The Isis Syndrome

Something that puzzles an older wave of feminists is that the more we approach equal pay and the more glass ceilings shatter, the more extreme does female sexual display seem to become. The proverbial Man from Mars might conclude that, while one half of modern young women are in training for government and the professions, the other half are in training for the brothel. The old paradigm was that women only shook their booty in order to land a husband to support them for the rest of their lives; this theory reflected the thinking of a particular class at a particular time and had no general application, but never mind that. The point is that, if female sexual display used to be about finding a wealthy mate, then it is difficult to interpret the whole of modern exhibitionism in the same way.

A later wave of feminists, with an equally poor grasp of biology, history, economics and everything else, but with a countervailing fierce determination that women must never be conceptualised as agents, but only as victims of the patriarchy, likes to speak of all such sexual display as being mere “performative behaviour” – in plain English, “tactics” – and to contrast it with “real sexual desire”. As if anyone with half a brain ever imagined that sexual display in either sex was the same thing as sexual desire anyway. Moreover, such a distinction seems to promise an explanation of what “real” sexual desire is in a woman, how to recognise it and what to do about it, an explanation that is never actually delivered. In fact the whole object of this exercise is to set up a “heads you’re wrong, tails you’re incorrect” scam on male bystanders.

None of this actually answers the question of what is going on when women who could now, once suitably qualified, become doctors, pilots, generals, bishops, CEOs or cabinet ministers, nevertheless behave as if they were working the street on a very slow day. What are they now competing for?

Of course, the qualification “once suitably qualified” is vital. Just as there has always been a majority of muscular and brainless males, there has always been a majority of curvaceous and brainless females. While the former have little recourse other than street crime (which may become honourable and patriotic when committed in the streets of other countries), brainless women have the option of combining minimum wage with swag. That is, their day job pays the rent and their boyfriends pay for the designer handbags.

When I was at Oxford, with a gender ratio of six men to one woman – still recognisably the world of Zuleika Dobson – some of the women decided that they were obliged to fulfil or even overfulfil their quota. These sexual Stakhanovites regarded possession of a mere four boyfriends as two under par and thus the mark of a born loser. What such women really wanted, of course, was not real intimacy or even hot sex with six different men, but rather the pleasure of being needed or worshipped by six men, of setting them against one another and of messing with their heads. The lunatic demographics offered even mousy little things the pleasure of playing the femme fatale.

Present society, in which shopgirls and manicurists are attempting to model their lives on Sex and the City, reminds me more than somewhat of that Oxford.

What was the real payoff of that Oxford-type game? In part it was the female hierarchy; the woman who had five boyfriends grovelling at her feet was naturally envied by those who only had one. The latter could of course counter by calling the pluralists sluts, though this manoeuvre was too transparent to be truly convincing, and with a 6:1 ratio had no effect anyway, as there was simply no rational incentive to pair off that could make that moralising effective. The deprived or exploited men could call the pluralists sluts too, but in the Seventies all that could ever achieve was getting them stigmatised as male chauvinist oppressors. So the woman with six men on her string became a social leader and her doings were reverently discussed by gossip columnists in the student magazine Isis; where traditional upper-crust “Society” met the new cult of party-girl celebrity.

The second pay-off was of course six times the normal quota of attention. One can only, perhaps, have so much sex, what with all the late nights, papers and examinations; but there seems to be no point at which any woman ever comes to feel that she has too much masculine attention. Getting six adoring boyfriends is far too hard to manage in the absence of a 6:1 sex ratio; but getting noticed by an entire disco, mall or street is not so very difficult. Men being what they are, all you need is skin.

Posted on August 11, 2012 at 09:35 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: WHAT WOMEN WANT, Keeping Score

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