World Book Day – A List of my Favourite Books

15/28

In honour of World book day I thought I’d share a list (in alphabetical order) of my favourite 87 books, chosen either for the enjoyment of reading them or their effect on the way I think. I know I have forgotten loads of them so I shall probably have to keep adding to it, but this is it for now.

Fiction:

A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce
Atonement – Ian McEwan
Crime and Punishment – Fydor Dostoyevski
Discipline and Punish – Michel Foucault
Disgrace – J M Coetze
Free Association – Steven Berkoff
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D H Lawrence
Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
Lucky Jim – Kingsley Amis
Money – Martin Amis
On The Road – Jack Kerouac
Scoop – Evelyn Waugh
Teleny – Oscar Wilde
The Age of Reason – Jean Paul Satre
The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood
The Catcher in the Rye – J D Salinger
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon
The Deer Park – Norman Mailer
The Doors of Perception – Aldous Huxley
The Fall – Albert Camus
The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Writings – Edgar Allen Poe
The Life and Loves of a She Devil – Fay Weldon
The Lovely Bones – Alice Seebold
The No1 Ladies’ Detective Agency – Alexander Macall Smith
The Plague – Albert Camus
The Prime of Life – Simone de Beauvoir
The Rebel – Albert Camus
The Stepford Wives _ Ira Levin
The Story of the Eye – Gerorges Bataille
The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera
The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
Time’s Arrow – Martin Amis
Ulysses – James Joyce (unfinished!)
We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver
White Teeth – Zadie Smith

 

Non Fiction:

A Taste for Pain – Maria Marcus
A Vindication of the Rights of Women – Mary Wollstonecraft
Against All Gods – A C Grayling
An Actor Prepares – Constantin Stanislavski
An Intimate History of Humanity – Theodore Zeldin
Camera Lucida – Roland Barthes
Close Relationships – Pamela Regan
Cultural Studies: A Critical Introduction – S. During
Dirty looks – Pamela Church Gibson
Easy Way to Control Alcohol – Allen Carr
Eroticism – Georges Bataille
Feel the Fear and do it anyway – Susan Jeffers
Gender Trouble – Judith Butler
Hardcore – Linda Williams
In Praise of Idleness – Bertrand Russell
In the Shadow of the Silent Majority – Jean Baudrillard
Inclusive Masculinity: The Changing Nature of Masculinities – Eric Anderson
Intersetionality – Patrick Grazanka
Michel Foucault: Power/Knowledge – C. Gordon
Mythologies – Roland Barthes
Nudes, Prudes and Attitudes – Avedon Carol
On the Geneaology of Morals – Friedrich Nietzsche
Politics of Masculinities: Men in Movements – Michael Messner
Post-structuralism and Postmodernism – M Sarup
Poststructuralism: A Very Short Introduction – C Belsey
Privilege – Michael Kimmel and Abby Ferber (Eds)
Promiscuities – Naomi Wolf
Public Rape: Representing Violation in Fiction and Film – Tanya Horeck
Queer Attachments: The Cultural Politics of Shame – Sally Munt
Sexually Aggressive Women – Anderson & Struckman-Johnson
Slow Motion: Changing Masculinities, Changing Men – Lynne Segal
TA Today – I Stewart and V Joines
Telling Sexual Stories – Ken Plummer
The Beauty Myth – Naomi Wolf
The Feminine Mystique – Betty Friedan
The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins
The Invisible Sex: The True Roles of Women in Prehistory – Adovasio, Soffer & Page
The Male Body – Susan Bordo
The Morning After – Katie Roiphe
The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity/Infidelity in Animals & People – D Barash & J Lipton
The Philosophy of Andy Warhol – Andy Warhol
The Poetics of Space – Gaston Bachelard
The Problems of Philosophy – Bertrand Russell
The Second Sex – Simone de Beauvoir
The Second Wave: A Feminist Reader – L Nicholson (Ed)
The Social Psychology of Gender – L Rudman & P Glick
The Transmission of Affect – Teresa Brennan
The World as Will and Idea – Arthur Schopenhauer
Ways of Seeing – John Berger
Women on Top – Nancy Friday

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On Men’s Need to Know They are of Normal Penile Size

14/28

A recent academic study that looked at studies of over 15,000 men worldwide has found the answer to the age-old question of how big an average human penis is and the answer is 9.16cm flaccid and 13.2cm erect.

Phew! Now we know. Men from all over the world are now able to rate their penile length to an objective study in order to ascertain if they are normal or not.

I was interested to hear the results of this study and to watch the inevitable light-hearted or sometimes even comedic reaction to it. One article actually compared both sizes with household objects, presumably for those without a ruler, and found that it is exactly two wine corks long growing to three when erect. Such comparisons are not only useful aide memoires but they also help as a tactic to avoid talking too closely or heaven forbid, looking at the male penis directly.

Such jovial responses to the subject are to be expected on a subject so intensely central to men’s sense of their masculinity, especially when men are not encouraged or keen to discuss such private matters. This was something I also found with my own research when I asked men about their levels of happiness with their penis as part of a section which aimed to explore the effect of the female gaze on men’s self esteem.

One of my findings that most interested me was that men had no external reference point to compare themselves too, which was something that was troublesome. Not only were men previously to this study unable to “know” themselves and where they fitted in the great scheme of penis things but also that this is troubling in another way, in that masculinity has often invoked science as a support and hitherto there has been no support to be found.

Rationality has long been shown to be a gendered (as opposed to the historical ‘humanist’) concept as is most obvious when women are told to “calm down” or “stop getting so emotional”. One can look at the lad’s mags of the 1990’s, the rhetoric of the Pick up Artists – both of which cherry pick from science to support their ideals – or more generally, men’s wider interest in science (and passing it on to boys) as both a genuine interest but also as a performance of masculinity.

Knowledge is revered over emotion, which is seen as getting in the way; the head must learn to get control over the body; these are historic ways that men have approached the world and tried to organise it. Take the philosopher Descartes for example, who distrusted all the senses and foolishly tried to eliminate all knowledge that could not be traced back to the intellect alone.

The men I interviewed showed some concern that they were unable to rate their penises “objectively” but also a desire to be within a normal range. The trouble was that not only was there no clear definition of normal, they could not admit to having an active interest in how their size compared to other men. This was because such an interest could be misconstrued as being too close to other men, which might result in them being considered to be gay, and we all know how such a threat polices men’s everyday behaviour.

It is strange that we live in a culture when male homosexuality is becoming increasingly accepted, yet men still can’t proffer information about other men’s penis size for such a reason. Whether it is from pornography or from standing adjacent to other men at urinals men do in fact see other men’s penises with some regularity (in the UK at least). Yet none of the men I interviewed ever mentioned knowledge of other men’s parts. How could it be the case that men don’t glean such information from sideways glances or peripheral vision, especially as boys?

I think the way the men answered my questions is an interesting example of how men negotiate their personal concerns as part of their public masculine performance and how tricky this is for them. Thankfully now a group of (mostly male) scientists have done the dirty work for them, so they now have a secure source of such information that neither threatens their masculinity by means of getting too close to homosexuality or by not being able to explain something rationally. Time for a couple of bottles of wine to celebrate, or maybe three…

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Busting the Good Woman Pedestal

13/28

In December 2012 the story of a 23 year-old student from Delhi who was gang raped and murdered by six men shook the world’s press and put the focus squarely on India’s poor record of gender equality. Four of the surviving rapists (one committed suicide in jail) were given the death sentence, as a means of sending out the message to the world and India’s people, that such violence against women was no longer going to be tolerated. India is ready for change they say.

A British filmmaker has recently had full access to one of the convicted men Mukesh Singh who showed no remorse in a recent interview, saying some quite incredibly dismissive things about the victim. He blames her for half of the rape saying that it takes two consenting people for it to happen. A strange logic indeed, how can someone consent to non-consensual sex? The answer according to Singh is that her being out of the house in the evening with only a male friend labelled her a bad woman, who deserved whatever she got and as she had the audacity to fight back, that included her murder.

Singh is quite sure there are two types of women, good and bad:

“Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes. About 20% of girls are good.”

And here is the crux of such misogyny, such people ‘justify’ their sexism by saying that the woman is bad and therefore it is only just that she be treated accordingly.

Historically sexism was understood to result only in negative acts towards women, whether it is in the forms of violence, discrimination or disrespect, sexism was all about the bad effects women had to endure. Then in 1997 Glick and Fiske invented the hugely important theory of Ambivalent Sexism. Rather than describe sexism singularly they argued that there are two types of sexism both of which are intrinsically interlinked. There is  – as was always known –  Hostile Sexism, that is the bad stuff that happens to women and to this they added Benevolent Sexism, which are ostensibly positive ideas held about women that ultimately support men’s superiority, albeit in a more subtle (and therefore insidious) way.

They are referred to as “benevolent” because they describe beliefs that in theory should please women, such as “women are better parents”, “women are more sensitive to other people’s needs”, “women are better at multi-tasking” or that one should open doors in order to respect women. You will notice that one usually hears these from women, indeed studies show that some women are very attached to benevolently sexist ideas, especially at times of increased hostile sexism, they see such chivalry as reassuring. But in fact, both are equally damaging for them.

This is because both types of sexism support a certain type of women which also happen to help men stay ahead. For instance, what a useful tool encouraging women to think they are better parents is, it makes them less likely to ask the man to take time out of his CV to raise the children, or, when people’s needs need looking after (elderly parents, for instance) women will think the onus is on them.

The other problem with benevolent sexism is that is supports Singh’s separation of women, there are good ones and there are those who do not match such high standards (standards not similarly demanded of men) and therefore hostile sexism to those women is justified. Just look at how a bad mother is blamed so much more in our society than a bad father, or indeed one of the millions of absent ones. Similarly, when a woman doesn’t act in a socially sensitive way, putting others before her at work for instance, she is not seen as ambitious, but as a bitch.

The metaphor of the pedestal is most useful. We use benevolent sexism to keep women on a pedestal, within very restricted ways of performing their gender, and when they fall off, we kick them when they are down. In reality we should be kicking away the pedestal itself and accept women to be as flawed as men and as free to be themselves. In other words, both sexes should be the best they can be at parenting and both should open doors for those behind them.

It is no mistake that such shocking opinions and sense of justification that comes from them from the likes of Singh (it should also be remembered thousands took to the street to campaign against the men) comes from a country that openly reveres female virginity and other traditional ‘feminine’ attributes. Indeed, as the ambivalent hostile sexism theory shows us in fact they are only possible if these opinions are simultaneously kept.

Therefore, such attitudes about rape will not be shifted until women are seen as complete human beings not just in that they should have equal rights of education and career, but that they should not have to be pure either. One wonders if cultures like those in India are ready to give up the image of the pure woman just yet but it is going to have to happen, if equality is to be achieved. Much as there was outcry against the terrible crimes suffered by such an ‘innocent woman’, one needs to hear more about how such a culture at large needs to change some fundamental ideas about female sexuality on a much larger scale which would make her innocence irrelevant, but would respect her victimhood.

The documentary that includes the interview with Singh, India’s Daughter will be broadcast on Storyville on BBC Four on Sunday 8 March at 22:00 GMT. It will also be shown in India on NDTV at 21:00 local time.

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Why Russell Brand is so Wrong About Pornography

12/28

So now Russell Brand wants us to stop watching porn as part of his campaign against all things Capitalist. And like his previous forays into politics, he is quite proud of his lack of experience and knowledge about the subject, stating in this vlog that he has neither seen or read 50 Shades of Grey, (the particular focus of his current ire) yet he wants to tell us why we should not be watching it. His argument is based on skim-reading a couple of academic articles/sites for a few supportive data which alas, as members of the adult industry know all too well, do not actually represent anything more than a part of the whole story.

The main problem I have with Brand and others’ arguments against porn is apart from the reductive ideas of sex being about procreation and loving a person (enter the Christian Conservatives and anti-abortionists, all is well!) is the basic premise that porn has to be responsible for all our insecurities and dating/relationship problems. People like anti ‘porn culture’ campaigner Gail Dines and Brand want an easy answer to a difficult and messy situation in which young people, especially, have issues with themselves and those they date. He worries that young people today are going to hell in a handcart, an enduring moral panic we have seen most recently with the campaign of the 1980’s against the video nasties, in which Mary Whitehouse assumed (she never watched the things either) that boys watching films like the now kitsch classic Driller Killer would be running the streets murdering people in a further ten years. Needless to say, nobody died.

The main problem with the common arguments against porn lies in the non-existence of the oft-imagined “pre-porn” or “outside of porn” situation in which the opposite was true, when young people didn’t have such issues, or men didn’t sexually objectify women. For instance, the list of problematic symptoms of men’s porn watching Brand gives in his blog (via Gary R. Brooks) are:

  1. Voyeurism: An obsession with looking at women rather than interacting with them.
  2. Objectification: An attitude in which women are objects, rated by size, shape, body parts.
  3. Validation: The need to validate masculinity through beautiful women.
  4. Trophyism: The idea that beautiful women are collectables who show the world what a man is.
  5. Fear of true intimacy: The inability to relate to women in an honest and intimate way, despite deep loneliness.

He fears that his previous focus on a woman’s beauty rather than her diabetic status (his words not mine) is a symptom that he as a man was encouraged to do because of his hitherto porn consumption. In this I hear ramifications of the defense encouraged by lawyers in the late 1980’s to encourage those accused of rape to blame porn producers and not themselves for rapes they were accused of, as was momentarily entertained by the anti-porn feminist-inspired Meese Commission. Such a defense would have encouraged rapists to walk free and presumably rape again were it successful. In the same way Brand gets to externalise his guilt.

I’d like to add that I too sexually objectify people, that is fleetingly see them for their looks alone (and have done so long before my pornographic career) and I believe this is something most people do. It is the sexist culture we live in that then justifies men’s ownership of this state of objectification that causes women issues (along with the denial that women might objectify others too given half a chance), not that men momentarily see women as only attractive with no consideration of their blood sugar levels. If the feeling were left as fleeting and individual rather than developed into structures that disadvantage women more widely, it would be a lot less insidious.

As someone who has studied masculinities extensively I can assure Brand that such a list as the one above reads as almost the classic litany of issues men face about their masculinity. Importantly, these issues were first outlined in the early 1970’s by theorists of masculinity, long before the proliferation of porn on the web. Such male concerns also existed before the photographic printing press was invented (and was soon used to distribute sexual images of women) in the UK, and these problems also exist in countries where porn is outlawed today. In other words, these problems are caused by our attitudes to gender, especially in this case masculinity, not our access to pornography.

Rape and other crimes and forms of discrimination have reduced as pornography use (by both sexes) has increased. Sexual assaults against young people (like all violent crime) have been dropping since the late 1990’s. Teenage pregnancy and STD transmission rates are similarly falling through the floor as the facts outline. So how can people be so happy to pin all of the ills women face in the world today on such an easily refuted idea? I believe it is because people like to outsource the problems they have onto one easily identifiable object so they can enjoy an imagined easily attainable elimination of it, in one fell swoop as it were. Working out all of the quotidian and piecemeal ways women experience sexism would be far more difficult and therefore less satisfying to imagine. But such a fantasy is about an object that just happens to be positioned on the outskirts of society, so doesn’t have access to the required political apparatus required to fight such claims.

Well, Brand I say this to you Mr Socialist. Porn isn’t just the money-grabbing evil capitalist industry image that you perceive it to be (actually it is much more of a cottage industry in the UK at least, so this description is also unwarranted) it is a group of real people who have to live day in and day out with the fallout of your semi-researched, emotionally based arguments. Do you ever spare a thought of the effect your type has on those people in the films whom you assume do not choose to do so out of their own educated consent? Have you ever considered that maybe, just maybe, it’s the anti porn feminists that we have to fight, not the porn fans? That maybe your activism is greatly damaging and that rescue industries that try to “save us” do so without even the cursory respect of the people they use as pawns in their moral crusades?

When I started www.WeConsent.org a few years ago my intent was to campaign on behalf of all those in the various sex industries who consent fully to the work they do, I spoke to many sex workers who were quite clear, it was the moralists who they had to fight, even more so than dangerous customers! After all, it is those like you and Dines who are trying to take their income away either by removing the market for their work or by making their work illegal such as in the Swedish model of banning sex work.

Please do us a favour Brand and keep your campaigns away from areas that hurt people who have already been made vulnerable by laws that deny them equal rights at work and by a culture that assumes their inability to know their own minds. The porn industry is actually very difficult to get into, as my own experience and my inbox full of wannabes’ emails attest. So please, do your research and see beyond the false dichotomy of ‘Capitalism’ v ‘Creativity’. The adult industry is full of people experimenting and pushing the boundaries of their minds and bodies both for personal satisfaction and financial gain, both of which they get more of inside the industry than outside. In other words they aren’t mutually exclusive, and neither is an industry and the people that work in it. So when you campaign against our industry, you campaign against us. And it hurts.

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On the Need for More Inclusion of Those with Disabilities

11/28

A slight change of subject on the blog today:  A few months ago our neighbours asked Tim and I if we could like to help out at the Special Olympics taking place this summer in Los Angeles. We were very keen to take up the offer and so today we attended the first in a series of training events to inform us about our role as honoured guest hosts for one the thousands of people that come from all over the world to this huge international event.

For the unaware (as we were until very recently) the Special Olympics are for people of all ages who have intellectual disabilities. As is the way with recruitment events we were shown a few of those uplifting videos set to an up tempo soundtrack showing lots of happy and fulfilled athletes as they struggle against the odds and eventually hold their medals up with pride. One of these videos was actually quite a tearjerker and, along with the talk given by the presenter who assured us newbies in the room that the event would change our lives, got me thinking about how we usually see such people.

This is something I have been pondering upon in other ways too ever since I attended a lecture on disabilities that referred to the audience as “temporarily able bodied”, in that 60% of us will have some sort of disability before we die. I found it quite chilling to reframe our able-bodiedness and our attitudes that go with them in such a way; it makes you feel far less cock-sure of yourself.

Prominent among today’s images were shots of young people with Down’s Syndrome who were enjoying a brief respite from a difficult life made worse by many people’s prejudice. I’m sure none of us like to think of ourselves as actively prejudiced but our distance from and exclusion of such people in ours lives, unless they are relatives, cannot really be explained as anything else.

What must it be like to grow up as someone who is understood by most as a mistake made by nature, to be something that science and scientists invested a lot of time and money learning how not to bring into the world? (If indeed those with the disease are capable of such self-reflection, I’m no expert). We think nothing of working towards the elimination of such diseases, which is understandable, but how does that philosophy affect those living with it and their families?

Like most couples, when we were still trying for kids and I was in my late thirties, we were very sure that I would get the full screen for the disease and if it came back positive it would be an easy decision to make to abort. This memory did not sit well with me today however, when witnessing so many amazing people whose parents did not choose that path and I have to admit feeling more than a little ashamed.

The speaker was right; the event has already changed me in a small but important way. It has made me question how incorporated those with disabilities are in our lives outside of the family. We really do see them as “the Other”, and that is something we need to work on. There is always a choice that can be made about choosing to focus on similarities or differences between the different types of people you meet and today I was reminded that the athletes on the screen today share a lot of our desires and dreams, they’ve just been given a difficult hand. It is our job to use our privilege to help them live as full a life as we do. It must feel awful to be so excluded from society on top of such illnesses, we can’t change their physical realities but we can change our attitudes (and our fear) towards them. And I think we should.

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Men’s Idea of the Perfect Woman – Not an Easy Question

10/28

Not a day goes by it seems when one isn’t bombarded in the media with advice about what men want in a woman or what women want in a man. This seemingly tireless pursuit only exists because it sells magazines or advertising space, one assumes, which means it must still be popular by the public. In a more recent manifestation, Upworthy ran an article based on the findings of a dating website called ‘What’s Your Price’, that found the most searched for terms by men (men? How do they know?) are:

  1. Blonde hair
  2. Blue eyes
  3. Slender body
  4. Non-smoker
  5. Social drinker
  6. Graduate degree

No surprise there you might think, (although I am rather suspect of the term ‘slender body’, who uses that way to describe the female form these days?) The terms describe a traditionally beautiful woman, that’s what all men really want right? Well, not according to my research, which admittedly was with 20 dating men and 10 Pick up Artists, so a lot less than 100,000, but as I undertook in depth 60-100 min interviews with each man, (rather than just look just at basic search terms) I was able to look more closely at what each man said, something that is paramount if you want to get past the rather predictable responses above.

When I asked men what they looked for in a woman or do describe a perfect partner, interestingly all of the 20 dating men and half of the Pick up Artists, did the complete opposite of the above study and answered in terms of personality traits they looked for. Only when prompted did these men mention looks (and they weren’t afraid in the rest of the interviews to declare their fondness of female beauty).

When asked about what physical attributes they looked for it was also interesting to see how much men varied and how few of them wanted such a stereotypical woman as described about. Lots of men liked women who were outside of the idealised woman description, and many did not in fact have a fixed favoured type of beauty they looked for at all.

So why such a difference between the two studies? Could it simply come down to the numbers of men being so much larger in the What’s Your Price study? Well, I think it is important to remember that how and who you ask questions to (or observe the behaviour of). The above site ‘s name “What’s Your Price” might give us a clue, it is a site where men bid money on dates with women, so it is fair to say, not a typical dating site in which the aim is likely to be to actually interact with women, especially in the long term. It is redolent (I haven’t had a chance to check it out in detail yet) of the culture that goes along with Pick Up Artistry (PUAs), where men learn semi-scientific tricks to try to improve their chances with women. I studied PUAs and I found the culture to be more one of homosocial than dating importance, on balance. Men were grouping themselves together in order to feel more confident about women’s power over them in the dating sphere by forming communities that (inadvertently sometimes) enable men to share their insecurities. In other words, bidding or training isn’t winning, that requires women’s consent. Note the need to bid against other men on the dating site.

What was really interesting about my study, and what I think is really key to understanding the What’s Your Price? study is that when men were asked what they thought their male friends looked for in a woman, their answers were far more stereotypical, just like the list above. This was the case regardless of whether or not they shared such tastes with them. This is because I believe, men, just like women exist in a culture where they are taught that such a traditional beauty ideal is what they ought to like and when they don’t they – importantly – see themselves at odds with other men. They are the odd one out.

This was true even though they pretty much all differed from the stereotypical taste, yet due to such a culture, did not get to learn that this was the case, especially when men are not often encouraged to discuss such things with male peers. The gap between what men see as normal masculinity and what they see themselves to be may well be huge and the discrepancy between the two, something experienced on their own.

This is another good reason not to assume men’s behaviour and words are easy to interpret and that such stereotypes (or studies based on them) truly offer any insight. If men are split in such fundamental ways, we need to talk to them in depth, not rely on data gleaned from distant and impersonal sources such as search terms. After all, does that study look at what types of men are attracted to such out of the ordinary dating sites? (They seem happy to generalise), or that their searches may be more to do with their own identity, their homosocial relations, rather than just straightforwardly about their tastes in women?

Men are actually much more interesting than that.

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Jessie’s Girl – An Example of the Masculine Dating Dilemma

9/28

One of the best things about blogging, probably the best thing, is that you can be inspired by the smallest thing and are free to write a few paragraphs without needing something big enough to write a full article or book on, and you don’t have to get others’ approval to do so. Just this morning I was driving and the song ‘Jessie’s Girl’ by Rick Springfield (1981) came on the radio, a song I have heard more often since moving to the States (they love the 80’s soft rock classics over here) and have often pondered on the meaning of the lyrics and how my interpretation of them has changed since studying masculinities. So I thought I’d write something about it whilst fresh in my mind.

The lyrics are (without any repetition):

“Jessie is a friend, yeah
I know he’s been a good friend of mine
But lately something’s changed that ain’t hard to define
Jessie’s got himself a girl and I want to make her mine

And she’s watching him with those eyes
And she’s lovin’ him with that body, I just know it
Yeah ‘n’ he’s holding her in his arms
Late, late at night

You know, I wish that I had Jessie’s girl
I wish that I had Jessie’s girl
Where can I find a woman like that

I play along with the charade
There doesn’t seem to be a reason to change
You know, I feel so dirty when they start talking cute
I wanna tell her that I love her but the point is probably moot

And I’m lookin’ in the mirror all the time
Wondering what she don’t see in me, I’ve been funny
I’ve been cool with the lines
Ain’t that the way love supposed to be

Tell me, where can I find a woman like that”

What is interesting is how he (let’s call him Rick) writes from different subject positions throughout the song. First off, he positions himself firmly as Jessie’s friend, and sees the woman (who remains nameless throughout) largely in terms of her association to Jessie, as some feminists would argue, solely in terms of Jessie’s ownership of her. This touches on a very established part of masculinity theory, that of ‘homosociality’, that is, how men primarily organise themselves around men’s own social network, in which women are seen as peripheral “I know he’s been a good friend of mine” and according to some old theorists such as Gayle Rubin, as currency “and I want to make her mine”. But I think men are more complex than that, as this song highlights.

Then Rick speaks from his own position of desire, as a man who is enjoying a woman’s beauty, yet importantly, it is a frustrated position where he has to superimpose his desire onto his friend Jessie, because Jessie is the girl’s object of desire, not Rick. It’s her eyes that are watching Jessie; she has the power to choose who she dates. “And she’s watching him with those eyes. And she’s lovin’ him with that body, I just know it” (There is also room for a reading of the lyrics that sees Rick as engaging in a vicarious homosexual experience too, a blur of his sexuality; is he mostly interested in what she sees?)

Then it flips momentarily back to Jessie’s point of view: “Yeah ‘n’ he’s holding her in his arms”, a more straightforward position of jealousy for Rick. Before the chorus returns to, arguably, seeing the girl as an object to obtain “I wish that I had Jessie’s girl. Where can I find a woman like that?” Here, yes the woman is object, but we also should remember that he fundamentally sees himself as being without a woman that will change his own opinion of himself from a “Have Not” to a “Have”, too.

The third verse speaks of Rick’s position as outsider to the relationship, and yet simultaneously he sees himself as part of it (one wonders if they do?) “I play along with the charade”. There seems to be a blurring of the boundaries between the three of them, especially Rick and Jessie, caused perhaps by Rick’s private fantasising about the girl “You know, I feel so dirty when they start talking cute”.

Then, a song that is ostensibly all about male power – either Rick’s or Jessie’s sexual power, or their shared homosocial power – reveals what is often ignored in interpretations of male dating behaviour (and something my research set to rectify) that of how men respond to female power:

“And I’m lookin’ in the mirror all the time
Wondering what she don’t see in me, I’ve been funny
I’ve been cool with the lines
Ain’t that the way love supposed to be.”

He is aware of his position, mostly through her eyes, both literally in how she sees his appearance, “And I’m lookin’ in the mirror all the time. Wondering what she don’t see in me” (something reflected in the self-consciously sexual photo of the artist on the front cover too); or through the questioning of his whole dating performance: “I’ve been funny, I’ve been cool with the lines. Ain’t that the way love supposed to be.”

A younger me would have only heard the bits about men wanting to ‘get’ a girl and I would have been angered by it but I now know that men are much more multifaceted than we understand them to be. They (heterosexual men) can be just as self reflective about the opposite sex and definitely in part, know themselves through women’s reflections of them, something feminism very rarely acknowledges.

And that is why studying and talking to men is the next important step in understanding gender, we cannot move on with a focus on one gender, women, only, it leaves a huge blind spot (nearly half the world’s population, men). Men are not encouraged to express themselves, and often do not even know themselves, fully because they live in a culture that demands a certain type of masculine performance which is supposed to be impervious to women’s power. But nevertheless, women in many ways do affect them deeply in ways that are often not at first apparent, unless one takes the time to read between their lines.

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