by Mary Harrington
Monday, 1
February 2021
Reaction
11:57

Stop explaining away pervy men as ‘structural sexism’

We need to be honest about today's sexual politics
by Mary Harrington

American conservatism is reeling from the revelation that John Weaver, a former aide to Senator John McCain and co-founder of the Republican Lincoln Project, has been offering career help in exchange for sexual favours to young conservative men.

The scandal has set off a tremor of pleasure among more Trumpy American conservatives and tribal Left-wingers alike, with hot debate about whether or not the Lincoln Project was aware of Weaver’s predatory behaviour. Some reports suggest it was an open secret.

Setting aside partisan point-scoring, one under-discussed feature of the story is what it implies about men, sex and power. When Weinstein’s exploitative treatment of aspiring actresses hit the press, it prompted the #MeToo outpouring about women’s experience of sexual harassment, and lamentations about the mountain of structural sexism women still have to climb. But what if Weinstein’s behaviour was less evidence of structural sexism as an effect of male libido combined with power and a lack of principle?

In 1972, biologist Robert Trivers argued that for a sexually dimorphic species, whichever sex takes most of the responsibility for raising young will be more picky about sexual partners. Among humans raising children isn’t exclusively a female activity, and men exercise some choosiness as well. But women gestate and breastfeed, and evolutionary psychologists have thus argued that this gap in investment levels helps account for the well-documented higher propensity among men than women for seeking casual sex. So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised to discover some men in positions of power exploit their power in pursuit of a shag.

But it follows from this that you could understand the harassment reported under the #MeToo hashtag less as evidence of women’s oppression as such, than as a numbers game. That is, attractive young women get perved on more than attractive young men because men are more pervy than women, and most men (including the pervy ones) are mainly or entirely attracted to women.

To say this isn’t to excuse the tendency of pervy men with power to abuse that power. But it does have implications for how we think about sexual politics on a larger scale. Currently we start from the premise that because everyone should be equal, and interactions between adults should be cleansed of sex and power, we must conduct ourselves on the basis that this is true or we’re patronising women and/or unfairly demonising men. Then when this turns out not to reflect reality we look horrified.

But we could (for example) teach young people of both sexes that power plus male-typical perviness (which really is a thing) plus a lack of principle can result in sometimes unpleasant dynamics. This kind of sexual-politics realism implies a need for young people (of either sex) to practise routine caution in their interactions with powerful and potentially pervy males. It also implies we should enforce a public expectation — especially on powerful men — of good character and self-discipline. And we should lower significantly the threshold at which such men are subjected to brutal public shaming for failing to control their baser impulses.

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Stephen Tye
Stephen Tye
1 year ago

I object to the label ‘pervy’ being used so freely in this article. Pervy means sexually perverted – is it perverted for a man to feel sexually attracted to a woman? No, of course not, and men are biologically hard wired to want to procreate with the women most likely to bear healthy children and be able to survive childbirth so as to be able to raise them. This means young women, sorry about that.
How about the other side of the coin – the ‘pervy’ women willing and able to use their sexuality to get on in their chosen career? Are they pervy too, or does being ‘pervy’ only apply to men?

jonathan carter-meggs
jonathan carter-meggs
1 year ago
Reply to  Stephen Tye

Agree – the important issues raised by his actions are mostly lost amongst this lazy sexist name calling. There is nothing pervy about people seeking sex it is a biological imperative not wholly within conscious control.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
1 year ago

Is ‘gay sex’ a ‘biological imperative’?!

Karen Lindquist
Karen Lindquist
1 year ago
Reply to  Stephen Tye

I believe the pervy bit applies when the person seeking sex is not having a mutual experience with someone but rather cornering them and making them feel obligated to deliver it.
Do you find that to indicate healthy male sexuality?
If so, why?

Benjamin Jones
Benjamin Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Stephen Tye

Perhaps she shied away from using ‘dirty old men’ for not wanting to appear ageist.

Stephen Tye
Stephen Tye
1 year ago
Reply to  Benjamin Jones

Men (and women) with power don’t need to be old.

Benjamin Jones
Benjamin Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Stephen Tye

I’m glad my sarcasm wasn’t lost on you. 🙄

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
1 year ago
Reply to  Benjamin Jones

I don’t know why she couldn’t just use the term :sexual harassment”, something most women as well as a lot of men have experienced and everyone knows what it means. Words like “perve” and “pervy” are just unprofessional slang, used by many young women to describe pretty much any unwelcome male attention, something extremely annoying but not, presumably, what we’re really talking about re. the likes of Weaver, Weinstein, et al.

Mike Bell
Mike Bell
1 year ago

You have spoiled an excellent article by your use of the term ‘pervy’. You rightly point out that the greater propensity for men to seek sex is a natural, genetic, instinctive thing, not something to deride men for. You rightly suggest that young people be made more aware of the dangers.
Men are not attracted to beautiful women because they are perverted, they are attracted because that’s the way the species evolved. Without it the species would die out.
Your use of thew wrong term perverts the logic of your, otherwise excellent, article.

Miss Fit
Miss Fit
1 year ago
Reply to  Mike Bell

The term ‘pervy’ in the article is used to describe men who are sexually inappropriate or exploitative. What term would you suggest?

Judy Posner
Judy Posner
1 year ago

I agree with the men’s comments here. This pervy talk is totally ridiculous as well as blatantly sexist. And the fact that Weaver hit on men, not women, makes the discussion all the more bizarre.

Andre Lower
Andre Lower
1 year ago
Reply to  Judy Posner

Oh Judy, if only more women would take the time to speak against women when they play the card played by the author, the inter-gender divide would be that much smaller. The species needs more level-headed women like you!

Russ Littler
Russ Littler
1 year ago

Well, as an aging “pervy” male, who finds the female form highly attractive, I make no apologies for my immoral thoughts, just as I suspect, many aging cougars of power do. What worries me far more is the left’s attempts to legalise under-age sex at every passing bill, the break-down of traditional sex, deviant sexuality, gender dysphoria, and promoting pedophilia. I wonder what this author has to say about this new cultural Marxist ideology? Or will she conveniently look in a different direction when it comes to these subjects? I think I’ll stay as man has been for 2 million years thank you. A “pervy” male.

Douglas Roxborough
Douglas Roxborough
1 year ago

. “Pervy” means perverted sexual behaviour surely? What’s perverted about seeking casual sex? I’d agree that men are more likely to look for this, but that’s also perfectly normal behaviour for a man, not a perversion. John Weaver, who I’ve never heard of, might well be castigated for trying to obtain sexual favours in exchange for career help, but that’s not the same thing at all – it doesn’t mean he’s looking for any particular kind of sexual deviance.

Hilary Davan Wetton
Hilary Davan Wetton
1 year ago

I agree with others that your adjective ‘Pervy’ destroys the credibility of your opinions. Most men enjoy sex, and many want to encourage attractive partners to enjoy it with them. Of course, we need to teach young people to be cautious, and learn to say ‘NO’ unequivocally when they want to. And any man pursuing sex beyond that ‘NO’ is a criminal offence in virtually every Society, and rightly so. But bad manners do not constitute a perversion – just a lack of grace and empathy.

Alex Mitchell
Alex Mitchell
1 year ago

One person holds power and uses it for sex. The other is attractive and uses it for advancement. Who is exploiting whom?

Chris Milburn
Chris Milburn
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Mitchell

Me and my wife have great sympathy for victims of sexual violence (or violence of any kind). I’m a family doc and she a psychiatrist who has dealt with many victims of sexual violence through the years – male and female (but mostly female by the nature of the issue). We both contend that Weinstein’s main victims were not those he badgered and bullied into sexual acts, but rather those who had the intestinal fortitude to tell him to f off, and thereby never became starlets. We will never know their names. They are likely still poor, but likely still have their self-respect.

Alan Healy
Alan Healy
1 year ago

Normal male behaviour is “pervy”. All other displays of sexuality are celebrated .

Mauricio Estrela
Mauricio Estrela
1 year ago

For those complaining about the use of the term “pervy”, I think she just went for a word to generalize men who are more incisive and sometimes even discomforting in their approaches.

Not the best word, I know, but aren’t you guys kind of overreacting, like sometimes we complain about women doing online, calling men out at any poorly chosen word? The article is still on point and help us bring back some important reality check and discussions on natural differences between men and women (away from the fake forceful equality)

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago

American conservatism is reeling from the revelation that John Weaver, a former aide to Senator John McCain and co-founder of the Republican Lincoln Project, has been offering career help in exchange for sexual favours to young conservative men.
No, American conservatism is doing nothing of the kind. A group of nominal Repubs whose primary uniting feature was hating Donald Trump is reeling from news that ones of its leaders is something less than a wholesome character. That initial claim is like saying the American left is reeling because our new president has this habit of fondling and sniffing girls and women of all ages.

Victoria Cooper
Victoria Cooper
1 year ago

As often is the case, this topic is not about sex but about power. Power allows people to behave without constraint. Historically men had the upper hand due to the hormones that gave them a stronger physique and reproducing put women in a weaker position. It seems we are in a form of revolution whereby physical strength loses its edge and reproduction becomes increasingly unnecessary. Older men still hang on to what they consider their historical right but I see less of this in the younger generation. It will even out given time.

David Lewis
David Lewis
1 year ago

Victoria, it will until something bad happens, like societal breakdown. Then you and I will be cosying up to the biggest, baddest, best-armed drug dealer we can find – me in the vain hope that he’s homosexual and likes older men.

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lewis

I think we already got a little glimpse of what such broken-down world would be like last summer, with the ill-fated “CHAZ/CHOP” “Summer of Love” experimental “autonomous zone” in the middle of Seattle. Within a few weeks armed street thugs – career felons – had appointed themselves “security” and shot a joyriding 16-year-old boy who crashed a stolen vehicle into their barricades, along with his 14-year-old friend, killing one and putting the other into a coma. The on-the-spot execution was chillingly caught on tape, with the killer – after pumping the teenaged driver full of bullets – shouting, “Oh, you ain’t dead yet?” when he saw movement, then shooting another round into him. As far as I know, no arrests have been made yet, So yeah, I guess you would be safe cosying up to someone like that, as long as you never did anything to make him mad.

M Spahn
M Spahn
1 year ago

I think the salient point is, if gay men tend to abuse their power for purposes of sexual predation much like straight men sometimes do, then “misogyny” is not at the root of the issue. But we could even take it a step further – I see so many news stories today about female teachers bedding their underage students, I’m starting to think the matter is not gendered at all.

John Jones
John Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  M Spahn

Female teachers exploiting their students have always been treated differently than man teachers abusing theirs. In Canada, if the teacher is a female, the story will barely get a mention in the media, while the gender of the teacher is unreported. If the teacher is a man, however, the story will play for days.

Female politicians engaging in suspect behaviour also tend to get a pass, in both America and Canada. Strangely, these double standards are never discussed in polite, politically correct company.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
1 year ago
Reply to  M Spahn

There does seem to be a spate of female teachers abusing male students but at least they are going to jail for it the same way men do. As they should.

Democrat Katie Hill had to resign from congress after being caught sleeping with a staffer, which is against congressional rules regardless of whether it’s men or women doing it. There’s just probably fewer women politicians doing it but it isn’t a gendered thing at all. Male politicians tend to sleep their way to the top less frequently but when women do it, it follows them. Kamala Harris is a case in point. Her political rise is often noted in the context of her very public affair with Willie Brown, which likely isn’t how she would now like to be seen. It was a plus for Willie Brown but not for Harris.

David Lewis
David Lewis
1 year ago

I liked the use of italicisation of the word ‘should’ in paragraph 6. Surely we must not overlook human biology. We remain animals with a thin veneer (thinner for some people than others) of intellect and rationality.

If any woman is curious about the effects of testosterone seek out a YouTube clip of a stag ‘in rut’. The poor love is beside himself with quivering, dribbling anxiety as he patrols his harem of does. He has continually to fight off other interested stags, occasionally to the death. When a female comes into season, coitus lasts a few seconds – he can’t afford to take any longer or his harem would dissipate or be raided. The bored, disinterested look on the face of the doe during the brief coupling has many resonances! The stag loses half his body weight during the rut – he can’t take time to eat because of his patrolling duties.

So gurls, perhaps you should pity us for the curse of testosterone?

ralph bell
ralph bell
1 year ago

Shaming Males in positions of power and expecting them to resist natural behaviour can also apply to the increasing females in positions of power. Additionally what does this mean? Just MD or CEO or any manager or Team Leader over staff. Many people meet partners through work which iis often the place they interact with people for the most hours a week. Making people feel ashamed for this I believe is a move in the wrong direction and may lead to unjustified accusations.

Andre Lower
Andre Lower
1 year ago

Interesting to note how the perception of the male libido – without which nobody would be alive by the way – gets twisted in modern feminist arguments.
When men argue that their libido is significantly stronger, the feminists cry out that it is a lie. However, when describing Weinstein or John Weaver, that same higher male libido is suddenly treated as a fact. But above all it is never – God forbid – acknowledged under any sort of positive light. Now once decent men stop pursuing women on account of so much demonization, the same women cry out that they are not “man enough” like in the old days… yeah, sure. I suppose whatever happens as a consequence of so much hatred will of course be blamed on men and their libido too.

Nick Whitehouse
Nick Whitehouse
1 year ago

What about all those “pervy” women , who use make up to try to catch the notice of men?

Hosias Kermode
Hosias Kermode
1 year ago

Yes I am surprised by this article. Mary’s use of the term ‘pervy ” really undermines her argument. No one denies men are more generally the aggressors in sex. Nothing perverted about that girl all the reasons others have described. It’s not the desire they use wrong, but the abuse of power. It’s a moral issue not a sexual one. If you have, say, power of hire and fire over someone, or if you have a professional duty of care, Eg doctor/patient, teacher/pupil, then the only correct moral response is that you do NOT act on an attraction. If the attraction is that strong quit the job, send the patient to another doctor. Sexual favours gained by the use of ones power over another are always wrong.

Pete Kreff
Pete Kreff
1 year ago

But we could (for example) teach young people of both sexes that power plus male-typical perviness (which really is a thing) plus a lack of principle

There is nothing wrong with men (or women) having power. There is nothing wrong with “perviness”. There is something wrong with a lack of principle.

Because a) many men have power and don’t abuse it to get their end away; b) many men are “pervy” and their “perviness” is sought out and enjoyed by women.

It also implies we should enforce a public expectation ” especially on powerful men ” of good character and self-discipline.

Don’t we already do that?

When the man’s “pervy” conduct goes too far and seems to involve coercion, like in the case of Weinstein, society takes action. But young women flock to rich, powerful men even if the men are a lot older. That’s the women’s choice.

Nikita Kubanovs
Nikita Kubanovs
1 year ago

I think most comments here seem to all lead down to the fact that both men and women exhibit sexual agency and they shouldn’t be shamed for that, but what is to be done about that in the workplace? A place were most people spend a large part of their day, possibly creating relationships in the future (the office romance) and other dynamics like women or men trying to climb the career ladder by going for these rich and powerful men/women. Or these same powerful men preying on women. I think society has to really think about how men and women work together because this is a very modern change.

Ocxl Ocxl
Ocxl Ocxl
1 year ago

I always look forward to Mary`s take on current affairs. I dont always agree but I really like the way she writes what she wants.

John Jones
John Jones
1 year ago

Good discussion Mary, but unfortunately you’ve drawn the wrong conclusion from correct premises.

It’s correct to argue that from an evolutionary point of view, women are more choosy about their sex partners.

But to draw the conclusion that women are less interested in casual sex is illogical. It is more likely that women want casual sex as much as men, but are more choosy about whom they wish to have it with.

The result looks the same, because it means that more women will choose to reject sex with a random stranger in a bar. But if the right guy comes along, all bets are off.

Consider the other part of the evolutionary argument: women who are more desirous of sex are more likely to have children than those who are less interested. But women have to also worry about the quality of genes the male brings to the table. So women are caught between their sexual needs on the one hand, and their biological need to be choosy on the other.

The result is exactly what we see- women enjoy pornography as much as men, fantasize about sex as much, spend billions on clothing and diets, makeup and surgery, to attract men, then spend their time complaining about male attention- but only when it comes from the wrong men.

Godfrey Harverson
Godfrey Harverson
1 year ago

There are many who object to the designation ‘pervy’ and want to silence all holding a traditional view of sexual perversion.
There is a more pressing need to return to the old morality- Covid-19 requires that we remain in our domestic bubbles. Coronavirus is not regarded as an STD but in a way it is. The growing use of location-based networking services such as Grindr facilitate covert, and (in lockdown) illicit, sexual encounters, even where bars and clubs are closed. Viral containment requires more than stopping country walks away from home and snowball fights.

David Fitzsimons
David Fitzsimons
1 year ago

Evolutionary psychology isn’t up to much, but even so, this article is incomplete with respect to the evolutionary arguments.

Perviness seems to be used as a pseudonym for promiscuity. It is in the interests of both males and females to maximise the diversity of their offspring which means that women should be as pervy as possible.

In any case, what these pervy men are breaking, and being censured for, are cultural rules, not biological imperatives. Quite often cultural rules that they have signed up to and enforce in others. That is, they are hypocrites.

Vóreios Paratiritís
Vóreios Paratiritís
1 year ago

Establishment american conservatives and their media enablers, are reeling from the revelation that John Weaver, a former aide to Senator John McCain and co-founder of the Republican Lincoln Project, has been offering career help in exchange for sexual favours to young conservative men.
The vibrant and emergent American National Conservative movement laughs a bitter laugh at being proven correct once more on the moral character of ‘acceptable” conservative opinion makers and would be leaders. The Lincoln Project?, phuffaw. Mor like the Lizard Project.

simon taylor
simon taylor
1 year ago

Nothing wrong with perviness, it`s the use of power to obtain gratification that is wrong.

John Jones
John Jones
1 year ago

The idea that females are not as interested in casual sex as men are, is a Victorian notion. The only difference between men and women is that women are more choosy about whom they have sex with.

Their innate desire for sex is just as strong. But because they have a greater stake in the consequences of sex, like unplanned pregnancy, they are more careful about the objects of their desire.

The so-called “double standard” around sex, which feminists complain is an imposition of the “patriarchy” , is actually an evolutionary adaptation to make women psychologically more reticent to risk sex with strangers. Because women are simultaneously driven to seek sex, this creates an uncomfortable conflict as women seek to balance their desire with their reluctance.

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
1 year ago
Reply to  John Jones

Women probably fantasize about casual sex as much as men do. However…a social experiment was conducted a few years ago. A very attractive, well-dressed, well-spoken and charming young man approached multiple women in various hotel bars and – after a few minutes of charming conversation – invited them – as “politely” and charmingly as one could make such an invitation – to go up to his room with him to have sex. Every single one of them refused, most of them quite adamantly. It sounded like he barely avoided a slapped face, from one or two. Then, a very attractive young woman did similar rounds with multiple men. Nearly every one of them eagerly accepted her invitation (I guess they must have been disappointed to to be told, a few minutes later, that they were unwitting subjects of a social experiment and that there was no booty forthcoming, but I digress…) The point of the experiment being, I suppose, to confirm what everyone has always known, that women are not just much more “choosy” than men about who they sleep with but also far less likely to jump into the sack with someone they’ve just met, no matter how attractive and charming he is. Women’s libidos may be just as strong as men’s, but some stronger instinct of self-preservation seems to kick in for most of us when even the dishiest man comes on too strong and too soon…maybe that instinct tells us that someone who is so unwilling to invest even the minimal amount of time into getting to know us before bedding us probably, at the very least, doesn’t really like women very much and is just looking for a masturbatory aid, and at worst, is genuinely dangerous and not someone we’d want to be alone with.

John Jones
John Jones
1 year ago

What you describe is exactly what I argued. I know of the experiment you mention. The point of it is that women are choosy for the reasons I described. Being choosy means exactly what you describe- wanting to take time to know the guy you sleep with to ensure he’s going to be around later if you get pregnant. This isn’t something in addition to being choosy- it’s exactly how choosy looks.

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
1 year ago
Reply to  John Jones

Agreed, but even in cases where women are confident they will not become pregnant – are on the pill, for example, which is close to 99 percent reliable – they are still very choosy and reluctant to go to bed with men they’ve just met. It could be argued that reluctance is innate, a vestige of a time when, in our natural state, any sexual encounter could result in pregnancy, but still, I think some of it does come down simply to self-preservation. Women grow up knowing that men can be dangerous, that there really are Ted Bundy types out there who hurt and kill women just for the pleasure of it, and however a tiny minority they are, being alone with a man you know nothing about is foolhardy.

John Jones
John Jones
1 year ago

It’s not just a vestige, but a consequence of at least 250,000 years of evolution shaping the female psyche. It is, in fact, what we mean by “gender”- the psychological differences between males and females based on different mating strategies.

As for the fear of men, I was going to point out the same thing to you. Women not wanting to go to strange men’s rooms out of fear could explain the findings of the study as well as the claim that women don’t want casual sex.

But the reality is that women will go to a strange man’s room for sex if she meets him in a bar and has a couple of drinks with him first. Every time a man has casual sex with a woman, a woman is having casual sex with a man. The idea that women don’t want casual sex is belied by the vast number of them that do, every Saturday night, in every city in the world.

Annette Kralendijk
Annette Kralendijk
1 year ago

I don’t see this as a conservative scandal. It’s more of a never Trump scandal. McCain certainly was not a conservative. The Lincoln Project wasn’t pro-conservatism, it was anti-Trump.

John Weaver strikes me as a garden variety serial manizer (since womanizer doesn’t fit). We’ve seen it all before in politics, JFK, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, this is nothing new. Weaver was just hitting on men rather than women.

I don’t disagree that we should be telling young people not to become a conquest of this sort of person but the fact is, some still will. What explains a Monica Lewinsky or a Stormi Daniels? As for brutal public shaming, that’s a pipe dream, many men wear their exploits like a badge of honor. It’s usually the woman who gets shamed. Unless like Ms Lewinsky and Ms. Daniels, they make a career out of it.

Chyna
Chyna
1 year ago

Perversion isn’t a condition; its behavior and has social and cultural conditions.

Perverse describes behavior that is inappropriate or unacceptable. I think we associate psychological or biological deviance or dysfunction with this word (which can be a cause) but the definition is based on behavior.

Scenario 1:
If you think I am hot and want to chat me up or flirt with me, that’s a normal impulse and depending on the situation can be appropriate. When we are in a professional setting, then you are taking a risk because you have acted out a normal behavior at an inappropriate time and what transpires is going to be based on how I interpret your behavior (you knew that when you took the risk).

So, at that point if I am not interested and you can’t read my social cues (my discomfort, uncertainty, disinterest) or better yet, you ignore those cues because you are socially inept or because you know you are in a position that no consequences will befall you, that’s unacceptable by all standards, thus perverse behavior and you are being “pervy,””though it is lazy and unprofessional to identify people as their behavior or condition.

Scenario 2:
If I want something from you and I am willing to use consensual sex to get it…and you are willing to make that trade…there is no perversion within the act itself”except context and cultural conditions do apply. This perverse behavior transgresses something completely different than the situation before and are not the same issue.

Karen Lindquist
Karen Lindquist
1 year ago

First off, the fact that so many men (all men, no women) here equate using your power over someone to get sex as normal male sexuality speaks volumes.
Secondly, the fact that so many men (all men) rush to speak to how men always target young, beautiful women because they are driven to do so by their central nervous systems dictating such choices is to overlook the fact that men target any victims, often people not considered attractive in any sense, but because they get off on the power and also at times on the humiliation of the victim, as that person becomes less of a person in their eyes after having been used thusly.
Looks like an awful lot of men are outing themselves here in the comments.
Hot tip: if you have power over someone and use it to coerce people into giving you sex, it is perverted and a corruption of healthy sexuality, which would only be possible if both parties actually wanted the sex.

Simon Sharp
Simon Sharp
1 year ago

no the comments are just reacting to the idea that there is something wrong with men being sexually attracted to appealing women (and yes there is a strain of puritan ‘wokeness’ that DOES demonize that). So trying to angle it that the unherd comment section is outing themselves as perverts is cute..but aint going to fly.
In this case though I agree they are off the mark and mis-understand the point Mary Harrington was trying to make (ie older men using their status and power to get sex from younger girls). As you correctly point out it is the distorted power dynamic that creates the ‘perviness’ in this case.here.