Monday, September 22, 2014

Not All Western Women Are Sluts, Because Sluts Don't Exist

Guys, I seriously love Jocelyn Eikenburg's blog, Speaking ofChina. The comments can get a little troll-y, but that's the downside to having a very popular blog (so maybe it's a plus that I don't have "a very popular blog!"). And I usually agree with her frank, openminded inquiries and stances on love in China, although I myself never did experience it.

But as a Western woman in Asia, as a Western woman, and as a woman, I have a small problem with the first item on this list of "stereotypes about Western women in China": "Western women are sluts and like to sleep around".

Basically, she says:

It took me years to learn that some Chinese men automatically assume Western women love to sleep around or are simply easy sex for the taking.
I blame it in part on the ubiquitous Hollywood movies and TV you’ll find in China at the local DVD vendor or online, where Western women’s sex lives often turn into a revolving door of one-night stands and disposable boyfriends.
Of course, we’re not all sluts.
I kind of wanted to scream - "if a revolving door of one-night stands and disposable boyfriends is what you want, then what's wrong with that?"
Saying "not all Western women are sluts" implies that there is something wrong with women who do choose temporary companionship over relationships, and that it's okay to judge them. And why shouldn't they? Maybe they have sexual desires like almost everyone else, but don't want or aren't in the right place for a relationship? As long as they're open about that, then that's their and their partners' business. It doesn't make them "sluts". 
So no, I don't blame it on "ubiquitous Hollywood movies and TV you'll find in China", I blame it on puritanical judgmental pricks who think it's okay to dictate what every woman's choices should be.
In fact, a man who takes a woman home, sleeps with her, and then the next day says "I'm just not in a place right now where I can commit to anything serious" would be seen as a cad if he'd led her on, but if he'd been honest with her, then there would be nothing wrong with that (she might be angry, but hey, he was honest with her. She knew what she was getting into). 
That is not to say I have a problem with the blog, and I'm sure Jocelyn didn't mean for it to be taken this way, but, to say "not all Western women are sluts" sounds good on the surface: look, we're multidimensional, and not all of us are Sex in the City-style swinging single women who view sexual conquest as a game or hobby! Woo!

Just a little below that, however, lurks the idea that for this to be true, sluts must exist. And if sluts exist, then it's okay to think of a woman with a longer sexual history than you might deem acceptable as one. It still puts forward only two choices for women: be a good girl, or be a dirty skanky slut. You don't want to be a slut, do you? Nobody likes a slut! Sluts are slutty and gross! Ew! Get your slut-juice off of me! So you'd better be a good girl. That means no sex, or at least, pretending there is none (to admit you are a sexual person is to admit you are a SLLLLLUUUUUUTTTTTTTTTTT). Good girls don't have sex and they certainly don't enjoy it.

So, to say "not all Western women are sluts" implies that SOME Western women ARE sluts, and it's okay to think of them as such, which judges their behavior as wrong (again, I don't think Jocelyn herself meant to do this, but that's how the phrasing comes across). And, it's not wrong. It's just not.

And, following that, it implies that if you're an Asian guy who likes a Western woman, that the woman you like is "not a slut", which implies that in order to be acceptable, she must make a particular set of "not slutty" choices. Those choices need to be similar to the perceived choices of the local women (be they Taiwanese in Taiwan, Chinese in China, Korean in Korea etc) in order to "pass" - those same local women who don't always feel free to be open about their own histories and desires because they face the same sexist notion of what a "good girl" does, or the Western woman automatically becomes an "other". Nothing new in the stream of intercultural or gender discourse, except this time it's a group of people of color, mostly men, telling Caucasian women what choices they must make to be "acceptable". Which is not quite the same as the reverse problem - telling people of color they have to 'act white' - because being white confers privilege that being a person of color doesn't, but it sure shares some DNA with it. (Also, being male confers privilege that being a woman doesn't - as the universe giveth, the universe also taketh away). The whole thing, no matter who you are, never leads anywhere good.

Whereas the real progressive answer here isn't to refuse to stereotype all Western women (only some of them!)  as slutty slut-whores, but to acknowledge that some people make different choices, and some of those choices may be more libertine than yours (or more conservative than yours - that's okay too, as long as those same conservatives don't try to push their choices on everyone as the only morally correct option!) but there's nothing wrong with that as long as everyone's safe and legal (and even if they're not safe, that sucks, but it doesn't make them a bad person). So to me, the person who says "you're not like other Western women. You're not a slut! Now I see that Western women can make the right choices!" is still upholding only one set of choices as acceptable, and that's not good for women generally. That person doesn't get a pass from me. Either you acknowledge that women can make a variety of choices and it's not for anyone else to judge them, or you're a part of the problem.

Basically, forget "not all Western women are sluts". How about NO women are sluts? How about even if a Western woman (or an Asian woman for that matter! Or whatever woman!) makes choices you personally don't care for, that doesn't mean there's something wrong with her?

It does mean a lot to me that this be clear - perhaps if there is a stereotype that "all Western women are sluts", then I have to constantly be proving somehow that I'm not. But the only slightly less constricting "NOT ALL Western women are sluts" isn't really any better, because I STILL have to prove I'm not, only there is now room for the stereotype of a Western woman to include "makes the choices we approve of even if that's not what she'd prefer". How is that better? 

This doesn't even get a pass culturally. I am sure someone will read this and comment angrily that "if a man wants a woman who doesn't have a huge sexual past that's his right, if he wants a virgin then why can't he look for one?" There would be something to that argument if it went both ways, but those same men who claim they want a woman like this generally do not hold other men or often themselves to the same standard. He probably wouldn't judge his guy friends who slept around to be "sluts", nor is he likely to judge himself by the same standard (he may, but my point is he usually doesn't). Only the women they stick it in are sluts, not them. It's okay for men, but not for women, even though for the majority of us, it takes a man and a woman to do the hoingy-boingy dance. And that set of double standards is pretty fucked up. 

Which is really too bad as if men who felt that way about the kind of woman they would prefer to be with held themselves and other men to the same standard, then like could find like. There's nothing wrong with having your set of "traditional" values (although that's a loaded word, too), and wanting a partner with a similar worldview. The key is, you have to have those same values for yourself. If that happened, chaste men could find chaste women and libertine men could find libertine women. Okay.

Libertinism an attitude that doesn't always lead to action, by the way - I am quite libertine in my attitudes but actually very traditional, by 20 and 21st century standards, in my actual life. I don't mean that as an excuse, like, "women who sleep around aren't sluts but I'm definitely not even those women!" - but to point out that progressive thinking can exist within any chosen lifestyle. That's the whole point - we can all choose. Whether you choose monogamy, open relationships, booty calls or no relationships at all, it's all okay.

Plus, there's no cultural pass here because this "NO SLUTTY SLUTZ ALLOWED IN OUR CLUBHOUSE!" attitude is pervasive in the USA too. I'm not just speaking to Asian men, here. I'm speaking to everyone.

It's not "not all women are sluts". It's not "not all Western women are sluts". No women are sluts. No people are sluts. Sluts don't exist.


Mike Fagan said...

Agreed. I wish more good looking women would grow out of the slut-good girl dichotomy. A corrolary to that though would be the end of the self-appointed female chaperones.

Jenna Cody said...

Why only good looking women?

Mike Fagan said...

So I can get laid now and again - obviously. Though come to think of it, it's not the good-looking lasses that have the problem, it's usually her fat and ugly friends that have the problem.

A personal example from a few years ago: a very pretty red haired girl took leave of her friends to come and talk to me one night - we were already acquainted, but I didn't ask her to join me, she came up to me at the bar entirely on her own impetus. So we're talking and I'm making her laugh etc. Her friend comes up asks her if she's OK, and then goes away again. She comes back some time later and this time stays while we keep talking. After a while she asks her if she's ready to rejoin her friends, but again the red-haired girl says she's happy talking to me. So she goes away. Later on, her friends decide to get a taxi to go to a club whereupon they announce to her that that is what they are going to do, with the obvious implication that she is included. The red-haired girl again says she's happy with me and doesn't want to leave. Finally, when the taxi arrives, they grab her bag and forcibly frog-march her out of the pub into the taxi against her will. I'm then getting messages off her on my phone telling me to please come along etc...

I wasn't sure how to explain this disgusting behaviour but one conjecture was that it was jealousy and bullying masquerading as "protection"; since I'm a man I'm under immediate suspicion of being a sex-crazed lunatic, despite the fact she had obviously preferring my company to that of her "friends" for several hours. Because you know, away from the computer screen and the usual political scraps, I'm actually funny as fuck.

Jenna Cody said...

Of course. It's all about you.