Monthly Archives: July 2019

Masters Of Sex: How Do We Do This Without The Men?

I just finished reading Masters of Sex, the book on which this TV show was based. My opinions have shifted, somewhat. There is of course the difference in the two media. With the book, I’ve been able to ponder it over several months without feeling the need to retrace my steps. With the show, I started in 2016, gave up when it got triggering and then restarted twice over. This time round, I had to steel myself to power through it to the end, which may have impacted my opinion. Now that I’ve read the book (and the show, to be fair, follows it quite closely), I feel like I have a better perspective on the story and more clarity on the thoughts that came up.

Unlikeability as Lack of Ability

Bill Masters was not a particularly likeable character. Even a somewhat forgiving (attempting to be neutral) viewpoint like Maier’s shows him to have been focussed to the point of ruthless. It made me reflect on several such men I’ve encountered, mostly in romantic context. In the past year, I’ve been reflecting on the idea that these men may not have been evil, chuckling geniuses out to exploit people (and me). Make no mistake, I don’t believe any of them or Bill Masters for that matter, were/are good people. They lack a fundamental empathy for other human beings, a trait that translates into not completely ‘getting’ social cues but also making it very easy for them to exploit, even abuse other people and move on seemingly with no moral compunctions. I’ve been wondering if this merely means that they are limited human beings with very narrow emotional and thus, mental range.

Emotional IS Intelligent

Yes, I clubbed the emotional and the mental together and there’s a reason this post appears on XX Factor. For centuries, we’ve thought of mental faculties as logic, rational, distanced from emotions which have been thought of as inferior, distracting, unnecessary. The ‘mental’ has been designated the domain of masculine and emotions the domain of hysterical females who need a steady man to keep them on track. But being able to access, understand identify and articulate emotions is a skill, one that most girls are taught since childhood. This training may not look and sound good since it mostly takes the form of prioritising other people’s needs over one’s own. But it also teaches us patience and eventually about delaying gratification. It demonstrates over and over, the value of playing the long game – of picking one’s battles, of factoring other people’s feelings when trying to achieve something. Take a look all around and tell me that doesn’t help women. Whether you look to the scheming saas-bahu narratives or the diplomatic ways that female media stars have climbed, these lessons show themselves as valuable.

So what does that have to do with Bill Masters and the men I’ve known? I think they’re people who lack something vital in their mental makeup. I am not intelligent enough to articulate exactly how they’re losing out because of this. Or maybe I haven’t healed from all the callous exploitation inflicted on me personally by them. But I’m convinced that being emotionally limited is a shortcoming and not a strength as I’ve been taught.

The Tragedy of Masters and Men

In the story of Masters and Johnson, Bill Masters does not come off looking good in any way. From all accounts, he was a very gifted and dedicated physician-surgeon already. And it would take supreme courage to undertake the study that became his lifelong passion. This study spawned a whole industry of sex therapy, foreshadowed medical developments like Viagra, was a forerunner of the sexual liberation and women’s empowerment. Importantly, it dispelled many of the medical community’s notions about sex, women’s bodies, older people’s bodies and dysfunctions. Not all the ideas proved correct (especially that problematic view on conversion therapy, which Maier concedes was probably a result of senility) but Bill Masters vision and work transformed how human beings thought of this most fundamental act of relating to one another.

But Bill Masters did not die rich. He was also never acknowledged again, let alone accepted back to the university where he began his project. The few people who tended to him in his last few years – Virginia Johnson herself, his son, his third wife Dody – were/are all seen as deserving of great sympathy and recognition just for tolerating such a terrible man. He certainly did not die loved and the few people who cared enough, probably barely did so.

Considering the need to leave behind a legacy seems more male than female (I suppose it has to do with not really knowing if one’s progeny is one’s own), this seems like a bleak possible future for most emotionally stunted men.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

Women Aren’t Winning This Battle Either

This brings me to another thought I’ve been pondering for awhile. I anticipated in my 20s, that the toxic male behaviour I saw around me would have its repercussions on the male gender. I reasoned that the familial structures that supported their Raja Beta brattitude would lose their power as the doting parents got older. But in parallel, the women like me would have collected experiences and lessons in dealing with predatory/exploitative/abusive/cheating men and would reach a point of not needing to carry the burden of them anymore. That is happening. It is happening to me and I see it happening in so many ways around me, even with younger men and women.

The MeToo movement in so many ways was also about women saying that we didn’t HAVE to be exploited any more and if that shocked and destroyed men, why should we have to care?

Where does it leave us all, as a society now? Or as individuals? I know most of the perpetrators named in MeToo seem to have escaped without repercussions. But I know the echoes of this will linger on in every interaction between the genders, every intimate and professional relationship for at least some time to come.

We are a generation of embittered women saying we’ve got a raw deal when it comes to men so we’re not interested. And our counterparts are severely limited men, barely capable of identifying their own emotions right, now dealing with acute fear and no one to tell them how things work. I don’t know that the idea makes me, personally happy.

The last few pages of the book dwell on an ageing Virginia Johnson, after Bill Masters divorced her. A particularly telling section has her reflecting on the fact that she was brought up to be anything a man wanted her to be. How she may or may not have cared for the several men that she encountered (two prior ex husbands, Bill Masters, several other suitors/partners/collaborators).

Virginia Johnson was not a weak or needy woman by any stretch of imagination. Both the show and the book show her to be resourceful, practical, able to set aside her personal ambivalence to focus on what she wanted. One even wonders if she was a victim or an opportunist. But of course, you’d never wonder that about a man primarily because a man would not have had to make such choices but would be welcomed into achievement and exploiting other people readily. She makes for a most interesting character. I’m just not sure that she was a happy person.

It may be the men’s fault but it does mean nobody gets loved or laid.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

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Coming Out Of Vertigo

I’m really enjoying the company of books and my plants. For the first time in my life, these don’t feel like temporary or even like escape from the loneliness between men. Because I’m realising my times with men have been my loneliest. I know I’ve probably had bad luck in this regard. I also believe it’s not really luck  because factually speaking, I live in a time and culture where my prospective mates are created and encouraged to be irresponsible, misogynist and cruel. To look at it mathematically, my chances of finding a man who is not these things and also matches my exacting standards of intelligence and values are slim. Knowing how things stack up against my being single and giving male humans what they want at any cost, this is average not bad luck that I’ve faced.

I don’t know where I go from here. I’m not sure I believe in the institution (legal, social) called marriage anymore, considering how badly skewed it is against my gender. I’ve also realised that I’m looking for love, for that special spark that makes one person stand out from the hundreds of others who also match up on those compatibility factors. And this is something that happens by the kind of chance that my knowledge of mathematics cannot predict. There’s no going looking for it; there’s only being open to the possibility of it happening.

There’s a comfortable peace about accepting all of these. I won’t say there isn’t pain. But that’s like old wounds that ache in bad weather. Stressful or tired times bring up bad memories. But there is even a comfort in knowing that these are old memories, a certain sepia-tinted peaceability in the knowledge that these situations have been lived through, thought over, labelled, addressed in the best ways I could and now must only be lived with.

I think I’ve always been this person, only I didn’t realise it because I was too used to living obediently according to the kind of moods and dreams I was supposed to have. I struggled to explain how this state in my life, whenever I went through it, was not misandry (or ‘man-hating’ as the people around me like to say). How can this be hate? These are the only times in my life when the dramatic, acid emotions like fear, rage and hatred don’t seem to touch me. In these moments in my life, I live in a world of pastels and soft, instrumental music and easy, comforting food. This time round, I don’t even feel the need to explain it to the ones challenging me because truly, they don’t matter.

I’m able to enjoy songs about heartbreak without feeling overcome with emotion. For the first time in my life, I’m starting to glimpse what they mean when they say sensitivity is a strength, not a fault. I can see the nuance of grief, the depth in heartbreak without being in pieces. It feels like being able to stand at the edge of the world and look into the darkness and say hello old friend, I hope you will find peace some day.

Peace, that’s all I’ve ever wanted. I feel it in the company of my plants. I have never felt it in the presence of another human being. Instead, my delicate, treasured peace is constantly disrupted and shattered by other people, most of all by romantic associations – my feelings undeniably a big part of it. It’s comfortable to have feelings that are like moonlight on a serene pool. I don’t know if and when they will be shattered by an enchanting voice or an engaging look. All I can do is feel gratitude for what I do have right now. And that is peace and contentment without a man.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

Masters Of Sex: Wake Me Up When You Realise Sex Isn’t About The Man

I’m currently watching the TV series, Masters of Sex. It was the first show I began on Netflix when I first subscribed. I had to stop and move to other things that were easier. I’ve tried to come back several times and I think this time I’ll manage to finish it. I’m also reading the book that it’s based on, both versions being about the relationship between the two sex researchers Virginia Johnson and Bill Masters. The last time a show brought up so many thoughts was when I was being initiated into Cosmopolitans and Manolo Blahniks.

I think Masters of Sex in addition to taking on a very difficult subject also fell into the Season 2 trap of fizzling out after the first climax. The attempts at addressing racial discrimination, people of science against the might of money – none of these plotlines really worked. Having survived the subsequent season I have an idea why this happened.

Do we really need to know about yet another man’s daddy issues and how these are the reason (not gravity) that his organ doesn’t stand right up? Where’s the fun in labouring through yet another ponderous man trying to blame his infidelities, mansplaining, emotional stuntedness and instant gratification chasing on the people around? Bill Masters is not a likeable character and Season 2 rides on his cliched, boring, limited inner life.

This is especially striking because in the same frame is a character and storyline that’s solid gold waiting to be mined. Who is Virginia Johnson? She’s multiorgasmic, a divorcee, a single parent. Is she a gold-digger or a victim of sexual harassment? Is she brilliant or just great at faking it (and presumably convincing a qualified doctor to do so)? Is she that good in bed and if so, how? What paths led her to this place (inside her head, not just the superficial backstory she’s given)? What is her relationship with motherhood, her own reproductive system? We know her thoughts about sex and vaginas – or maybe not. Is she playing an elaborate game of agree-then-contradict to keep the interest of the one man who is her way out of a humdrum life? And why are these politics not explored better in a show that is literally about the politics of sex between two people who are studying, recording and analysing it?

The first season touched on some of these. It was also the first time since Sex & The City that I’ve seen a popular show acknowledge the

politics of the bedroom. What’s happening between Virginia and Bill is not an exception; it’s not ‘two fucked up people’ (that easy phrase that wrote off stories like Gone Girl). It is the truth of regular sex between regular people. People who are married. People who don’t love each other. People who use sex as an escape. Violent people. Traumatised people. Escapists. Survivors. People who don’t fit a box. People who can’t articulate their sexuality in a label. People who don’t know how to express love. People who are alien to the concept of human relating. People who are addicted to the endorphins. People who crave intimacy. Needy people. Distant people. Single people. Queer people. Cheating people. Religious people. People.

The third season attempted to steer us back into some of that but took the laborious route of nasty teenagers, whiny children, bored/cheating spouses and some casual lip service to current causes (race relations, queer representation). Still a whole lot of hullaballoo over a very boring, very self-obsessed, very dysfunctional barely human man. But the fourth season sees us back on the cutting edge stuff of fetishes, infidelity, traumas, ego clashes, gender politics and most importantly, how these play out in the bedroom.

I’m curious to know if my reactions are based on my gender and whether any male viewers agree with me. It’s not that men are not interesting in the context of sex. But this point of view, even this character is not new. There is nothing about this storyline that I haven’t already seen a thousand times over in popular music (both desi and international), Hollywood, gaming, poetry, books and theatre. We know the penis needs a lot of pandering and support and encouraging to function sexually. We know male dysfunctions are often psychological. We know of terms like emasculation and performance anxiety. What we don’t know is what’s going on in the female body? The vagina from whence we all came, she of the self-cleaning repute and multi-orgasmic ability – what’s up with her?

I was hoping Masters of Sex would answer questions like why are so many straight men fascinated by lesbian sex? The reverse doesn’t appear to be true with straight women salivating for gay sex. How about the overdone conversation around positions? Is there really a physiological reason that certain positions feel more powerful than others or it is just what we’ve been fed by the media and the big villain – patriarchy?

The researcher in me really, really wants to know and so does the woman.

Update: I’ve finished Season 4 and I unhappily report that it is a shameless pandering to current day political correctness. There’s a ghastly focus on gay/lesbian people and I call it ghastly because the portrayal feels so token and the ‘no conversion therapy’ message like they replaced scriptwriters with PR people.

I still do want to call out two things that really stood out for me in this show.

I loved that Season 3 addressed Margaret’s profound sense of betrayal while still feeling the need to be loyal to Barton. She even takes on the onus of the divorce by telling her daughter she was unfaithful, resulting in the daughter cutting ties with her. She takes on another unsatisfactory, demeaning relationship. And still, still Barton refuses to speak up. Which one is worse? – Outing someone or forcing someone else to suffer the punishment that would have been meted out to you? It’s not a question that the queer-friendly world I live in, likes to acknowledge. This is what I believe now. Outing a person is deplorable, an act of profound betrayal. But throwing someone else under a bus is also an act of profound betrayal. Being gay doesn’t make it okay to betray somebody. I’ve been facing this issue in a different cause (mental illness) and my stand is the same – nothing excuses a person from a basic code of respect and conduct towards other people. Your sexuality, your gender identification, your religion, your disability, your mental illnesses – none of these make it permissible to violate, abuse or harm another human being. This show was the first in recent times that appeared to at least imply this.

The other part that caught my eye was a scene with Virginia and a new male character. She rolls her eyes and says, “There it comes, the legendary XYZ charm”. It’s quite unlike her, the girl who seems oblivious to the unfairness meted out to her gender. She apologises shortly after, when said man helps her. But we also watch her crumble, bit by bit. She’s constantly being proven right and she’s constantly being attacked for it. I could so relate. All in all, for me Masters of Sex has been exactly like sex itself – so many insights, so much reflection but I’m not sure it has been worth all that.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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