Monday, 18 May 2009

Are women really jonesing for Angelina?

This post is about sex and attraction. It contains some profanity and reference to genitalia. The references are by no means scandalous (ok maybe by some means), but if you're shy about 4-letter words, consider this your warning.

So yesterday morning, via The F-Word Blog, I came across this post by someone called Bitchy Jones (BJ). And I imagine Lynne at The F-Word linked it because she agreed and found it brilliant, as her title "Bitchy Jones is onto something" suggests. But while this BJ person may have a general point, that is, she may be correct in part, I find the overarching message of what she asserts a steaming pile of doodoo. And this post is to explain why.

So she, BJ, is at a party.

The talk is, as it often is, of popular culture. Celebrities we’d like to fuck. We, are seven or eight of us at a table, urbanites, almost exclusively thirtysomething, artsy professionals – basically, if you handed any of us a latte we would drink it – and then one woman, a good friend, says, yeah, but we’d all fuck Angeline Jolie, right?

And she is annoyed by this because:

It is because the highest compliment you can pay a woman is to proclaim that you find her fuckable.

Always and forever and as simple as that.

If you admire a woman and like her, if you find her witty and attractive, if you like the way she thinks, well obviously, you want to fuck her. Because if you were a straight man, that’s where that would lead. But if you’re someone who isn’t sexually attracted to women, you might think you are feeling that too, you might even feel that you are insulting that woman if you don’t want to sleep with her (dishing out the ultimate insult by calling her unfuckable).

Now I get some of what she's saying. First, the notion that we should all want to have sex with Angelina Jolie because her exquisite beauty surpasses personal taste is, in fact, annoying. And tired. And premised on an imposed European standard of beauty that just induces my "Oh give me a big, fat, nougat-filled break" eyeroll response. Angelina Jolie would not be my bag, and don't tell me that I'm in denial. Because as a black, Caribbean woman, surely you can understand that were I attracted to women, a slight, pale, White woman, lovely though she is, might just not be what gets me purring. So I get that part of BJ's meandering diatribe.

I also get the notion that it sometimes slips into our vernacular to - in the way we offer praise - reduce ourselves to what has been determined as women's most important worth. That is to say, we want to convey our thorough admiration for someone, man or woman, and the best we can do is to claim that we love him, or we want to marry her, or we want to have his babies. The commentary in those statements is that the highest praise and prize we can offer is ourselves as lover, wife, mother. Our verbal, intellectual praise or support is not enough. So that it's alright for a man to say as his highest praise "Oh I really support Obama's agenda. He's the best President the United States has seen in my lifetime." But we as women feel forced to say "Obama rocks. Seriously. I want to have his babies." And I get how it might happen. We're being a little facetious; we find it funny; and we don't really examine where it's coming from.

BJ takes it a step further, and suggests that when straight women make this kind of statement about other women, we are not just reducing ourselves to our sexuality and value as objects to be f*cked, but we are reducing those women as well.

[T]his I’d-so-sleep-with-her phenomenon is pretty much just a side shoot from the whole damn dirty deal where women are mainly for fucking and generally supplying sex and men are the choosers and enjoyers of that sex. And also the whole thing that every piece of expression of anything ever should be expressed in the kind of terms and ideas straight men would use, as if that is some kind of default language because straight men will get confused if you don’t because they have never learned anything else, and they’ve never learned anything else because they are the default so they don’t need to.

Well, ok. Except, your example of Angelina is a little weak if this is meant to be your point. Because really, while Angelina is very civic-minded and activist, her main product as actor and public persona has mostly been as a beautiful woman, not as a politician or writer or even, dare I say, as a brilliant actor. So it is, I think, reasonable to say that those women who say they want to sleep with Angelina are not doing as much reducing of her person to the mere sexual as say, those who say they want to sleep with Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I don't think this particular Angelina desire is based on the idea that in order to express your admiration for someone's work or ideology, you have to do so in language that men have invented and we have all appropriated. I think that these people probably do feel some kind of physical attraction: perhaps to look like her, if not to f*ck her. (Glory knows they couldn't possibly like her pouting snarling acting.)

And BJ includes a kind of cowardly caveat toward the end which, I think, she should have led with, or at least paid more attention to. And it is this:

I know this post can be read as somewhat, uh, dismissive of ideas of sexual fluidity. I do appreciate that there is a whole Kinsey scale and everything. And that wherever you might think of yourself on that scale it isn’t fixed for life, but I didn’t want to clutter up my beayootifuel writins with endless qualifications about how this might not apply if you are bisexual or some other kind of self identified sexual lucky dipper. But sexual fluidity can be used to wash away women’s own sexual identities. Too much fluidity, too much choice, ends – bizarrely – in homogeny.

The post is dismissive, and condescending, and patronizing and insulting. And even the disclaimer above is not much better. Because the writer is telling women: "wherever you may think yourself on the Kinsey scale, if you're straight, you probably don't relish the notion of licking Angelina's clitoris. You may think you do, but you really don't. I know." And even with a more generous interpretation, the disclaimer is meant for what she imagines are the small minority of self-aware, not-strictly-heterosexual women to whom her analysis does not apply, as against the misguided, staunchly heterosexual masses of us who can't express admiration except on men's terms.

And she is also telling us that we can't distinguish between admiring someone and wanting to sleep with them. Because we get confused, you see. We don't know what our little pink feelings are all about. And I find that anti-feminist. Yep. I done gone and used the A word. So bring it.

Because I am able to distinguish and articulate my admiration of Rihanna's red carpet poise; and Aisha Tyler's hilarity; and Michelle Obama's eloquence; and Cate Blanchett's acting, as completely separate from the fact that I think Maria Bello has a beautiful mouth and Zoe Saldana is gorgeous and Jennifer Connelly is striking. The former I admire and respect for their talent, and can acknowledge that they're beautiful, but there is no level of physical attraction there. The latter I honestly find hot (not that they're not talented as well), and while I might not want to lick their vaginas because vaginas are not my bag, I can acknowledge that were I in their presence, I might pay attention to a little more than what they had to say. Granted, I've probably only stuck my toe out of Category 0 on the Kinsey Scale, but I own that. And my brain, female though it may be, is able to make that distinction. And let's not forget that a large part of physical attraction is tied up in the non-physical. I might be physically attracted to a man not just because he's pleasant to look at, but also perhaps because he's good at what he does, or seems kind, or speaks well. Might that not be what's involved in women - who identify as straight but feel a bit of loin-stirring for some members of their own sex - expressing their desire for other women? The factors of sexual attractiveness are not as black and white; as talent vs. f*ckability as BJ would suggest.

At some point BJ also half-jokingly suggests an either/or situation, as if to say "STFU no way you straight b*tches would sleep with Maggie over Jake [Gyllenhaal]!" Well that's hardly the point, is it? Since I'm straight, my preference for sexual activity is with men. A woman I might (and this is the hypothetical 'I' so please don't flood my Inbox with oh em gees about my sexuality) want to kiss or fondle or look at or masturbate over, depending on who I am. And I don't have to refrain from those feelings because you have determined that I have to be firmly planted at 0. Yes, I saw your "but I don't mean youuuu" disclaimer, and I ain't buying.

So while I do think we could all benefit from checking ourselves if we're given to using language of admiration that reduces both admirer and admiree to our worth as wives, mothers, lovers and nothing else, I also think that we need to be careful not to invalidate people's true feelings and experiences with our angry theories. The women-are-hot, frat-party, lesbian makeout dynamic among young, straight women is tired, yes. But seeking male validation is not always what's behind expressions of women's sexual desire. If you don't want to f*ck Angelina, then don't you f*ck her. But some of those who say they want to actually do. So I see some value in some of what you say, but in general, just stop policing everyone's sexuality. It must be exhausting.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I totally agree with this post! BJ fails to realize that totally bisexual women are actually out there, and when we say we really admire Celebrity X and would fuck them, we actually mean we'd fuck them. Some might even mean that they find them sexually attractive, even though they wouldn't fuck them because they identify as straight. Like you said, apparently that slipped the implicit heteronormative mindset behind BJ's post.

    Also, I get really tired of the "everyone wants to screw Angelina Jolie" meme. Uh, actually, no they don't. As a red-blooded queer, nothing about the lady gets me going. Her acting is bad. Her looks aren't my cup of tea. I've always found her vaguely disgusting for making out with her brother and having a habit of hooking up with married and committed men. And as someone pretty skeptical of the mainstream, I'm just not down with the group-think inherent in finding Jolie the nicest thing with a vagina since ever. So seeing as that BJ is completely stuck in heteronomative group think (only straight ladiez think about fucking girls and its teh sexay and we discuss it with teh menz to prove how hip and hot we are!), I really don't want her presuming what gets queer ladies revved up.


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