You break all kinds of unwritten rules when you’re a guy who admires a girl. The white suburban kids who idolize gangster rappers are old news, and the rich kids have always loved to rub elbows with the poor. But when a man tries to identify with a woman, he doesn’t just hit the normal problems of “white male gaze” and “exploitation of the other” and “being a jackass”: There’s also the third rail of male sexuality, where identifying too closely with a woman might make you seem, perish the thought, sensitive. So instead, the guys who dig a girl like Liz Phair have to play up the attraction, the lust, the submission to a rock’n’roll goddess– even when, for many of them, the lust ain’t the main draw.
There is so much awful going on here that I can’t cover everything. I’ll just skip the hamhanded, racist and classist attempts to ironically and cavalierly address racism and classism. Instead, I want to address the poisonous irony and stupidity of the demeaning homophobic sexism.
So, the alleged “third rail of male sexuality” is admiring and “identifying too closely with a woman” because that might make you seem “sensitive”. Notice this is supposedly about sexuality, and not even gender (as if that would be much better). He is not just worried about being feminine, no, the “third rail” of “male sexuality” is appearing gay. Because if you identify with a woman, you’re like a sensitive man and a sensitive man is a gay man, and that’s the “third rail” we (straight) males just cannot bear to touch.
Now think about this. Apparently there is this unwritten rule (of which I was unaware until Dahlen actually wrote it down) that admiring and identifying with women, rather than reducing them either to objects of lust or worship (whores or madonnas), makes you a gay man. So here are your options, straight women: real red-blooded heterosexual men who will never admire or identify with you or sensitive, admiring, identifying gay men who will never sleep with you.
And straight guys like me who have adored and crushed on and respected and learned from and admired and romantically loved and identified with and lusted after and been intimate friends with women their whole lives are suddenly in danger of appearing gay to other guys because, you know, thinking anything about some woman besides her body or her sexuality is estimable is not actually healthy or even, like, super-heterosexual but actually accidentally gay. If you love women as actual people who inspire you in multiple ways, you must want to have sex with men. Because all sensitive people want to have sex with men. And, to be clear, being gay is the worst thing any guy can be. Apparently even for gay guys, since this is the third rail of male sexuality itself, not just of male heterosexuality.
And, of course, the most important priority to a heterosexual guy who has his sexuality properly straightened out is to worry what other guys think about whether he likes women too much. Because apparently if you like women as full people (even *gasp* ones worth emulating!) other guys will look down on you for wanting to be more like them and be less like guys. Since, of course, men and women are such different species that we cannot share any virtues with each other, or discover anything about ourselves from what each other has to say, or admire any of each other’s virtues we do not have. Girls have cooties and weird female feelings that only gay men and other women could possibly identify with. And, back to the point—real straight men don’t love women so much and so completely that other straight men feel threatened—because that would be gay to make other men feel jealous and confused like that. And gay is the “third rail of male sexuality”.
I can’t even begin to think of what this guy would think of my admiration for numerous gay men! What’s that going to do to my fragile sexuality that can switch sides when it likes a Liz Phair song too much?
And what’s with this idea that the only thing one can possibly admire or identify with about a woman is her sensitivity? Suddenly women are just puddles of sentimental mush? Liz Phair’s wry, honest, brittle, piercing, defiant, ironic Exile in Guyville just has girly sensitivity stickiness because it was made by a woman? One must pretend that the girl with the flat voice and lo-fi recordings and the acerbic ironic sexuality is some “rock ‘n roll goddess” or flauntingly lusty just to escape all that bleeding emotion everywhere? I am highly suspicious Chris Dahlen has even listened to Exile in Guyville if any of these are even plausible ways he thinks a guy can relate to it.
Anyway, here are just a few of the other women musicians I admire—including those lesbian sisters, Tegan and Sara, who wrote my favorite album of all time, The Con, to give something else for the Chris Dahlens of the world to psychoanalyze with all the enlightened sophistication of third grade boys. I bet they think it makes me a lesbian or something.