My cat Ninja does this. Except she demands that the human, whether it’s Brian or I, to let her curl up her back and tail and all and we have to hold her back feet in place for her. When one of us is holding her in place like that it looks like we have some sort of stuffed animal.
Human beings took our animal need for palatable food … and turned it into chocolate souffles with salted caramel cream. We took our ability to co-operate as a social species … and turned it into craft circles and bowling leagues and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We took our capacity to make and use tools … and turned it into the Apollo moon landing. We took our uniquely precise ability to communicate through language … and turned it into King Lear.
None of these things are necessary for survival and reproduction. That is exactly what makes them so splendid. When we take our basic evolutionary wiring and transform it into something far beyond any prosaic matters of survival and reproduction … that’s when humanity is at its best. That’s when we show ourselves to be capable of creating meaning and joy, for ourselves and for one another. That’s when we’re most uniquely human.
And the same is true for sex. Human beings have a deep, hard-wired urge to replicate our DNA, instilled in us by millions of years of evolution. And we’ve turned it into an intense and delightful form of communication, intimacy, creativity, community, personal expression, transcendence, joy, pleasure, and love. Regardless of whether any DNA gets replicated in the process.
Why should we see this as sinful? What makes this any different from chocolate souffles and King Lear?
As a man who reads superhero comics, I confess that I share a commonly-held prurient interest in big-chested, long-legged heroes in skin-baring costumes that barely cover their naughty bits — or as I like to call him,Namor.
Sadly, Namor is pretty much alone in his category. Contrary to the perception thatmale heroes in comics are frequently sexually objectified, it’s my experience that even Namor is only rarely presented as someone to lust over. Yet I’m fortunate that my tastes run towards theHemsworthend of the scale. Like manystraightmen, I admire the kind of buff dudes that are the staple of superhero comics, even though they are rarely sexualized. If I shared the tastes of most of the women I know,I think I’d find superhero comics an evenmorefrustratingly sexless wasteland.
Big muscles are a male fantasy. That’s not to say that women aren’t ever into them, but let’s face facts; women have never been the primary target audience for superhero comics, and male heroes are drawn with big muscles anyway. Make no mistake;women arethere. But those big muscles are not therefor women. They’re there for men; straight men who find male power exhilarating. If women didn’t exist, superheroes would be drawn just as buff as they are today — because as far as most superhero comics are concerned, women as consumers do notexist.
Yet I’ve seen it saidmore times than I can countthat male heroes are objectified, sexualized, idealized, just the same as the women — because they’re big and ripped and dressed in tight costumes. It’s an idea that’s completely tied up in the narcissistic notion that androphile women are attracted to the same qualities that men find appealing.
Talk to a few women, and you’ll find that’s broadly untrue.
This dominant narrative surrounding the inevitability of female objectification and victimhood is so powerful that it not only defines our concepts of reality but it even sets the parameters for how we think about entirely fictional worlds, even those taking place in the realms of fantasy and science fiction. It’s so normalized that when these elements are critiqued, the knee-jerk response I hear most often is that if these stories did not include the exploitation of women, then the game worlds would feel too “unrealistic” or “not historically accurate”. What does it say about our culture when games routinely bend or break the laws of physics and no one bats an eye? When dragons, ogres and magic are inserted into historically influenced settings without objection. We are perfectly willing to suspend our disbelief when it comes to multiple lives, superpowers, health regeneration and the ability to carry dozens of weapons and items in a massive invisible backpack. But somehow the idea of a world without sexual violence and exploitation is deemed too strange and too bizarre to be believable.
And even more telling. When people (guys) complain about ‘realism’ in games or movies, they are not really talking about literal realism. That’s not what they mean. The word they are reaching for is verisimilitude - in other words: that which breaks the illusion.
When we say of a piece of fiction that contains dragons, flying suits of armor, or aliens that it is ‘realistic’, what we really mean is that it feels real - that the characters reactions, the world built around the fantastical elements and how the non-fantastical elements interact with them seems “true” to us. We look at it and nod and say to ourselves inside “Yes, that is how someone would react to seeing a giant monster” or “Yes, that seems like how society would react to an alien invasion” - the world around the made-up stuff is carefully designed and seems thought-out enough that we buy it emotionally, even if we know that logically it is nonsense.
So when someone complains that a medieval fantasy world does not feel “realistic” without the ugly oppression, dehumanization, and violation of women as a standard background element, what they are saying is that those details feel right to them. That the world, without that misogyny, is not emotionally satisfying. They are saying they need that there for the world to make sense.