20 June, 2009

Cultural Possession

Cultural overtones of male possession of women are prevalent throughout Western society. Institutionalized inequalities continue to demonstrate that men are expected to be allowed to own a greater share of society without complaint.

Not only is it completely socially acceptable for a man to name his most prized possession (lawn tractor, mid-age crisis sports car, guitar, boat, computer, etc.) a feminine name and refer to it in the feminine sense, but it is also expected among many men that a man in a committed relationship fulfill a given quorum of complaining about it to retain the status of his manhood[1]. The former creates a sense of entitled ownership of the feminine while the latter represents the opposite side of this in which men must frequently repudiate any claims of ownership from a woman to retain his sense of masculinity. This bizarre dialectic creates and perpetuates the prevailing Western attitude of women being worth less than men, and by proxy male desires being generally worth more than female autonomy.

Granted, things are better now in Western cultures than they used to be. Marriages used to be formed on the basis of dowries[2] and young women maintained hope chests for their future expectations. The culture of my ancestors even has oral traditions that tell of young men literally stealing their wives from neighboring villages and running off with them into the night to evade capture by their angry families. In these traditions, women were more objects to be bought, sold, and haggled over than human beings with whom to develop deep intimacy and strong relationships. Nonetheless, many men still see most women as little more than fleshy collections of orifices for them to use at will or expectation regardless of how the woman in question may feel.

Cultural Evidence[3]:

1) The Wage Gap.
Per the last statistics on the issue that I have read, women continue to make, on average, just $0.77 for every $1.00 that men earn. This implies that the work men do is ~30% more worthy than equivalent work and work-hours produced by women. This is patronizing bullshit, and when it's combined with hostile and sexist workplaces that continue to exist despite anti-sexual harassment policies it becomes indicative of a subtly expressed but pervasively held belief that men own the economy, and therefore the world, more than women because they "do more"[4]. That the leaders of top companies and political bodies are overwhelmingly male just makes that attitude all the more visible.

Believing that men should earn more[5] because they "do more" makes women into second-class workers. This, in turn, leads all too easily to believing that women are second class people, period, and can be used as such. This is very apparent in the stud vs. slut paradox that Ktbug Ladydid has aptly dissected here.

2) Protectionism
Many men conflate the societal expectation that they protect the women around them with a naive assumption that they, by extension, also know what is best for those women (mentioned in a post below). And all too often and far too easily men confuse their own immediate desires and gratification with what they think would be best for the women around them. This also represents an inaccurate conflation of (comparatively) diminutive physique with assumed mental prowess.

3) Dating
In a typical Western date[6], the guy takes the woman out for dinner and a movie and pays for both. If it was a nice place for dinner the guy can wind up spending a rather large amount of cash. The problem here is that the more money a guy spends on the date, the more he expects that she reciprocate his investment in the night by putting out. In effect, this reduces the date to the guy paying an entry fee to his desires being met, regardless of her desires. This is the milieu in which date rape flourishes.

The key difference here is expectation vs. hope. When a guy goes out on a date expecting that she follow up by allowing physical intimacy to proceed to some vaguely defined "base"[7], it is wrong because it reduces the woman's boundaries, desires, and autonomy to mere conditions, confounding factors, of the the guy's expectations. At the same time, it is perfectly OK for a man to go out on the same date hoping that the relationship will get to the next "base" because simple hope is couched in his respect for the woman and does not in any way conflict with her autonomy.

Nonetheless, the current[6] culture of dating seems to thrive much more on expectation than hope. Expectations also create entitlement in that the societal expectation of reciprocation from the woman creates the popular illusion that that (very uneven) reciprocation is the way things should be, and it is from this narrow vantage point that guys try to justify date rape. If the woman isn't meeting their expectations, they become the victim and once they believe themselves oppressed or treated unfairly it becomes all too easy for them to transmute that into coercive or violent behavior. The entitlement that stems from expectation also serves to diminish the woman's voice and reinforces her standing as a second-class party.

/Cultural Evidence

Date rape and sexual coercion[8] continue to exist because men are socially allowed to view women, and women's autonomy, as less than their own. By feminizing owned things (symptom) and attempting to own women (pathology), men do both genders a gross disservice by deepening the too-wide gap in understanding and social valuation between sexes. In my cohort of 20somethings and younger, the extant traditions mentioned above are slowly eroding and as such I do hope that the next generation will come up even more equitable in general, although unfortunately there're always a couple of jackasses in any given population. Hopefully their behavior will come to be increasingly stigmatized.

[1]E.g., "pussy whipped", "grow a pair and go out tonight", "where does your wife keep your balls?"
[2]Additional evidence that Western culture thinks less of women than men, because the males' families literally had to be paid to accept the bride in the first place.
[3]If you know of additional evidence that I have missed, please add it in comments.
[4]Today's doubty quotation marks generously provided by Büllshyte Incorporated, LLC.
[5]Silence here amounts to tacit endorsement.
[6]So far as Toaster's field research has yet been able to determine. The data are, however, inconsistent.
[7]In lieu of a more elegant term that must exist somewhere.
[8]Infantile posturing, pouting, guilt trips, put-downs, pleading, begging, pestering, insinuations, and innuendo.


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ktbug Ladydid said...

excellent clarification on the difference between expectation and hope. :)