Monday, March 27, 2006

Real Time Expression

I should be working on any number of law school projects right now. But I’m sick and have no concentration. I’m sick partly because I have done nothing for myself in awhile. Though my life is generally fulfilling and it could be said I am pursuing this law degree for none but myself, the definition here is that which I am allowed to do at the moment of inspiration. Or “real time expression.” In the last month, I have written about 10 essays, finished three chapters, and planned an entire film festival. But they only exist in my head because I feel I can’t set aside anything that’s been assigned from outside myself. But whether expressing something defined as art (like writing, painting, or singing) or something non-creative (like flying a kite, taking a walk or scrubbing out a bathtub), I think we must occasionally express something of (any of) it in real time. It is as important to our health as getting enough sleep, nutrients and exercise. Delaying it, and delaying it, and especially delaying it, will make us as sick as stress, smoking or excessive drink. But the enemy of real time expression is our belief that no opportunity for it exists, and that is how I’ve felt for at least four weeks. So, to speed up my recuperation, law school has been relegated to hell for a day, and I, headphones ensconced, am expressing inspiration in real time.

Anyone who’s been following this site knows that the gender war has generally been on my mind, but that I stalled on writing about it because staring deeply into the ever-widening abyss between men and women has brought me up against my own, unsurprising, misandry. However, because I have, throughout my life, found more comfort in the company of men than my own gender, I couldn’t use this platform to vomit more bile into that abyss. I like men. I want them in my life. To that end, prodding this part of my psyche has been difficult, but necessary.

I had a lovely conversation this morning. Two points in that conversation are important. The first, was his question, “What do you like most and hate most about men?” That question got my brain juices going. The second, was the answer he gave to my question, “Don’t you want to sow your oats a bit?” Asked because he’s only a couple of years out of a long marriage. He replied that he was not that kind of guy, an answer I would usually roll my eyes at, except there was more. Childhood circumstances had inculcated in him a feeling of responsibility towards women. While he wouldn’t turn away an offer of casual sex, he could not do it unless he had reasonable certainty that the consenting female did not feel objectified by it. If he thought that she might feel that way, even a tiny bit, he’d feel awful. His credibility hinged on his implication that he was capable of objectifying a woman. Without that, his assertion that he was not “that kind of guy” would not have passed muster. I felt a catch in my chest after I heard his answer. Not knowing me very well, he worried about my silence. But he hadn’t needed to. The catch was merely the long missing puzzle piece snapping into place.

What I like most about men is that they objectify women. What I hate most about men is that they objectify women. I like sex. There is nothing that gets me hotter than my lover’s eyes right before he dives into me. In that moment, I want to be objectified and am honored to be the vessel from which he drinks his pleasure. However, the fact that I have a vagina does not give any stranger sporting a penis the right to objectify me. Objectification is a privilege that is only a woman’s to grant. The age-old feminist complaint is that men take that privilege as if it belonged to them. A child when Gloria Steinem burned her first bra, I grew up to the drumbeat of that complaint, marching alongside the men I would later date. A good majority of American culture, however, has continued to the other, patriarchal beat. The feminist adaptation to this deafness has been to sprout sexless, humorless, man-hating academic fringe branches to drown out that other beat with messages purposefully outrageous enough to shatter those continuingly impervious eardrums. The legacy of this escalating argument has been that my responses to my own objectification experiences have been confused. I would have casual sex with men thinking that I was having them, that I was exercising the sexual freedom hard-earned by prior generations. Only to realize a year or so later, that no, it wasn’t he, but I that’d been had. And that this supposed sexual power I’ve been told my gender holds over men was actually not power, not privilege, nothing that made me special, but a mere commodity to be consumed and then tossed once the consumer was satiated. The image that comes to mind are the bones of a fried chicken dinner left in the trash. I have felt shame over what men have done to me, what I have done to me, and what I’ve witnessed other men and women do to each other under the guise of sexual liberty. And the response by my friend over the phone leads me to believe that men may genuinely feel sexual shame as well.

That men objectify women is not new. That we still struggle with sexual power dynamics generations after the birth of feminism is old news too. And that both men and women feel shame about sex - yawn. The newly discovered puzzle piece is the idea that the abyss separating men and women only exists when they each deny their shame, and that full cognizance of their shame, bared and shared, may be the bridge that unites them.

This is a huge revelation for me and I’m not sure yet what it means practically. But looking backward through the lens of today’s discovery, I now see that with rare exception, the dissolution of any of my sexual liaisons was due to shame. And extrapolating through the same lens, all those supposedly sexually free people out there attending orgies and engaging in polyamorous unions –those who set the sexual standard I once tried to emulate? Probably do so successfully only because they somehow escaped the shame drilled into the rest of us. (The key word here is “successfully.”) And remember this excruciatingly long series? Of course that relationship was short-lived, and I took myself off the market, and have been off, ever since. But again, looking back through this new lens, I see that, in the car that day six months ago I learned how to stew in my shame, and – as horrible and terrifying as it was – it was the step in the right direction. And so has been each subsequent episode. Until I can tell you how all this will work out practically, I will at least testify to you now that naming and owning my shame has improved my life. And I look forward to all the other improvements to come.

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