Saturday, June 30, 2007


I have great gaydar, but the signaling mechanism is a tad idiosyncratic. Most people's gaydar says, "Gee, I wonder if he's gay?" Mine says, "hot hot hot want want want". Given the rather curvy female body the fates have stuck me with, this is unproductive and faintly ridiculous.

I had ample opportunity this past week to wonder about the causes of my wonky gaydar. (Overintellectualizing. Because it's better than freaking out your gay friends.) I wonder if I just get my signals crossed. The gay men of my acquaintance tend to be very comfortable with direct eye contact, possibly because they're not afraid of coming off as sexually interested. (The irony!) Something about those interactions feels particularly intimate, and while I know in my head that the intimacy is not sexual, knowing in my body is another thing entirely.

Maybe gay men are more likely to be femmey, and the thing I'm detecting is a rough proxy for sexual orientation. Or relatedly, maybe I'm imposing filters for straight boy anxiety, which only catch straight boys.

Maybe gaydar is a myth and I've just got a wicked case of the confirmation bias.

Luckily, my boyfriend is finally back from his trip, and poised to distract me. He totally sets off my gaydar. Yum.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Men are pretty.

Occasionally, I hear people making the insane claim that the male body (in contrast to the female) is quotidian and ugly. Just for fun, here are 10 things I find beautiful about male bodies.

1. Hair. Long, shiny hair is beautiful on men. I like it even better on men with more "masculine" features than my usual type; if anyone has a theory as to why this might be, I'd be intrigued to hear it.

2. Hair. In addition to head hair, armpit hair, and pubic hair, men grow in more surprising places. They grow woolly hair on their chests. They grow scratchy hair on their faces. This makes them interesting to touch. Texturally, men's bodies are like good hikes: they contain many different landscapes that can be gazed on and explored in the course of an afternoon, a day, or a weekend. And they bear coming back to.

3. Shoulders. Men's shoulders are broad compared to their waists. They draw the eye, hand, and mouth.

4. Arms. Whoever says that men don't have curves hasn't been looking very hard. I love the curve of biceps, brachialis, triceps, and carpi under skin. One of my earliest sexual memories is of watching a boy I knew play guitar, and being fascinated by the way his muscles flowed.

5. Voices. I cannot decide which I like better: poems recited in a deep, textured baritone, love songs sung in a sweet, clear tenor, or ghost stories read in a bass that shakes me to my bones.

6. Legs. I love the way men in different sports have different-shaped legs. Runners have the most beautiful calves, I think, but bicyclists have the most beautiful thighs.

7. Cocks. Who says the cock is an ugly body part? It's perfect and sui generis. Unlike any other body part, it starts soft and hardens quickly to the touch, or stirs suddenly for no reason at all. It would make a good metaphor for poetic inspiration. Besides, it smells nice.

8. Tongues. My partner sticks out his tongue when he's concentrating. It makes me think of all the things he could be doing with it. Kant says it's not beauty if it excites the passions, but Kant is surely wrong.

9. Stomachs. I used to think I loved men's stomachs because they were harder and more muscular than my own. Now that my partner has a bit of a paunch, I realize I was wrong. I still like his stomach: now it's round and soft and rubs nicely against my thighs. Maybe beauty is a sort of family resemblance concept for stomachs, as it is for everything else: each beautiful stomach resembles some other beautiful stomach in some respect, but there's nothing they all have in common.

10. Nipples. On men, nipples have no function but to generate pleasure. Deus sive natura is cruel in many ways (most of us could complain about the betrayals of our bodies for longer than any of us would care to listen) but at least it's given us a few organs devoted solely to pleasure.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


I followed Renegade Evolution over to Feminist Critics Blog, which I'm finding alternately fascinating and disturbing. (If you don't want to be disturbed, stay far away from the comment threads.) There are valuable insights there, often intermixed with moments of shocking cluelessness and/or misogyny. One of the most bizarre things I've discovered so far that there exists a thing called the Seduction Community, usually abbreviated SC. The SC is a collection of men who devote time, effort, and thought to the art of picking up women.

I'm intrigued and ambivalent. Because I enjoy breaking things down into lists, I've decided to schematize my feelings. (Is that stereotypically masculine or stereotypically feminine, I wonder? Who cares, I wonder?)

On the one hand

I see how this could be beneficial. We live in a society that tells men that their worth is measured by how much sex they have (on some highly problematic definition of "sex"). Men with no sexual experience often suffer from low self-esteem, and are clueless about how to interact with women (hint guys: women are human beings, and all of us are different). This situation is neither good nor justified, and we need to change the way sex figures in the mainstream definition of manhood. But while we're changing the definition of manhood, what do we do with all the clueless, unhappy men? One attractive possibility is that we let them train themselves to be more confident and successful with women, thereby saving ourselves work and making them easier for everybody to live with. HughRistik claims that the SC gave him the ability to be friends with women he's attracted to, instead of moping after them in a creepy and self-pitying way. If the SC can turn men into grown-up human beings with spines, rather than entitled whiners who place women on pedestals, then more power to them! I want more men who can deal with me as free and equal human beings, and I'm sure men want to be happy and well adjusted. When people are confident and happy, both they and everyone around them benefit.

Still on the same hand

The SC deals explicitly with nonverbal communication. I wish somebody had taught me about nonverbal communication when I was younger and dumber. Being able to tell when somebody is attracted to you, or when they want you to go away, or when they're trying to bully you, or when they're frightened of something, is a crucial life skill. There should be widely available classes in sending and reading nonverbal messages. The nerds of the world would benefit.

On the other hand

The SC definitely has elements that encourage misogyny. I'm just going to make a sub-list of all the misogynistic things:

Negs: Apparently you're supposed to give women backhanded compliments called 'negs' in order to intrigue them. I don't know if they serve their supposed function, but they definitely serve the function weeding out women who don't take shit from guys. Yuck.

Refusal to take no for an answer: No means no. Why do still I have to complain about this in 2007? Why don't people get it yet?

Alpha males: Apparently, it is a truism that 'women prefer alpha males', where the concept of 'alpha males' is ambiguous enough to perform almost job the user sees fit. Sometimes, it stands for traits that women really do prefer, like good looks and confidence. I dare you to show me the man or woman who doesn't like good looks and confidence. Sometimes, it stands for things that many women tend to prefer, but possibly for problematic and artificial reasons, such as dominance, 'masculinity', and height. (I say 'meh' to all three. Short, femme, subby guys are woefully underappreciated. I've often had more than I knew what to do with, and I have a lot of ideas about what to do with them.) Sometimes 'alpha' is meant to connote success and popularity. It's true that some men and women worship status, but worrying obsessively about this stuff just seems profoundly unhealthy. Finally, sometimes 'alpha' stands in for qualities that women don't normally like, like being an arrogant jerk who disrespects women (I think psychologists use the word 'disagreeable' for this property; how polite of them). The world would be a better place if everyone got rid of the misleading concept of an alpha male and talked about separate traits separately. The topic of alpha males may get a post of its own sometime in the future, because it bugs me that much.

Women as prey: Another common theme, at least in the comments of the Feminist Critics blog, is that women really want companionship, not sex. Men who persuade us to have sex are getting away with something.** This is part and parcel of living in a sexist culture, but really, it needs to go. If the SC is going to be about helping men become attractive to women, rather than helping men bully women, then it has to stop encouraging the idea that sex is only good for men, or worse, only supposed to be good for men.

The upshot

The SC is a good idea, but the execution is sometimes effed up. This is not surprising, given the sexist world we live in. (Misogny ruins everything.) Still, I expect better from men. In the glorious Utopia of the future, there will be seduction communities for both sexes that teach body language and charm while emphasizing the importance of mutual respect. Also, I should read Neil Strauss's book. (I wonder whether it will sustain much damage from being hurled across the room in annoyance? We shall see. He is rather adorable on The View. Notice how much sexier men are when they're not being all pushy and disagreeable!)

* There are a few guys at Feminist Critics who complain that women don't face the same amount of rejection men do. They clearly don't know any women who are interested in creative writing. I am given to believe that some men are actually able to keep count of how many times they've been rejected. Lucky bastards.

** See the admirable discussion of this topic by figleaf and Kochanie at Real Adult Sex. "The no-sex class" is figleaf's idea, but both of them have said smart things about it.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

The P. Burke program for not being a bitch

Cassandra has an intriguing post about jealousy, sexual attraction, and the possible relationship between them. Most of Cassandra's readers have never felt bonecrushing jealousy toward other women. I have. As an adolescent, I discovered that many boys found looks more important than personality, and decided that to blame this on any woman with too high of a looks-to-personality ratio, as calculated by my pretty biased mind. Eventually, I grew up, got sick of being such a mocking, green-eyed monster, and decided to knock it off. So I retrained myself.

It's hard to retrain yourself on your own, but I had help from two people. One of them was Connie, a gorgeous, femme math major who lived in my dorm, and who, for some reason I couldn't fathom, liked me. Connie looked like the ideal of white beauty: long blonde hair, blue eyes, thin, delicate symmetrical features, short skirts, seamed stockings, fashionable boots. Hardly any amount of personality could have made up for that. But she was immediately friendly to me, and she was funny, and I discovered that she shared my interests in poetry and distance running. I found myself liking her so much that the usual resentment couldn't kick in. In fact, I found myself--my ostensibly heterosexual self--thinking about her frequently, gazing longingly into her eyes, and wondering what it would be like to kiss her. It's hard for that attitude to coexist with seething hatred. Connie, who is completely heterosexual, handled my crush beautifully; she told me she was happy being my friend, but was really only interested in romantic relationships with boys. I took the point and started looking elsewhere, but my friendship with Connie was great practice for not being a bitch.

I looked elsewhere and found Sam, who was wholesome, Catholic, and perfect for taking home to my parents. (Being a Catholic, he was also pleasantly quirky in bed, but that's a story for another day.) There was just one problem with Sam. Like all other heterosexual men, he failed to believe I was the only attractive woman on earth, and I did not react well to other actual or suspected objects of his attraction. He pointed out that his was kind of dumb, and I agreed.

My solution to this, which was bizarre but effective, was that we should check out girls together. I could either point out things that made them physically attractive to me, or I could say "not my type", but I wasn't allowed to make critical comments. This worked. When he wasn't around, I practiced it inside my head. Somehow the attraction and/or aesthetic sense and the jealousy had a hard time co-existing. I have no idea whether it would work for anyone else, but Cassandra's commentors are decent people for other reasons. In my case, it probably helped that I was simultaneously growing up and learning to be less insecure and needy.

Because I'm recalling it, here's the first stanza of a poem I wrote about Connie (I carried it around inside my head for a long time, but can't remember the rest anymore):

Plucking strings, her lovely guitar hands kiss a
fret or two, her larynx hums 'Sweet Melissa'.
Fingers, strong, impose on the half-note's border
musical order.

I didn't mention it to her, which was probably just as well, as it might have made for awkwardness.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Friday poem

It's Friday (in Oz), and it's a poem, so I suppose it's a Friday poem. I opened my Norton Anthology of Poetry for a piece of serendipity, and found this bit of verse by Thomas Hardy, about the ill effects of depravity on women. Dedicated to Renegade Evolution, who's been having an unduly rough time of it these past few days.

The Ruined Maid
"O'Melia, my dear, this does everything crown!
Who could have supposed I should meet you in town?
And whencesuch fair garments, such prosperi-ty?"
"O didn't you know I'd been ruined?" said she.

"You left us in tatters, without shoes or socks,
Tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks;
And now you've gay bracelets and bright feathers three!"
"Yes: that's how we dress when we're ruined," said she.

"At home in the barton, you said 'thee' and 'thou,'
And 'thik oon,' and 'theas oon,' and 't'other,' but now
Your talking quite fits 'ee for high company!"
"Some polish is gained with one's ruin!" said she.

"Your hands were like paws then, your face blue and bleak
But now I'm bewitched by your delicate cheek,
And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!"
"We never do work when we're ruined," said she.

"You used to call home-life a hag-ridden dream,
And you'd sigh, and you'd sock; but at present you seem
To know not of megrims or melanchol-y!"
"True. One's pretty lively when ruined," said she.

"I wish I had feathers, a fine sweeping gown,
And a delicate face, and could strut about Town!"
"My dear--a raw country girl, such as you be,
Cannot quite expect that. You ain't ruined," said she.

From 1902, so not quite Victorian.

A bit late...

I just discovered this. No pretense of meeting the deadline, but it's worth your attention, especially if you're from New York state.

Not sure I have a lot to add, so I'll keep it brief. If nobody cooked, cleaned, or took care of children, the world would grind to a screeching halt. The people (mostly women) who do these jobs deserve basic respect, enough money to live on, and decent working conditions.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Blogging for sex ed

June 4th is blogging for sex education day! (It's still June 4th in the U.S., so I'll figure this is close enough to on time.)

blogging for sex ed

When I was a young teenager, I worked for an organization that advocated (among other things) an abstinence-only message. I'm not proud of that part of my life, but it gave me a better understanding of the mentality behind that stuff. I don't really feel comfortable revealing the name of the organization, but it's a not-for-profit corporation, has no religious affiliation, and has existed slightly longer than I have. It's small and regional enough that you have probably not heard of it.

When I asked my boss why we couldn't mention condoms or birth control in our material, I got the canned answer: that would be giving the teenagers mixed messages. You can't tell them both "don't have sex" and "if you have (penetrative) sex, use a condom". They'll hear the second message as a license to go out and have sex. I expressed skepticism, but was met with the same answer repeated in a different way (the usual mode of arguing practically everywhere, I guess).

The thing that strikes me about the canned answer is that teenagers would have to be awfully stupid for it to be right. "Don't... but if you do..." isn't that hard of a concept, and it's one that people need to make good decisions. You shouldn't get drunk, but if you do, don't drive. You should avoid keg parties, but if you decide to attend one, bring a friend and look out for each other. Teenagers become adults, who as adults, are entitled to get drunk, have sex, and go to keg parties (maybe even at the same time!) Those adults will need to know how to keep themselves safe.

But someone of my age wasn't even supposed to talk about sex too much, as this was a prelude to doing it. If we didn't do it, talk about it, or even think about it, then why would we have any questions about it? I guess this is known in common parlance as "letting the best be the enemy of the good". It's an unanswerable position, especially if you're one of the people who's not supposed to be asking questions. But being unanswerable doesn't make you right.

The other weird thing about the abstinence-only message was that I was never quite sure what we were telling people to abstain from, or until when. The occasional vague mention of condoms (and their lack of complete effectiveness) didn't do anything to correct the heteronormative assumptions I had. Since my organization didn't mention marriage (probably atypical), it was also unclear when we were supposed to abstain until. The idea was probably to scare us off sex completely until we had quit being teenagers, but one of my friends wound up doing the guilt-ridden rationalizing thing instead, got an STD, and was pretty traumatized by the whole event. She probably wasn't the only one, but she was the only one who told me.

Sex wound up being a mystery whose rightful owners were the superior people who could handle it (adults), and had to be hidden from the people who were too dumb to think for themselves (teenagers). This also played out in the work situation, where I was told that I should leave the thinking to people who knew what they were doing, and stick to my secretarial-type tasks. Eventually, I got fed up with the whole thing and quit (go me!), having probably made the world a worse place during my stay (ugh; don't go me!).

Last year I had a good experience teaching math to teenagers, and probably making the world a slightly better place (just hoping to keep the balance above zero here). If there was one piece of information that I think was crucial to the experience, it was this: Teenagers might need guidance sometimes, but they are not dumb. Be honest with them.

Friday, June 1, 2007

On a more positive note

This is how to combine feminism and science. (H/T Mad Melancholic Feminista.) Congratulations to Elizabeth Hyde and Janet Spelke for showing us how it's done.

If I'm touchy about science this week, blame my reading group: they've all decided they want to read Luce Irigaray's Ethics of Sexual Difference. Twisty, in the post I linked to, made a common and understandable mistake. Irigaray just doesn't understand science at all. Even though Irigaray calls herself a feminist, and I call myself a feminist, we seem to have nothing in common. I agree with Bricmont and Sokal's take on her work. (Don't let anybody tell you they're crude verificationists if you hadn't read the book. They support the philosophy and sociology of science, as long as it's done in an intellectually responsible way.)

Oh, and if you're looking for something else to read, don't bother with Irigaray. Go learn about stereotype threat instead.