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January 12, 2006


The Gonzman

Zuzu, I think it would be more effective to accuse me of being paternalistic towards both men and women when it comes to sexuality -- that's a potentially valid charge. But I'm not advocating a double standard, merely addressing myself to my chosen audience.

In essence, though, you are advocating a double standard.

People disagree in two ways. The first is principle, and the second is process. If you and I argue over whther the government has the right to redistribute wealth, we disagree in principle. If we argue over how much should be robbed from the rich and handed over to the poor, we have already agreed in principle that it is right to do so, we're just disagreeing on how far it should go.

If you hold to a principle of when and how sex should take place, and hold to the principle that you have no double standards, it must follow for logical and philosophical consistancy that the sauce you prescribe for the gander must also be good medicine for the goose.

If it does not follow, then one of those principles is not really a principle.

One of your own resolutions for the year is to be less of a people pleaser. (Which is a resolution I confess I probably don't need to make. The phrase "Coals to Newcastle" springs to mind for some reason...If I was less of a people-pleaser I'd probably be mistaken for Genghis Khan.) Okay - Doc Evil challenged you last year - here's mine for you: Apply that to the more secular wing of feminism as well, make it a principle. I think you are hyper-conscious of maintaining your feminist bona-fides and tiptoe around things for fear of stirring the pot up in that respect.

And you are probably more conservative than even me as things sexual go - well, at least things heterosexual - though I probably draw fewer grey areas.

Heh - to the right of the Gonzman. Scary, eh? Sorry - I probably should have saved that one for Hallowe'en. Oh well, too late now; I never claimed to be a nice guy.

But, at least you'll never wonder about what I say behind your back.


I think it's clear that on the acceptability of casual sexual relationships, I differ strongly from folks like Amanda and many other regular commenters here, Gonzman. I'm not afraid, too, to differ with someone like Keri over older men/younger women relationships. And my categorical opposition to almost every form of cosmetic surgery has also made some of my erstwhile allies angry.

I'm not trying to be the favorite male feminist writer of the good folks at Pandagon, Feministe, Feministing, or any of the other outstanding secular feminist blogs. I'm willing to take some heat when need be -- but the fact is that this is really one of the few times when our paths diverge.


More than one person has raised this [that Hugo implicitly stated that men must hide their true intentions to get laid], and I don't see where Hugo says that. What I got was Hugo saying adamantly that people should act on their true intentions--and that their intentions should not include one-night-stands, because one-nighters are incompatible with feminism.

Arjet, I totally understand that this is where Hugo wanted to go, but I still argue that he implicitly endorsed the idea that men are inclined to lie about their intentions when he balked at the idea of advising them to state what they wanted because he felt it might give them a "free pass" to "indulge" their sexual impulses if they only knew the right "pro-feminist rhetoric."

Now, his reluctance to give that sort of advice might very well stem more from his Christianity and his general sexual worldview than from any sort of antifeminism, but that was not well expressed. I would rather that Hugo came right out and thumped that Bible than hedge out of an imperfectly-expressed feminist view. As Thomas stated, the trust and mutuality can be arrived at via feminism, but the commitment -- the petard I'm trying to hoist Hugo by -- is a Christian concept dressed up in feminist clothing.

It's not that people should lie about commitment in order to get laid--it's that people should only get laid if they're willing to make a committment.

Again, I think this is where Hugo is getting tripped up, because he's trying to use a feminist argument to express a Christian idea, doing disservice to both.


Keri--no, it's not my intent to say that women are incapable of consenting to any sex that doesn't involve love or commitment. I believe quite the opposite, in fact. What I am arguing is that since women, as a group, are *currently* objectified in our society, I believe it is entirely feminist for a man to choose to not have casual sexual relationships with women in which he treats them a solely sexual objects.

Certainly, opting out of the casual sex "scene" is one way for a man to ensure that he's not using casual sex to contribute to objectification and oppression; I would hesitate to say that it's the only way, though, or that sex that's compatible with pro-feminist ideals can only happen within some sort of committed relationship. It is more or less impossible to address men with regards to this issue without also affecting women; if heterosexual men shouldn't be having casual sex, that leaves very few options for heterosexual women who want casual sex, doesn't it? Their consent is less meaningful, both because their prospective partners are being told that casual sex with them is inappropriate regardless of how they individually feel about it, and because it's supposedly "for their own good" (at least as a class).

Maybe there's an argument to be made that sexual encounters are inherently private and have no effect upon the larger society and in the arena of sexuality, nothing we do sums up to larger social phenomena. I don't agree with it, but I suppose one could argue that.

There must be some middle ground between arguing that individual sex acts have no bearing on greater social trends and arguing that people are no longer entitled to certain desires and actions because of the possible social effect of those desires and actions. One can acknowledge that some actions may be "better" than others from a political perspective, but still recognize that autonomy, choice and freedom cannot always be overridden in the service of political goals-- otherwise, we're just trading one form of oppression for another.

And honestly, I think it is fairly oppressive to say that sex is only appropriate in the context of a relationship, even if one comes to that conclusion from a feminist analysis-- respecting the wide range of valid sexualities and lifestyles in the world should be just as integral to feminism as preventing objectification. (I suppose it's begging the question to say that a casual-sex-driven lifestyle is "valid," as I'm sure some, like Hugo, would disagree; still, it's clear to me that very little about sexuality is one-size-fits-all, and not everyone is going to equally value or desire commitment.)

Amanda Marcotte

And as far as being married goes, you're right -- which is why I don't condemn anyone who chooses differently. But at the same time, it's silly to dismiss people's views merely because of their marital status. I held these views six months ago, before I was married -- did they carry more weight then? Can only the single really be effective advocates for the cause?

You were in a relationship, though, that was heading towards marriage. It's easy to preach the benefits of committment when you have one that works. It's not so easy when you don't have one and don't want one.


I would never, ever, say, Amanda, that singleness is easy! And I'm trying to make my case with a considerable degree of humility -- if I've failed at that, the fault is mine. But I've had a rich amount of life experience (some of which included extended periods of chosen celibacy in singleness), and that set of experiences gives me some basis from which to write.

Let me say again that I'm not condemning those who make different choices. But I'm going to advocate for what I think the "mark" is that we're all aiming at -- a kind of radical integrity where our sexuality is both other-directed and self-directed, where we are in a position to help our sexual partners cope with all of the ramifications of our physical connection.


"It's not that people should lie about commitment in order to get laid--it's that people should only get laid if they're willing to make a committment."

Again, I think this is where Hugo is getting tripped up, because he's trying to use a feminist argument to express a Christian idea, doing disservice to both.

I think it's possible to come to the same place as Hugo from a secular perspective, although it's definitely less common.

As a mostly secular feminist ("mostly" in the sense that I identify strongly as a Jew, and I'm hesitant to label myself a "cultural" or "secular" Jew although I don't particularly believe in God and my identification is related more to culture and community than to religious beliefs)--and one who usually agrees with the posters at Pandagon, Feministe, and Feministing--my beliefs are closer to Hugo's than to those of most of the other feminist commenters on this thread.

My views are still evolving--I don't feel like I've had enough life experience yet to have a solid perspective on sex and relationships, and it's definitely possible that I could see things differently when I'm older--but where I am right now, I agree with Hugo's ideas as summarized by Arjet:

1) (Pro)Feminism contains an obligation to see all human beings as "extraordinarily precious."
2) Seeing all human beings as "extraordinarily precious" requires that we exercise what Hugo calls "real integrity" in our sexual relationships.
3) The exercise of "real integrity" in our sexual relationships requires much more mindfulness and intimacy than can be achieved in a one-night-stand.
4) Thus, (pro)feminism is incompatible with one-night-stands.

Hugo of course comes at that view from a Christian perspective, but I think it's possible to feel that way without religious influence as well, as I do. I don't think it's patronizing or disrespectful to women--it's his and my view of ideal human relations, not of gender roles.


Real interesting topic, and something close to my heart over the last few years.

I will declare, first that I am not a feminist, just for the record.

Over the last two years due to health reasons I have avoided getting involved in a committed relationship, but this has not ment that my sexual desire has been any less. I had to decide how I would go about meeting my sexual desire, avoiding a committed relationship, whilst at the same time not hurting anyone in the proccess. A tricky buisness, especially when you are soemone that would never consider visting a prostitute, or lying to get your rocks off.

How did I solve this problem? I treated women like adults and equals, when I would get into a situation where sex was on the cards, I made it crystle clear to the woman that I was with that I in no way wanted a committed relationship, and that I found them attractive (both personally and physically) and I would love to have sex and thats it nothing else.

I gave them the choice as a grown adult, that they then could decided for themselves, they were aware of my perspective and they could say yes or no.

It has worked in most respects, apart from one woman, who did get upset at a later date and started accusing me of using her, but as I said to her friends as they were laying the verbals into me in the pub, I treated her like an adult, she had the choice to sleep with me knowing my situration, she was the one who decided that she wanted more out of the relationship and kept it too herself thinking that I would change my mind or she could change it (I will say at this point, that I would say to the woman involved that it was impossible for me to get involved in a committed relationship due to my health). Do you know, I felt no guilt about it (the health problem that I have had is an anxiety issue and usally I felt guilty about everything) The reason I felt no guilt was (as I keep stating) I treated her as an equal, as an adult, who would be able to make a decision, knowing all the facts.

All though I am not a feminist, I would have thought that what I have just explained is a feminist prespective, I treated the person with respect, made my intentions clear, did not lie, did not make any false promices, did not force myself on them or put them under any pressure ware they felt obliged etc.

Thats just my little story of how, through circumstance, I had to think about how I went about my interactions with women in the sexual arena.


Just a quick note to respond to a point mentioned by arjet a couple of times:

his argument could apply just as well to gay male relationships as hetero ones

I'd like to add that the "fuck as many as you can" type attitude towards sex is tied up in the male gender model (as opposed to being biologically male) and thus has implications for some lesbian women. I've certainly come across a couple of women who have objectified me that way (and have generally displayed more masculine traits than feminine).

I've been noticing this so much recently; everyone forgets/doesn't give a shit about the damn lesbians (a rant for a different post).

The Gonzman

"Masculine Traits?"


I thought there was a denial of masculine traits, and that feminism didn't divide the world in to positive (female) traits and negative (masculine) ones.

I've been waiting for someone to jump on this. Waiting. Waiting.


Guess I was mistaken.

Well, glad to see ya'll agree with me after all.


All though I am not a feminist, I would have thought that what I have just explained is a feminist prespective, I treated the person with respect, made my intentions clear, did not lie, did not make any false promices, did not force myself on them or put them under any pressure ware they felt obliged etc.

That works for me. It sounds like the woman you had difficulty with probably had not fully dealt with her own socialization about sexuality -- she may have felt guilt because she went along with a no-strings deal because she was socialized to believe that she was "supposed" to only have sex if there was a commitment.

Socialization is a hard, hard thing to overcome.


I think what's bugging me about Hugo's position is the fact that by his own admission he's arguing from a much more conservative sexual ethic than the majority of feminists hold, yet he's using the conclusions he draws from this ethic to make the much broader claim that casual sex is "incompatible with feminism." Not just with his feminism, but with feminism in general, to the point that in his eyes someone who calls himself a pro-feminist and has casual sex is automatically a hypocrite. It's hard not to interpret that as an implication that secular feminism (or more sexually-liberal feminism) is less valid, less genuine, less worthy of respect than Hugo's Christian (or more sexually-conservative) feminism. (And yes, I know he's repeatedly disclaimed that it's only his opinion and so on, but he sure is using his opinion to make some pretty concrete claims about the nature of feminism in general.)

Honestly, if one is going to claim that something is "incompatible with feminism," one really ought to have at least a consensus opinion among feminists to point to. I'm not sure someone who admits himself that he's an anomaly among feminists when it comes to his strict sexual morality is qualified to say that certain attitudes toward sex cannot be held in good faith by average feminists. There's a difference between saying "to me feminism means this, so I think this is the best way to act" and saying "to me feminism means this, and if you don't agree you're not really a feminist," particularly when the cold hard truth is that the vast majority of feminists don't agree. I have no problem with the former statement, even if I disagree with it (and I think that's most of what Hugo was getting at anyway); however, the latter strikes me as a disrespectful step too far.



I think when Helen said "...women who...have generally displayed more masculine traits than feminine," most of us took her to mean "displayed more traits typically coded as signifiers of masculinity than traits typically coded as signifiers of femininity." I'm assuming that most people understood her to be speaking from within the whole butch/femme thing, which really complicates supposedly simple ideas like "masculine traits" and "feminine traits."

Now, had I understood her to mean "traits which are inherently masculine and serve as infallible signifiers of a naturally-occurring and immutable masculinity," yes, I would have jumped on it.

And Helen, I don't think anyone meant to exclude lesbians. Hugo was speaking to men about men's behavior, and excluding women for reasons that--while some find them dubious--he felt were an honest attempt to confine his comments to what he felt was an appropriate audience.

However, I like the point you make. I earlier suggested that it was problematic for Hugo to limit himself by saying "I am only authorized to say X because of my gender, and my gender requires me to refrain from saying Y." You confuse (in a good way) the question more: if Hugo is authorized to advise men on their sexuality because of his gender, and enjoined from advising women on their sexuality because of his gender, is there an implicit heterocentricism at work?

That is, Hugo (rightly) doesn't want to be another pale male telling women how they ought to behave sexually. But if gender is not a simple duality (man/woman), but a complicated field (butch, femme, straight, queer, bi, trans, etc. etc. etc.), then where does that leave Hugo's self-imposed limitation? If his "authority" is valid for straight men, is it also valid for gay men who, while pursuing sexual relations with a different gender, may well be pursuing it with some of the same predatory tendencies of their straight counterparts? Is it valid for "butch" lesbians who choose to adopt traditional signifiers of masculinity which may include predatory tendencies? Who's more masculine--a Harley-riding butch lesbian wearing leather or a "Mein Lieber Herr"-singing gay man wearing taffeta? Which one (if either) does Hugo have more authority to speak to?


Keri, I hear you -- but at the same time, I tried to be very careful to say (albeit humorously) that my opinion was my own, not from the "pro-feminist high command" or representative of a consensus opinion of secular feminists.


How do you define commitment? Does it have to be in context of a long-term relationship/marriage?

I have an example, and I would like some opinions on it, if possible.

Back in college, I knew a very bright, caring guy. He was active in a lot of worthy causes and a strong secular feminist. Garth (not his real name) was a busy medical student and did not have time for relationships, but he had agreements with several of his close friends where there were "benefits." Now, there are differences with people you have around for the purpose of mutual casual sex, and honestly being "friends" with benefits. This fit into the latter. For him, he had several women he had this agreement with. I know that two of the women had similar agreements with others, which was accepted without any problems.

The basic premise was for all parties to practice safe sex and be regularly tested for STDs. All parties have discussed possible pregnancies and discussed how that would affect the situation. Sexual activity would cease between appropriate parties once one party was in/considering a relationship (and they were free to do so at any time), They checked in on each other to make sure that there were no issues that were being hidden. At first, I had some reservations to what he was doing, but as I got to know everyone better, I developed respect for the honesty, candor and respect they all had for each other. They weren't committed to just having sex with each other when convenient- they were good friends that looked out for each other and was committed to the well-being of each other as individuals. If one needed help, the other would go out of their way to help them and vice-versa. It was a sexual relationship in context of a very good friendship.

Were there problems? I think so, and I knew about some of it. Garth developed feelings of jealousy towards one- he was mature enough to back off from the relationship and terminate sex until he resolved the issue. They remained good friends.One of his partners developed feelings, and they also both agreed that they would be just friends, no more sex, which involved them not seeing each other in person (mutual agreement) for several months to give her some space, but they still talked on the phone during this time. One partner decided it wasn't working out for her, so the sex-end of the relationship terminated almost as quickly as it began.

Now, I'm one of those self-imposed prudes in some respects where I don't have sex outside of a possible long-term or long-term relationship. There was a time when I was much, much younger where I had felt that sex outside of a conventional type of commitment was demeaning to both parties. While I still hold that belief for myself, I no longer hold that belief for others.

I've seen plenty of mutually parasitic relationships that were probably more negative than positive, but I've also seen very positive, caring and loving relationships that involved sex and commitment but not in the context of a relationship or marriage.

The majority of Garth's "friends with benefits" are still close friends, which is a testament to the quality of the relationship in the first place. When Garth broke both legs in a car accident, one of his friends took vacation time from work to drive out and help him out for a few weeks. When his other friend was hit with a sudden divorce and needed to move, he helped her pack and drive cross-country so she could go stay with her mother on a very short notice. He was in the wedding party (he was the male-tron of honor) of another friend.

Now, I think the outcome was good and positive because he wasn't preying on insecure women- he chose women that were strong, intelligent, mature and communicative. He also chose women that were looking for what he was looking for. He didn't have to lie, nor did he want to.

I think the most important factor is not the -leading to marriage type commitment, but a honest commitment to the person's mental and physical well-being, and having genuine respect for all your partners. It's not about just protecting yourself but having genuine concern and care for the people you bring in to share life together- whether it be in friendship or more.


Catty, thanks for a lengthy anecdote. I'm going to post about "commitment" at greater length next week. I'll preview it a bit by saying that I see commitment as a continuum, with the extremes being reckless disregard for another person's well-being on the one end and a sacrificial, monogamous, lifetime commitment on the other.


My son asked me this, when he was about fifteen, and I told him to talk to the girls the same way he talked to the boys, and about the same things. Then, if one of them was interested in the conversation, to follow it up with an invitation to get together for something social. At that age, he was mainly interested in role-playing games, but everyone is interested in something, it really doesn't matter what it is.

The whole idea of regarding members of the other sex as objectives, and creating strategies to achieve them, is wrong in any case. And there's no reason at all that a feminist man can't get laid. Sorry Hugo, but I'm sure you know that your way isn't the only way.


Arjet, yes I was talking about butch/femme, thanks for clearing that up. As for Gonzman, I don't see masculine/feminine traits as anything other than a social construct but I'm glad to give you a moment's happiness.

Arjet, I wasn't referring to the original post: it wasn't till you brought up gay men that I began to feel uncomfortable about lesbian exclusion (which is usually not deliberate but that doesn't make it any better).

My initial understanding of the post was that Hugo was talking about the dynamic in a world that objectifies women; in which men objectify women. When you brought up gay men it stretched (to me) that dynamic to include men objectifying other men and therefore should have brought to mind/included lesbian women who objectify other women. I don't want to get into a big discussion of this, however, because of thread drift.

I found your last paragraph very interesting.


The whole idea of regarding members of the other sex as objectives, and creating strategies to achieve them, is wrong in any case.

What Older said.

I believe I've already told the story of, in my younger days, being buttonholed by a drunk 'friend' who asked me, in essence, why it was that I got more guys (and in particular, a guy she wanted) when she was much prettier than I was. I explained that I just acted normal and treated men like people, instead of targets. I don't think she got it.

Gonzman, you really don't want to go down the road of pretending that if someone claiming to be on your 'side' says something idiotic, you must immediately denounce them or be deemed to agree with them.

The Countess

I liked what Catty had to say. It seems that one of the most important characteristics of Garth's relationships was that everyone communicated with each other. His friends with "benefits" were open and honest with themselves and each other. Openness and honesty is important in any relationship, whether it is a committed, monogomous relationship or the kind of relationships that Catty had described. Openness, communication, and honesty take work, but in the long run it's beneficial. I think it's equally important for people to be open and honest with themselves as well as with any current or potential sexual partners.

When Hugo wrote this:

"From my perspective -- and this is only my own, not some edict from the pro-feminist high command -- a man who wishes to be an authentic pro-feminist while getting laid regularly by different women outside of the context of a committed relationship is living out a contradiction where his language and his life don't match."

I know that he is referring to his own perspective, and that (correct me if I'm wrong), he believes that the best sex comes within the context of a committed relationship. I can respect his opinion. However, I don't think that it's a feminist or pro-feminist position to equate "the best sex" with "committed relationship". Not all feminists or pro-feminists would believe that only a committed relationship should be the requirement for good sex. Plenty of people have good sex and relationships with each other without being committed or even monogomous. I agree with other commenters that the "commitment" business is where Hugo is tripping himself up.


My son asked me this, when he was about fifteen, and I told him to talk to the girls the same way he talked to the boys, and about the same things.

I would like to believe this is true, but you have to considerthat if a guy talks to women about sex the way he talks to men (i.e., openly and freely) he can be accused of "sexual harassment."


Learning proper social boundaries are important. My male friends talk about sex with me as they would do to any close frined- open and freely. Any female nor any male should go up to any stranger and start blabbering about sex. Even if it's more acceptable for guys to go to strange guys and talk sex, it's still considered unclassy and rude at best.

I think what older is trying to say is to treat girls like anyone else- talk to them like a human beings and try to find common ground. It's great to eastablish the concept of compatibility with common interests at an early age. I've known so many men and women to stumble around the dating world focusing on physical attractiveness, financial status, etc... when they've never honestly gave a real considerable thought to compatibility being a person having enough ideas about life and interests in common to keep a relationship going past the honeymoon phase. Those people often moan about never finding the right man or woman- when it's often because they're not focusing on things that really make people compatible over a long run. Many guys assume a lot of girls aren't into the same things, but many girls are starting to take interest in what used to be considered "male" activities.


Oh dear god, lots of typos. Correction: Any female nor any male should NOT go up to any stranger and start blabbering about sex.


I would like to believe this is true, but you have to considerthat if a guy talks to women about sex the way he talks to men (i.e., openly and freely) he can be accused of "sexual harassment."

Oh, please. If you're talking about a work or school environment, the conversation is just as inappropriate if it's with another man. And if you're talking about a social environment, "being accused of 'sexual harassment'" is just equivocation, implying legal action where none exists.

Noah Snyder

Hugo, you know how you often say "Sisterhood is easier in the winter?" I really think it's also true that pro-feminism is much much harder when you're single.

Or at least that's my experience contrasting the last year when I've been in a happy relationship to the previous three when I was single and trying desperately to figure out what would make me more attractive to women. And when you're thinking in those terms "how do I meet women" "what do I do to make women like me" "what sort of guys do women like" it's hard not to be sexist about it, because you're thinking about "women" not any particular woman.

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