Basking in the flames
It’s party night. I just know this one is going to be awesome. A handpicked crowd of weirdos and misfits, a massive flat with themed rooms, a bunch of art performances… I took Monday off.
I’m pretty hyped and feel like making an effort for this one. Just as well that anything goes in Berlin, because I am planning to look fabulous in all the ways my mum would not be proud of. I’ve got this super-hot costume I’m just aching to wear, I’ve got some sick make-up, and not to be too immodest, but those months spent at the gym are really showing, so… actually, fuck modestly. I look like a damn sex god and I know it. Bring it on!
I rock up feeling amazing and wow, do I make an impression. As I go around saying ‘hi’ to people, they all comment on how great I look. I feel myself growing an inch taller with each time and man, I love feeling a girl’s eyes on me when she’s checking me out. This is going to be such a good party.
The night develops and after a while we sit for a spoken word act. As it finishes, I notice this gorgeous girl standing in the back in a pretty hot outfit. She must have come in just now. She goes around to say hi and soon I find myself chatting with her. We talk about the act, about poetry and art, and I quickly find out about some of her projects. Wait, she’s hot, she’s smart, and she’s an artist? She also has a pretty dirty streak going on, in case it wasn’t obvious from her costume. Talking soon turns into flirting and, oh, I wish I could stay, but it’s time for my performance.
As I put my double bass away, I scan the room for the girl, but she’s with a couple of guys now, so I decide to leave it until later. I talk with a few people who are as into weird music as I am, hear some nice things about my performance, top up my drink… I keep looking for an opportunity to catch her again, but by now she’s surrounded by a ring of salivating men. There are a few more acts, she’s in one of them and I even speak to her again for a second, but soon get cut off as some guy who is clearly more desperate than me tries to get her attention. And then it strikes me.
Why don’t I have a ring of women fighting for my attention?
I mean, this girl is great, so it’s really no wonder that the air around her is alight with the raging flames of male desire, with guys tripping over one another to be in her presence. It is pretty obvious that any one of them would give his left arm to spend a night with her.
And sure, I got some compliments and a few sweet long looks. But am I not the sex god of this party? Where is the raging bonfire of female desire around me? Why are no women tripping over one another here? Would anyone give at least a finger to spend a night with me?!
Yeah, sure, I think some women here probably fancy me and might want me to chat them up. It’s not quite clear, maybe they just liked the music… The hot girl doesn’t need to guess much though, does she? She’s basking in the open flames, whilst I need to look for hidden candles. Desire comes to her; I need to search for it, ask for it, work for it.
Oh, what I would give to be that girl!
What is it like?
I sometimes wonder what catcallers actually think when they are confronted about their shitty behaviour and offer this bewildered reply: ‘Can’t you just take a compliment?’
Do they actually think that the unwanted sexual attention they offer is a compliment? Are they just grasping for a legitimate excuse for their entitled sexism? Do they even understand that what they do is not OK?
It feels really uncomfortable to admit, but at some level I weirdly kind of get them. Because let’s be honest, those guys probably never received any sexual attention themselves — how should they know what it feels like? Sexual attention? Unwanted? How? You mean there is more than one kind of sexual attention? I wouldn’t know, I never got any! Wait… do you have some going? I’ll take all you’ve got, wanted, unwanted, I don’t care, can I just have some, please please please?
An average guy has no idea what it feels like to have a random girl make comments about his ass on the street. Not a faintest clue what it’s like to be objectified. No notion at all how horrible it is to need to repel unwanted advances. What he does know really well though, is that he never gets any attention himself. I thought it was just me, until I heard about the Catcalls of The World blogs, which publish dozens of catcalling stories from women all around the world. Apparently the most common comment left by men is: ‘I wish anyone would say half of those things to me.’
The first time I received unwanted sexual attention was at another party. I was 26 and it was from another man. Many of my female friends laugh bitterly when they hear that, as they’ve experienced it at half the age and every day since. But it was a real ‘aha!’ moment for me — so that’s what it feels like! It’s like some lock opened in my head and I could now tell, not just theoretically and in the abstract, but really tell that I get how horrible, disempowering, embarrassing and threatening it is to receive sexual attention when you don’t want it (not that my rare experiences compare to what most women have to deal with). But I also know how hard it was to understand what it is like before I ever experienced it.
So, did I really want to be that hot girl at the party? I say she was basking in the flames of male desire, but maybe she didn’t want those flames any more than any woman wants to be catcalled. How ignorant of me to say I envy her experience!
The truth is: yes, I am ignorant. I was never surrounded by a ring of women who would do anything to sleep with me. My hottest costumes never sparked the reaction she got just for a deeper neckline. Those things simply don’t happen to us, straight men. So of course we’re ignorant! Nothing even approaching a shadow of her experience has ever happened to us! I, and most men, literally do not know what it is like to be desired with any respectable degree of intensity.
But we really wish we did.
It’s a bleak world out here.
Do I even know what I mean by ‘a respectable degree of intensity’? It seems pretty vague, but I know it when I feel it. I know that when I really want something, I don’t give up easily. I’m willing to make an effort, jump through some hoops, make some sacrifices. Conversely, if I don’t mind giving up on something, it’s probably because I didn’t want it so much in the first place.
So I’m back at the party now, chatting with one of those women I thought might be interested in me. We’re flirting a bit and at some point she asks what I’m up to Tuesday night, because her flatmate is away. I hesitate for a second, I think I was going to meet a friend, I’m trying to work it out, but before I gather my thoughts, she backs away: ‘oh, no worries, maybe another time.’
Is that it?
I know that as a woman she is probably socially conditioned to find even asking stressful and wants to avoid awkwardness, but a moment of hesitation — is that all that it takes to extinguish her desire? I appreciate her commitment to enthusiastic consent only, but I didn’t even say no yet! Seriously? No convincing, no second attempt in an hour, no ‘can I get you another drink?’ Not even much of a sign of being particularly disappointed or cross?
Is that it?!
The guys around the hot girl there, they won’t give up easily, they will make an effort, they will jump the hoops. I know, I’ve been there, our desire burns like a raging bonfire. Why is the desire I feel back more like a tiny candle that can be put out by the gentles breeze?
Is that all I am worth?! A tiny candle’s worth of desire?!
‘I wish anyone would say half of those things to me,’ they comment. I get it. I wish she’d try harder. I wish she kept going, I wish she insisted, I wish she made a second attempt, I even wish she got upset if I say no! At least I would feel like she wanted it, like she cared, like she really desired me.
And yes, I know how bloody messed up that is! I’m an educated guy, a proud feminist. I know women are socially conditioned to have a difficult relationship with their own sexuality, the freeing of which can only come through empowerment and creating a world where it can be joyfully expressed. I know that if I don’t feel this woman’s raging bonfire, it’s not because it’s not there — she just doesn’t express it as overtly as men do. I even know I would hate her unwanted advances if it came to it, so why do I speak as if I craved them?!
The thinking part of me knows all that and acts accordingly.
But this text is not about social problems, or the right ways to act, or my beliefs, or anything at all to do with the thinking part of me.
It’s about how I feel.
And the feeling part of me sure as hell wishes it could bask in the flames of a raging bonfire sometimes.