Saturday, April 11, 2009

"There is nothing like a Dame"

"Sailors, Seabees and Marines:
We got sunlight on the sand,
We got moonlight on the sea,
We got mangoes and bananas
You can pick right off the tree,
We got volleyball and ping-pong
And a lot of dandy games!
What ain't we got?
We ain't got dames!

We get packages from home,
We get movies, we get shows,
We get speeches from our skipper
And advice from Tokyo Rose,
We get letters doused with perfume
We get dizzy from the smell!
What don't we get?
You know darn well!
"We have nothin' to put on a clean white suit for
What we need is what there ain't no substitute for...

There is nothin' like a dame,
Nothin' in the world,
There is nothin' you can name
That is anythin' like a dame!
We feel restless, we feel blue,
We feel lonely and in grief,
We feel ev'ry kind of feelin',
But the feelin' of relief
We feel hungry as the wolf felt
When he met Red Riding-hood
What don't we feel?
We don't feel good!

Lots of things in life are beautiful, but brother,
There is one particular thing that is nothin' whatsoever
In any way, shape or form like any other.

There is nothin' like a dame,
Nothin' in the world,
There is nothin' you can name
That is anythin' like a dame!

Nothin' else was built the same,
Nothin' in the world
As the soft and wavy frame
Like the silhouette of a dame!

There is absolutely nothin' like a frame of a dame.
So suppose that dame ain't bright
or completely free from flaws,
Or as faithful as a bird dog,
Or as kind as Santa Claus,
It's a waste of time to worry
Over things that they have not,
We're thankful for the things they got!

There is nothin' you can name
That is anythin' like a dame!

There are no books like a dame,
And nothin' looks like a dame.
There are no drinks like a dame,
And nothin' thinks like a dame,
Nothin' acts like a dame,
Or attracts like a dame.
There ain't a thing that's wrong with any man here
That can't be cured by pullin' him near
A girly, womanly, female, feminine dame!"
-South Pacific

I've been trying to write a new entry for MONTHS. I've started countless posts that end up as drafts and little else, never to be finished or published. I'm listening to my pandora station filled with songs from musicals old and new and heard this hilarious song from South Pacific (above). I just busted out laughing when I heard it- it is admittedly sexist and objectifying, this I don't deny.

I was laughing at the baldness of it- the desperate male desire for women's bodies and sex that patriarchy can't seem to stamp out no matter how much our bodies and desire/participation in sex are degraded, dismissed, maligned and abused. Male desire for sex with women, which is constructed as insatiable, blue-ball inducing, gotta-have-it-all-the-time and take-it-anytime-you-can-get-it, is none the less built on an idea of male control of sexual situations. In order to maintain this perceived control of patriarchal male sexuality, women's sexual desire and participation is only framed as "dirty", "whore-like", "bad girl", "naughty", "slutty" etc. This isn't a surprise to anyone reading this post, I'm sure. I was just struck by the comedy of this. A woman has sex too quickly, she's no longer worthy of male respect, if she had it in the first place. If she is empowered in her sexuality and is ready to engage in sex, she is likely to be labeled negatively if it is "too soon" according to her male partner's expectations, or the expectations of the outer society (friends/family/colleagues of hers/his who find out about their sexual encounter).

I've been having a lot of conversations with a male friend lately, a Marine, who is very aware of the inequalities between men & women and the ridiculousness of patriarchal constructions of masculinities and the expectations tied to them. I'm not sure that he is as aware of how he is also victim of these pathologies, and that he carries the banner for them as he walks forward in the world. (I'm only focusing on him because the conversations have been recent, and the song echoed so much of what our conversation has focused on recently; not trying to pick on Marines here.)

When talking with me about a new (female) romantic interest in his life, he was telling me how as much as he enjoyed her company and her kisses, he had to keep control of himself, the situation (and her) in order to strike the right balance of not going too far while still enjoying themselves. When I inevitably asked why, he explained to me that going any further with this woman at such an early stage would place her in a lower category in his head. He respects her a great deal, he said, and he doesn't want to lose that by not following the now innate rules that he can't quite articulate. He has no accurate way of knowing when enough time will have lapsed in order for sex to be acceptable and for his respect to be intact.

This man is a decent, intelligent, considerate individual, believes in women's rights, is very supportive of female Marines in combat and attended our performance this year of The Vagina Monologues. He supported our fundraising for VDay, encouraged other men on campus to attend and he doesn't believe in violence having any place in sexual situations, porn, or male expectations of sexual situations. Knowing that I don't appreciate sexist/misogynistic or homophobic language, does his best to be conscious of his word choice. Whenever a story comes up where p***y or f****t are used (often in Marine conversations) he always tries to explain the context in which they are used as a way of apologizing for their use at all, and that the words he is repeating aren't his. I list these qualities because it is amazing to me that knowing all that he does, he is still under the social conditioning of our patriarchal system and is unaware of it. It's unfair of me to expect otherwise I guess, it takes real work to untangle the "gender knot" patriarchy catches us all in. He's much further along than many men (and women) I know, and his awareness and personality are even more admirable in my eyes because he is part of such the most intensely hierarchical, male identified institution one can be a part of (aside from the priesthood I suppose). He is somehow able to resist the parts of that hierarchical/male identified culture he disagrees with, but hasn't quite had the same luck with the larger society. I think I should probably take as a sign of hope that it is happening at all.

It's everywhere you look- this degration of female sexuality coupled with the objectification of women's bodies. "Motherfucker," "cocksucker"; I'm sure you, as the reader, can think of a million examples of this that you've seen/heard/experienced/used. All this projection of what is "moral" on women's bodies and behavior, from what we wear, where we go at night, who we go home with, whether/how much we drink, if we have sex, who we have sex with, how quickly we have sex and which archetype we are fulfilling (madonna/whore among many others). It's obviously incredibly frustrating and perplexing. I'm not sure what to do for or say to my friend to help him realize where he stands in terms of patriarchal conditioning. I'm hoping our continued conversations will help, but that's all I got. I know it is going to take a lot more than me talking to my male and female friends and associates to change this phenomenon, but each one teach one, right?

I could go through the song and deconstruct each verse, pointing out the obvious sexism there, but I think you've got it. Alarmingly in terms of rape as a war crime and the forced sexual servitude of comfort women, the lines, "We feel ev'ry kind of feelin',But the feelin' of relief, We feel hungry as the wolf felt when he met Red Riding-hood, What don't we feel? We don't feel good!" raise the specter of rape and supposedly uncontrollable male sexual urges.
On a much lighter note, "So suppose that dame ain't bright
or completely free from flaws," seriously?? LOL. Coming from a group of horny service men, that's hilariously rich. I'm telling you, I read these song lyrics and laugh and laugh.

There is one thing the song got right (though not at all the way they, the singing soldiers, intended it)- There is nothing like a Dame. Women and Vaginas rock!!!! :)