Andy Towle’s fantastic blog brought to my attention a scuffle between GQ Australia and Dustin Lance Black. Maybe I am too forgiving, but I don’t think the GQ writer was being homophobic or malicious. I think he’s just a typical straight guy. Poor dear.
First, let me sum up what the scuffle was about (although you can read about it quickly over at towleroad.com). Basically, the GQ writer asked Taylor Lautner, in an interview, whether either Gus Van Sant (gay) or screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (gay) had hit on him. Mr. Lautner’s answer was polite and appropriate. Mr. Black, however, wrote a scathing letter to GQ Australia at the implications of the question itself. Here is an excerpt:
“…Mr. GQ writer, were you projecting your own unprofessional desires onto me and Gus? Perhaps? Or worse still, are you a homophobe? Above and beyond this clear attack on my character, I’m shocked that GQ would allow their writer to lean on the scurrilous, outdated stereotype that gay men are by nature sexual predators. I mean, would you have asked this same question if it were Diablo Cody and Kathryn Bigelow at dinner with Mr. Lautner?”
I can understand why Mr. Black took this personally, and I understand his points. However, I think that Mr. GQ writer’s motivations were much less diabolical or rooted in prejudice, and much more rooted in ignorance and confusion.
You have to remember that straight men live in a very divided world, emotionally. They believe (rightly or wrongly) that men are more sexually-driven than women. They assume (rightly or wrongly) that it’s harder for a straight male to deal with having a hot female work associate than it is for a straight female to deal with having a hot male work associate. They assume (rightly or wrongly) that all guys are driven to distraction by sexual attraction because, hey, why wouldn’t they be?
And then there is communication. If he talks to his straight guy friend about having a hot secretary, it’s funny or obvious and something they can bond over… because hey, who HASN’T worked with a hot chick at one point or another??
But if he talks to his female friend about having a hot secretary he is being rude and insulting and objectifying, and implicitly sexist. He believes (rightly or wrongly) that it’s “appropriate” to talk with his male buddies in one way about sex but completely inappropriate to talk with women in the same way.
So how do you talk to a guy about guys? What are the rules?
This is the crux of the problem, for straight guys, and it’s rooted in a simple and universal (if somewhat crude) fact about most straight men… and some would say, about men generally:
Men want to objectify people. Sorry to say it, but they do.
They love it. It’s titillating. It’s funny. It’s fun. It’s hilarious. It’s more-or-less a simple fact of life, whether it is spoken or acted on or not. And the fact that decades of feminism have taught them to not talk about it has made it more titillating, if anything, not less.
But, lo! and alas: behold the plight of the modern straight man. Sexual objectification is a raw and constant fact of his day-to-day experience of life, something he jokes about in private with his male friends, but that decades of feminism and equal rights have taught him not to vocalize. He has, more or less (and I mean this only collectively as a generalization) “learned the rules” about what is ok, and what is not ok, when talking in public and mixed company about sex and women. He’s learned to “reign it in.”
But now, in this new world order, what are the rules? If you’re talking about guys being attracted to guys, well… I mean… in that circumstance, sexual objectification is ok, right?
RIGHT? I mean, it couldn’t possibly be sexist, could it?
So this is where the poor, confused, doofousy straight GQ Writer stands. On some level he is thinking, “OMG, how cool is this? FINALLY I can objectify and sexualize someone without being called sexist! Woo hoo!”
Of course the conclusion is ridiculous. Of course, the reality is that all people should always be respectful and assume professionalism and not objectify people when conducting a professional interview. Of course.
But, Mr. GQ Writer guy goes for it. He makes a clumsy, but very male comment: a comment that back in the 1930’s I have no doubt he would have made when interviewing a hot actress. “So I bet all the guys on the set couldn’t keep their eyes off ya, huh, sugar?” Of course he would have. Only the intervening decades of feminism have taken the metaphorical rolled-up newspaper and smacked him on the metaphorical nose and conditioned him that “NO!!!! That’s sexist! Bad boy!”
This is a lesson he (and by “he” I’m still talking about the collective, general American male) is going to have to re-learn. The reason you don’t make comments like that is not actually because it’s “sexist.”
If you think that you don’t objectify people because it’s “sexist”, then that implies that it’s perfectly ok for guys to objectify guys.
No, the real lesson is: you don’t make comments like that in an interview because it’s rude and unprofessional.
But I don’t fault poor, dim-witted GQ Writer Guy. I’m sure this is all very new to him. He has decades of feminism to un-learn, and decades of human-ism to learn in its place.