Thursday, June 15, 2006

When It Blows It Rains

My meager attempt to tell you that this post is about blowjobs. As Interrobang noted in my comments, blow jobs are suddenly the big conversation topic on feminist blogs. Twisty told us that she doesn't like giving them at all and Amanda shredded Christopher Hitchens's paean to the American blowjob.

I'm going to hang on to Amanda's pigtails and borrow a little from Twisty, too. Hitchens is going to be the dinner tonight. So sit down and enjoy. No, you don't have to kneel, my dear reader.

This might be a good time to get the children out of the room, as I'm going to define a blowjob for you, gentle reader. It consists of one person taking another (male) person's penis in her or his mouth, and then sucking on it and such. If you want to talk about blowjobs without seeming to do so, you call it fellatio. In either case, it's something where the receiver can only be someone with a penis. There is a corresponding form of oral sex where the woman is the receiver of another person's tonguework on her clitoris and labia. Fancy people call it cunnilingus.

The reason for that long explanation is not that any of you would need it. But it delayed getting to the actual topic a little, and I had more time to think what I might dare to write next. Let's start with Hitchens's article.

He begins saying the most astonishing thing about Nabokov's Lolita: that the farewell scene between the protagonists Humbert and "his very own Lolita" is the most tragic thing he can think of (after all, Humbert kidnapped Lolita). He then goes on with the homily to the homely blowjob:

"The magic and might of her own soft mouth … " Erotic poets have hymned it down the ages, though often substituting the word "his." The menu of brothel offerings in ancient Pompeii, preserved through centuries of volcanic burial, features it in the frescoes. It was considered, as poor Humbert well knew, to be worth paying for.

Well worth paying for. Shown in brothel paintings, where women got paid for sex. Hmmm. And note that the American term for fellatio contains the word "job". Something you might not want to do unless you get paid for it.

Hitchens's take on this "job" aspect of fellatio is a very odd one:

Stay with me. I've been doing the hard thinking for you. The three-letter "job," with its can-do implications, also makes the term especially American. Perhaps forgotten as the London of Jack the Ripper receded into the past, the idea of an oral swiftie was re-exported to Europe and far beyond by a massive arrival of American soldiers. For these hearty guys, as many a French and English and German and Italian madam has testified, the blowjob was the beau ideal. It was a good and simple idea in itself. It was valued—not always correctly—as an insurance against the pox. And—this is my speculation—it put the occupied and the allied populations in their place. "You do some work for a change, sister. I've had a hard time getting here."

Dominance and contempt enter the story here, sneaking quietly into the article and settling in a corner, unnoticed, and dominance and contempt have entered the blogosphere with the blowjob, too. Every day I read about politicians "who need kneepads", every day I read irate commenters urging others "to blow them" and "cocksucker" is up there with "motherfucker" as the worst possible insult. Note that all the insults are aimed at the imagined giver of the blowjob,not its (grateful?) receiver.

How can you write as well as Hitchens does and never notice that the Great American Sex Act he lauds is very one-sided? How can he not notice that one party is serviced by the other, that there are men who find the idea of someone kneeling in front of them and sucking on their wee-wee (icky, because pee comes out of it) empowering because they secretly think that giving blowjobs humiliates the giver? It's possible that there are women and men who can orgasm while giving blowjobs, but most people, I suspect, expect something in return for this favor. Hitchens is totally silent about what this something might be. Because sex for him is something that is done to men, for their pleasure? I don't know. But he clearly assumes that the blowjob is a full and complete act of sex in itself, and this would mean that only one person comes.

This is the reason it's called a job, I think, even though it can also be pleasurable to the giver.

There is a difference between the pornographic images of sex and the actual sex people have. What I'm discussing here is really the former, and especially the myths that have grown around blowjobs in recent years, the idea that "servicing" men orally is what all women get off on, so that a quick blowjob in the school bathrooms is regarded as a full sexual act, every bit as fulfilling to the giver as to the receiver.

It's interesting to notice that Hitchens's article on the Great American Sex Act doesn't even mention cunnilingus. The closest he comes to this is a quick reference to sixty-nine (a couple simultaneously engaged in fellatio and cunnilingus). Alas, cunnilingus doesn't qualify as American as apple pie, Nabokov didn't rhapsodize over it and neither did any of the other guy authors Hitchens likes to quote. It's really quite an odd thing: that something as mutual as sex can be converted into an experience not that different from getting the car washed.