By David Futrelle
Yesterday, an older British gentleman who describes himself as a “Journalist Extraordinaire” received a light roasting on Twitter after he declared that women who “wear clothes showing a lot of flesh in the shoulder, leg and … bosom department” are somehow undermining the long struggle for gender equality through their choice of attire.
I was one of the roasters:
These sorts of complaints used to be confined to Puritanical religious fundamentalists who consider women in summer clothes to be “stumbling blocks” for lusty men. Indeed, the last person I remember yelling about the sin-inducing powers of women’s shoulders was a rather excitable priest named Kevin M. Cusick, who also enjoys ranting about the alleged evils of “sodomite homosexualists,” “so-called trans” folks, and of course Muslims.
But in the last few years this, er, argument has been taken up by assorted manospherians, from MGTOWs to incels, who rail against everything from yoga pants to the sneakily alluring powers of female arms. The manosphere-tailing intellectual charlatan Jordan Peterson has jumped in with his own complaints about the sexually hypnotizing powers of makeup and high heels.
Aas it turns out, as I’ve mentioned here before, this dumb idea has a long history among Men’s Rights Activists. In his 1993 manifesto The Myth of Male Power, Warren Farrell, the intellectual grandfather of the Men’s Rights movement, famously warned men to beware of the “cleavage power” and the “miniskirt power” that young women have over older men, even their bosses at work.
Like Mr. Duncan today, Farrell argued that women who dressed in ways he deems too sexy are effectively coming on to all men who see them — and if these clothes are worn in the workplace, they indicate that the wearer is less interested in work than in getting herself hitched to some nearby eligible man. In his mind, “indirect initiatives” like wearing short skirts are
designed to lead to marriage … So the miniskirt, perfume, and flirting unconsciously tell the man that this woman wants an end to her involvement in the workplace—or, at least, an end to her involvement by obligation. If you were a boss who had to choose between promoting someone who had the option to work versus someone with the obligation to work (e.g., to support a spouse and three children), whom would you take more seriously?
Yes, that’s right: In Farrell’s mind, if a woman wears a short skirt and/or lipstick to work, she’s signaling that she doesn’t want a promotion — she wants a proposal.
In almost all cultures throughout human history, women’s indirect initiatives were their way of signaling their desire for men to take direct initiatives. A flirtation was an invitation. In some cultures, lipstick was a woman’s way of signaling her willingness to perform fellatio.
Er, what? Farrell provides no citation for this claim, which I suspect may have emerged fully formed from his pants.
In the South Sea islands, a fresh flower in a woman’s hair signaled availability. The purpose of the flower, lipstick, or the miniskirt is to put the signal out strongly enough to stimulate every man’s interest. It is only when she has every man’s interest that she has real choice—the choice of the “best” men.
Ok, you may say to yourself, but he wrote this way back in 1993, which is practically the 1970s; didn’t everyone think like this back then? As someone who was an adult in 1993, my answer is NO, and also I’m taking these quotes from the 2014 reissue of the book.
Which, by the way, features a naked woman’s butt on the cover.
As Farrell explains in a new introduction to the book (written in 2014), this rather unexpected choice of cover art for a book about “male power” is his way of “tastefully” reminding people of “heterosexual boys’ and men’s feelings of powerlessness when our eyes behold a genetic celebrity.”
“Genetic celebrity” is Farrell’s term of art for attractive young women with, I guess, junk in the trunk
In conclusion, most heterosexual men enjoy looking at women’s asses, and cleavage, and, I guess, shoulders. Some of these men also think that these female body parts oppress them by being looked at. These men are very weird, and their arguments make no damn sense at all.
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