Nothing sets the feminist Internet abuzz quite like sexism presented in a bulleted list. Whether it be the Craigslist “worthy gentleman” with his fondness for misplaced quotation marks, the New Jersey surgeon who went to five—count them five—universities, or the newest entry, the racist, sexist gem known as “Sleepless in Austin,” these troglodytes are comic gold. We make fun. They go away. And everyone is happy. Because we assume they are merely an aberration or an unfortunate throwback to the days when people thought reading made women infertile. But these entitled men with their laundry lists of physical requirements keep popping up because we’ve raised a generation of men who believe that it’s totally acceptable for a man to dictate how a woman should look. Sure, most men have a bit more self-awareness and empathy than this unfortunate Austinite. But they’ll still tell their girlfriends exactly how much pubic hair they’re allowed to have. So “Sleepless in Austin” isn’t a joke. He’s like 75% of the unmarried men in New York City.
Humans, both male and female, have always had physical preferences, but heterosexual young men suddenly feel that it’s socially acceptable to voice these predilections to the women lying naked beside them. Although I‘m normally opposed to blaming every 21st-century ill on Internet porn, I’m making an exception in this case. Because porn, and media saturation in general, is clearly a big part of this problem. When a young man spends countless hours a day directing one nondescript girl after another to perform at his command, it shouldn’t be surprising that he considers it reasonable to tell his girlfriend that her upper arms are flabby. When 99% of the women he encounters in the media have been curated to meet his specifications, why wouldn’t he expect his girlfriend to follow suit?
Now, I certainly don’t believe that all young men are socially-stunted, porn-addled sexists. My first boyfriend was a mensch, and I have countless male friends and family members who understand that belittling a woman’s body is on par with repeating homophobic slurs or generally being a despicable human being. But, sadly, ten years of dating in New York City has led me to the disturbing conclusion that perhaps I just have cool friends.
During the past decade, boyfriends have felt the need to instruct me on the following: my weight, my hair length and style, the height of my heels, the frequency with which I wax, the length of my nails, my muscle definition, the type of makeup I wear. And I was once called out for having an errant hair on one of my nipples. None of them handed me a list of requirements before we started dating. But perhaps they should have. It would have been much more efficient.
I recently dated a man who was particularly bad about female bodies. Although he was relatively happy with my thin frame, he continually critiqued the bodies of other women as though he had some rare form of misogynistic Tourette’s. He’d point out women who had a hint of belly pudge or look away in horror when a woman had the audacity to wear a bikini without first being skinny. When I calmly suggested that he stop being such a jerk puppet, he argued that you can’t control your physical preferences. Which is true. But you can control the words coming out of your mouth. So, no, you’re not just being honest, angry man. You’re being a dick. And you should probably stop that. Because it’s 2013, and it’s ridiculous that so many men need to be told that even though they’re free to be attracted to women of any shape or size, they shouldn’t discuss women as though we’re all Weimeraners competing in the Westminster Dog Show.
While women should obviously stick up for themselves and demand that men stop it with this “honest” talk about women’s bodies, this can be relatively difficult when you’re, quite often, literally naked during these discussions. And, moreover, I’m sick of the onus always being on women. It can be fairly challenging to celebrate and accept your body when someone is constantly pointing out your “flaws” or the apparent “failings” of women around you. Perhaps, just this once, we could put the burden of change on men. Perhaps, just this once, we could ask men to recognize that having a penis doesn’t give them the right to order up the vagina of their choice—because that vagina is attached to a body, which is attached to the brain of a human being. And that human being shouldn’t have to put up with this type of behavior from someone who claims to be a grown-ass adult. Perhaps just this once.