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'07 Authors Insider Tips

by Louisa Burton
Formatting Your Manuscript
Scams / Choosing an Agent
Pitching Your Novel...
From The Call to Published...

Hard Business
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Where Ideas Come From

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Plotting Erotic Fiction
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Climactic Moments: First Draft
Critique Groups
Revising Your Erotic Story
Finding the Perfect Markets...
Just Submit Already
Rejections and Acceptances

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Verb Tense Confusion
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Attend a Writers’ Conference
The Fundamentals of POV
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Shameless Self Promotions
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The Write Stuff
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The Time is Write
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Synopsis: the Necessary Evil
Erotica or Porn?
Feedback Whine

2007 Smutters Lounge

Ashley Lister Submits
by Ashley Lister
What's it like being a writer?
An Apology to Salespeople

Get All Worked Up
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About Secrets
The Perfect Fuck
About Choices
The Age of Consent
The Kingmaker
Kids and Sex
The Price of Beauty
The G.O.P.
All Worked Up About Hate
Real Men

Pondering Porn
With Ann Regentin
Good Sex: A Physics Lesson
Meet Frankenstein
Thoughts on the Orgasm Gap
The Very Bloody Marys
The Doomsday Erection
Online Threesome Porn

Pondering Porn
with Ann Regentin

Meet Frankenstein

After writing at length about the Frankenstein Bride (ERWA Archives 2006), I got to thinking. Things like this don't happen in isolation. The idea that the mandate to conform to porn fantasies that are distortions of real life couldn't be limited to women. There had to be a male equivalent. It wasn't the fact that body dysmorphic disorders are spreading to men. That's a problem, but it's not really the same problem because men and women don't turn on to the same things.

The answer was staring me right in the face in a Purloined Letter kind of way, hidden in plain sight and just as ubiquitous as the rail-thin women with flotation devices for breasts. I'm talking about something that gets broadcast on every network, shown on every theater screen, and hawked on every newsstand: a model of masculinity based on the symptoms of high testosterone: aggression and risk-taking.

In theory, this doesn't sound like a bad idea. After all, who doesn't want to be attractive to the opposite sex? Even better, the process for men doesn't require physical deformity. No corsets, no broken bones, no surgery. The required changes are largely mental.

The problem is that emotional abuse is much easier to hide, especially when it's self-inflicted. The physical damage done to women in the name of beauty has the advantage of being visible, because in a world where Brazilian models are dying of starvation, there's a limit to how much people can justify the racing snake ideal as healthy. A man whose soul has rotted through with despair is much harder to identify even as an individual, much less as a trend.

There is a trend, though, and it's all around us. I found him in the pages of Maxim and on the silver screen when I went to see the new James Bond. I even find it in my junk e-mail folder. Men, like women, are being force-fed a specific model of attractiveness, and are suffering similar penalties for failing to conform.

This model shows up regularly in romance novels as the hero, who tends to be the sort of pirate who makes a good father, an amalgamation of female sexual shortcuts. Women turn on to risk-taking and aggression in a knee-jerk kind of way, and romance novels provide that. Mass media feeds into it for the same reason it offers up the Frankenstein Bride. Sex sells, and it sells to women as effectively as it sells to men.

I'd blame the media, but as with worshipping the ability to endure senseless pain in women, worshipping the ability in men to inflict it without remorse is cross-cultural and as old as recorded history. The details vary, but the upshot is pretty much the same. Men are attractive relative to their ability to suppress any instinct that might lead them to tone down violent or sexual behavior.

As with women, this is hawked to the general public as a reproductive adaptation. High-testosterone men, according to modern theories, produce more and stronger sperm, and are thus better mates. This is undoubtedly true, but there comes a time when we reach a point of diminishing returns. Just as a too-thin woman might not be able to conceive or carry to term, an overly aggressive man might not be able to sustain a relationship long enough to father a child, or may not have the skills necessary to make sure that his offspring live to adulthood. Long prison sentences can also interfere with a man's reproductive opportunities, as can premature death. Those are two places unrestrained risk-taking and aggression can take you.

A lot of men seem to embrace it, though, engaging in behavior equivalent to that of a woman who is cycling through eating disorders. They call it being the Alpha Male, and the upshot of it is that the worse you treat women, the better they will like you. Don't call, don't compliment, don't even buy her coffee, and she'll be all over you.

Will it work? Yes, in a way. If male porn is visual, female porn is emotional. It's soap operas and romance novels, and they follow a formula that's just as strict as that of male porn because it's designed to get the same response. Porn feeds directly into the lizard brain, and the female lizard brain likes a particular emotional context.

In and of itself, it's not a problem. I know enough romance readers and writers to know that most women who consume this stuff are perfectly capable of telling the difference between fact and fantasy, but I hadn't realized how strongly female porn was affecting men, especially men whose relationships were failing.

In the absence of anything resembling real knowledge and in the overwhelming presence of a culture that looks down on any male who admits ignorance and yells for help, men started looking to female porn for guidance. There is now an entire industry built up around helping men cater to raw female fantasies that closely resembles the beauty industry, and it's integrating itself just as seamlessly and thoroughly into the culture, insisting in exactly the same way that it provides necessary services.

Since I was comparing this to the beauty industry, which is starting to lean heavily on men as well, I had to ask if this behavioral problem was drifting over to women. Sure enough, I found plenty of material that featured women behaving in violent, aggressively sexual ways. All one has to do is turn on the television or buy a tabloid, and one is treated to gleeful stories of girls gone wild, one way or the other.

Also like the beauty industry, though, there is an underlying culture of hatred and it's not aimed at just one sex. This industry sells itself by insisting that men must buy gym memberships and jerk lessons because women are shallow drones, but underneath the venom aimed at women is the assumption that a complex, multi-faceted approach to masculinity is pathological. If the beauty industry considers body fat to be a disease, the jerk industry considers gentleness or compassion in men to be a sign of mental problems. Men are supposed to transcend emotion altogether, and any man who hasn't needs to buy another $49.99 e-book, or a hundred dollar video series. They proliferate like diet pills and are even marketed the same way, with junk science and piles of testimonials but absolutely no proof.

It's creating the equivalent of male anorexics, men who starve themselves emotionally in order to be attractive, and like female anorexics, they fight hard against any effort to get them to eat. They see in gentler feelings the same kind of danger that anorexics see in food, and they will allow themselves only the bare minimum they need to survive.

The problem is that the sexy man is as much an artificial construct as the sexy woman, a patchwork of pornographic triggers that bears no resemblance to anything human, and it cannot be sustained without tremendous expenditure of resources and effort. Characters in books are just that: characters in books. Actors are acting, not being themselves. James Bond isn't a real person, no matter who plays him. It's all make-believe.

There's also a stick behind this carrot, and it's probably best illustrated by Ray Romano in Everybody Loves Raymond. As the morbidly obese are presented to women as the alternative to a life of chronic dieting, Ray is the model of the Beta Male, an incompetent moron under the thumbs of a shrewish wife and a manipulative mother. Most men would rather die than live like that.

I don't blame them. Unfortunately, just as physical anorexia isn't a cure for obesity, emotional anorexia isn't a cure for passivity. Like crash diets, Alpha behavior produces short-term results at the expense of long-term benefit, and the backlash can be pretty severe. It's a good way to get your ass kicked by somebody's boyfriend, but at the very least, if you spend too much time with the kind of women who go for players, you can start thinking that nothing else exists.

It can also kill. Maybe it's not as obvious as the recent death of Ana Carolina Reston, but I believe it can be seen in the incarceration rate as well as the rates of male substance abuse and suicide, both symptoms of depression and loneliness. The Alpha Male might get women, but his odds of keeping them are slim. In the course of extensive, meticulous research on the emotional dynamics of marriage, John Gottman found that the more dominant the husband, the higher the likelihood of divorce.

Gottman himself is quick to point out that the Ray Romano model isn't the only alternative, or even a good one. He advocates sharing influence, not abdicating it entirely. Unfortunately, the emotional equivalent of a healthy, varied diet and regular, moderate exercise isn't nearly as glamorous as going from wimp to pimp. It's easy to see why men, like women, would try for a more dramatic effect, especially if it's being sold to them every waking second.

The problem with pandering to someone's porn fantasies is that you turn yourself into a sex toy. There are people out there who are fine with that, even embrace it. Others, though, substitute this behavior for the help they really need, or use it to distract themselves from other things. A system to pick up women isn't going to do much for a man who is about to lose his license on his next DUI, but by golly it provides him with something to do. It's like a girl starving herself because her parents are getting divorced. Or maybe a rat on a treadmill, running like crazy but going nowhere.

A few months ago the London Times ran an article by Oliver James, author of Affluenza, called How to Be a Real Beauty, about the difference between being beautiful and being attractive, and why it's difficult to pull them both off at the same time. The article is aimed at women, but the general principle applies to men as well. There is a difference between masculinity and attractiveness. Some aspects of each are even mutually exclusive.

Again, I'm not saying this stuff won't work. That's like telling an overweight woman that dieting won't get her more wolf whistles. What I'm saying is that putting the emphasis on being attractive is as much a Faustian bargain for men as it is for women, possibly worse because the damage is harder to see and thus a lot harder to confront. Playing to the lizard brain carries a cost, but it's subtle and well-hidden while healthy, sustainable changes also carry a cost, and it's much more visible.

There's no glamour to spending evenings at AA meetings, getting therapy and meds, or doing whatever is necessary to straighten out whatever problem is tripping up your relationships. Just as a healthy physical lifestyle can still leave a woman looking fat, a healthy emotional lifestyle can make a man look weak, and men fear weakness like women fear fat. It takes a tremendous leap of faith to embrace either one.

As with The Frankenstein Bride, this isn't a call to conversion. No, my point is this: Women are as capable of loving and desiring an imperfect man as men are capable of loving and desiring imperfect women.

It's an unnerving thought, because there are indeed women out there who cannot distinguish real life from their porn fantasies, just as there are men who won't date anyone larger than a size six. The existence of these folks can send chills down the spine of anyone who is the slightest bit imperfect and insecure, and the combination is unfortunately common.

In the end you have to ask yourself, who do you want to be? And who do you want to be with?

You decide.

Ann Regentin
April 2007

© 2007 Ann Regentin. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

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'07 Book Reviews


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