Originally posted on December 16, 2010
Male desire gets a bad rap in feminist circles. It is rarely presented as anything positive, and even attempts at doing so quickly turn into negative. For varying reasons, feminists paint male desire as inherently dangerous and perverse. It leads to very unhelpful comments and advice from feminists, which in turn further conflates the already tumultuous terrain of sexual relationships. The bulk of these comment frame male desire as entitlement, a word that feminists successfully bastardized into becoming synonymous with “male privilege.”
Miguel Bloomfontosis offered a critique of the feminist framing of male “entitlement,” stating:
“Entitlement” is not my favorite word, as it’s both vague and carries a lot of negative baggage. Yet the first question I would ask about entitlement is this: Is a person “entitled” to have friends? Because if the answer is no, if having friends is a “privilege,” then you are saying that a person should never feel entitled to a basic human need, which is that of friendship.
Another question: Is a person “entitled” to platonic human touch? Because again, if the answer is no, and if being touched is a “privilege,” then someone should never feel entitled to the basic need for physical touch.
And these are human needs. Put an ordinary, sane person in solitary confinement, and that person will rapidly decompensate and become severely disturbed. And yet nobody would argue I have a right to coerce another person into being my friend, or to pressure another person to touch me, even platonically. Yet at the same time, to say that friendship and human touch are “privileges” – and they are either privileges or entitlements, there is no third choice – is to say it is wrong to feel entitled to a basic human need. The fact is, to survive psychologically as social beings, we are all desperately dependent on – and entitled to – that which other people cannot be ethically compelled to give us.
Entitlement is the wrong word because ultimately the issue is about desire, namely whether a person has the right to desire a relationship with another person without possessing the right to force someone into that relationship. Miguel’s position that people do possess a right to such desires because they are basic human needs, while not particularly nuanced, is valid. Humans are social creatures, and no matter how isolated one wishes to become, eventually people will crave interaction with other humans. Not having it does, as Miguel described, drive people crazy.
Sex is a part of human socialization. It is a method we used to procreate, but also to bond. To deny someone sex can be rather cruel depending on the context of the situation. However, to deny people the right to desire sex is unarguably cruel. Few people, particularly progressive liberals, would challenge the notion that sexual repression is a damaging thing or that people have the right to desire sex.
Except for one. Hugo Schwyzer stated in response to Miguel’s post:
I appreciate that Miguel isn’t endorsing coercion. But as I read further in his piece, it’s clear that he thinks women — and sexually “successful” men — have failed to appreciate just how devastating the condition of involuntary male celibacy can be. And it’s clear too that he thinks that this is because of the choices women make. His finals words in the post: young women’s preference for the aggressive, dominant man is unmistakable, obvious, and brutal. It’s fairly clear that he thinks the victims of that preference are the beta (or omega) males who are rejected and ignored — and in some sense, robbed of what is rightfully theirs.
That is an unfair assessment of what Miguel actually wrote. His post in context states:
Okay, here’s the problem: I can’t very well make my point about our sexual culture with only vague references to “some men.” And if Clarisse Thorn is “bugged” by themes of entitlement that she sees in my writing, then I need to be able to explain, in the most concrete, salient way I can, the world in which the sexually isolated man lives, and how a healthy sense of “entitlement” is desperately needed by some men.
Because the grim reality of heterosexual sexuality is this: None of the four students who had sex with Hugo Schwyzer – a professor who now lectures young men how to cross their t’s and dot their i’s in all matters sexual – none of these young women would be likely take a vulnerable nineteen year old virgin home and gently make love to him. And I don’t doubt that these women were good people, and probably kind. Yet the world in which a man finds himself is not all candy and cupcakes – young women’s preference for the aggressive, dominant man is unmistakable, obvious, and brutal.
Miguel’s point contradicts both Schwyzer’s personal experiences and his views about the male experience. Specifically, Schwyzer’s position is not that men are being overlooked by women, but that they are not making themselves worthy of women’s attention:
What men like Miguel are entitled to is more help than they may currently be getting. They are entitled to have others — especially other men — reach out to them with tools. Not tools merely to get them laid, but tools that they can use to gain the cluster of qualities that will make them more sexually and romantically appealing: confidence, courage, and empathy.
Somehow it seems unlikely that telling those men to “man up” will remedy the problem. This is likely why Miguel mentioned Schwyzer’s success with women. Schwyzer clearly has no understanding of what it is like to be socially awkward, introverted, or unattractive. More so, his solution actually demonstrates Miguel’s point: women are interested primarily in aggressive (i.e. assertive), dominant men. So men who are not that way are probably going to get rejected or ignored.
Miguel does not object to that outcome per se, which is to say that while he does not agree with the outcome, he does not suggest that anyone should be able to force someone into sex. He does not even suggest that women ought to choose some of those overlooked men. All he states is that people are entitled to have that kind of bond with another person. In other words, people have the right to desire sex and have the right to that desire without ever possessing the right to have it fulfilled.
However, Schwyzer construes this as:
Sex with other people is not a basic human right. Rights are not rooted in compelling others to do for you what is against their will. It is the right of two or more adults who wish to be sexual together to be so without government interference, just as it ought to be the right of those who wish to marry to marry. But the fight for marriage equality doesn’t include the right for those who can’t find a partner to have the state provide them with one, and the right of two or more adults to engage in all sorts of private erotic acts does not entitle a third (or seventh) party to demand his “share” of the sexy time taking place behind closed doors.
Yet no one said it was. All that Miguel posited was that people, particularly men, have the right to want to have sex and they have the right to feel that way. That is it. Miguel used the friend example, which perfectly demonstrated his point:
With that in mind, I re-wrote Clarisse Thorn’s comment, substituting sexual partners with “friends”:
No matter how much it sucks that a certain person has trouble finding friends… this problem should never be discursively turned into “this person is entitled to have friends.” Because no one is actually entitled to have friends. … No one has a right to have friends. … [I]t’s really important that we don’t ever make claims about how a given person “should” be someone’s friend or other people are hurting that person by not befriending them, because these are tacit efforts to guilt people into having friendships they don’t want.
[…] As a hypothetical, let’s assume that nobody where I live and work is willing to be my friend, and so I have no friends. Am I still “entitled” to have friends? Yes, I believe so. Does it follow that I have the “right” to bother any particular individual in my neighborhood, until such time as that person “gives in” and is willing to be my friend? No, I don’t.
Schwyzer missed this analogy, perhaps because he may agree with it and doing so logically require him to agree with analogy when applied to sex. What Miguel posits is the very nature of our “basic human rights,” which is to say that our “rights” are simply things we are entitled to have even though no one is obligated to give it to us. We are entitled to food, but no one must share it with us. We are entitled to clothing, but no one must clothe us. We are entitled to medical care and education, but no one must provide them to us. We are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but no one is must do anything of those things for us.
Others on Schwyzer’s thread and on Miguel’s circled around the concept of “worthiness,” but this too dodges the issue because feeling worthy of something is not the same as desiring something, and it is the latter that is the issue. Does a person have the right to desire something? Does a person have the right to have that desire? Does a person have the right to have that desire fulfilled? The answer to all is yes, with a condition: no one can force a person to fulfill that desire.
It does not appear that anyone actually disagrees with Miguel’s points, nor does his argument come across as ill-constructed as some claimed. The issue seems to be that Miguel applied his logic to men seeking sexual relationships with women, and he came out on the side of men. If the goal is to actually help men, it seems counter-intuitive to attack them for desiring sex and to deny their right to even have the desire.