Friday, April 06, 2007

If There's One Thing You Can Say About Mankind, There's Nothing Kind About Man

I saved this post from the Bookslut blog from yesterday, because I wanted to respond to it, but I was afraid I'd do the same thing I think Jessa Crispin is doing in that post: viscerally, and vehemently, reacting to something instead of thinking about it.

It's a day later, so maybe I can untangle it now.

Crispin is responding primarily to this Nerve article about a new novel, The Average American Male by Chad Kultgen. (Please note: this is a novel. Its main character has no name, but that does not mean that he is Kultgen, or that the novel is a record of real activities or anyone's actual thoughts. Fiction is not fact.) Her post really is a drive-by, so I feel guilty writing this long post in reaction to her, but I think hers will be a common reaction, particularly among educated, feminist women, so maybe I'm not really hunting a grape with an elephant gun.

I don't think Crispin has read The Average American Male. I'll admit I haven't, and I don't know if I particularly want to -- oh, sure, I do sometimes like books with a lot of sex in them, but Average sounds dull, tawdry, and repetitious, which aren't things I generally look for in a novel. So my reactions will be, as I assume Crispin's were, based on the review and what Kultgen says about it in the Nerve article. In other words, I'm no expert on Average...but neither was Crispin.
On the other hand, I am an American male, which Crispin isn't. And I think she's both conflating Kultgen with his character, and taking Kultgen's statements about men as evidence of his own personal feelings and desires. To put it more bluntly, she's forgetting that Average is a novel and assuming that Kultgen is untypical.

According to that article, and to Amazon, Average is a first-person "lad lit" novel about an unnamed young man in LA who likes to have a lot of sex but doesn't really understand women -- and, apparently, doesn't want to understand women. The plot seems pretty straightforward: a dude bounces between two girls, and eventually ends up with the "better" one (so this is a gender-swapped version of Bridget Jones's Diary, and of about a million romances). Oh, and this guy thinks about sex all the time, and dreams up pornographic scenarios involving just about every woman he sees. (Apparently -- and this would be the fictional part -- he also has sex with a lot of these random women.)

There seem to be two issues that some people...OK, mostly women.. have with this book: 1) that this guy thinks about sex all of the time, which is unrealistic, and 2) that his relationships with women are shallow.

To deal with #2 first: now, I haven't read the book, but it seems like that is the premise of the novel. Perhaps I'm missing something, but that's more of an observation than a criticism, like "Gosh, that Sun sure does give off a lot of light" or "Gee, this water certainly is wet."

On to #1. Crispin writes, about Kultgen (not the main character in his novel):
He's not all testosteroned out, beating his chest about his need for anal sex and blow jobs from multiple women a day. He's just scribbled on the wall and realized when mommy (or Oprah) gets home, she'll be disappointed in him. We should start a collection for his therapy bills now, get a head start.
Again, she seems to have entirely conflated the nameless protagonist and the author. (I'll admit that Kultgen doesn't help: he's in puppyish-new-writer mode in the Nerve article, ready to talk about the book as if it were the pure expression of his real life. He'll get burned by the press soon enough, and learn to emphasize that he's writing novels, not sociology.)

Crispin doesn't engage with Kultgen's thesis: that men think about sex all the time, and that has nothing to do with specific women, or their own childhoods, or anything external. It's how men are. Crispin assumes that this can't possibly be true without even pausing to consider it. But she's wrong; that is what men -- particularly young men -- are like.

Now, I can't speak for all men at all times, and I'm sure there are some men (old, dead, gay, or just sadly deficient) who don't think about women in sexual ways far too often, but...yeah, the snippets on Amazon and in the article seem reasonable to me.

The main character of Average may be a little extreme, perhaps somewhat exaggerated for effect, and he's clearly still in his 20s (men gain some ability to think about other things for whole minutes at a time somewhere between 30 and 35), but I have had streams of consciousness not unlike that, many times.

For example: while walking to work this morning, I saw an attractive woman yawning widely, and thought about blowjobs. (That's the highly sanitized version of my thought process, and I won't explain any further.) Men are nodding right now. Women perhaps are confused.

I suspect part of the problem is that a novel has to be written in words, and real stream of consciousness is largely non-verbal (at least mine is). A man doesn't think "I'd really like to fuck her. Wonder what she tastes like?" and so on; he imagines that he's already doing it, or fantasizes about how something would feel, or works through a sequence of events in his head. Putting that into words perhaps makes it seem worse than it actually is...or maybe women just think that it would be horrible, since they don't realize the other half of the population really does think like that a lot of the time.

So women, the answer is yes: men do think about sex, about having sex with random people (specifically "women they find attractive" in the case of most heterosexual men) all of the time. Men who find you attractive think about having sex with you. You'd probably be appalled if you knew some of the things they'd thought.

But then, wouldn't we all be appalled if we really knew what was in other people's heads?

(Side note: this is why some straight men are uneasy around gay men -- those guys think they know what the gay men are thinking, and they don't like it at all. Those kind of men are also usually the ones who think they're far more attractive then they actually are.)

Now that I've written all this crap, it feels horribly obvious. Don't women already know this? How can you live around men and not realize the way we think?


sdn said...

i am torn between stunned and utterly curious. i guess it's just a low-level hum all the time.

Anonymous said...

Don't women already know this?

In many, maybe even most cases, no, they don't. At least, in modern American culture, I don't know enough to say about other times/places. My wife of several years was an over-30 divorcee when we met, and she is still frequently surprised by this aspect of men's personalities. It's not that I'm any more sex-crazed than her first husband -- just more honest and forthright. And men who are honest and forthright about their sexuality are actually pretty thin on the ground around here.

Anonymous said...

As I tell Alexx, it isn't that I don't believe men think about sex all the time, I just don't believe they think about sex ALL the time. I understand it intellectually, and occasionally, I have moments when I comprehend it viscerally, but the majority of the time I say things like, "Doesn't that get predictible?" It occurs to me, however, that there may well be a reason women are in denial about this situation: if women really comprehended that men think about sex as often as ment hink about sex, it would make doing just about anything, from putting on lip balm to bending down to tie a shoelace, really unnerving and self-conscious-making. It would totally upset the apple cart of pretenses that women have, such as "Yeah, we're really good friends, but I think of him like a brother" (okay, possibly the worst insult a woman can offer a man, and women refuse to acknowledge it). And what about the work place? Women think the limit of the issue is the madonna-whore dichotomy, they are really not prepared for the multi-dimensionality of the the male fantasy life. Women watch John Cusack in "High Fidelity," and they still insist that his character is sensitive and sexy, that he justhas some issues with commitment. It's like that moment in "When Harry Met Sally," and Billy Crystal's character is actually honest with Meg Ryan's, and she still doesn't believe him.

Andrew Wheeler said...

Well, I wouldn't say men think about sex all the time (not once they're over twenty-one and have gotten laid a couple of times), but we do think about it a lot -- more than many women would credit.

I guess the best way to explain it would be to ask a woman to think of the three or four most common things that pop into her head at random times, and then imagine that, for a man, they're all sexual and at least half the time are about an unsuspecting woman directly in front of you.

But it's not true, as some women say, that men think of all women in sexual ways. Some guys probably do, but, for most of us, it's generally restricted to that subset of women we individually find attractive. (And our tastes can be quite different.) I'm not sure which direction women are more likely to be offended by, so I'll have to paraphrase George C. Scott (on a movie set, to a younger actress he was about to film a love scene with) -- I apologize if I find you sexy, and I apologize if I don't find you sexy.

(In the original, Scott was earthier -- he apologized for getting, or not getting, an erection.)

Slade said...

You know, I may be a chick who can actually believe this. Because I, as a horribly undersexed, 21-year-old, bisexual woman, also think about sex all the freaking time, and especially in regards to gorgeous women. (I'm also a feminist; oh boy, is it ever a party in my head.)

It is usually background noise (unless, you know, the thought is remarkable in some way). If that helps.

To help put it in perspective, have you ever been walking down the street and your eyes just get stuck on someone? Their face, their ass, the way they're dancing to their iPod, whatever, something about that person is just enrapturing, and you feel it in your pants. It's like that, usually somewhere at half- to two-thirds power, most of the time. It actually gets annoying sometimes, when I'm trying to concentrate on something else.

Anyway, hope that's educational to somebody.

Anonymous said...

>low level hum
>background noise

More like a train wreck.

Or if you're old enough to remember (ha!), it's more like the sound you heard on the radio when Fibber McGee opened his closet ....

Jessa Crispin said...

Just so you know, I do know that men think about sex all of the time. That doesn't bother me. What bothers me is the advertisement they're using to promote the book, wherein the man tells his girlfriend's parents that once she learns to "take it up the ass without crying", he'll propose marriage.

Contrast that to the author interviews he's giving, wherein he's playing the role of the harmless little writer, "Hi, Oprah, don't get mad at me!" I mean, if you're going to be a dick, really go for it. Don't try to play it down after.

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