Archive for April, 2012

According to Dr Petra Boynton, academic and ‘sexologist’, a recent study about the elusive g-spot (in women) is rubbish. This rubbish research has been reported in the media as truth. So she has critiqued the media reporting, based on her own knowledge of sex research and how it gets communicated to the public.

So far so ok. But I actually found her, and other ‘experts” acounts of this ‘g-spot’ story to be a) lacking at a factual and contextual level, and b) politically-motivated from a feminist perspective (and these two issues are linked as I will demonstrate). But because they are the ‘sceptics’ casting a beady eye on dodgy research and dodgy journalism, nobody challenges them! In her blogpost about the story Petra wrote:

‘Any journalist worth their salt should always ask questions about a study they are reporting on’.

Well here and at Graunwatch I am very diligent about asking questions! So here are a few questions for Dr Petra.

1) Why the arrogant feminist undercurrent?
Petra Boynton works in the ‘sex positive’ feminist arena of sex research. Her work is informed by and contributes to ‘feminist discourse’. Her critique of this g-spot study claims that it has ‘appropriated’ feminism for its own (what? Patriarchal?) ends. She writes:

‘Thirdly, appropriating a supposed feminist discourse the paper claims ‘The absence of the identification of the G-spot as an anatomic structure created considerable controversies and a biased interpretation of the scientific results worldwide, leading to a monolithic clitoral model of female sexual response. However, women have held the unwavering position that there are distict (sic) areas in the anterior vagina which are responsible for a sensation of great sexual pleasure’

We have been here before with researchers claiming there is a giant global Clitoral Conspiracy denying women information about vaginal pleasure and prioritizing the clit. In that research as with this one no empirical evidence is given to substantiate these claims. Which do not appear to fit with the mainstream media’s general obsession with vaginas. And most reputable sex educators and therapists who focus on people exploring what brings them pleasure rather than telling them what to enjoy. It remains the case that clitoral pleasure is vital to many women’s sexual experience – and it is disingenuous of practitioners to claim otherwise.’

Her fellow sexologist, AboutSexuality also picks up on this ‘faux feminism’ in the paper. He writes:

‘There’s nothing wrong with the slow and steady development of a body of knowledge. And in and of itself I’d like to say there’s nothing wrong with this paper. Only then I read the discussion. In it the author offers a framing for the “controversy” surrounding the g-spot. Have a read:

“The absence of the identification of the G-spot as an anatomic structure created considerable controversies and a biased interpretation of the scientific results worldwide, leading to a monolithic clitoral model of female sexual response. However, women have held the unwavering position that there are distinct areas in the anterior vagina which are responsible for a sensation of great sexual pleasure. “

So first, in case you missed it, what he’s describing, among other things, is the impact of the women’s movement on public discourse and personal experience of sexuality. When he says it it sounds a bit different. If I read this correctly his understanding of what’s happened is men and the media have been pushing some “monolithic clitoral model” while women have all along said that vaginal penetration is where it’s at.

It’s a great story. But it deserves a great big “What?!?” What monolithic clitoral model? Which unwavering women? I know that surgeons think they can do everything (and when they are operating on me I guess I’m grateful for their hubris), but maybe they should leave political, cultural, and historical analysis to folks with some context.

Again, there’s no reason this guy can’t cut up a body and make a case, but along with a handful of other white male researchers, it’s the undercurrent of aggression in the writing that gives me pause.’

So both experts here seem to be saying that surgeons should keep their scalpels out of politics and feminism and just do their jobs! This ignores the large, respected body of research in the History of Science discipline. Politics and culture cannot and should not be separated from scientific enquiry. In fact, I get the distinct impression that Boynton and co. are not so much annoyed that this study has a political agenda, but rather that it has the wrong one.

They are very quick to dismiss the idea that feminism may have led to an obsession with women’s orgasm via the clitoris, but they, lovers of evidence that they are, do not produce any evidence that this is not so. There is an assumption that ‘feminism is good’ and ‘sex-positive feminism is best’.  And AboutSexuality in particular is saying that this study is sexist against women because it, and most science, is run by ‘white men’. I am not so sure.

2) Whatabouttehmenz?
The study in question focuses on women (those women who have vaginas). Boynton is critical of the study’s interest in the vagina over the clitoris. But she does not acknowledge that there is also a large amount of dodgy sex science that focuses on men, and makes ridiculous claims about their (and their penises’) sexual responses. Petra justifies her bias towards women by saying:

‘Another approach might be to consider how this scenario would look if it were penises under the microscope. While there are undoubtedly distressing issues facing men around penis size and stamina the stereotype for men is they all experience pleasure from their dicks. If you talk to men you discover some get intense pleasure from testicle stimulation and are unable to orgasm without this. Some hate their balls touched. Some get a lot of pleasure if attention is paid to the shaft of the penis. Some find direct stimulation to the glans uncomfortable. Others experience more pleasure from anal stimulation.

Yet we do not suggest because men can and do experience pleasure from different areas in their genitals that there are specific spots that guarantee male orgasm or that men are somehow deficient if they do not experience say, a left testicle orgasm. We don’t scan, survey, or perform autopsies on penises to establish the most sensitive parts. Nor do we have self help books, courses or sex toys designed to coach men into experiencing orgasm through stimulation to specific areas of their genitals.

Indeed suggesting this usually results in people laughing. Why would we do this? But we do seem to feel the need to continue to make women’s bodies and sexual responses seem complex and difficult. Actually that’s not quite true. One journal and the media appear preoccupied with this. Most people are not that bothered and certainly most sex researchers are not.’

But once again she does not produce any evidence of sex advice/sex research about men to back up her points (except for one post by her, about penis size). We have to take her word for it.

I have recently been doing some research into Men’s Health Magazine, the most popular men’s magazine. It has a whole section entitled Your Penis. Now I have not read enough to know if it also gives information and advice about ‘Your Balls’ or ‘Your erogenous zones’ but I expect Petra has not even glanced at the site or the magazine at all. And as we know, feminism tends to ignore and/or demonise men. This critique is just another example of that in my view.

One person who has written a lot about men, sex, and sex research is [redacted]. Petra Boynton has told me that she first encountered [redacted] work ‘years ago’. But has she actually read it? He has told us a number of times how men are hooked up to penis ‘plesmographs’ to test their sexual response, and, often to find out if they are  gay, straight or lying. I recently heard a story about men asylum seekers fleeing homophobic regimes, being tested with these ‘peter meters’ to check they are ‘really gay’ and not lying about their orientation just to move country for the hell of it.

If I bring up how they ignore men’s experiences in their work, feminists often say to me ‘that’s different. You are complaining we are missing out something irrelevant to this particular issue. And if we talk about penguins one day, it doesn’t mean we can’t talk about otters another’. Well I think [redacted]s work on sex research into men IS relevant. And I don’t see Boynton et al actually talking about men’s experiences in any detail very often anyway. So there is a bit of contradiction here. Is it ‘sexist’ to focus on women, or is it ‘sexist’ to ignore men? And sexist against whom?

Boynton says ‘We don’t scan, survey, or perform autopsies on penises to establish the most sensitive parts.’ I don’t know if that is true. But even if it is, the fact that scientists DO ‘scan, survey and (probably) perform autopsies on penises’ for other reasons is worth noting.

3) whatabouttehasexualz?
This critique by Boynton and chums is very much written from a ‘sex positive’ point of view. It assumes we all (well women anyway) have sex, and want to gain pleasure from it. I have been looking into the growing phenomenon/identity of asexuality recently. And I have been finding that many people don’t, and/or can’t gain pleasure from sexual stimulation. I myself am currently ‘celibate’ by choice, so my interest in the ‘g-spot’ is minimal. (I suppose  I do self-pleasure but I think I know how to do that by now. I don’t really care what the science is!)

Boynton and colleagues also seem to assume that information about sex is good. But I know a number of people who do not believe sex education to be virtuous, whether it be from a religious or other perspective. My hero Foucault himself, questioned the inherent value of all this ‘discourse’ around sex and sexuality. He said it may have the potential to be oppressive. I agree.

4) Misandry Much?
Coming from a feminist position, and ignoring men’s experiences is one thing. But I found AboutSexuality ‘s piece on this g-spot study in particular, to veer into misandry. He wrote:

‘It reminds me a lot of those men’s groups that claim to be fighting for father’s rights when they really seem to be about eliminating mother’s rights. Some of those father’s are being discriminated against, for sure. And there may very well be an anatomical structure that can be called a g-spot. Why not. But it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Lots of fathers are actually trying to screw their exes out of spite. And even if there is some sac of purplish tissue on the superior surface of the dorsal perineal membrane, that doesn’t actually say much of anything about sexual pleasure (which is what ultimately this article and most of the others make claims about.’

This is incredibly emotive stuff, and I am not sure what father’s rights have to do with the g-spot anyway! He provides no evidence of fathers ‘trying to screw their exes’ it is merely his personal opinion. And Boynton does not pick up on this at all. She hails AboutSexuality ‘s critique as a good one. He is saying that this sex research is sexist against women, like many men are! Hmmm.

5) What No Comments?
Petra Boynton does not allow comments on her blog. She is very enthusiastic about people ‘sharing’ research and thoughts on twitter, but there is no way of responding to her blogposts, except, as I am doing, by blogging ourselves. This makes for a very one-sided conversation. And it feels very much as if she is our ‘teacher’ and we are her loyal pupils.

This particular pupil is currently on the naughty step. Petra blocks me on twitter and has told me not to email her again (with information and opinion that I am unable to post in the comments on her blog).  I find her approach dictatorial and critiquing the critic does not go down well!

6) Why so selective?
Boynton has chosen this particular study and its media coverage to critique. We all have to choose our battles. But she rarely blogs these days, and she is very selective about what she gives attention to. I have found she is very pally with some ‘sex researchers’ who I find particularly unethical. But they pass the Petra Boynton test and their dodgy work goes unchallenged.

I found it interesting she picked up on some ‘politicking’ from the author of the study. She tells us:

‘I think I would feel less anxious making these criticisms if I had not read Improbable Research’s blog. They have been investigating Dr Ostrzenski and in particular I would draw your attention to him bringing a lawsuit against a peer reviewer he disagreed with. This is sobering stuff.’

Well yes. But politicking in the realm of sex research is par for the course. If you google ‘Simon Le Vay’ or ‘Michael Bailey’ you will see what I mean. And look at my case where I was ‘outed’ online by people who do not like my critique of their sexual politics. They have threatened ‘legal action’ against me. And I think Petra used my current ‘shaming’ as an excuse for blocking me and silencing my critiques of her work. That worked then!

[redacted]  has pointed out how men’s in particular voices are just erased from a lot of research and media coverage of the body and the ‘self’. His work is an amazing illumination of men, sex, identity, ‘self-love’. But he too is ignored by the feminist ‘sexology’ elite.

I said on twitter last night that I am a ‘META SCEPTIC’. I am fine with people criticising the media and science. I do it myself. But those people are not beyond critique themselves.

‘I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo, what the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here.’

What is the worst thing you can call a man? According to feminism, it seems the worst thing you can call a man is a ‘woman’ or a ‘girl’.

Most feminist writing on masculinity focuses on ‘misogyny’. If men are shown to also suffer belittlement and stereotypes, as well as women, feminists always seem to bring the conversation back round to women. They are self-absorbed like that!

So it wasn’t surprising to me when two feminist articles, one by Laurie Penny, the other by Hugo Schwyzer, focused on insults to men being ‘misogynist’.

According to Penny, who has suddenly transformed into an expert on masculinity:

‘The first thing little boys learn at school is that there’s nothing in the world worse than being “like a girl”, with the possible exception of being “gay”. ‘

And Hugo Schwyzer, resident feMANist at Jezebel wrote:

‘A man who gets penetrated behaves like a woman and is labeled as feminine — a fate that we raise small American boys to fear more than almost anything else. (This is why, of course, words like “bitch” or “pussy” when used by one man to another, are so much more likelier to lead to blows than “dick” or “prick.” Men are unlikely to be enraged by references to their own anatomy, only to a woman’s.)’

I often find that this ‘misogyny’ analysis of men and masculinity (including homophobia) is very selective of the kinds of insults it chooses to focus on.

Some other insults that refer to men and masculinity that DON’T draw on ‘misogyny’ that I can think of are:
Troll – often presented as a ‘loser’ man alone in his room with no social skills, addicted to computer games and internet forums

Rapist/Rapey – You don’t have to actually rape someone to get these monikers, and as I have written the ‘rapist’ is constructed as male in our culture

Wanker - again, wanker is a masculinised term, and again suggests loneliness and lack of social skills

Hoodie – this is a gendered (and often ethnically loaded depending on the context) term, that conjurs up a young man in a tracksuit, up to no good.

Man – I have been called a ‘man’ as an insult by feminists a number of times! The very idea of masculinity is considered low and wrong, sometimes.

Mansplainin’ – If men dare to engage in debates with feminist women they often get accused of ‘mansplainin’ ‘, which suggests they are looking down on the woman they are debating with and assuming superiority due to being a man.

Whatabouttehmenz ? this ‘whatabouttehmenz’ insult is used to silence men (and non-feminists in general) when they bring up any disadvantages men face compared to women.

And, again, homophobia is not JUST based on misogyny. In the  comments on his blog he recently remarked:

‘Homo­pho­bia is often dis­guised misog­yny. But what makes male homo­sex­u­al­ity so much fun for all the fam­ily, cul­tur­ally speak­ing, is that dis­gust for it can also be dis­guised misandry — dis­dained for being too male, and beastly. And some­times it can be just be dis­dained for rea­sons that have noth­ing to do with either. Such as tight t-shirts.’

So I reject Penny and Schwyzer’s assertion that men insult each other mainly using misogyny. This means my understanding of the term ‘creep’ is different from Schwyzer’s analysis. He says:

‘ if fear of the feminine is what gives male insults their power, why then is “creep” worse than “pussy?” The answer is that creep is the only insult that instantly centers women’s perceptions. To call a man a “pussy” is to make a comment about how his behavior appears; to call him “creepy” is to name how he makes women feel. If a man wants to disprove that he’s a “pussy,” all he has to do is act with sufficient macho swagger or courage to make the insult obviously inappropriate. But trying to disprove “creepy” involves trying to talk a woman out of an instinctual response to a potential threat, a much more difficult thing to do. Most men recognize (or eventually learn) that the harder they try to deny their creepiness, the creepier they appear.’

Apart from the fact that Schwyzer is contradicting his own belief that the worst thing you can call a man is a ‘girl’, he is also ignoring some important aspects of the use of the term ‘creep’ by women.

I think ‘creep’ functions in a similar way to words like ‘troll’ and ‘rapist’ or ‘rapey’. Yes, it is accusing a man of making a (often) woman feel bad. But the power of this accusation lies partly in the power of feminism in our culture. Schwyzer is dismissive of MRAs, but MRA websites are FULL of men who feel hard done by, due to women’s ability to assert a moral superiority over men.

This power dynamic has real implications, e.g. in the law. It is predominantly men who are accused of rape, because in the UK, the law says a penis is required to commit that specific crime. And women in divorce/custody cases are far more likely to gain custody of children. Why? Because women are naturally good? and naturally maternal? Because men are often just losers and creeps?

And can women not be creeps too? I myself have been accused of misogyny, of being aggressive and ‘menacing’ online. But this has always come in conjunction with a questioning of my status as a woman.

Maybe, as Radiohead have done, it is time to reclaim the word ‘creep’!
http://jezebel.com/5903883/why-guys-really-hate-being-called-creepy

 

The illuminous Dan Holloway of eight cuts publishers recently enlisted some talented people to help him paint Oxford with poetry

http://eightcuts.com/2012/04/07/oxford-painted-with-poetry/

I contributed one of my poems and didn’t think much more of it. Then after the event, where some intrepid writers went round the famous university city attaching poems to anything that would take them, I got a message from Dan. He told me that someone had read my poem, Mr Sunshine Man, and contacted him via the information on the sheet of paper that she found. The person in question said how much she liked my poem.

I was pretty amazed, as I am a VERY part-time poet, and really don’t have a huge amount of confidence in my work. As someone on twitter said not so long ago, ‘life is hard; poetry is harder’.  But I don’t turn down a compliment so here is my poem, and some photos of the amazing night time poetry raid on Oxford.

Mr Sunshine Man

You                                                                                                                                                            are                                                                                                                                                               the                                                                                                                                                                         bright                                                                                                                                                             rays                                                                                                                                                         of                                                                                                                                                                    sunlight                                                                                                                                                      crashing                                                                                                                                                 through                                                                                                                                                         the                                                                                                                                                                      bars                                                                                                                                                         of                                                                                                                                                                     your                                                                                                                                                                own                                                                                                                                                                   prison                                                                                                                                                     cell                                                                                                                                                           breaking                                                                                                                                                        their                                                                                                                                                                 way                                                                                                                                                                  out                                                                                                                                                           and                                                                                                                                                           into                                                                                                                                                                  the                                                                                                                                                                      free                                                                                                                                                                    world                                                                                                                                                                  finding                                                                                                                                                             me                                                                                                                                                                      so                                                                                                                                                                      in                                                                                                                                                                         need                                                                                                                                                                  of                                                                                                                                                                            illumination

 

———–

OK It wasn’t supposed to come out like that but I am going to leave it. For poetry’s sake.

*

I first heard of this brilliant acapella group, The Kinsey Sicks, via Dan. His great blog Overuse Of The Exclamation, now features a post about this wonderful quartet.  Dan calls them wittily,  The Chicks With Schticks! Of course, ‘Kinsey Sicks’ refers to the Kinsey scale, devised by Alfred Kinsey, aka  Dr Sex. ‘Kinsey 6′ indicates someone who is wholly homosexual. My favourite ‘dr sex’, [redacted], influenced by Daddy Dr Sex Freud, prefers to remain open to the idea that we are ALL capable of some ‘bi-responsiveness’. As do I. So I am not sure I really believe the number ’6′ on the Kinsey scale represents ‘pure’ homosexuality.

But, regardless of numbers and who puts their schticks where, the Kinsey Sicks make me smile, and sometimes think too. This is what their fan Dan has to say about them:

‘Though The Kinsey Sicks clearly defy categorisation - it can be said for sure that they strive to do two things – push boundaries and cause offence. They do this both gracefully and very successfully, however, still attract a healthy population of left-wing, middle class Americans.

The majority of their songs are parodies of well-known tunes ranging from the hits of Britney Spears to numbers from the Broadway musical Chicago. The group sing acapella and so no instruments are to be seen in any of their shows. Below I have listed some of my favourite lyrics lifted directly from their songs on key issues.

Sexuality: ‘God Bless ye femme lesbians, may good taste you display. You don’t give up your fashion choices just because you’re gay. With baggy pants and baseball caps and shirts in disarray, there’s something inbetween a bimbo toy out of Playboy and dressing up just like a twelve year old boy’.

Politics: ‘Rent a homo for your party, it’s the something that you lack. For twice the price we’ll send a couple and make sure one, but never both, are black’.

Environmental Issues: ‘BP is creepy, drilling way too deeply. If you think the problem’s just Goldman Sachs and BP, there’s a walrus I can sell you in the Caribbean sea’.

Politicians: ‘I’ll send your kids into war, I just screwed an intern on the floor. I’m not a witch, I’m a corporate whore’.

Away from the playfulness and sharp wit that I’ve come to enjoy so much in the past months, there is something much more serious about the group. Dismissed, I assume, by many simply because they dress in women’s clothes, the political charge and strong message conveyed through their lyrics cannot be ignored. They stand up for civil rights, but most attractively they enjoy taking the piss out of themselves as four gay men. They’re politically incorrect and have yet to be crushed by the Gay Mafia.

Indeed they put the sin in syncopation, the chest in orchestration and the exclusive homosexuality into the Kinsey scale. They’re loud, they’re proud and they’re fantastic. I eagerly await the release of their new CD ‘Electile Dysfunction’.’

You can also find Dan on twitter.

Theorising The Web 2012 is a conference run by young academics PJ Rey and Nathan Jurgenson in America, about internet technologies. They say:

‘The second annual Theorizing the Web conference aims to expand the range and depth of theory used to help us make sense of how the Internet, digitality, and technology have changed the ways humans live. We will bring together researchers from a range of disciplines, including sociology, communications, anthropology, philosophy, economics, English, history, political science, information science, the arts and many more.’

On April 14th 2012 I was able to participate in the conference from thousands of miles away via its website, which included live streams of seminars and lectures. On twitter, the #ttw12 hashtag meant people could tweet contributions in the discussions that were seen by people at the conference. At one point PJ Rey (@Pjrey ) tweeted that even in the conference rooms themselves, delegates were tweeting questions to the speakers rather than raising their hands!

Rey and Jurgenson (@Nathanjurgenson) also write for cyborgology, a brilliant website that theorises the web all year round. In this wired up 21st century world, it really is worth wondering what has become of ‘humans’ as we understand them to be. Identity, communication, ideas, have all transformed in recent years, and Cyborgology and #ttw are keeping track of how things are changing.

The keynote speaker was Andy Carvin (@acarvin ) who I’d not heard of before. He is a strategist and a journalist, who does a lot of work in bringing voices and people together, across the globe, particularly in social change movements. After the conference was over I looked at his twitter stream and it was immediately full of tweets and retweets marked #Egypt , #Suez, #Israel.

Here are some tweets from the conference to give a flavour of proceedings

Whether we love or hate the contemporary age, it is vital we ‘theorise’ it in my view. And here, some imaginative people are doing just that. I wish all conferences could be so accessible and so interactive.

View of the conference from the UK #ttw12 courtesy of @theJaymo

Metro -A- Sexual ?

Posted: April 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

David Jay is the poster boy for the asexuality movement.

I don’t know about you, but judging by his ability to embrace the camera’s gaze, I am wondering if he does not desire to be desired as much as any metrosexy young man today.

Maybe David doesn’t need to have sex with anyone else, because he is enjoying a long-term meaningful (21st century) love-affair with himself!

I am writing a longer piece on this issue. One of my main questions is: can anyone be ‘asexual’, particularly in the metrosexual culture we live in?

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/04/life-without-sex-the-third-phase-of-the-asexuality-movement/254880/

This is another version of my review of  Mark McCormack s new book on Declining Homophobia.

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The Declining Significance of Homophobia, by Mark McCormack, is, according to its author, a ‘good news story’. The good news being that homophobia amongst young people is on the wane. His research with mainly young men students in three English sixth forms reaches very different conclusions to that of the more sobering surveys by LGBT organisations such as Stonewall.

The argument McCormack makes is clear:  in line with Eric Anderson (2009)’s theories of ‘softening’ masculinities, McCormack tells us that the young people he studied do not marginalize and discriminate against each other on the basis of sexual orientation, or even perceived orientation. This is because homophobia has declined in our culture, since the ‘homohysteria’ that characterised the 1980s and 1990s. He also looks at language, and argues convincingly that in many contexts, young people’s use of the term ‘gay’ to mean ‘lame’ or ‘rubbish’ is not homophobic, but merely a sign of changing times, and linguistic shifts.

I agree with McCormack that attitudes are changing and expanding, to accommodate a more accepting approach, both towards homosexuality, and towards ‘feminine’ behaviours amongst men, (think David Beckham in a sarong, or Alex Reid in women’s lingerie). However I have a few problems with his reasoning, and with the identity politics he uses to explain and celebrate this change.

One weakness of the book is a lack of depth of understanding on the part of McCormack about the history of homophobia. He relies almost solely on the work of his ‘mentor’ Eric Anderson to explain how homophobic attitudes gripped the (western) world during the 1980s and 1990s, when AIDS was seen by many as a ‘gay plague’. And when the age of consent was higher for homosexual men than for heterosexuals. Other writers who are missing from McCormack’s book who have carefully examined the recent history of homophobia, include Mark Simpson (Anti- Gay 1996), David Halperin (How To Do The History of Homosexuality, 2004), Steven Zeeland (Barrack Buddies 1993) and Keith Boykin (Beyond The Down Low 2005).

Whilst the end of the 20th century was indeed a bleak time in many ways for sexual freedom, in others it was positive. ‘Gay culture’ went mainstream in the 80s and 90s, with bands such as The Smiths, Culture Club, The Pet Shop Boys and Erasure topping the charts. Fashion and advertising began to exploit the ‘pink pound’, with models such as Marky Mark showing off their ‘assets’ to gay consumers. And even the awful reality of AIDS itself led to increasing visibility of LGBT people. When Princess Diana was filmed shaking hands and chatting to people who had the AIDS virus in 1989, for example, her status as a ‘gay icon’ was confirmed. And her high profile role changed some hearts and minds about homosexuality.

I think McCormack  is also wrong to focus as heavily as he does on ‘gay’ identities and ‘gay rights’ politics. One thing I remember most fondly about the 90s was the explosion of debate and activism around the concept of queer. Both in academic circles, with the ground-breaking work of writers such as Butler , Simpson and Paglia, and in everyday life, the politics of ‘gay’ expanded and diversified into the politics of ‘queer’, enabling many people who were marginalised on the grounds of gender and sexuality, to be included in the conversation. But McCormack is very dismissive of this ‘queer turn’, and in particular of writers such as Judith Butler who he describes as ‘elitist’ and ‘obscure’. He  reverts to the use of ‘gay’ identity politics and ‘gay’ terminology to describe and represent all LGBT people. One problem with this is that, as Simpson and colleagues wrote in their controversial book Anti-Gay (1996), the ‘gay’ identity itself has contributed to the erasure of other marginalised sexual identities such as bisexuality.

I have one final criticism of McCormack’s book, which extends to a general criticism of masculinities theory overall – it relates to what could be seen as an unmentioned, unacceptable great big pink ‘elephant in the room’. The elephant’s name? Metrosexuality. I think McCormack’s  thesis and research would be improved immensely by giving serious consideration to this ‘21st century’ phenomenon, of men expressing their ‘desire to be desired’ via consumer and media culture. According to Mark Simpson, originator and key theorist of the concept of metrosexuality,

‘Con­trary to what you have been told, met­ro­sex­u­al­ity is not about flip-flops and facials, man-bags or man­scara. Or about men becom­ing ‘girlie’ or ‘gay’.  It’s about men becom­ing every­thing. To themselves. In much the way that women have been for some time. It’s the end of the sex­ual divi­sion of bath­room and bed­room labour.  It’s the end of sex­u­al­ity as we’ve known it.’ (Simpson 2011)

It does not make sense to me, that a world in which the oppressive and repressive phenomenon of homophobia is declining and even disappearing, would also be a world in which sexual identity categories such as ‘gay’ remain unchanged. The ‘end of sexuality as we’ve known it’ is a difficult concept to grasp, especially for those of us who have been discriminated against because of our sexuality, and who consider it a key aspect of our identities. But I think it is on the horizon. For, to quote one of my favourite homos ever, Christopher Isherwood, ‘we’re all queer in the end’.

The Declining Significance Of Homophobia by Mark McCormack (2012)

 

 

The 52 Seductions manages to take a clever, but simple idea, and turn it into a compelling, moving – and very funny – story. Betty Herbert came up with the premise of the book, when her marriage, though happy in the main, was stagnating sexually. She decided to convince her husband that all they needed was to carry out a different ‘seduction’ every week for a year, taking it in turns to come up with the erotic inspiration.

If this sounds a bit Ann Summers to you, well in a way it is. But Betty’s dry, slightly cynical approach to the ‘spice up your marriage’ industry means that she is able to laugh at herself, and her attempts to, er, spice up her marriage. So after a night of passion on a bed strewn with rose petals, she does not fail to mention that her cleaner leaves a strategically placed petal on her bedroom windowsill the next day. And when, plagued by pain and inexplicable vaginal bleeding, her favourite position ‘the reverse cowgirl’ leads to a Carrie-type scene of carnage, the reader is encouraged to laugh, as well as sympathise.

The 52 Seductions works because it crosses genres, moods and styles. It could be read at face value, as a set of sex tips for struggling couples. It is also an honest account of a relationship that began when the two lovers were very young, and has continued despite – or because of – the obstacles. And, it is a set of reflections about being a woman, ageing, marriage, work, feminism and sex. And, if you like your porn realistic and scattered with humour (and rose petals) it is actually quite horny in places.

The ‘feminism’ that informs the book was the only part I didn’t love. I am happy to read books by and about feminist women, but I felt at times that Betty was assuming all women, like her, are feminist. And occasionally she would make generalisations about ‘women’ and ‘men’ in relation to sexual appetites, and emotions, that did not ring true with me. There was a bit in the book that I found very familiar, where the couple were having a meal in a pub on holiday, and all their sadness and communication difficulties came to the fore. But I related far more to how she described her husband in that situation. In my relationship my partner was the ‘emotional’ ‘talkative’ one and I was prone to silences and sulks.

Overall The 52 Seductions is brilliant, brave, ingenious and at times hilarious. I had trouble putting it down, and am bound to read it again. My favourite bits are the seductions themselves. This is an extract from ‘Call Centres’ where the intrepid duo try phone sex – using a professional phone sex line.

‘ ‘Hello? Oh, hello, Erica. . . My name’s Herbert . . . I’m thirty-eight . . . You’re thirty? What colour hair do you have?’

 What? I think, Why is that relevant? She’ll be blonde, I guarantee it.

‘Erica,’ he says, ‘I’ve got a naughty confession to make.’ I glance up at him, hoping he will catch my eye and smirk, but it appears that he’s saying this with no irony whatsoever. ‘My wife is with me. She’s sucking my cock.’

 Oh yuck, I think. I suppose I couldn’t expect him not to tell her, but now I am wondering what on earth Erica thinks of me. It brings to mind the wife of the vile man in There’s Something About Mary, who merrily fellates her husband while he watches the football.’

If you want to know how that scene climaxes, you will have to read the book. I promise it won’t let you down.

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You can buy The 52 Seductions at Amazon

Check out Betty’s Blog for more seductive words!

Typhon blue, who sometimes comments here at QRGHQ, is, according to her profile on her own blog:

‘a Canadian in her thirties. She writes about the state of decay in the relationship between the genders in our culture with a focus on men’s vulnerability and women’s agency.

She is also currently working on a sci-fi webcomic about conflicting world views and colonial arrogance.’

Typhon has made a fascinating vlog about the problems with patriarchy theory.

She has called the traditional feminist view of patriarchy, where all men share power and dominance over all women, because they’re men, ‘patriarchy 1.0′

And she calls her own theory of a more nuanced system of gendered power, ‘patriarchy 2.0′.

In particular, typhon introduces a concept called ‘apexuality’. She says that ‘apexuals’, who I think she conceptualises as ‘male-bodied’, are people who achieve power in hierarchies. And, contrary to feminism’s patriarchy 1.0 theory she says these apexuals do not achieve power based on their commonalities with other men, but rather by distinguishing themselves from them. The search for ‘uniqueness’ is a key part of the search for power. And ‘apexuals’ have to sacrifice their ‘maleness’ as an identity in order to achieve high status roles.

So feminists ideas about men working together as a kind of ‘team’ are rejected by typhon’s analysis.

I agree with her, if I have understood her correctly. I think we live in very ‘individualistic’ times.

She also says women do not achieve the same kind of power in hierarchies as men,  because women are less likely to sacrifice their ‘female’ or ‘woman’ identity in the search for power. And, as a result, more likely to identify with other women, and the commonalities they share.

I am not quite so sure about this, as I think some women gain power by invoking their ‘femininity’. I think Margaret Thatcher did, and Princess Diana, and say, Dolly Parton. I’m sure they trod on a few female toes to get where they did, too.

I am also not quite sure about what typhon’s theory of apexuality means for social change. If women are gaining more powerful positions, and more earning power, how does this fit in with the ‘apexual’ hierarchy as it is now. How does change occur within it?

Anyway it is interesting stuff and I’d love to hear some thoughts from typhon and other people about it!