Msnowe's Blog

Even if the Science is True…

Posted in Desire, New York Times, sexism by m.snowe on January 27, 2009

…msnowe thinks there’s so much wrong with This.

Back in college, the poster boy for the young republicans club came out with an editorial piece in the college newspaper. In it, he argued that if we allowed same sex couples to marry and receive benefits because their love for each other was as legit as a straight couple’s, then what about the case of a man he knew, who fell deeply in love with his goat? Why could that man-goat couple not be afforded the same martial privileges, he argued? This article was accompanied by a rather crude cartoon, and to this day, msnowe wonders if the college newspaper editors gave this story space for the sheer fact of it’s hate-talk and the impending debate. Obviously, considering it was a liberal college, there was an uproar, followed by marches, gay-rights t-shirts worn on coordinated days and pro-gay gatherings, etc. The outcry was large, and although it didn’t change the view of those few people who were ignorant enough to write such stories, it caused the campus community to be more aware and mindful and proactive. In a sense, the story was good because it backfired on the GOP blowhard and got more people angry and less people agreeing or complacent with the viewpoints of the piece.

So what does this have to do with msnowe’s opinion of the Female Desire piece in the New York Times last week? Well, the outcry against the story above exemplifies what should happen when a group is subjected to such absolutely asinine, ignorant comparisons and conjecture. Instead, the NYT’s piece has been one of the most widely read stories of the week, and people seem to be gobbling it up without analyzing what the journalist is saying about “female” desire. Let’s first understand this: regardless of whether or not the science is unfounded or completely correct, the presentation of this piece is in poor taste at best, and ignorant and sexist at its worst. There’s no excuse for the way that the writer of this piece, Daniel Bergner, ignorantly uses latent sexism to describe his findings. [msnowe would like to note that just because a man wrote this piece, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be done perfectly well by one.] But Bergner, consciously or not, enforces the “elusive, undefinable” notion of a “female desire” that allows both men and women to become misinformed, puzzled, and mystified by something that is just as raw and attainable as the “male” kind. It may not be comparing female sex with sex with goats–but there are a few paragraphs devoted to monkeys and rapists.

Msnowe wants to deal with multiple topics, but let’s look at Bergner’s story in its essentials first.
As a scientific piece, the scientists themselves are important, but in general it should be the research that takes center stage, especially as the article is targeted to try and define “Female Desire” (or so it falsely advertises).

Here are some snippets that mSnowe found particularly disturbing, that Bergner wrote to describe some of the

*female* scientists/sexologists:

“While the subjects watched on a computer screen, Chivers, who favors high boots and fashionable rectangular glasses, measured their arousal in two ways, objectively and subjectively.”

A compact 51-year-old woman in a shirtdress, Meana explained the gender imbalance onstage in a way that complemented Chivers’s thinking.”

“One morning in the fall, Chivers hunched over her laptop in her sparsely decorated office.

Let’s see, shall we? Bergner has gone to describe the physical attributes and dress of the *lady* scientists, descriptions he decidedly left off when writing about the male sexologists. Somehow, their dress is connected with this study? Or is he just trying to picture them naked? What does this have to do with the task at hand? Perhaps someone should tell him that, OMG, women can totally excel in math and the sciences, and should be treated as equals?

The later part of the article focuses on the varied results of the multiple studies, some of the highlights being:

1. Women are aroused by rape/ravishing situations

2. Women are narcissistically desirous

3. Women are also aroused by all the clips presented on a screen, no matter what their apparent sexual orientation (of monkeys, hetero- and homosexual sex, etc.) as opposed to men, who are only aroused by the sex they prefer (straight guys get aroused watching lesbian sex and hetero sex; gay men are aroused when watching homosexual sex). This leads to the conclusion that women do not have a desirous gaze, the way a “male gaze” occurs (see Sontag photo criticism: the male gaze)

Okay, so this is a lot, but let’s tackle it. First, an important distinction is made in the very beginning of the piece, and then summarily thrown out the journalistic window: “female” desire and female arousal have the capability to be diametrically separate from each other–they are not the same thing. But Bergner seems to forget this, and uses research solely on arousal for at least 3/4 of the piece to try and discover “female” desire. And it’s really annoying that the NYTs had a piece two years ago that already made clear how shoddy the connection between the desire and arousal was, and made definite inroads into the idea that perhaps, maybe just perhaps, there was overlap between the sexes in terms of defining desire–that it was a concept that should not necessarily be broken out by sex. This is all part of the mysterious human psyche–not a choice between lavatories at the mall.

Meana, one of the scientists in this current piece even proclaims: “the variability within genders may be greater than the differences between genders.”

And the whole “women are narcissistic” argument? According to one scientist, female desire is essentially a “wanting to be desired”–a self-fulfillment from an external source, or something. To be fair to Bergner, the scientist introduces the term “narcissistic.” But msnowe finds that term jarring, especially when applied only to her sex. Of course we want to be wanted–and that would probably be a universal assumption, unless, perhaps, you’re a date rapist (or maybe not even). Does the woman always have to see herself as “the object?” Have we suddenly gone back to the Middle Ages, and the notions of courtly love?

And don’t get msnowe started about this line of Bergner’s:

“Had Freud’s question gone unanswered for nearly a century not because science had taken so long to address it but because it is unanswerable?

One can only assume “Freud’s question” has something to do with penis envy. Well, by all accounts, the studies prove it false. Also, how typical is it for some to throw up their hands in defeat when trying to solve an issue that is a) different from the determinations of the past (i.e. they FINALLY start studying female sex drive) or b) it might be more intricate of a topic than they’d like to delve into. I mean, it wouldn’t be the first time a male started to try to find out the mysteries of woman’s pleasure, and then just settled on discovering (or reaching the climax of) their own instead(or first, shall we say). Msnowe can tell you from experience–although she’d love the societal power that unfairly comes with that southern piece of outer equipment all you guys have, she really doesn’t envy it physically.

Part two: Should desire be seen as gendered? And the “male” gaze–is that all there is? (to come…)