Noah Brand responds, point by point, to a recent Cracked article that provides relationship advice for some kind of disturbing alternate world.
Before I start getting mean, full disclosure: I greatly enjoy Cracked.com. It’s funny, it’s often informative in a factoidy kind of way, and it’s exhibit A for why you never read the bottom half of the internet. Just to drive this paragraph straight to Hipstertown (aka Portland) I even liked it when it was a magazine that bought whatever Mad had rejected that month.
Possibly my favorite thing about Cracked, though, is that it’s one of the best social justice ally sites on the web. They’re not explicitly didactic, but even looking beyond their deliberately anti-racist and anti-sexist articles, you get really nice, unstatedly decent things like the very even gender balance in this article on lousy apologies. They could have gone for the dumb, lazy joke about guys always having to apologize to women because hey, women, amirite? Instead they went for something that reflects actual human experience better than a sitcom writers’ room circa 1994. Also, I have to admire the level of hatesnark they bring to homophobic douchebags. (If you are offended by homophobic douchebags being insulted, I don’t know what to tell you. This may not be the site for you.)
That said, here’s why John Cheese’s recent “Five Things Men Do To Ruin Their Own Sex Lives” is ridiculous, sexist tripe. Not because of anything it says, but because of all the things it doesn’t say. All the things it doesn’t think need to be said, the natural, unstated assumptions that one can just take for granted and make jokes about because hey, everyone knows that’s how it works, right?
I think I need hardly say that all five of these assumptions are really, really creepy.
Cheese’s Point #5: You Can’t Pressure Her into Sex
If you press for sex too much, even if you don’t think what you’re doing is all that harmful, it is absolutely going to enter that push-pull model, and the very idea of having sex with you is going to become repulsive to her. It’s Pavlovian in the respect that you’re training her to loathe your dick.
Well, shit, good point, John. It IS a problem when someone keeps needling and bothering their partner for something, and hey, your point about the push-pull model is well taken. Say, how did you illustrate that model?
Creepy Assumption #1: Women Don’t Want Sex
Think about it in terms of lasagna. You both love it, and you happen to make a pretty damn mean one. So one day, she asks you to make her one, and you’re like “Hell yes, I’ll make you a lasagna. I am the Whitesnake of lasagna, baby!” Then the next day, she asks again. And every day after that until you finally snap…
So, the gender-swapped equivalent to sex is… food. Just as men desire sex and find producing food to be a chore, so too do women desire food and Jesus fucking Christ, John Cheese. Do I even need to keep unpacking how disturbing it is to assume that sex is some big favor a woman does when she’s in a particularly good mood? Presumably on the planet where that’s true, women only masturbate when they’re trying to do their vibrator a solid, because hey, it works hard.
Cheese’s Point #4: Make Sure You’re Not Disgusting
Knowing all that, try to estimate how many times she’d be willing to go back to that spot if she knew that every time she did, she’d be met with the aroma of shitsweat.
No matter what number you came up with, it was too high.
John makes an eloquent case for maintaining one’s no-no square in a clean, well-scrubbed state, a no-funk zone, at least when one is trying to get a little something going. This is, again, basically decent advice. Or would be if he’d managed to get through a whole paragraph without a paralyzingly sexist assumption just taken for granted like it ain’t no thing.
Creepy Assumption #2: Girls Don’t Fart
Add in the fact that we’re guys, and we love to play the occasional butthole trumpet against the faux leather of our computer chairs and giggle, and we’re pretty much always working up a good case of butt sauce.
Holy shit, dude, you actually just came out and said that. The most cheesy, outdated, point-at-it-and-laugh example of how sexist attitudes place women on impossible, imaginary pedestals, and you straight up took it for granted as a reasonable basis for contrasting humor.
You know, if he’s managed to get this old without finding out that women fart, I almost don’t want to tell him. Can someone else take this one?
Cheese’s Point #3: Your Attitude Could Be Your Downfall
But there are those days when a bad mood can just stretch on forever, and nothing seems to help ease it. From the time you get home until your head hits the pillow, everything just sucks, and you either make it known vocally or you sulk around the house and tell the story with your body language. Like the way you keep slamming cabinet doors or giving your cat the finger for no reason.
So the day finally winds down, and you turn off the lights and slide into bed. You feel your partner’s butt pressed up against your still angry dong, and it hits you: “Man, a quickie right before I pass out in a whimpering, pouting heap would do me wonders.” And right there is the problem. You’re thinking of her vagina as your own personal Prozac.
Preach it, John! It is way too easy to think only of our own rotten moods, and not of how we’re coming off to those we love most. Right there with you, buddy.
Creepy Assumption #3: Bitches Be Crazy
Maybe you smile a little more than normal when speaking to the waitress. Or perhaps you laugh at something the cashier says, even though both you and your girlfriend know you’d never find that funny. In your mind, you’re just being polite. But to your girlfriend, you’re flirting. Even if she doesn’t go that far, she can easily see you being saccharine sweet to another woman and instantly reverting back to your normal old self with her, and it’s insulting.
Cheese’s Point #2: Never Assume Women Have the Same Turn-Ons as You
No, it’s not enough to have a good body and a nice car. Even if you’re with a woman who’s shallow enough to fall for that shit right out of the gates, the longer she’s with you, the less all of that superficial bullshit means. And no, contrary to the ratings machines of pop culture television, the average woman doesn’t fall for self-centered douchebags who constantly talk about how awesome they look. At least not the ones I’ve known.
First off, he’s conflating “turn-on” with “relationship fodder” here. Let’s face it, what we look for in a casual sex encounter and what we look for in a long-term partner can be two very different lists. Of course, on Cheeseworld, women don’t want or pursue casual sex, ever. I have no idea how all this heterosexual and lesbian casual sex keeps happening. Well, I do, but apparently John Cheese doesn’t.
Creepy Assumption #4: Men Are All Shallow
For the most part, men are a pretty easy machine to start. Show us some boobs, and we’re good to go.
Okay, I’ll admit, he actually stated that one out loud in so many words. It’s not an unstated assumption, it’s a stated one. All that advice about how women aren’t shallow and superficial and impressed by narcissistic bullshit? He’s presenting that as a contrast to how men experience attraction.
I have to say, this idea that male sexuality is simple, stupid, and uniform is actually one of the most offensive to me personally. It’s very pervasive in our culture, and it’s utter horseshit. It turns men into drooling cartoons with barely-functioning brains, and it tells women that yes, their looks really are all that matter. Like we didn’t have enough shit in our culture pushing that message. Want to impress a guy with your wit, your style, your intellect, your passion? You’re wasting your time, honey. Show him some boobs, and he’s good to go.
Man, if I believed that were true, I wouldn’t be able to imagine why anyone would want to sleep with men. Apparently we’re idiots.
Cheese’s Point #1: Don’t Expect Her To Be A Porn Star
The woman you’re with wants to please you, because that’s how people behave in a relationship. But she doesn’t want to do it by becoming something she’s not. If she’s into that sort of thing, fine. But even then, when she does act out those fantasies, she has to be doing it with you and not for you. Otherwise, they’re going to start killing her mood more frequently until she finally has enough and the fantasies are all you have left.
Oh, honey. I can’t even. This entire point is an extended rehash of Gail Dines’ idea that only men watch porn, and it makes them crave ever-more-perverse sexual fantasies, which is a terrible, terrible imposition on women. Because women, you see, don’t like porn, don’t have fetishes, and aren’t into kinky shit.
Creepy Assumption #5: Women Aren’t Freaky
Let me enlighten your ignorant vanilla ass a wee little bit, Mr. Cheese. (None of those links are technically NSFW. They are, however, utterly filthy.) Those are all confessions by anonymous women about some of their more esoteric and specific sexual fantasies. Now, some would argue that since every one of those examples comes from one of two communities, I’m just cherry-picking data. That would be missing the point. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time refuting Mr. Cheese’s comically wrong misconception, so I just thought of the first two communities to come to mind and grabbed the first batch of appropriate examples I could find in ten minutes. And still I had to add a bunch of unnecessary words to the first sentence in this paragraph, because otherwise there wasn’t room. If I’d felt like spending more than ten minutes, believe me, Mr. Cheese would only get wronger.
In a certain sense, this creepy assumption is a subset of Creepy Assumption #1. There’s this weird idea that kinky sex is sort of like vanilla sex but more so, somehow further along the Sexy Spectrum. And since women don’t like sex, they obviously can’t like Secret Double Extra Sex, right? Nope, women just like normal, vanilla, boring stuff. Like Cardassians.
Now, some of the ladies reading this might object that they, personally, do not want to fuck Cardassians. This is true! And it leads me to our bonus creepy assumption:
Creepy Assumption #6: Men And Women Are Two Homogenous Groups
Reread Cheese’s article. Note all the places where he says “Of course, women’s personalities vary a great deal” or “Not everyone has the same tastes” or “My experience may not be typical of all men ever”. Or if you’re in a hurry, I’ll spoil it: he never says any of that. All men are identical, having the same drives, tastes, and response patterns. All women are likewise a single hivemind with a single uniform personality. Presumably sex on Cheeseworld is some sort of Borg porn. (For the record, BorgPorn.com is currently owned by this NSFW lady, whose fetishes also do not exist on Cheeseworld.)
Cheese is far from the only one guilty of this, of course. It’s all over any form of writing that touches on gender issues, because reflecting the rich diversity of human experience is way harder than just going “Men, amirite?” or “Chicks, man.” Nevertheless, if you assume that people are varied, different, and complex, none of Cheese’s advice makes sense.
Cracked, try harder. You’re doing pretty well at being the good guys in our evolving culture. In terms of our improving understandings of race, culture, sexuality, and common human decency, you’re working hard to be the good guys, and that’s laudable. Now put a little more effort into not being the dumb guys.