So there's this guy. And he's married. He has two or three kids, and a wife. For fun, let's make the wife really beautiful. Her breasts are definitely big, and probably somehow perky. The kids are cute, and young and they grin and whoop when they get a hit in tee-ball (which is every time, because it's, you know, on a tee). The guy is everyman. At least, every financially stable man with a generously bosomed, beautiful wife and a couple adorable kids. He and his three best buds like to sit around and talk about how much they want to have sex with every woman they see.
Well, 70 percent of the women they see. Sometimes 50 percent, on a bad day, when they visit their elderly mother in the nursing home. Or during the dead of winter, when there are those troublesome bulky coats. Who invented coats anyway? Definitely wasn't a man. Anyway, the four guys tell each other in excruciating detail about all the women they want to have sex with, and exactly what kinds of sexual activities they'd like to engage in with each of these women. Sometimes they admit to wanting adolescent girls, too, but then they laugh a little uneasily and say, "Careful, man--18 and up. You know the rules."
The first guy wrote an anonymous article in Elle. It was called They Like It That Way: Why Every Woman Is Desirable.
An article like this one pops up on the internet about 700 times a second. And then there are the five billion comments in a similar vein accompanying three million posts. The posts are about absolutely anything. Sometimes antique teapots. Sometimes SeXXXy Beach Babe Bonanza 2005 Wet Thong Contest Results. The comments are always about how men are only about one thing. And, by extension, all men are very different from all women in this regard. Which is what makes it interesting that men are only about that one thing. If everyone in the world was only about that thing, then it wouldn't stand out so much. It'd be completely boring. Like how everyone loves pizza. We all know that, and no one cares except for Domino's. But because women are mostly thinking about their nails, paying the rent and finding a man who will provide emotional security and help with the rent, men distinguish themselves by only thinking about having sex with women.
I have two major problems with this line of thought.
1. Men do not share a giant, collective man-brain that causes them all to experience exactly the same desires and endow them all with the same impulse to lean out the window of the minivan and yell explicit things at the college student exiting the vegan bakeshop.
2. Women are horny, too.
I'm sorry about resorting to crude language, but the battle against the battle of the sexes is intense. In the article, one of the author's friends assumes that women aren't even attracted to men in a physical way. They're mostly looking for someone who looks like a "good provider." The author is more charitable--he allows that women probably do fantasize. They just do it relatively infrequently.
I have never liked the "women should just be more like men, and then everyone will be equal" approach to problems of gender. It's unclear exactly what "men" entails, and it seems like everyone's imitating someone else, and not even the biological men have worked out what their manhood is all about. "More like men" often ends up meaning "pretend you don't care about anything." As far as I can tell, men definitely care about things, and I have purposefully pluralized "thing" there, because they show endless amounts of evidence that they have cried, been unable to stop thinking about only one person, and not noticed the teenage girl in the tight Juicy Couture shirt.
But giving men a monopoly on desire is just as unfair as imagining that all men have the same desires. It's rare for me to have a conversation with a female friend that doesn't at some point touch on sex, and I don't have many friends who haven't bragged extensively about the hot guys they've slept with, flirted with or dated. And when I say "hot," I don't mean "sturdy and with a good job." There's plenty of openness among women about how appealing lots and lots and lots of guys are.
The man who wrote the article in Elle suggests that his wife, and women in general, would be shocked to discover just how much men are thinking about having sex with strangers. I would be shocked if women were shocked. Not because I believe that all men are actually thinking about having sex with strangers all day long. But because the claim that they are has been made so many times that it can't possibly surprise anyone who is at all literate, has ever watched television (even on a computer) or has ever socialized with more than one or two other people. I would also be shocked if women didn't think about having sex with strangers a lot more than the author expects.
I want to know why it's so important to so many people to keep alive this tired dichotomy between men and women. I want to know why we're still not permitted to all feel lots of things. Lots of the same things, lots of different things. The anonymous Elle article author tries to make it sound so messy and simultaneously uniform--all the scandalous and yet normal desires that all the men have. But the real messiness is that everyone can experience all of that. Or none of it. Or a little at one point, and a lot at another point. And the only thing that's predictable about gender is that men and women are a lot more human than they are either men or women. Which is the messiest and most mundane thing of all.
A version of this post was published on Eat the Damn Cake