Miguel Bloomfontosis discusses this in a post from last year, where he identifies a double standard when it comes to transactionalism in sexual relationships. And judging from the responses he got, he hit a nerve with this.
In his post Miguel links to a post where a woman describes a dating experience that ends in a decision to stop dating “boys” and to concentrate from now on on “men” – boys with all the paraphernalia of economic success. It’s such a bald display of success object thinking, of instrumentalization of men.
This standard of economic success being the measure of manhood, manhood being something that is achieved, is right out of the traditional gender system handbook. Every man who grew up before 1980 is going to recognize it and every dog whistle associated with it immediately. And a structural feature of it is the trope that “getting the girl’ is another achievement, and it’s the greatest feat of manhood of all (I am convinced that a big part of the contempt in homophobic dismissal of gay men is that we opt out of this fool’s struggle. We don’t even attempt much less succeed at getting the girl. This is why I bristle so much at the facile attempt to portray homophobia as an expression of misogyny. Putting men on a sexual treadmill is misogynist?)
Feminists have railed against this this traditionalist portrayal of sexual relations with the woman as a reward for success correctly as objectifying of women and as toxic for everyone.* Yet when it comes up in this form of man as success object, what kind of pushback do we see from feminists? Jill Filipovic and her coterie of admirers celebrated it – just look at the comment thread. Look at the comment thread carefully – there was a lot of pushback, so those celebrating this really have no excuse for being confused on this point. (Then it trails off into a swamp of privilege narrative about who gets to poke fun at whom…..)
An iconic example of the pay-to-play structure of dating is Big Bopper’s Chantilly Lace from 1958. This isn’t about payment for services rendered or anything so crude and whorish as that, no, this is about the rule that he can date her as long as he is capable and/or willing to pay for everything. And this is only about the rule, not his relationship with this actual woman. She’s actually willing to go on a date when he’s broke but even so the language of transactionalism is he knows to frame the conversation:
Hello baby, yeah, this is the Big Bopper speakin
Oh you sweet thing
Do I what
Will I what
Oh baby you know what I like
Chantilly lace and a pretty face
And a pony tail hanging down
A wiggle in the walk and giggle in the talk
Makes the world go round
There ain’t nothing in the world like a big eyed girl
That makes me act so funny, make me spend my money
Make me feel real loose like a long necked goose
Like a girl, oh baby that’s what I like
What’s that baby
But, but, but
But, oh baby you know what I like
What’s that honey
Pick you up at 8 and don’t be late
But baby I ain’t got no money honey
Oh alright baby you know what I like
Here’s another song from the same era:
“Because I’m a blonde, I don’t have to think.
I talk like a baby, and I never pay for drinks.
Don’t have to worry ’bout getting a man
If I keep this blonde and I keep these tan,
‘Cause I’m a blonde, yeah, yeah, yeah.
‘Cause I’m a blonde, yeah, yeah, yeah.
I see people workin, it just makes me giggle
‘Cause I don’t have to work; I just have to jiggle.
I’m a blonde, B-L-O-N-D.
I’m a blonde; don’t you wish you were me?”
And it goes on like that for several more verses making fun of the way she gets a free ride. Cute song, I saw it in a drag show and the queen had to be over 50 and looked like Fred Flintstone.
There seems to be broad agreement in the culture that a lot of sexual interaction is transactional, enough that it is a particular sneering point for male feminists to try to shame men who point it out. This cultural agreement is broad enough that “whore” or “prostitute” is one of the most damning insults you can hurl at a woman, the stereotype it exploits is apparently that widely held. I wonder to what extent this shapes the discussion around sex work, how much it conditions the drive to demonize men in response to it.
I think there is a thin and not always visible line between the sane and reasonable interest in selecting a co-parent, sexual partner, who is economically viable on the one hand and looking to hook some kind of free ride or at least some free booze and food based on time spent in the presence of your awesomeness and sexual attractiveness on the other. It seems to me dating is the border area where this line lies.
This is the beginning of a series of posts on sexual transactionalism in which I hope to explore various angles of it – prostitution in general, contract prostitution in the form of unequal marriage, even the PUA movement, if it turns out there’s a connection, even inverse.
*EDIT: dungone contributed this comment in reference to feminist condemnations of sexual transactionalism, which he points out have been rather, um, narrowly focused:
I’ve also noticed that when feminists decry “transactionalism,” it’s not actually about getting rid of “transactionalism,” but about reinforcing a hypergamous state to an even greater degree. It boils down to lowering the price women have to pay, raising the price that men have to pay, and sealing the deal by making it taboo for non-feminists to bring up and criticize in any meaningful way. The ultimate result of transactionalism, hypergamy, and prejudice is effectively a female cabal that sets out for itself to control both male and female gender roles for the sole benefit of high status women.