The past couple of days, we’ve been fed a double media dose of celebrity men who were outed for their sexual “indiscretions”.
Gerontologists would describe both men as “young” old. Arnold Schwartzenegger is 63 and Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) is around 62. Interestingly, they are both married to successful women, and both sought out women with lesser social status, in the context of our racially and economically stratified society.
You might say, ‘who cares’ about what these dudes do with their sorry lives?! It’s just more fodder for infotainment, distracting us from real news, like efforts to make progress in the Middle East, the movement to save collective bargaining around the country, and the debate around the Paul Ryan budget plan, just to name a few examples of real news.
But there is something that grabs me, as I see the media go wild about two older men of means who pursued sex with young working class women of color. Did they think no one would find out? Were they so insecure about themselves that they sought to boost their self-esteem with sexual conquest? Were they so (falsely) secure that they believed they could do anything with and to anyone? What was Schwartzenegger thinking when he fathered two children at roughly the same time right in the same home, with different women? Did DSK think that the maid really was attracted to him (i.e., yes means no)? We’ll never know…
But we can look more broadly at the norms within our culture that promote and privilege male sexuality. We can explore societal values that support some men’s belief in their right to sex, even when it’s outside of marriage or even illegal. Does age factor into this equation? Yes. We generally view older men and women as less sexually potent, less attractive, less “available”. This notion is reinforced by a pervasive youth culture that surrounds us, which is hard not to internalize. By stepping over or around the sexual norms – whether through an affair or a sexual assault – these older men can affirm that they are, in fact, virile and therefore, still “real men”.
Gladly, in both cases, the media has not proclaimed “boys will be boys”. Instead, it is focusing on embracing two whole-sale opportunities to fire up some scintillating news and keep us wanting more. (Suddenly, Bin Laden is moving to the second page of the news, and Paul Ryan’s budget plan seems – well – less sexy.)
Perhaps we should view this media blast as an opportunity to better understand the relationships between gender, power, age and sexuality…
I do think this is about masculinity, but i think you missed the boat when you focused on sex (especially in the rape case). These are acts of power and control born out of male privilege. The title of the post dangerously perpetuates the myth that rape is about sex.
Harry J. Mersmann, Ph.D.
San Joaquin Delta College
Points well-made, Marry. I totally agree that these examples are acts of power and control born out of male privilege, as you say.
Colleague Michael Kimmel, who studies and writes about men and masculinity, commented:
"the other side is that sexual predation not only answers the insecurity, but also is fueled by entitlement. I think men do this because, well, because they can. Because they feel entitled to women's bodies as a perk of position, because they see most women as groupies. That distorted view gives Dominique, at least, the crazed perception that it was consensual.
Yes, I absolutely agree that this has to do with masculinity – both insecurity and entitlement play into this. The insecurity is put to rest perhaps by reclaiming their sese of entitlement. In that scenario, the non-consensual nature of the relationship probably renews their sense of entitlement much more than a consensual one would.
Notwithstanding the more important issues of dis-loyalty in marriage and committed relationships, some older men with power feel entitled to procure “sex” with willing younger woman as an earned privilege of their status. This is exasperated by a lot of younger woman offering up their sex/favors for money and perks to older men of affluence and influence. With such abundant offerings for the taking, some men forget the line between willingness and exploitation. Let’s face it, men are dogs, but many younger women are ready, willing and able to seek out us old farts! Any some men, not all, still think with their wrong head, regardless of how smart, rich or powerful they may be! G.