I recently came across this essay by Bonald, who blogs over at Throne and Alter. Somehow I had missed it when he posted it a few weeks back. I wish I hadn’t as there were some interesting points raised both in the main post as well as in the comments. This [post will explore a few of them. Naturally enough I hope my readers will provide their thoughts.
To start with, I found this paragraph concerning customs of how men should interact with women interesting:
Men are stronger than women. Women thus enter the public sphere from a position of weakness. The sense of helplessness this might inspire is alleviated by customs whereby men appear to cede high status to women, what we now call “chivalry” (which is, of course, distinct from the medieval warrior code of the same name). Our many ritual acts of deference to our ladies, holding the door for them and so forth, wouldn’t make sense except as a corrective to the real power everyone knows men hold. Manosphere writers misunderstand these customs when they imagine them stemming from a view that women are inherently more valuable, while feminists who regard such “benevolent sexism” as a part of the patriarchy are basically correct (but with their moral evaluations reversed, as always with them).
I’ve always found the argument that deferential behavior was driven by some biological recognition that women were more “valuable” than men to be a stretch. At least, a stretch to imagine that was the only force at work. Fortunately a commenter by the name of JMsmith offered this:
As you say, the old courtesies were the means whereby a man signaled that he was not a sexual threat. For instance, a man removed his hat to make himself shorter and less physically imposing. He also spoke in tones that were lower and more soothing. In various ways, some of them entirely symbolic, he put his strength and hardihood at the woman’s service. I remember being taught that, when walking with a girl, I must always walk on the outside of the sidewalk, lest a passing car splash her with mud, slush or puddled water.
But none of these courtesies were emasculating. On the contrary, they affirmed a man’s manhood, which is why the feminist declared war on them (sort of). The old courtesies allowed a male to be gentle and a man. In other words a gentleman.
The behavior of the “consummate gentleman” was, in other words, a sexual “kill button.” It served to set women at ease by assuring them that they were not in, or about to enter, a sexual situation. The manosphere is largely populated by men who were misinformed about this, and who consequently went through life leaning on the sexual “kill button” under the mistaken belief it was a sexual detonator.
Now this has some real merit to it, I think. Especially that last paragraph. When you think about it, deferential customs (when they are kept to sane levels) help to make social interactions between men orderly. In fact, you can extend it to women as well. De-sexualizing social interactions helps to reduce competitive behaviors between men and women. Modesty is a female counterpart to male deference- modestly dressed women are less overtly sexual and thus less likely to incite or generate more sexualized responses from men. This will naturally lead to competition between men, which strains the social order.
Bonald’s mention of “language of conquest” was also worth noting:
Men want sex more than women. This means women have a stronger bargaining hand in the bedroom. No man wants to beg for sex; that would be humiliating and contemptible. We thus ritually correct the power asymmetry by describing sexual intercourse in terms that flatter the man’s agency: he “took her”, “had his way with her”, and so forth. Feminists misunderstand this language by taking it literally, thinking it reflects a “rape culture” and that men experience their sexual appetite as a strength rather than a weakness. In fact, men often experience lust as perturbability, as weakness, and we are embarrassed by its power over us. Here it is the writers of the manosphere who seem closer to the mark, pointing out that the woman herself prefers to be “conquered” than to be petitioned.
I’m not sure that I agree with the first two sentences, at least in how they translate into “ritual language.” Men, being stronger than women, really can “take it” if they want to. Of course, there might be serious consequences for it, but that potential still exists. However, civilized living requires men to set aside that power or at least severely restrain it. In that sense men are willfully restricting their power in a manner similar to, although not the same as, deferential custom. I would wager that men use that language because it allows them to remove, at least in their minds, the restraints that society places on their sexuality. That it comes from stronger female bargaining power seems a bit weak to me.
On the other hand, I very much agreed with this paragraph:
And this role we hate. Folk wisdom has it that when a boy pulls a girl’s pigtails, it probably means he likes her. I’m sure this is true. When a man becomes attracted to a girl, he feels a paradoxical urge to tease and offend her. Girl’s are cute when they’re shocked and offended–no doubt about that. If you can amuse and shock a girl all at once–get her to exclaim “I can’t believe you just said that!” in between suppressed giggles, it feels like, like victory. You’re not some beggar pleading for sex. No! It feels like you’re in charge.
Lastly, in the comments the subject of women wanting sex and how they react when it was denied came up. I think that the strong reaction women have isn’t simply that they aren’t used to being denied it. Rather, I think that women cannot handle rejection in this area as well as men normally done. Possibly it is because women experience it less. But I think that there is an innate female aspect to this as well.
Of course, I might be completely wrong, and my readers have a chance here in the comments to demonstrate my folly.
[As an aside, I am working on a follow-up to my post on sympathy, as it is obvious that some things need to be cleared up, in addition to my desire to explore the nature of the responses to that post.]