Saturday, September 21, 2013

Eighty-Three: Depth

I'm never sure what to make of places like Good Men Project or Thought Catalog. Both sites have occasional articles that are interesting or amusing, but both have lately begun to hammer away at the idea of physical beauty, and at the idea of physical desire as well. Both sites have featured articles attacking the very idea of physical beauty, and I have no idea what to make of the arguments.

I've seen warnings about physical beauty before in a religious context. That argument is simple enough. To look at earthly beauty, to look at fleshly beauty, is to lose focus on the divine. All flesh is grass, the argument goes. All beauty is transitory. Only the divine and the eternal are worth devotion. I'm not a believer in those arguments, but I do understand them. If you believe in the divine and the eternal (and I don't and never have), then everything earthly pales in comparison.

The arguments at GMP and Thought Catalog, though, take a different attitude. The arguments there are that beauty--- physical beauty ---is oppressive at heart. To value physical beauty, the argument runs, is to dismiss or ignore everything else about a person (a girl, always) and to somehow grant oppressive power to the male observer. There's the assertion that only inner states and qualities are "real", and that a person (again, a girl) should only be valued for inner qualities. One author at GMP a couple of weeks ago actually argued that it was an act of oppression to talk to a girl because she was physically attractive. Until and unless you knew about her "as a person", you shouldn't even consider speaking to her, let alone asking her out.

The last couple of weeks have seen articles at both sites attacking males for looking at women. To look with physical desire is always an act of oppression and barely-concealed violence. One author at Thought Catalog kept striking a horrified pose and asking, "Why do men look at that? Why do they think they can look at us like that?" that means "with obvious sexual desire".  I won't bother asking about female sexual desire; the article seems to assume that lust is only for males. Still, the answer to the question seems obvious enough: men look because they're experiencing physical desire. The article, let me clarify, isn't about anything the men have said or done. It's not about being touched or being followed. It's only about the like that look.  An approach, an action, cat-calls--- I can understand about being angry over those things. But being angry that desire exists, or that someone is thinking about you sexually?

Writers at GMP--- both male and female ---have written articles telling male readers that they should never look at a passing female figure. One male author, writing a "letter to my son" kind of article, actually specified three seconds as a limit. One female author really did tell male readers to always look down and never to make eye contact lest they convey some kind of sexualized message. All I can do is throw up my hands. When did we become that afraid of desire? When did we decide that sexual desire cancels out or overrides everything else about another person?

When did we decide that physical beauty should be rejected because it's "undeserved"? I never thought I'd see an article--- in Thought Catalog ---where a girl who's described as pretty apologizes to other girls (not to males, interestingly: to other girls) because guys at clubs buy her drinks. But it's there, and so are articles arguing that beauty has to be rejected as an ideal.

When did we become so afraid of desire that even the knowledge that it exists--- not actions, just the knowledge that lust is in the air, that it exists ---is regarded as a kind of assault?

Sex and desire exist beyond and outside of the rational and neatly packaged ideologies. Sex and desire have always been risky enough--- see the last three or four thousand years of literature. We've always known that, but we've never tried to pretend that it desire and lust just shouldn't exist at all. How did we come to that? And in a reasonably secular world, a world where there aren't jealous gods in heaven, how did we decide that beauty was a still a snare and a temptation, something to be rejected lest it blind us to the truly valuable? I know I keep asking that here, but...still: how did we come to this?

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