November 5th, 2010


The Why of Fry

So a few days ago, Stephen Fry was quoted in a small magazine as saying some impressively awful things about women, namely:

If women liked sex as much as men, there would be straight cruising areas in the way there are gay cruising areas. Women would go and hang around in churchyards thinking: 'God, I've got to get my f———- rocks off', or they'd go to Hampstead Heath and meet strangers to shag behind a bush.

And following up that triple flip with this lovely little salchow:

I feel sorry for straight men. The only reason women will have sex with them is that sex is the price they are willing to pay for a relationship with a man, which is what they want.

Well, people got upset, perhaps more than usual because Fry is such a beloved figure, and has invested quite a lot in appearing avuncular, intellectual, and reasoned. It's like finding out your favorite uncle hates you. And Fry flounced off of the internet, only to come back with this apologia.

And...I'm actually not impressed by the excuse, nor its digs at feminists who OMG HURT HIS FEELINGS. So apparently it's totes ok to say misogynist things as long as you say it to your mates and you think it's funny? And if one happens to be a gay man, it's especially funny because that's what gay men talk about? And though the conversation was apparently "about gay male sexuality," I guess no discussion of men and sex is complete without a dig at female sexuality. I don't really roll with the obnoxious trend of saying racist and sexist things "ironically" around groups of people who you think share your opinions, or at least your demographics. Given that I doubt Fry or anyone else would think it was ok for women to make homophobic comments to their female friends, just so long as there weren't any actual gays around right that second, this all appears pretty sketchy to me, and the excuse wears paper-thin.

After all, we've heard it before, we humorless feminists. It was just a joke. Don't you get the joke? It's hilarious. The height of comedy, actually. No? Bitches.

What you say in private conversation, when you think you're safe from criticism says everything about what you really think.

If Fry is as ignorant of women's sexuality as he claims to be, it seems not to be an option in his mind to simply not discuss it or comment on it. And this particular "canard" as he calls it is a terrible and damaging one, one that others women and makes them alien, one that fuels hateful rhetoric about what can and cannot be done to women (hello madonna/whore), enforces the separation of spheres and interests, encourages the idea that since women hate sex you have to coerce them into it, and makes freaks of women who do like sex--which is really rather a lot of them. It's really one of the most pernicious ideas out there, and I kept waiting for Fry to say he didn't say it--but it turns out he did, he just thought it was funny and awesome when he said it, and since he said it to another gay man and they don't sleep with women anyway, it's no big deal, even if he knows it's untrue. And he does. He says over and over again that it's untrue. But somehow that doesn't change the HILARIOUS WRY WIT of repeating it, within a community that is also marginalized, unjustly maligned, and stereotyped.

Every time I see this one come up, usually in discussions of porn where it's trotted out that women "aren't visual" and are in some way or another Other while straight male sexuality, no matter how exaggerated, is the baseline norm, I think about why I don't go out to bars trolling for sex, and didn't even when I was single, and wonder why the to me very obvious reasons are either unheard or dismissed by men, or not even brought up as everyone nods and talks about how different and confusing and "complex" (read: different and confusing, not like a hard dick, which is plainspoken, straightforward, a noble steed and true). And since I am really just sad about Stephen Fry, who I thought was an ally and had quite warm feelings about, rather than angry, I thought I'd lay it out here--why I am not crawling around a heath looking for a lay. The straight men prowling the heath are not usually looking for consenting women.

I am a woman with a high libido. Oh, it's not always at a constant pitch--and BY THE WAY, if I have learned anything about men in my years of having sex with them, it's that their libido isn't constant either. The idea that all men, all the time, are hard, ready, and made utterly irrational by their need for sex is absolutely as damaging as the notion that women are sexless angels with nothing between their legs. I know plenty of low-libido men who suffer under expectations of their performance and at a moment's notice readiness. Anyway. My libido suffers when I'm depressed or when I'm working hard, and in that I suspect I'm no different than any man ever. But in general, I'm up for it as often as men, so why not go down to a bar where obviously sexually desireable men are waiting to be picked out of a lineup like workers waiting for the factory truck to trundle by?

Well, for starters, it's not physically safe for me to do so. Even if I wanted sex, things could get ugly very fast, and I could find myself raped, beaten, or killed with a quickness. The possibility for violence is just so much higher when you are a woman--especially the bad, sex-seeking kind that can be destroyed because good girls don't like sex. This is also a possibility with gay men, but the size differential and the difference in community--a marginalized group seeking mutual satisfaction vs. a patriarchal dynamic where sex must be seized from an unwilling partner, is just so much more dangerous.

Second of all, despite the equally obnoxious myth that women can just walk into any bar, raise their hand in the air, and get any gentleman she likes, men turn out to have agency, preferences, moods, and sometimes they just want a damn drink and to be left alone. And since we live in a material, and more importantly awesomely patriarchal world, a lot of those preferences don't include women who aren't supermodels, and a lot of those men do not feel the need to spend the hours and hours on personal grooming and dress that women are expected to perform just to be decent enough to leave the house. (It has been long established in mainstream culture that dressing well is gay, or at least metrosexual and thus suspect. Women can express esxual desire only by making themselves passively attractive, receptive, not by pursuing in plainclothes, as men have the privilege of doing. Yes, y'all get shot down. We do too. That's what happens when humans with equal agency interact sometimes. The anger and resentment with which I've heard men discuss women having the gall to say no to them often shocks me--do they not have the right to decide? I've been rejected by many, many men. I've never hated them for it.) So the likelihood of me being able to make that connection, to find some I want to fuck--not take long walks on the beach with, not curl up in front of the fire with, just have a good time, and have them be attracted to me, someone beyond the current societal standards of "hot chick" is really quite slim. Even if the guys I like are also non-standard, this culture teaches men that they "deserve" a certain kind of woman, whatever they themselves have to offer. Some men get that message loud and clear and internalize it; some don't. Geek men, by the way, are not immune. Many still dream of the cheerleader they couldn't get in high school and ignore girls they think of as their inferiors, no matter how many dice she owns.

When you are talking about hook-up culture, it is not about everyone's special snowflake soul. It's a meat market, and about how you can compete in it. That's why it's a hook-up, not a life-bond. You interact with everyone's preconceived notions about sex, and most of those come straight from the firehouse of mainstream culture--that's why it's mainstream. It gets into everyone, to greater and lesser degrees.

And even if I were able to navigate that terrain, which is seriously not so easy as my male friends who assure me how simply and instantly I can get laid by the person of my choice and literally refuse to listen to any of my experiences to the contrary, the chances that this man, in our male-orgasm centered world, our rocks-off culture, would be interested or able to give me a good time? Oh, you roll the dice on that one even if you've been dating for awhile, kids. One night stands are tougher for women on that raw physical level men love to tout as their personal domain, because we are not guaranteed anything like an enjoyable time. The rocks, they do not always get off, and a strong percentage of straight men don't think about much other than the aforementioned rocks. I promise, if it weren't considered "real sex" unless the woman came this would be a very different sexual universe. Thus, the vibrator is almost always the solid, inexpensive, and reliable choice.

There are wonderful straight men out there who aren't like this. I am unlikely to find one for a random one night stand. The numbers are just against me. My experiences in the lesbian community have never led me to seriously consider the idea that women didn't like sex. But there are very good reasons for women not to behave like an ugly stereotype of men--most of them having to do with how deeply unequal the sexual arena still is. It's not about internal state, it IS about societally enforced external behavior. And I live in a pretty liberal, open part of the world. I am saddened and surprised that a gay man would not understand living in fear of expressing one's sexuality, of being harmed physically, ridiculed, or rejected because society regards the very expression of one's honest sexuality as inappropriate at best. 

It's a sad, fucked up world sometimes. I wish it weren't. But look. Some women like sex. Some don't. Some men like sex. Some don't. It's actually pretty easy.