Sunday, January 13, 2008

Free to be Unsexy

It was such a lovely day that I vowed not to turn on the computer until the sun started going down and it got too cold to be outside. Luckily it's winter, and this happens at about 3:30. So here I am, back with some quotes from everyone's favorite 1977 article about asexuality, Asexual and Autoerotic Women: Two Invisible Groups (Johnson). Johnson's article focuses on women, but she makes an interesting footnote about men:

The oppression of asexual men in contemporary American society is illustrated by Perry Deane Young's remark in Ms. magazine (March, 1975) that Vietnam served as an escape hatch for some men from "back home...where men and women were expected to move in couples." "Any sort of eccentricity (in sexual or other behavior) was tolerated in Vietnam so long as one behaved properly in combat. This allowed for those loners who wanted nothing to do with any kind of sex involving another person." (p. 116)

It's great that Johnson accepts the reality of asexual men without question. I would love to see a study someday of the different issues that male and female asexuals face. Even though men can take advantage of the "lone warrior" archetype, they also have the pressure of machismo to contend with. And even though women are seen as pursuing sex less aggressively, they're also seen as sexual objects who must be validated by men. It's enough to make anyone want to escape, but Vietnam? That's pretty intense. The next quote is about women, but applies to men as well:

The modern woman's liberty to expose her legs and most of her body does not signify women's sexual liberation, but only her obsessive desire to please men. Women are "free" to start wearing padded bras at the age of nine and to spend forty-eight million dollars annually in eye make-up alone...Women are not free not to be sexy. (Stannard, 1971, p. 192)

It's easy to find that quote a little...precious. I mean, exposing our legs is fairly old news by now. But, it seems like the pressure to be sexy has only increased since 1971. Through Figleaf, I discovered Nair Pretty, a hair removal product aimed directly at young girls. Its website states:

So you're at an age when the childhood fuzz is becoming thicker and coarser hair. It's time to give some serious thought to removing it. If you've never dealt with hair removal before, it's natural to feel a little bit nervous. But you'll soon see, getting smooth, silky skin with Nair® depilatories is simple – and a fun way to treat yourself right!

Call me old-fashioned, but that utterly horrifies me. Even girls barely entering puberty aren't free not be sexy. (And being sexy isn't easy-- ever tried to shave, wax, or otherwise deforest your nether-regions? INGROWN HAIRS FOR THE OUCH!) When I realized I was asexual, I also realized that I didn't have to be sexy. Yay, what freedom! Kind of. Because as a 23-year-old woman in this culture, how many other options do I have? We'll always find different things sexy (and asexy). But being sexy should be about rocking your own style, not pandering to the lowest common denominator or the demands of the beauty industry. I know, that's starry-eyed idealism. But in a more A-friendly world, couldn't you start to see it?


Anonymous said...

That Nair page was one of the most creepy things I've seen. Ewww.

Ily said...

Yeah, it's weird, huh?! Thanks for commenting, Gatto!

maymay said...

Oh yes, so yes! This is why I love your blog, Ily!

What's ironic about this entire thing is that it's not just girls who are not allowed to be not sexy and deal with that double-standard, it's men too, only from the other direction. We're not allowed to say "no" to sex because that would make us less manly. It's ridiculous and just as oppressive.

I would actually be absolutely fascinated to hear statistics about the numbers of asexual men compared against the numbers of asexual women that are out there.

Are women more likely to be asexual than men? A friend of mine and I had a debate the other night which (simplistically) came down to the notion, she said, that women were naturally more of the asexual community because they are biologically, generally speaking, lower-libido people. But as we both know, this is a chicken-and-egg debate.

Anyway, statistics aren't everything, but they can be pretty enlightening.

Anonymous said...

Yes, you write a good blog.

Have you seen the Frontline special, "The Merchants of Cool"? It's about the marketing that companies like Viacom do in order to exploit teens and bleed away their money (or, presumably, their parents' money just as often), with the bonus side effect that they'll grow into narcissistic consumption-obsessed adults.

Hezaa said...

The Nair thing is really creepy. Little girls do NOT need to shave their legs! (Nor does anyone else. Shaving one's legs is a personal choice that should not be forced on anyone.)

Ily said...

Maymay, to answer your question: On AVEN, a poll of 313 members found out that AVEN was 32% male, 61% female, and 4% other. However, as this is a self-selecting sample, I don't think it means all that much.
(And the post you linked to is so true. Sex appeal doesn't equal self-worth indeed, booyah.)

Ily said...

Thanks for the comment, hezaa! Nair also fails to mention the aerodynamic benefits of hair removal... :-) Yep, hard to trust...

maymay said...

Maymay, to answer your question: On AVEN, a poll of 313 members found out that AVEN was 32% male, 61% female, and 4% other. However, as this is a self-selecting sample, I don't think it means all that much.

Thanks, Ily. Self-selecting samples are better than nothing, and this is actually an identical result to my initial estimates from reading elsewhere.