June 2, 2009 at 11:54 am #31612
note: I am back from China and North Vietnam….more to come later. Michael
WHAT DO WOMEN WANT? AGAIN
By Elizabeth Debold
June 1, 2009
Sorry about using that tired question what do women want? to start off
this post. Freud asked it — likening womens consicousness to a dark
continent both unexplored and presumably unknowable — and every exasperated
male writer and far too many marketers have used it since. But the question
is popping up again. In a recent New York Times op-ed column entitled
Liberated and Unhappy”
< http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/26/opinion/26douthat.html>, Ross Douthat
reports on an analysis by economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers
that indicates that across race, marriage status, economic bracket, and even
country, womens subjective experience of being happy has declined both
absolutely and in relation to men.
Interestingly, in 1970 — before the
womens movement so dramatically opened so many womens life options —
women were generally more happy than men. So, in the forty years since women
in the West won their freedom to choose the lives that they want, they have
become less happy. Fascinating, isnt it?
The authors of the report, which is entitled The Paradox of Declining
Female Happiness, dont have an answer to the obvious question: why? and
why now? Of course, conservatives will undoubtedly argue that this proves
that women were better off in their traditional at-home roles home before
they were liberated into unhappiness, and progressives will counterargue
that womens dreams of liberation have been thwarted by institutions and
customs that have not changed enough. Douthat doesnt answer the question in
his column either. He only alludes to a connection between womens
unhappiness and the rise in single motherhood, and suggests that we could
use a new-model stigma [against sexual irresponsibility that] shouldnt
(and couldnt) look like the old sexism. As he says,
“Theres no necessary reason why feminists and cultural conservatives cant
join forces — in the same way that they made common cause during the
pornography wars of the 1980s — behind a social revolution that ostracizes
serial baby-daddies and trophy-wife collectors as thoroughly as the fallen
women of a more patriarchal age.”
Douthats reasoning is opaque, but he seems to be suggesting that womens
unhappiness is natural in a world where there is no obligation for men to
stay with the women who bear them children.
Id like to offer an interpretation that might include all of these
perspectives. Ive been thinking a great deal lately about the bizarre
twists our supposed sexual freedom has brought — such as the beautiful
young co-ed who tried to sell her virginity over the internet to pay for
school. (The bidding apparently reached $3.8 million — although it Natalie
Dylandoesnt seem that the transaction happened.)
virgin seems to be saying, hey, losing my virginity is supposed to be a
moment that I will value forever, but it seems like what I am most valued
for is my virgin body, so why not sell it — Ill surely remember that! She
sees herself as a smart actor in a materialistic culture that trades human
values for cash value. Shes not wrong. But certainly Doutharts and this
young womans observations dont create a very happy picture.
We women are at a strange point. Since the first hominids struggled upright,
womens role has been to bear and raise the next generation. Females have
been charged with the survival of the species — our cultures have
elaborated on that role and protected womens capacity to bear children (and
often prohibited anyone but a womans sanctioned mate from bearing children
with her). How many thousands of years has a womans reproductive role been
the source of her value and identity?
We no longer have this unique role to play in culture. Bearing children has
become optional. Being a mate and mother, which has been the source of our
dignity and standing in society since tribal days, is no longer an
imperative. We are freed of the necessity to reproduce, liberated from our
biological role, but the choices that we have won have left us unmoored. Who
are we or who should we be now?
Im obviously not the first person to note this — although most voices
expressing such a view come from the right, urging us back to the safety and
familiarity of hearth and home. Im providing this context not to suggest
that this is our God-given role, but rather to show how conditioned we are
to see this as who we are and should be. And to explain why we would feel
discontent, unease, and even a lack of simple happiness because we dont
have a clearly culturally sanctioned role to guide how we live our lives.
Im arguing that we have further to go. Our ties to our biology are being
broken so that now for the first time in femaledom we can shape culture with
men. Its funny that, culturally, we tend to see men as lustful beasts,
driven by their sexuality, when actually men as a whole are less tied to
their role in reproduction for their identity than women are. Think about
it: from 100,000 years ago to about seven thousand years ago, males and
females of our species lived in kin networks and small tribes where both
shared in the work of procreation and survival.
The roles of both men and
women were tied to food gathering and rearing children. There was no empire
building, only the demands and needs of close cohabitation. These cultures
were not usually warlike (except in dire circumstances) and have been
described as egalitarian because there was little hierarchy, even in terms
of gender. But when life conditions changed dramatically (due to rapid
climate change, invasion, food shortages, etc.), men typically stepped
forward to innovate and create the new, in order to protect women and
children so that the tribe, as a whole, could survive.
For the past, oh,
seven thousand years, men by and large have created cultureand thereby
created an identity for themselves based on something other than their role
in reproduction — while women have created children, which is, again, our
role in reproduction.
Its only been about 50 years since women could control our fertility and
begin to forge an identity for ourselves in culture that goes beyond our
biological role. Note that Im not saying that mothering is bad or wrong —
just that its almost all that the females of the species have been doing
for the last 100,000 years. Only very very recently do we have the freedom
to create new ways of being that could be the ground for a new order of
relationship, creativity, and innovation that will evolve culture to a
higher level. That will, as Douthat perceives, demand a new moral ordernot
just to ensure that women can safely bear and raise kids, but to outline the
contours of a new culture.
To me, it makes sense that women are less happy.
Were in a huge transition. There is no one before us. And what is happening
— as womens sexuality is pried from reproduction and commodified — is
frightening to anyone who is seeking a life of meaning and purpose. Where
are the examples of women who are forging from depth and dignity something
new, joyous, and creative? Where are the role models for a new world?
Without some women daring to ask who we can be now, risking everything to
free themselves from the women they have been to discover the woman of the
future, young women will be left adrift in the marketplace, selling
themselves short. Isnt that enough to make any sensitive woman unhappy?June 2, 2009 at 12:29 pm #31613
Interesting how men’s role seems very similar to the role of the heart mind protecting the young soul of a baby or child. Of course the true power is still the soul even if it plays victim. Not wishing to claim its responsibility. A patriarchal society is an illusion.June 6, 2009 at 1:16 am #31615
1. With freedom, comes more responsibility.
This is why Winnie the Pooh is blissfully
happy in his ignorance, only concerned with
which tree to sit under on a sunny day while
eating his honey.
Becoming liberated and opened up to larger
possibilities, means then you actually have
to think about what it is you “want” to do.
This can be burdensome.
2. (THE MORE POTENT REASON) I’m not so sure
they were “happier” to begin with
When someone is oppressed or controlled–even
if in a subtle way such as being servant to male
dominance, they are not really in a position
to truly evaluate what they are feeling. Such
a person can often confuse the controller’s feelings
as their own, or confuse the pseudo-security with
happiness. Take that away, now suddenly there’s
freedom to be able to think on an individual level,
which can bring an apparent sadness upon the
realization of what they never had before.
Any apparent sadness can also be a symptom of
starting to release and heal generations of
In other words, any apparent current unhappiness
is a healing crisis from what came before. Any
perceived earlier happiness was a “false” happiness
that was acting to repress anger.
Thus, in this sense, the author is right.
It is a transitory period–one of healing.
SJune 6, 2009 at 4:59 am #31617
Steven, you make good points. Here is a women who has somehow moved beyond sexploitation and able to separate cultural identity and her personal experience of being a sex worker.
MY LIFE AS A ‘CRAIGSLIST HOOKER’:
WHY WE NEED SMART POLICY ABOUT SEX WORK
By Ester Amy Fischer
Huffington Post / AlterNet
June 5, 2009
It seems strange to eulogize an online red light district, but Craigslist
Erotic Services transformed the meaning of being a sex worker.
On Wed. May 13, Craigslist announced that it will shut down its erotic
services section, marking the end of an era. With the negative publicity
generated by the Craigslist Killer and a stampede of outraged attorney
generals calling for its demise, Craigslist Erotic Services will be no more.
This is a requiem. And a plea for a rational discourse about sex work.
I know it seems strange to eulogize what was basically an online red light
district, but in my experience there was a brief moment when Craigslist
Erotic Services transformed both the meaning and the means of being a sex
worker. There one could open a virtual lemonade stand which operated
according to self-imposed rules and regulations. Anonymity was almost
guaranteed. Craigslist Erotic Services made sex work accessible to people
who would never have considered doing it otherwise. I was one of those
It was the autumn of 2003. I’d come back to New York after an extended
period away with the realization that yet again, I was flat broke. A
struggling writer and artist, I’d been earning a living as a licensed
massage therapist. I’d used Craigslist once before to find a sublettor for
my Brooklyn apartment. That had worked out incredibly well, so I decided to
advertise my massage business there (in the therapeutic services section).
It seemed ideal.
I confess that at that time, I was pretty disappointed with my love life.
Like many New York females in their 30s, I still hadn’t found Mr. Right. I
was becoming increasingly frustrated at his failure to manifest. Love was
desired, but seemed elusive. In the meantime, I dated. Oh boy, did I date. I
was a professional dater and a longtime veteran of internet dating. I was on
JDate when people found it eccentric. And I was having a lot of crappy
experiences with men of dubious integrity. It had occurred to me more than
once that I might as well be getting paid.
Thrown into this mix of loneliness and financial need was aggravation;
aggravation that when I did begin advertising my massage business in the
therapeutic services section of Craigslist, all anyone seemed to want was
sex. I was indignant. I considered myself a healer. I had gone to massage
school. I had studied a variety of healing modalities and been praised by my
clients as being extraordinarily gifted. I could cure sciatica and alleviate
anxiety. I could soothe PMS and increase cervical mobility. I just wanted a
few good regular clients. I had never blended my massage work with anything
Nor had I ever so much as glanced at the erotic services section of
Craigslist. But one day it came to my attention that many “providers” who
should have been posting in the erotic services section were posting in the
therapeutic section. I wrote to Craig Newmark. He graciously responded. He
assured me that Craigslist would be more vigilant in removing misplaced ads.
But for some reason, after that, I kept looking at the erotic services
section. Something had snapped. I never would have expected it, but reading
the ads had begun to turn me on.
I just want to pause here (in part because I can already hear the voices of
my detractors and also because I don’t want to appear insensitive to any
human suffering). I recognize that I’m a privileged, educated woman who
could have done many things for a living, but opted to do sex work largely
because it was exciting to me. I recognize that there are women who do it
reluctantly and out of necessity. I recognize that there are also women who
are forced into doing it. I recognize that violence against sex workers and
indeed against all women is a real threat and a dark shame. However, this
piece is not about that; this is about me.
And what happened to me during the fall of 2003 was that boundaries I had
heretofore firmly established and carefully guarded were becoming blurred.
The combination of financial need, dissatisfaction with my love life, sexual
frustration and some age-old fantasy that was stirred up in me from
God-only-knows-where was taking over.
My world was changing.
The first time I had sex with a client it was entirely unpremeditated. A
runner training for the New York Marathon, he’d come for what I thought
would be a therapeutic massage. I was encouraged when he’d contacted me. I
already had a number of regular clients who were distance runners and I
found them to be very reliable — the best of my clients.
He was trim, nice looking, clean-cut, but seemed a little nervous as I led
him into my apartment. I tried to crack a couple jokes to set him at ease,
then instructed him to disrobe and get onto the massage table — underneath
the towel, face down. The usual massage therapist schpeil. I left the room.
When I returned he was in position, so I began to massage him. I moved the
towel out of the way and tucked it in slightly to cover his buttocks. Then I
honed in on his legs since, from my experience with runners, legs are
usually the trouble spot. His were long, lean, well-muscled.
But instead of relaxing, he continued to seem uncomfortable, squirming a
little on the table, shifting his head in the face cradle.
“Do you not like the face cradle?” I asked.
“No, I want you to massage my whole body.”
Perhaps I had been spending too much time on his legs. I began to massage
his back and then his arms. But when I started to work on his hands, he
suddenly grabbed mine and clasped them in his.
Now, it’s not like anything like this had never happened to me before, but
ordinarily I would have quickly diffused the situation. What made it
different this time was that a little jolt of sexual arousal had seized and
overwhelmed me. Maybe I had been thinking about it too much, maybe I had
actually already unconsciously resolved that I would do it, but the next
thing I knew, I was on the table, naked and he was massaging me.
When it was time for him to leave, he asked me how much he owed me. Now it
was my turn to feel uncomfortable. I knew that I had given him extra, a lot
extra (although we didn’t have intercourse) and I wanted extra. But I was
too ashamed to ask for it.
“Well, I usually charge $80, but you can tip me whatever you want.”
He gave me $160 and at that moment, I realized I had gone down a path I
would never be able to retrace. It had been easy, pleasurable even. I would
move on from there to greater and greener pastures.
I read the erotic services section almost every day, until I found an ad I
wanted to answer, an ad for an ongoing arrangement. He was offering a very
tidy sum: $3000/month for weekly meetings. I figured I had nothing to lose
so I answered it, almost expecting to not hear back. When I did, I was
floored. We had an email exchange over the course of the next few days. He
wrote that although he was for the most part happily married, his
relationship lacked “passion” and “eroticism.” His writing was thoughtful
and sincere. I became even more intrigued.
I sent him a series of incrementally more revealing photos with the head
cropped off — a virtual strip tease. When he asked to see my face, I told
him that I’d have to talk to him on the phone first. He called from a real
number, his work phone. The conversation reminded me of conversations I’d
had during my internet dating days: we talked about ourselves, our hobbies.
I told him about some of my art and writing projects.
We agreed that we would meet in public first and if I felt comfortable, I
would give him a therapeutic massage. But since, at that time, my
neighborhood hadn’t been over run with cafés and condos, there really was
nowhere to go. Through our communication, I’d grown comfortable enough with
him to invite him over.
I fretted all day and changed my outfit several times in anticipation of his
arrival. When I opened the door, he had a jacket draped over his arm and
bemused expression on his face. He was in his mid-30s, very conservative
looking, wearing a pin-striped oxford shirt and tidy, pleated khaki
At first I couldn’t tell if he thought I was more or less beautiful than
he’d imagined I’d be. But as we settled in to what would become our
customary positions in my living room, I knew from the intensity of his gaze
that I had him “hooked.”
In a sense, I was “hooked” too. Not by him. He was, although pleasant
looking and mild-mannered, a little bit dull. But I loved playing the
seductress, I loved feeling him in my power. Exciting him excited me. The
fantasy spurred me on.
We talked for a fairly long time and by the time we got down to the nitty
gritty, I was very aroused. He gave me a huge orgasm, then a huge wad of
bills. When he left, I was incredulous at my good fortune. “This is the best
fucking job I ever had,” I thought to myself.
Alan came to see me once or twice a week for a couple of months and then
without warning stopped calling. I never knew why he’d lost interest, but I
found myself a little distressed: not only from the loss of income I’d come
to rely on, but also, whether or not I’d admit it to myself, I’d become a
little attached. A friend who was a confidante at that time told me, “Dude’s
a john, not your boyfriend.”
After that, I saw a few more men for both erotic massage and GFEs
(girlfriend experiences). They were mostly decent chaps, the kind of guys I
might have known in real life, the kind of guys I might have gone to college
with. Well, actually over scotch and conversation after a “session,” I
discovered that one of them did go to college with me.
Never once did I feel that I was in physical danger, although I recognized
the possibility. The internet afforded me the ability to screen potential
clients. For every ad I posted, I usually received a hundred or so
responses. I could be very discriminating, so most of the sex was actually
quite hot. I treated it as an extension of dating. And actually, most of the
men I met on Craiglsist Erotic Services treated me with more decency and
consideration than many of the men I had previously been dating.
I didn’t hawk my wares on Craigslist Erotic Services for terribly long, less
than a year all told. And while I understand that this is not every woman’s
experience of being a sex worker, for me at that time in my life, it was
liberating in certain ways. It made me feel relaxed with my body and allowed
me to be experimental with my appetites. It liberated me from a part of
myself that always tied or sought to tie sex to a deep emotional connection.
It gave me insight into men and male sexuality that I hadn’t had before.
But one thing it never gave me was the answer to a few burning questions:
Why can’t we as a society have a rational, meaningful discourse about sex
work, embracing all its nuances and contradictions?
How can work which never once made me feel exploited, injure and exploit so
many other women?
Why does sex work seem to raise so many people’s moral hackles, when what
they should be angry about are the class distinctions which never once made
me feel exploited?
And finally, why do we think that something which has never gone away can be
eradicated by legislation or censorship?
My life as a “Craigslist hooker” ended when I fell in love, which was what I
really wanted. Now Craigslist Erotic Services is gone. The providers and
clients will undoubtedly move on. Perhaps into the therapeutic services
section to irritate other earnest therapeutic massage practitioners like my
one-time self. Perhaps the less fortunate will move onto the street where
they will face even more grave danger.June 6, 2009 at 9:04 am #31619
A little off topic. I was wondering why in America men take marriage as a big deal. But divorce happens all the time in America. But you go to Asia and men just get married no big deal. But divorce in Asia is a much bigger deal. One of the reasons for this I came to understand was how comfortable Asia is with there sex industry or having a mistress. I have to say all things considered I would rather have a booming sex worker industry then a booming porn industry.June 6, 2009 at 4:26 pm #31621
That article read a little like an erotic
short story, and I’m ashamed to admit I
felt a little aroused by the article . . . 🙂
As to the article itself, that’s the interesting
nature about humanity. For every person that
finds something vile and bad, another has a
completely different reaction. Nothing is
ever so cut and dried.
SJune 6, 2009 at 11:15 pm #31623
if her story aroused you (why shame over that?), maybe check out work in Craiglist’s new Adult Services section….:).
mJune 7, 2009 at 9:30 am #31625
Thanks for throwing gasoline on the fire
of my sexual arousal, you devilish person you.
I’m quite amused 🙂
SJune 18, 2009 at 12:40 pm #31627
It’s funny because I read a study not that long ago that showed that women are much easier to anger then men. This sounds counter intuitive, but it was a clever study. The study participants were told that they would be calling random people and asking for donations for a worthy cause. Really the people they were calling were actors. The first call was to a friendly actor who very politely declined to donate. The second call was to an actor who was a bit more stand offish. The third call was to an out right belligerent actor, and yelled at the caller threatening them. What the participants didn’t know was that the phones that they were useing had a hidden meter that would measure how hard the caller would slam the phone down after the call. The idea being that only angry people slam a phone down when they are done. The study showed that women were much more prone to becoming angry and slammed the phone more regularly and with more force. The study seemed to indicate that women in general were brought to anger faster then men.
A close friend of mine is getting his doctorate in neuro-psyche, and he worked on a study that was trying to show the difference in aggression levels between men and women. One of the ways that they tried to test this was to have the person come in for the study and after signing them in the receptionist, who was an actor, had them fill out an assessment form. The actor is then incredibly rude to the person going so far to argue with them about the answers on the form. In the middle of the argument another person would come in saying that they were ready for the next part of the test and would take them to the next room and hook them up to an EEG machine. They were then left alone for a while hooked up with no real stimuli. The EEG readings showed elevated rates of activity in the parts of the brain associated with anger and aggression. This seemed to indicate that women stay angrier for longer than men. Men seemed to be able to calm themselves and relax faster once taken out of the environment where the argument occured, but women seemed to stay angry sometimes for the whole EEG session.
My friends theory on this was that because men have been exposed to aggression much more regularly, and for thousands of years, they have developed the ability to halt the aggression quicker after it is over with, where women havn’t been exposed to wars and fighting as commonly, and for as long as men have, so their biology hasn’t kept up with the changes in society, and thus they havn’t developed the same copeing mechanisms for aggression that men have.
I wonder if this could be part of the overall unhappiness. Are women, now that they are taking more aggressive roles and putting themselves into aggressive situations, having trouble coping biologicly with this new role and the side effects it produces? Just a thought.
Peace & Tao
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