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So I can not fracking sleep tonight. This fever is refusing to go away, even after I've waged a fierce two-pronged attack on it with Advil and Tylenol, and I feel like I'm about to hork up a lung. Truly, I am a walking shambling catastrophe.

The fourth night zaiah was here, and the first night I had this damn fever, I woke up from a very strange dream. My dreams tend to be a bit weird to begin with, but when I have a fever, look out.

This is actually a post about societal fears of women's sexuality and sexual double standards. Bear with me; I'm a bit fuzzy-headed at the moment, and apt to be preternaturally rambly. Now where was I?

Oh, yeah. fever dream. Anyway, I had this dream, and in this dream I'd met and made friends with a woman. Don't recall her clearly--long black hair, big brown eyes, that's all that stuck.

Anyway, in the dream, shortly after we became friends, a group of researchers pulled me aside and explained to me that she wasn't actually a woman at all. She was a synthetic construct--body engineered and grown in a vat, brain a gigantic supercomputer kept in a huge facility elsewhere in town and remotely operating the body. She was not aware of any of this; she was actually an experiment in artificial intelligence, socialization, and the development of self, carefully monitored over the past thirty years. The place where she lived--a gorgeous penthouse suite, indoor pool and all--was closely monitored 'round the clock, and all her interactions with the outside world were carefully regulated. She was encouraged to keep a private diary, which she believed was secret but which was actually published monthly in a trade journal about AI and machine consciousness.

They took me up to the control room and let me read some of the back issues of the journal. One of her diary entries was particularly strange; she'd somehow got her hands on a book of basic anatomy, and was utterly perplexed that the book showed things that she didn't have. Specifically, the book showed reproductive and sex organs, and she had nothing of the sort--no sexual organs whatsoever between her legs. No labia, no vagina, nothing. The researchers, somewhat shamefacedly, said they had been too embarrassed to put them in the design when they were growing the body.

I woke up really, really pissed off, with nothing to attach the pissed-off-ness to. It took some introspection to figure out what the pissed-off-ness was connected with; this bizarre and nearly universal sexual shame that we as a species seem to attach to female sexuality.

I'm not talking about the schizophrenic Puritanical sexual asshattery that we in the US attach to sex in general. I'm talking about a hatred of sexual expression in women that's so virulent that entire societies will surgically mutilate women to prevent them from enjoying the act of sex.

And make no mistake about it--the impulse to label sexually promiscuous men as "studs" and sexually promiscuous women as "whores" is no different in kind; it is the exact same impulse, merely taken to a different but equally illogical conclusion, that drives folks to get out the scalpels.

And it's frickin' everywhere. It's not just a handful of societies. It's not just a few places. It's everywhere. The ancient Israelites had all kinds of weird religious rules about touching women when they were 'unclean,' that speaks to a level of institutionalized abhorrence and fear of basic reproductive biology that's mind-boggling. In Hindu societies, a woman who committed adultery was publicly executed after first having her sex organs cut off with a knife--and the real kicker is that for this purpose, "adultery" could be defined as "talking with a man and touching his clothing."

This is a level of fucked-up-ness I can't quite wrap my head around. Seems like everyone's just scared silly of women's sexuality. Seriously, WTF?

The part that really blows my mind, though, and the part I really don't get, is the extent to which women themselves buy into this kind of thing. One thing that consistently mazes me on online forums that have anything to do with discussions of sex or sexuality--any time a woman talks about how much she likes sex, or about enjoying any kind of non-traditional sexual arrangements, especially things like polyamory or (God forbid) casual sex, there will be a handful of guys who'll say things like "slut!"--but they have to stand in line behind all the women who're screaming it, too.

And I really want to grab some of these women and shake them and say "WTF is wrong with you? Don't you understand that by slinging around words like "slut" and "whore," you're participating in your own sexual disenfranchisement? What are you thinking?"

And I'm not even talking about the fun use of the word "slut," as in the "My, aren't YOU a naughty little vixen? I have just the thing for a naughty slut like you!" that dayo so enjoys hearing.

So, naturally, since I couldn't sleep, I decided that zaiah shouldn't sleep either, and woke her up to talk about it.

Enlightening conversation, it was.

She is of the opinion that, popular opinion to the contrary, women are if anything fare more competitive and far more hierarchical than men are. Take a group of three female friends in a bar, she says. Each of them knows precisely what her place in the hierarchy is. If they spot a group of three men across the bar, they've already decided which one gets who before the first words are even exchanged. Should one of the men approach the "wrong" woman, her friends will smoothly step in and cock-block him, and order is restored. With, naturally, the men none the wiser.

It starts in grade school, she says--a formalized, competitive hierarchy of popularity and subtle social status, with rigorous standards about which women are eligible to compete for which men. It continues through high school and college, and even carries out into the adult world--often, she says, women wear makeup and jewelry not for the direct benefit of men, but rather to signal to other women their status and intentions in the competition.

And it's a ruthless competition, with a high cost for those who refuse to buy in.

The cost of not buying in? The women who don't compete in this way, or who pursue men deemed above their status or outside their league? These are the women labeled "slut" and "tramp"--not by men, but by other women.

Color me astonished; I'm forty-two years old and none of this had ever occurred to me.

So, yeah. Dreams and fever: interesting combination. Now I'm going to take some more meds and try to go to bed.


( 78 comments — Leave a comment )
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Dec. 20th, 2008 04:19 am (UTC)
I'm clueless too. . . . I don't know how to play those games about status and heirarchy.
Dec. 20th, 2008 08:01 am (UTC)
I am clueless as well. I think it's due to a combination of being an Aspy, and therefore clueless about most social intricacies, and that for the most part I have never been interested in the same type of guys as my female friends are.

Up until my early twenties all my female friends were of the traditional variety (at least in regard to their mating preferences), that being the girly makeup wearing type who dug guys who were the "popular" guys in the high school sense of popular; they pretty much went after the most socially desirable guys that they could get. I, on the other hand, wear makeup half a dozen times per year, haven't worn a dress in a year and a half, and would much rather have my guys play D&D than football. Thus, I never really competed with them.

Once I reached late college age I decided that monogamy was optional (I'm still mostly monogamous by nature, I just don't like those types of rules), and just about all my female friends, except the few I kept from high school and earlier, are poly; most of them being either girls that were/are dating guys I was/am, or girls that are a couple steps removed from romantic relationships I've had. So again, there's really no competition there.
Dec. 20th, 2008 04:24 am (UTC)
And for some of the very things you mention here (competition between women only or men and women, etc.) I've pretty much have given up on dating and all things pertaining to seeking out a relationship. I also find myself wary of some of the women in my life. I am subconsciously aware of this "competition" and it annoys the hell out of me.

I'd rather be the seeked than the seeker.
Dec. 20th, 2008 04:38 am (UTC)
Wouldn't we all.
BBW... busy black woman - libbydabomb - Dec. 20th, 2008 04:40 am (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 20th, 2008 04:35 am (UTC)
It starts even before grade school.

(Deleted comment)
Dec. 20th, 2008 04:42 am (UTC)
the shifting of our ideologies on sexuality would require a total upheaval of our current thought system/pattern. Until the patriarchal elite lose their handle on society will it be able to break such sexist beliefs.
(no subject) - nornagest - Jan. 4th, 2009 09:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tacit - Dec. 22nd, 2008 09:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - tacit - Dec. 22nd, 2008 10:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 20th, 2008 04:41 am (UTC)
Really? Really? Women do that? I SO did not know any of that. Completely unaware of this competition thingummy. And no one's called me a slut or a whore yet.

This is going to make me really paranoid for the next couple of days, Franklin. >.> Thanks.
Dec. 22nd, 2008 09:47 pm (UTC)
Sowing the seeds of paranoia and fear...that's what I'm here for!
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - tacit - Dec. 23rd, 2008 04:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 20th, 2008 04:44 am (UTC)
I think some men are just as competitive about hierarchy as some women, probably more so.

It's just that lines are drawn around areas of expertise which means that GENERALLY speaking men are unlikely to pick up on the implications of a clothes and makeup based put down, and women are less likely to pick up on the implications of a boys toys related put down or dick waving.

And there is a good proportion of both men and women who don't buy into that stuff thank god. I've never considered ignoring bitches in bars has had a high cost associated with it. I do my own thing.
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 20th, 2008 04:55 am (UTC)
Yep. Same basic line of thought as what I was typing while you posted. :-)
(no subject) - tedeisenstein - Dec. 20th, 2008 05:20 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - claws_n_stripes - Dec. 20th, 2008 05:51 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tedeisenstein - Dec. 20th, 2008 11:26 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - claws_n_stripes - Dec. 20th, 2008 02:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tedeisenstein - Dec. 20th, 2008 03:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - claws_n_stripes - Dec. 20th, 2008 11:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - fangirl715 - Dec. 20th, 2008 04:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tacit - Dec. 22nd, 2008 09:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - redhotlips - Dec. 20th, 2008 02:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 20th, 2008 04:50 am (UTC)
Well YEAH Franklin. Think about evolutionary biology, and how MEN compete and vie for status among one another with things like war, sports, killing the most animals, etc. I actually am getting ready to make a journal entry on how guys who spend more money on women are more successful in attaining greater numbers of sexual partners.

Guys are just more SHOWY about how they "set" such status, and blatant in discussing it... "Forget it dude, she's OUT OF YOUR LEAGUE," for instance, and that even uses a sports ranking metaphor.

Plus women are evil bitches, for the most part. :-)
Dec. 20th, 2008 05:05 am (UTC)
Whatevr you say, hollow boy.
Men are strange creatures, and mostly hollow.
(no subject) - james_the_evil1 - Dec. 20th, 2008 05:23 am (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 20th, 2008 05:16 am (UTC)
heirarchy is not just sexual
You know it isn't just coming from peers. I had been married to my now ex husband for years and I was constantly put down in little ways about my upbringing. He'd make jokes about me being barefoot and pregnant and called me an "Appalacian American." Because I grew up in rural Md.

Despite having an IQ of 155, three college degrees and more practical common sense [especially when it came to power tools and protecting oneself from the future apocolypse] His viewpoint persisted.

In fact when I got dressed up in heels and put on make up he went so far as to say that he hated it because I looked artificial. It was to make it so I knew my place.

This heirarchy is not just about female sexuality it is about female power and the fear that sexuality controls men [cause we do...] So another way of keeping "us" in check is to use our cultural stereotypes against us.

My ex mother in law once told my mother in a phone conversation that "well [he] married beneath him..." and she obviously forgot who she was talking to.

I like being a whore. And I accept being an evil bitch cause it is fun. It gives me power. And now I don't have someone taking that away because I am a sexual being. I also like that I can be a woman in all senses of the word and not have someone take that away to make me asexual and powerless to do anything for myself.
Dec. 20th, 2008 05:25 am (UTC)
Re: heirarchy is not just sexual
And I accept being an evil bitch cause it is fun.

Thank you. You wanna 'splain to violet_tigress1 that it's not automatically a bad thing to say that?? :-D
Heh, "Their food" is a really amusing phrase - 7owti5 - Dec. 21st, 2008 02:52 am (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 20th, 2008 05:47 am (UTC)
the other side of some of those evil Israelite standards of uncleanliness
Fascinating, really, that soooooo many people out there know a ton about sending the "unclean" women off to live at the edge of the village and all the laws about when men can touch them and when they can't, and yet hardly anyone writes or talks about the ritual bath (or m'shevn'ya, for those of you whose Hebrew might be a tad rusty): it's an old rite, true, and not practiced a lot by many people anymore, also true (a friend of mine and i have an ongoing bet that's it's largely been lodged int he kabbalistic circles, but that's beside the point), but it does happen and can be quite fulfilling, both for the man and the woman, as well as the two of them together.

Just sayin'.

Too: as many here have said, there are a lot of people out there who don't buy into the whole patriarchial/jierarchial/big dick contest schema. My wife and i have what most people consider an alternative marriage-- and that's when they're being careful and polite and so PC it hurts-- but it works for us. By most comparisons, she would be considered dominant, i'd be considered passive, and let's not even talk about the roles of who does what in our marriage. And while that may screw up the radar of all but the people who know us, well, as the man said: fuck'em if they can't take it.
Dec. 20th, 2008 12:33 pm (UTC)
Re: the other side of some of those evil Israelite standards of uncleanliness
True - but you don't send your wife to the village edge when she has her period, either. So while the m'shevn'ya is ritualistic in nature, it's not fulfilling it's ritualized role, really.

That's what I object to - the fact that women having natural body functions are considered "unclean" anywhere does speak to a deep problem. If for centuries, men got their penises smacked when they had an erection, after a while, intended or not, they'd start to feel bad about having them - and experience shame for the desire to have them.

It's just all 'round wrong. ::hugs::
Dec. 20th, 2008 05:55 am (UTC)
Color me astonished; I'm forty-two years old and none of this had ever occurred to me.

None of it ever had to occur to you.  You're male, so you can kind of get away with not paying attention to about how women interact.
Dec. 20th, 2008 05:59 am (UTC)
The realization of these kinds of games and hierarchy rules for women was the first sign I had that I did not identify as female.

I mean, I was aware that both genders have elaborate rituals and rules to manage hierarchy and social standing, but I only ever grasped the details of the men's games. None of them of either gender made sense to me, as in I didn't understand why we needed to play these games, but I caught on more quickly to the rules for guys than for girls.

I *still* don't get girls. But it's really fucking frustrating to have other women contribute to all the gender problems I have in society and at work.

I'm very open about my sexuality and my relationships at work. Several of my male coworkers have confided in me that I make them feel comfortable being themselves, and they often come to me for relationship advice. One guy even asked me to be his first lay post-divorce because he feared being "rusty" having been with the same woman for so long, and he felt relaxed around me, and that he could trust me because of my open acceptance of sexuality. However, he and another coworker also told me, in a completely unrelated conversation, that the only other girl on the crew had made the usual "slut" remarks to them when I was out of earshot. She was not happy with their acceptance of me as either "one of the guys" or as a girl that they admired.

*shakes head* I just don't get it.
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 22nd, 2008 09:53 pm (UTC)
Same Nancy Friday of My Secret Garden fame?
Dec. 20th, 2008 08:10 am (UTC)
Color me astonished; I'm forty-two years old and none of this had ever occurred to me.

Well, color me astonished as well, as I'm a 28 year old woman and this has never occured to me either. OK, not quite: I hear about such things from time to time (like in your post now, or in a film); but I always thought that such descriptions were wild exaggerations, because I've never witnessed this myself. Now I think it's all probably true -- I just never cared, that's why I didn't notice. I've always been so far outside any hierarchy that I was not even aware of the hierarchy's existence. Not in school, not in high school, not in college. I just don't care about any of this... I suspect it's a revelation many people need: all this shit can only hurt you if you're into it. Do other women call me names behind my back? I don't know... never thought of it... Does it matter?

- Ola
Dec. 20th, 2008 10:08 am (UTC)
As a woman...
who refused to "buy in" to the heirarchy from the very beginning (mostly because as a teenager I 'gender identified' with males), I have been called a slut my entire life. My response has always been, "Thank you, by calling me a slut you are referring to a woman who enjoys sex and is empowered to pick her own partners without regard to social convention."
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