So after a weeklong media carpet-bombing of guy-shit-talk delivered by The Donald, the subjects of groping and sexual misdeeds pervaded the air that we breathe like radiation from a pornographic dirty bomb. And I wasn’t immune to it. Once I suggested to my wife that guys’ “locker room talk” is fairly prevalent, the cat was out of the bag and I was, to continue with the animal metaphors, in the doghouse. “You mean all men talk that way?” Cats and dogs are not a bad cue to start talking about men and women; specifically—to discuss whether most men are, in fact, mostly dog.
What’s a dog? Woof. A sometimes lovable but crude creature who’s uncontrollably guided mostly by his basest, often lewd instincts. A loping mutt, unrestricted and unconscious regarding most civilized norms of behavior. A single-minded beast that, when not snoring, is fairly focused on satisfying his immediate, selfish bodily needs; needs that are nearly always pertaining to gratifying some physical sensation, be it pooping, peeing or itching whenever and wherever; licking whatever he senses “might taste good”; or following a scent that attracts his desires even if it leads him, to his owner’s embarrassment, to stick his nose uninvited in the crotch of humans. Are most men like this? Some of the time? Most of the time? All of the time? Are men prone to behave in this manner more when they’re around other men?
Everyone knows that dogs are more everything dog-like (including lethal) when they run in packs… or in locker rooms.
Let me make one thing crystal clear: I am in no way attempting to condone or rationalize Trump’s or anyone’s unwarranted, self-entitled, indiscriminate predatory sexual assault—let alone bragging about it. I am attempting to get out of the doghouse at home while examining how we, many men, might have gotten in there.
Let’s break this down. Woof.
More than one man has, upon seeing someone who piques his sexual appetite stroll by, stomped his foot, punched his steering wheel, slapped his own face hard! All in an attempt to stop the gloriously painful sensation of uninvited chemicals coursing through his body at Formula One speed. This effect on men is ultra powerful, leading many to greatness and many more to ruin.
No surprise: Sex sells. Duh! But it really sells. Aside from the obvious billion-dollar porn industry, the desire to be, feel and/or be perceived as sexy seems to increasingly pervade nearly every aspect of our non-intellectual life. Think about it: sports, food, cars, fashion, entertainment, social media—they are all more sexually tinged in subtle and not-so-subtle ways than ever before.
And women and marketing for women seem to embrace this phenomenon while at the same time are sometimes victimized by it. Buy this eye-liner and “feel sexy,” wear this bra/hat/lip gloss/face cream/skirt/dress/handbag/hair dye/jewelry/nail polish… you name it—and feel sexy… and be sexy. What the hell does “be sexy” really mean? Sometimes women just want to look good for themselves, or even for other women. But sometimes it means being a lure, a magnet for, in this case, men’s sexual responses.
A man might not quibble with this description when he puts on AXE deodorant. He wants women to be attracted to him sexually. He consciously wants this in order to have sex as easily and regularly as possible. I don’t think this is true for most women. They want to “be sexy,” attract admiration and possibly even be desired, but not directly for actual sex. I know I’m generalizing, and I’m a man, but bear with me.
Let’s not mince words here—one wants to be sexy for all sorts of reasons but it starts with the most basic one of all: our biological imperative to procreate. More on hormones and brain chemistry later, but some of the other reasons are less biological and far more psychological and cultural. Descartes’ eponymous statement “I think therefore I am” seems to have morphed into “I’m sexy therefore I am.” As though I don’t exist if I’m not… sexy? Sexualized? Looked at? Ogled?
Of course this is not new. Women have been adorning and beautifying themselves with baubles and makeup since before scholars have been studying human civilization. What about men? I actually heard Norman Mailer say, “men are tantalized by a woman’s ass and women are tantalized by a man’s territory.” I am completely aware how retro and un-PC this sentiment is—that it represents an old, often ugly, stereotypical paradigm… but is there some truth to this cliché? The obvious answer is that maybe it’s true for some and not for all. Why do I sense that Melania is with Donald not for his cuddliness—and coiffure?
A male friend of mine recently visited New York City from his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and he just slumped his head down in defeat and said that seeing such attractive and sexual women everywhere was like willfully rubbing salt in his wounds. Apparently New York’s building-size posters of gorgeous semi-clad models draped all over the place, as well as the actual models themselves and legions of similarly attired beauties walking down the street makes it a tantalizingly painful place.
I don’t know if women appreciate the actual pain I’m referring to: More than one man has, upon seeing someone who piques his sexual appetite stroll by, stomped his foot forcefully on the ground, punched his steering wheel, slapped his own face hard! All in an attempt to snap out of it, come back to the preset, escape the near-narcotic thrall of attraction and stop the gloriously painful sensation of uninvited chemicals coursing through his body at Formula One speed. This effect on men is ultra powerful, leading many to greatness and many more to ruin.
And it’s obviously not just in Manhattan. You can’t look at the internet or the TV without it affecting you. We, in the western culture are arguably more visually sexualized and sexually bombarded than ever before in history. And we’ve fought hard to achieve this state; this right, this freedom. If it makes some of our men a bit nuts sometimes it literally traumatizes others—literally to the point of terrorism. When the godfather of modern radical Islamic Terrorism, Sayyid Qutb, came to the United States in the late 1940s, he was so utterly freaked out by what he deemed our women’s unabashed sexuality, it became a major factor in his conviction that we were beyond redeeming, “numb to faith in religion, faith in art, and faith in spiritual values altogether.” He and his writings became prime inspiration for violent groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. So much for the (positive) effects of sperm build-up!
But what makes this such a paradoxically crazy time for men is that it’s increasingly OK for emerging wannabe starlets to arrive via a leaked sex tape, and for young women to routinely wear clothing that, in the past, would identify them as hookers, men are doubly unable to acknowledge their obvious response. This collision of forces—sexy/not sexy; provocative/not provocative; look at me/don’t look at me—is, in a word, confusing.
If this is the state of affairs today, what has led up to it, including most of history where men had fewer societal restrictions on at least uninhibited verbal assaults of women, has moved many women to be legitimately cautious and increasingly demand and create personal agency for themselves. It’s no wonder that following Trump’s recent Access Hollywood/“locker room talk” imbroglio, Kelly Oxford, a major social media voice and author, posted the Twitter message “tweet me your first assaults”—and within days received 27 millions views and responses.
Science confirms that there is, in fact, a lot of dog in men. But of course, what separates humankind and beasts is precisely our ability to self censor and take control of the more primitive, inappropriate and irrational aspects of our nature.
None of this confusion is particularly helped by our hormones and brain chemistry. But that ain’t going away.
Though by now it is a cliché, as it appeared in a Scientific American article entitled “The Orgasmic Mind: The Neurological Roots of Sexual Pleasure”: “Men are drawn to visual erotica, explaining the lure of magazines such as Playboy. Meanwhile female desire is supposedly fueled by a richer cognitive and emotional texture.” Which of course simply translates to: Men, more than women, will always be in a more uncontrollably reactive state around visual stimuli. Woof.
More recently, a LiveScience article, “10 Things Every Woman Should Know About a Man’s Brain,: stated: “While often linked to aggression and hostility, testosterone is also the hormone of the libido. And guys have six times the amount surging through their veins as women.” Also, “testosterone impairs the impulse-control region of the brain.” Woof again.
Oh and check out this note from a four-part Psychology Today article by psychologist Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D., in which he explores and expands on the findings of cognitive neuroscientists Ogi Ogas and Said Gaddam, A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals About Human Desire: “…as Ogas and Gaddam suggest, ‘Men’s greater sex drive may be partially due to the fact that their sexual motivation pathways have more connections to the subcortical reward system than in women’ [or, in short] ‘men’s brains are designed to objectify females.’ Frustrated women have frequently (and cynically) complained that men’s brains are located between their legs. But the authors’ more scientifically grounded viewpoint seeks to elucidate the strategic—and frankly, unwilled—connection between the male’s brain and his genitals.” Woof one more time.
Sounds like science confirms that there is, in fact, a lot of dog in men. But of course, what separates humankind and beasts is precisely our ability to self censor and take control of the more primitive, inappropriate and irrational aspects of our nature.
Still, do men harbor the worse aspects of these otherwise “controlled” impulses toward women? The truth is that we all, both men and women, exist on a shifting spectrum of responses and, depending on various circumstances, are sometimes more susceptible to what might be considered less evolved thoughts. But thoughts are a far cry from actions.
Men, especially around one another, sometimes share and commiserate about sexual responses, fantasies and frustrations. But I’ve never heard boasting about uninvited groping or uninvited anything sexual. We are for the most part good, fairly domesticated doggies. And when it comes to choosing between civilization and the way of beasts, I—and I’d like to think a lot of other men—would choose civilization. And frankly that may just be what this upcoming presidential election is about.