June 16, 2005

Hugo Schwyzer: Some more musings on beauty, desirability, and friendship

Hugo has a great post on lookism (though he doesn't use the term) -- the way a woman's 'attractiveness' plays an overwhelming role in determining how people relate to her. Then he presses further, in the way I particularly like, being, like him, a feminist man.

As a man, I have to ask: how do I play into this? What can men do? It's not right to dismiss all of this as a 'woman's issue', and make some cheap remark about female jealousy and cattiness. We have to find ways to deal with women we find attractive without either 'hitting on them' or withdrawing from them. It's hardly impossible! Sexual attraction is normal and natural and universal -- but it's not a mandate for action. We need to see how our own actions often exacerbate women's competitiveness with other women. Women have been trained to be good students of male behavior, after all; when they see men responding in fairly obvious ways to attractive women, they draw understandable conclusions. Men can help by understanding that sexual attraction is not incompatible with platonic friendship, as long as excellent boundaries are in place and firmly maintained.

There's a well-known scene in When Harry Met Sally where Billy Crystal's character explains to Meg Ryan's character that men can't be platonic friends with a woman they're attracted to; they've either had sex with them, or they're waiting until they have a chance to. I, of course, called bullshit right then and there. But looking at the men around me makes me wonder if I'm not the exception here.

I have a great example of this, from just a few months ago. One of the new grad students in the UIC philosophy department this past year lives with his long-term girlfriend, who I'll call H, a woman originally from Korea who is also a grad student in philosophy, at Northwestern. She is as smart and well-read as any of the rest of us, and also quite attractive. On the particular Friday evening I have in mind, this couple came over to my apartment, to hang out with me and my three roommates. Drunken philosophical conversations happened as usual, but I don't recall anyone asking H's opinion on anything philosophical all evening. In fact, the only part of the evening that really involved her was when one of my roommates went on loudly for ten minutes or so how hot "asian chicks with swords" are. Yeah.

In our society, it's clear that men (and women) are taught to evaluate women as objects of sexual desire first and foremost. How deeply are these lessons ingrained? How often do you find yourself doing this?

1 comment:

Vanessa said...

I don't know how much H's experience that night goes with being an attractive woman than it does with being a woman altogether. I know I've had a similar experience about a billion times before while hanging out with my mostly male friends. (My husband and I have a mutual friend, and when the three of us hang out I am reduced to either Mommy or Serving Wench...and I call them on it, to be sure...) And I am no beauty queen.