Macrophilia 200 Series
- Giants in Popular Media
- Female Socialization, Male Gaze, and Paraphilia
- Asexuality, Paraphilia, and Identity
- On “Reverse Pedophilia”, GT vs SW, and Other Writings
203: Female Socialization, Male Gaze, and Paraphlia
The previous part basically exists to provide a foundation for this part, because understanding the symbolism associated with macrophilia and giants helps us understand why such a thing has the potential to piss off a mainline feminist as much as women who practice BDSM. Analyzing the symbolism behind the things that you like is also tip #4 in my Meditation on Ethical Fetishism as well; self-analysis is basically the first step in being a not shitty person, no matter what you’re analyzing. Not wanting to do this is not wanting to take responsibility for it. Own your shit, people.
What is gendered socialization anyways? One of the cornerstone beliefs held by transphobic feminists to justify their exclusion of trans women is that trans women aren’t “safe” to be around, or aren’t ever going to be “woman enough” because they were socialized as men pre-transition. But if you actually talk to trans women about their experience being transgender, a lot of them say that the common idea of gendered socialization, the idea that you are built to absorb all and any messages regarding your birth assignment whether you want to or not, is complete baloney. A lot of trans women will tell you that they paid far more attention to the narratives and stereotypes meant for girls as children and adolescents than the ones meant for boys. It’s almost as if some part of them knew they weren’t male. Huh. What a thought. It’s often that later on they start forcing themselves to pay attention to what boys and men are supposed to be like to try and fit in (to put it nicely).
I don’t really know what it’s like to be female-socialized and identify as female. I’m “none of the above”, but I internalized a few disparate thoughts about the way people with my haircut and body type were supposed to be and act like. It wasn’t until much later that I found myself paying closer, deliberate attention to try and… fit in. In other words, I internalized the gendered narratives that benefited me most. As a child, that meant one thing, and as an adult, that meant another.
Okay, now what does all of that have to do with macrophilia? I have two ideas I’m going to try and explain: general and personal.
So, general. If you’re reading this, then you’re probably a feminist or something similar, and you’re probably familiar with all the ways that “feminine” behavior is enforced and policed by the images we see and narratives we’re told. This includes things like letting the men ask you out, not the other way around. Be nice, smile. If you get mad, you won’t be taken seriously. You have to buy and wear or apply X, Y, and Z before going out in order to be considered presentable. People will always be judging the way you look. Men will disrespect you because your primary purpose is sex. Men are pigs. Your life is incomplete without a man. Lesbians are dirty and not to be trusted. You’re a second-class citizen as soon as you put on a pair of Uggs. Ad nauseum.
And if you’re a feminist or something similar, you’ll probably already know that all of these disparate and sometimes contradictory messages boil down to a few core axioms: 1. your worth is determined by your looks, 2. men will treat you badly and you should just learn to love it, and 3. being aggressive is unbecoming.
I’m gonna take “being aggressive is unbecoming” for $1000.
Part of the nature of having a fetish is that you want to pursue it; your entire brain is wired to follow the rabbit down the hole. It’s an opt-out thing, not opt-in; it’s always on and the only way to make it stop is by active suppression. The problem with this and having been socialized as female is that you’re told that, no, you’re not supposed to pursue things. You are not the hunter, you are the hunted. So what is one to do when one wants something but isn’t supposed to want to go and get it?
Stress out about it a lot, and then hope we eventually get the memo that we can be pursuers too.
“All fetishists are men” is a very pervasive stereotype, and the medical/psychiatric community is still mired in outdated language that supports this. But browsing fetish spaces, you’d think this were right, though. And it just might be; I have no idea. There’s not a lot of empirical data on the subject. One thing that still sticks with me from having read part of John Money’s Lovemaps, though, might explain this apparent discrepancy. He posits that, when otherwise healthy and normal sexual development in children is disrupted by something, either by a traumatic event, or the internalizing of a piece of media that “sticks” with the child, among other things, boys and girls will react differently. He claims that girls tend toward sexual aversion, and boys will tend toward sexual fetishism as their development continues. This seems to match my anecdata, as it would with most people’s, but I highly doubt this is due to anything but early childhood socialization rather than something innate. (All of this is also assuming that children experience gender in rudimentary ways, which, if I’m allowed to use myself as evidence, they do not.)
But is that not the image we’re used to seeing? The female sexual introversion vs. the male sexually aggressive extroversion? Male fetishists are permitted to be characters on TV; women are still barely permitted any heteronormative sexual agency at all. It is natural for men to have sexual proclivities, interests, preferences, and demands. Women are still largely conceived of needing to use sex as a bargaining chip in their hetero, men-are-from-Mars-women-are-from-Venus relationships, which completely removes her ability to have sexual proclivities, interests, preferences, and demands as well. This narrative does not even permit the non-male fetishist to exist.
So that’s the general idea.
The personal goes something like this:
I absorbed narratives pertaining to girls and boys in pretty equal number, having roughly the same level of investment in both. As I grew older, I learned more and more about what it meant to be labelled “female” as a defense mechanism. I was afraid that not being feminine meant I wasn’t a responsible adult that couldn’t be taken seriously. I tried buying my way to confidence by shopping at Forever 21 and H&M. The shimmery skirts and heavy makeup were just covering up a sinkhole, really. I perceived myself as being in contrast with “men” because of the things I learned from media, and the things I learned first-hand from men trying very hard to perform masculinity at the cost of the women in their life. I was more comfortable with hyperfemininity than I was with that; must mean I’m a woman.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that macrophilia was the thing that set off the gender/sexuality domino game for me. Once I realized what the hell I was doing, it was quite natural for the other things to fall into place too. Of course I felt different; my world wasn’t divvied up by gender. I clearly conceived of “self” and “other” along different lines. Just so happens to have been one of “smallness” vs “bigness”, “pursuer” vs “pursued”. My lens saw things in terms of power differential and space displacement rather than body parts and clothing departments.
I had always aligned myself with the “small” that I contrasted with the “big”.
And someplace deep inside I knew that there was no such thing as “woman” in me; I was free to be the pursuer so long as I was strong enough to suffer the social fallout. Only very recently have I been strong enough to do it. “I want to be treated like something small, not feminine,” I now have the courage to say to myself.
Pursuer vs pursued is an interesting dichotomy to navigate, especially if you look at it in terms of the BDSM world. Self-identified submissives oftentimes have to grapple with the realization that they can’t just lie back and expect the perfect dom to land in their lap. The idea of having to actively seek out potential partners, vet them, and do the work of communicating their desires comes as quite a game-changing realization. The fantasy image of the sub, the narrative of their fulfillment, is never one of agency and taking responsibility for their submissive desires. Affirming in plain English that “yes, I want you to pursue me”, goes against everything that the sub is told. Especially the female sub. There’s a reason that male subs are portrayed as being bossy, picky, and selfish about the way in which they submit– that’s likely a combination of the stereotype of there being no such thing as a “real” male sub, either because they’re not real men, or not real subs, and that of men being permitted to have sexual proclivities, interests, preferences, and demands. The latter is oftentimes cited as being contrary to the disposition of a “true sub” where female submissives are concerned, once again reinforcing the idea that the female-assigned are expected to be pliant and impotent.
There’s a lot of angst and fear where the female gaze is concerned in Western society. Works made from a female or queer perspective have a much harder time achieving the sort of legitimacy that male-made media is afforded, and fetish media and porn are probably the two areas where this discrepancy is the most obvious. What is the gender ratio of amateur to professional work where these subjects are concerned? Who controls these images, how, and with what kind of profile?
For being so surreal and bizarre, fetishes are awfully heteronormative– in fact, most of the time they’re heteronormative narratives and values distilled into something that isn’t just flammable, but highly explosive. It’s heteronormativity Hulking out. So of course fetishes are often going to find themselves propped up by cissexist, heterosexist, white colonial notions of how people work. The violence inherent in many people’s sexuailities have a tendency to turn off queer thinkers, and that’s a shame, because the world needs more safe and consensual outlets for violent tendencies, and queer theory is rife with solutions.
Queering up fetishes would also make paraphilic spaces far less creepy. To me, there’s nothing more toxic and unsettling than gendered assumptions being made about my person from simply existing in a space. (Trans* communities are absolutely guilty of this, and I find it pretty disgusting.) Granted, my old fetish community for aficionados of giants and shrunken women, was more or less OK in this regard, though that community seemed to me to be unique in a number of ways, their minimal discrimination against women and queer folk being one of them, and their appreciation of works by female posters being another.
I don’t have much to add here, other than perhaps a warning to those who would set up a dichotomy in which male and female gaze are axiomatically opposed perspectives, cannot be reconciled, and that there exists no gaze outside of them. Unfortunately, this happens all too often in reactionary works by female creators making erotic media, where the enemy is perceived to be the male gaze. There needs to be room for other gazes– nonbinary gazes, queer gazes, and so on. Erotic media is not a zero-sum game where the only two teams are M and F. If the resistance is to be genuine and meaningful, that is. Without that awareness, female gaze can quickly become just as oppressive and blind as the male gaze often is.