Yesterday, a piece by India Knight about the breakup of Katie Price and Peter Andre appeared in the Times Online (h/t Gauntlet). It seems that these two are reality television stars in the UK. I’ve never heard of them before in my life. So let’s just get it out of the way that I have absolutely no dog whatsoever in that fight.
The argument in the article revolves around Price’s reported and repeated insults regarding Andre’s penis size and sexual prowess. And if what is reported here is true, I agree that she certainly is an absolute, major asshole:
Having dissed on record everyone she’s ever gone to bed with, she even used an insult to reel Andre in. The pair met in 2004 on I’m a Celebrity. . . Get Me Out of Here!, the reality show on which C-listers are humiliated in grotesque fashion – bug-eating and so on – for viewers’ pleasure. Andre was a rabbit caught in Price’s headlights. She liked him, too, so she looked in his shorts and told him he had a tiny penis.
They eventually got married, even though she kept on telling him – and a million or so viewers every week – that he still had a tiny penis. I don’t mean once or twice – I mean repeatedly, for years on end. Recently, on The Graham Norton Show, following a complaint from Andre about infrequent sex, Price said he took “too long” (45 minutes, since you ask), and on a recent episode of their reality show she repeatedly trotted out her favourite line about her husband’s “acorn”. He dumped her shortly afterwards, although it is still unclear whether the dumpage will lead to divorce or to a lavishly remunerated reconciliation via the pages of OK! magazine.
My problem isn’t with Knight sympathizing with Andre, in the least. In fact, it does indeed sound like he deserves some sympathy.
My problem is with the conclusions that Knight draws about men in general and women in general (who are all assumed to be heterosexual), and how they relate to one another in romantic relationships and in the aftermath of breakups.
First of all, there’s this:
What is interesting about these public critiques of sexual performance is that men never make them. They may make ungallant remarks in private, but they never go into the nitty-gritty: there are no kiss-and-tells by men about how sleeping with such-and-such a starlet was extremely disappointing sexually. Female sexual prowess is arguably more difficult to measure, but still: it would be ludicrous to suggest that all women are the same in bed. And yet, not a peep from men and a veritable torrent of abuse from women.
Really? Men never, ever make these kinds of public critiques of women’s sexual performance? Wilmer Valderrama, anyone? And speaking of him, seeing as how he ranked his ex-girlfriends’ sexual performances on Howard Stern’s show, hasn’t Stern himself gone off on this tangent numerous times, at the very least about his ex-wife?
But hey, despite the fact that I don’t follow celebrity culture very closely at all and therefore I’m sure that there have been other examples that I’m just not aware of, let’s give Knight the benefit of the doubt. Maybe Valderrama is about as well known in the UK as Price is here. And maybe they’re also lucky enough over there to not get Stern. I don’t know, and don’t particularly care.
Because what I’m really concerned about, more than the statement that negative judging sexual prowess is entirely the domain of women, is the implicit suggestion that because men supposedly don’t make these kinds of statements (but actually do), they’re somehow playing fairer. The idea seems to be that they wouldn’t dare insult a woman’s sexuality or through such personal means.
And that, of course, is absolutely laughable and untrue on its very face. Here’s the thing: even if men never did this as Knight states above, all it proves is that we live in a highly gendered society, which judges men and women (who are all assumed to be heterosexual) by vastly different sexual standards.
You want to know why men are probably less likely to insult women in this fashion? Because insulting women in this way doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. In our society, a man’s sexual worth is determined by his sexual prowess — and sexual prowess is (falsely) linked in this same society to penis size. A woman’s sexual worth, on the other hand, is determined by overall appearance and adherence to cultural beauty standards. Every so often you’ll hear about “flappy vaginas” or some other such misogynistic nonsense spoken against cis women, but a woman’s genitals themselves are not generally seen as some great bearer of sexual worth in the same way that a man’s are.
So the difference is that both sexes hit each other where it hurts. After all, that’s the whole point of unleashing insults after a breakup, anyway — hurting your ex as much as you possibly can. So a woman may in some cases mock a male partner’s penis size. A man, on the other hand, will call his (ex-)female partner ugly, fat, a cow, or slut/whore, or even better, sloppy seconds. Which, again, in a society that links female sexual worth to appearance and also to chastity, are easily as equally repugnant, hateful and damaging as any crack about penis size, if not more so. Pretending that women are therefore the only ones who engage in this type of behavior is disingenuous at best and misogynistic at worst.
And then, after reading this next paragraph, I almost want to give Knight the benefit of the doubt:
Perhaps women feel this is their only recourse when they have been unfairly treated – perhaps it speaks volumes about female powerlessness in a patriarchy and how you’re forced to take the lowest form of revenge because you feel yourself to be at the bottom of the food chain.
So . . . this is a deeply misguided feminist analysis and one that I strongly disagree with, but at least the point isn’t to just disparage women, right?
Wrong. The last sentence of the paragraph dismisses everything else in it with:
That would not really apply to Price or [Lily] Allen, though, both of whom are at the top of their game.
Sigh. Because clearly a woman who has class privilege and a successful career therefore has her lack of gender privilege both in society as a whole and in interpersonal relationships automatically erased.
One last thing: in the same article, Knight compares Price’s remarks about penis size to a song by Lily Allen, in which she remarks on an ex who failed to get her off:
Meanwhile, the marvellous Lily Allen has a new single out. Set to a jaunty country tune, it’s about someone who is really bad in bed. “Oh he treats me with respect / He says he loves me all the time / He calls me 15 times a day / He likes to make sure that I’m fine,” it begins. But, alas! “When we go up to bed / You’re just no good / It’s such a shame,” it continues, before delivering the coup de grâce, a line about the man making a ghastly noise and it all being over. “You’re supposed to care, but you never make me scream,” the song concludes. The faux sadness is actually sniggeringly triumphant; if ever a song said “gotcha”, it’s this one.
Hmm. Is anyone here seeing a problem with conflating the two?
Insults regarding penis size are inherently mean-spirited and wrong, regardless of the actual size of the penis in question. Insults regarding a partner’s failure to get you off might be mean-spirited, and sometimes might be a lie just as a means of hurting the other person. But other times? Well, I’d bet that a whole lot of the time, it’s probably said because it’s true. And while you might think that saying a guy sucks in bed is mean, I’d say it’s a hell of a lot meaner to not care about whether or not your partner has an orgasm.
The fact is that if women negatively comment on a man’s sexual performance more regularly than the opposite, it’s not just about how men and women are valued differently in society. It’s also about constructions of who is active during male-female sex (the man does all the work, she just lays there) and therefore whose performance can be ranked. And it’s also a result of the fact that straight women just plain have more reason to complain.
I’m not being an asshole, I’m looking at the facts. Seventy-five percent of men report having an orgasm every time during sex. Twenty-six percent of women report the same. It’s unclear whether all of the participants are straight, but even assuming it’s a review of the population as a whole, straight participants are still going to make up a very significant majority. Which means that a whole lot of men are failing to help their female partners get off — a whole lot higher than the reverse.
Chances are, if a woman is complaining about how her male ex-sexual partner never made her come, it’s true. And her “failure” to come is not, contrary to popular opinion, because she is a “frigid bitch.” It’s not because women have such an enormously difficult time reaching orgasm, either — most don’t, and the fact that, on average, women take longer than men to reach orgasm isn’t an excuse or even remotely the same as having difficulty. It comes down to a sad abundance of straight male laziness and lack of equal concern for their partner’s pleasure. Stimulating a woman’s clitoris (or g-spot, as her individual case may be)? God, that’s such work!
So maybe the fact that women are talking about it is a sign of revolt. Maybe it’s a sign that straight women are finally realizing that hey, they deserve better than that, and straight guys who aren’t total assholes do in fact exist, despite efforts to suppress that fact. So maybe women should be less concerned about the straight guys’ poor, fragile fee-fees and more about how those guys treat women when they’re in bed together. And maybe straight dudes should be less concerned about a woman saying something “mean,” and more concerned about making sure that women have less reason to complain . . . . by treating them as sexual equals with desires of their own, who deserve pleasure every damn bit as much as they do.