The myth that only men treat the opposite sex as objects, is just that - a myth. The sooner women are more honest about their lustful feelings, and the sooner society stops treating sexually open women as sluts the better it will be for all of us.
The working assumption is that men look at women as sex objects and not the other way around. Oh no! Women are far too virtuous. But that theory is just a way of denying the reality of female desire - which in truth is a powerful force.
A Saturday afternoon - I am watching the rugby. South Africa vs. Australia. The camera slows down during the replay and closes in on the buttocks and thighs of two of the Australian players. There is no clue to their identity or individuality. Faces, jerseys or numbers are not shown - they are just flesh.
I am struck by the thought that such an image featuring female bodies would have been seen as sexual. This apparently is different. No one in the pub appears to notice anything unusual, but then I have not reacted - at least not visibly - either. These Aussie arses are pert and high in their shorts. Unlike the thickset Springboks, their thighs are rangy and muscular. Rugged, yes; ripped, yes - but also beautiful. It is hard not to imagine what they would feel like wrapped around you, pulling you closer.
In our culture men are mostly seen as sexual subjects - not objects. They are somehow less corporeal, less fleshy, less desirable than women. Men desire, women are desired - that's the cliché. But it's not the full truth. It's not nearly close to the truth. For heterosexual men, women, with our breasts and our hair and our rounded asses are the embodiment of sexual desire; for straight women, men are objects of desire too - not their money, not their intelligence - just men themselves.
Simone de Beauvoir wrote: "The truth that for woman, man is sex and carnality has never been proclaimed because there is no one to proclaim it." Why? For a start, our culture is blind to, or terrified of, female desire. Think of the myths and archetypes. There's Lilith, Adam's first wife in Jewish folklore, who was banished from the Garden of Eden for wanting to be on top during sex; the succubus, a female demon, that seduces men while they sleep, robbing them of their vitality; the witch of the Inquisition, a woman whose insatiable carnal lust was the source of her evil power; and Jezebel, a wanton woman, who leads good men into immorality.
But mostly female desire is blind. A woman who sleeps around is written off disparagingly as a slut, someone who gives her body away, instead of trading it for love or marriage. Or else she is pathological - a hyper-sexual nymphomaniac, emotionally and mentally damaged. Few people ever suggest that maybe she just enjoys sex, that she likes getting laid, that chasing, flirting, seducing and fucking are just as pleasurable for women as for men. And if we cannot see female desire, then we don't see the forces that drive it either. Eva Herzigová in her Wonderbra: an iconic image and a cultural moment, much discussed as a distraction to male drivers and liable to cause accidents. David Beckham in his Emporio Armani briefs: another iconic image and another cultural moment, also much discussed - but yet again for its effect on men. An ad to make the average bloke feel inadequate and as an example of the 'spornosexual' - the intersection of sports and porn - aimed not at the female gaze, or so I read, but the gay male one.
Strange that so many cultural commentators would dismiss his potential to elicit desire in women. Especially as Becks is accompanied by screaming female fans whenever he makes a public appearance. A Thursday night - I am talking to my ex-boyfriend, now long-term friend, on Skype. He's in South Africa, it's summer, so he is not wearing a shirt. He is not doing this to seduce me. Half naked men in the South African summer is the norm. They are seen as unremarkable, not sexual. He would not or could not see this as a potential turn-on, but he probably should, given our history. His skin is lightly tanned and smooth. I know what it feels like, and I know he has a smattering of freckles on his shoulders, not visible on the webcam. And looking at him, I remember it. Did he want me to? I doubt it.
A Sunday evening - I am sitting in Hogan's with my friend Ben. Ben is telling me about a woman he is in love with. I am only half listening. Ben is always falling desperately in love with women who have boyfriends or girlfriends or vaguely sociopathic tendencies, and sometimes all three, but also I am distracted by a man sitting diagonally opposite me at the next table. He is beautiful - all and pale and dark - but it is his wrists that have entranced me. They are perfect. Slim and sculpted like marble, the kind of wrists you expect to find on a great pianist, the kind of wrists you'd like to run your tongue along so you could taste the skin and map the bones.
A Saturday night - I am at Berghain in Berlin. A man in leather straps and shorts dances. His chest is firm and hard, his legs strong and muscular. I watch him, although I know he is not performing for me, or any woman there. I can appreciate him despite knowing that. He is dancing with his eyes closed but he must be aware that he attracting an audience. I like the fact that he knows he is beautiful, but unselfconsciously so. He's confident, but he doesn't seem conceited, although he must know that he can go home, or to a dark corner, with any man he choses. He is Cinderella at the ball.
I am jealous, in a way. I wish more straight men would do that - revel in their sexual allure, display it for me, so that I could look at them openly, instead of in furtive glances at arms, buttocks, hips, thighs, necks and wrists. I would like to be able to look at them and say - with my eyes - yes, I see you, and you are beautiful.
It would be an acknowledgement of the desires that drive us all. And in itself, that would be enough.
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