Saturday, February 12, 2011

Beauty Survey #6: Men and Cheating

Forty women were surveyed about beauty. This blog explains the reasons for the survey.

Here is one question and a summary of their answers.

#6. The "men are visual" mantra gets preached and sometimes pressures women into working hard at keeping their man interested and excuses promiscuity. How do you balance this with your other qualities and not let "being pretty" be your main goal?

This was the question I most needed an answer to. Consider how one brave woman answered:

“Being cheated on, is one of my biggest fears. It would make me feel like trash, not good enough, not pretty enough, not worthy, just not enough period. I’m very afraid of it. My dad cheated on my mom when I was younger, which lead to their divorce. I have a hard time believing I will be truly loved, deeply, and whole-heartedly throughout the entirety of a marriage because I feel like whomever I marry, will always want someone younger and prettier as the years go by, and as my own sexiness and appeal fades. They might not find me attractive anymore, and honestly, it really scares me. I hate the thought of being cheated on. Hate it, and I can only hope it will never happen.”

I can only hope it will never happen. This fear somewhat reflects a view I’ve had for far too long: that his faithfulness has something—anything—to do with me. It’s not hard to see where we get these messages. There are a lot of societal norms that we simply shrug our shoulders at and rarely stop to consider what we’re beginning to believe. That’s why these answers were so important to me. These were the answers I most needed to hear.

Here’s how a few women answered:

“For a guy who thinks that's the most important thing, I'd say, find a new man.”

“A man that pressures a woman to focus on her outward appearance and is constantly obsesses with how she looks is just adding to the trouble. First, start with a good man, a man that appreciates both kinds of beauty, the inside and the outside. He will encourage you to nurture both. Keeping a healthy balance between the two will help keep you grounded.”

“If he chose to be unfaithful that wouldn't be my fault. Also, he can find someone else attractive without being unfaithful to me so the fear of seeing (something! anything!) isn't something he needs to worry about, nor do I.”

“‘Men are visual’ reduces men to a very shallow existence. I do believe men are attracted to the physical aspects of the female-- boobs, butts. Most men, like most women, want in their 'life sustaining relationships' the attraction to be much more than that. How do we keep our man interested? It is so much more than looks. Interested in each other would be a better way to say it—that is a function of love, respect, common interests, security, goals, intellect, spiritual—and more.”

“Men may be visual, but they're also, generally, optimists. They see the good. They see your great ass, or your curvy frame, or your beautiful hair. Most of them don't notice the rolls or the sags. You’ve got to choose a good man in the first place.”

“I never worry about this with my husband. He feels it is his job to make sure I know that he thinks I am the most beautiful woman he knows. I want this for all women. It is a fresh feeling.”

After hearing these bold answers about the fact that a cheating man is NOT my fault, I had to wonder: When did I begin to believe otherwise? The obvious sources came up first: music lyrics and movies that glamorize infidelity, magazine covers where someone is always cheating on someone else. When I dug a little deeper, I was surprised to find what I believe has been a major source of confusion that a cheating man is my fault: some Christian women’s relationship books.

If you’re feeling at all offended by this, please re-read what I just said. This is what “I believe” has been a major source. Not the source. Not the only source. Books do not have the exact same effect on everyone. I am only describing the effect that some of these books have had on me.

Most Christian women’s relationship books value purity and waiting to have sex until marriage. This isn’t a bad message. This is one belief among many. What I’ve witnessed though is a slight imbalance regarding whose responsibility it is to maintain this purity. I feel like some of these books paint men as less-than human, less-than capable of controlling their sexual drive, less-than respectable men who have desires, but also brains.

A year ago, I walked into a conversation among two Christian female professors at my college. They were discussing the ridiculous message in a Christian book they had just read: For Women Only. They were frustrated, but laughing hysterically about how sexist the book was toward men. One of them told me, “I was shocked at how blatantly the author made men out to be animals with no self-control.”

I had just skimmed the book the night before. Her response and mine were quite different. I finished the book feeling guilty and self-conscious about everything I was doing wrong as a woman. She finished the book feeling grateful and confident that she does not believe those words or that men are animals. “Women and men should be outraged at books like this,” she told me. “This message is hurting all of us.”

I feel like this message has hurt me. Along with media influences and gender roles, it has warped my perception of men and my perception of myself. I’ve over generalized. I’ve been unfair. As is with many coping mechanisms, it’s easier to lump groups of people together than it is to get to know them one-by-one. I have too often taken the easy route.

Men have brains and choices and common sense just like I do (though culture tries hard to convince me otherwise). Yes, we’re wired differently. But no, I’m not wired better. No, I’m not going to show the world every inch of body and act like I have no effect on those around me. No, I’m not going to pretend like a relationship doesn’t involve equal work for both people. No, I’m not going to perpetuate the belief that men can’t control themselves.

If I want equality for women (and I do), I need to fight for equality for men too.


Emily Morris said...

Very insightful. Thanks for sharing this. I've read Christian books like the ones you mentioned, and I can definitely relate to your feelings.

kessia reyne said...

One of the best books I read in the past year is one called "Origins of Difference: The Gender Debate Revisited" by Elaine Storkey. It's a quick read and one that I think you'd find very interesting. In the book she points out how some creation-endorsing Christians hold a belief almost identical to that of some evolutionary biologists: gender is basically 100% nature, and about 0% nurture. That type of thinking manifests itself when some evolutionists talk about men and cheating: Men evolved to have multiple partners and thus increase their chances of offspring; they are not hardwired for monogamy. And, as you pointed out, that same stereotyping argument comes out of the mouths of some Christians: Men are visual creatures; they can't help but be lustful when women do/wear such and such; they are adulterous creatures.

While I do value the point that as brothers and sisters we ought not to lead each other into sin, any argument that puts the onus of sinful behavior on the other party is essentially violating one of the most deeply cherished beliefs of my own faith system: moral freedom, personal volition, individual responsibility before the one God. As women, we are not doing ourselves any favors when we portray men as mindless sex machines: we're increasing our false sense of power to protect or manipulate them, and robbing them of a crucial component of their God-given dignity as human beings.

Before my comment gets too long, one more book nod: His Needs, Her Needs. The title made me think it was another gender-stereotyping volume, but the author lists the 10 needs of both partners and comments that in his experience men tend to prioritize these 5 and women these other 5. Anyway, I bring up the book to suggest that according to that author men (and women) have at least 10 primary needs, and only one of them is an "attractive" mate, one who takes care of their appearance. But they also need a lot of other things. I don't know who the sexiest woman in the world is and I don't know what her romantic relationship is like. But I know that I'm not her and I have a wonderful marriage to a satisfied man.

Heather said...

Thanks for your input. I'll definitely be checking out both of those books.


Joe said...

This isn't Facebook, but I this seemed to be an appropriate response: Like.