Winkler completed an MA in English Literature in 2013, at the same time that I was working on my doctorate on Shakespeare, which makes the two of us grad school contemporaries. I understand well the myopic feminist perspective of English departments, of how students are often trained to read specifically for attitudes of unfairness towards women in order to confirm the narrative of women’s victimization. I also understand how the “male gaze,” men’s sexualization of women, is treated punitively, as a dirtiness within men that can cause them to dehumanize women and which can lead to cruelty. And of course this is sometimes tragically true.
But what troubles me is that women commonly fail to appreciate the internal struggle men have with their sexual instincts, and instead condemn them for having these instincts at all. In other words, consciousness raising feminism rightly asserts that men shouldn’t treat women like objects for their use, but it does so while being unconscious of men’s humanity, and as a consequence, both minimizes and punishes the male sexual instinct that causes men to see women sexually in spite of men’s civilizing efforts not to.
What contemporary feminism fails to adequately grapple with is nature itself, and as a result, feminist attitudes towards men, and particularly towards male sexuality, are compassionless and punitive (not to mention humourless—and human sexuality is so often very funny!). With a blind spot for men’s experiences, consciousness raising feminist attitudes towards male sexual energy are unlikely to inspire mutual respect, and instead work to engender resentment, anxiety, and unhappiness.
As I grow older, I’m becoming increasingly aware of and sympathetic to the internal struggle between powerful sexual instincts and self-possession that most men contend with every day. Many women have an active libido, but in my experience the vast majority of women think about sex much less than men do. Women: imagine what it would be like to think about sex a lot, then quadruple what you’ve just imagined, and now you’re in the ballpark of the average man. It would be exhausting, I can only imagine, to constantly have to assert one’s own self-restraint over an appetite that gnaws at one’s imagination from moment to moment. But to be made to feel somehow polluted for the appetite itself, the appetite that men most usually successfully control and deny would be almost intolerable.
“What feminism doesn’t understand, and probably doesn’t want to understand because it might create compassion for male sexuality, is the internal struggle of men against their own appetites.” https://t.co/Rg3uWMQUW4
— Claire Lehmann (@clairlemon) July 23, 2019