Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The James Bond Legacy: Misogynist Pigs or Poor Boys?

Here is a criticism I hear quite often: Men are disgusting, misogynistic creatures who think women are only good for one thing - or, according to Jon Lajoie, three things (namely cooking, cleaning and vaginas). Many otherwise timid women unabashedly criticise men, most often alluding to the same problem - the fact, that men are so driven by their libido. I'm not here to tell you that men are not interested in sex - that'd be crazy talk. But I am here to offer a different perspective, hypothesise about the ways in which the media hurts young men & explain why I think women are being too harsh on their male counterparts. And who do I blame? Bond. James Bond. 

First of all, let me just point out that I am young enough not to have been thoroughly embittered by my encounters with men and possibly a little too naive about the opposite sex in general. Hence my credentials to write this article are a little bit like trying to become the UK's next Prime Minister through a recommendation letter from my nursery teacher (which, I'll have you know, would be celebratory). But perhaps this is the only way to offer the perspective which I believe to be much needed - and hence I have taken it upon myself to be the person to exclaim "men are really not that bad! and it's true because I said so!" with a dash of juvenile arrogance. 

As I already mentioned, I am not trying to convince anyone that men are not driven by their sexual desires. Far from it. But I find the widespread stigmatisation of men as mindless "vagina hunters" very harmful, because it re-enforces and further exacerbates the issue. Here are some words of the sexy Byronic hero, Pechorin, to illustrate what I mean by that:
"All have read upon my countenance the marks of bad qualities, which were not existent; but they were assumed to exist—and they were born. I was modest—I was accused of slyness: I grew secretive. I profoundly felt both good and evil—no one caressed me, all insulted me: I grew vindictive. I was gloomy—other children merry and talkative; I felt myself higher than they—I was rated lower: I grew envious. I was prepared to love the whole world—no one understood me: I learned to hate." 
A Hero of Our Time (Mikhail Lermontov), via Gutenberg
In other words, by telling men that they are crazy about sexual gratification, we are subconsciously persuading them to become the very thing which we don't want them to be. Because boys are told such things from their childhood on - "ah, that's just how boys are!" - it becomes embedded in their heads and before we know it, they are in the throes of puberty, making fun of Annie for not having any tits yet. Should Annie be angry? Damn right she should. But at whom? In my opinion, the media is far more deserving of her anger than the immature boys in question. 

Now, I am by no means trying to excuse anyone's disrespectful behaviour and to shift blame away from where it's due. Nonetheless, I think that our society - and the norms espoused on us by the media in particular - is far more deserving of blame than many of us let on. Whilst society's increasingly liberal view of human sexuality seems to be a step in the right direction, the proliferation of visual sexual stimuli in the media only aggravates the problem. Exposed to arousing images from an early age on, it is no wonder that men are finding it increasingly difficult to be turned on by real women. Magazines, newspapers, posters and TV ads which children and adults alike encounter on a daily basis are overflowing with suggestive, semi-nude images of attractive women. The James Bond legacy, as I call it, is not primarily about the wildly popular film franchise - it is about the 1950s ideal of a successful dominant alpha male and the beautiful submissive female home-maker. It is an ideal which feminism has not managed to curb despite its many successes and which appears to have adapted to the current societal climate, preserving its core values. 

One of the places where this traditional role division is still as intact as ever is porn. After watching a horny blonde bombshell with double D's get gang-raped by a throng of aliens from outer space, how are young men supposed to find their average, mousy girlfriends who blush upon hearing the word "dick" arousing? As Naomi Wolf says in her xojane interview:

 "[W]hat happens with porn is it desensitizes users over time so that men need more and more extreme images in order to get the same level of arousal. And what happens over time is that -– especially men -- bond with the porn chemically and lose the ability to get aroused. What would have aroused them 10 or 15 years ago doesn’t anymore because they’ve become habituated to this higher and higher level of extreme imagery. Which is why you get these very extreme images now that used to be quite fetishistic or quite marginal, they’re now very mainstream." 

Just to be clear - I am not anti-porn at all. Girls do it, boys do it, it's all jolly good. But there are many issues to be had with the porn industry itself. Here is how yet another amazing feminist of our generation defines it:

"The whole thing is as offensive, sclerotic, depressing, emotionally bankrupt and desultory as you would expect a widely unregulated industry worth, at an extremely conservative estimate, $30 billion to be. No industry ever made that amount of money without being superlatively crass and dumb." 
-Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman 

I just cannot help it but think, "too much of a good thing..." (look, it rhymes!). Unfortunately for them, men do not realise that the industry they have largely created themselves and for themselves is hurting them almost as much as it hurts us, women. Not only does it cause wildly unrealistic expectations, but also dissatisfaction with their real life sexual encounters.

What is worse, the socially constructed image of a "man", personified by 007, makes sex about much more than physical gratification - it transforms it into a quest to come as close to this ideal as possible. With its constant emphasis on sex, the media makes men believe that they are not masculine enough unless they bed as many girls as their charm and physique juxtaposed allow. This makes the already nerve-wrecking courting process even more stressful for the average man who - dare I say it - lacks both James Bond's imposing build and panty-dropping charisma.

On the whole, it seems like men are being harmed by the contemporary media and the societal norms established by it in much the same way women are. But instead of being pitied, they are being denigrated by the frustrated female population. Having to deal with staggering amounts of sexism and male-centric biases on a daily basis, it is easy for us to believe that men have it really easy. But if we do not address the issue and simply blame some silly, made up "primate instinct" for men's obsession with sex and shrug our shoulders, the best we can expect is men to become defensive and hide behind sexist comments and attitudes. Perhaps it's time to admit that - for the most part - those sex obsessed misogynistic pigs are not patriarchs attempting to subdue us through clever manipulation, but rather victims of the system their predecessors have implemented. We're all in it together and we should concentrate on directing our collective anger towards the real evil-doers, not the convenient targets.

Images via Vanity Fair

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