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The ethics of attraction, continued

June 17, 2009

Thanks for the great comments on my first post. For people still interested in the ethics of attraction, I would point you to Jaded Hippy’s post, attractions and a kyriarchal society, as well as an interesting comment thread. She brings up a lot of interesting ideas that I hadn’t thought of or covered yet, particularly in regards to race.

In a racist, sexist society can our sexual attractions ever be value neutral? Is it REALLY just a “preference” when white people aren’t attracted to people of other races?

My conclusion? No, not really.

Knowing what I know now about society, social indoctrination, whiteness, etc. I can no longer think it’s a coincidence that white men tend to be the ones I find most sexually attractive.

I think she’s completely right that we cannot divorce our desires from the sexist, racist society in which we grow up in. And it worries me that I too tend to be more attracted to people of my own race; my dating history certainly elucidates, if not a “type”, a trend towards men of my own race and cultural background. Jaded doesn’t accept the idea that we can’t change who we are attracted to, and is actively seeking out and recognizing other definitions of beauty.

I’m really interested in this idea of trying to redefine your own cultural context. If you put down cosmo, turn off reality tv, refuse to view mainstream porn (etc.) and instead view non-western art, read Bitch magazine, and view feminist porn (etc.) could you change the pattern of your own socialization? Obviously not completely, but it may be a start. Although I feel like I can recognize a lot of the negative norms I am presented with in chick flicks, for example, is it problematic that I continue to watch them rather than seek out alternate media with more positive messages?

Getting back to attraction, I was thinking about this especially in terms of conceptions of masculinity and femininity. Continuing to discuss her preferences, Jaded Hippy writes,

A preference for tall men exclude many, also. Especially since I am myself a bit taller than average. Preference for “masculine” men also excludes some (especially Asian). And I can’t any longer ignore that these traits also, though not tied to skin color (what most commonly think of as THE racial indicator) are most certainly tied to dominant narratives about “real men” and that those narratives are strongly informed by whiteness.

I’ve found that even when we move beyond gender binaries and consider fluid sexualities and multiple sexual orientations a lot of our discussion of attraction is guided by this distinction between masculine and feminine. It’s still very much the parameter by which we describe gender expression, sexual orientation, and sexual activity. Is this parameter necessary to describe sexuality? And if it is, is this parameter inherently negative? I might say yes, at least in America, because these conceptual distinctions of masculinity and femininity are certainly not fixed, but culturally determined. And in America, their cultural roots are both racist and sexist. As Jaded points out, our conceptions of masculinity and femininity are very much guided by a narrative of whiteness, and this racist element is inextricable from the way we define manliness and womanliness.

So is there a possibility of redefining our conceptions of masculinity and femininity the way we might try to redefine our notions of beauty? Could redefining for ourselves what it means to be masculine or feminine be a way to make our attractions more ethical?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 17, 2009 12:51 PM

    I’ve got no answers, but good to see my ideas could make you think about another intersection as yours did for me. 🙂

  2. Laura permalink
    June 19, 2009 12:35 PM

    I think this is an awesome post. Why? Because it raises the exact issues that need to be addressed in the United States today. I don’t think the problems are with masculinity and femininity themselves. I think, as you maybe are saying, that the problem is more how we interpret others based on their masculinity and femininity. Sexism is not merely a problem of one’s sex (duh). We, as a culture/society, have a tendency to value masculinity and masculine tendencies over feminine tendencies/femininity. So I don’t think it’s so much redefining them as concepts, so much as figuring out was to accept people however they wish to express themselves. I think that’s where the ethics comes it: it’s simply a matter of letting people live in a way that they can truly feel comfortable.

    I’d actually love for you to read the paper I wrote, because although it’s about transsexuality it hits on issues like this. Also, you could go for the big shebang and just read Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl.

    • Becky permalink
      June 21, 2009 3:07 AM

      Thanks, Laura! I’d actually love if you sent me your paper, I know that I often don’t address transsexuality as fully as I should in my posts, and would love to get more informed.

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