On Breaking Backs

In relation to the TVOTR post, Rudimudi offers a woman's perspective on that "I wanna break your back" line. I think it's worth teasing this out some:

I was with you on this until you got to the "I wanna break your back" part. I'm not sure that the violent desire you describe is better than the macho posing. Or rather, I don't know if this sort of desire for women SHOULD be considered an authentic expression of masculinity. It seems to me that both attitudes are rooted in the same sort of patriarchal disposition toward women. We often attack the first one because it manifests itself in pretty obvious ways(and also, causes people to make bad records). But speaking as a woman, it freaks ME out to read that an authentic description of how some men feel when we walk in the room is the desire to violently possess us. You say there is a crucial distinction between "wanting" to do it and knowing that you're "going" to do it. I don't understand that. I guess what I'm trying to say is, at the end of the day, the way you understand sexual desire for women is still rooted in ideas of dominance. I don't see the vulnerability there, except for the fact that the language is different.

And:

...didn't take it to mean that this song suggests doing bodily harm to women. I was speaking more to the ideology that that kind of language reflects. I recently read a piece by Catherine MacKinnon, and she talked about how the way that we conceptualize sex and desire is ultimately grounded in the idea that it is natural for men to dominate women. Porn, snuff films, rape, etc are the most blatant examples of this, but she argues that this attitude trickles down into even normal, consensual relationships between men and women. Ta-Nehisi himself is evidently somewhat aware of this connection, since he cops to feeling like its pornographic and "borderline violent" to express lust in that way. And he's right, it is. In fact, it's not borderline violent; it's violent. Cultural understandings of lust, desire, etc are informed by ideas of domination and subordination.

So I was just troubled by the fact that Ta-Nehisi was writing as if that approach is a more mature, more nuanced way of looking at women. To me, it's the same, albeit more articulate. In other words, I don't agree that it's just human nature---people are socialized into conceptualizing sexuality that way, even women. The only difference is that women are often taught to be the willing recipients of sexual acts, of desiring to be that dimepiece who sets off sexual fantasies.

Hmmm. Well it only felt pornographic because I'm blogging at the Atlantic. There is, believe it or not, still some element of puritanism running through me. But to the broader point, I don't know where the nature/nurture thing begins and ends for sexual desire. I guess it's possible that we're socialized in certain terrible ways about sex. The whole conceit in horror flicks of killing sexually active young women freaks me the fuck out. Likewise, I've never gotten the appeal of the pimp aesthetic.

That said, all I have to offer here is some modest life-experience. The kid was never Denzel, so you can take this for what it's worth. My limited experience tells me that both men and women enjoy, at times, dominating and being dominated. My limited experience tells me you'll be shocked by who pulls out the handcuffs, and what they plan to do with them. My limited experience tells me that the key thing, that all people want, is a choice.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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