Monday, July 16, 2007

Sexuality and Class

Conversation had Saturday night on the way back from the concert
Me: So I had sex with ex-T Wednesday. It seems I managed to catch him at a time between girlfriends, so we kissed and had sex, the whole nine. Not just him teasing me until I acquiesced to a blow job.
Sir: (Silence)
Me: Why is that some guys think that blow jobs and hand jobs aren't cheating?
Sir: Because some guys are assholes.
Me: You mean none of your male friends think that getting a blow job isn't cheating?
Sir: No. Not that I'm aware of. But then again I don't hang out with assholes.
Me: It seems to me that it is, in large part, relegated to men that are our age or younger, of our socio-economic level who haven't gone to college or tried to rise much above this economic leave or get out of their hometown.
(Long silence. Both thinking.)
Sir: There is another, less pretty way of saying all that you just said, but it'll probably make you mad if I say it.
Me: (eyebrows scrunched) What?
Sir: Poor people do stupid things.

So I have always been kinda curious about how people, which I've usually found to be male, can construct their ideas of what is or isn't cheating for them in what seems to be a rather arbitrary way. It is even worse in my opinion that they don't usually share these ideas with their partners and that they also have different rules for what is cheating when it comes to their partners. I suppose this especially bothers me in regards to ex-T, who has said he'd never get back with me because I cheated on him, which would be perfectly valid and understandable if he wasn't perfectly happy getting blow jobs from women other than his girlfriend. While I must admit to actually knowing few people personally who feel this way, or at least few who will admit it to me, but it does seem to be a popular cultural notion. Of course, just because it's something that TV shows and the MSM present as the cultural norm doesn't mean that is the case.

But what's really been bugging me since this conversation is the class-based assumptions both Sir and I were making. Later, I did tell him that it also seems to be a popularly presented social norm among higher-educated, upwardly-mobile, exec-wannabe-type guys, but that I would assume has more to do with a sense of both male and economic privilege than anything else, whereas I'm not sure where it stems from with men like ex-T.

This sense of my (largely) unquestioned classism came back to me last night as I was reading Sex & the Slayer: A Gender Studies Primer for the Buffy Fan by Lorna Jowett. In her chapter "New Men", centering on men in Buffy who are neither typical tough guys nor vamps but are trying for some ideal of the New Man, she touches on the way in which middle-class society, typically the people that are making television shows and for whom television shows are made, attribute sexuality, or at least a certain type of sexuality to the working class. (Let's leave aside issues of race and the stereotypical ways in which white society attributes a certain type of sexuality to other races because that is a whole section in the library right there.) The two main characters that get the most thorough treatment in this chapter are Giles and Xander. When discussing Giles, Jowett says that, in addition to being a male authority figure and a financial provider, "Giles displays other traditionally masculine characteristics- aggressive sexuality and physical violence- though these are often displaced onto his alter ego, Ripper.(129)" Ripper is a hold-over from Rupert Giles 20-something days as a university dropout who meddled in dark magic. But when Giles is Ripper, he loses the glasses, dresses like a 50's rebel, and takes on a "(rather exaggerated) generic southern English working-class 'accent'.(129)" Jowett uses Ripper and several other bad boy characters to argue that these characters link "a certain type of masculinity with certain types of men: middle class men may be new men, but working-class men are real men. (130)" Jowett goes on to demonstrate how Giles sexual prowess is proved through his relationships with Jenny Calendar, his black UK lover Olivia, and Joyce Summers, Buffy's mom, who he has sex with as Ripper. It seems that Giles can only truly express these more "base" traditionally masculine behaviors through a working-class alter ego.

This becomes even more apparent in Jowett's discussion of Xander, the only member of the Scoobie gang who is clearly not from a middle-class background. Shown from the start of the show to be a self-deprecating dork with no supernatural powers or special skills who does not go on to college with the rest of the Scoobie gang, Xander still serves as the "Heart" of the Combo-Buffy formed by the group to defeat Adam, the Big Bad of Season 4. Jowett writes, "But as I see it the real problem with Xander's representation as a new man is sexuality....Sexual prowess is again called on to demonstrate that a new man is in fact a real man. Xander's uninhibited (hetero)sexuality can be read as another trait attributed to the working class by the middle class.(136)"

The more I thought about what Jowett seems to be saying about class and sexuality, as it is presented in popular culture and popular mores, the more it rang true to me that the middle class environments that I grew up within, including my family, my high school, my popular culture of movies/TV/music, present virile, unbounded, aggressive, non-monogamous sexualities as (stereo)typical of working class people. In middle class or upper class peoples, these sexualities are deviant, often signs of some other inner corruption. Though I am fascinated by postmodern thought and identity politics/philosophy, I am realizing that I've spent so much time focused on feminist and LGBT identity philosophies that I've neglected masculine studies and class issues (not to mention race issues).

Ok, so what is the point of this whole long 'essay'? Mostly, that I'm still acting out assumptions that I have from my upbringing about not only sexuality and race, but also class and how I've been taught to assume they all work together. Obviously, from Sir's response, I'm not the only one, but I do think this is something that I've never really thought that in depth about and that I'd like to explore further. Does it really boil down to working class men having such unstoppable sex drives and low morals that they will then construct their personal sexual moralities to allow for that? Or is that just a horrible horrible example of me stereotyping based on one guy and crappy things that I hear people say about guys?

I guess I'm just putting it out there.

1 comment:

Keeper said...

Hmmm, not sure I agree with the thinking of things here. Let me explain, the dicussions here are based on soci-economic class structure in peoples dealings with sexuality and others. Might that be a sterotype? I ask because of a few reasons. (1) Are all black men endowed - no (2) Do all hispanic men refuse to do oral - no (3) Do all women turn into cold fish at marraige - no...I guess it could go on and on and on...

Take myself for example. I grew up as poor as poor white trash could be. That might actually be insulting poor white trash because they were wealthy compared to me. I was homeless for a period of time, hungry for longer than I care to remember, and never had as much as two cents to rub together. That did not stop me from building a company, going to Harvard, and realizing life is about living not inside the box but out of it.
Different people have different feelings of relationships, being poor has little to do with that, maybe its because they have less materialistic enjoyment that wealther people...if a blowjob is cheating is an affair in your mind only????