Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Girls are Icky

People who've been paying attention for awhile should know that I love watching bad movies (ignore all the unfinished posts, please). Whether it's independent shoestring-budget schlock like "Shatter Dead" or bloated big-budget silver screen abominations like "Face/Off," I get some perverse pleasure out of watching terrible, terrible films.

But my love of the terrible is not limited to the wonders of the screen, oh no. I've a soft spot in my head heart for bad literature, and I listen to quite a lot of bad music as well. Of the three, bad music tends to be the cheapest and easiest to find; I mostly just turn on the local Top 40 station and listen for a few minutes.

Sidebar: there's quite a lot of bad music from previous generations, too, but it tends not to get as much radio play now. You could listen to the oldies station for days before you caught "Macarthur Park," and you might never hear "Timothy" or "He Hit Me and It Felt Like a Kiss." When's the last time you heard "Too Young To Date" on the '80s channel? Conversely, you might hear "Grillz," "Me Love," and "Girlfriend" in one twenty minute block on Top 40 radio.

Now, there's a national show I sometimes catch on weekends called The Open House Party, which tends to employ a more strict censorship policy than the regular station (I assume so it can be played across the country, regardless of regional differences in sensitivity). I've got a problem with censorship to begin with, but recently a prurient hack-job on the Open House Party exposed me to something far more offensive than foul language.

The song was "Money Maker" by Ludacris and Pharrell, a crude tune that continues this trend of mentioning women's mothers in pick-up lines, which I have to imagine is about the most unsexy thing ever. But I'd heard all that before; the new wrinkle in this listen-through was that the show censored the word "wet" in the line "How every way you turn I'll be makin' you wet."

It's clearly a reference to female arousal and I can see why you'd cut such an obviously sexual reference. Taken alone, that decision isn't surprising. It's when you listen a little longer, to the line "Get up, and I stay harder than a cinder block, man," which was not cut. Why is it that a clear reference to female arousal can't be played, but a clear reference to male arousal can? What is so different between erections and lubrication? Is it the presence of fluids? I'm sure they'd cut "cum," but that's far more specific to what it's describing than "wet;" it's not like Luda said "every way you turn I'll be making you discharge lubricating fluids." No, it's a double-standard: it's okay to talk about erections and male arousal, but it's not okay to talk about female arousal.

Seems to me that this is a symptom of a social contradiction: "the purpose of women is to be sex objects" vs. "girl parts are icky." It's absolutely fine to have a whole song where women are merely objects of sexual desire, but you can't actually discuss the mechanics of their girl parts, because that's too gross. Guy parts, however, are simple and clean and all on the outside, out in the open, not mysterious and dark and dank.

These contradictory social dichotomies show up all over the place in misogyny, both the personal and institutional sorts. There's the Frank Miller Special, "virgins" vs. "whores;" there's the classic chivalric "women are better than men and deserve exaltation" vs. "and that's why they ought to be second-class citizens with different rights;" there's even "women don't actually want/enjoy sex" vs. "all women lie/cheat/sleep around (see also: John Donne)" vs. "women who dress provocatively and flirt are just asking for it."

It happens with other minority groups too--I'm specifically thinking of the "noble savage"--but seemingly without as much frequency, tenacity, and diversity as these attitudes toward women. I've seen screeds from misogynists that hit on several of these contradictory points in a row, completely oblivious of how poorly they fit together. "Wait, getbackinthekitchen_48, if men are naturally much smarter than women, then how was she able to manipulate and trick you for so long?"

Generally stereotypes contain within them some measure of truth; that's part of why they're so widely believed and so easily disseminated--members of one group already perceives all members of an outgroup as a homogeneous whole, so traits which purport to describe all members of an outgroup fit within that framework. What people so often fail to do is actually examine the traits they've used to label these outgroups and see that they often don't fit together. If all Mexicans are lazy, then why are they a threat to your manual labor jobs? If all homosexuals just want to have loads of indiscriminate no-strings-attached sex, then why are they a threat to the sanctity of marriage? If your stereotypical traits don't jive with each other, then what are the chances that they apply to all members of a community?

The truth is that all group descriptions, all things that may be true "on the whole," break down on the individual level. On the whole, women aren't as physically strong as men; that doesn't mean that every woman is physically weaker than every man by any stretch of the imagination. It's not enough just to tell people that stereotypes are bad and that we should reject them; stereotypes are bad, but they're also a natural consequence of evolution-sculpted psychology. In order to overcome the instinct to create generalizations, we have to apply intellect: we have to recognize the stereotypes for what they are, accept that we use them, understand why we construct them, and finally see why they fail and how to overcome them. The first step toward overcoming natural drives is recognizing them as such.


quantumberry said...

But girls are icky.

Seriously, it might be a matter of who is setting the standards of censorship. If it is men (for the most part), they might understandably be more uncomforatable with female sexuality. If women were in charge of censorship, things might get bleeped differently.

SallyP said...

Yeah...well boys have cooties!

You make some very good points. Tom. I for one, have never quite been able to understand why Viagra can be paid for through your insurance, but birth control is NOT.

Tom Foss said...

That's a whole different kettle of fish, methinks, owing more to puritanical religious nuts who want to control people's private sex lives than to out-and-out misogyny. Which isn't to say that organized religion isn't chock full of "icky girl" sentiments.

quantumberry said...

tom: It might unofficially have something to do with religion, but the official stance of our insurance company was that ED is a medical malfunction, but pregnancy isn't.

sallyp: Keep complaining - we did, and now our employee health insurance pays for birth control.

Tom Foss said...

That's an interesting distinction. Seems to me that they don't quite grasp the importance of preventative medicine.