Friday, January 29, 2010

Dating and Race...the 20+ Questions Edition

Over at A Year of Online Dating, there's been a bit of a discussion going on about dating and race, originally inspired by the social experiment at Hi, My Name is Kia. On Kia's blog, she'd posted a link to an article written by OkCupid, an online dating site, about patterns of response based on race. Reading all these things had me thinking about the topic for days on end. I'd been toying with the idea of writing about attraction and race for awhile, but reading these various other accounts finally gave me the impetus to do it. I think it's a question that deserves to be discussed more, even though it's seen as a bit taboo. I was hoping the asexual viewpoint might be a potentially interesting one.

I guess when talking about race, a disclaimer is needed: I'm white, so my insights are going to be limited by my own experiences. I hope I don't bungle a discussion of race too badly-- but I feel like as long as we have the intent of an honest and respectful discussion, talking about race is probably a positive thing, even if it isn't possible for one person to see it from all angles. And another disclaimer: I'll be talking about data that no doubt has many sampling errors...something I know asexuals dislike (and I'm only half-kidding).

That aside, what OkCupid's article showed was that white men were the most "in demand" (they get the most messages, but respond less often) and that while 7% of white users thought interracial marriage was "a bad idea", 45% of white people in general-- and 54% of white women-- said they would strongly prefer to date someone of their own race. And white people were the group who were most disapproving of interracial marriage. Until reading this, I would have assumed that one compelling reason to marry someone of your own race might be to share a cultural background. However, I'm guessing that most randomly selected white people would share no cultural background whatsoever. One commenter on OkCupid had this to say:

As a nonwhite male, it doesn’t come as the slightest shock to me at all that white men get the most attention and respect from women of all nationalities and races. After all, the richest, most powerful nation in the world (and also the entertainment media capital of the world) is predominately white, and thus white males have become the symbol of strength, virtue, and status/celebrity all the world over.

And as your resident pop-culture interpreter I think there's some truth to that, although I don't think it's all that simple, either. For example, when people talk about the "Sexiest Men Alive", it's always white men that they're talking about, unless Denzel Washington is in the mix. Of course there are attractive people of every race. Maybe we notice this walking down the street, if we live in diverse areas. But the attractive people who are constantly in our face thanks to the media, and who we are told, again and again, are the most attractive people...they are almost always white people. We all know the media can affect how we see our own bodies, so how could it not affect the way we see others? Of course, again, not that simple, but still something to think about.

All that said, over the years, I've heard people say that they do, or don't, find various races of people attractive. I'm sure you've all heard the same thing. It seems like such a pervasive viewpoint that I wonder if the fact that I don't really understand it has to do with being asexual. What is it about me that puts me in the 46% of white women that would be willing to date someone of another race?

  • Is it because as an asexual, my dating pool is already so minute that to segment it further by race would be insane? And subconsciously I know this?
  • Does it have to do with my upbringing, the many places I've lived, or the friends I've had growing up?
  • If I was attracted to more people, would I only then start to notice trends based on race?
  • Is "who I'd be willing to date" a moot point anyway, considering that I've only ever been on two "real" dates?
I might as well just accept the fact that I'm the lord of rhetorical questions, and hit you with some more:
  • Is this discussion really about attraction (which to the best of my knowledge, seems to happen without rhyme or reason), or how people label it? What compels people to declare that they are (or are not) attracted to entire races? Is there a difference between noticing "Hey, I tend to only find Asian men attractive" and then checking only the "Asian" box when you're searching for people OkCupid?
It's also worth noting that who you you find attractive and who you're willing to date may be two very different things. On the OkCupid forums, I found a post from a white woman who was consistently attracted to Latino men to the exclusion of all other races, but decided to only date white men. Lolwhut? Yeah...I don't know.

The question thing...I went with it. But psych, I'm not done yet. So, do you guys think that asexuals are more likely to date outside their race, or to be willing to do so? How about white asexuals vs. asexuals of other races? And do we even know enough asexuals in romantic relationships to be able to answer the first question? I think I could say a lot more, but I'll hold off for now. I hope that nothing I said here offended anyone-- and do I get any awards, medals, etc. for being the first person on the internet to say that? Kidding...again, only sort of.

(PS-- As a mixed-race friend once told me, "No matter who I date, it's interracial dating". So there's another take on it...)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Goddesses in Everywoman

First of all, sorry for the new "capchas" in the comment section. They're annoying, but they've been cutting down on my spam quite a bit.

Now on to actual content: I've been reading the book Goddesses in Everywoman by Jean Shinoda Bolen. It was written 25 years ago, making it as old as I am. While the title is overly New-Agey, the book itself doesn't really have that vibe. It's about using Jungian psychology in a more feminist way, and working out different archetypes of women based on the Greek goddesses. Apparently, you can have any number of these goddesses "in you" in different proportions. To completely buy what the book is saying, you'll have to agree with Jungian theories, and I'm not sure all of them make sense to me. For example, Bolen talks a little about the difference between masculine-seeming female archetypes (like Artemis and Athena) and the animus, which is a male part of a woman's "unconscious mind" that is sometimes activated, but doesn't seem like a natural part of you. To me, this idea sounds odd and unintuitive. But, even if you think Jung was full of crap, the book might still be interesting to you. While there's another book called Gods in Everyman, I think that men might stand to learn something from Everywoman, too.

One criticism: When my mom asked if White Buffalo Woman was included in the book, I realized that it was somewhat problematic to have the archetypes of all women be portrayed as, well, only Euoropean women. It's true that the Greek goddesses form a neat package, are all inter-related, and have complex back-stories, but I do find it odd that women of all cultures are supposed to be represented by only the goddesses from Greek culture. That said...

I thought two main things about this book were especially cool, and the first kind of relates to asexuality, or at least my own asexual experience. Out of the seven goddesses, three of them-- Artemis, Athena, and Hestia, are "virgin goddesses". The goddesses were literally virgins-- none of them ever had sex. However, Bolen expands this concept into the metaphorical realm. She describes these goddesses as women who were not defined by their husbands, lovers, or children. Unlike the other goddesses, they weren't abused or taken advantage of by the male gods. They're independent and focused on their own goals. That these goddesses were "virgin" didn't make them less feminine or less mature. While each goddess, apparently, can cause problems if she manifests too strongly in certain areas of your life, no goddess is portrayed as being inferior to any other.

It sort of reminded me of the positive portrayal Joan of Arc (and her virginity) got in Intercourse. However, even if you're literally a virgin, that doesn't mean one of the virgin goddesses is necessarily "your" archetype. It's worth noting that every goddess has a short section about the way their archetype views sexuality, and none of them besides Aphrodite is said to be especially interested in sex just because they like sex. For example, Demeter is only interested in sex in the context of having children, and Hera may only be interested in it as part of a marriage.

All that said, I didn't necessarily find it easy to relate to the goddesses, who tend to be either vengeful and extreme or completely passive. When I read Greek myths, I'm often struck by the fact that the gods and goddesses seem more flighty than the mortals, getting enraged about things that a person might be able to brush off. They're not exactly good role models. The goddess who seemed most in sync with my own personality, Artemis, had many parts of her archetype that didn't relate to me at all. I could relate to every other goddess a little, except for Athena and Hera, who seemed totally foreign to me. Aphrodite is described not just as a goddess of eroticism, but of creative energy-- a quality many asexuals might be able to see in themselves.

Now, on to the other cool thing. While the intent of Goddesses in Everywoman is to help me better understand myself, I don't think it really did that. However, I do think it helped me understand other women better. I've always had a hard time understanding women who were obsessed with marriage (Hera), fixated on motherhood (Demeter), or who sided with patriarchal institutions (Athena). Reading about where these women are coming from, even if they're just archetypes, has been enlightening. Men might be interested in that aspect, too. The book will definitely make you think about what goddesses are lurking within the women that you know. Has anyone else out there read it? I'd be really interested to hear some other thoughts...

Monday, January 18, 2010

More Questions, More Random Theorizing

This post is about another question asexuals get asked with some frequency:

"If you could become sexual, would you?" is often asked by people in the media, and sometimes asked by other asexuals. Again, there seems to be an assumption underlying this question: That if asexuals were suddenly sexual, our lives would change drastically. However, I'm not so sure that would be the case. Of course, I can't speak for everyone-- maybe some people's lives would be radically altered under that scenario. But let's say, for a moment, I took "the magic pill" and suddenly I was really the heterosexual woman that I'd thought I was before discovering asexuality.

So here I am in this scenario-- I'm sexually attracted to men now. However, I still wouldn't have a sex drive. And I would still be weirded out by the prospect of having sex. Whether my attraction would be strong enough to override that is unknown. I don't think I'd be any more eager to date than I am now, since as I've said before, I'd be a 25-year-old with the dating skills of a 14-year-old. I'd be no better at navigating those confusing social rituals than I am now. I've felt non-sexual attraction before and never acted on it, so why would I suddenly start acting on sexual attraction? And since I'd have lived for 25 years without sex, it wouldn't be astounding for me to live even longer without it, focusing on my other interests like I'd always done. Who I was attracted to would change, but is there any way to know that my priorities would be any different? If I'd always been straight, maybe I would be a different person now. But this is about questions people ask, and "What if you'd never been asexual?" is not one of them. Am I making any sense here?

I think this question also speaks to the way that people, sexual and asexual alike, tend to overemphasize our differences and downplay our similarities. The media tends to not help at all when it comes to elucidating this point. However, what I tried to show in my example is that these radical differences aren't necessarily the case. In some cases? Sure, but not all. There are sexual people who don't have sex, who have no sex drive, who are repulsed by sex, who are aromantic, etc. And I've seen people in all these categories post on AVEN. And then there are the apparently vast troves of non-asexuals who are just not obsessed with sex. Like us, these people are rarely portrayed in media or pop culture either. I'm not saying that the people of the world are going to get together and start a love train any time soon, but I just wanted to raise the idea that "being sexual" may not imply being all that different.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Leap Year, and More

I found this article through a friend's Facebook page: Amy Adams' 'Leap Year': What Hollywood Gets Wrong About Women and Marriage, and I thought it was really funny and true. (I also saw the trailer, although I was mostly impressed by how over-the-top contrived the scenario was.) Why is there this idea in film that all women turn into maniacs around marriage? Age, life experience, and personality don't seem to matter-- show us a ring (not even a ring-- a ring box) and we go batshit crazy. What's the idea behind this portrayal? Like film portrayals of sex, I wonder how much life imitates "art" (if "Leap Year" can be considered art) in the arena of marriage as well. If we didn't frequently see it in movies, would women still be expected to squee, squee, and squee some more over every detail of our friends' wedding plans? Would there be so much pressure to plan intricate, expensive, and flawless weddings?

There's also this common idea in movies that the most attractive men are lurking in the most unlikely places. However, rural towns aren't exactly hotbeds of 30-something men.

Yeah Matthew Goode, grow a scruffy're not fooling anyone. In The Holiday, Jude Law was located in a small English town. And a helpful reader also suggested New In Town, Hope Floats, and Baby Boom as featuring undiscovered rural men right here in my home country (I guess Harry Connick Jr. isn't especially worried about getting typecast). I know there are exceptions, but there's a hefty chance that despite the attraction between them, an urban woman and a country guy (why is the man always the country one?) probably wouldn't have much in common in the real world. However, in films, we only see the beginnings of these relationships and rarely, if ever, how they progress over time. (There's also the question: Why is the only attractive man in town still single?)

I lived in a rural town for a time, and I do miss a few things about it. The limited number of choices available was liberating in a way, as I wrote about here. However, would an urban woman, who is used to choosing between a panoply of options in every area of her life, really be content with a small town's one eligible man? Maybe these movies are speaking to the part of us that's tired of being overwhelmed with choices. I might be giving these movies more credit for depth than I should, but it's a thought.

(Addendum: After I wrote the second part of this post, I found that the author of the "Leap Year" article has also written about the Harry Connick Jr., if you're interested. It's a funny coincidence that we both thought to write about the idea independently, but we did.)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Visualize Success (But Don't Believe Your Eyes)

So here I am, still writing about the same book (Sex Is Not a Natural Act), even though I haven't read any more of it. (I want to...but I just keep watching The Wire instead.) But, the book does bring up my pet concept, which is that sex and romance are increasing in importance (and as methods of distraction) as people become more estranged from communities, culture, and social change. Does this concept have a name? I really wish it did, because then I could look it up and find more information, something I could spend many happy hours doing...if it had a damn name! As it is, I just have to settle for getting excited when it randomly pops up, as it did in Michael Lerner's Surplus Powerlessness (link is to my post on the topic). In the chapter "Am I Normal?", Leonore Tiefer gives her opinions as to why people are so preoccupied with whether or not they're normal sexually. In a list of "large social changes in how we view marriage and life" helping to make sex more of an urgent issue for us, Tiefer includes "People are relying on personal relationships to provide a sense of worth they lack in the public sphere due to increased technology, mobility, and bureaucracy" (11). Tiefer also quotes Gunter Schmidt, from a 1983 forward to a book on sexuality:

[Sexuality] is supposed to hold marriages and relationships together because they scarcely fulfill material functions any longer; it is supposed to promote self-realization and self-esteem in a society that makes it more and more difficult to feel worth something and needed as an individual; it is supposed to drive out coldness and powerlessness in a world bureaucratized by administration, a world walled up in concrete landscapes and a world of disrupted relationships at home and in the community...All discontent-- political, social, and personal-- is meant to be deflected into the social and relationship sector in order to be compensated. (25)

This statement is extremely similar to some of Lerners'-- they should probably get together for coffee or at least a nice, long Skype chat (to name their concept?). But all matchmaking aside, this unnamed concept relates to something I've been thinking about lately, which is how to define "success" for myself when society is always telling me I've failed. As I touched on here, I'm not especially interested in excessive money, in power, in fame, or in marriage and children. I really don't give a damn whether I have a huge house, a nice car, expensive clothes, or the latest gadgets. And I can't expect to be changed by romantic love for someone, or to have that experience give meaning and purpose to my life. For whatever reason, the ideas Schmidt talks about just don't "work" on me. Would I rather they did? No, not really, but it bothers me how many people are probably knocking against this unnamed concept, wondering why they don't quite fit in, asking if that's all there is, and then thinking they have some problem. Can we blame the ascendancy of sex and romance as all-powerful and all-encompassing for social change being so hard?

There's one clear song to sum up this post: This, especially the third verse (maybe someone saw that one coming). I guess it's a depressing song, but it also kind of makes me laugh because it's so over-the-top. Let's break out the booze! Or, okay, the tea.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Part II...

Just starting off the new year with a little administrative notice...Rather than posting 2-3 times a week, I'm going to chill out a bit and start posting 1-2 times a week. I still have a lot to say, but I don't want to burn myself out! My "homies" list has been growing, and I don't think anyone is going to suffer from a lack of asexual reading material. Everyone is giving their opinions on the past decade (or remarking that it hasn't been a decade really), but since New Year's has always been my least favorite holiday, it seems appropriate to not go that route, but instead, to continue last year's train of thought, now delving into portrayals of masturbation in film. The following theories are all pretty casual, more of a "hey, does anyone else notice _____?" than something I've spent a ton of time examining. That said...

We all know that sex in movies used to be portrayed as dirty and illicit. In the past, censorship was a lot stronger, and it wasn't uncommon to see characters who'd had sex get "what they deserved" by being killed in the end (sometimes, this still happens). Today, masturbation is often censored out of films when explicit sex is allowed to stay. Contemporary sex educators (when they're allowed to) are forever telling us how good and healthy masturbation is. However, if you look at film portrayals of masturbation, it's seen as the dirty, illicit act sex used to be. In film, what generally seems to be the case is that well-adjusted characters have sex, and the more depraved characters masturbate. Masturbation is often used to illustrate that a person or situation is growing truly desperate. What effect these portrayals may or may not have on how everyday folks view masturbation, I really don't know.

I was expecting a trove of serious articles about these film portrayals, but a web seach turned up very little. The closest I got was this list from The Onion called "14 Tragic Movie Masturbation Scenes". Out of the films covered, I've only seen 3: American Beauty, The Squid and the Whale (a great film that more people should have seen), and Little Children. I could have sworn that I've also seen Mulholland Drive, but I can't remember anything about the plot. Kevin Spacey's now-iconic scene in American Beauty pretty much sums up the trope I'm talking about. The article says: "Masturbation sums up the death-like routine of his suburban life." A more current example is in the movie Precious. There, a character who is an abusive mother is shown masturbating, an activity we see her engaging in when she should be caring for her daughter. That we see this deranged character masturbating instead of, say, out cruising for sex, is supposed to show us how low she's fallen and how self-absorbed she is.

It seems as though in movies, sex is used to advance the plot (or to titillate viewers) and make some statement about the relationship between characters. However, masturbation is a solitary activity (unless you count the "Caught With Your Pants Down" trope). For that reason, it seems to only be used as a vehicle for a laugh or a means of showing what a loser a character is. I think that when you start to analyze movies in-depth, it really becomes apparent how dissimilar they are to real life situations. We all know movies are full of sex-- is this because everyone's really obsessed with sex, or because sex is a good shorthand for a filmmaker? And then, to what degree does life imitate art? All questions worth thinking about, perhaps, on your next movie night.