Developing a Healthier Model of Desire

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently talking about and thinking about women’s magazines, but I recently picked up GQ, a men’s magazine. I was curious to know what men’s magazines discuss, since I’ve never bothered to read one.

The cover should have been sufficient warning that I was not going to like what I found inside. Beyonce is posed on the cover, in a crop top and leopard print underwear. Clearly, GQ is appealing to the straight male sexuality. Most of the content reminds me of  Elle; there are features on fashion, movies, books, and music, and a lot of the ads are for the same designers. The majors differences are the presence of sports content and the spread on the sexiest women of the millennium. It’s the latter that I want to discuss.

I want to be very clear when I say this: I do not dislike this spread because it’s about men expressing their sexual desires for women. There’s nothing wrong with finding women sexually appealing. I don’t think it’s disrespectful to find women’s bodies attractive. But GQ‘s spread on these women really highlights for me how unhealthy the model for expressing sexual desire for women is.

It’s hard to pick out what I dislike most, but I’ll start with how GQ immediately brings in the fetishization of the woman of color. On the first page, they pick out the “hot Chinese chick” of 2000, Zhang Ziyi. In the next pages, they pick out the hot Indian chick and the hot Sri Lankan chick. They also throw in a hot Italian chick, but I still feel the spread contributes to the problem of exoticizing/fetishizing women of color. Not to mention the word “chick” still ruffles my feathers.

The spread also includes the five women you (i.e., a straight man) and your girlfriend can agree to being hot. It’s written in the voice of the girlfriend, and it’s pretty obnoxious.

At least you and I can agree on [Beyonce]. I’d let you, if you had the chance. I wouldn’t even be mad. She is gorgeous. And so strong and fierce! I think she and Jay-Z have a really equal relationship, you know? Why can’t we work together like that?

The girlfriend here is a bit of a nagger, but at least she’d let you sleep with Beyonce.

That wedding dress! Swoooon. [Kate Middleton] is pure class. How could you like Pippa better? Pippa is a whore.

Hello, internalized misogyny and slut-shaming. (If your girlfriend says it, that means you can say it too.)

And what spread on sexy women would be complete without fetishizing lesbians? Naomi Watts is praised for her lesbian scene in Mulholland Dr., and one contributor swoons over Scarlett Johansson kissing Penelope Cruz in Vicky Christina Barcelona. He of course gives props to Woody Allen for making that happen.

There’s a section on the breasts of True Blood and a section on how awesome .gifs of bouncing breasts are. There’s a chart following hot points in time, including when Lindsay Lohan turned 18. There’s also a creepy section on how the appearance of female porn stars has changed: they’ve become more “real” looking, and any porn star “could be the pretty waitress, or the hot girl in line at Chipotle. Anyone you’ve ever spotted in real life and thought, ‘Wow, I’d like to see her naked.’ Well, you can.” Near the end, there’s a charming piece on the naked celebrity self-portrait. It’s quite a revolting read:

Nothing has made the modern actress more accessible–more real–than the leaked sext: Here she is, bored in her hotel room, tipsy on champagne after a long night at a premiere. Unscripted and un-made-up. A bit kinky. A bit insecure. As in, here’s a famous actress, in full selfie salute, snapping picture after topless picture. How do my boobs look from this angle? What about my ass? How’s my ass look? The sext is a peek at the dirty, democratizing truth. It’s a work of citizen journalism. Vanessa? Christina? Scarlett? For those self-photos–for blurring those lines–you deserve a round of applause. And possibly a Pulitzer.

-Mark Byrne

As a woman who was raised like every other woman, believing that she had to be constantly on guard against predatory men, I can hardly express how vile and enraging I find this passage. This is no better than the upskirt shot, no better than stealing a woman’s panties out of her drawer. And this man thinks it’s wonderful to see not only an actress’s naked body, but her vulnerability as well.

I don’t think men are made by their nature to be sexual predators. I believe we live in a society where women are treated as sexual objects, to be used for a man’s pleasure. The word “no” has no meaning when it comes from a woman’s mouth. I think men are socialized to be aggressive and overtly sexual, in a way that is very dangerous to women. It is a man’s responsibility to resist what he has been taught. Men are not entitled to touch women, and they are not entitled to sex. Even if you are a nice guy, even if you are a gentleman–you have been socialized in a system that is broken, and you have attitudes toward women that are flawed and must be examined. You are a danger to women until you examine how you were socialized.

I believe that there is a way to express sexual desire for women in a healthy way. I’ve met plenty of lesbian and bisexual women who can do it. But I can’t make men change. It’s up to men to choose not to be predators.

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