It Depends On What The Meaning Of The Word “It” Is.

Pablo Picasso, Faun uncovering a sleeping woman. British Museum

Pablo Picasso, Faun uncovering a sleeping woman. British Museum.

The Male Harem can’t resist joining in on the hoopla over Robin Thicke’s music video Blurred Lines, including accusations from the feminist cabal that its antics and lyrics – “I know you want it” – are lecherous and filthy with gestures as crude as they are indecent. Wait! That’s what Le Figaro said about Nijinsky’s Paris debut of Laprès-midi d’un faune (Afternoon of a Faun) at the Ballet Russes on March 29, 1912!

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose? Or has it gotten worse? Nijinsky wasn’t personally attacked – or the entire male race. Just his dancing. Blurred Lines has become a soapbox for everything that makes females victims. What is it about being a woman that makes other people think they know what’s right for you? First it was men, the church, the government. Now it’s other women.

Thankfully not all women. “I don’t think anyone’s going to convince me that now in 2013 all of a sudden there’s this thing of men making women out to be whores or whatever, and women are standing by, like victims, appalled by this,” remarks Linda Perry in in the Financial Times’ piece, What’s Wrong with Being Sexy?.

At 48, Perry is a songwriter and one of the few women studio producers in a male industry. She’s written and co-produced for Pink’s album Missundaztood, Christina Aguilera’s Beautiful, and collaborated with Gwen Stefani, Alicia Keys and Céline Dion. “You know what the video looks like to me?” she tells writer Ludovic Hunter-Tilney, “A bunch of people having a good time and being erotic and provocative.”

Josephine Baker, Walery, French, 1863-1935

Josephine Baker, Walery, French, 1863-1935.

Call it blurred vision, but the video’s campy, tongue-in-cheek attitude comes off stylish rather than sexist. And even more than a good-time romp, might there be an element of empowerment in a woman confidently flaunting herself to a desperately lustful dude?

Leaping from the Ballet Russes to burlesque consider what Francine du Plessix Gray (prolific author including bios of Simone Weil and Madame de Stael) had to say about a burlesque dancer she watched perform in the late Fifties just after graduating from college. “To an audience clamoring, ‘Take it Off! Take it Off!’ the stripper peeled off her gloves for a good five minutes and disrobed down to a sequined G-string and pasties with excruciating languor.”

Du Plessix Gray was raised by her step-father, Condé Nast chief Alexander Liberman, and fashion icon Tatiana du Plessix (documented in her fascinating memoir, Them) so she hardly had a sheltered upbringing. But her reaction was still refreshing considering it was the suppressed Fifties. “After watching her strut, prance, pout, wink, and finally exit the stage, breasts bouncing, to wild applause,” du Plessix Gray concludes, “are these girls ever in charge!”

Burlesque is back, revived by camp neo-strip performers like Dita von Teese. Former Disney darling Miley Cyrus seems to have missed the “excruciating languor” part of the cock-tease memo before her VMA performance, but If vomiting yourself at a man twerks for you, Miley, have at it. I know someone who might have given you some pointers though, The Sultanette’s own mother, God rest her impish soul. A five-foot world-class flirt who had my father in thrall, she was raised in the Twenties in Wisconsin by immigrant Italian parents who chaperoned her dates. Yet after 56 years of a decorous marriage and in her nineties, she still declared from her walker, “We dress for the women and we undress for the men.”

A twerking Mini-Mouse.

A twerking Mini-Mouse.

Sweet petite, take-no-prisoners mom didn’t live to hear “I know you want it” but she would have put it this way: “We have what they want and they know it.” So why are we shocked when men resort to any kind of tomfoolery to get it? Presidents and kings, governors, senators, and statesmen have decimated their careers over the power of it. And to the argument that exploiting that power keeps us from shattering the glass ceiling see previous post, Top Ten Signs You Know You’re Having The Perfect Affair for a riff on London School of Economics author Catherine Hakim’s Erotic Capital, The Power of Attraction in the Boardroom and the Bedroom.)

One bonus about The Male Harem is that it’s lead to a perfect mingling of appreciation and indifference regarding male attentions. Case in point: MOFW (Man Of Few Words). We met at a new restaurant I’d decided to check out for a quick bite at the bar. Seeing that I was absorbed in my magazine and shrimp cocktail, he started angling for attention.

Even pre-harem, I’ve always believed that you get everything you need to know about a man in the first thirty minutes of meeting him, and that anything you determine after that is either denial or wishful thinking. So here’s what I surmised that evening about MOFW that would be supported in later encounters:

Spending most of his day on a trading floor, he spoke in machine-gun bursts of clarity. Wired to his surroundings like a feral cat, his eyes darted in tandem with the synapses of his brain. He was clean and crisp-shirted and probably arranged his socks and underwear by color. He lived hard considering love and marriage as mandatory add-ons that he couldn’t quite tolerate putting enough attention into, and seemed baffled that they couldn’t be managed like a trade. Boyish charm and a resigned vulnerability saved him from an aggressive nature bordering on cocky. What little tenderness he required, he needed desperately.

While I was casing out MOFW that first meeting, he was becoming obsessed with knowing my age. But since The Male Harem discourages reeling off factoids there was no reason to divulge it, especially since he’d already revealed that he was fifteen years my junior. The more I resisted, the more he insisted until he finally wore me down and I spilled the beans. MOFW pulled back. Scrutinized me like I was a laboratory rabbit. Then burst out, “I have to fuck you!”

The Fox checks out the Hare checks out the Fox.

The Fox checks out the Hare checks out the Fox.

Somebody call the Feminist Police! Bring in the Victim Squad! I’ve been objectified, what do I do? Do I give him a tutorial on third-wave feminism? Do I tell him where he can go? Or do I grab him and say, Let’s get out of here? I did what every self-respecting Sultanette would do. I laughed really hard. Then I congratulated him for the most brash politically incorrect reaction to my age I’d ever heard. No further action required. Not for now anyway. It was enough to enjoy the chase with this hot, smart, highly amusing guy, emphasis on G-U-Y. Oh is that why he was behaving so – unlike a woman?

Don’t get me wrong. Being a post-Catholic authority-fearing girl, I’m not immune to feminist pronouncements. I’ve considered the accusations that Blurred Lines is degrading, offensive, misogynistic and objectifying. I’ve wondered why I’ve been amused, and not offended. Intrigued instead of disdainful.

So am I blind to its sexist stance or is the culture suffering from blurred vision? Have we learned anything about celebrating sexuality in the past 100 years since a dancer exposed his eroticism to a shocked world at the Ballet Russes? Did my mother twerk? Maybe if we all knew what we wanted no one would have to tell us. Do you know what you want?

While you’re reflecting on that take a look at how Jimmy Kimmel blurred the lines.

2 thoughts on “It Depends On What The Meaning Of The Word “It” Is.

  1. Pingback: In Praise Of Being A Loser In Love | The Male Harem

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