I am known among my friends as The Emasculator. According to them, the man who takes me on must have balls of steel and a very elastic ego. I will admit that I like to argue, know how to change a tire, and have never been known to simper. If I am not moved or impressed, I have a habit of making it known. But though I get an odd satisfaction out of this reputation, I also find it ridiculous.
It is an assumed understanding in our culture that men can be emasculated -- that we as women should be concerned with catering to the male ego, and that masculinity is something so fragile that it can be offended. Even simple things like having a man carry your purse in public is seen by many to be a delicate negotiation.
While walking down Mission Street with my friend Allison Lovejoy, a classical pianist who is highly respected by male musicians, we discussed all the ways in which we are still told by society how to be gentle with masculinity. Don't' criticize men. Don't flaunt that you are better at something than they are. Be unfailingly encouraging. And most importantly, don't be too demanding or instructive when you are in bed with them.
How many years did I spend being afraid that if I told a man that what he was doing was just not working for me, it would upset him? Too many. I am not alone in this. Numerous women silently agree to suffer through unsatisfying sex because they are worried it will make their lover insecure.
Oh, that tender membrane of the idea of maleness, a cloak of strength, know-how, intelligence, and skill that is expected to hang off each and every individual with a penis. And if that individual is, in fact, not very strong at all, if he is instead rather frail, there is yet this social agreement that both people will pretend that he is. Because otherwise he will shrivel up and and become a what? A non-man -- an, oh my God, feminized man!
Which brings me to ask this question; is there a female equivalent of emasculation? Jeff Hester proposed that calling a woman "butch" if she is not actively seeking that designation could be compromising. But he adds that it is, "not exactly the same, since it doesn't require something someone takes away." Ken Yee argues that challenging a woman's fertility, calling her an "old maid" for instance, could be an act of offending her femininity. But it is Indra Lowenstein who makes a powerful point that addresses a potential difference in perspective between the sexes when she quotes, "men are afraid that women will laugh at them while women are afraid that men will kill them."
Guillaume Bechaeux offers this: "A true smile from a woman, every time different on each woman's face, is coming free from the soul. When a woman is hurt, her femininity is injured. When someone is taking off this smile, harmony and femininity disappear." (Yes, he is French.)So. Back to sex.
As a young woman, I was intensely aware of how much the men I was with wanted me to see them as studs. I felt that I affronted their prowess if I didn't have an orgasm. Wanting them to feel like wild-cocked, seducer warriors, I learned how to fake it. That, of course, became very tiresome, and I finally vowed to never fake it again. But it is amazing how prevalent that experience still is because, sadly, modern westerners still don't (despite those who are actively fighting for this) assume female pleasure to be essential to the sex act. It's a nice idea, but not an expectation.
That is not true everywhere. In her book Promiscuities, Naomi Wolf quotes from the Kama Sutra: "For a man to be successful with women he must pay them marked attention. ... Do not unite with a woman until you have excited her with playful caresses, and then desire will be mutual."
Masculinity and femininity, like so many cultural ideas, are ever shifting in meaning. And thanks to queers, drag artists, trans folks, feminism, and the enlightened male, gender is going through a creative and very needed revision. And it is becoming increasingly clear that it is as impossible to actually emasculate anyone as it is for the Ken doll to suddenly grow a pair.
So in honor of a braver new world, I will continue to delight in beating a man at billiards only then to take him home and show him exactly how I like it.
The Sweet Spot is a blog column about alternative sexuality by Ginger Murray who is also the editor of Whore! magazine. Check back next week for more.