Let’s Talk About Sex

I’m reposting this after writing the most recent entry, on hiding in public. That is, after all, what professional women must do with their sexuality in order to succeed. It’s the subject that very few of the women in my binder want to talk about publicly, even though it’s there every time they open their closet to get ready for work – especially if they’re single. What’s the right amount of makeup to signify that they’re single and looking without painting themselves into a low-ceilinged corner? Is it possible to be young, sexy, and successful?

While the policy world and pop culture are far apart, we have to start with our society’s general ideas about female sexuality. Over at the Atlantic, Ashley Fetters is arguing that Ke$ha “is 2012’s answer to The Feminine Mystique.” What she means is that Ke$ha’s life and attitudes – her imitation of a particular version of masculinity  – embody what “our” feminist foremothers dreamed of for us.

Fetters might be right, but forgive me for being unimpressed. She quotes the pop star saying, “[I] can work and party as hard as any man.” As any man. Ke$ha’s feminism is merely an imitation of agressive masculinity. The images – dancing with her mom in a penis costume, bragging about objectifying men for sex, even sitting quietly on a rock and deciding she’s a warrior – don’t add anything new to the universe. They merely pretend to subvert it. This is Tuckerina Max and nothing more.

Is that really what Betty Friedan and Virginia Woolf and Naomi Wolf had hoped for? Perhaps it’s the logical extreme of some of their ideas, but I would argue that all Ke$ha does is reinforce an idea of masculinity that is as harmful to men as it is to women. I’ll never be a whiskey-swilling frat-boy partier who’s all, “Let’s not make this a thing.” If I want a warrior princess, I’m going to have to look elsewhere.

Cue Beyonce, who, in “Countdown,” articulated a version of femininity that I could get behind. I like to get all up in the kitchen in my heels. I want to win a man’s mind and show him I’m the flyest. Like Beyonce, I want to make it through the tough times with someone, have a love that grows with the years, and still be lip lockin at the end of the day.

But I can’t say that – not in my career.

Luckily for these ladies, they’re in a business where sex sells. It isn’t easy, but redefining our ideas about womanhood is kind of their job. What about the rest of us? I have known a lot of successful women in politics, but with all due respect to Madeleine Albright, I don’t want to be known for my brooches. The closest I’ve got to a Beyonce in my profession is Huma Abedin, and even she couldn’t find a man who was worthy of her.

Whether we’re discussing Holly Petraeus or Hillary Clinton, what no one will say in writing is that these women – pantsuited, “frumpy,” put aside for more openly sexual alternatives – played the role we cast them in. In politics, you can be intelligent or you can be attractive, but to be both is to be under constant attack. A colleague I was dating over a year ago actually told me that, because I dressed cute for work and wore makeup and talked about my weekend interests, he didn’t think I wanted to be taken seriously. I dumped him, but I kept my red lipstick. I am inspired by the women in my binder who do the same. They are incredibly brave.

If I’m lucky enough to be so successful that I’m one day tapped as Ambassador to TinyWar-TornCountryNoDonorWouldEverConsider, I’m sure this post, along with every sexy picture of me ever posted to Facebook, will be fair game for Congress – proof that I’m an unserious floozy who can’t be trusted to represent America. Someone will make the argument that no male diplomat in his right mind would talk about his love life online.

And they’d be right. Because men don’t have to choose. They’ve got James Bond, Bill Clinton, and David Petraeus in their binders. Meanwhile, women like me still need someone to look up to.

So keep singing, Beyonce. You’re all I’ve got.

4 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Sex

  1. wow great post. I work in finance and it’s a very similar dynamic. Often I feel I have to keep two personalities in check and it’s absolutely exhausting. Not being able to fully express yourself 10 hours in the day is depressing and I’m glad someone finally talked about it.

  2. Now that I’m going through and reading all your blog posts, I find myself…well, I don’t even know what to call the emotional-intellectual state. I take it for granted that women can be both sexy and intelligent, cute and thoughtful, interested in a career and capable of partying on the weekend. Why? Because women are people. And men are people. And anything I can do, you can do too. The bit about the ex-boyfriend, who presumably knew you as both a more-capable-diplomat and a sexy babe, galls me. That this conversation even took place in the 21st C. galls me. What the hell is wrong with us?

    Anyway, I’ve seen you give speeches in Dari and foster feminism in Afghan girls, and I’ve seen you party in sparkly disco pink spandex and crazy heels, and both skills impressed me.

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