My good friend Priya (Partial View) and I recently began talking about celebrities and how much certain people seem to worship them. By “certain people,” I mean women, especially married women. And by “worship,” I mean fantasizing about having real romantic relationships with male actors, musicians, and athletes: the so-called sex symbols.
As we talked about this topic, I began to realize that we were slipping into generalizations, using a broad brush to describe behaviors and intentions. Priya and I had often criticized such thinking as lazy and unproductive, but here it seemed unavoidable for some reason. While some of my comments about women were meant to irritate only Priya, I’m concerned that in their published form, those same comments may be taken the wrong way, and could irritate almost everyone. I suspect that was Priya’s sinister goal all along.
Nevertheless, here is our dialogue, pieced together from three or four conversations that took place over several weeks.
MBI: You seem to be in a good mood.
PV: I am. I just watched X-Men.
MBI: Am I the only person in the world who doesn’t know what X-Men is about?
PV: Yes, I think you are. It’s about mutant saviours. Fighting mutant villains.
MBI: It sounds very mutant.
PV: I am in love with Hugh Jackman.
MBI: This is going to take us into a long discussion that you probably don’t want to have with me.
PV: Oh? Why?
MBI: “I am in love with Hugh Jackman.” I hear women saying this kind of thing all the time. Do you mean it literally?
PV: No. It’s a clever way of showing attraction. It may be physical, or about some trait the person has. Hugh Jackman in the movie Wolverine shows the kind of qualities I admire. And he is good to look at. So, I say that I am in love with him. But it would be another thing if a man were to say “I am in love with Sophia Loren.” His woman would not put up with it.
MBI: I never hear men making these comments, but I hear women say them right in front of their husbands. Do you do that?
PV: Sometimes. I just told my husband an hour back that Jackman reminds me of him. I think it made him happy. If I tell him that Dhoni (the cricket player) is really sexy, he doesn’t take it amiss. But when I say I love George Clooney, he begins to find fault with him. It must be the way I say it, I suppose.
MBI: I’ll never understand.
PV: You needn’t. Women are not meant to be understood. They are like vines that grow in a particular direction for support, but their tendrils can still be unpredictable.
MBI: Why aren’t men allowed to have tendrils? I’d like to have tendrils. Apparently they can be used to justify almost anything.
PV: Because men have simple minds. It isn’t justification. It’s the easiest way to explain the complexity to a simple mind.
MBI: It isn’t that men have simple minds. It’s that women are irrational. Their brains are all twisted up with tendrils.
PV: Yes. Women make this world complicated. But at the same time, beautiful.
MBI: You mentioned Sophia Loren. Why did you have to reach so far back in time to come up with a suitable example?
PV: She seems to have enjoyed more fan following than all of today’s starlets put together. The women of today try too hard, I guess. Men aren’t looking for so much. They’re generally satisfied.
MBI: Are you saying that men have more basic needs and lower expectations, so they feel less disappointed in their relationships?
PV: Yes. But those basic needs MUST be met. If they’re not, the men stray, in thought or in action.
MBI: But what are women hoping to accomplish by making these comments about other men?
PV: There is nothing to accomplish. Or maybe it is their way of straying. When I say I love Hugh Jackman, I do not mean anything. I could not dream of doing anything with him. He just seems like a good guy. Dhoni is my latest god because he also seems like a good guy.
MBI: But when someone writes on her blog that she’s in love with a movie star, does she consider what her husband will think if he reads it? Is she sending him a message?
PV: No, she’s not sending him any message. She’s just admiring a handsome man. That’s what I think.
MBI: So I’m barking up a tree that isn’t even there?
PV: See. There is something there. But it is not as disastrous as you’re imagining.
MBI: How about women who are very religious? Many talk about infidelity and adultery with scorn. And yet they say things that sound as though they have other ideas. It seems hypocritical.
PV: Join my husband’s club. This infuriates him.
MBI: I think he’s a good guy. But I don’t fully buy your explanation. I think it’s something deeper.
PV: Deeper like what?
MBI: Dissatisfaction. Maybe wanting the husband to feel small and unimpressive. Putting him in his place. Maybe it’s a kind of verbal revenge.
PV: Yes! And yet, a very subtle, un-malicious one. And also, a fantasy that makes women happy while they experience it.
(ONE WEEK LATER)
MBI: There’s an idea for a post trying to form in my brain, but you may not like it.
PV: I already don’t like it. But tell me.
MBI: You remember our conversation about Hugh Jackman. And Dhoni. This tendency for married women to talk about celebrities, saying how gorgeous they are or how they’re in love with them? Very often right in front of their husbands?
MBI: I always thought it was just shallow, superficial, insensitive behavior. But recently something clicked in my mind. Are these women missing something in their married lives? Why are they fantasizing about actors and athletes? Maybe it’s something important, and not as superficial as I’d thought.
PV: The thing is, women and men both undergo feelings of disappointment after their respective marriages. It might be related to the sentimental or the physical aspect of the marriage. But disappointments are there. Men don’t fantasize much about marriage before it actually happens. Women do. So their collection of dreams is more comprehensive. Hence, the propensity to feel disappointed is greater. Men also look at other women after their marriage, but manage to keep it subtle.
MBI: What do you think women are disappointed about?
PV: Many women are disappointed about sex. But since, for them it also involves feelings and emotions, this disappointment involves much more than just sex. So, a husband has a tougher job to fulfill.
MBI: Do you think this topic would make a good post? Or have I made it much more important than it is? What does your husband say about these things?
PV: Most times he speaks of the entire thing just the way you do. That it is absurd for the woman to think that her comments will go unnoticed, or won’t hurt the man. He tells me that men don’t say things about other women in front of their wives. And I say, oh, so it’s good to say it behind their backs? He says some things are better left unsaid.
MBI: It isn’t so much what is said, but the way it’s said, and the intent that sometimes seems to be there.
PV: Are you speaking from personal experience?
MBI: Yes. But mostly from listening and observing.
PV: Why must it bother if the woman appreciates another man? It is like appreciating another good thing, no? A beautiful house.
MBI: Maybe. I can admire someone else’s home. That doesn’t mean I plan to move in.
MBI: But there are differences. My house doesn’t have feelings of insecurity. It won’t feel angry or hurt if I say I like another house better. Also, I may see something in the other house that I can incorporate into my own. I may like the color, and come home and paint mine the same. But a wife can’t do that with her husband. She can’t take the football player’s big muscles or the television star’s cute dimples and implant them into her spouse.
PV: When do you think the appreciation is ‘safe’?
MBI: When it’s occasional, and unfocused. But many people seem to think it’s safe just because it is a celebrity, as if they aren’t real people. Celebrities are remote, out of reach, and therefore safe. But what if the celebrity lives in the same city? Or on the next block? Does it still seem safe and appropriate?
PV: Most women would say it would make no difference. There’s no real relationship, nor is there a desire for one. It’s just an appreciation for someone who is attractive. Do you never find other women attractive?
MBI: You’re going to say you don’t believe me.
PV: Try me.
Read the second half of this discussion on Priya’s blog, Partial View.