Sexual Desire and Sexual Politics Don’t Always Match

A recent study receiving a fair bit of media attention claims that “people still desire the traditional masculine values of muscles and money in the men they find attractive and have not moved on from long-established gender roles.”

Many Stage 2 advocates will respond to this with a “well, duh!”, and indeed one cannot help but notice that when feminists celebrate Stage 3 men, those “objects” of celebration are almost always very tasty (Trudeau, McGorry, and the like).

Stage 2 media such as InfoWars has described this study as “debunking” feminism, showing how women are actually attracted to what they claim to be “toxic masculinity.” There is something more complex going on here that is rarely openly discussed.

What this study reveals is that there is often a disconnect between sexual desire and sexual politics. I suspect that those women who found muscles and money sexually attractive would also find them politically unattractive. If we demand that sexual desire and sexual politics are always in sync, at some point we are going to end up denying either our desire or our politics. This disconnect is not necessarily contradictory, rather an example of different domains intersecting.

Now there is a much more challenging implication to this statement. Suggesting we hold potentially divergent sexual desire and politics in productive tension seems innocent enough in the context of women. But it is also true for men.

This poses difficult questions for arguments about the objectification of women by men. It means that we have to leave open a door to the possibility that men can at once “objectify” women (inasmuch as experiencing immediate and context-free sexual desire for some random woman on the train), while at the same time having enough awareness to know about (and even act upon) the political implications of objectification.

We are sexual beings: for most people, sexual desire is like breathing or drinking water. We have to accept the reality of this while maintaining those equally important questions about politics and power.