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Sexual Revolution and Sexuality

On Youtube, I recently started noticing a handful of posters who, when a female news anchor does Al Jazeera's news summaries (an excellent way to keep in touch with the news on your own time, by the way), left comments consisting entirely of a note that she's quite attractive. I find this pretty bothersome, and occasionally grumble at people a bit for it. One of the people I grumbled at recently had a strange response, framing me to as an ultra-conservative with views from before the sexual revolution. I'm not directly threatened by his statement; he's drawing a lot of wrong meaning out of my grumbles, but it does illustrate an interesting tension between some of the goals of the sexual revolution and of efforts at building a more sexually just society. The tension can be resolved by framing each in a reasonable way and then examining the intersection of those refined concepts. There are a few reasonable ways to do that; here's my take.

The sexual revolution was a set of shifts in society's attitudes towards sexuality. Instead of being a taboo topic, marked as entirely private and often shameful except in an Abrahamic sense, it is an acceptable topic in some contexts, and is usually not shameful. As a topic, we still must use judgement to figure out when to talk about sex and when to do sex. Masturbation, non-marital sex (assuming one is not yet in a monogamous relationship) and pornography are both considered part of a healthy lifestyle but are still matters that are best discussed only with caution in public, not because they are shameful, but because they are:
a) intimate, and may bring us more close to someone than we want to be
b) squick-inducing, potentially, given the wide range of potential sexual practices
c) not very classy to wear on one's sleeve
We note as well that some parts of the sexual revolution went much further than what we are left with; things like free love, swinging, and polyamory were once pushed as a new norm; instead these things have just been marked as acceptable/tolerated but off-the-beaten-path. Likewise (but less so) with public nudity.

Efforts at building a more sexually just society (that is, one more just to people of either gender) are about eliminating a number of the barriers to human potential by changing laws, explicit social structures, and to a certain extent attitudes that limit the ability of half of our population to self-actualise. Alongside these problems, it is also desirable to deconstruct the traditional concepts of masculinity and femininity, as these are barriers to people of both genders reaching their potential.

So stated, the apparent conflict between these is in expressions of sexual interest. While one of the goals and results of the sexual revolution was to create acceptance that sex happens and allow discussion of it, this should generally be topically appropriate; victorian sensibilities are over, but the replacement still has boundaries of propriety. Expressions of sexual interest are still inappropriate in many situations. In the particular case I approached, it's inappropriate because when only women are commented on that way, and often when it's the only feedback they get, it easily gives the impression that women in the workplace are only there as eye candy, and that they'll never be treated seriously as professionals; that attitude is damaging. Moving slightly off the example, if one's coworkers themselves did it, it suggests that one will not get on the interesting projects or move on to roles of greater responsibility if one is not even being evaluated on the right criteria.

This is not to say that flirting should be verboten in workplaces. It is also not against objectification; we all objectify others sometimes (in porn at least, and often people (of either gender) go out to a bar just looking for sex; not something I've ever done, but it's ok), and that is fine. Also, this kind of criticism is less-strongly aimed at people who really are very sex-oriented and are mainly at work to pay the bills. It's more strongly aimed at men who have a strong interest in work and a strong interest in sex, and are work-objectifying in their interactions with other men, and mostly sex-objectifying in their interactions with women at work.


Regarding the self-note: Ordinarily I try to catch all those while I translate things into more-or-less-STDENGLISH, but I guess I somehow missed that one. I've found that running things through a spellcheck is a good guard against unintentional foreign words, but ... oops! Thanks for the note. Fixed.

It's worth noting, like with all issues of social justice and human potential, that I'm doing it for my own (philosophical) reasons; it's not a favour. I do this kind of thing all the time, it's just this time I got a response that was philosphically interesting(ish).

Edited at 2011-11-29 12:15 am (UTC)
pat is not a slave to anybody's approval. ;)
I also noticed that my LJ-reformatter didn't do a great job with the a/b/c list. Something to fix the next time feel like touching that code. (Fixed it manually this time)
In the particular case I approached, it's inappropriate because when only women are commented on that way, and often when it's the only feedback they get, it easily gives the impression that women in the workplace are only there as eye candy, and that they'll never be treated seriously as professionals; that attitude is damaging.

why is it, do you think, that only women tend to be commented on that way? (i.e., which norms, specifically, perpetuate the eye-candy perception - is it gender ratio, role stereotypes, or what?) (also, how skewed is it actually - how much men-objectification is there that nobody complains about because nobody sees it as a problem?)

i am trying to imagine whether in workplaces that are more women-heavy, would women-objectification still be as prevalent, or even would men-objectification be more common?

Edited at 2011-11-29 05:56 am (UTC)
I think it's part of how men are inculturated. Women certainly sexually objectify men too, but the case of women who work-objectify other women and sex-objectify all men is vanishingly rare, and given how male-dominated workplaces tend to me, the harm from that rare occurence is probably minimal.

It's also worth noting that occasionally unattractive (or to a lesser-degree, married) women do better in the workplace because, often being off-the-radar as a sexual conquest, they're often judged on the merits of their work (presuming that people don't get promoted for just being a pretty face).

In general, I think the problem is only partly speech; it's really more that when people see someone of the opposite sex at work, if they are attracted they should not let that attraction become such a powerful thing that it dominates how they think of the person, and for those who have the deeper problem of not thinking about women (or those of other minorities) on their merits, or who exaggerate known differences in inculturation into women being a big "other" that's always going to be an anomaly, those are things worth fixing.

(This is made more tricky because one sometimes has the dual task of trying to compensate for the lousy ways women are often brought up at the same time as trying to treat them equally, but nuance is unavoidable in human interaction)
I think it's part of how men are inculturated.

Specifically, men are brought up to believe that they should be sexually aggressive at all possible opportunities. If they fail to register their very important opinion on the attractiveness of a nearby female, they've lost manly-man points. And when they do comment, they have to be appropriately "cool" about it. "I'd bang that" or "psh, maybe if she lost twenty pounds" are ways of bringing up just how frickin' virile you are -- obviously she'd agree to let you bang that (and if not, who cares), amirite? (The unfortunate effects this has on men are left as a not-so-difficult exercise for the reader.)

Women still overwhelmingly get social disapproval for being too forward: note that the corresponding "office objectification scenario" trope for women is standing in the corner with the other women, giggling in the general direction of the attractive man, or maybe being so bold as to bat her eyelashes in his direction.