Considered as "normal" sexual attractions, this "high" is a common experience, the cornerstone of nearly every heterosexual male's sexuality, and consequently arduously difficult to give up. These sex-beauty images, whether they are produced by Cosmopolitan, Ladies Home Journal, Christy Hefner's Playboy, well-manicured, long-maned Third Wave feminists like Naomi Wolf, or so-called 'sex-positive' wanna-bes in leotards and Doc Martens, are th e historical legacy of gender relations under the patriarchy, with a modern-day twist as the result of capitalist relations where "beauty" has become a commodity to be traded, bought and sold to consumers. She must be -- a Barbie doll. It instructs him how to approach his own physical body, indeed how to channel his sexual desire. But you can be sure that they'll be back for more. Why, the prize of course. This is what makes the attempt by some so-called "sex-positive" proponents like Madonna, Suzie Bright and Camille Paglia to reclaim this genre of images so surprising and, ultimately, self-defeating. For these images are irredeemable -- not by a lofty banner of free choice, not by well-meaning feminists, not by lesbian or gay libertines, not by women pornographers -- as long as they operate inside a competitive economi c milieu.
Paradoxically, despite the fact that we live in a patriarchal society, the common, every-day experience of many men is hardly one of mastery or fe eling dominant. Yet at the same time he is told that without this fulfillment he i s nothing. Women and girls are locked inside an op pressive gender role that narrows her human potential and informs her how she may walk, talk, act, smile, indeed even how much space her body may take up, to the point where the females of capitalism are obsessed with slenderness, starving themselves, bul imically throwing up their food in epidemic proportions, undergoing weight-loss surgery, with surgically-enhanced breasts and other body parts. Though patriarchal men are dominant over women and benefit unfairly from our relative privilege, part of our need to dominate results from our sense of having failed to "win" in a competitive and exploitative economic system. Likewise, the state of mind that values female beauty cannot be divorced from the economi c, political and social milieu in which it has been raised. With his sexual fulfillment and approval withheld from him, the male's orgasm to these sexualized beauty images functions as a tremendous release for him, in which all these anxieties in his life are temporarily soothed. The narrative accompanying the images often whispers seductively to the masturbating male that "he really is something," that the photo image wants "only him," that he has "made it. My GI Joe was one rough tough character; so rough, in fact, that one day he beat up my 11 year old sister's Ken doll and absconded with Barbie. In the privacy of our fantasies, we men can temporarily reconcile our socialized craving to win and feel dominant with our actual experience of powerlessness. Like a woman's craving to be thin, sexy and "beautiful" -- to be a Barbie -- the man's "physical attractions" and his attempts to become the man -- the GI Joe -- that wins this beauty is an exercise in an ideology that instructs both men and women, boys and girls, how to act, how to talk, how to relieve frustration and tension, how to succeed in the free marketplace, at school, in the rough posturings of the streets. In a world of frustrated consumers, boxed in by the vagaries of modern life, providing our fantasies for us is a growth industry. Perhaps the extent to which we rely on Hollywood and MTV images to excite, thrill and liberate us is the extent to which we have become less free. They feel the constant nip at their heels, sneaking up on them, ready to devour them if they ever stop climbing to the top. The degree to which he succeeds will depend on the degree to which he comes to an understanding that our notions of physical attractiveness, sexuality, and beauty are the product of a complex intertwined relationship between our competitive economic system, the images in our heads, and our patriarchal gender relations. And what is the prize? This is what makes the attempt by some so-called "sex-positive" proponents like Madonna, Suzie Bright and Camille Paglia to reclaim this genre of images so surprising and, ultimately, self-defeating. Can we imagine it? What would masturbation and fantasy be like without these contrived, ideological images in our heads? Men masturbate to the sex-beauty images found in magazines, movies and to the memories of the "beautiful" women they know -- in fact, porn is referred to as "stroke" magazines. It's too simple to say that I was imitating the behavior of my peers or family, since I don't recall tha t any of them were into the Neanderthal style of courtship. Women and men can work as al lies to overthrow an exploitative order, contructing a safe just world, while not giving short shrift to women's pressing issues resulting from male privilege and patriarchy. It is a kind of propaganda that taught the boy as he got older -- after his sexual energy had been successfully blocked and then re-channelled -- under what conditions and with what images in his head he may masturbate and release his sexual energy. In a single day, this sort of experience can happen a hundred times: Underneath the skin of a man's civility is a human wish for fulfillment, acceptance, affection and a sense of immediacy, no less when he is an adult as when he was a child or adolescent. The male search for "the beautiful woman" has acquired legendary dimensions, part of folklore, fairy tales, Hollywood cinema and song. The standard message of these sex-beauty images is that of sexual objectification of women; sold as a commodity at the neighborhood drugstore, through the mail, on the movie screen, in the grocery check-out line, and over the television; to men who are r eceiving a daily dose of humiliation and frustration, courtesy of the free marketplace. Rather than narrowing our choice and constric ting our fantasies, this antidote will allow the multi-faceted nature of our true human beauty to shine through, opening up a plethora of possibilities about how women and men may dress, cross-dress, attract, and adorn ourselves.
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