I love my friend Nathan, but we disagree about pretty much everything. Whether about economics or politics, religion or vegetarianism, we argue.
It’s a part of our friendship, and it’s (almost) always respectful and ends with a hug. I love that we can disagree so much and still laugh and enjoy one another’s company.
But sometimes it gets pretty heated, like when we talk about the nature of men and women.
We fundamentally disagree about the role of biology versus socialization, nature versus nurture, in influencing the ways that men and women tend to act.
In one of the chapters from his “blogsperience,” Confessions of a Diarrhetic: Lessons of Love, Life, and the Ocean, he puts it this way:
“Women are better at commitment than men. This is because each of the sexes has a different job when it comes to the genetic imperative. Men are wired to spread their seed. We want to grow as strong and wealthy as possible so that we can have a large harem and the tribe will survive . . . So [today] men cheat. I’m not excusing it; I’m explaining it. We want to spread our seed as often as we can. This is one of the many reasons men are so drawn to pornography, you can have a new girl every time you fire up your computer!” (Even if you disagree with him, consider giving Nathan’s “blogspierence” a read or listen. It’s definitely a captivating story).
He goes on to explain that this is why straight men and straight women can never truly be friends.
The guy is always trying to sleep with the girl while the girl thinks it’s just a friendship. And he’s not the only dude to make this argument:
And you know what? These guys are absolutely right.
So long as we continue to live by and construct our relationships around oppressive, patriarchal understandings of sex and gender, straight men and straight women cannot be friends, and for that matter, gay men can’t be friends with any other men.
If men believe that they have no control over their “biological imperative” to “spread their seed,” then every friendship with a potential “mate” will be defined by a constant game where the man is endlessly jockeying for position to sleep with his “friend.”
The problem with this line of thinking, though, is that it presumes that men are not, in fact, human.
After all, whether you believe it’s divine endowment or an evolutionary outcome, pretty much every human being is capable of rational thought and will power.
This separates us from the “natural world” because, in essence, we have the ability to rationalize our way beyond simple biological urges and will ourselves to act differently.
True, there are probably lots of ways that gender norms are influenced by our hormone levels or our evolutionary biology.
But to say that we are simply slaves to these fundamental drives is to say that our power of cognition is no more powerful than, say, that of my friend’s dog who humps everything.
I find this line whole “men are slaves to their sexual desire” bit to be an insulting trope. And the men who are reading this should too!
After all, if we as straight men are incapable of being true, genuine friends with women, it simply reinforces some pathetic stereotypes about men.
Sexual Attraction Is Nuanced
I don’t know about you, but as a straight man, I am not attracted to every single female-identified person that I meet.
Take the story of one of my closest friends, Sheila, for instance. I met Sheila through OKCupid a few years ago. I reached out to her on the site because she’s gorgeous and because we have a lot in common.
But from the moment we met, there was no chemistry. I, plainly, wasn’t attracted to her.
After our second date, I had to tell her. “I really like you! I just don’t think I’m feeling the kind of chemistry I want to feel with a romantic partner.”
Her reaction? “Oh thank god! I love hanging out with you, but I’m just not feeling it either!” Now, almost three years later, we’re best friends!
Similarly, it’s insultingly heterosexist (and pompous) for straight men to say that they don’t want to share a locker room with gay men because they don’t want gay men getting turned on by their naked bodies.
I’m sorry, you arrogant a**hole, but what makes you think he’d be attracted to you?
Gay men don’t simply divide the world into “those I can f*ck” and women. Gay men are friends with other gay men, and gay men have monogamous relationships.
Just as you are not attracted to every single woman that you meet, gay men are not attracted to every single man.
If we believe that our sexual attraction is nuanced and changing, then to say that we are slaves to this attraction is absurd.
Men Are More Than Our Sexual Appetites
I am not simply defined by my erections. I am a complex person with complex relationships.
As a result, while I am indeed attracted to some of my female friends, that does not mean that I am simply waiting for a moment to jump their bones.
One of the many ways that the patriarchy hurts both women and men is to typecast us into tiny boxes that restrict our fully realized expression as people.
If we say that “men think with their head, just not the one on their shoulders,” we are not only confining men and their motivations to a tiny box, but we are reinforcing to men that it is, in fact, okay to allow themselves to be led solely by their sex drive.
I, for one, want to be known as a man who has a robust sex drive but who also is capable to existing outside of that sex drive.
I can be attracted to a number of people yet be with but one person if that’s what I so choose.
I can be friends with someone I am wildly attracted to if I choose to see that person as a fully-realized human being rather than a simple object of my sexual desire.
Stop Letting Men Off The Hook!
So why do we, as men, believe and play into these basest stereotypes about our nature?
In short, it lets us off the hook when we act like a**holes. If we lie or cheat or sleep with our girlfriend’s best friend, it’s a lot easier to make the argument that such actions are in our nature than to take responsibility for our misdeeds.
If we ever hope to realize a more positive masculinity, though, we must leave behind these insulting generalizations about the nature of men.
Just as we must never excuse the misogyny of intimate partner abuse by saying that men are violent by nature, we must be careful never to excuse other forms of sexism by saying that men are slaves to sexual desire.
After all, it is not a far leap from “men want to spread their seed, so they cheat” to “men want to spread their seed, so they rape.”
In short, men are human beings. We have will, agency, and responsibility for our actions.
It’s time we hold men to the high standard that our cognition deserves.
Jamie Utt is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism and a diversity and inclusion consultant and sexual violence prevention educator based in Minneapolis, MN. He lives with his loving partner and his funtastic dog, Chloe. He blogs weekly at Change From Within. Learn more about his work at www.JamieUtt.com. Follow him on Twitter @utt_jamie.