Still, I understand. After all, now that I've read this Kathleen Parker column, I too feel I must respond to it. And so the contagion spreads. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
As you probably know, Kathleen Parker has written a book with the hi-larious title Save the Males: Yet Another in a Long Line of Conservative Books Explaining Why Women are at Fault For Everything Wrong With Men and Society in General, and Should Just Get Back In the Kitchen and Bake Pies. I have thus far refrained from procuring this book, because I feel that if confronted with it, I would be forced to issue a line-by-line rebuttal entitled Why Kathleen Parker is Less Persuasive than Pond Scum: Ceiling H. Cat, I Need a Drink. As I have only a limited amount of time on this earth, I'd rather not waste my beautiful mind thinking of such things. But this column is nice and bite-sized, just the perfect length for rebutting. And I knew I'd have to, the second I read its lede.
It's little wonder boys and young men are confused by constantly shifting and conflicting signals about how they should behave toward the lovelier sex.
Well fuck me gently with a chainsaw, do I look like Mother Theresa? Yes, this column is so bad that I'm reduced to quoting Heathers, and we're but one paragraph in. "Lovelier sex?" Look, I'm glandularly inclined to agree with that statement, but I'm willing to bet that a good bunch of the heterosexual female and homosexual male readership here could find plenty of lovely men. Heck, I find Samuel L. Jackson attractive and I'm completely straight. Though I might make an exception for Sam.
At any rate, that right there tells you all you need to know about Kathleen Parker's worldview: women are here on earth to be attractive; they are "the lovelier sex." Men, no doubt, are "the rougher sex," here to build things and lug things and fight wars and also lead and run things. It's a depressingly reductionist way to view the world. So imagine how it must look in column form.
Depending on a woman's mood, a male is expected to know exactly when to respond to her wiles by issuing a devastating compliment, or when to pretend he hasn't so much as noticed her strategically plunging decolletage. Above all, he must be sensitive to her vulnerabilities — except when she's feeling empowered.
The deal is basically this, fellas: Females can flaunt their foliage when, where and how they choose, and you males have to be psychics to respond appropriately.
Har har, Kathleen, good one! Those fickle women, always changing their minds. Why, when they're flirting at a bar or on a date, they might want their partner to complement their looks. But when they're giving a presentation to the board of directors, they'd rather people kept things professional. How can men possibly understand these conflicting signals?
Seriously, Kathleen, it's not that hard -- it really isn't. I pretty much know who to complement and in what settings, and when it's inappropriate, and it's all to do with familiarity and structure. I've never had a date tell me she didn't want to be told she was attractive, and I've never said, "Hey Sally! Nice tits!" while volunteering for the YMCA. This is not rocket science.
I guess it's because I'm psychic or something that I know this. Surely it can't be that I've managed to glean what is and is not socially appropriate behavior by actually talking to women and figuring it out. That's impossible.
The rise of America's slut culture would seem, on the one hand, a boon to males, whose legendary attraction to visual stimulation has rarely been so eagerly indulged. On the other hand, the sight of so much flesh from coffee through cocktails must be discombobulating, especially to young males, who report being perpetually aroused.
Look, I'm no longer a young male, but I used to be one, and let me self-report: being perpetually aroused is part and parcel of being in your middle teens. Anything and everything can arouse you, from a pretty girl to a stiff breeze to chewing gum. Part of growing up and maturing is learning how to turn off that arousal, how to ignore it and channel it and use it appropriately. Incidentally, though I've never been a young female, my memories tend to indicate that they, too, spend a good chunk of their middle teen years perpetually aroused. They just don't act on it because if they do, they're part of "America's slut culture." Hooray for patriarchy!
Such males may be forgiven if they're not sure when greeted by a comely lass whether to grab a sword or a sheath-of the latex variety. Or perhaps a shield. To walk down any street in almost any town or city today is to be taunted by a parade of approaching midriffs featuring pierced navels and retreating "tramp stamps" — tattoos that rise like bait from too-tight, low-riding britches.
Oh no, save me from the attractive women wearing revealing clothing! So awful it is, such a terrible, terrible fate! Poor, poor menz!
Look, I will freely admit that when I see an attractive woman, I notice her. This does not make me unique. It's a trait I share with roughly 100 percent of straight men and lesbians alive today. This is largely the same as those of you who are straight women and gay men -- I'm quite certain that when you see an attractive man, you notice him. Those of you who are bisexuals likely notice everyone.
But here's the thing -- let's say I'm out on the mean streets of Eagan, Minnesota tomorrow, and I see a woman wearing a bare midriff, pierced navel, and (love the term, Kathleen!) "tramp stamp." She's unbelievably attractive, at some unattainable level only seen after heavy-duty photoshopping. Will I notice her? Yes, I will. Will I find her attractive? Yes, I will. Will I immediately rush to Walgreen's to pick up some condoms, the better to give her the sexy? No, I will not. Indeed, I'll likely walk right on past her and keep going. And my lack of action will pretty much ensure that I need neither condom nor apology to deal with her.
I can hear you now: "What? You mean to say that men are able to notice an attractive woman without instantly determining that she wants to have sex with them?" Well, yeah. I daresay the vast majority of women in this world, attractive or not, don't want to have sex with the vast majority of men in this world, and vice versa. The fact is that when I see a woman who is attractive (or dressed attractively, which is not necessarily the same thing), I know that she isn't being attractive for my enjoyment. She is not a thing for me to use. She's a human being, doing her own thing. Maybe the wanton trollop is on her way to a date, and wants to look good for the guy or girl she's going out with. Maybe she just got her tattoo, and wants to show it off. Maybe she's reacting to the fact that it's 92 degrees out and it's fracking hot. But her sartorial choices were never about me, and if you've been rejected even once in this life, you've learned that. Far from being an impossible temptation, attractive women are pretty easily ignored, really, just like everyone else. If noticed fleetingly, they recede quickly from my mind as I try to remember what I need to pick up at the grocery store.
I know, this is sort of obvious to everyone, but not Kathleen Parker, evidently.
Now, Parker follows this with something that is concerning.
A casual glance along America's urban sidewalks today confirms that age is no obstacle to ho culture. Older women no longer see a miniskirt and ask themselves, "Am I too old for this?" Nor does it seem that it's ever too early to start little girls thinking about sex and teaching them to dress the part.
Edgy 4-year-olds can opt for T-shirts that say, "Baby Porn Star" or "I Faked It." Budding tartlets can find bustiers, stilettos and "pleather" pants in toy stores, as well as itsy-bitsy lingerie sets of lacy panties and bras. Bratz "bralettes" — bras for those who don't need them — come in 30 different styles, including padded ones for girls not quite ready for implants. In 2003, girls ages 13 to 17 spent more than $157 million on thong underwear. Wedgies "R" Us.
Now, this is a problem -- the premature sexualization of children is not a positive development. I generally think that how a 23-year-old dresses is pretty much up to him or her, and that they're able to make reasonable, adult decisions about what they look like and what settings it's appropriate for. I know, for example, when the suit coat is appropriate and when shorts are, and unless I live in Bermuda, it's rarely the same event.
Because we live in an oversexualized society, the things Parker cites -- skimpy unmentionables marketed to seven-year-olds, padded bras for the prepubescent set, these things -- this is not good. So I'm sure Parker will discuss how our corporate culture seized on the pre-teen market because it had already saturated the teen one, how they market sexuality to children not yet awakened to sex in order to prime them to be a market they can tap into reliably for years to come, and how it's part and parcel of how society treats women and girls as commodities, whose worth is based on how attractive they are.
I'm just kidding. She's gonna blame women.
Although kiddie ho costumes and baby "porn star" T-shirts probably don't pose a threat to the OshKosh franchise, the "joke" is part of a larger trend in which children are being sexualized at ever-younger ages. More curious than an infant girl wearing a shirt declaring that she faked it are the mothers who participate in their children's sexualization. Somehow I don't think many dads are pimping their baby girls as orgasm fakers. As a rule, dads don't do the shopping for little tyke wardrobes.
Go to hell slowly, Kathleen. I'll admit that my ex has bought more of my daughter's clothes than I have, mainly because she's really good at making garage sales pay off. But that doesn't mean that I don't buy my daughter clothing, nor that I don't have any input into what gets bought. If my ex-wife was the type of individual who would buy sexualized clothing for our five-year-old daughter...well, I wouldn't have married her in the first place. But I certainly wouldn't find it amusing if my daughter showed up one day wearing an "I Faked It" shirt. And -- wonder of wonders -- if I said something, my ex would actually listen to me.
The beauty of this paragraph is that Parker is slamming both genders -- women for their slutty sluttiness, and men for their disinterest and benign neglect. As usual, misogyny and soi-disant misandry walk hand-in-hand, spreading bile to everyone, all at once.
Why would a 21st-century mother in a post-postfeminist world enable the marketing of her daughter as a sex kitten? The explanation may in part be simple ignorance or lack of awareness. Dress-up is fun, and little girls in grown-up garb are adorable. Jon Benet Ramsey was never cuter than when she batted those mascaraed lashes and cut her Lolita eyes at the judges.
For the budding teen stripper, there's the Peekaboo Pole Dancing Kit, including an instructional DVD with sexy dance moves. The kit also teaches how to pick "Peekaname" (the indispensable stripper nickname), how to set the scene, what to wear — all designed to unleash one's repressed lap-dancing diva. The Peekaboo brand also offers a lap-dancing kit, a tickle ring and a pole dancer game. From Candyland to Pole Dancing. Is it any wonder that attentive parents want to lock their girls in a tower and hide their sons?
The peekaboo poledancing kit? Where have I heard about that? Oh yeah, the feminist blogosphere. It's almost like it's not considered a step forward for women generally to have our daughters learning how to strip before they reach menarche. And yet I'm having difficulty trying to figure out why this would require me to hide my sons. This kind of thing is helping to send the message to girls that how they look is the most important thing, and that they should learn at an early age how to be good sex objects for men. This kind of thing makes the world safer for men by subjugating women. If it's men you're worried about, this is a positive development, as it's a good step back to the days when men were men, good women were married, and sluts were the women you wouldn't marry because they were only good for one thing.
The trend of scantily clad has been a marvel to behold to those of us weaned on Hepburn & Hepburn in the Age of Absolutely Not. That's what parents used to say when a girl wanted to wear makeup to school, or ditch her white socks and shave her legs too soon, or wear too short a skirt.
In less than a generation, girls went from sitting with their knees glued together, ankles cross demurely, to displaying their wares with the pride of a first grader showing off a new tooth. By the turn of the millennium, America was populated by a generation of girls whose knees had never met, even casually.
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Kathleen has put a whole bunch of disparate topics into the blender and hit "frappe," but let's stop for a second here. Those girls with legs demurely crossed at the ankle, holding off on shaving their legs until their wedding day? Yeah, Kathleen, they were fucking. I hate to break it to you, but they were no more pure in their motives than today's young women.
Moreover...why is it up to the girls to keep their legs crossed? What of the men you keep harping on? Don't they bear some scintilla of responsibility for keeping their flies zipped? You know, I've met lots of women in my life, many of them attractive, and yet the universe of women I've known and not slept with is larger by several orders of magnitude than the universe of women I've known and slept with. I am actually able to look at a woman I find attractive and not sleep with her! I know, it's hard to believe, but it's true. If it takes at least two to tango, at least two people have the responsibility to use sex responsibly. Roughly 50% of the time, there's at least one man involved in that responsibility.
Among the many conflicting messages men must process in their social interactions with women is that women who play ho are not necessarily inviting sexual attention. "Look but don't touch" has never been more rigidly enforced or more confusing.
"Can I touch you?"
Really, what's hard to understand about that? As I noted above, most women (and men, for that matter) who are dressed provocatively did not do so for my benefit. Generally speaking, if the person in question is not one I'm dating, considering dating, or somewhere where one would expect to find a date, I'm going to assume that this was not done for my benefit. If I have any doubts -- if, say, I've lost my mind and gone to a singles bar, and see someone I'd be interested in getting to know better -- well, there's this wonderful invention called "speech" that allows me to make sounds that women can interpret as words, say a question, like, "Would you like to go back to my place?" And then these women can use this "speech" thing to respond with an answer, such as, "Sorry, I have to go wash my hair." At which point I will be clear that the answer to touching is "no," unless she adds, "Would you like to help me?"
Of course, if I'm dating her, and we've been dating a while and know each other well, I may know that particular outfit means "do touch, and quickly." But that's the sort of thing you pick up when you're dating, not the sort of thing you pick up when you're at the grocery store looking at toothpaste.
The usual signals to men that a woman is sexually available have been redefined. Strutting her stuff is a prerogative — even to the extent of showing up at the office in what amounts to a teddy — while men aren't supposed to notice.
Have women been showing up for work in teddies? Where? I'd ask rhetorically, "Why don't I work there," but I'm guessing I wouldn't look too good in whatever the male equivalent of that uniform was.
There's nothing inherently wrong with cleavage — most women covet it and most men admire it — but the idea that guys aren't going to notice or be aroused is delusional. Yet to glance where the eye, against all reason, isn't supposed to wander is to risk being sent to human resources for reprogramming.
I'm not saying I won't notice cleavage. I will. But once more, with feeling: the cleavage is not there for your benefit. It is not there to amuse and titillate you. I've worked with many women who would wear low-cut outfits from time to time, and remarkably, I could get through the day without staring a hole into their chests. It helps to remember that there are actual women attached to breasts, I've found.
To comment — "Hey, nice blouse" — is tantamount to professional suicide in some cubicles. Men aren't crazy to wonder why it's sexual harassment to compliment a woman's appearance, which she clearly hoped you'd notice, but it's not sexual harassment to wear provocative clothes that get men's minds off of their business. Once women sexually objectify themselves, it becomes harder to insist that others not.
And thus, Möbius-like, we come back to the beginning. Men can't control themselves, and have no concept of what a thing like "context" is. We can't possibly understand that in a business setting, you'd complement a woman on her blouse in the same manner in which you'd complement a man on his tie -- i.e., you might do so very rarely, but you probably wouldn't do so by saying, "Hey, Kevin! That's an awfully nice tie there. Shows off your...uh...assets really well. Wanna screw in the copier room?" And it probably wouldn't be particularly professional to refuse to meet Kevin's eye because you were so focused on his tie all the time. And probably it would make Kevin uncomfortable if you spent all day staring at his tie instead of working. You see, while ties can look good and all, a tie is just a tie. Most of us have seen ties before. And while a nice tie might draw the eye for a second, anyone who wants to call themselves an adult can fight the urge to look at it constantly.
Now, I won't say that Parker isn't in the ballpark of actual topics of discussion that we can talk about. Are we sexualizing our daughters too much? Yes, certainly. Is the trend toward freer self-expression in clothing causing some women to (intentionally or unintentionally) further beauty norms and degrade themselves in the process? Possibly. Can we discuss fashion and its impact on society's views of women? Gee, I don't know.
But Parker is not the person to ask. Her answer will be that women are exploiting themselves and their female children (who are also exploiting themselves), and this is really a big problem for...men. Being a man, I think it's great when we want to talk about how men and women can together move forward in our society. But it seems to me that in this case, the problems Parker identify are either not problems (women can dress how they want? Quelle horreur!) or not only men's problems (women are reduced to their image? That kinda seems like it would be a problem for women), or men's problems, but not for the reasons Parker advances (you can't keep it in your pants if you see a pretty girl? That's not the girl's problem). Perhaps instead of handwringing about how bad this is for men, we could, I don't know, take a look at how bad this is for women. But that means we'd have to acknowledge that society is not actually set up to punish men, and that while men in our society might have places and ways we can improve, we are not the ones who need saving. But only feminists would think such a crazy thing.