Monday, February 14, 2011

Sexualized Male: Addendum

Ikkin: In any case, I was under the impression that this whole conversation was based on the initial question of "how do you sexualize a male character for women?" with the implication being that the answer could be used to balance out the sexualization of women that's all-too-common in the context of gaming.

Thank you! And thanks for engaging in the conversation with such vigor. (Though, honestly, issues of balance are not terribly interesting to me; I'm quite happy if people want to target particular audiences by gender, if they want. I just don't want anymore bland-as-wallpaper products being conceived as "female friendly" as if "inoffensive" is somehow a synonym for "attractive.")

And back to the topic at hand, here are some interesting datapoints I've picked up from conversations, both recently and in the past:

* women don't always seem to know what they want. That is, I've had conversations that went something along the lines of, "I suddenly discovered in my twenties that I really liked..." This is almost inconceivable for hetero guys, because we all seem to work it out by the time we're 18. I suspect that's the case because we're heavily marketed along the most common interests. In short, we've been working on isolating the most common cues for what arrests a guy's attention since the carving of the Venus of Willendorf. Marketeers then use those cues like a bludgeon to attract male attention to their products.

* but we can't say the same thing about women. Sometime between the first performance of "Lysistrata" and the filming of "Eyes Wide Shut" we've decided that women aren't supposed to like sex. When discussing sex with only other women, I hear about a frequent refrain of "I'm not a slut, but..." So even when women know what they want, they are hesitant to advertise that fact, which makes capitalizing on it by folks like Zak nearly impossible. The most important thing the romance novel industry does is hide from men what exactly is between those covers. Few women will buy porn, and I'm not sure that many more will openly purchase erotica. Which leads to this bizarre situation where a collection of letters to Penthouse must be carefully treated like it's radioactive, but any twelve-year-old can buy Anne "A. N. Roquelaure" Rice's Beauty novels off the shelf at Barnes & Noble without anyone batting an eyelash.

* and when we do try to sell porn to women, gay men scramble the signals. I'm still not sure we, as a culture, really know what women find physically attractive because the market signals keep getting disrupted by gay men, who are far more likely to buy porn. I think it speaks volumes that most magazines aimed at women tend to sport a woman on the cover.

I've known women who were crazy about bald guys. I've known women who were crazy about chubby guys. I've known women who went absolutely insane over any guy who could physically pick them up and carry them in their arms. I've known women who were crazy about beards, and women who couldn't stand beards, and I've had women describe their ideal mate to me in terms of physical characteristics almost exclusively. And all of these women were native-born Americans.

Were these women outliers? We don't know, because everyone is too busy "knowing" that hetero women are all about the tight ass, broad shoulders and six-pack abs. Just like everyone "knows" that hetero men adore large breasts, even though nearly every female movie star and supermodel can barely fill out a c-cup.

The end result is that sexuality for women turns into a maze they have to navigate on their own, hiding every step they take from anyone who might notice, dealing in codes and signals like spies in enemy territory, and always trying to read between the lines. So long as this remains the case, it's going to be extremely difficult to tease out what, exactly, they're looking for, especially if they themselves don't appear to know at times.

41 comments:

Greg Christopher said...

Brian,

Didn't you get the memo? Mel Gibson found out what women really want in that movie... what was it called....

;)

shlominus said...

we've decided that women aren't supposed to like sex. When discussing sex with only other women, I hear about a frequent refrain of "I'm not a slut, but..." So even when women know what they want, they are hesitant to advertise that fact

must be an american thing, european women seem to be different in that respect.

JimLotFP said...

Finnish women are, anyway, which is why I'm here and not there.

James C. said...

I know plenty of American women that don't need the preface.

Trollsmyth, I sort of get what you're trying to do with advancing this discussion and if I understand your intentions I respect them. But it seems to me that you're tending to overlook or dismiss the input from actual women and are spinning a bit in circles over what strike me as outdated sterotypes regarding attitudes on sex. When I've shared these posts with two women almost a generation apart, they've had trouble relating to the difficulties you say they should be having.

Oddysey said...

it seems to me that you're tending to overlook or dismiss the input from actual women

Just in case you missed the link on his first post, I have fairly good evidence that when Trollsmyth says "women have told me," at least one of the women he's talking about isn't an imaginary friend.

Granted, not all women have had the experiences that I have -- that's trivially true. And I know plenty of women who don't have these hang-ups about sex -- the women I know through church, for instance, are all pretty well adjusted, because I go to a crazy hippy pagan church.

But when the women I know at college get together? It's all "Man, sex is awesome, I'd totally do him -- oh, but I've only had sex with one guy, my boyfriend, so I'm not a slut." They slut shame themselves, they slut shame each other, and it drives me crazy.

Not to mention that if a woman has a reputation for actually liking and wanting sex, the guys all think she's crazy and won't sleep with her. Again, maybe pretty localized, but inarguably a real phenomenon in at least some cases.

JimLotFP said...

>>Not to mention that if a woman has a reputation for actually liking and wanting sex, the guys all think she's crazy and won't sleep with her.

Proof that going to college is no indicator of intelligence. :P

trollsmyth said...

Schlominus & Jim: Very glad to hear it. ;D

James C: Yeah, the plural of anecdote ain't data, and I'm working from a heaping pile of anecdotal evidence here. And maybe it's the women I hang out with, but on those rare occasions when I get a straight answer to a question along the lines of, "what turns you on?" it's a pretty shocking development.

And I'm clearly not unusual in this (at least in the US) where the conventional wisdom appears to be that the quickest way to get a woman in the mood is diamonds and chocolate and lobster.

The only way that makes sense is if you assume women don't really want sex, but are willing to trade it for gifts. (The other popular option is to get them too drunk to make rational decisions.) That's insane, insulting to everyone involved, and undeniably the conventional wisdom of the age. >.<

James C. said...

@ Odyssey: Perhaps its an age thing. Or perhaps there's something about the college environment that informs a certain kind of behavior when speaking about sex... or maybe there's something about my middle-class suburban environment that encourages women to have some rather frank discussions on sex. It's not lost on me that you and Trollsmyth talk (anybody with an even casual interest in blog I suspect gets that). He did seem to poo-poo some of Mandy's list and the discussion on Zak's blog when embarking on the Harley post is what I was directly referring to.

Perhaps I misread things, but the sense I get from you Trollsmyth is that women are not yet empowered enough or not yet in touch with understanding what they want to collectively let the world know what is sexualized. I feel (also based on anecdotal evidence) that Zak's opinions are probably closer to the mark. I also don't think it matters much for the purposes of this discussion whether that's societal, biological or whatever... the bottom line is there is a difference between how men and women relate to sex and what is sexy and that's why it's difficult to have a pat answer on what sexualizes a male that is analogous to what sexualizes a women.

James C. said...

P.S. as for the conventional wisdom for the age, gawd... where do you live man? It seems like such a bygone straw-man that you describe.

shlominus said...

Not to mention that if a woman has a reputation for actually liking and wanting sex, the guys all think she's crazy and won't sleep with her.

sounds reasonable. i mean, who'd want to fuck with a woman who enjoys it? a thoroughly ridiculous idea!

E.G.Palmer said...

"I hear about a frequent refrain of "I'm not a slut, but..." So even when women know what they want, they are hesitant to advertise that fact,"

I was trying to avoid this minefield, but I'm going to chip in my two cents anyway.

The possible consequences for having sex are far greater for women than for men, biologicly speaking.
Pregnancy puts huge physical and time costs on a woman that it dosn't on a man. A woman simply can't afford to risk viewing sex the same way men can. Modern birth control is far to recent to have any effect on overall behavior of humans. Individuals sure, the majority no.
Nature has shaped human sexual behavior for millions of years. Any forces that culture or chemistry can put up in opposition to that are insignificant.

trollsmyth said...

James C. He did seem to poo-poo some of Mandy's list and the discussion on Zak's blog when embarking on the Harley post is what I was directly referring to.

Ack! Ok, just to be perfectly clear, I've no intention of just ignoring what Mandy or Zak have to say, since they both have a very real stake in this discussion, and probably know more about the male end of things than anyone else here. They're about as close to experts on these sorts of topics as I'm likely to meet.

That said, her answers were useless for Zak if his goal is pornographic. That is, you can't really capture what Mandy was talking about in a single, static image. That sort of thing, that "having his shit together" stuff, is built up over time. The romance novel folks do a great job of exploiting this, and now they can describe a guy in a few sentences and their readers know right away just what sort of person he is and what role he'll play in the story.

But Zak's principle medium appears to be the static image. Ditto for most of the art in RPG products. A cover image usually doesn't have more than a few seconds to get its message across.

So really, the question I think Zak was asking is, assuming women can be visually aroused (and my anecdotal experience says they can be) are there images that are widely effective at titillating women? Again, I'm not trying to denigrate anyone's contributions to the discussion, I'm just trying to cut to what I see as the heart of the matter.

You can't look at Playgirl because that branch of the porn industry has been hijacked by gay men. You can't look at the covers of women's magazines because, while they might boldly proclaim sexually explicit content, the covers are invariably beautiful women. Even the covers of romance novels are coy, because the women reading them don't want to be labeled as sluts.

P.S. as for the conventional wisdom for the age, gawd... where do you live man? It seems like such a bygone straw-man that you describe.

It's a place called America. It births the most bizarre gems of sexual wisdom. Seriously, if you know otherwise, I'd love to hear about it. I'm not seeing it, but I'm also not lurking about in people's living rooms, either. ;)

James C. said...

Trollsmyth, thanks for the former half of your response... it really clarified your take on this for me. It doesn't change my own conclusions yet, but I see better what you're saying and doing.

As for the latter half, surely you see there's a difference in how real people behave and how Kay jewelers would like real people to behave.

James C. said...

Since you asked, here is a gem of sexual wisdom. Based on your link, TS, a man would think that buying some bling is a nice way to ensure some regular sex with his partner. It's an outdated and short-sighted take on the situation.

Consider the clues of the commercial you linked to. It's an assumed married couple with at least one young child. From my personal experience and observations, said man would probably do better to ensure regular sex by helping out with the kids and the house, discussing plans and hopes and dreams and just overall being a good partner. You know, treating his mate like a human being and an equal partner and all. It's always worked for me.

Listening to what my wife's friends complain most about, its not the lack of a little velvet box on Valentine's day. It's that most men think their recognition of certain commercial rituals and practices is somehow the sum of their involvement in a good relationship.

Again, my experience is anecdotal and representative of my limited environment... but these women know what they want just as much or more than any maen. That it has little to do with ripped abs and flowing hair seems to be the crux of the stated problem in this discussion.

trollsmyth said...

James C.: Trollsmyth, thanks for the former half of your response... it really clarified your take on this for me.

Thank you. This is a really wide-ranging topic, and it's easy to get sidetracked. And since I have to earn a living, I don't have the time to make these as focused as they ought to be. >.<

From my personal experience and observations, said man would probably do better to ensure regular sex by helping out with the kids and the house, discussing plans and hopes and dreams and just overall being a good partner. You know, treating his mate like a human being and an equal partner and all.

I certainly won't argue with the long-term benefits there, but honestly, that's just another version of the same thing. The man is exchanging resources (time and attention, in this case) in exchange for sex. The woman is rewarding behavior she wishes to encourage with sex.

I'm not talking about longterm, committed relationships here. I'm talking about lust. Maybe women are driven to distraction by the sight of a man changing diapers, but I've not heard or seen anyone seriously float the idea. I certainly don't see Zak forging a porn empire on that model. Though, truth to tell, when we find out what really works, I won't be too shocked if its something equally odd. ;p

James C. said...

True enough, which takes us back to where I entered the fray: I don't know if you can get there from here. Women and men just seem to approach sex in a different way. The sorts of responses you've dismissed as beside the point, and I'm not being snarky I understand why you dismissed them, seem to underline this essential difference.

shlominus said...

actually i don't see how what makes a "sexualized" male is such a big mystery to so many osr-bloggers.

it's not as if this is scientific no man's-land. in a nutshell...

tall, strong jaw, broad shoulders, slim waist, well defined muscles (not the bodybuilder kind!).

faustusnotes said...

I think Trollsmyth may be right about the outmoded sexual models still current in the US and UK, but they hardly represent the most enlightened countries on the globe, sexually. The idea that "the best way to turn a woman on is chocolate and a diamond ring" (or whatever) is completely out of the park in Australia or Japan - try going on a date in either of those countries and paying for it...

ie. this is a comment on American women, it has nothing to do with women as a whole. And it is about fucking time that American culture makers - movie makers, self-help writers, novelists, pornographers, advertisers and feminists - started learning from the rest of the world instead of preaching to it.

I also think Trollsmyth's theories about men's behaviour are too simplistic, too old-fashioned, and based on a lot of stereotypes. Men are much more complex than he presents here, and the idea that advertisers are too busy working out how to target men - in the fact of an entire advertising industry that only knows how to target women - is a bit rich.

In short, Trollsmyth, I think you need to get out more!

faustusnotes said...

Also to add... the idea that gaming products conceived as "female friendly" will be bland is... really really sexist.

James C. said...

Faustusnotes, I wonder. Being that you are such a clever and informed fellow... is it intentionally ironic that you take Trollsmyth to task and cry that he's both simple and sexist in the breath proceeding the one where you dismiss American women wholesale as materialistic and stupid, or is yours a special kind of cultural misogyny that somehow blinds you to the contradiction of your apparent position?

I think Zak may have been on to something when excluding men from his forum on the topic.

faustusnotes said...

James C, perhaps you misunderstand me. I was responding to Trollsmyth's representation of American gender relations - I don't know anything about them personally. I nowhere said American women are materialistic and stupid, I was replying to someone else's suggestion that women are best turned on with chocolate and diamonds (you can find it up above).

shlominus appears to have been guessing at the same thing, JimLOFTP mentioned it, etc. So I'm guessing here - but just because a culture has some outmoded dating models doesn't make the women in that culture "materialistic and stupid" any more than it makes the men there misogynist.

What it does do is make very clear that generalizations about attitudes towards sex need to allow more for culture than they do for gender.

James C. said...

If I misunderstand you, then I retract my observation. Perhaps though for clarity's sake you could, in the future, aid such readers as myself in understanding your noble position by labeling American gender relations: "American gender relations" and only calling American women, "American women".

Also, I'd submit to you that having direct cultural experience beyond consuming media might aid whatever you position you choose to take on my culture. If I, for instance, assumed Australian or Japanese women could be summed up by the media representations I am familiar with I might see raping them with an octopus or throwing another shrimp on the barbie as effective means of engaging them. Alas, I would seem rather foolish, wouldn't I?

faustusnotes said...

James C, I've been making the point on successive threads that the statements being made here about "women" only apply to "American women." Up until now it's been Trollsmyth et al who'v been generalizing their very particular experience of a single culture to women as a gender. I make no such claims.

It's cute though, that in amongst all this mess of people making generalizations about women, you should get particularly upset about someone making generalizations about Americans.

James C. said...

If you read my posts as closely as you no doubt re-re-re-read your own I think you'll see me taking exception to quite a bit more. So we're clear from here on out you should know that it's not your distinction in singling out Americans that I find particularly distasteful, its your singularly smug and self-satisfied manner. Trollsmyth and others at least aren't hiding behind some cloak of phony intellectualism.

faustusnotes said...

well James C, since you misunderstood the content of my comments pretty thoroughly, perhaps you aren't so well placed to judge their tone?

When you made your comment up above that "women and men look at sex differently" did you intend to add "American" to that sentence? Or is it only the people pointing out to you that you are generalizing to all women from your own limited experience who have to somehow be sure to add this qualifier?

Ikkin said...

Thanks for the mention!

Anyway, the conversation seems to have moved on from this, but I wanted to address something from the OP:

I think it speaks volumes that most magazines aimed at women tend to sport a woman on the cover.

I'm not sure what you, particularly, think this implies, but I think it's a sign of something very relevant to this conversation -- namely, that female socialization (at least in the US) is far more focused on teaching women how to please men than on creating things that women actually like.

When men are constantly told "you deserve a supermodel (and she looks like this)" while women are told "you expect too much of him and need to be more willing to compromise," it shouldn't come as a surprise when most men are entirely open about their (rather standard) set of physical requirements to anyone who will listen, while women are less inclined to voice their (likely more unorthodox) preferences, especially in terms of specifics and/or in front of men.

If certain anime fandoms are anything to go by, though, if you can convince girls that they deserve a specific type of supermodel-like guy, their range of interests will suddenly become significantly narrower and much more focused on physical appearance. ;)

And, honestly, I believe that significant (and possibly even majority) interest and obedience can be cultivated for almost anything if there's enough cultural weight behind it, even if it's against people's own biological interests. If you want to create a dominant paradigm for a sexualized male, just convince Hollywood to throw the force of the mainstream media behind the idea that women should expect men to look a certain way for them. (Porn can't do that, obviously, because it essentially has negative cultural weight due to the stigma attached to it)

Zak S said...

Clarification for Trollsmyth on Mandy's position:

The male can be sexualized to the average hetero female in a single image. It just helps if it's a single image which -implies- the character is capable of certain things. These can be subtle signals that straight men don't always pay attention to. It can be a uniform, a way of dressing (or looking casual) or something else.

For example: someone smoking a cigarette is nonchalantly doing 2 things at once (having something on fire in their mouth plus whatever else they're doing). The test: if someone is smoking a cigarette with 2 hands, or as if it's -really hard- to smoke a cigarette, the sexy cigarette magic is gone and it doesn't work.

trollsmyth said...

Zak: Ah, ok then. Yeah, there's a lot less distance between our opinions that I'd assumed. Probably due to poor reading on my part.

But yeah, the prop that combines a demonstration/assumption of skill with an erotic subtext (horse, bike, and cigarette, as well as swords and the like) would seem to be at least one key component of crafting a sexualized male image that would be generally appealing. I'm not sure how much distance there is between such thing and more fetish-focused images (Captain Kirk did end up handcuffed or chained to the wall a lot, didn't he?) but to really get to the bottom of that, we'd need an actual scientific study. And again, the more sexualized you get, I think the more problematic the image becomes for the target audience.

trollsmyth said...

Ikkin: Oof! Ok, a lot to talk about here. Thanks again for sticking with the conversation this long.

...namely, that female socialization (at least in the US) is far more focused on teaching women how to please men than on creating things that women actually like.

At the risk of derailing the conversation entirely, I think that's only one side of the coin. The other side is female expectations on other women. The fasion industry, for instance, is largely driven by the desire of women to meet the standards of other women. Most, though clearly not all, of the slut-shaming appears to travel along similar paths.

The covers, though, cover both sides of that coin; the photographed models tell women how other women will expect them to fix their hair this season while the blurbs promising "Five Moves Guaranteed to Drive Him Crazy in Bed" reinforce the notion that men are fickle beasts who must be constantly entertained with novelty if you're to retain their interest.

I also think you underestimate how aware men are of exactly which women are "out of their league." The appeal of ice maidens like Seven-of-Nine is, in part, their unattainability.

The physical attributes, however, are just so convenient for advertisers still lusting after the attention of young men that you're inundated with advertising based on them, and so it becomes fairly easy, after a while, to pick up types and to recognize which work for you and which don't.

While women aren't as bombarded with options like guys are (not yet, anyway, but I suspect that will change in the near future) your point about anime fandom is, I think, spot on. Here's another interesting datapoint: as women become more financially independent, they appear to prefer, ahem, "experience" over youth. Notice also that good looks are still important, however, so us aging gamer-guys have more reason than ever to avoid becoming the sort that abandons personal hygiene. ;p

faustusnotes said...

Trollsmyth, that article you linked to was a report on an online survey in the ultimate of trashy psychology journals, Evolutionary Psychology. But it points out that as women get more financially independent, they "value attractiveness more highly," which largely favours Ikkin's point that what people find attractive depends on their social context.

I wouldn't take the age part of that too seriously - as women get more financially independent, they also tend to be older. So of course their preferred partner also increases in age. It's a confounder that I'm willing to bet a publication in evolutionary psychology hasn't adjusted for.

Ikkin said...

Trollsmyth:

At the risk of derailing the conversation entirely, I think that's only one side of the coin. The other side is female expectations on other women. The fasion industry, for instance, is largely driven by the desire of women to meet the standards of other women.

And I never intended to suggest otherwise. Female policing of female behavior definitely plays a large part in female socialization.

The thing is, it's never actually presented as female-centric -- it's presented as "do this, or you'll have less to offer to men. (Men, to be fair, get a lot of the same thing -- male expectations presented as "this is what women want;" the thing is, part of that is "women don't want you to care too much about what they think")

I also think you underestimate how aware men are of exactly which women are "out of their league." The appeal of ice maidens like Seven-of-Nine is, in part, their unattainability.

The physical attributes, however, are just so convenient for advertisers still lusting after the attention of young men that you're inundated with advertising based on them, and so it becomes fairly easy, after a while, to pick up types and to recognize which work for you and which don't.


Hmm, that's true. I guess "you deserve a supermodel" really isn't the right way to put it... it's more that guys are encouraged to fantasize about having more (even if it's impractical for them to ever get it), while girls are encouraged to be satisfied with what they have (even if it isn't as good as what they could have gotten).

That applies equally to the anime/videogame fangirl side of it, though -- Sephiroth is no more attainable than Seven-of-Nine is. ;)

trollsmyth said...

The thing is, it's never actually presented as female-centric -- it's presented as "do this, or you'll have less to offer to men.

Ah, ok, I can see that. This is where my being a guy kinda runs into the wall. Never having really been on the receiving end of such things, it's hard for me to really know where the pointy bits are.

For guys, I can say that the ability to attract and hold female attention is certainly one of many carrots dangled in front of us (and the threat of female disdain is often used as a stick) but it's pretty secondary to the whole "being a man" thing. As definitions of womanhood tend to be much less up-in-the-air, I can see how something a bit more concrete might be required.

That applies equally to the anime/videogame fangirl side of it, though -- Sephiroth is no more attainable than Seven-of-Nine is. ;)

Yep, and that's the difference between fantasy and reality. What guys are told is really a contradictory mess that includes both "OMG if you can't get laid you're an utter loser" and "if you care too much about what women think of you, you're not really a man." How a guy finally threads this Scylla and Charybdis goes a long way to defining what sort of person he is.

This is one of the reasons porn is so popular. The porn itself makes no demands on the viewer, beyond the usually small fee charged to possess it and the (fairly mild, if you're not at work) risk of being caught in possession of such stuff.

And that's exactly why I would think it would be more popular among women, since it allows a quick, vicarious thrill free of complications and the time-investment erotica requires. The assumption has been that women just aren't interested in that sort of thing. The behavior of female anime fans, as you've pointed out, seems to indicate that this is not the full story.

James C. said...

@faustusnotes

well James C, since you misunderstood the content of my comments pretty thoroughly, perhaps you aren't so well placed to judge their tone?

I'm not entirely clear where I've misunderstood content, but I do accept that tone can be read incorrectly in this medium and I certainly could have misjudged yours.

When you made your comment up above that "women and men look at sex differently" did you intend to add "American" to that sentence? Or is it only the people pointing out to you that you are generalizing to all women from your own limited experience who have to somehow be sure to add this qualifier?

If you don't accept the difference between a broad and non-specific assertion that different types of people will approach something in different manners (i.e. what I did) with assigning a rather specific approach to nearly half a nation's population (i.e. what you did) then I'm not sure what to say. I singled you out and perhaps that wasn't fair. I saw your post as particularly hypocritical. If you want to discuss it further away from this forum I'll provide you the chance. You may contact me through my blogger profile. If not, we can simply move on.

@ Trollsmyth

I would have sent this to faustusnotes in an e-mail rather than continue to hijack your thread, but didn't see how. I'm sorry. Not another peep from me on this. Thanks for your patience.

trollsmyth said...

James: No worries. You're welcome to comment over here anytime.

faustusnotes said...

James C, I'm happy to put aside who-said-what threadjacks as well.

My broader point is simply that all this talk about sexualization is being carried on in a very culturally-specific way, and you can't make conclusions about how women as a gender have "inherently" different sexualization practices on the back of mere American experience. Cultural differences abound, and present strong evidence that the universal conclusions Trollsmyth is pointing to are actually very very culturally specific.

Which is no problem at all if you don't care whether the causes of female difference are bio or culture. But when you start ascribing them exclusively to women's biology through this trans-cultural essentialism (as Trollsmyth has hinted at doing), you risk concluding it's not worth trying anything different.

If on the other hand you accept the possibility that all these differences in sexualization might be cultural, you can start playing with the boundaries of them and see what happens. Who knows, if you don't treat women as strange alien creatures with biologically different tastes, maybe more would be drawn to the hobby...

trollsmyth said...

Faustusnotes: Like James said, if you want to continue this conversation, please take it elsewhere.

Danke.

Ikkin said...

Trollsmyth:

For guys, I can say that the ability to attract and hold female attention is certainly one of many carrots dangled in front of us (and the threat of female disdain is often used as a stick) but it's pretty secondary to the whole "being a man" thing.

It's still a bit different, actually.

I have a bit of trouble figuring out how best to phrase it, but it's something like this: when men are carrot-and-sticked with the promise of women/lack thereof, it's based around what they can take -- "do this, and she'll give you something you want." The women's magazines, on the other hand, are more interested in what women can give -- "do this for him, because that's what he wants."

(As an aside, I don't have a problem with teaching people to be less selfish -- we could probably use more of that all around, to be honest. But it's certainly not something that should be applied unequally)


This is one of the reasons porn is so popular. The porn itself makes no demands on the viewer, beyond the usually small fee charged to possess it and the (fairly mild, if you're not at work) risk of being caught in possession of such stuff.

And that's exactly why I would think it would be more popular among women, since it allows a quick, vicarious thrill free of complications and the time-investment erotica requires. The assumption has been that women just aren't interested in that sort of thing. The behavior of female anime fans, as you've pointed out, seems to indicate that this is not the full story.


Well, in terms of risk... the perceived risk for women is a lot higher than for men -- not just because the consequences for women are worse, but also because men are far more likely to downplay risks and believe it won't happen to them.

And, if you assume that women have internalized the idea that their partner's satisfaction is as important as their own, something that removes the partner as much as possible by reducing them to a body would probably be awkward and guilt-inducing, and therefore not as rewarding, either.

Anime fandom gets rid of the perceived risk by giving it a sort of fandom prestige (either as a Big Name Fan or just a high number of deviantArt pageviews) and normalizes the objectification by making it seem common. That girls within the fandom act differently makes a whole lot of sense, too -- people's behavior is highly dependent on context, after all.

trollsmyth said...

Ikkin: I have a bit of trouble figuring out how best to phrase it, but it's something like this: when men are carrot-and-sticked with the promise of women/lack thereof, it's based around what they can take -- "do this, and she'll give you something you want." The women's magazines, on the other hand, are more interested in what women can give -- "do this for him, because that's what he wants."

This invites all sorts of observations about traditional gender roles and the shifting attitudes of our (I assume shared) culture, but I think largely I'll go with your explanation of the female side of the coin here, because anything I could say about guys at this point would, I think, be beside the point.

And, if you assume that women have internalized the idea that their partner's satisfaction is as important as their own, something that removes the partner as much as possible by reducing them to a body would probably be awkward and guilt-inducing, and therefore not as rewarding, either.

Ah, yes. This rings very true, so I want to poke at it and see if it does hold up. Would this be your own experience, or do you know women who have expressed such thoughts? I don't mean to make this too personal, but you seem to be speaking hypothetically about something you might have personal experience with and I simply don't.

And I think this may explain something of the interest in characters, like Mandy's list, like the anime bishi boys, and the men in romance novels. Giving something of a semblance of real people might deflect the guilt, or even avoid it, by allowing the woman to be both a bystander, outside the event, and yet also, vicariously, part of one in which both partners are satisfied.

Turning back to our attempt to create a sexualized male image, it would seem two things would be required. First, there must be a strong sense of empathy with the figures presented. Anime is extremely good at this, so it shouldn't surprise, assuming this is correct, that anime fandom would include possible examples of sexualized males. Second, you might actually need a female surrogate for the viewer in the piece as well, something to deflect the guilt of simply taking pleasure from the male without giving something in return.

Ikkin said...

...kind of late on this, so I probably can't expect a response. But...

Ah, yes. This rings very true, so I want to poke at it and see if it does hold up. Would this be your own experience, or do you know women who have expressed such thoughts? I don't mean to make this too personal, but you seem to be speaking hypothetically about something you might have personal experience with and I simply don't.

My own personal experience is... not exactly the kind of thing I'd want to go extrapolating general truths about women from. I might be female, but I've always been generally oblivious to social pressure and somewhat of a nonconformist, and constantly surrounded myself with people like myself who were unlikely to challenge that. ;)

So I'm mostly just criticizing messages from media, because that's the context I'm most likely to find those messages in... which is something that doesn't depend on my femaleness in any way.


And I think this may explain something of the interest in characters, like Mandy's list, like the anime bishi boys, and the men in romance novels. Giving something of a semblance of real people might deflect the guilt, or even avoid it, by allowing the woman to be both a bystander, outside the event, and yet also, vicariously, part of one in which both partners are satisfied.

Turning back to our attempt to create a sexualized male image, it would seem two things would be required. First, there must be a strong sense of empathy with the figures presented. Anime is extremely good at this, so it shouldn't surprise, assuming this is correct, that anime fandom would include possible examples of sexualized males. Second, you might actually need a female surrogate for the viewer in the piece as well, something to deflect the guilt of simply taking pleasure from the male without giving something in return.


Well, remember, the romance novel fans and the anime fangirls are probably two distinct groups. I don't think the anime fangirls are actually motivated by an ingrained desire to satisfy a potential partner as much as they're motivated by the desire to be supported by a like-minded community (which is equally unmotivated to care about whether the guy on display gets anything out of it).

I'm not going to attempt to make any conclusions about romance novel fans (though I suspect your conclusions would be much more accurate in regards to them), because I simply don't have much experience in that regard, but those requirements don't seem to be universally true within the anime fan community. The value of empathy seems rather questionable when characters' personalities are so often treated as disposable and original character art in the anime style is able to do quite well for itself (the most viewed yaoi artwork on deviantArt, using the "Most Popular/All Time" search was a particularly well-drawn piece with original characters on the 8th page), and it's hard to separate empathy from sheer popularity when it comes to existing characters to begin with. And, as far as a surrogate is concerned, outside of yaoi, there usually isn't one, and the existance of one in yaoi is... questionable (I've gotten chewed out for assuming that the uke is a female surrogate, and I've since seen het-pairings that used the yaoi dynamics and made the guy the uke).

So, if I were going to give suggestions, I think my first would be "know your audience." What women find attractive has a great deal to do with what their community thinks of as proof of a man's status (and men are probably the same way, except that "female beauty = status" has become universalized).

trollsmyth said...

Ikkin: So, if I were going to give suggestions, I think my first would be "know your audience." What women find attractive has a great deal to do with what their community thinks of as proof of a man's status...

Yep, which is kinda what I'm hoping to drive through to here. What are the status signals that speak to a western woman's libido? Which categories of status are we looking at? Social, physical, economic, fertility?

I think anime has a leg-up on most other forms of graphical representation in when it comes to creating empathy. The characters just feel more emotionally connected. They invite an emotional investment, with their simple facial structures and large eyes. Though yes, I think you're right, the surrogate thing really doesn't fit there.

Ikkin said...

Trollsmyth:

Yep, which is kinda what I'm hoping to drive through to here. What are the status signals that speak to a western woman's libido? Which categories of status are we looking at? Social, physical, economic, fertility?

I don't think you can really generalize to the level of "western woman;" the groups are much more specific than that, and you'll probably get at least a few groups that focus on each of those things.

And then you'll get a few outlier groups like the really loud tween-esque group that seems to value guys who are generally nonthreatening-but-pretty.


I think anime has a leg-up on most other forms of graphical representation in when it comes to creating empathy. The characters just feel more emotionally connected. They invite an emotional investment, with their simple facial structures and large eyes. Though yes, I think you're right, the surrogate thing really doesn't fit there.

Yeah, the stylization of anime tends to use the same kind of traits kids and cats use to make us want to protect and care for them, and that seems to be quite effective for gaining empathy. Though, from what I've read, those same traits are considered attractive in potential partners, so it's probably not quite as simple as that.