Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Two Utopias

An extract from an excellent essay by F. Roger Devlin, Sexual Utopia In Power. I recommend reading it in full, the text of which can be found here.

 Let us consider what a sexual utopia is, and let us begin with men, who are in every respect simpler.

Nature has played a trick on men: production of spermatozoa occurs at a rate several orders of magnitude greater than female ovulation (about 12 million per hour vs. 400 per lifetime). This is a natural, not a moral, fact. Among the lower animals also, the male is grossly oversupplied with something for which the female has only a limited demand. This means that the female has far greater control over mating. The universal law of nature is that males display and females choose. Male peacocks spread their tales, females choose. Male rams butt horns, females choose. Among humans, boys try to impress girls-and the girls choose. Nature dictates that in the mating dance, the male must wait to be chosen.

A man's sexual utopia is, accordingly, a world in which no such limit to female demand for him exists. It is not necessary to resort to pornography for examples. Consider only popular movies aimed at a male audience, such as the James Bond series. Women simply cannot resist James Bond. He does not have to propose marriage, or even request dates. He simply walks into the room and they swoon. The entertainment industry turns out endless unrealistic images such as this. Why, the male viewer eventually may ask, cannot life actually be so? To some, it is tempting to put the blame on the institution of marriage.

Marriage, after all, seems to restrict sex rather drastically. Certain men figure that if sex were permitted both inside and outside of marriage there would be twice as much of it as formerly. They imagined there existed a large, untapped reservoir of female desire hitherto repressed by monogamy. To release it, they sought, during the early postwar period, to replace the seventh commandment with an endorsement of all sexual activity between "consenting adults." Every man could have a harem. Sexual behavior in general, and not merely family life, was henceforward to be regarded as a private matter. Traditionalists who disagreed were said to want to "put a policeman in every bedroom." This was the age of the Kinsey Report and the first appearance of Playboy magazine. Idle male daydreams had become a social movement.

This characteristically male sexual utopianism was a forerunner of the sexual revolution but not the revolution itself. Men are incapable of bringing about fundamental changes in heterosexual relations without the cooperation-the famed "consent"-of women. But the original male would-be revolutionaries did not understand the nature of the female sex instinct. That is why things have not gone according to their plan.

What is the special character of feminine sexual desire that distinguishes it from that of men?

It is sometimes said that men are polygamous and women monogamous. Such a belief is often implicit in the writings of male conservatives: Women only want good husbands, but heartless men use and abandon them. Some evidence does appear, prima facie, to support such a view. One 1994 survey found that "while men projected they would ideally like six sex partners over the next year, and eight over the next two years, women responded that their ideal would be to have only one partner over the next year. And over two years? The answer, for women, was still one." Is this not evidence that women are naturally monogamous?

No it is not. Women know their own sexual urges are unruly, but traditionally have had enough sense to keep quiet about it. A husband's belief that his wife is naturally monogamous makes for his own peace of mind. It is not to a wife's advantage, either, that her husband understand her too well: Knowledge is power. In short, we have here a kind of Platonic "noble lie"-a belief which is salutary, although false.

It would be more accurate to say that the female sexual instinct is hypergamous. Men may have a tendency to seek sexual variety, but women have simple tastes in the manner of Oscar Wilde: They are always satisfied with the best. By definition, only one man can be the best. These different male and female "sexual orientations" are clearly seen among the lower primates, e.g., in a baboon pack. Females compete to mate at the top, males to get to the top.

Women, in fact, have a distinctive sexual utopia corresponding to their hypergamous instincts. In its purely utopian form, it has two parts: First, she mates with her incubus, the imaginary perfect man; and second, he "commits," or ceases mating with all other women. This is the formula of much pulp romance fiction. The fantasy is strictly utopian, partly because no perfect man exists, but partly also because even if he did, it is logically impossible for him to be the exclusive mate of all the women who desire him.

It is possible, however, to enable women to mate hypergamously, i.e., with the most sexually attractive (handsome or socially dominant) men. In the Ecclesiazusae of Aristophanes the women of Athens stage a coup d'état. They occupy the legislative assembly and barricade their husbands out. Then they proceed to enact a law by which the most attractive males of the city will be compelled to mate with each female in turn, beginning with the least attractive. That is the female sexual utopia in power. Aristophanes had a better understanding of the female mind than the average husband.

Hypergamy is not monogamy in the human sense. Although there may be only one "alpha male" at the top of the pack at any given time, which one it is changes over time. In human terms, this means the female is fickle, infatuated with no more than one man at any given time, but not naturally loyal to a husband over the course of a lifetime. In bygone days, it was permitted to point out natural female inconstancy. Consult, for example, Ring Lardner's humorous story "I Can't Breathe"- the private journal of an eighteen year old girl who wants to marry a different young man every week. If surveyed on her preferred number of "sex partners," she would presumably respond one; this does not mean she has any idea who it is.

An important aspect of hypergamy is that it implies the rejection of most males. Women are not so much naturally modest as naturally vain. They are inclined to believe that only the "best" (most sexually attractive) man is worthy of them. This is another common theme of popular romance (the beautiful princess, surrounded by panting suitors, pined away hopelessly for a "real" man-until, one day.etc.).

This cannot be objectively true, of course. An average man would seem to be good enough for the average woman by definition. If women were to mate with all the men "worthy" of them they would have little time for anything else. To repeat, hypergamy is distinct from monogamy. It is an irrational instinct, and the female sexual utopia is a consequence of that instinct.

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