Sunday, April 15, 2007

Better than chocolate....

While I was surfing the blogs for suitable posts for the previous Carnival of Socialism I came across this gem from Feministing. And I have to say it has been bugging me ever since. Joan Sewell has written a book called I’d Rather Eat Chocolate.

My overriding problem with her book is the capitulation to biological determinism. Or to be more specific, women having an inferior biology. Joan Sewell writes about her low libido and that she prefers eating chocolate brownies to sex though she likes masturbation. Sewell discusses her problems with sex and her low sex drive, which I don’t have a problem with but what I do have a problem with is her casting aspersions and generalising about women.

In an interview she is asked the following question: You talk about evolutionary influences on libido, and I wonder how real you think they are, how acutely you think we feel them. "Well, across so many cultures, men are more promiscuous, men want more variety, men want more women. And for women, security overrides the sexual urge. That happens because, well, the woman’s sexual urge is weaker. Maybe it is because of biology"...

Ah, our biology. It is down to our weaker sexual desires. The fall back position is to attack a woman’s biology. A biology that exists in a vacuum and in isolation. Sewell is also pandering to stereotypes of the Me Tarzan, You Jane variety. Or picture the scene that Desmond Morris would be proud of, atavistic man coming home after a hard day’s kill in the office, all pumped up testosterone and wanting some of that coital magic from the submissive missus who happily lies back and thinks about baking! Insulting? You better believe it.
Sewell also complains how society is saturated with sex this being reflected in television programmes such as Desperate Housewives and Sex in The City and of course, she blames feminism. So we are back to the old worn-out and clapped out idea that for women, it is a case of damned if you do and damned if you don't!!
I am sure Sewell would like to return to the old order of women knowing their sexual place. Sewell mirrors the arguments of neo-Darwinists espousing evolutionary psychology and the usual biological determinist guff.

Throughout the last 100 years there have been ideological attacks on women’s sexuality. It has been dissected in order to pathologise sexual pleasure in women as “unnatural” which could cause epilepsy and hysteria (have a read of Havelock Ellis et al) and “inferior” orgasms (Freud).
Even our capacity to orgasm came about not through evolution but as a by-product for men to seek “constant sexual gratification (The Evolution of Human Sexuality – Donald Symons, 1979).

This criss-crosses neatly with the continuation of biological reductionist arguments seeking scientific respectability with medicalised projects such as “curing” sexual “dysfunctions” and “disorders”. Pfizer, for example, commoditising a bloke’s ability to have sex with the blue wonder drug Viagra and now women can be prescribed Intrinsa sold as a patch and will give women that all important Testosterone karate kick to the libido.

Again this reduces women’s sexuality to basic biology (and men as well). Also, doesn’t the emphasis on sexual disorders/dysfunctions i.e. low libido expose our own sexual insecurities and fears about what is “normal” and “abnormal”? There is this one-size-fits-all solution and it also makes me think of the various labels flung at women over the years, “nymphomania”, “hysteria”, “frigidity”, “repressed” and so on.

I don’t have a problem with libido enhancing wonder drugs like Viagra or Intrinsa but they only deal with the biological function. A biology seen in isolation and nothing else to explain low libido like interpersonal relationships, stress, boredom, lack of communication, inequality, tiredness, confidence (lack of), the daily grind of exploitation and just plain, “not tonight Josephine/Joe”… all these have a potential impact on sex.

We are sexual beings (whether Joan Sewell likes it or not) but what she and the biological determinists ignore (well, they would wouldn't they) are the dynamics that interplay within a capitalist and patriarchal society where sex sells including our ability to “get it up”. What is also left out of the equation are the power relationships, the contradictory nature of capitalism, the inequalities between men and women and lets face it, the complexities of sex. And we need to understand how these dynamics construct sexuality.

We cannot explain sexuality and sex by reducing it to a “biological fatalism” but to use a dialectical framework. Joan Sewell is in a long line of apologists for biological determinism and women’s inferior sex. Sex should be about liberation and the freedom to choose what we damn well please. Sewell prefers chocolate brownies, fine by me but don’t assume the same for us all. Some of us like both and as the saying goes, "women can't live by chocolate brownies alone"..


AN said...

I think with regard to Viagra, the drug is actually mechanical rather than affecting the libido, as men can suffer from bio-mechanical sexual dysfunction that is entirely physical. but that doesn't detract from your main argument, which I agree with.

While it is entirely up to Sewell whether she prefers sex or biscuits, it is a bit rich to extrapolate her perosnal preferences as a general theory.

There is at least one aspect where shared sex is healthier than biscuits, which is as a stimulant to the hormones (oxytocin, etc) that promote human bonding.

Let us hope at least that Sewell invites her friends to share her biscuits.

AN said...

And as you picture implies, smoking is also better than chocolate :o)

Louisefeminista said...

That is what narks me about Sewell is that the woman assumes too much. She even says that lesbians are "known to have a low-libido"... Really Joan, where did you get that information from? I just find the woman utterly insulting and repugnant.

"Let us hope at least that Sewell invites her friends to share her biscuits."

Hmmm. The question is, who would want to share her chocolate brownies other than Kip (?) her boyfriend...? I think she has well pissed off many women in the States with her pseudo-scientific Darwinian codswallop...

I like the pic of the woman smoking as I find it sexy and it is a Nan Goldin photograph.

AN said...

BTW - we never get far away from Swindon, do we.

Birth place of Desmond Morris (Indeed, when he was a youngster he used to go out with Diana Dorrs)

Louisefeminista said...

Talking of old Desmond (Diana Dors... why, Diana, why..? She was sexy..) there's a v. good critique of The Naked Ape in Evelyn Reed's bk Sexism and Science.

John Mullen said...

First time I read a piece by Louise. Excellent stuff.
John Mullen

Louisefeminista said...

Thanks John.