Mar 302010
 

So far we’ve had 5 w.w.w. posts. We learned that women want:

1. …to feel good about their bodies
2. …to be wanted
3. …to be appreciated
4. …not to have to worry about everything
5. …to succumb

Arritey. In short, women want to be understood, supported, and desired. Okay, so.

We can make our partners’ lives a little easier by meeting them halfway on some of this stuff. To that end, I want to spend just one post dispensing some homespun advice about, you know, how to be happy and stuff. Maybe none of this will be new to you, but we can all use occasional reminders about how to be a person in a world that dismisses personhood.

So.

Stop, just stop, reading the mainstream glossy magazines, whose primary function in the world is to make you feel bad about yourself so that you buy the stuff their advertisers paid them to advertise. I’m absolutely certain that the reason they still feature dangerously thin, heavily photoshopped women is NOT that women won’t buy magazines with healthy-sized, realistic women on them (I think that’s the opposite of true) but rather that their advertisers insist they present a dangerous and unachievable image of women so that we feel a need to buy their products because we’re so deeply flawed and disgusting.

So just stop. Just don’t buy that shit unless there’s someone healthy and natural on the cover. Buy Bust Magazine or similar instead.

Similarly, only watch music videos and awards shows etc with a highly critical eye, recognizing the extent to which the images are designed to destroy women’s power, by making us small, fragile, incurious, anti-intellectual sexual objects or cold, sexless, neurotic brain-boxes or shrews. Eschew Lady Gaga, for example, who is bad for all women everywhere. (Many people disagree with me about that last bit. Fuck ‘em, I know when I’m right…. Usually.)

Value your sexuality as it is, not as someone tells you it “should” be. Women vary from each other tremendously, so hearing about other women’s experiences will only tell you how varied we are, not what “normal” is. There is no normal. There is only “healthy,” and healthy just means pain- and infection-free plus content. You’re free to explore your sexuality,to play with it, to try stuff and not judge the outcome. If something isn’t right, let it go and move on to the next thing. If something is right, remember it for next time!

Practice living inside your body. Your body is the one and only thing you’re guaranteed to have your whole life. It’s your home for the duration of your stay on Earth. Unlike what both traditional religion and new agey nonsense would have you believe, there is no “mind-body connection” – that phrase implies there are three things: a mind, a body, and something that connects them. That’s all wrong. There’s just one thing, there is only the embodied mind. Living inside your body is merely the practice of living inside yourself. Which is good for you, I promise.

And finally, listen to your instincts. Tuning out pop culture and living inside your body will make this a lot easier because you’re quietening the extraneous noise and attending to your own inner life. The quiet voice inside you, the voice under the fear and panic, under the learned self-doubt and the need to be right, under the need to be good, the need to be in control, under all those defenses, you’ll find your core voice, speaking truth to you, quietly, steadily, if only you listen.

I hate it when I get preachy and god knows I’m no ideal role model. I pout at my fat in the mirror some mornings. Sometimes I try to give other people what they want even if it means ignoring my own needs and desires. Worst of all, I put up barriers between me and the world for fear that someone will discover that I am as flawed as everyone else. As if the barriers themselves weren’t a dead giveaway. I know. But I need the reminders as much as anyone else does, and so periodically… I preach.

But maybe if we all picked one of these things to practice for just a month or just a week or just one day, maybe we could contribute a little bit to making the world a saner, safer, sexier, more beautiful world.

I pick living inside my body. Maybe just for today, or maybe into tomorrow. We’ll see how we go. You wanna pick something?

(Guys can try some of these things too; it’s not just chicks who benefit from being people rather than consumers and sex objects.)

Emily Nagoski

  13 Responses to “what women want: making it easier for your partner”

Comments (12) Pingbacks (1)
  1. clap.

    clap.

    clap. clap. clap.

    clap, clap, clap, clapclapclapclap.

    If you ever watch any sports movies, they all end w/ the team expressing their admiration for the underdog who pulls it out in the end and makes the big play etc etc etc. so they clap like that, first one person, then a couple, faster and more etc.

    speaking of which, i believe strongly in the concept of dynamic contrast. I feel it helps sexually and so maybe you should collaborate w/ ANP on that piece in the future?

    anyway, loved loved loved this piece, and read it aloud to my wife, who loved it tho’ both of us got a little red cuz we kind of find Lady Gaga whimsically amusing and fairly talented, and when you compare her to a lot of the pop tart trash that’s OUT there, she’s at least TRYing to do something a little different. but you are clearly right, cuz you are, so i’ll shut up now. :)
    ta ta.

  2. Would it be okay with you if I copy this onto my blog? (Linking to your blog, of course.) It just sums up my last few months. I’m 40 and thought I’d learned all this 15 years ago. I was wrong. But, I’m re-learning.

  3. It’s quite sad, but I think that my core voice is just wrong – like telling me all that faulty stuff that leads to unsane attachment patterns.

    So idealizing the Instincts is ok, but don’t forget to add that they can be screwed-up too. Sometimes problems aren’t just obscuring the natural way of things, they are all one has to deal with the world (with us, as a species, being very plastic and adaptable and all).

    I hope that my shrink can help me make them sane…

  4. Okay, here, Emily. This is the post I was referring to. How can you suggest this (which I think is terribly wise and I’ve been having my mainstream media moratorium and my self-image has skyrocketed!) but then tell me my feeling inadequate when my partner lusts after porn images is my own insecurity that I should effectively get over it? I mean, you clearly recognize the power that images/media play in our self-perceptions…?

    • I might not understand the question, because these messages seem totally consistent to me.

      Many women feel bad about themselves, largely due to cultural/media messages. Feeling bad about themselves messes with their relationships – for example in the form of insecure jealousy. To make your relationship better, you can try fixing the insecure jealousy thing. Healing jealousy requires healing insecurity, QED, which can be aided by not consuming mainstream media, whose primary function is to make you feel insecure.

      What are the alternatives to getting over your insecurity? Bear in mind that there are not three actors in the porn-insecurity scenario – there might be three subjects (you him porn), but there are only two decision-makers (you him) – so the solution has to require changes only in the two of you (and your environment), since the porn can’t change. (Insisting that the porn change is a good way to (a) avoid personal growth and (b) allow your relationship to fail while waiting for change where none is possible.) You COULD ask your partner to stop looking at porn because it makes you feel bad, but that’s making him responsible for your feelings, which is inappropriate and unsustainable. YOU are the one who feels insecure and your emotions are your own responsibility (because you’re an adult and therefore required to stay over your own emotional center of gravity, for the most part), so the only remaining solution is for you to look for ways to change your environment and your internal state in order to feel safer.

      Suddenly realizing I have never done a post about this emotional center of gravity thing. Must amend.

      • Maybe I’m misunderstanding you. Let me do some active listening kinds of things here…

        In both cases I hear you suggesting the insecurity caused by mainstream media and/or porn in women (me) is an issue that the woman needs to address if she wants to feel better about herself. My own insecurity is something I am responsible for. Yes?

        I support that notion. I agree that we women need to feel secure in ourselves. I’m passionately fond of the notion that we should tell the unattainable “ideals” to fuck off and appreciate ourselves.

        I also totally agree that asking/expecting a partner to refrain from using porn or lusting after mainstream media images would be harmful to both of us.

        My point here is that it’s the *mainstream media/porn images* that are the problem, not the woman (me) who feels insecure because of them.

        I believe you are saying that because those images give me trouble, I can and should do what I can to make myself feel better about myself (avoid them is one option).

        I also believe you are saying if my partner’s lust for mainstream media/porn images causes me to feel insecure, I need to fix that insecurity in me.

        Because of these understandings I have of what you are saying, I believe you have been sucked into the notion that it’s unreasonable or unnecessary for a woman to feel insecure about herself when presented with mainstream media/porn.

        Does this make any more sense?

        One more attempt at clarity. You wrote: “Many women feel bad about themselves, largely due to cultural/media messages. Feeling bad about themselves messes with their relationships – for example in the form of insecure jealousy. To make your relationship better, you can try fixing the insecure jealousy thing. Healing jealousy requires healing insecurity, QED, which can be aided by not consuming mainstream media, whose primary function is to make you feel insecure.”

        And I will re-write it with a slight tweak:
        “Many women feel bad about themselves, largely due to the cultural/media messages they find in the mainstream media/porn images their partners spend time appreciating. Feeling bad about themselves messes with their relationships – for example in the form of insecure jealousy. To make your relationship better, you can try fixing the insecure jealousy thing. Healing jealousy requires healing insecurity, QED, which can be aided by not consuming mainstream media, whose primary function is to make you feel insecure.”

        So, are you suggesting a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for women who feel insecure due to cultural/mainstream media/porn messages and find their partners appreciating the precise messages/images that make them feel insecure?

        This is the disconnect I think you’re missing in what you are saying. You understand that some of us are impacted by the cultural/media messages (I’d argue that’s most of us, but that most women won’t admit it because they’re ashamed because they realize it’s dumb to think less of themselves because of those stupid external messages, but that’s a different topic). You understand that for those of us who feel insecure about ourselves due cultural/media images/messeages it might be helpful to limit our exposure to those images/messages.

        What, then, are we to do with the cultural/media messages brought into the relationship by our partner?

        Again, I agree it’s not a good idea to ask my partner to stop appreciating mainstream media/porn for him or for me. Do you see, though, how his appreciation of the very messages/images that cause me insecurity can be problematic? And that the “problem” isn’t something wrong with me, the insecure woman, but with those messages/images?

        To wrap up a much to long and winding post, I’ll just suggest this: what if the *only* cultural messages/mainstream media/porn available were of real people, not idealized images. Can you see how that might make those of us insecure a lot more comfortable? And, therefore, wouldn’t that be showing that it’s the images, not the insecure women, that are the problem?

        • Ooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!! I think I see.

          Yeah no, pragmatically the images are NOT the problem. Technically they might be – technically the toxic environment in which we raise children is at fault – but if the primary interest is making your life and relationships better, then the images can go fuck themselves. They are not actors in your relationship and therefore can’t be part of the solution.

          And it’s not at all that I think “it’s unreasonable or unnecessary for a woman to feel insecure about herself when presented with mainstream media/porn.” Remember on your blog I said that if you managed this feat you were bloody Wonder Woman. These images WILL make women insecure. They’re designed by very clever people to do so.

          If you want to improve your life and relationships by revolutionizing the media, you have my enthusiastic blessing. But change at that scale doesn’t happen without massive investments of time, money, and human effort. That’s not the way to make your life better.

          I think this is the rub:

          “Do you see, though, how his appreciation of the very messages/images that cause me insecurity can be problematic? And that the “problem” isn’t something wrong with me, the insecure woman, but with those messages/images?”

          Yes, I can see that if your partner appreciates something that makes you feel insecure, you’ll feel insecure. But the problem is – sorry – with you. The problem is with you insisting that something that makes you feel bad is necessarily wrong, that it shouldn’t be allowed. I mean, I agree with you that they’re bad for women and I long for a world where media images represent women as they are. BUT.

          Okay, here’s a kind of real-life parable:

          My BFFL has a friend whom I just can not stand. I want to punch her in the face every time I think about her, because she is a selfish, pretentious bitch who hurt my BFFL in ways I can’t forgive, even though he CAN forgive them. But my BFFL loves her and they will always be friends. When BFFL dies, this woman and I will both be at his funeral and I will have to act like I grown up; I will have to stop myself from hitting her in the face for the sheer pleasure of watching blood dribble down to her chin from her nose. I hate her because she is cruel and careless and has terrifying power over BFFL.

          I. Hate. Her. Have I made that viscerally clear?

          BFFL, though, he loves her. He loves me, for sure, and nothing can make me doubt that. But he loves the mean, manipulative bitch too.

          Years ago, I tried to explain to BFFL what a terrible person she is. I explained how the ways in which she had hurt him were due to intrinsic and serious flaws in her personhood. He didn’t disagree with me in the facts, he just didn’t see them as the unforgivably toxic characteristics that I saw.

          Fair enough. We see the same person; I hate her and he loves her. But I love him and he loves me and losing him as a friend would tear me to pieces because he is the smartest, kindest, gentlest, most beautiful soul I’ve ever known. So we need a way for me to live with his friendship with her.

          Solution? BFFL and I mostly don’t talk about it. Occasionally I’ll ask what kind of contact they’ve had (all of us live in different states now) because I feel weird if I think he’s “hiding her” from me. He tells me and I take deep, cleaning breaths and then move on to the next subject. And occasionally I’ll brush against something that has to do with the crazy bitch and I call BFFL with my little meltdown and he patiently talks me through the process of letting it go. What makes me feel better is when we can do something that celebrates what’s good about our connection, when I can redirect my attention from my fear and rage for her to my love and appreciation for him.

          The point of this anecdote is that it’s kind of parallel to your porn-partner-you triad. I think SHE is the problem, as you think the images are the problem. I believe she’s a bad person and the world will be a better place when she’s dead – I’m not exaggerating – as you believe the world will be a better place when the damaging images no longer exist. I will NEVER stop feeling this way, as you may never stop feeling threatened by porn images. But BFFL loves her so she’ll always be a part of his life, just as the massive scale of change to get rid of the images is beyond your reach.

          So you learn to live with it. You hold yourself over your own emotional center of gravity, and occasionally, when meltdowns are triggered, you find your way to the beautiful parts of your connection with your partner. You learn to let go of the fear and the old, old rage. You recognize it, and you let it go. Because that’s what grownups do.

          The technical term is “tolerating pain for growth.”

          (Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.)

          • Okay, yeah, phew. I think we’re really saying exactly the same thing.

            Only two things of note. One is a question. I’m not sure where you keep getting the notion that I think he shouldn’t do it (appreciate them). I keep saying over and over I’m not asking him or telling him not to… For example, see below (“it shouldn’t be allowed”) Where are you getting that? I’m not saying that, and I don’t think I ever have, can’t picture it or feel it or imagine it. Why do you keep saying I am? Just an odd quirk in this communication.

            And, two, the only major difference in what you and I are saying (I believe) falls here. You say:
            “The problem is with you insisting that something that makes you feel bad is necessarily wrong, that it shouldn’t be allowed. I mean, I agree with you that they’re bad for women and I long for a world where media images represent women as they are. BUT.”

            You are longing for that world, and I am working for that world.

            I recognize it’s like teaspoons against an ocean. But if I continue speaking up about the damage those images/cultural messages/mainstream media/porn whatever does to me, maybe more women will begin voicing their truth, too. If more men realized how seriously fucked the mainstream media is making the women they love, they’ll get on board with a revolt.

            It’s got to happen top down AND bottom up AND from the side AND from inside to the out AND from outside to the in…

          • I don’t think we are saying the same thing, or you wouldn’t have these two things of note.

            First, – okay, to be clear: I don’t think you think he shouldn’t do it and I don’t think you’re trying to control a partner’s sexuality. I think you’re inferring that because you’re conflating levels of analysis. I said you feel the images are bad and wrong and you feel they shouldn’t be allowed, and you’ve just shown that I’m correct, by your assertion that you’re working to create change. You want them to go away and be replaced by something healthy. That’s completely reasonable and fair BUT IT IS NOT THE SOLUTION TO YOUR PROBLEM.

            I DO think you think changing the images will solve your problem. When you say “the images are the problem,” what solution does that imply? Get rid of the images. But you’re not JUST insecure about the images. I’m confident there are plenty of other things that trigger the same cyst of pain and fear. If all the pictures disappeared today, you’d still have the insecurity inside you, ready to be triggered other things. The images are NOT the problem.

            And oh dear, Tsaphanbabe, to imply that I am not working for that world but only longing for it… apart from being pretty insulting, it seems to indicate that you don’t quite get it yet. You’ll notice my “BUT” was not “BUT we will never have that world.” My “BUT” was “BUT that’s not the solution to your problem.”

            Again, there are TWO THINGS that we’re talking about. There’s the problem of the media’s representation of women. And there’s your life and relationships. Their solutions exist and different scales; fixing one will NOT fix the other.

            Is that clear? Have we got there yet? Fixing the images, fixing the world, is a fine goal, but it WILL NOT FIX THE ACTUAL PROBLEM IN YOUR LIFE. The problem is the insecurity. You can solve that problem – or at least manage it. The images are not the problem. Your insecurity is the problem. We will not be saying the same thing until you’re saying that your insecurity is the problem. The images are PROBLEMATIC, but they are not your problem.

            And can I just add that the stuff I say on the blog is a large proportion of what I do FOR A LIVING? My entire LIFE is about this work. I spend hours every week having long, hard conversations with smart young women about ALL this stuff. It’s my JOB – and I’m really good at it.

            To conclude: there are two problems: the cultural problem, which exists at the level of the culture, and the life problem, which exists at the level of the individual. The solution to one is NOT the solution the other.

            Arrite.

          • First of all, call me Heather.

            Second, I understand now what the major problem is. Why this conversation has felt like we were talking past each other. You thought I wanted your help in solving a problem of mine. That wasn’t ever the case.

            What I was asking of you was your perspective as a professional “sex nerd” about:
            visual stimulation when viewing a person unknown personally to the viewer and the processes that make that work.

            It seems you heard me asking you for help with “my problem.”

            See, the thing is, I don’t have a problem that requires your help. I was seeking information and I appreciated that you were sharing it.

            And, again, we’re talking past each other. I’m pretty sure you’d agree we’re on the “same side” here. It seems nuts to me that the conversation would become adversarial in any way, which your tone here really seems to be turning towards.

            I’m sorry you found my opinion insulting. I hold firm to the belief that telling a woman she needs to get secure in herself (or that “the images aren’t the issue”) when she talks about feeling shitty because of mainstream media/porn feeds directly into The Beauty Myth. Or, rather, is a result of living within the beauty myth.

            You were insulted (when I noted that you said you long for the day when things are different) because you are working hard on these issues every day. I’m sorry you felt insulted. You say I’m conflating issues in my analysis (or whatever you said in your sciencey logical way) and that’s an unfortunate interpretation of my opinion.

            That said, I believe I hear you loud and clear that YOU AND I AGREE there are two different issues. An individual’s self-esteem and the larger societal issues. See? I heard that. I get that. Never wasn’t clear.

            And I won’t go into any of it any further because, as I said, I believe we are talking past each other and the idea of trying to get you to hear me is too exhausting. You’re still one of my favorite bloggers. You clearly do excellent work. You must also be in a position where you are used to being an advisor which is a very good thing for the women you surely are helping. Thanks, again, for your thoughts and your time.

  5. First of all, call me Heather.

    Second, I understand now what the major problem is. Why this conversation has felt like we were talking past each other. You thought I wanted your help in solving a problem of mine. That wasn’t ever the case.

    What I was asking of you was your perspective as a professional “sex nerd” about:
    visual stimulation when viewing a person unknown personally to the viewer and the processes that make that work.

    It seems you heard me asking you for help with “my problem.”

    See, the thing is, I don’t have a problem that requires your help. I was seeking information and I appreciated that you were sharing it.

    And, again, we’re talking past each other. I’m pretty sure you’d agree we’re on the “same side” here. It seems nuts to me that the conversation would become adversarial in any way, which your tone here really seems to be turning towards.

    I’m sorry you found my opinion insulting. I hold firm to the belief that telling a woman she needs to get secure in herself (or that “the images aren’t the issue”) when she talks about feeling shitty because of mainstream media/porn feeds directly into The Beauty Myth. Or, rather, is a result of living within the beauty myth.

    You were insulted (when I noted that you said you long for the day when things are different) because you are working hard on these issues every day. I’m sorry you felt insulted. You say I’m conflating issues in my analysis (or whatever you said in your sciencey logical way) and that’s an unfortunate interpretation of my opinion.

    That said, I believe I hear you loud and clear that YOU AND I AGREE there are two different issues. An individual’s self-esteem and the larger societal issues. See? I heard that. I get that. Never wasn’t clear.

    And I won’t go into any of it any further because, as I said, I believe we are talking past each other and the idea of trying to get you to hear me is too exhausting. You’re still one of my favorite bloggers. You clearly do excellent work. You must also be in a position where you are used to being an advisor which is a very good thing for the women you surely are helping. Thanks, again, for your thoughts and your time.

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