Friday, August 18, 2006

What's been bugging me about the "you don't -really- choose" business in the eternal feminist thrashes specifically referring to clothing choices and other personal adornments, although it applies at least as well to sex acts, I expect.

Pretty much everyone talks as though the only thing that matters is how it looks. Not how it feels, emotionally or--especially--in a tactile sense. And forget about taste or smell.

Which is common enough for many of us in this our modern woild. We tend to favor sight over the other senses, by far. Thing about doing this too much is, it tends to be rather distancing; the other senses (hearing is debatable I suppose) are far more intimate.

And it also suggests that many of us are out of touch with our own bodies.

Which, if it's the case, hellya sure you're gonna be influenced heavily if not completely by "society" in your "choices," one way or t'other. How's it look? Well, how's it look to whom? Other people are gonna see me, right?

At minimum, if you say, well, I love the way the blue of this brings out my eyes; or even, it reminds me of the ocean and makes me feel calm; someone can still go, well, someone else told you how great you look in blue (or whatever).

But if you can say to yourself, you know, I love the way the breeze feels on my newly-shaven bare legs/chest/head; or, I actually like the pressure of my push-up bra/corset/tight jeans, it makes me feel secure somehow; or, I am wearing this kerchief because it keeps the hair out of my face, and I really dislike the sensation of hair tendrils blowing in my face; or, ...well, that makes it a bit more difficult for someone else to come in and tell you what your experience is.

Or does it?

What does it mean to "like" or "want" something, anyway?


Alon Levy said...

When I was in Israel, I'd always hear Cool People who like telling everyone else what to do (mostly girls, but also boys) say "You have to suffer to be beautiful." So it doesn't really matter how your clothes feel; all you should care about is looking good. If you ever care about comfort or depth, you'll be the eternal nerd nobody likes.

KH said...

'What does it mean to "like" or "want" something, anyway?'

A partial answer: choices reveal preferences. 'Likes' are whatever is revealed by actions. Kinds of ‘likes’:

(i) Regular preferences. Just an ordering of things by desirability. Rationality imposes certain regularity conditions, e.g., transitivity.
(ii) Second-order preferences. (Preferences about preferences. Sometimes people regret liking what they like. I wish I didn’t have such a taste for heroin.)
(iii) Irrational preferences. (I like A better than B. I like B better than C. But I like C better than A.)

Hardly the whole story, but a start. There's also weakness of will (akrasia), unstable preferences, etc.

belledame222 said...

So, you see it in a kind of existential way: preference is defined through action?

me, I was trying to get more at the subjective state of feeling. It's not talked about as much as you'd think, is it?

Bitch | Lab said...

I think the obvious objection is a feminist literature on the sociology of feelings -- such as Arlie Hochschild's work, The Managed Heart. I realize this directly contradicts your own theoretical perspective, but I think the social psychologists and those who do ethnographies on feelings and emotions in sociology show that feelings are necessarily cut out from social influence.

And, of course, it's really not a feminist site of politics if it is something that hs nothing to do with society.

the struggle is over appearances and interpretations of those appearances for some folks, so it doesn't mean they aren't in touch with their bodies, just that it's not a site of political struggle for them.

To me, the obvious answer is that of course most of what matters is shaped by society. Time to loose the incessant insecurity that surfaces whenever anyone says, "Oh, you just do that because everyone else it."

So? That's what people do -- and it's a good thing people do it that way often enough.

E.g., when people _don't_ do whatever else is doing, they may just be free riding on the system -- like the guy who refuses to take turns when the traffic lights are down and causes an accident.

In the south, the thing that killed me was the utter politeness at a 4 way stop. Instead of just following the rules, they had to follow rules of civility, which meant thateveryone would wave the other person to go first. back and forth back and forth with no one knowing who should go first untill finally someone or two did, sometimes causing near accidents. Like an episode of Laurel and Hardy or something.

It's drawbacks, of course, are present too. The trick would be to create a world where we learn to deal with and undertand the good and ill that is served by the fact that we are, often, people who orient themselves to the regard and esteem of others.

Thus the question is: what's wrong with being desired and wanting to be desired?

Sara E Anderson said...

I can't say that I totally agree with you here - I don't think anyone is denying that there are fun things about wearing push-up bras and heels. These things don't negate the fact that they can be pretty darned painful, and that it shouldn't be incumbent on women to do something painful (like wear stilettos to work) just to gain the approval of the people around her.

That said, I think the best example of what you're talking about would be during the Blow Job War of '06 when everyone was talking about how you're physically submitting to a man when you give him head. (And don't get me started on what it apparently really means when a dude spooges on your face.) Well, no, not really. If anything, you're symbolically submitting, and symbols are in the eye of the beholder. Myself, I've never really understood the bedroom power plays other people are into, and don't end up with a power struggle in my day-to-day sex life. Life is not a text, and the leaves falling off the trees and the changing tides are not actually symbolic for anything else - they're just things that happen around us. Putting every sex act into some symbolic context is a totally useless way to look at how people relate to each other.

KH said...

Of course preferences are social constituted, but not just that; they’re not written on a tabla rasa. Likewise our selves. Whatever their origins, they become part of us. Any political project that demands we interrogate our preferences ultimately runs up against the limits of our ability/willingness to uproot our selves. Any political project that disputes people’s tastes, goes beyond ‘de gustibus non est disputandum,’ courts paternalism & intolerance.

The fact that my preferences are (partly) socially constituted says nothing about my ability to freely choose the alternative that best serves them. It’s not my freedom the critic disputes, but my tastes, me. This was part of the communitarian critique of liberalism: no self prior to society. If the critic approved of my tastes, they’d still be socially constituted, & by the logic of her argument I’d be no more free of them than I am of the ones she disputes. I’d be no more free, just a different ‘I’, the kind of person she likes.

None of this really gets to your point. The visual thing has to do with the inherent intersubjective availability of the special senses, above all sight. It’s not for nothing that Sartre talked about the gaze of the Other & not the audition, olfaction, gustation of the Other. (We do take precautions, esp. for the stank; modulate our voices.) And your own examples (breeze, bra, hair) all are somatosensory, the least intersubjectively available. (I can see what you see, I can’t feel what you feel.) But we do have analogous experiences, & learn to more or less competently make inferences about other minds. So you get lectures about wearing uncomfortable shoes.

belledame222 said...

yah, that's what I was getting at, thanks.

the analogous experience thing is where it breaks down, though; because there're way too many assumptions that we all share a common experience.

and of course in certain branches of feminism the assumption is more or less explicit that -women- share a common experience underneath all the more superficial differences. Class Woman.

but the other thing i was trying to get at is simply: if one is concerned about trying to get away from the "patriarchal" mindset, arguably one good way to go about it would be to start focusing more on those more subjective senses, particularly sensation.

which to me is a really basic part of the whole "sex-positive" business. never mind what it looks like or what it symoblizes. how does it -feel?- to -you?-

KH said...

Mistaken inferences about the contents of other minds are hardly a minor part of social life. They particularly plague witch burners, past & present.

I don’t know if it makes any sense, but when I try to sort of ‘bracket’ the contents of my rotten little brain, I find myself falling back on somatosensory experience. Sort of. It may be a mistake to think of it as in some way basic, but I do.

The senses aren’t just alternative modalities for conveying the same information. Things can be conveyed in music, for ex., that can’t be conveyed in smell. (I came to this conclusion reluctantly. As a kid, I had this ambition to create a smell orchestra, was gonna profoundly move people with smells. Apparently can't be done.) Some things are beyond language. Neurologists find that patients have special difficulty describing their somatosensory symptoms because there’s less intersubjective basis for developing a common language for them.

belledame222 said...

-nod- We're on the same page, then.

It was a break for me because I come from very "head-y" and very word/language-oriented people. and of course language still matters to me, immensely; but it does have its limitations.

Mark H. Foxwell said...

For about 20 years, until I got the job I have now about a year ago which requires me to keep my hair short, I had long hair. Once, my Dad bullied me into cutting it for the occasion of my grandparents' (his parents) 50th anniversary party; I compromised to shoulder-length, then my uncle, Dad's younger brother, who has a lot of money (by our family's standards anyway) in New Mexico showed up with _his_ hair down to his waist and I swore never again!

The point here is that the reason I _started_ to let my hair grow was that one day when I was showering in my dorm, I noticed that my hair felt nice on my shoulders. Being pretty free to do as I liked as a college student I decided to skip my next trip to the City College cosmetology Dept. cheap haircut internship and see what happened. Eventually, some years later, I met Natasha and one thing she always liked about me was my hair.

But the way it got started was totally tactile and personal.

Nowadays when I get my hair trimmed short nearly everyone who knew me before says I look better this way. In some ways it is nice getting shorn; certainly the short hair is more manageable and kind of perky and even looks thicker on my balding head. And in the heat of the summer the coolness is noticeable. It doesn't tangle, I don't have to braid it, and everyone agrees it is "neater."

But I'm not doing this by choice; the way I was when Natasha met me was my choice.

I don't have a problem with being accomodating. But this has been an education in the degree to which our options are compromises with society in general and people close to us in particular.

I have a similar saga regarding shoes, it just occurs to me. In Dabney House at Caltech it was a thing for people to go barefoot. I never went that far, but it wasn't until my last year at Tech, five or six years after leaving home, that I discovered that sandal-type shoes were _far_ kinder to my wide feet than anything my mother had ever found for me at the stores we went to. And aside from formal occasions I never wore "normal" shoes after that if I could avoid it, though the alternatives were expensive on my minimal budget and could not be bought at the department stores where I had credit. Then Natasha died, and a year later almost I got this job where I have to wear conformist shinable shoes. I shelled out double what I might have for acceptable shoes in generic sizes to get a wide shoe that looked "normal."

And while they are far better than any such dress shoe has ever been to me, I still love to kick them off.

OTOH sometimes in the 20 years of freedom I had before and then with Natasha, I wore boots and liked it, kind of like women might like being enshelled in a corset I guess. Boots were for cold, muddy weather or any situation where I felt the need to stomp on hostile, treacherous ground. I'd struggle to get my wide feet into them, but then, once it, I felt friggin' invincible.

Too bad I left my boots home the night we had the flood here at work, and soaked my expensive conformist shoes instead...

Sly Civilian said...

I wrote on this a while back in the SexxxWarz 2006, found here...

basically, i got sick of the double guessing "what's really behind the curtain" kind of cheap pyschoanalysis. it's frustrating to see people, oblivious to the power involved, stating with authority what an action or thought "really tells us."

Renegade Evolution said...

off topic, but funny, my responses over there on punkassblog are not getting published. Any idea why? Is it blogger, or is it me being all paranoid and shit? I posted my latest response in my own blog (so I would not have to write it again) just wondering if you knew what was up?

Renegade Evolution said...

ah, nevermind, they made it...eventually...

belledame222 said...

I had to run out the door right after posting my last couple of posts, and am both feeling compelled and dreading going back in there. you know: like rubbernecking at a car accident when suddenly you realize actually you're one of the ones in the big ol' pileup.

anyway I think really long posts and/or posts with certain words that might catch the spambot's eye (or something) stay in the mod queue.

Sage said...

I love it that you often come back to "what do you want." It always makes me stop and think, because it really isn't something I consider very often, and that's just wrong.

hedonistic said...

Ya know, I don't know the answer.

But your post did make me realize something: If it weren't for "way it looks" politically, I would probably wear the veil, along with those pretty silk floor-length thingies I see many Persian and Arab women wearing. Why? Because I think the look is graceful and soft and sensuous and pretty.

(Not the ugly black crow uncomfortable things, but the brightly colored silk ones.)

I also love the way I feel after I shave my nether-regions. Do I dare blog about this during the Shave Debate? MMMMMMMM. Dunno.


hedonistic said...

I just realized I insulted black crows. I'm rather partial to them, actually. Sorry about that.

Cassandra Says said...

I like kh's points. Ultimately it just doesn't seem helpful to be constantly interrogating one's political allies about these particular kinds of "preferences". It seems divisive, at least in practise, as well as paternalistic and intolerant, as kh said.
You can't really ever get away from the fact that preferences are in one way or another conditioned by the environment a person grows up in, unless we start raising kids like experimental lab rats. By the time we all encounter each other as adults our prefereces as fairly firmly in place, and it just doesn't seem useful to keep rehashing the same arguments about them. The point that the critics are also basing their critiques on their own socially conditioned preferences is valid too. I'm not so sure that some of the critiques of feminists who do BSDM, wear heels, sleep with men etc isn't based more on the critic's personal ick factor than on any kind of real political analysis (see the posting on my blog from a ways back during the Blow Job Wars about this).
In the end I think we just need to fall back on the most basic feminist principle of all - when a woman is talking about her personal experience, believe her. Even if something is not true, or enjoyable, for you that does not mean that is is not true or enjoyable for her. We're not all wired the same way, we need to leave room for people's individual tastes, otherwise we really are being paternalistic, and we all ger quite enough of that from teh dominant culture already.
About the whole sight vs other senses thing...I think that's a vital point to make. I'm in the "don't care" camp as far as porn is concerned, but the one thing that does worry me about it's growing prevalance is that it seems to be encouraging people, particularly people without a lot of actual sexual experience, to view sex as a purely visual phenomenon. That seems like shame to me, that people might miss out on all the other sensual aspect of a relationship because they've been trained to focus on the visual aspects. What about the way the other person's skin feels, the fact that each person has their own unique smell (which actually plays a huge role in attraction if the people in the lab coats are to be believed), or the sounds a person makes when they're enjoying something? I often wonder if the focus on sight above all other senses is one of the reasons so many people seem to be not enjoying sex as much as they could, which is why efforts to bring the conversation back to "but how does it FEEL" are always a good thing.