In times of #metoo, people increasingly talk about relationships and encounters between men and women. Besides obvious sexual harassment, many other things can leave women with discomfort after intimate encounters. The case of ‘Grace’ who had a painful encounter with comedian Aziz Ansari shows how different an intimate situation can be perceived and that nothing is just ‘black and white’. This is a tough and painful topic to talk about because it is not easy to spot if you don’t consider the cultural background of the situation. Lili Loofbourow tries to answer the question Why didn’t she just get out of there as soon as she felt uncomfortable? Her explanation is that women are taught to provide pleasure to men, even if they feel pain or discomfort. She says that straight male pleasure and orgasm is central in our culture while female pleasure is often considered less important, that’s why women sometimes have to suffer: Wearing uncomfortable but ‘sexy’ clothing or power through pain during sex until the man’s orgasm. In her article, she visualizes these structures of injustice with giving many examples.
we live in a culture that sees female pain as normal and male pleasure as a right (…) One of the compliments girls get most as kids is that they’re pretty; they learn, accordingly, that a lot of their social value resides in how much others enjoy looking at them. They’re taught to take pleasure in other people’s pleasure in their looks. Indeed, this is the main way they’re socially rewarded.
This is also how women are taught to be good hosts. To subordinate their desires to those of others. To avoid confrontation. At every turn, women are taught that how someone reacts to them does more to establish their goodness and worth than anything they themselves might feel.
One side effect of teaching one gender to outsource its pleasure to a third party (and endure a lot of discomfort in the process) is that they’re going to be poor analysts of their own discomfort, which they have been persistently taught to ignore.
Next time we’re inclined to wonder why a woman didn’t immediately register and fix her own discomfort, we might wonder why we spent the preceding decades instructing her to override the signals we now blame her for not recognizing.
Why I recommend this article
This article dismantles different structures of inequality which helps to understand why women sometimes act in a — for many — unexpected way. It explains why simply ‘saying no and leaving’ is not that simple for many women because of their upbringing. This topic opens a new field of discussion that goes far beyond talking about sexual assault. I think this article could especially help women who ‘didn’t say no and left’ when they felt discomfort (like Grace) who feel guilty and feel it is their own fault. But of course this article can help everyone to understand that we are all influenced by certain gender norms and that those are not easy to overcome. The insights of this article may help to judge women less for their behavior.
Website: ‘The female price of male pleasure’ by Lili Loofbourow (theweek.com)
About the author
Lili Loofbourow is the culture critic at TheWeek.com. She’s also a special correspondent for the Los Angeles Review of Books and an editor for Beyond Criticism, a Bloomsbury Academic series dedicated to formally experimental criticism. Her writing has appeared in a variety of venues including The Guardian, Salon, The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, and Slate (source: www.theweek.com).