Don’t Blame Men, Blame the Bikini

Okay, this article pissed me the fuck off. “Science proves that bikinis turn men into boobs.” I know that the media has a way of misreporting scientific studies to their own means, so I’m not bashing on the study — I am directing my rage at the article.

Now, the original assessment is that images of “sexy” women cause men to make poor decisions, like buy a product they wouldn’t otherwise buy.

In each test, the researchers offered the men the choice between being paid 15 euros immediately or bargaining for a larger sum that they’d be willing to wait a week or a month for. In all the tests, the men exposed to the sexy imagery or bras cited delayed reward amounts that were lower than the amounts cited by the men who saw sex-neutral imagery. For example, while a man who looked at landscapes might have demanded an extra payment of 10 euros a month later (totaling 25), the bikini-gazer might have been willing to settle for five extra (totaling 20). The sexy imagery did not work on all men all the time, but, as a group, men with sex on their brains settled for a less lucrative bargain, suggesting they were more impulsive and valued immediate gratification more than the controls.

“I observed in my studies that men are more likely to pick a smaller immediate reward over a larger later reward,” Bram van den Bergh, the study’s lead author, tells me. “Hence I do think that men might spend money on something they might otherwise not purchase. Men would become more impulsive in any domain after exposure to sexual cues.”

Great, so sexist marketing is therefore totally cool! Because it’s not sexist, it’s effective, right? That makes it okay! Also, men are buffoons, but who cares about that so long as they get to keep objectifying women at their leisure?

Now that really pissed me off. All on its own. I was going to write this little rant about how this type of crap is used to justify the “sex sells” mantra, to ignore male intelligence and female capacity for sexual arousal, not to mention, um, gay men. (I don’t know if they study actually made sure the participants were attracted to women, but the article doesn’t specify this at all.) But fuck that. Because I wasn’t anticipating that halfway through the article, this bullshit would be used to justify rape. (All emphasis mine in quoted text mine.)

This jibes with the findings of a 2006 paper, “Heat of the Moment: The Effect of Sexual Arousal on Sexual Decision Making.” George Loewenstein of Carnegie Mellon University and Dan Ariely of MIT, found that sexually aroused men would do all sorts of things they might not otherwise do.

To study this effect, they asked men to masturbate while answering a series of questions on a computer. (They helpfully created a system that could be operated with one hand.) For example, 42 percent of non-aroused men thought women’s shoes were erotic. But 65 percent of aroused men thought so. Nineteen percent of non-aroused men said they would agree to sex in a threesome with another man and a woman, while 34 percent of aroused men said so. Less than half, 46 percent, of non-aroused men said they would encourage a date to drink to increase the chance she would have sex with them, but 63 percent of aroused men said so.

[. . .]

So a man who is aroused literally narrows his view of the world. When we’re thinking about sex, pretty much all we can think about is sex. So a man might do things he would not otherwise do (spending an hour surfing a Jennifer Love Hewitt fan site), or may behave in a seemingly irresponsible manner (skipping the condom).

Oh yeah, we’re not getting into sexual assault territory there at all!

Here’s the thing: um, of course people act differently when aroused. I can only imagine that if you conducted a similar study for women, having them masturbate and answer questions, you’d get a similar result. When you’re already turned on, ideas, objects and actions that would otherwise not arouse you start becoming incredibly hot. So what? This is news? Or somehow exclusive to men? Of course it’s fucking not.

What is exclusive to men is the way that our society uses this as an excuse for their inappropriate and stupid behavior. I mean, a woman who has sex with a man she doesn’t really know without using protection? Stupid, irresponsible slut. A man who does the same? Man. Both are irresponsible, but one gets a finger-wagging, one gets a shrug of the shoulders. Men who act like assholes, children, or rapists don’t do so because they can’t help it; they do it because they know they’ll be forgiven.

Look: we’ll always say that a man’s penis isn’t really an excuse to act like a bad person. . . well, except for the fact that it kind of is.

None of this excuses bad boy behavior, but it may help women understand why even a choir boy is tough to dissuade once he’s built up a head of steam.

[. . .]

To think of this another way, picture an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. Even in the heat of the moment, there is still that little voice that says “You know you are making a mistake” — the trouble is it gets drowned out by the volume of the affective system.

We are constantly negotiating between these two systems, which is why economists are so interested; it’s how we make purchasing decisions. It may also explain the morning-after walk of shame, the overcharged credit card — and “don’t worry, I’ll pull out in time.”

Yeah, here’s a funny thing: when I’m turned on, I don’t want to stop, either. But if I need to, I will. And amazingly enough, so will my husband. Maybe he’s just not enough of a manly man. Or maybe, just maybe, he’s a decent human being who doesn’t like to rape.

And for the record: this “I’ll pull out” joke is used a lot, and sadly, I don’t think it’s much of a joke and more a reflection of reality. But while I don’t think it’s particularly wise to agree to such a situation, and while I know the legal system will never agree, I definitely do believe that a man who says “don’t worry, I’ll pull out in time” with no intention of doing so is committing sexual assault. Of course, this writer just paints it as a poor judgment call.

The implicit suggestion in this article is that men cannot be trusted (as evidenced in the last sentence of the article, “you’ve been warned”). If you do trust a man in a sexual situation, well, it’s your own fault. Men try, oh how they try, but in the end they’re all ruled by their hormones. Don’t get yourself into a situation (like any sex ever) when you might need him to stop. Sure, it’s wrong if he doesn’t stop . . . but in the end, it’s only “bad boy behavior.” You know, not like rape or anything.

The suggestion is also, conveniently enough, that rape is about sex and not about power. How I love the “men can’t just stop immediately” and “well she was wearing that short skirt” and “she was flirting with him” reinforcement. According to this article (accurately or not), even science agrees! Don’t wear that, ladies. Don’t get yourself in that situation. Sure, she may have said no, but she started making out with him — that’s not really rape. Okay, so maybe he did rape her — but is it really worth ruining his life? It’s not like he beat her up or anything, and she was wearing a bikini! Men can’t help it.

I’m sick of this shit. Absolutely fed up. I’m sick of hearing it from rape apologists, from people on the street, from “science,” from the mainstream media, from comedians, from other women, and even other feminists. So sick that I could fucking puke.

And men should be, too. The man who wrote this article should be offended, sick of it, and the one making this argument instead of making jokes. The decent men will be. And the rest? The rapists and the men who don’t rape but want to reserve their right to just in case? Well, yet again: who cares about the insults so long as you’ve still got the power? Clearly, too many men are more than happy to play stupid while somewhere intuitively knowing that in the end, they’re not the real suckers.

0 thoughts on “Don’t Blame Men, Blame the Bikini

  1. Sarah

    “What is exclusive to men is the way that our society uses this as an excuse for their inappropriate and stupid behavior. I mean, a woman who has sex with a man she doesn’t really know without using protection? Stupid, irresponsible slut. A man who does the same? Man.”

    My thoughts exactly. There is nothing innate in men about being male that makes one less intelligent or more prone to behaving in “unacceptable” ways. Unacceptable in quotations because of course, our society does think rape or sexual abuse or sexual violence is acceptable if the woman was (fill in your favorite excuse). It isn’t that it’s “natural” for men to behave badly and so we condone it. It is because we condone it that it is seen as natural.

  2. roses

    The “built up a head of steam” thing really pissed me off too. It had such a wink nudge tone of: “We’re not excusing men who rape after getting turned on by a woman… but can you really blame them?”

    I do agree that a man who says he’ll pull out with no intention of doing so is committing sexual assault, but I don’t know if that’s what the author was referring to. I know I’ve been in the situation where the guy said he’d pull out and did, but it was still a bad judgement call on both his and my part because even when it does happen in time, it’s still not a very effective method of birth control. And there’s always the possibility that he will try to pull out in time but fail. And I don’t think either of us would have made that decision if we hadn’t already been worked up.

  3. SunlessNick

    None of this excuses bad boy behavior, but it may help women understand why even a choir boy is tough to dissuade once he’s built up a head of steam.

    Translation: The blame isn’t gone; it’s just on the woman rather than the man.

  4. Lyndsay

    It sounds like the article interprets a lot that the study didn’t actually say. Can’t we notice how it’s not 100% of men saying they would do these things? And this study just looks at what they say they would do, not what they would actually do? People need to take understanding and interpreting scientific results classes.

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  6. Feminist Avatar

    This finding isn’t particularly novel. Other studies show that if you are in a heightened emotional state that you are more likely to over-react- but that your over-reactions usually follow your gut instinct. So, for example, they asked men to judge how attractive they thought various women were out of 10, and then asked them to go and do various tasks that heightened their emotions (one was to walk over a rope bridge above a great height- they then tested for heightened emotions through endorphin levels) so that they were in a heightened emotional state. They then asked them to rank the same women for attractiveness. Those women who they previously thought attractive were now significantly more attractive, and those they disliked were now considered significantly uglier.

    My point: if men believe that rape is wrong, being in a heightened emotional state will not make them rapists. In fact, it should make the idea even more repulsive.

  7. Jennifer-Ruth

    One of the issues underlying articles like this is the denial of female sexual arousal. The men get aroused and can’t control themselves but women *don’t* get aroused and should therefore always be able to control what happens.

    Of course, aroused or not, *anyone* should be able to control themselves. Just because you don’t want to doesn’t mean you can’t. But if you believe that women can’t experience the uninhibited and unquestioned sexual arousal that men experience then the next step is to make women the sexual gate-keepers of men. Thus, absolving men of all responsibility.

    Fucking bullshit.

  8. Fame

    Oh good lord. I can’t that website devoted an entire full-length article to reinforce already deeply-entrenched cultural bullshit. This is the 21st century, for crying out loud, when are people going to recognize that men need to think like the homo sapiens that they are and stop acting like Neanderthals? That, and it’s massively unfair to enlightened, goodhearted, decent men everywhere because it generalizes those of their sex as morons who can’t control themselves. Ugh.

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  10. V

    The problem is that it’s just as unfair to men. I mean, men can’t be both the ones in power, with money and weapons and businesses and control AND be unable to act in a normal manner when faced with a pair of media sexualized breasts or other visual stimulus.

    Funny how a similar emotional instability and poor decision making argument (that of women’s moods and menstruation) has been enough to keep women out of positions of power for decades…. or, really , not so funny.

  11. ravi

    i am sure the author of this article will enjoy and like to say that “men are week”, if some one didn’t use this article for justifying the rape. I know many women who said like that, they didn’t agree that, if the same study conducted on women the result is analogous to the result of original study. Now it is used against men, so they are going for the for the same study on women give similar result kinda argument…

    Anyway, it is a dumb thing to justify rape by showing these type studies.

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  15. Dan

    While a agree that the article is poorly written, you need to remember one important point. The science nor the article ever says that rape, in any form, is ever excusable. There is a great deal of difference between a REASON for actions, which the article gives, and an EXCUSE for those actions, which the article does not.

  16. Cara Post author

    Dan, you and I clearly have different interpretations of this:

    None of this excuses bad boy behavior, but it may help women understand why even a choir boy is tough to dissuade once he’s built up a head of steam.

    If that’s not an excuse, why do I need to understand why? Why do other women need to understand why? What is the purpose of this “knowledge”? There isn’t one. It’s an apology. “Well sure he shouldn’t, but here’s why he’s got an alright reason!” Putting “this isn’t an excuse” in front of an excuse doesn’t actually make it not an excuse — it just fools some people into thinking it’s not.

  17. Cara Post author

    Oh, and for Christ’s sake, when we refer to rape as “bad boy behavior” that is in fact an excuse. No, you’re stereotypical (and sexist) “bad boy behavior” is stuff like drinking too much, gambling, being rowdy . . . saying “bad boy behavior” is another way of saying “boys will be boys.”

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