Dirty Old Men

Over at Audacia Ray’s Waking Vixen, she responds to a reader comment on a photo featuring a large group of men attending (young & hot) Audacia’s bookstore reading. The comment categorizes these dudes as “dirty old men,” and Audacia expresses her discomfort (anger, actually) with this assumption.

I wrote my own response in response to her response, and left it in the comments there, but I like it, so I’m reposting it.

As Audacia mension, men are often ridiculed and (importantly) verbally emasculated for being “dirty old men,” with or without the old part, because they show any interest in sex. This disgust usually comes from women, since other men expressing interest to each other are more likely to get a high-five (though moral condemnation of a different sort can certainly show up instead).

Growing up as a man, there are few phenomena that have been more hurtful to me than exactly this sort of disgust for male sexuality shown on the part of women in close acquaintance with me. Often times it’s directed at older men, with “older” meaning either “over 25” or just “I don’t think he’s hot.” But I personally have been acutely aware since the first time I heard such a comment that sooner or later, I will be “old,” so I have figured since I first became sexual that sooner or later I will be a “dirty old man” (like I’m not already?)

I think the sentiment might reflect a lack of interest in the person being spoken about. I see it as another face of the contempt shown by guys when they denigrate the sexual interest, energy or positivity of women they don’t personally think are attractive (too old, too large, too un-feminine, too whatever). It’s short-sighted and assumes that in order to interact intelligently or productively about sex, people need to be interested in each other. After 14 years of doing sex education, how many magnificent conversations about sex have I had with people I wasn’t the least bit attracted to? A whole lot of them, some of the very best and most illuminating conversations I’ve ever had about sex.

 

At the same time, I have encountered plenty of guys who WERE creepy, gross old men in my estimation, acting very inappropriately — but why does this have to be categorically different than the inappropriate behavior or ANYONE, regardless of gender and age? Inappropriate sexual behavior or interest should be addressed at its behavioral face value, not because the person who expressed it is the “wrong” sort of person, being “dirty,” “old,” or male.

 

Not to do so holds women to a lower standard, or to a “tolerance” of sexually inappropriate behavior by women, presumably because they’re sexy by virtue of being women. But there’s a subtext there, that women are allowed to and able to be sexually precocious (and in some cases inappropriate) without eliciting disgust because their sexual expressions are 1) more harmless, and 2) everyone at a sexually themed event wants to see them.  But that’s not always true; in fact, it’s OFTEN not true; I can’t count the number of times I’ve felt concretely uncomfortable by an “exhibitionist” female “pushing the envelope” at a sexually-themed event (reading,  performance, party) but people keep quiet about it in a way they don’t when the inappropriately acting person is a man. Think of the different ways people in the “normal” world react to flashing (if it’s a woman, they either approve or disapprove, often quite vocally; if it’s a man they call the cops), and I think that’s a bit of what I’m talking about.

 

Of course, there’s the further subtext that women exhibiting sexually are at physical danger when their exhibition is done in the world at large… but while that may be more acutely true for women, it’s not untrue for men.

 

Maybe I’m more sensitive and vocal about this issue as I get older (and dirtier), but it always bugged me, even back when I was very, very far from being “old” in any sense.

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