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    Friday, July 21, 2006

    The Other Woman as Rogue Animal Trainer

    Granny Gets A Vibrator's post on Cultural Appropriation in the zydeco scene got me thinking about something that is really not what Liz is talking about, but nevertheless interested me. The excerpt that started my train of thought:

    I began to notice that there was one segment of the Creole population that was far less friendly: the younger black women. Many of them totally ignored white people at dances, like we weren't even present; others were more openly hostile. I asked a black male friend of mine what this was about. He told me it was because these women were angry and fed up at the way white women were "stealing their men,"--dancing with them, using them, flirting with them, playing seduction games, and having sex with them.

    "But why me?" I asked him. Hell, I'm an old lady, 52! Why should these beautiful young women in their 20s feel threatened by an old middle-aged shlub like me? And my friend said, Because that's exactly who is fucking with their men: older women, women over 40, over 50, sometimes over 60. When the zydeco bands travel up north, all the musicians, mostly men in their 20s and 30s, sleep with older white women while they're on tour. When the older white women come down here as tourists, they have sex with the Creole men in droves. These white women don't care if the men are married or have girlfriends, they don't care what effect their little affairs have on families, friendships, children, the community. They just want to have their fun, collect their Creole "trophies," dance and fuck with the natives like they're some exotic ride at Disneyland.

    And no, the black Creole women are not just angry at the white women, they're also angry at the Creole men who participate. In fact black women boycott some of the zydeco bands because of the musicians' attitudes and treatment of black women. So this rift has been created within the community.

    Race aside, I never understand how a person who has been cheated on can place *any* blame on the third party. How are these white women discussed above, who are either tourists or residents of towns wherein these men are visiting and are therefore not rooted in the same community, supposed to know who's married and who's in a relationship and what arrangement people have whose relationship is worth preserving? If he doesn't care, why should she? Sex is about the consent of the people having it, not the consent of everyone that loves them. I wouldn't doubt that a lot of these white women are married or coupled with (probably) white men, who themselves wouldn't want their wives and girlfriends sleeping with other men. But that's why relationships are about trusting your partner. If you've agreed to monogamy, then you have to trust your partner to be monogamous. Because it's just plain dumb to expect the rest of the world to honor you and your wishes for your relationship, when they don't even know you, or sometimes know you exist. It's just plain dumb to act as though one's partner cheated because someone else was "playing seduction games" and one's partner was rendered helpless.

    I think the way we handle The Other Woman as this powerful, almost supernaturally so, dominating presence that compells the man to cheat is just an extension of our infantalizing of men in general. Women, whatever our sexual orientation, aren't expected to crumple into a wet pink throb just because someone swings a penis or a set of breasts in our direction. Much less, gives us some sexy glance from beneath the bandstand. Men, as always, are treated as children or animals, with no control over their own actions (except their unyielding ability to hold back tears). And so, they get compared to Fido or Shamu.

    I don't think that what the Creole women above are doing (and it's certainly not limited to them - it's by far the norm) is particularly different from what some idiot might write in the Modern Love section of The New York Times about training her husband like a performing dolphin. If you think your partner is an adult human, you see their choices as their choices and their weaknesses as their weaknesses. This blaming of The Other Woman makes it seem like infidelity is actually a property crime (hence the use of the word "stealing") perpetrated by The Other Woman against the cheated-upon-partner. You can't "steal" that which goes with you willingly. And given that the objectification of these Creole men is pointed out as one of the sins of the white women here, I'd say the Creole wives and girlfriends are just as guilty, though it manifests differently.

    And that brings me to another question: if you are having sex with someone on vacation and you don't know much about them, are you automatically treating them like a "ride at Disneyland"? I'm not saying some people aren't, but when Liz makes the comparison with Heading South, I'm a little puzzled because that's about sex tourism. The men in Heading South are prostitutes. (I don't automatically think they're being "objectified" either, but there's still a world of difference.) Is it possible for us to conceive of a casual sexual relationship as not exploitative? If so, is it possible for us to conceive of a casual interracial sexual relationship as not exploitative? Or is the old "jungle fever" explanation our culture's only way of comprehending this?

    Oh and what does the age issue signify here? The fact that these women are in their 40s and 50s (even 60s!) is made a point of - why? (I'm not saying it's not significant, I just need someone to tell me how.)

    Finally, what really are the ethics of casual sex outside one's race? Do these ethics change with age differentials, the gender of the participants, the races involved, income disparities, where people live?


    Blogger Sage said...

    "I think the way we handle The Other Woman as this powerful, almost supernaturally so, dominating presence that compells the man to cheat is just an extension of our infantalizing of men in general."

    Exactly! We're back to Eve tempting Adam and ruining the whole world for everyone. Did God forget Adam's backbone - or balls for that matter? He's capable of saying, "Gee, no thanks!" He chose to participate, so he should be taking full responsibility for his actions.

    This is such a common scenario - women blamed for men's actions, because men are weak. I wonder how it serves women who maintain that illusion of male helplessness. Do they get a feeling of superiority or control from it? Or have they just bought into it too deeply to see the problem for what it is?

    6:29 PM  
    Blogger Sly Civilian said...

    Hmm. I don't know that i read this anger being about a specific act of infidelity, but the way in which broader cultural appropriation takes place.

    If you have sex with someone on vacation and you are of approximately equal social capitol...then i'd tend to assume that there's nothing too problematic going on. But the way in which the other is seen as exotic...lends me to thinking that these women have a point.

    8:02 PM  
    Blogger EL said...

    My complaint is not that these Creole women are wrong in an overall sense. Like I said, I wanted this post to be about a side issue of Liz's (I realize they can't be entirely separated).

    Here's my problem though: can only people of "approximately equal social capitol" have sex, ethically, without exploitation? Is the only way we can understand the attraction of someone with more social capitol to one with less via some sort of exoticism? (I don't deny, as I said in my post, that this is sometimes/often the case, but I don't think that these people's actions are as easily readable as they may seem.)

    Something about that argument reminds me of Mackinnon, actually. The idea that all heterosexual intercourse between two consensual partners is on a continuum with rape because of the fact that men are unfairly empowered by "rape culture" and such: the woman is stripped of agency and her social position reified. Also, she is attractive only insomuch as she seems to fall in with a "porn norm" or deviate from in some fetishistic way.

    I just don't think that's how attraction works or sexual desire and behavior work.

    I think something similar happens here. What are we saying about these Creole men if we think the only way these rich older white women are having sex with them is because they are "exotic"? We are saying that the defining thing about these men, to us, is that they are "exotic", not that they could be "sexy" in some other sense. These guys are musicians, for God's sakes, there's a huge tradition there!

    I'm not saying we don't acknowledge that exoticism takes place when it does in fact take place, but I really tire of any interracial/ethnic and/or cross-class sexual encounter being assumed more corrupt and less about the individuals involved than one between two white men, aged 30, who both earn exactly $40,000 a year, and were born and raised in the same neighborhood in Boston. But let's take it a step further: my partner is not college-educated, whereas I have a Masters and am working on my PhD. My partner is also younger than I am. No one says or even intimates that my relationship is based on some kind of fundamental misconception or idealization or exoticism. Why? We're both white. However, I can hardly remember hearing about an Asian woman dating a white guy, married to a white guy, where the assumptions weren't how very messed-up the relationship must be, how it must be based on racial misconceptions: he expected her to be submissive, she expected him to be rich, etc. Even if they were both similar in class, age, and education. Rachel gives it good treatment:


    If we can see how prejudiced this thinking is when applied to relationships of a lasting sort (I'm assuming we can), why can't we take it further as a way of understanding casual sex? No doubt some marriages between white men and Asian women are predicated on exoticism and racial stereotype, while others are predicated on mutual love, respect, and individual connection. I don't think casual sex partners are *drastically* different in how they're chosen (but there probably is some difference). I think the individual connection matters and I think that connection can happen, legitimately, across boundaries of "social capitol".

    (I also think, on a psychological level, we can understand some of the Creole women's insistence that these women are predators hunting for the exotic in the same way we understand the cheated-on partner who says, "She'll never love you like I love you.")

    11:50 AM  
    Blogger RachelsTavern said...

    "No doubt some marriages between white men and Asian women are predicated on exoticism and racial stereotype, while others are predicated on mutual love, respect, and individual connection. I don't think casual sex partners are *drastically* different in how they're chosen (but there probably is some difference)."

    I think the default assumption is that IR's are pathological, and it seems that on the whole progressives, liberals, conservatives, and nationalists all agree on this. Moreover, the assumption is that they are even more pathological the shorter they are. Although the reasons why they are considered pathological seem to vary by race, the assumption they are pathological is definitely the norm.

    On the note about Mckinnon, I think all human relationships have some sorts of inequality built into them, and we don't need to just look at the big three race, class, and gender. We could think about disability, age, religion, physical size, strength, and other sorts of social characteristics. Power is played out in all relationships.

    1:41 AM  
    Blogger EL said...

    I agree, Rachel. 100%

    1:16 PM  
    Blogger belledame222 said...

    I was thinking what sly is thinking. more cultural tourism. (grannyvibe's been writing about other manifestations of this quite a bit).

    that said, outside of that particular context...yeah, there is something about the idea of a man as a scarce commodity that's always interested me about the "other woman" thing. i think it's impossible to look at this outside of institutionalized sexism, not to mention the greater socioeconomic context. even putting the interracial aspect aside (which adds yet another level), there're several assumptions going on here:

    1) A woman needs to "get" a man
    2) Demand outweighs supply all around, and that goes for men as well
    3) The "other woman" is seen as a threat to not just romance but security on a very fundamental level (even if it isn't as direct as the man makes the money; there're less tangible aspects to this)
    4) if the other woman is seen as having a culturally ("market")-determined advantage in some way--younger, conventionally prettier; or in this instance, white and wealthy, therefore having both more economic power and the allure of the exotic--then sure, she's gonna be both feared and resented.

    10:05 PM  

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