Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Sexualized Male: Workin' It!

So a sexualized woman is one who is advertising her availability for sex. A sexualized man, on the other hand, is advertising his ability to deliver a certain kind of sex. What does this look like?

Ask a woman what turns her on, and generally you will get a list like Mandy's. It's largely all about being. Ask a man what turns him on and you'll generally get a list of things you could do tonight to put him in the mood. This is what sexualizing is. At its heart, sexualization is concrete actions. It's not the T-and-A so much as how it's presented: the twisted, broken spine posture, cleavage, the exposed skin, the facial expression, and the scissoring legs.

When sexualizing guys, it's often less about the body and more about props. Perhaps the most potent prop is the motorcycle. (And thanks to Oddysey for giving me this example, as well as helping me to clarify my ideas on a number of points in both of these articles.) Motorcycles grumble with adventure, speed, skill, and freedom. A guy on a Harley is not going to be overly much a gentleman. There's no guessing and there's no games, nor will there be an exorbitance of “please.” He'll make it clear what he wants, will appreciate the same candor from her, and she can count on him to be gone by morning.

Horses work just as well, but the symbolism is different. Skill and command are united with sensitivity. He will be aware of her moods, her emotions, and how she reacts to how he touches her. Sensitivity, however, is not a synonym for "nice." Some horsemen will be gentlemen. But not all.

Other props are easier to come by: the dog-eared copy of Byron's poetry promising slow and intellectually stimulating foreplay while hinting at kink, the well-worn dancing shoes that intimate grace and body awareness, the shirtless and sweaty chest with work jeans and dusty boots betokening an honest and forthright vigor.

That all said, we are brought back to Mandy's list of being-verb men. If you're going to invoke any of these props, you need to be able to follow up on their promise. Any woman can slip into high heels that lengthen her legs, or put on the innocent schoolgirl uniform. The hesitant clutz on a motorcycle is a poser and more laughable than a clutz without a bike.

Even worse, the vocabulary is not as well known or understood for titillating women. The above-mentioned schoolgirl uniform can be either innocent or slutty with the same props if they're just worn a little differently. The visual language is understood so well that great nuance is possible. It's easy and natural to talk about what any individual man wants: we know what it means, and women know how to capitalize on it, when we say that Quentin Tarantino is a “foot man” or that Sir Mix-a-lot is a “butt guy.”

But we don't have the same vocabulary when speaking about women. Or, at least, it's not widely known, especially among men. If you go to the romance novels section of your bookstore you will find that they do come in categories. Some are not overt about it; Regency romances tend to be very tame, while those taking place in the old West sometimes have S&M aspects. Others advertise what they are right on the cover: family, cowboys, suspense and danger, or bad boys. Some of these are known qualities. It's not unusual to say a woman is "into bad boys" or is looking for a husband. But we don't usually see these as roles a guy should try on. Nor is our culture the place where a woman can casually suggest her husband don a loincloth and feathered headdress and tie her up in the living room.

And yet, that is exactly the sort of thing we ought to be talking about when discussing sexualizing men. The wife in the schoolgirl outfit isn't really a schoolgirl, innocent or slutty. And she can just as easily invoke the slutty librarian look, a Wonder Woman costume, or any of a range of lingerie that highlight her husband's favorite parts or brings to mind his favorite fantasies. There are, in short, not just visual vocabularies set up for the sexualization of women, but entire industries devoted to helping her do just that.

These vocabularies and industries do not exist for the sexualization of actual, physical men. In spite of the ease with which it is assumed a woman can get a man in the mood, every woman has available to her an arsenal of tricks and toys to do just that. What do men have? Well, if you believe popular culture, apparently nothing gets a woman hotter than lobster and diamonds. Even those who claim to have the secret to dominating the hookup scene primarily rely on psychological tricks to prey upon insecurities rather than titillations.

Frankly, this state of affairs is bizarre and is hopefully changing. As women become more comfortable speaking about their sexuality and acquire more wealth, we’ll develop the vocabulary, and then the industries, to cater to their desires. We’re still probably a generation away from it, but perhaps someday soon, a woman will more easily be able to express whether she wants a tender, gentle lover, or one she can chain to the bed and have her way with, and her man will be able to easily understand and put together the evening she’s looking for.

Photos by theaudi0slave and aka_serge.


Zak Sabbath said...

Alternate theory:

We have already done it. It is called civilization up until circa 1950. A long and elaborate series of overlapping mating dances to impress various women. Look: I built a bridge, Look: I wrote a symphony, Look: I rule Mongolia.

Only a theory. And one that excludes the possibilty that women might be interested in Pure Sex Appeal (i.e. sex appeal with no utilitarian side effects).

Straight women do, despite everything, like men. and when asked why, it's generally because they saw, in some nonsex act, a metaphor for what they want.

Your entry suggests a clean symmetry: just as the appeal of woman to a guy can be divorced from anything s/he really is or does, so can the opposite be true. I don;t really know if the world works that way.

Zak Sabbath said...

Another problem with symmetry:

Women seem to agree a lot less than men. Clinical experiments bear this out.

trollsmyth said...

Zak: We have already done it. It is called civilization up until circa 1950. A long and elaborate series of overlapping mating dances to impress various women. Look: I built a bridge, Look: I wrote a symphony, Look: I rule Mongolia.

Yeah, but that's the full panoply of mating/dating/wooing/etc. I'm trying to focus specifically on sexualization here, as you put it, "Pure Sex Appeal." I'm pretty sure that happens and I'm poking at the mechanics of it. I think, however, it's difficult because we don't have the vocabulary to talk about it, and women in wider society are only just recently becoming comfortable with the idea of divorcing lust from love.

But, if I'm wrong, then the answer to your question is simply no, men can't be sexualized in any meaningful way.

trollsmyth said...

Zak: Women seem to agree a lot less than men. Clinical experiments bear this out.

And that may make it next to impossible to really come up with a standard trope that works so well and so frequently like we have with men. I don't think that makes things impossible (after all, not every guy finds the slutty schoolgirl hot), but will make things a lot more niche; no single image will work for as many women as certain ones will work for men.

shyDM said...

no single image will work for as many women as certain ones will work for men.

You should have seen feminist blog Jezebel (and commentors) drooling during soccer season. I think there are definitely some "near universals" out there in terms of what what ladies find attractive, but it's just not as open or talked about in American society.

Anonymous said...

I think you're reaching here on the basis of one opinion. I don't think Mandy's definition of skilled and competent is how most women see a sexualized man - it doesn't even accord with other comments in that thread (e.g. "abs!")

The idea that civilisation is all an attempt to impress women is... interesting, Zak. Maybe women were involved in building civilization too? They did invent alcohol, after all. Much of the development of civilization ignored women so completely that it would hardly have been about impressing them so much as containing them (see e.g. ancient Rome). Women's sexual desire was irrelevant to mating patterns for the majority of (settled, agricultural, written) history anyway.

As I said in the other thread, just look at the presentation of modern rugby players. Their sexual appeal is all about their looks. Why do Les Bleus make a calendar, rather than putting pictures of themselves on the field? Check out the presentation of the All Blacks, probably the most sexualized 22 men in the world.

For the majority of women it's no different to men. It's just that through most of history they've been unable to express their desires.

Zak Sabbath said...


If you believe female heterosexual desire is symmetrical with heterosexual male desire, hey, maybe you're right.

All I'm saying is: The weight of clinical experimental data suggests otherwise. Plus, going around the planet acting on that assumption doesn't work out so well.

Anonymous said...

Zak, I don't believe female and male heterosexual desire are "symmetric" but I do think that there are a lot of myths about female desire, e.g. "women are less visually aroused than men," "women need relationships to have sex," etc.

I think men and women are different, but I don't think we're that different, and our similarities are more relevant than our differences. When I speak to or have sex with women they tend to show a very similar inclination to sexualization to men; and men are much less inclined to the kind of pr0n-style sexualization than popular culture gives them credit for.

Also, I have gone around the world on that assumption: Australia, the UK, Japan. I'm pretty confident that the UK and US are much more conservative about sex than Japan, Oz or NZ, which is why I present (for example) the rugby images as evidence.

Zak Sabbath said...


I refer you back to experimental (and economic) data. Until you explain it away, this conversation is meaningless.

Ikkin said...

Zak: Experimental data is useless because it's impossible to separate inherent traits of adult humans from their socialization. As much as one might think that brain scans and the like might avoid the potential for false reports inherent in asking for a subjective assessment, they still don't say that much, because the brain changes itself based on experience.

And, honestly, statistics are easy manipulable, so I've never trusted the kinds of experiments that lead to evo-psych explanations past where I can throw them. It makes much more sense to me to see these kinds of things on a spectrum with two heavily-overlapping bell curves, like everything else about the physical differences between men and women (which can easily get turned into "men are more X, women are more Y if you want to spin it that way, even though that's misleading).

All I know is this: deviantArt is full of women who are just as interested in the physical as any guy. Fanfiction.net is full of women who write stories about their objects of interest that retain none of that object's traits besides physical appearance, or stories about characters whose personalities don't even exist yet. Twilight is incredibly popular right now, with the main appeal of the male love interests being "they're gorgeous and unaging" (and the second appeal being "one's been a virgin for a hundred years, and neither would ever leave you") And I trust that kind of experience way more than I trust a statistician with something to prove. =P

Zak Sabbath said...


It's significant that the media you site aren't porn. They're story media.

When you start your chains of all-male strip club with its 90% female clientele, let me know.

And your cam site.

And your porn movies.

And when you change the subscription base of Playgirl from gay men to women.

And when you start selling millions of romance novels to men.

You'll be rich.

Good luck with that.

Ikkin said...

Zak: Have you ever actually seen deviantArt? Seriously?

And FF.n and Twilight are text-based media, yes, but they're also highly focused on the physical. All that really says is that women prefer their visual imaginations to whatever guys come up with to appeal to them. ;) (The "stories" are often incredibly flimsy, more of an excuse than anything else really)

And yaoi manga seems to sell really well to girls.

trollsmyth said...

Ikkin: Do keep in mind that Zak does do this sort of thing professionally, so he's got a vested interest in getting it right.

(And I'm fascinated, and not at all surprised, to learn that Playgirl is primarily financially based on gay men. I think that's an important data point.)

I'm also not sure it's reasonable to attempt to separate cultural aspects from this issue. After all, many of the gestures that sexualize a woman do so purely on a cultural basis (ie schoolgirl, naughty librarian, etc.). Even things that might appear to be biological aren't. For most of human history, most human males found this to be sexier than this.

Of course, that said, a not insignificant number of guys are not interested in the popular depictions of sexualized women. Or, at least, sexualize women in different ways than the norm. Probably not enough to build an industry on, but... I also think that this will shift over time as women become more comfortable with the fact that they are sexual beings. Part of the reason that porn aimed at women tends to sell poorly is because women just aren't supposed to do that sort of thing, in spite of what's going on in the romance novel industry.

Zak: And when you start selling millions of romance novels to men. Apropos of nothing, or, at least, on a very tangential subject, while they may not be novels, I'd argue that a lot of Joss Whedon's success is based on repackaging romance tropes in ways that make it safe for men to watch. I don't think it's a million-dollar industry yet, and certainly not likely to unseat porn anytime soon, but I think it bears keeping an eye on.

Zak Sabbath said...


I have, but the numbers don't add up. Chicks look at guys, but the scale isn;t the same.

Also, you have to answer all the economics evidence (cam sites, strip clubs) I just cited or you have to stop talking.

the whole "statistics are distortable" argument only makes sense when the scientist has a MOTIVE to distort the data.

When a LGBT Organization Health service shows gay men have waaaaaay more anonymous sex than gay women, what possible motive could they have to distort the data?

Answer all of these things, or you're done.

Zak Sabbath said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zak Sabbath said...


You can't lay the disparities all on 'nurture' (or societal pressure). A woman evaluating a man purely sexually still lives in a woman's body, so needs to know: whether the guy is trustworthy (not dangerous), whether he is gentle (or rough) enough (because he's probably bigger than her), and whether he has the skill to get her off. These evaluations are largely built in to the female sex drive. Women very often look for a metaphor for sexual prowess in behavior, style or profession.

A guy, for the most part, just needs to know if she's hot. The rest usually takes care of itself.

Anecdotes aside, the initial conditions for the 2 types of bodies are different and affect everything else.

Ikkin and Faust, don't let this derail you from answering all the evidence I've previously cited.

If you turn out to be right, we'll be really glad, because suddenly all of Pornville will be making twice as much money this year as we thought we were gonna and all us guys will suddenly have 10 times more twitter followers.

Anonymous said...

Zak, evo-psych experiments are shoddy and poorly conducted, with biased samples, small sample sizes and extremely weak statistics. They're the laughing stock of the psychology research world, and very little of what they say has any value. As Ikkin observes, they can't identify - let alone separate - the confounding effects of culture from sex. This conversation is only "meaningless" if you accept evo-psych as anything but a second rate branch of psychology.

Perhaps you aren't aware of this, but Japan has a very large and thriving porn industry aimed at women. It is, of course, primarily visual (through manga and anime). The suburb of Ikebukuro is accepted as the girl-porn section of Tokyo, with many shops full of porn only for women, from schoolgirls to obachans.

Japan also has Host bars and Butler cafes. There are also "happening bars," heterosexual versions of gay cruising spaces. This is, of course, the land of the love hotel. The reason that brothels for women aren't very common is that women can quite easily get casual sex for free, so don't need to pay.

I know a prim and proper Japanese woman, mother of one, very polite and well-mannered, who is deep into animal porn and happily shares this knowledge with her friends. The difference, of course, is culture. Western women are acculturated to view sex and sexualization a certain way, and behave accordingly, but as the shackles loosen we begin to see all these things here.

Ikkin said...

Zak: Economic evidence is fairly useless, because it can't be separated from culture. If something is shameful and forbidden to women, they're certainly not going to use methods that require them to divulge personal information to acquire it -- especially not if there are alternate options that preserve their anonymity, offer them a community of like-minded women to share it with, and don't cost anything.

As for the LGBT health stats -- I'll give you that they're certainly less likely to be biased than the evo-psych crowd. On the other hand, I don't see any reason I can't simply say "prove that's not a function of culture" and leave it at that.

Moving on to the things you denoted as non-societal, I'd simply disagree with that categorization. That a man can assume that a women will respond to his desires while a women can't is a societal thing. That a women has to worry about whether a man will hurt her while a man does not is also largely societal (and has more to do with disrespect for women than it does physiological differences, because that fear would not be reversed if the woman had an identical physical advantage). That the skill of a man has a greater impact on the outcome than the skill of the woman might not be an artifact of socialization, but it doesn't seem nearly as important as you make it out to be, either -- it's really hard to reconcile the overwhelming popularity of a virgin male character like Edward Cullen with a stance like that (and it seems really unfair to women on top of it, since it implies that what they do doesn't really matter).

In any case, I'm going to modify my own stance: there are blatant and obvious differences in the way men and women act. How much of this is down to biology and how much is down to socialization is unknown and quite possibly unknowable. But the thing I really have a problem with is this: the assumption that, because women are less likely to treat those they are attracted to as a collection of body parts to use for their own pleasure than men are, women must rate potential partners' attractiveness in a different way. The idea that women take virtually everything men enjoy doing to be some sort of sexual metaphor equates a guy on a motorbike playing a guitar in a non-trivial way with this nonsense, which is patently absurd.

Women are heavily conditioned to be empathetic to men, to see men as complete individuals, and to avoid being shallow and judging on looks alone in a way that men are not. It shouldn't be in any way surprising that training of that sort might make one more inclined to focus on personality rather than appearance (which is what the motorbike-vs-horse thing is -- as a women, I can tell you that's much more about what type of person he is, not what kind of sex he offers). But, when women do focus on physical appeal, it takes the same form as it does in men (ie. impossible-to-meet beauty standards and a willingness to compromise oneself for the audience) with a few modifications (most importantly the context required to show the guy's interest isn't automatic -- I don't think it's a coincidence that characters are chosen for this purpose from almost-completely asexual source media like childrens' television programming and Lord of the Rings). If men weren't encouraged to see women's bodies as disposable objects for their pleasure and were instead encouraged to see women as people, they'd probably care more about the personality stuff, too. (They probably still wouldn't read romance novels, though, because that's un-Manly)

...well, that's a bit less focused than I would have liked. Hrm.

Zak Sabbath said...


"The reason that brothels for women aren't very common is that women can quite easily get casual sex for free, so don't need to pay."

Umm...you just proved my point.

Anonymous said...

Zak, yes I proved my point. You very carefully avoided all of my evidence - because it directly shows how culture affects sexual conditioning - to focus on the single one that you think shows something about women.

Have you considered that that particular point just shows women are much more bloodyminded about sex than men?

Zak Sabbath said...

To sum up (let me know if I'm wrong here)

I say it's hard to mass produce "sexualized men" on the scale of "sexualized women" because the female sex drive usually includes weighing a lot of not-strictly-physical factors in a way the male sex drive usually doesn't and varies more wildly.

You say: "No it doesn't, and, even if it does, well, that's just because of cultural conditioning"

First: which is it?


Cultural conditioning? I disagree. I think straight women behave the way they do because they are generally physically smaller, weaker, and more prone to infection than men and the sexual act in their case requires someone hairy sticking an object inside of them.

A man having sex pretty much knows:

-he'll have an orgasm, and
-it won't hurt.

A woman doesn't. She changes her behavior because of this. You would, too.

Anonymous said...

Zak, a lot of not-strictly-physical factors are, um, cultural conditioning, right? Or rather, how a culture tells women it is right or wrong, safe or unsafe to respond to these not-strictly-physical factors is cultural conditioning.

Men have also been subject to not-strictly-physical factors in their sexual relations. The social consequences of bastard progeny, the risk of familial revenge, etc. Why don't those factors cause men to eschew "sexualizing women"? Because society builds up systems for managing these differences based on the power relations between the sexes.

These in turn affect the kinds of sexual behaviour that is acceptable for men and women to engage in; and this affects the kind of sexualization considered acceptable.

So, as I observed, in a non-christian country with radically different historical family relations, there are different cultural norms about sexual interactions (e.g. host bars and love hotels) and also radically different cultural norms about pornography.

Unless you want to argue that biological sex is somehow different in Asia, you have to accept that culture plays an important determining and confounding role in the development of sexualizing imagery for both genders.

Zak Sabbath said...


You're really really not the only person who's ever been to Japan. Or lived there. It isn't shockingly different. There are cultural differences, but absolutely nothing that argues against anything I've said.

Anonymous said...

Is that why you won't argue against the points I made?

I'm not claiming I'm the only person who has lived in Japan, I'm just pointing out that cultural difference challenges your position, and you need to account for it.

But you clearly refuse to.

Ikkin said...

You say: "No it doesn't, and, even if it does, well, that's just because of cultural conditioning"

First: which is it?

My point is this: it's very difficult to say "women instinctively react in X way, men instinctively react in Y way, and there's no point in questioning it" when socialization plays a major-but-unknown role in how both men and women react.

Women are constantly told "stop being so picky, he's a nice guy" if they express disappointment with the way a guy looks. A woman's interest in looking at guys is treated differently from a man's interest in looking at women (think of what a potential employer would say if they found out their female prospect had followed you on Twitter).

Men, on the other hand, are called out if they're not interested in those things. See the third numbered entry here.

I'd bet dollars to donuts that the seeming homogeneity of men's interests compared to women's interests has something to do with the fact that there's a socially-prescribed ideal for feminine beauty and no male equivalent.

Now that I got that out of the way, let me try to sum up your argument:

"The majority of women don't find men's bodies inherently attractive, because they're small, weak, and afraid of men."

Is that about right? Because, ugh, that sounds horrible.

It also rings incredibly false to me. The idea that women aren't attracted to guys who they think would be bad for them is laughable -- it might change the way we act, but it certainly doesn't change the way we think (the existence of "Draco in Leather Pants" is a very, very strong hint that physical attraction can form in the absence of a desirable personality).

Zak Sabbath said...


all of your arguments amount to is "Hey, women are more sexually aggrssive in some cultures but still not as sexually aggressive as men"

Which doesn't conflict with what I'm saying.


You got it completely wrong. I'm not saying say women aren't attracted to men's bodies because yadda yadda yadda.

I'm saying "women are more sexually cautious about men's bodies because yadda yadda yadda and that elements of this caution (for example, weighing of sexual prowess by metaphor) is built in to their sex drive".

Here's Marie Luv expressing an honestly held opinion: "I never fuck a motherfucker who doesn't drive. If he can't handle a car, how's he gonna handle this pussy?"

Marie appreciates how men look, but (highly personalized) non-appearance data is also very important in determining who she;s attracted to.


Refute this evidence, both of you. And ask around before you do...

Women CONSTANTLY say things like "I'd fuck Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. Not Robert Downey Jr. the actor, but the character."

Same body. Different sexual signals.

Heard the same about Han Solo/Harrison Ford and Christian Bale/Bruce Wayne.

Natalie said...

Now that I got that out of the way, let me try to sum up your argument:

"The majority of women don't find men's bodies inherently attractive, because they're small, weak, and afraid of men."

Uhhh... You realize that you've just claimed that the guy who runs a blog about playing D&D with his female pornstar co-workers, filled with anecdotes about how his group declared that this or that guy/girl/shark/etc. "totally hot," is arguing that women don't find men attractive?

I mean maybe I'm utterly misreading you both here, but I kinda get the impression that the point he's making is, perhaps, more nuanced than that.

trollsmyth said...

Folks, keep in mind that Zak's not talking about hypotheticals or potentials here. Maybe American women could be as interested in porn as it appears Japanese women are, but if they're not today, then there's no market for Zak to exploit. He's talking business here as much as psychology and biology.

Ikkin: "The majority of women don't find men's bodies inherently attractive, because they're small, weak, and afraid of men."

Is that about right? Because, ugh, that sounds horrible.

That's not entirely what he's saying, but, as horrible as it sounds, it's partly true. No, women do find men's bodies attractive, and no amount of danger is going to change that, and I don't think that's what Zak is saying. However, a woman has to worry about issues like being raped or beaten. Yes, women are attracted to men who "would be bad for them" but there's a lot of distance between "bad for you" and "will kill you or worse."

But that's only the worst-but-entirely-possible-case scenario. That's not getting into the lesser issues of yeast infections which can lead to months of discomfort, STDs that he may not know he even has but can rob a woman of any chance to have children and any potential (but, thankfully, much less likely these days) for social stigma. (Seriously, why do so many women have to preface any declaration of an interest in sex with something along the lines of, "I'm not a slut, but..."? Ok, I know the answer to that question, and yes, it's cultural, but it's also real.)

The costs for a guy, relatively speaking, are pretty close to nil. Nobody is going to try to slut-shame him, he's not going to get pregnant, she's probably not going to smack him around or murder him, or do things he's not yet comfortable with, and the effects of STDs are likely to be much less horrowing (assuming we're not talking about AIDs).

So yeah, women are going to be a lot more careful about who they fool around with. This might actually make porn more useful to them, but only if they can enjoy it without social stigma or guy's thinking it means they're sluts and therefore easy targets. (Seriously, I know women who lie about their birthdays because admitting that they are scorpios in certain circles is an invitation to all sorts of annoying male behavior.)

Which, again absolute is not the same as saying women don't like sex, because clearly they do. What it's saying is that they need to be a lot more selective about who they enjoy it with, and how they advertise their interest.

Zak Sabbath said...

Quick internet polls have given me:

Magnum PI but not Tom Selleck

Dirk Diggler but not Mark

Frodo but not Elijah

Lestat but not Cruise

Venkman but not Bill Murray

Arthur in Inception

10th Doctor

Castor Troy

Cyrus the Virus

Joker but not Ledger

Tyler Durden twice

Gyllenhall but NOT Donnie Darko

Cal from 40 yr old virgin.


I doubt you could get similar data as fast from straight men. And I have NEVER heard a straight man spontaneously voice it. (The cat suit looks good, but I;d take vintage Michelle Pfeiffer in or out of it)

I'm going to assume all sane people realize I'm right and Faustus and Ikkin are wrong.

IF, HOWEVER, you are a sane person reading this and believe them and not me, then please visit me and tell me. At such time I will re-explain myself. If nobody does, I'll assume my point is made.

trollsmyth said...

Zak: Winona Rider is the obvious male counter-example. ;)

Zak Sabbath said...

I'd do her. My roommate did her.

Anonymous said...

I'm reading a long catalogue of cultural arguments here, Zak and Trollsmyth.

Zak, you seem to be trying to rescue your position from its cultural foundations by claiming that women have a biological basis for their potential fear of rough men or stds. This is a position that you're never going to be able to prove.

Ikkin and I are just pointing out that you can't make essentialist statements about something like desire because the boundary between culture and biology is so blurred in this field. We're not trying to pretend that men and women are biologically equal. The blanket biological statements with no foundation are all in your camp.

The thing about these biological statements is that they exonerate you from having to think about your own behaviour, or give even a passing thought to the possibility that the community or culture you are in might be capable of/in need of/looking for change. It's an escape clause from personal responsibility.

trollsmyth said...

I'm reading a long catalogue of cultural arguments here, Zak and Trollsmyth.

I suppose yeast infections technically are issues of culture, but I'm pretty sure that's not how you mean it. ;p

Ikkin said...

Let me try this one more time, because it seems like this debate has gone far beyond the scope of what I was ever intending to argue.

Trying to argue that women don't find personality traits attractive is ridiculous, I'll agree. There have certainly been times when my opinion of a character's attractiveness changed drastically because I liked their personality. I rather suspect this happens to everyone rather than being gender-specific, though, considering the old adage that "love is blind." (I do suspect that guys are encouraged not to allow personality to affect them like that, or at least not to voice it -- it's "cool" to treat women like things, or something like that)

But that's a much higher-level function than sexualization is, and it takes way too much mental effort and too many learned contextual associations to be instinctual. That something like that exists in women says nothing about the existence (or lack thereof) of a lower-level function that operates on a purely physical basis (without any regard for consequences) in both genders.

To prove your point, you have to show that women wouldn't find a physically-gorgeous man with no personality cues whatsoever attractive -- that there's no base attraction that exists separate from a man's personality (which is then built upon by the higher-level stuff). Showing that other factors augment that isn't good enough.

(And, I'd argue, using "women say 'Frodo but not Elijah' and 'Joker but not Ledger,' but men don't care whether an actress is in character or not" says a lot less than you think it does -- if female actors routinely had great variances in the level of care they take in their appearances like like male actors do, you'd probably get more of the "Frodo but not Elijah" type of comments from guys, and if you recognized that "Joker but not Ledger" is probably a fetish thing, male equivalents probably wouldn't be that difficult to find. Frodo might as well be a different person from Elijah Wood's IMDB pics, and if anyone without masochistic tendencies is more attracted to Joker than Ledger I'll eat my hat)

Unless women really don't have an instinctive reaction to a man's body sans personality cues, there's absolutely no reason to say that sexualization differs for men and women, because that's what sexualization is. You can say that women are statistically less likely to react purely on that basis, but you can't say they have a different instinctive reaction if that one still exists for them.

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. And, under that context, "make him do Awesome Guy Things, and she'll see it as a metaphor for sex" doesn't seem like a particularly fair answer -- it's awfully convenient for guys, who have their chainmail-bikini-clad cake and get to eat it with (fully-clad and uncompromised) anti-heroic bikers and gentlemen-on-horseback, too, which honestly seems like a much better deal all around.

Zak Sabbath said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zak Sabbath said...



I think you both have an admirable dedication to the idea that men and women are born relatively similar and that differences between them are down to societal conditioning.

I think you also have an admirable dedication to the idea that sexualization in RPGs is asymmetrical.

However, I think it is clouding your judgment and constantly causing you to explain away evidence that might contradict your assumptions or encourage what you'd think of as complacency on this issue.


I think the real way to promote equality on this issue is to encourage women to do make games and see what they come up with.
I suspect you don't entirely disagree.

Again, if anybody reading this thinks I'm wrong and they're right, please do come let me know.

Anonymous said...

Trollsmyth, if you can propose a mechanism by which yeast infections cause women to have a biologically different sexualization response to men, I'm all ears. Does the infection somehow addle their brains? What you're proposing is a differing cultural response (between men and women) to an infection that affects only women. The idea that being at risk of a disease would somehow change an organism's biological response to representation of the cause of the disease is ... extreme.

Zak S, you're nearly right. But I haven't claimed men and women are born the same (or even nearly). My point is that you can't separate which bits of men and women's behaviour is bio vs. culture, and thus it's counter-productive to try since you may find yourself resigning yourself to a behaviour you thought unchangeable (because biological) when in fact it was subject to variation (because cultural).

I agree about women making games but we're a long way away from that point, so in the meantime I think it's reasonable to try and identify what parts of the games men make might be turning women off of participation, and then see if it's worth making changes to those parts.

An analogy: for many years the kickboxing world has been encouraging women to join, and has looked at what parts of the sport are turning women off, and what parts aren't. What we've identified is that a lot of women don't like being punched. There is, sadly, nothing we can do about that - we can only appeal to women who don't mind being punched. What we can do, though, is get rid of bullying, unhygienic gyms, and other symptoms of a "boys only" culture, so that women are more willing to come and try the sport. As a consequence, kickboxing is now very popular with women (in Australia and Japan, anyway, and I think also in the US; not so much in the UK, where sport remains strongly sexist). We haven't changed the sport itself; we've changed the culture and its symbols to make women want to try the sport.

The same could be done with role-playing.