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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 01:01 pm (UTC)
hope you feel better soon- edited (sorry about the bad typing_)
I have to say that you're such an incredible man *hug*.... Many people just toss it off by saying "I'm not sexist".... denying women their right to full expression of sexuality(from both ends realluy) is tearing at the very core of their being...
I'm almost 41 & I feel like I've barely even *begun* to embrace my sexuality.....
I feel that I took it all in- to be openly sexual? I felt that was just wrong...
ridiculously divorce & meeting a poly man opened my eyes & my heart to the opportunities that life has to offer....to love & lust fully expressed.... Of course I can't share anything of this with my parents whom I'm pretty close to which sucks.... they've bought into this. In fact, there was this memorable time when my dad confessed to me that he was at the ;library & he found this woman he ddnt know attractive.... In order to not face this confusing sentiment he turned right around & left the library immediately....
while I have sweet memories of my parents smooching on the stairs they are no longer doing that. My mom is taking my dad for granted & they are sleeping in seperate bedrooms. I feel for my dad because I know that he's intimacy starved & lonely. I know they are a product of their time - marry one & stick with that one & no other for the rest of your life.... while I know there is love well hidden I think it's such a shame that my mother has bought into the "over 50 so who needs sex?" bullshit.... that's the other side of the coin. Older women aren't allowed to even *appear* sexual because somehow that makes them an *aging* whore & that's the most horrifying concept in this society which looks at the old & older as non-beings and women as useless if they aren't fertile but if they dare to enjoy their fertility then look out...
oh wow....
You rubbed off on me *lol*
I stand by what I said though :-D

Edited at 2008-12-20 01:06 pm (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
Re: :-) - skitten - Dec. 20th, 2008 04:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Re: :-) - skitten - Dec. 20th, 2008 05:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 20th, 2008 01:27 pm (UTC)
you're not the only one who couldn't sleep last night- I'm going to write a post about a concept that I'm uncertain will ever fly but is related to the ranty coment I made.... I would love to hear what you think of it....
Dec. 20th, 2008 02:34 pm (UTC)
What is not understood is often feared. For men in particular, who can not experience 'female' it is logical that fear should fill in the place of understanding. There are societies and cultures that also went the other way when it came to women's sexuality and fertility, had elaborate rituals to ensure that the unknown was respected and celebrated.

And yes, zaiah is quite right. A group of girls is very very competitive. We're competing for finite resources: the 'right' attention, the best status possible, the best man possible etc. Perhaps it's partly biological imperative: set oneself up for the best genes, the best security in order to make child rearing easier.

Whatever the reason behind it, girls use their intuition and superior communication skills to their full advantage by turning on other girls and getting them exactly where it hurts that particular individual.
Dec. 20th, 2008 03:40 pm (UTC)
I don't believe I've ever been called anything, and I've said lots of such thing on my journal.

I get yelled at more often about my dislike for organized religion than I do any sexual proclivity.

I do remember, however, being labled a slut in elementary school. Not because I had sex, I was a virgin at the time, but because I had breasts.

I think women being called out on sexual matters has more to do with how much someone thinks it might hurt them, or shame them. No question a lot of people don't like my sex talk -- equally not in question is the fact that if they did open their mouth, I certainly wouldn't be shamed, hurt, or even impressed.

If they know you'll call them out, they're less likely to say it. And unfortunately, a good number of women don't feel allowed to call anyone else out. Another little insidious societal thing -- good girls do not stand up for themselves.
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 20th, 2008 04:25 pm (UTC)
Re: Hypothesis
It's the exact same thinking (IMNSHO) that's behind a lot of the hatred towards fat women out there. If Female X wants Male Y, and has gone to all kinds of trouble to be attractive in a societally appropriate way, especially if this involved a lot of self-denial or physical discomfort, only to have Male Y decide that Female XX is the one he really wants...hoo boy, watch the shit hit the fan. Female XX "winning" upsets the hierarchical apple cart, shows that all of Female X's hard work and suffering has been for nothing, AND rubs Female X's nose in just how powerless she really is when it comes to mate selection*--she may be the Alpha Female of the group, but this is totally outside her control--and that simply Cannot Be Allowed.

It's been my experience that other women can either be incredibly supportive, or mindblowingly backstabbing, sometimes both at different times, but usually not anywhere in the middle. If that makes me a bad feminist, well, so be it; but all the talk in the world about sisterhood being powerful isn't going to make any difference if we don't admit how the situation stands right now.

*Actually, when you get down to it, we're all fairly powerless in terms of picking partners; we can be interested in someone, but if they don't return our interest, there's really not a lot we can do about it, esp. if the interest or lack thereof goes right back to good old chemistry. (Anyone who's ever felt "I should want So-and-So, but I just don't--why?!?" knows exactly what I mean.)
Re: Hypothesis - red_girl_42 - Dec. 20th, 2008 09:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Hypothesis - tacit - Dec. 22nd, 2008 09:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 20th, 2008 07:11 pm (UTC)
hope you feel better - and bravo on the realization. :)
Dec. 22nd, 2008 09:55 pm (UTC)
Thanks! Getting there, slowly.
Dec. 20th, 2008 08:01 pm (UTC)
My girlfriend and I had a very eye-opening conversation with her husband about this fairly recently -- he had been totally unaware of the fact that most of the female-competitiveness/normative-rule-enforcing behavior even *existed* -- and he's a 41-year-old man with tons of female friends and a pretty good understanding of How People Work -- but this went on totally under his radar.

Hope you're feeling better soon!

-- A <3
Dec. 20th, 2008 08:09 pm (UTC)
Me myself, having always been of overly capitalist mind set, always thought such brandings of 'slut', at least in modern society, had more to do with reasource scarcity than anything else. Like this:

Women (who don't comment on this journal XD) are generally the ones who control who gets sexy times and who doesn't (I would use 'gatekeepers' here, but I can't remember who said it, and, as such, can't reference it appropriately.) But since these women are in control of sex, they put a lot of time and effort into deciding what males they want to mate with, whether the criteria be who made the touch down or who's funnier or whatever.

These women build up giant lists and criteria, hierarchies of overarching reach and importance, and expect all others to maintain the status quo; in such a way, they can control the 'sex market'. Those who opperate outside this 'market' are branded for not following the established rules of society: scab or slut or underseller.

In this way, people who decide to give away sex without going through the 'proper channels' 'devaluate' sex (in a scarcity manor; sex is still pretty fucking awesome no matter how you look at it). The women who have put such great effort into building up the price of sex are undercut and all the work they put into thier 'product' has gone to waste.

Obviously, there's some problems with this model, put since I'm on dial-up and it's my own goddamn arguement, I'm not going to point them out. XD nah! nah! nah! nah!
Dec. 20th, 2008 08:34 pm (UTC)
In mainstream culture, women are told a zillion times a day that this hierarchy is important. That it's the only way we'll ever manage to gain any status, any power, any security, any love, any anything.

The dominant culture brainwashes us into wasting our energy fighting each other and that makes it all harder to do the work to break down the brainwashing, find like-minded people, and rise up and depose the existing hierarchy.

That's one of the primary tools of power in human society -- keep the less-empowered fighting among themselves, so they don't fight their oppressors.
Dec. 21st, 2008 02:12 am (UTC)
The planet doesn't have a single "dominant culture" but this sort of behavior in one form or another can be seen in multiple cultures worldwide & thru history.

Many so-called "societal imperatives" (certainly not ALL, but many) evolved partly thru biological imperatives as much as for the purpose of creating societal control methods, and this's more likely to be the former than the later.
Dec. 20th, 2008 09:16 pm (UTC)
I hate social games, whether the dating game or office politics.

(I do enjoy other social games, such as Life or Monopoly, however. But I digress.)

I don't know if, as an outsider, I've made those observations in my own life. I think it varies greatly on the people involved. I gravitated toward people who may be considered "geeky" or "unique." These people generally reject those sorts of games because they're just not focused on "fitting in" but rather on ideas or tasks. In other words, they just have better things to do. And in the final analysis, those people are just more interesting and less stressful to be around. When you're a teenager or in your early 20s (sometimes beyond) that may not be so easy to recognize, so it comes with pain and loneliness.

I mean, imagine, valuing people for who they are on the inside instead of what they have, or what they look like, or how popular they are. What a concept.

DISCLAIMER: I could be wrong.
Dec. 20th, 2008 09:19 pm (UTC)
p.s. This may explain why I haven't had many girl friends in the past.
Dec. 21st, 2008 02:28 am (UTC)
George Carlin got me thinking about female genitalia years ago. Why is it that slang for penii are mostly cute and comical, but vaginas bear names that poetically feel like kicks to the groin?

It pisses me off, too. For years I've been on a search for vagina nicknames that don't drip with insulting disgust AND can be recognized as a reference to the vag. The closest I've found is "gina," those it confuses too many people to prove universal.

The shame that pissed you off in your dream named both male and female of reproductive goodies.
Dec. 21st, 2008 03:46 am (UTC)
...cunny and 'gina live around here as names!
that's vagtastic - msantisocialite - Dec. 21st, 2008 09:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - tacit - Dec. 22nd, 2008 10:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 21st, 2008 06:50 am (UTC)
"Seems like everyone's just scared silly of women's sexuality. Seriously, WTF?"

There is selection pressure that favours men who control access to their women sexually, because he's more likely to sire the next generation than the guy who says "yeah, fine, fuck my woman as much as you like".

If women went out and fucked whoever they want to, how would anyone know whose child is whose? And then how would a man know whether to support the baby or kill it?

BTW I don't condone this, being polyamorous myself, I'm just speculating.

Dec. 22nd, 2008 10:05 pm (UTC)
And interestingly, many biologists have seen an adaptive behavioral trait in women: cheating.

For many males, a good reproductive strategy is to control the access fo the females, because the male can have more offspring if he prevents competing males from mating. However, one of the best strategies for females is to have as many offspring as possible by as many males as possible; contrary to earlier thought, it turns out that mating only with the one "best" male isn't actually a terribly sound strategy, because it puts all the female's eggs in one basket (so to speak).

Wide variation int he genetic makeup of her offspring helps to ensure that at least some of them will have favorable genes in the event of an environmental change or disease or some other challenge. Since she knows all her offspring are hers, that means there's no downside (to her) to having multiple mates. But in species that require both parents to contribute to child rearing, she doesn't want her mate to know that her offspring aren't necessarily his. So she cheats.

The same imperatives that lead to mate-guarding behaviors in males will often lead to cheating behaviors in females. Ain't nature grand?
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Jan. 4th, 2009 05:25 am (UTC)
I think it's relevant to point out that the idea that "everyone's afraid of men's sexuality" also has considerable cultural resonance. In fact, in many cases, much more afraid.

It's also much more culturally accepted to denigrate men's sexuality - in fact, it seems pretty standard.

And male genital mutilation is absolutely routine in this country. I had some of the most sensitive tissue cut off of my penis moments after being born; did you? It's pretty rare to find a male born in this country this didn't happen to.
Jul. 5th, 2016 02:09 pm (UTC)
Perhaps that's because men use their sexuality violently and as a weapon and as a tool of domination.

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