What Do Women Want?

7 Responses to “What Do Women Want?”

  1. Cheryl E. Fitzgerald says:

    The statement that women’s desire is led by narcissism is highly misleading. Throughout this whole article – of which I was already previously familiar when it first came out – there is a total blurring of physiology and psychology, of how the body behaves and what is conscious and mental. (But this is pervasive in so much scientific research about humans today.) To speak of desire as a mere physiological reaction in the body does not really capture what ‘desire’ means to a person. When I am nauseous but starving, physiologically speaking, I desire food. Mentally? I have no desire to eat a thing, because my nausea overrules any desire to eat. I can stare at food and perhaps have a physiological response akin to desiring it. Yet, if you asked me, I’d tell you I have no desire for it. And we simply cannot and should not tell people that, no matter what they think, their bodies tell “the truth” about what they want. That is to place an unjustified prejudice on the physiological aspects of an organism as completely determining everything there is to know about it. And, it may very well be deeply unethical. But it also presumes that our current scientific theories are true and accurate and tell the whole story, and that our scientific practices couldn’t be any better, that they’re not missing anything.

    It is obvious that the physiological and the mental are tied together in some way, that we know, and that no one denies. We know that the mental cannot tell us everything about what is going on in the physiological. We should not simply embrace the prejudice that the physiological reveals really everything going on in the mental.

    To even speak of wants and desires without even introducing the physiological is difficult enough, to just get clear on what it means to want something, and what that involves – values. We already must make sense of how it is that a person can genuinely want seemingly contradictory things: in lies in their values, and the hierarchy of their values, which values weigh more, etc.

    And just to clarify, I am not speaking only of women here, I am speaking of people in general. Frankly, I’m still not convinced that women are somehow more complicated than men; that, I think, is a cultural and historical bias, continually reinforced by the lack of scientific research into women, and the abundant scientific research into men over the many centuries during which humans have been researching themselves. Women seem mysterious according to our normal ways of thinking about people, only because those “normal” ways have been, over centuries, informed by scientific research done on men, and very, very little research on women, which was horribly skewed anyway because of their cultural biases about women.

    But I have my reasons for thinking that men are just as complicated beings. From a purely factual standpoint, scientific research, as a whole, has been done and is driven almost entirely by men. Even if women scientists are researching, someone has to make a decision about whether their research is valid, and whether to publish it. Even if women scientists desire to research something, someone has to decide to give them funding. Now, consider this: given all of our cultural biases and views and values, how plausible does it seem that men would be willing to research into their own confusing and complicated “natures”? How plausible does it seem that men would be willing to lay themselves so open onto the table, revealing their own weaknesses, their own mysterious behaviors and beliefs about themselves? How plausible does it seem that men would be willing to show the world just how fragile and how vulnerable they are?

    I have had many close friends that are men. Because in general, I get along with them better than women. And I have seen in them that they are no less complicated than women. And in some ways, I think that it has been a very unfair prejudice against them that they are taken to be so simple. It drives some of them mad in ways they are unwilling to reveal and try desperately to hide – mostly they are entirely unaware of this. But someone who is sensitive and observant enough, who is willing to just sit back and listen and watch, can see their minds writhing in torment, just as much as any woman’s mind can. I have felt sorry for many of my male friends precisely because there is a way men have always been affected by the cultural prejudices that most people, generally speaking, either aren’t aware of or aren’t willing to admit it.

    The bottom line is only this: human beings are extremely complicated beings. The most complicating factor involved in our trying to understand ourselves is how much the very tools we use to try to understand and analyze and interpret are informed by our beliefs and values, much of which are either given to us or strongly influenced by culture.

    I say all of this, but you know how much I am for science, how much of an advocate I am for it, and will still trust it far more than not. But let’s not pretend that science is something it’s not, and does things it doesn’t. You yourself have been just as critical of scientists. We all must remember that scientists are human themselves, with all the flaws any human might have.

  2. Cheryl E. Fitzgerald says:

    I don’t know if there is a need to clarify, but I will anyway, if only perhaps to emphasize, since I think it’s worth doing so.

    My main point in the first few paragraphs is that I don’t think we should automatically identify some type of physiological event with some type of mental event. Besides everything I said above already, this presumes that the type of physiological event has one and only one role in the body, that it means one and only one thing.

    I once knew a guy who admitted to me that he would get a mild hard-on when he would argue and fight with his girlfriend. He said he really didn’t think that it was because he somehow found the fighting to be something he was sexually turned on by. It would just happen and he couldn’t help it. Now, maybe some people might want to disagree that he wasn’t turned on by the fighting, but let’s be careful not to fall back into a Freudian view of the mind. What seems a more likely explanation is that in such fighting, he gets rather worked up, and this causes quite a rush of blood flow.

    This is how we explain why alcohol affects people the way it does, making them feel “turned on”. It thins the blood, it causes vasodilation, causing the blood to come to the surface of the skin. Because the skin on the genitals is the thinnest skin on the entire human body, and given the amount of nerves in the genitals, such a rush of even a little blood is easily felt very strongly in the genitals. Such sensitivity and that feeling may very likely cause the genitals to become engorged. Does that mean that the person wants or desires sex, regardless of what they say?

    I can already guess what most people will say at this point: But that’s caused by introducing some chemical in the body, whereas in this case, the women were seeing something. Given that the whole body runs on chemicals of all kinds, it’s rather useless to blame chemicals here. Nothing happens in the body without the use of chemicals! But then, if a chemical can cause someone to be in a physiological state that does not mean that she has a desire, then it doesn’t matter whether that chemical was introduced into the body from the external environment, or it was from within the body. What would it matter?! And how can we really draw the line between internal and external, since we’re breathing in chemicals all the time, ingesting them, absorbing them through our skin, etc. And these are all necessary for the body to function properly. It would seem rather arbitrary to decide that the physiological state caused by the alcohol doesn’t identify a state of desire only because it is caused by something that didn’t derive in the body to begin with, while that caused by seeing something is a state of desire because it was caused by something that derived from inside the body. This would presume that that physiological state has only one “normal” meaning or role or function in the body, and so any “natural” process occurring in the body – that which was derived from within the body – that causes that state means that that state has that “normal” meaning or role or function, and none other. This involves far too many assumptions, and essentially begs the question. Basically, it gets interpreted as the physiological mark of genuine desire because we want to interpret it that way, because it’s more exciting and more interesting that way. And we think it’s going to solve some mystery and unlock some previously hidden secrets that will change our lives and change culture and benefit future generations.

    But do we really think we can understand people with so narrow a focus on what we’re looking at? Was it not you who complained that most people don’t really understand the nature of what is happening and what has been happening to the planet with declimatization precisely because they have too narrow a focus and aren’t looking at the information from several different branches of sciences? But as I’m sure you know, being interdisciplinary is really hard, which means, we tend to get far fewer clear answers that we can be excited about and publish.

  3. Joanne (jM) says:

    I wonder, why did you pick this particular statement? My guess is that you miss academia already. (By the way, Narcissus was a man. Not that it matters.) Love, jM

    1. Jelte says:

      It’s a link to an article about the views of two female sexologists. The statement comes directly from the article.

  4. Beth! says:

    Jelte, I think Joanne was asking why you chose to post that particular statement as the link to the article, as opposed to any of the other statements in the article. “Women’s desire is driven by narcissism” was one of many ideas put forth to explain behavior. Was that statement particularly resonant with you??

    1. Jelte says:

      Oh, right, sorry! To me, that statement:
      (i) Summarizes the entire article better than any other phrase I can drum up;
      (ii) Is highly interesting; and
      (ii) Resonates with me, sure!

  5. Mom (alternate) says:

    Joanne and Beth have nailed it, Jelte dear. You and Camilla and I had a discussion about this subject in our kitchen some months ago. It seemed to me then, and it does more so now, that there’s something going on here that’s about emotional pain. The patchy and contradictory science that’s been done so far about female sexuality can’t address that.

    As I remember our kitchen conversation, you said that women are narcissists because what makes them feel sexy is being admired. Both Camilla and I said, “Duh, but calling that narcissim is a value statement that could just as well have been rendered as ‘cautious’ or ‘practical’ instead of ‘narcissistic.'”

    Why? Because our bodies are still stone-age or earlier, even though we live in a world of mostly reliable birth control and (in Europe and Canada) social safety nets. At a pre-21st century level, our bodies know that if we have sex, we will get pregnant. If we get pregnant and our man leaves, we die. Simple as that.

    What guarantees that our man will stay with us? Nothing. We are always at risk of dying, our Neolithic bodies tell us, because we have had sex. However, we can hedge our bets a little bit. We can chose a man who is interested in us. We can hope that his fascination with our body will translate to a future willingness to care for us and our children. It’s a leap, to be sure, but it works often enough so that the word “family” means something.

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