Quite some time ago (before most of you were regulars here) I did something of an exercise in self-exploration. I had a bit of an emotional stimulus (caution – link is NSFW) and I felt…something about it. In an effort to get to the bottom of what I was feeling, I picked it up and wrote until something significant came out. The result of that was this post on gender roles, sex, and power.
I wasn’t confident that I was done exploring that topic…I think clearly I have a lot more to work out on the subject…but I’d written more or less all I could think of at the time and I moved on to other things.
Not terribly long ago, though, Crisitunity came through (I’m guessing via my “On Relationships” page?) and left a very long and quite thought-provoking comment. I didn’t have time to give it the attention it deserved at the time, but I promised her that I’d come back and do so in the future. I’ve been thinking about it on and off for a few weeks now, and I think it’s about time. (Besides, it’s been a while since I did much serious relationship talk here. What the hell?)
I’m going to intentionally not take a whole lot of time to organize my thoughts on the matter in the hope that a gut reaction will be more real. I think of this whole thing as opening a dialogue on those issues of gender roles, sex, and power – and I’d love to have anyone who’s willing chime in with their take on it. B’gawd, let’s talk about it – I think talking this sort of thing, especially when it’s a little uncomfortable, is part of the way we’ll grope through this whole Mars/Venus shit.
For the sake of convenience and with Crisitunity’s permission, I’m reproducing the comment here. I figure I’m mostly directly responding to the comment itself rather than the blog post, so I’m not going to excerpt that here. If you want the background on what I said that led to what she said, well, clicky the linky.
Here’s Crisitunity’s comment, and rather than address it internally I’ll post it in its entirety and then come back and address it a point at a time afterward.
You are not the first intelligent, sensitive man to try to have this discussion with me (I mean, I know this discussion is not specifically with me, it’s with the internet, but there’s no other grammatical construction that works) about this issue, but you have succeeded in not dancing around the issue at all, and for that I applaud you. My previous boyfriend of a few years and I did a lot of dabbling in S&M, from both sides. Sometimes he would scare himself, with exactly what you’re talking about, and sometimes I would scare him, with my intensity. No way could I have physically dominated my ex – he had me by about 200 pounds and six inches – but nevertheless, my intensity sometimes made him afraid of me. I guess the fear is realer somehow when the man is on top, but you couldn’t have gone by my ex. The only time our safeword was ever used, it was by him.
Also, I would sometimes scare him with the hidden resentment that often came out when I was dominating him. Therein lies the point of this comment: perhaps it’s unfair that men can hurt in realer and more terrifying ways in the blink of an eye (or the opening of a door), but the emotional hurt that women can wreak has the potential to spend a lifetime in a man’s brain. Not that a man isn’t capable of saying precisely the most awful thing he could say to wreck his partner’s psyche, but you must agree that female cattiness has no equal in any plottings of men.
Maybe I’m wrong about the above. But emotional hurt is the stuff that stays with you. The unlucky sexual experiences I’ve had have stuck with me emotionally far longer than the residual physical effects and the reflexive fear of sex did. And while men are obviously capable of emotional hurts, my experience tells me that women are the ones who use words, and emotional manipulation, to wound with permanence.
“deep down it’s nothing but a selfish desire for an expression and recognition of power” [This is a quote from my post - TB]
Is it? I’m not sure. The paragraph, which I am not afraid to admit turned me on a little, didn’t feel like a power play to me, so much as a “let me in, baby, and we’ll have some serious fun.” Does every masculine tendency have to be pigeonholed under the wish for power? I think it has to come from a place of “I am doing this to you, and you are irrelevant” before it becomes domination. I feel your rant comes from a place of “I am doing this with you, for both of our pleasure”, even if it’s expressed a little intensely, and is a little selfish about its desire for eminence (that is, being the best she’s ever had). But you also seem to be mixing the wish to be accepted by women who would have rejected you long ago (give me a chance) with chauvinism (I want to fuck you), and I’m not sure which one is really prevalent.
I have a lot to say about women who are afraid of admitting it when violent rape has happened to them vs. women who falsely accuse bosses they don’t like of sexual harrassment, but I don’t know that I can add anything new to the discussion.
I continue to wonder about the nature of the beast; being a woman, I just don’t have one. Is he always bad? Is he what drives men to compete and succeed in insane ways? Is there a way to let some of him out without ruining your life or your partner’s? It’s mysterious to me, especially with the little I’ve experienced of the beasts of men I’ve known and slept with.
There’s so much more to this topic, including the unfortunate fact of the physicality of sex (something I’ve read and written about a lot), the way that nice men are forced to say nothing when they want to be honest (as you talked about), and how stereotypes screw up the capability of people to talk plainly to each other about sex. Plus stigma! Let’s not forget stigma. But I’ve obviously written enough for today.
Now you see why I thanked Crisitunity for the comment. This was as thought-provoking in its own way as Vix’s original post that started the whole thing. Now to get right down to it.
First off, I can’t say I’ve done a lot of dabbling in S&M. I think just about anybody who’s not totally, completely vanilla (and downright sugar-free vanilla to boot) has done a little teensy bit of bondage, blindfolding, whatever, but without going too much into my own checklist of “done that, not done this, done that” I’ll just say that I haven’t done all that much of it…mostly because, well, at bottom domination and submission (at least by my own definition of “subjugation of the will”) don’t really get me off.
That said, I can completely buy that, in that situation, I would probably be less likely to push hard at a boundary than a given woman might. My wife isn’t the willowy, fragile type (another thing that doesn’t turn me on – women should have curves, b’gawd!) but on some deep subconscious level I think I’d always be afraid of hurting her. If I’m not already always afraid of hurting her somehow. In some ways, that could be a problem, but if so I’m not exactly sure how to go about solving it.
On the flip side, while I have a hard time imagining exactly what sort of “intensity” might scare me (and don’t take that as a request to be filled in, C!) I can in the abstract believe that it’s totally possible. It comes back partially to the point I was making in the original blog about women having in some ways more license to use their sexual power…and, in a way that I hadn’t contemplated in the original post, I can see how that a woman’s resentment of the shackles of male society could give impetus to that sort of intensity given the right sort of (S&M-ish) circumstances. I think that on the flip side of my “there’s a black-horned beast within every Nice Guy” theory, there’s also inside every Nice Girl someone who’s fucking sick and tired of the glass ceiling and the double standard and all their assorted cousins. Put her in the right position on the right day, and watch out, brother.
I suppose the question there is, to what extent is it healthy and to what extent is it harmful to let that Nice Guy and Nice Girl work out their frustrations and their identity crises on their sexual partners? I think it can be healthy and it can be harmful, but I don’t know how to define the line – or if there is a concrete and immutable line, or if it’s a shifting gray area. I have no idea, and I’d love for someone to enlighten me with an opinion!
As for the “psychic vs. physical scars” part of sex, I really don’t have much to add other than an “I agree.” Hell, probably the most fucked up I’ve ever been about sex was when it didn’t happen to me and wasn’t even necessarily happening to somebody else. That fucked me up for a decade or more, and hell, anything short of a spinal or brain injury would have healed up by then.
Now for the paragraph that really made me think – backing up to the paragraph in Crisitunity’s comment that begins with “Is it?” I agree with her point that it’s not so much a “I am doing this to you, you are irrelevant” but a “I am doing this with you” – but that doesn’t completely change my own internal interpretation of the black-horned rant. It’s not a desire to dominate but a desire to be an object of, for lack of a better way to put it, abandon rather than submission. To have a partner so enraptured as to throw caution to the wind and pour everything into this momentary encounter without a hint of guilt or reservation.
I think Crisitunity’s point that I’m mixing a desire to somehow validate myself in the face of past rejections with a pure hedonistic (even atavistic?) urge – but like her, I don’t know which is prevalent. It probably changes from day to day. I think the desire to be someone at whom women throw themselves in that way is, in a way, connected to my definition and concept of power. I guess that says a lot more about me and my own personal mapwork of scars than about women in general , but I don’t think I’m alone in that conception, either.
That unreported rape vs. false accusation of sexual assault thing is a whole separate discussion, so yes, let’s let that one go for now. I feel strongly about it, but I’ve got a long enough post goin’ here! (If someone else feels strongly about it, say so in the comments and that’ll kick start the next round, I guess.)
Again, a critical set of points that Crisitunity makes with regard to what I term the “black-horned beast” – as a woman, she says she doesn’t have a beast and so doesn’t understand it, so she asks questions. Is it always bad? I think the answer to that is “no, it’s not always bad, but it can be very very bad for particular places, times, and partners.” With a familiar, long-term partner, you can sometimes get a feeling for when it’s right and wrong…but before you can do so, you have to have a certain comfort level in letting the beast out to see her reaction. If you’re too afraid to do so, then a long-term relationship is usually too valuable to risk something so potentially destructive. With a stranger, there’s less to lose, but a higher risk of LEO involvement if this turns out to be a “Bad Beast Day” or a bad time or person to let him peek out, wouldn’t you say?
Is it part of the male competitive drive? You know, I wouldn’t have thought of it, but I think yes, they’re related in some fashion. I think that, by our cultural definition and probably by my own subconscious one, the BHB is somehow both the root of and the most horrid extreme of masculinity. It’s maleness stripped of the restraints of civilization. While I still maintain that this does not necessarily make it always evil, I think the potential is freed to make it so. At any rate, I buy the link. I think my unusual lack of competitiveness could be connected to my tight rein on my own BHB. Maybe if I were more in touch with it I’d be a more hypercompetitive bastard?
Is there some way to let him out without ruining your life or your partner’s? I hope the answer is “yes,” but I really don’t know. I guess I’ve personally been too afraid to try and find out the answer is “no.” I worry that the BHB is a genie that can’t be put back into the bottle.
I suppose that, at bottom, this may be sort of a Jungian shadow problem. I suppose that one could say that I have defined myself in opposition to the monstrosity of a rapist, but that at some basic level I fear that part of me which could become that monster, and the hatred of the shadow and fear of being subsumed by it feed a self-stoking cycle. If so, I don’t know that I’d say the idea of “holding back the beast” was wrong necessarily, but it clearly comes at a cost. The question, I suppose, is how one can judge the cost if one doesn’t allow oneself to know the extent of the beast. And, again, this is a question for which I have no answer.
So, at bottom, I guess I’ve advanced no further than I have since the last writing. I still recognize that I’ve got some black-horned beast which requires a significant portion of my strength to suppress, I still wonder if he should be suppressed, and I still fear my ability to control it in moderation. I guess I’m one fucked-up pup. Despite this, my wife still likes to sleep with me, so I suppose it could be worse.
But I’d love to hear other people weigh in on this one. As Crisitunity says, how does a Nice Guy say what he thinks instead of saying nothing…and still remain a nice guy? How does a man balance the BHB with the Nice Guy – masculinity with civility – in an honest way? I’d like to think that my day-to-day life is my answer to those questions, but I don’t think mine is the only answer, or necessarily even the best one. And if there’s a better one out there, I’d sure like to find it!