Saturday, December 01, 2007

Women Are Not Like Cows. Sex Is Not Like Milk

Bridget Crawford on the well-worn (and worn-out) expression. Offensive for many reasons, the one Prof. Crawford focuses on is how it treats women like a commodity. My girlfriend would rightfully slap me if I called her a cow, and do not conceive our relationship, or any relationship I might have, progressing to the point where I would "buy" her (and if I ever did start thinking along those lines, I'd hope she'd break up with me immediately).

But beyond that, "why buy the cow when the milk is free" acts as if sex is the only thing a woman has to offer a man. While I certainly think sexuality is an important part of a relationship, at least for me there are many other wonderful things that come from being in a relationship. Companionship. Emotional support. Fidelity. I could go on. It's unbelievably objectifying to act as if that one attribute is the only thing of value a woman has that a man might want. And, I might add, it displays a pretty degrading view of men, to think we're that shallow. It's amazing how my gender loves to revel in how backward we can be (anyone who's seen a beer commercial knows what I'm talking about).

Women are not cows. Nor are they talking sex toys. They're real people.


PG said...

The more sophisticated versions of what Prof. Crawford heard are that:

1) Feminism has contributed to a new culture of commodified sexuality. This one doesn't really make any sense when combined with the "don't buy the cow if the milk is free" sentiment, inasmuch as that idea surely predates second-wave feminism. People always have commodified female sexuality; go to the Museum of Sex in NYC, and you can see pornography from the age of silent film (complete with cliched scenarios and dialogue as white letters on black screens). By stating that women's sexuality existed first and foremost for women's own enjoyment, feminism to some extent attempted to destroy the markets in it.

2) Women who delay marriage/ have pre-marital sex create problems for women who are interested in settling down/ waiting for marriage because the former distract men from the latter. I'm willing to concede some market-like aspects of dating, but that means there's the obvious market solution: pairing by preference (albeit troubled as in any market by imperfect information). Men who want to marry settling down types/ virgins should be avoided by women who don't fall in those categories, which I'd think to be a simple matter of self-respect for women, although this is the imperfect info problem, because sadly many men aren't forthcoming about this preference. Men who are OK with their partners having lots of sexual experience can date either kind of women. Certainly the second type of guy will have a much larger choice, and the first type of guys will have to make more of an effort to get the scarcer group of virginal women because they prize them more highly rather than being relatively indifference between the two.

Mark said...

For a rebuttal of your points, an essay I wrote earlier points to a source which is relevant. As well, the book(s) linked may provide more source material of a more "sophisticated" variety.

David Schraub said...

I feel like your essay is not a refutation of PG's points -- in fact, arguably the other way around. Aside from the fact that the first excerpt is wildly hyperbolic (I only wish that college students were all sex-crazed hook-up machines -- or I would, if I wasn't currently in a stable relationship) and operates from the wrong premise (I'm not looking for a marriage partner in college, but that's because I have no interest in being married at 22), the point about how modern dating has reduced female power by removing it from the "private" sphere is adequately refuted by PG's first point, which notes the absurdity of acting as if a woman's passive role in romantic relationships is a new development, and by noting that by giving woman ownership of their own bodies feminism at least undermines the commodification of the female body. I'd also imagine most feminists (particularly those who have read any MacKinnon) would laugh at the idea that they are "sovereign" in the private space in any meaningful sense. Certainly, in the era you're talking about, women weren't sovereign anywhere -- high minded rhetoric about ruling the hearth notwithstanding.

Mark said...

You read (from my essay) a two paragraph summary of a four page excerpt from a book ... and disagree with interpretation of detail. I think that's an unfair treatment of sources. I was trying to point out a place to go to find a dissenting opinion not provide a complete and well argued dissent on my own.

And the first part of the essay wasn't what I was thinking about in this case, but the calling/dating section. I should have made that clear.

I understand that you can argue well via mockery, but you still haven't said a bit about how you imagine dating is not a lessening of feminine authority from calling via commercialization. It seems an increased commodification not a decrease at the very least. Calling was a practice well publicized in women's journals and periodicals, and driven by their particular society. If, as you imply, women had no sovereignty in their own sphere that would not have occurred in that fashion I'd think.

David Schraub said...

But the second part (calling versus dating) has nothing to do with the topic, which is whether or not sex-as-milk either is sensical or respects women (or men). Saying that it would be better to "call on" woman versus date them is not really related to that point.

If it's an argument that dating commodifies women, I still think PGs response is presumptively right (women have always been commodified, at least feminism says they have self-ownership).

I guess I'm confused as to the link to the post.

PG said...


Judging by the customer reviews, I don't need the book you recommend because I know everything in it. I know the history of Western courtship because I'm an English major who specialized in 18th, 19th and early 20th c. Anglophone literature.
From this, I also know that the social mores you're admiring decreed that a girl was "ruined," unfit for decent employment much less marriage, if she got a bad reputation -- even if she retained her virginity. The first chapter of "House of Mirth" is utterly depressing in this respect as the heroine panics over the fact that she was seen exiting a bachelor's establishment without another woman with her -- even though he was just a friend with whom she had tea because she was tired and needed something to eat and drink quickly before a train.

I know the theory and values being espoused because they're the same things put forward by my parents.

Like many children of immigrants, I was raised in a minority culture within the larger American culture. My parents did not permit us to date and the habit of mind persisted such that I did not begin dating until I was halfway through college. Because at that point I was in a relatively gender-equal environment, I did not then and never have engaged in the type of dating in which men buy women food and entertainment in hopes of getting sex in return; I've always split the cost of dating (and when I was dating someone with family responsibilities that limited his discretionary income, paid more than half).

Your whole commodification point actually depends on "traditional" dating in which one could conceive of an implicit economic exchange. Modern gender-equal dating, in which the monetary outlay is fairly equal right up until one party purchases an engagement ring and the other doesn't (and my fiance gave me his mother's engagement ring, so arguably no greater financial outlay even then), doesn't involve such commodification.

My parents very much believed that there was no reason for people of the opposite sex (as in your book, my parents' worldview didn't include the possibility of homosexuality) to spend time together as anything except classmates and friends until they were interested in marriage. At that point, the parents of the young people should guide them toward an appropriate partner, with this guidance based on a common set of goals and values, not on physical attraction and romantic love.

This is a good way to set up marriage if you assume that marriage is meant less for the individual happiness of the participants and more for the reification and continuation of the existing culture. As someone intending an inter-racial, inter-religious, and even inter-political marriage, I don't think that's the purpose of my marriage.

The parlor may well have been "controlled by women," but that doesn't mean it was controlled by the woman being courted. It was her parents' roof, and they decided whether someone gained admittance. See elopement for what this system necessitated as an outlet, after the idea of romantic love in marriage became part of Western culture.

PG said...

Oh, and as you might imagine, being raised in such a household leaves me bemused by your claim that the schools have "taken" all training from parents. I'm perpetually confused as to how my parents managed to transmit both a minority religion and minority cultural values, yet the majority Christian religion and people who believe themselves to have minority cultural values think that it's somehow impossible to do this without prayer in schools.

I'm quite happy that my Episcopalian elementary school and publich middle school took up sex ed, as my parents never approached the subject, but that doesn't mean that exterior institutions have the responsibility to tell children what their parents expect of them with regard to good behavior. Schools teach facts, like how babies are made and what can be done to prevent STDs and pregnancy. Parents teach values, like having your children sufficiently cowed that it never even occurred to me or my sisters to try to date someone while we lived under our parents' roof.

David Schraub said...

Inter-political? Now that's just a bridge too far! :-p

Actually, on reflection, all my girlfriends have been Independents, Democrats, or other points leftward. I did get rejected by a Republican once, though.

Mark said...

Recently I've been reading A Secular Age by Charles Taylor (and I can't say too too much about it as I've just started). In that, he remarks on institution and anti-institution. It seems to me at that age, elopement and marriage had a similar relationship as did his first example (Medieval institutional structure and Carnival). Mr Taylor makes a point here, which might also hold for elopement/marriage, which is that institutionalized as such, is that the anti-structure serves as both an outlet and an affirmation of the structure.

The dating to which the author refers of course is the dating as it existed after supplanting the calling pattern ... not present day "equal" footing dating.

When you write:
This is a good way to set up marriage if you assume that marriage is meant less for the individual happiness of the participants and more for the reification and continuation of the existing culture.
I wonder if the popular means which places such an emphasis on eros/romantic love in marriage achieves the happiness which it seeks. Given the rampant divorce rate today ... it seems perhaps not.

I'm glad you had great parents. I hope you as well have a happy marriage and pass on the message to your children that courtship is not a trivial or unimportant undertaking as did your parents before you. Actually, the first book Wing to Wing is the book I'd recommend more for general reading on the subject of courtship and marriage than the excerpt quoted for that particular essay.