supposed to be attractive. Perhaps this is because my ancestry is about as far from manly Celt as humanly possible. I come from firm Litvak stock with genetic dispositions towards being short. I would feel damn silly and self-conscious wearing a kilt even if Maggie herself told me to.

    **I don’t know whether Zooey Deschanel is intelligent or not but she does not seem to be perceived as such in the media. Maggie Gyllenhaal seems to have a reputation for being an independent minded actor who takes roles for usually non-monetary reasons.

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    • I agree that some actresses tend to be “okay” to have a crush on, according to some of my female friends, on the presumption that they’re intelligent. Jennifer Aniston seems to fall in that category, at least per my female friends.

      Emma Thompson, on whom I have a “crush” (a crush for which my girlfriend makes fun of me), is probably also up there, too. But then, “Remains of the Day” was darn good movie, in my opinion.

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      • I also enjoy Emma Thompson. If anything, she introduced Stephen Fry to Hugh Laurie.

        Though my favorite Emma Thompson movie is Dead Again. This is possibly the only movie in the “so bad, it’s good” camp that I have ever really enjoyed. It helps that the plot is completely insane but everyone goes at it with gusto and the cast is A plus: Emma Thompson, Kenneth Brangnah, Derek Jacobi, Robin Williams (as a defrocked psychologist now working the graveyard shift at a meat locker), and Matt Dillon.

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            • With a twist! A few, really, but one big one.

              The funny thing is, at the time I thought it was going to be the first of many Branaugh-Thompson romantic pairings (e.g. Thin Man hommages), but it was the only one ever.

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                • You’re right, and I liked MAAN movie a lot (especially Michael Keaton.)

                  Dead Again ’91
                  Much Ado ’93
                  Frankenstein (without Thompson, but with Helena Bonham Carter ) ’94
                  divorce ’95

                  So I think you’ve hit upon it.

                  By the way, my fantasy of what happened when Carter and Thompson worked together on Order of the Phoenix is that at first they were wary of each other, but one night they got drunk together and ripped Branaugh a new one.

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                  • I did not know that Kenneth Baranagh and Helena Bonham Carter were ever an item.

                    I also never made it to Order of the Pheonix movie. I’ve read all the books but have a bit of a dissenting view on Harry Potter. I can see why they are good and successful but am a bit perplexed by the mega-success that they have received. They are still much better than the other books that are mega-successful that perplex me Hunger Games (not as original as everyone claims), Twlight (nuff said), and 50 Shades of Grey (even more nuff said).

                    Part of this could be an occupational hazard from my grad school days (Theatre directing with a lot of classes on dramatic literature thrown in. My undergrad course load was also heavily literature and theatre history based), I tend towards work and more active reading than escapism and tend to get annoyed at things that most people seem to not notice or ignore. My musician friends have made similar comments about concerts. In terms of the classic C.S. Lewis essay an Experiment in Criticism, I am firmly in what he calls a literary reader.)

                    Harry Potter was cute enough but I got quickly annoyed at the repeated jokes about musicians not being able to dress normally. The whole “What house are you in?” aspect of the fandom perplexes me as well especially people who claim to be all about House Slytherin. I always want to state to House Slytherin fanatics, “You realize that they are a barely disguised analogy for the Nazis, right? And J.K. Rowling is basically telling kids that Nazism and caring about blood purity are very bad things.” I imagine this will not go over well.

                    That being said, the movies are not bad. They were well cast and I’m impressed that they picked kids who really were able to grow into their roles and were generally good to great actors.

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  5. A very good post, so I almost hesitate to take off on a tangent of disagreement, but, well, this is the internet.

    I think it’s even okay to use people merely as a means. When I call UPS to arrange a package pickup, I am using the UPS guy merely as a means. …But…It is wrong to drug a woman to have sex with her, even if she never finds out, isn’t injured, doesn’t get pregnant, doesn’t get an STD. And it is wrong because she is being used merely as a means.

    Can that be? If it’s not inherently wrong to use someone as a means, then can the wrongness of the latter example come from a feature that’s present and non-problematic in the first example?

    Or is this a serious blow to the principle that using people as means is wrong? Whereas using someone as a means is a constant between the two examples, there is a variable that differs between the two that really seems to go to the heart of the difference. Whether we call that variable consent or personal autonomy, it seems a much more powerful explanation of why the first example of using someone as a means is OK and why the second example is not.

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    • Perhaps it has something to do with what Murali said above, and what you’re hinting at when it comes to consent, in that the UPS guy has presumably made a voluntary choice to take on his job (although the (very small!) residual marxism in me insists that it’s a “constrained choice).

      I’m not sure consent gets us quite to the end, though. I can imagine a school teacher treating a child as an end in him-/herself even though the child, say, hates school, is not good at it, and is only there because they are forced to be.

      Or, I can imagine that some prison guards might treat their charges as ends in themselves, even though the charges are their involuntarily (presumably….although obviously they chose to commit a crime, excepting all the qualifications about innocent people being imprisoned and about the ludicrousness of drug laws). At any rate, I should think a prison guard ought to treat their charges as ends in themselves.

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  6. First of all, just like everyone else I think this was a brilliant post.

    On this:
    Women’s sexual interest lies, in a much greater degree than men, on being seen and being attractive. I think women get off more more than men on being found hot. I think men believe that the woman in a provocative outfit wants to get laid. I think she wants men to want to sleep with her, and both men and women underestimate the primacy of that desire in women. I am agnostic on whether this is cultural or innate, and for the purposes of this writing, it is irrelevant. I also think that of course, as with any generalization by gender, there are bazillions of counterexamples on either side.

    I think gay men provide a particular, discrete counterexample. I think there is more of a combination of these two impulses for guys like us. There is definitely a propensity for getting off on being found hot, though I don’t think that diminishes the appreciation (if you will) we feel for the hotness of others.

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    • Russell,

      I think it’s possible to read your counterexample as evidence for culture over innateness when it comes to how the two impulses sort out. Perhaps there is something in American culture that insists on that these impulses divide along gender lines. When sub-cultures like gay culture emerge and evolve,* the gender lines are not there, or do not operate in the same way, and therefore the impulses are freer to merge or diverge.

      While I think it’s possible to so read your counterexample, I’m not sure how much I’d want to insist on it. (At the end of the day, I don’t particularly care if it’s innate or cultural.)

      *I realize that there isn’t a single “gay culture” in the US, and I should also make clear that by “sub-culture,” I don’t intend anything pejorative, just [what I hope is] a value-neutral difference from the dominant culture.

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  7. Boy, you Blinded Trials folk will just post any old thing I throw out there, won’t you?

    Seriously though, I agree with Erik that this was a *really* smart post. (One of the things I notice about posts or articles I’ve read on this kind of topic is that they so often end up having a divisive Men v. Women taste, even when they’re written by great writers. Yours misses that vibe entirely, much to its credit.)

    I am not sure that I necessarily agree with some of your observations about male sexuality (specifically that men do not have their own perceived attractiveness as a foundational part of their sexuality), though admittedly that is based pretty much entirely my own anecdotal evidence of 1 person. But I think that’s hair splitting, and that the entire post lays out what seems a pretty good answer to my query.

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    • The difference, I think, is that our own perception of attractiveness if more dispersed. Our job, our personality (in more the affirmative/aggressive than passive sense), our accomplishments. We are seen – or expect to be seen – in more dimensions than women.

      (I happen to think the degree to which women are seen primarily by traits of physicality is enormously overstated, but we believe it is true, act as though it is true, and therefore we have to confront the fiction as more factual than it actually is. A post for another time, perhaps.)

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      • And women have visual attraction to men, too, absolutely. I just think the proportions are somewhat different for males and females (and again, I’d expect there to be plenty of men who want more to be desired, and plenty of women who get off on checking out the goods….just not as many of each).

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      • >(I happen to think the degree to which women are seen primarily by traits of physicality is enormously overstated, but we believe it is true, act as though it is true, and therefore we have to confront the fiction as more factual than it actually is. A post for another time, perhaps.)

        I think this is likely right. Men get married. They no longer have to get married to be respectable or to have regular sex. Yet a significant percentage still do. That says something, I think.

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        • I would possibly disagree on the respectable part though I think that it is more universal than related to men.

          There seem to be signs of this changing with books and articles coming out on what it means to be single and the joys of living alone/going solo. However, we still feel incredibly odd about people who don’t marry unless they look like George Clooney. Look at all the needless speculation about Elena Kagan when she was in the nominee process for the Supreme Court about her unmarried status. I also find that most of the articles are focused on the one percent or close to. One recent article in the Atlantic was called “All the Single Ladies” and the author wrote about how she was borrowing a house from another single lady friend to write the article and why marry if that was her life. How many people can borrow a house in the Hamptons? I suspect being single feels a lot worse if you were 35-38 and living in a tiny studio and temping.

          I’m 31, male, and unmarried and feeling weird. Most of my friends (male and female) are married, have kids, are expecting kids, own property, etc and are very much tied down. To be fair, most of them did not spend most of their 20s trying for a career in theatre but went straight to grad school or the corporate world. Part of me feels very far behind and I like I am now just doing stuff that all my friends got out of their systems at 24. The current economic situation does not help much either.

          Even though I come from the socio-economic-geographic background where it is perfectly acceptable to get married in your late 30s for the first time, I still think people view me as odd for living alone at 31. And I’m in San Francisco! I have a friend who is slightly older but lives in Vermont. He says that people there view him as downright freakish for not being married at his age.

          The problem is possibly because we don’t know how to phrase or talk about being single without seeing it as meaning “actively searching for a relationship”. There have been times in the past few years when I have done very active dating and times when school and work demands were just too much for me to do anything social.

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          • The trick is to be happy with who you are and not worry too much about what society thinks… and not eat in restaurants. (The restaurant experience is geared towards people eating with friends or family. Very awkward by yourself.) If you can achieve that, then what society thinks of you will matter little.

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            • Go to truckstops. Many of those restaurants are a lot better than the stereotypical greasy-spoon. Most drivers are solos (no partner, as opposed to team drivers) and most are male. No one will look twice.

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        • Not really. If you excised marriage from our legal/tax structure, I suspect that the institution of marriage would be circling the drain at this point. At the very least, a significant percentage of people (men and women) wouldn’t marry if we cut out the tax/estate/government/employment/medical/etc benefits.

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            • I know of couples who stay married for these reasons and also maintaining a lifestyle.

              We had a family friend who used to be a local broker for a branch of one of the big investment companies. This was in an upper-middle class professional suburb. He used to say that lots of couples would come in after their kids left the nest and say they wanted to split up and asked him to do the math about lifestyle and splitting assets. His response was to many of the couples is that divorcing would probably lead to needing to step down in their lifestyle/comfort level.

              So not quite the same as getting married* but somewhat close.

              *That being said, I have a morbid fascination with the wedding announcements in the New York Times. They always read like a mingling of the SAT scores, Rhodes Scholarships, Fullbright Fellowships, etc. I often wonder if the first date read more like a job interview.

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            • That was more a response to Rose when she said “They no longer have to get married to be respectable or to have regular sex. Yet a significant percentage still do. That says something, I think.”. If you excised the legal/tax benefits, quite a few would remain at the “living together” stage.

              And, in answer to your question: 2 couples. 1 couple had very little devotion to each other but marriage seemed like a cheaper way to live. The other was very much devoted to each other and eventually decided that they might as well get the benefits of spending their lives together.

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      • On one level, it is basic pure fact.
        On another level, it is entirely fiction.

        On the “one night hookup”, the carnal/instinctive side of things, a good deal of guys only see looks. (not all! not all!)

        On the romance side, a good deal of guys are not much about the physicality at all (either because they don’t think they can do better, or because they’d rather have a cool playmate than a hottie).

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  8. As for whether porn and images of hot women harm men – I think definitely yes. The more porn you see, the more you set up a system in your brain where you are rewarded with an orgasm every time you see a certain type of image.

    Eh…you have to do more than just see to come to such conclusion…

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  9. When I call UPS to arrange a package pickup, I am using the UPS guy merely as a means.

    I made this same point to some feminists once. Except I put a more traditional spin on it and used buying meat from a butcher as an example.

    It did not go over well.

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  10. I would pay an enormous sum to see Carrie Brownstein perform this post as a one-woman show, channeling one of her more ethically hairballed Portlandia personae. One woman only, except that two actors — dead ringers for Dan Savage and Camille Paglia — would appear onstage and commit mock suicide during the penultimate paragraph.

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    • Interesting. I assumed there were parts of this post that would rub some Portlandia feminists the wrong way. At least, many that I know. Of course, I do consider myself a feminist. Particularly that I think women have a stronger interest in being desired than men, that there’s nothing any more inherently wrong with cultivation of looks than talent (it’s just not the best idea), and that there are plenty of times that ogling women are fine.

      Reading over the penultimate paragraph, I realize I didn’t say that porn is far from necessarily harmful. Although yes. I am skeptical of many of the “insights” offered by Paglia and Savage, regarding morality and in practice. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy reading both.

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  11. Just discovered that a blog at Ms. magazine recently had a series of blog posts about objectification. The author is more convinced than I am in the OP about the harm to women of such images. She also seems to think objectification is inherently wrong, as are sexual images of women. Obviously, I don’t. She also thinks cultivation of looks is inherently wrong and/or harmful and I disagree. It’s worth a read for a different take. Here are two examples.
    http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2012/07/06/sexual-objectification-part-2-the-harm/

    http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2012/07/13/sexual-objectification-4-daily-rituals-to-start/

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  12. man… there are so many things wrong with this…

    First and foremost, women appear to consume porn at around the same rate as guys, if not more, judging by the current consumption of romance novels.

    Do you really fucking believe that a woman is defiled and utterly harmed WORSE in a rape if she has a fucking orgasm during it??????
    Seriously, taht’s what you’re saying when you say that “doing something creates pathways yadda yadda”

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    • Good God, Kimmi, there’s a difference between saying a) it’s not such a good idea for character development to repeatedly and *deliberately* have an orgasm while fantasizing about violence so that you increase your propensity to be more violent in the future, and b) saying that having an unwilled pleasurable experience during an unwilled act of violence is morally wrong, or is more harmed.

      And no, since I’m talking about images, I will not count romance novels.

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      • Then maybe I ought to do a post on them, because the culture of Romance is a far different — and less biologically motivated, thing.

        You seem to assume that it is morally harmful for someone to wank off to dickgirls, as they don’t really exist in real life.

        I don’t think most people’s fantasies have much to do with their ability to have fun with their wife/husband. Most people have erogenous zones in da brain, not fetishes — wherethey must have their partner wearing panty hose, for example.

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