Blue Box

January 3, 2011 - 5:19 pm
Irradiated by LabRat
Comments Off

I’ll say out the gate that I fully realize at this point that I could essentially close out the entire My Furious Genitals category with a few sentences along the lines of “Men and women are each individual human beings and romantic relationships are intimate enough that the individual is far and away the most important factor to consider.” with a side order of “Rigid gender roles hurt both sexes more than they help anyone.”, but it gives my typing fingers exercise and seems to amuse you all.

Thus, picking on Dennis Prager, which I realize is slightly unfair given he has to distill his view of the world in short column format, but he’s also the one that decided to take it upon himself to declare what all men want as opposed to what all women want, so I can’t feel terribly sorry for him. The columns are thus: What Do Men Want? and What Do Women Want? We’ll start with the men, since that’s where he did.

It is said that the one question about men and women that even the great Sigmund Freud, father of psychoanalysis, could not answer was: What do women want?

Whether or not Freud actually said that is irrelevant. The very popularity of the anecdote testifies to one incontrovertible fact: A lot of men don’t know the answer.

It is probably fair to say that a lot of women also don’t know the answer. If they did, all they would have to do is tell men. That would solve the riddle — and make most men and women very happy.

So, to the extent that this is a great riddle, it is so because most members of both sexes seem not to know the answer.

I would suggest that this is first because it’s entirely the wrong question seeing as how it’s trivial to observe that different individuals want different things, and second because it’s actually a very difficult question for any given person to answer accurately. There are days I can barely tell what I want for lunch, let alone the sweep of my entire adult life. “Don’t want” has a great many far easier answers.

Sometimes great riddles are great because the question was nonsensical to begin with. Sometimes it’s because the actual answers aren’t ones we want to hear.

Adding support to the widespread belief that what women want is close to unknowable is the underlying presumption that just about everybody knows what men want.

The number of truly funny Internet jokes that describe what women want as complex and what men want as simple is a testament to how widespread these assumptions about the two sexes are. Three examples illustrate this:

Signs the canoe of your column is about to sail over the waterfall of inanity: citing the homespun wisdom of e-mail forwards.

The first example is the one that begins: “How To Impress a Woman.”

Listed beneath that heading is this: “Compliment her, respect her, honor her, cuddle her, kiss her, caress her, love her, stroke her, tease her, comfort her, protect her, hug her, hold her, spend money on her, wine and dine her, buy things for her, listen to her, care for her, stand by her, support her, hold her, go to the ends of the Earth for her.”

Well, it’s a decent starter on “how to remain in a long-term relationship with a woman you adore”. When it comes to “impress sufficiently to get interested attention”, the bar is just a skosh lower. It is entirely possible to do this from across the room without even trying.

That long list is followed by: “How To Impress a Man.”

And listed beneath is this: “Show up naked. Bring food.”

As a great many women learn in their youth, this does not actually work unless the question is “how to become a tally mark”. Sometimes not even then, to the shock and wilted self esteem of girls who actually do believe that all any given male wants is sex, with anything, right now.

The second Internet example:

“Q: What is the difference between men and women?

A: A woman wants one man to satisfy her every need. A man wants every woman to satisfy his one need.”

And a third Internet example shows a box divided into two parts.

Under the part labeled “Women” are 40 dials and knobs.

Under the part labeled “Men” is one switch, marked “On-Off.”

As with most generalizations, there is much truth to these.

I don’t actually have a comment on this set of assertions other than to quote them as they form the structure of the column. Except that I have a hard time not mentally appending “Confucius say” to the end.

Nevertheless, I take issue with both presumptions — that what women want is a riddle that would stump the Sphinx and that what men want is so easy it could be written on the back of a postage stamp.

I’m so relieved.

In fact, I believe that both are relatively simple to answer (though neither is simple to achieve).

What does a man most want?

Answer: He most wants to be admired by the woman he loves.

This is where the business of snarking at him for the sake of snark gets tricky, because this isn’t actually that inaccurate; the reason I’m annoyed with Prager isn’t that I believe men don’t want to be admired by the women they love, it’s that he manages to take a fairly dull truth that should logically apply to both sexes and present it as a universal solvent of gender relations.

One proof is that the most devastating thing a woman can do to her man is to hold him in contempt. That is so devastating to a marriage that, over time, it is often more toxic than an affair. I am fairly certain that more marriages survive an affair, as difficult as that is, than contempt.

This is a good case in point, as I absolutely believe he’s correct in that contempt is the most corrosive thing there can be in a relationship, and that a habit of rolling your eyes at your partner probably is more ultimately destructive than even infidelity. What I find amazing is that he seems to honestly believe this is a gender-specific thing.

Of course, this goes in both directions, but when a woman shows contempt toward her man, his very manhood is called into question.

Annnd here is where Dennis and I part company again. He acknowledges that contempt from her partner theoretically as devastating as the other way around, then skips right across it to cite that the damage to manhood makes it much worse for a man.

This would be because, according to historical gender roles, there is nothing inherently admirable about womanhood outside her ability to have children, and therefore nothing to potentially damage. This is not actually salutary for relationships.

My father and mother were married 69 years.

That’s fantastic. Loving relationships really are. However, one does not represent a reliable model for all of humanity across all places and times.

As my brother and I have heard countless times, “She put me on a pedestal” was the quality my father most often cited in describing what a wonderful wife my mother was. She admired him, and to him, that was everything. On the other hand, in describing her love for my father over all those years, my mother never once said, “He put me on a pedestal” (despite the fact that he constantly praised her). Rather, she always spoke of what a “great man” he was, how “brilliant,” etc. Of course, this is just one example, but I think it applies to the majority of men and women.

Meanwhile, I read this as “they had a very happy mutual admiration society going”.

The obvious upshot of this thesis is that in order to gain a woman’s love, a man must make — and keep — himself admirable.

This is another one of those statements I half-agree with. As in, I think it makes perfect sense to say “in order to gain someone’s love, you have to work hard to be a good person and not let that up”, and also that it’s both blandly obvious and not gender-specific. But that’s not quite what Prager means…

Boys know this instinctively. Studies that have observed boys and young men reveal how much harder they work at anything — sports comes immediately to mind — when they know girls are watching them.

…It’s the rutting-stag, admiring-doe principle: showy male wins the female. What really amazes me about this statement is that most of us remember how we behaved as adolescents with respect to the opposite sex as a period of embarrassing stupidity, not a period when we had excellent instinctive understanding of what attracts them. Kids don’t model intuitively guided courtship, they model over-the-top parodies of gender roles because that’s the model they have to work with, absent experience. Boys peacock and brag and pull stupid stunts, girls play stupid, laugh at everything boys say whether it was funny or not, and try to figure out from which angle their breasts and butts look best. The goal is attention, and in both cases everything else save that attention is being paid is largely lost on the opposite number.

I can only speak from my own girlhood, but trust me, boys: nearly every single detail of the whatever it is you did has been forgotten by whomever you were trying to impress, likely within minutes. If she WAS impressed, what she’ll tell her girlfriends is that you noticed her, possibly also involving an intensive analysis of your eyes, hair, and smile.

That is why many single men in our society (often erroneously but understandably) place so much emphasis on what car they drive: They want to impress women.

Prager seems to be on the cusp of realizing here that women really don’t care, unless they themselves are gearheads. The only other time they do is when they’re after pure status, in the same way a man after pure status goes after the thinnest and most expensively groomed and ornamented woman nearby. Which, yes, people do behave like this… but very few people actually suggest that treating partners like a mark on a measuring stick ultimately makes anyone very happy.

Yet, men couldn’t care less what car a woman drives. In fact, for most men, a woman arriving on a first date in a relatively inexpensive car renders her more desirable than if she showed up in an expensive luxury car — unless the man is looking to be supported by a woman. But few women are attracted to a man they know in advance they will have to support.

“People sometimes noticeably fulfill gender roles, therefore they will make us happy” is not a particularly strong argument either. Nor is “double standards exist, therefore they are justified”.

So, although the Internet jokes are right about men wanting sex, it isn’t sex men most want from their woman. They want to be admired — and sex is one manifestation of a woman’s admiration for her man.

From our perspective it’s a manifestation of having a sexuality that includes men.

When a man is regularly denied sex, in his eyes that means that his wife does not hold him in high esteem. Worse, he actually feels humiliated as a man. That, not the sex per se, is why regular denial devastates a man.

Which is a gigantic fucking problem when it hasn’t got a damn thing to do with her esteem for him and is actually because she has a naturally low sex drive, has a medical problem, is depressed, or any of the dozens of other reasons it can be. See again, “rigid gender roles and assumptions based on them hurt everybody”.

So, then, if what a man most wants is to be admired by his woman, what is it that a woman most wants?

That is the subject of the next column.

Which is, interestingly given he largely agrees with the generalization that women are more complicated than men, much shorter than this one.

But here’s a hint. If we begin with the assumption that men and women are made to bond with one another, what she most wants must be in some way related to what he most wants.

Assumption one: women are opposites of men and their bonds naturally revolve around this polarity.

Assumption two: humans have pretty similar needs for love and respect from the people they cherish most.

Conclusion: next.

No Responses to “Blue Box”

  1. Evan Price Says:

    I don’t think Dennis is entirely wrong, but he oversimplifies based upon observation of individuals rather than the totality of the species.

    Certainly the admiration, respect and adoration play a part but what men need, and also women, is fulfillment. Biologically and mentally speaking men and women ARE different and they are made that way for a reason- because one complements the other and together forms a partnership stronger than one or the other by themselves. Through this partnership the future of the genetics of the pair may be better assured by helping to continue the genetic line of the combined pair.

    Ultimately the survival of any individual is not that important biologically speaking and the furtherance and survival of the species is the ultimate goal of any organism. Since none are immortal this can only be carried out by creation of sucessive generations. To this end sexual preferences are created to make pair-bondings that will help bring forth offspring that will carry on that line.

    Selective breeding and the breeding habits of most creatures are relatively simple to deduce- Males desire to create offspring by as many varied females as possible, females try to find the best father for their offspring. It’s a breeding strategy that pays off in either quality or quantity.

    In humans we create a pair bond because males and females have different survival traits that complement each other- especially in a community. This desire for a pair bond over-rides the need to disperse and causes the male to focus on that specific female’s progeny. When both partners are putting forth energy and resources to sustain only a limited amount of offspring- and human babies require more care than nearly any other creature- there would be a higher percentage of survival than one parent alone.

    When combined in a community- I’m thinking of a clan or tribe group- certain members of the community focus on specific tasks of survival and other members focus on other tasks. These tasks may include food gathering, water location, child rearing, security, shelter, etc.

    Interestingly enough, the ‘current’ trend towards single-parenting would not be sucessful in the days of proto-humanity since predation, accidents, famine, and disease would prevent a single mother from caring for children efficiently and thus children of more ‘traditional’ pair-bonded families would survive and have that gene reinforced, just as single-family groups would not be as well survived as clan/tribal groups who were more able to work together for survival. This is why the tribe/clan/extended family structure is so durable over time.

    This just goes to show that modern technology and science have not actually strengthened the species but merely allowed suboptimal members of the species to continue to survive and/or reproduce… consider the number of medical devices and drugs in use today, and the ultimate fate of so many humans if there were to be a catastrophic loss of civilization… I’m thinking of people who are crippled, infirm, sickly, dependant on drugs or machines for survival. Do those people deserve to survive or deserve to die? No, deserve has nothing to do with survival! Mankind has evolved the ability to defeat the environment and no longer needs to devote most of the waking day to survival and that’s why individuals who could not survive on their own are able to thrive.

    Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs would be a good visual here!

    Mankind has created something relatively rare in the animal kingdom- free time! We also have a surplus of resources that enable us to do things unrelated to survival wihout negatively impacting survival. Animals do occaisionally have free time but spending it consuming calories or risking injury in activities that do not further survival is counterproductive and dangerous.

    Wow, I’m rambling. Sorry for that, I work third shift and don’t sleep enough.

  2. David Says:

    Evan Price – Not an SME, so might be off base, but the tribal/band structure seems more accommodating of single motherhood than current structures. Lose, or don’t have, the other half of the partnership, and there’s the rest of a fairly tight-knit entity able to help (and, barring resource-scarce areas, glad to have another set of hands on the way).

  3. David Says:

    Also, speaking of “eventual goals” of an organism seems somehow off; a construct (from individual instinctive reactions/conscious decisions to avoid harm, and evolutionary selection) that could lead one astray.

  4. LabRat Says:

    I’ve actually written pretty extensively about human evolution and the assumptions we can and can’t make about what our reproductive history tells us about gender, because that particular field has a long and rather sorry history of just-so stories that tend to exist to justify the speaker’s view of relationships more than they actually fit hominid biology.

    For one, there’s no reason to assume the “best interests of the species” describe individual results in the least. Evolution is an imperfect process at the very best, and hominids in particular developed something very different from their nearest relatives in a very short space of time; the conflicts of interest between males of females of many species with far longer and more stable reproductive histories are written into them and play out in them, and we are no exception at all. Simply because there’s a shared interest in successful reproduction doesn’t erase other conflicts of interest at all- or, for that matter, the simple bugs and glitches of the process.

    For two, “males disperse, females choose” ignores the interests of both sexes; especially in a species in which, as you noted, child care requirements are so high and such a challenge exists in raising a reproductively successful offspring, males have as much interest in selecting a good mother as females do in selecting a good father. (This is particularly an issue in species in which parenting is skill-based more than good-genes based, as it is in many primates and none moreso than us.) Likewise, females have as much evolutionary benefit from genetic diversity in their offspring- read many fathers- as males do. Both are balanced in tension against the other- both partners lose from the other’s infidelity, gain from their own, and likewise for investment in each other- but are not remotely polarized by sex.

    For three, David’s right; in the vast majority of social primate societies and in many human societies especially historically, the most help and investment a female gets in her offspring is from her relatives, not her partner. The nuclear family is an extremely modern construct.

    I like nuclear families. I like close partnerships. I think they do make people happy, more than not. But nature doesn’t offer us an Edenic model or even a very nice one.