Sunday, August 31, 2014

One One Four: Boxes

A girl I once knew--- lost, some years ago, to the ranks of the gender warriors and the Social Justice Cult ---wrote at her blog not so long ago that she'd just received her first subscription box from a site called UnboundBox out on the web.  She was thrilled about receiving it, and she made a point of thanking the company. I took a quick look at the website, and found that what she'd subscribed to was a quarterly service that sends out gift  boxes with half a dozen "provocative" items--- i.e., a selection of sex toys and gels.

Well, why not? There are subscription services that provide monthly or quarterly boxes with clothing or shaving tackle or books. A subscription service that sends out gift boxes of sex toys  isn't really that different.  I only glanced through the website, but from what I could tell, they do market high-end and highly-reviewed items.  I can't criticize the idea of the subscription box, and I can't criticize the idea of sex toys, even though as a male, I don't have any emotional connection to the idea.

I'll just note in passing that the closest thing I've ever owned to a sex toy was a small selection of riding crops, and I bought those at an equestrian sports supply house and not a sex toys shop. I can imagine going to a sex toy shop with a young companion some late evening, but we'd be shopping for her--- I'd just be there to offer support and the occasional tentative comment on colours or styles. I'm male, and the toys that are designed for males seem to be either ghastly (artificial vaginas, powered or otherwise) or grotesque (the Inflatable Love Sheep).  Sex toys simply aren't for males...or at least straight, non-Scottish males. I can't imagine a similar box arriving for anyone male.

So,  the girl I once knew is thrilled with the box she received, though she didn't provide an inventory. The inventory would've been worth a look, of only for the semiotics.

My bookshelves are full of books with checklists and lists of tribal markers--- the Official Preppy Handbook, the Sloane Ranger Handbook, Paul Fussell's "Class",  Pierre Bourdieu, U and Non-U.  There are markers for every tribe, every social group: on Wednesdays we wear pink. Everything has its own markers for class, for in-group and out-group. I really do want to know what the semiotics of sex toys are.

Some of that must be ideological. How can it not be, here in the age of the gender wars? Some sex toys must be "problematic" and ideologically suspect. I'm thinking that there may well be lines drawn between vibrators and dildos on that, that it would be easy to argue that a vibrator (especially something like the Hitachi Magic Wand and its cousins) is designed specifically to provide female pleasure, whereas a dildo is too much like a mere (oppressive) penis. I wonder if there isn't a class line, too...though it can't be a simple one. A vibrator is hi-tech and expensive, but a dildo can be a hairbrush handle or a Corona bottle. Still...a dildo can also be something hand-crafted---- something artisanal.  A high-end dildo can be a bit like a small Brancusi sculpture, and it's easy to imagine a shop in Portland or Bushwick selling artisanal dildos to trust-fund hipster girls.  M. Bourdieu may not have been thinking of dildos, but they're as much markers for social capital as books or wall hangings.

Everything social devolves into cliques, sooner or later. There are people and institutions that use Gerber multi-tools and those that use Leatherman--- and each looks down on the other. Tribal markers--- and markers that come with extensive rationalizations. It's never just about actual efficiency or utility. Those criteria are never the key. Sex toys can't be any different. But would it just be a line between vibrators and dildos? Gels and lubes--- would there be lines between those who like flavored gels and those who reject them as promoting the idea of oral sex and hence of female submission? Lingerie seems like a obvious area--- Frederick's versus Victoria's Secret along lines of economic class as well as aesthetics and social class, lingerie wearers versus those who see lingerie as a tool of oppression.

Remember--- it's never about the freedom to choose. In the end, almost no one really believes in such a thing. They really want the freedom not to choose, but the freedom to choose whatever is right, the freedom to insist that their own tribal and class markers are not just theirs, and not just better, but right--- and that others are wrong.  Society operates by exclusions, and sex toys aren't any different from clothes or music.

There's a girl tonight with her first subscription box of provocative toys. I'd give a lot to know what she sees in them, what the items represent to her, and what she reads into having them. It's not just that they'll induce orgasm; that may be the least of it. I'd like to know what girls read into sex toys, what tribes they mark and how the toys are deployed as displays of cultural and ideological capital against out-groups. It's always the semiotics that counts--- always the semiotics of the object more than the object itself.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

One One Three: Calls

I read someone's Tumblr post today about hearing a man on some Manhattan street corner actually wolf whistle at a passing girl. The author wrote that she wanted to stalk over and ask him exactly what he thought would happen--- did he think the girl would be thrilled and give him her number, did he think she would immediately want to go home with him? She didn't, she wrote, and she regretted passing on the chance to shame the guy and "stand up to oppression".  My first thought was that she'd also passed up the chance to do something even more to the point. After all--- a wolf whistle? If the author actually meant that, if she meant a classic cartoon wolf whistle and wasn't just using that as a generic term for cat-calling, then she really did need to ask the guy why that. How and why had he chosen that? No one's done a classic wolf whistle since...the end of the 1950s. Did the guy learn that from watching cartoons from sixty years ago? It's a terribly retro thing--- which might be the point. Maybe an actual wolf whistle would've been exactly the thing to attract a Brooklyn hipster girl.

No, I don't do a retro wolf whistle. I'm not even sure I know how. I was never very good at whistling. That classic moment with Bogart and Bacall in "To Have and Have Not" always left me feeling a bit wistful and out of the loop.

This afternoon at brunch one of the lovely young bartendrix girls was half-kneeling in tiny shorts on one of the coolers behind the bar and pulling one knee up with her hands. I looked at her over my reading glasses and raised an eyebrow. She shrugged and told me that she'd been playing volleyball all day yesterday and today her knees had been popping and her legs were shot.  I smiled and told her that they were still gorgeous, though. She tossed her head back and grinned and thanked me.  That's not cat-calling, I suppose. And while we neither of us know the other's name, I am a Sunday regular there at the bar, and flirting pro forma with the girls is part of Sunday protocol.

I don't cat-call, though there have been so many moments in my life since I was in my early or mid-teens when I wanted to tell some passing lovely stranger that she was beautiful or had beautiful legs. Did I expect that she'd give me her number or drag me off to the nearest assignation hotel?  No, it was never about that. I'd have been thrilled if she'd smiled back in passing. It means something if someone takes something you say as a compliment. It means something if they regard you as being attractive enough yourself to be able to offer compliments. It means something if someone remembers you much later as having said something just in passing that brightened a day even a little.  I do regret the times when I didn't say something, when I didn't offer up a brief and civil compliment in passing---- when I didn't pay some small tribute to the idea of beauty.

Tonight I do remain intrigued with the idea of the wolf whistle. If a lovely young girl did that to me, I'd be...impressed with her retro style and the reference to the young Lauren Bacall.  I'd have to see if I could do a good retro-gallant reply.  A lovely young girl looking over her sunglasses and doing a classic wolf whistle is something that can make itself part of my day anytime.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

One One Two: Ekdysis

I've never had a lap dance.

I've never had a massage, either, though for different reasons.

Somewhere in the last twenty years lap dances became part of popular culture, just as pole-dancing has. I've never had a lap dance, though. Part of that is mere poverty. I've never had the money to buy lap dances or for the necessary tip. I've told myself that it's about money, but that's not strictly true.  Most of it, though, is that I'd be terrified of not knowing what to do or how to act.   

I'd never try to touch the dancer. Let's be clear about that. I'd never touch.  No touching--- obviously.

If the dance were given at a girl's flat--- not in a club ---and done by a girl I was dating, I'd still never touch. And indulging in the Solitary Vice while she danced would never, never happen. Males are always wrong to indulge in the Solitary Vice--- too symbolic of being pathetic or a loser, too easily described by ugly and mocking terms (e.g., wank or toss).

I'd never speak to the dancer. That's a given. And if it were a girl dancing for me at her flat rather than a professional at a club, a young companion dancing for me....well....I'd probably still just nod politely but never speak. Speaking would be too risky, too filled with the chance of making a fool of myself.

 For any lap dance, I'd sit rigidly and silently, hands palm down and immobile on my knees, eyes fixed dead ahead and slightly unfocused, muscles tensed, face expressionless--- I mean, I'd do that, but, again, it doesn't seem to be the right thing.

Clapping politely at the end somehow doesn't quite seem right, either.

For whatever it's worth, I'd always feel like I was badly dressed for the occasion. I'd always feel like I wasn't dressed correctly to be in a high-end club for a lap dance, always feel like I wasn't dressed well enough (or handsome enough) to be the sort of person who's allowed to have a lap dance. There are social requirements here, just as there are for everything. 

As always, I'd be terrified of being thought a rube or a mere flat, and I'd be wary and bitter about that. I'm just not socially adept enough to get a lap dance.

I mentioned all this to a friend in England yesterday, and she told me that the correct response to a lap dance is "an appreciatively lustful smirk". I couldn't do that. I'd never believe that I was allowed to make that kind of face, that I was high enough in the male rank ordering to do that. 

My friend Ms. Flox once wrote an article at one of her websites ( or Sex And The 405) urging male customers to sit back and enjoy the lap dance as a performance, as art. I couldn't do that. Mere enjoyment would mean allowing myself to be socially relaxed, and I'm not someone who can do that. I'm not one for letting down his guard, and I'd never be able to enjoy the experience. 

My friend in England tells me that it's not that the dancers despise their customers. She tells me that the dancers don't pay attention to the customers at all, that they're just white noise in the background. I can understand that. When I was in grad school I worked in a bookstore, and customers really were just background noise, a minor irritation. But emotionally I can't believe it. I'd be far too afraid of doing something or being something or looking like something that the dancer would feel contempt or derision for. I'd be far too insecure to ever meet the dancer's eyes.

If I were in a young companion's flat rather than a club, I'd still feel badly dressed and unable to meet her eyes.  That's less explicable than being afraid in a strip club (where you just might be handed over to the bouncers), but it's still true. 

I've never had a lap dance, and no girl has ever offered to strip for me. Other things, yes.  But not that. There's no way I could bring myself to go to a club for a lap dance.  I'm genteelly-impoverished, so there is that problem. But I'd never feel secure enough to go. I wouldn't know how to act, and I'd never think I was well-dressed enough or socially adept enough to be in a high-end strip club, let alone be allowed to purchase or enjoy a lap dance, even if I had the money.