Monday, March 12, 2012

Fantasy Woman

The young woman is sitting there naked. Lips breathlessly parted. From both sides, men are handing her purses. You can only see the men’s hands and cuffs but the impression is that they are fully clothed, probably expensively, as they compete for the woman’s attention. Whom will she choose? More than a purse is at stake here, it seems.

What is happening here?
It’s not the cover of a romance novel or a soft-porn film, it’s a full-page Lord & Taylor advertisement in The New York Times. So, what is Lord & Taylor trying to say? Come on in guys, these purses drive women wild. Surely the ad isn’t pitched to women, even though I assume women are the most likely customers for purses. If it is, the message is something like, Why buy these baubles when you can take off your clothes and get them for free.

I like sex. I love Victoria’s Secret. Maybe I should just shut up and enjoy the show, but when I see an ad like that I can’t help feeling a little ashamed of being a man. We ought to be able to love women without trivializing them, without implying that the only way they can get what they want in the world is by undressing.

Someone--I assume it’s men, but maybe it’s some women too--has a serious hang-up about sex and women. Women who want contraception are sluts. Women who want gender equality in the workplace are bitches. What we seem to hate is not the sexualization of women, but their taking control of it. We sexualize them relentlessly, as in the Lord & Taylor ad, but that’s us. That’s our fantasy. That’s the woman we want, the submissive temptress. A real woman, with her own wants and needs, scares us.

I think I understand the male side of this, but what I cannot fathom is why women put up with it. If I were a woman, I would never buy another thing from Lord & Taylor. I would never buy anything from anyone who ran ads of naked women to sell their products. (I guess I’d have to draw the line at naked men too--sorry Calvin.)

I think men are the problem here, but perhaps women are complicit. We’re all a little confused about the line between being considered sexually attractive and being objectified. Thanks to Darwin, men can pull off sexy by showing they can afford expensive suits and watches (and could therefore provide well for a family). Darwinianly, women have to show they will be good breeders and have good genes to pass along, which means showing enough of face and figure to pass that test. Somehow we managed to propagate the species for millennia, though, without women taking it all off. Many even feel nothing is sexier than imagination.

It’s hard to imagine why women in this country--educated, rich women, women who can afford expensive purses--put up with this way of depicting them and, implicitly, their worth to society. Maybe they are confused about who they are, about what it takes to be attractive and desirable. If that’s the case, let me, on behalf of all men who love Victoria’s Secret, reassure them that we don’t want to live our fantasies. We want our partners to be like us: smart, independent, thoughtful. We want them to take our fantasies out for a wild time once in a while and show up for work in the morning. They are called fantasies because they aren’t real. Women aren’t sluts. We don’t want them to be. Why do we let advertisers treat them like they are?


  1. Maybe why this is why I love Eileen Fisher. And Camilla Olson.

    And you. :-)

  2. It takes two to tango

  3. Pay me ten thousand and I'll pose nude. I promise I won't complain about being objectified.