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November 20, 2011 / Jake Seliger

Status and sex: On women in bands never getting laid and Norah Vincent’s Self-Made Man

Ellen Campesinos wrote “Female Musicians Never Get Laid: The bassist from Los Campesinos! gives us the awful truth about the sex lives of touring bands,” which is a brief study in gender differences among musicians. Campesinos says, apropos of a Tweet from Neko Case, “‘Ladies in bands don’t get ANY action,’ and as a female musician with a frustrated libido, I can sympathize.” Notice the keyword: “don’t” rather than “can’t.” Female musicians almost certainly can get as much action as they want, if they’re willing to get over the various neuroses and disqualifications that Campesinos brings up in her piece. She starts disqualifying potential guys right away, getting to here:

Having eliminated fans and support-band members, we’re left with the guy hanging out at the bar whose friend has dragged him along to the gig. In a lot of ways, he’s the most appealing choice. I want to hear that someone is not fussed about us. The thing is, this hypothetical guy normally throws me some glances, and I shoot some back, but he still won’t talk to me. And I don’t want to reduce it to status anxiety or a power issue, because obviously it’s intimidating to talk to any stranger, let alone someone who was just performing.

If “this hypothetical guy normally throws me some glances” and you “shoot some back,” the solution is simple: talk to him. Why doesn’t she? I’d like to rhetorically say, “I have no idea,” but I do: she’s been conditioned to want to make the guy make the first move, and she probably wants, on some level, to be chased. She closes off the possibility: “Maybe I could grow a pair and actually talk to that bar-hugging guy myself. But he might think I was making a weird face while I played.” This sounds like a psychological defense she’s using to avoid rejection.

So if she’s not getting laid, it’s in part because she’s not making any moves. Welcome to being a guy.

The bigger issue could be that Campesinos isn’t interested in any guy who’s interested in her. Notice how she says of fans, which male musicians often call groupies: “(And in truth, some male fans actually are slightly creepy)”, which might also transfer to “the guy hanging out at the bar” if he were to do something radical, like, say, open his mouth.

“Creepy” is one of these all-purpose words women use to indicate sexual undesirability for unformed reasons; it doesn’t really mean anything except to the woman using the term. Although I’m sure she’s right about some male fans, the word “creepy” itself also indicates that she’s closing herself off to forms of sexual expression from guys she doesn’t consider eligible—which is another way of saying that she doesn’t perceive those guys to be sufficient alpha for her.

Over the course of her essay, she describes herself as living the anxiety-ridden life of beta males who haven’t read The Game. The start of her last paragraph shows how Campesinos’s view differs from a typical guy’s: “Bottom line: attempting to have sex on tour is an awkward and messy experience with little sense of eroticism.” The bottom line for a guy is that attempting to have or having sex on tour with random hot girls is an awesome experience to be repeated every night, if possible. Campesinos isn’t driven to get laid:

I think Neko should have Tweeted, “Ladies in bands don’t get any action, but that’s okay, because you can make some nice friends and meet some really cool people instead, and worst come to worst, you can always have a wunk — a wank in a bunk. Or not. That’s disgusting.” Probably more than 140 characters, but it’s the truth.

Would most men write that they’d rather make nice friends and meet some really cool people in lieu of getting laid? Campesinos seems satisfied to make the trade-off and would rather live in a paradox where the only men she perceives as being available or interesting are ones she won’t approach.

The approach issue reminds me of Norah Vincent’s Self-Made Man. Vincent, who is a lesbian in “real life,” dresses, acts, and lives like a man for about a year. In her first attempt to approach women at a bar, she (as a “he”) is basically rejected and finds that “it didn’t feel good to be on the receiving end of their suspicion” regarding motives. After, she asks a friend, “How do you handle all this fucking rejection?” He answers  in parable:

Let me tell you a story [. . .] When I was in college, there was this guy Dean, who got laid all the time. I mean the guy had different women coming out of his room every weekend and most weeknights, and he wasn’t particularly good looking. He was fat and kind of a slob. Nice guy, though, but nothing special. I couldn’t figure out how he did it, so one time I just asked him. ‘How do you get so many girls to go out with you?’ He was a man of few words, kind of Coolidge-esque, if you know what I mean. So all he said was: ‘I get rejected ninety percent of the time. But it’s that ten percent.’

Campesinos won’t make the first move, apparently doesn’t like the guys who do make the first move, and doesn’t like several general classes of guy available to her as a woman in a band. She’s willing to “make some nice friends and meet some really cool people instead,” which is okay, I guess, but her willingness to substitute nice friends and really cool people for getting laid may explain why she isn’t.

Here’s another theory: she “knows” (in an evolutionary sense, if not a conscious one) she doesn’t really need to get laid at a particular time in order maximize her reproductive success. If or when she wants to find a guy to have a children with, she’ll probably have no trouble finding many candidates; her only real trouble might being too picky.

In the meantime, people who really want to get laid, get laid. (I’m thinking of some of the women I know who are incredible, expert flirts while also not being irrationally picky about guys; watching them do their thing versus normal women is like listening the NY Phil and then a high school orchestra, and it appears that most women don’t care enough to really up their game). I don’t think a lot of women really understand how much rejection men go through, or what the trade-offs involved in masculinity entail. Here’s Roy Baumeister’s description of Self-Made Man in his book Is There Anything Good About Men?: How Cultures Flourish by Exploiting Men:

One of the most interesting books about gender in recent years was by Norah Vincent. She was a lesbian feminist who with some expert help could pass for a man, and so she went undercover, living as a man in several different social spheres for the better part of a year. The book, Self-Made Man, is her memoir. She is quite frank that she started out thinking she was going to find out how great men have it and write a shocking feminist expose of the fine life that the enemy (men) was enjoying.

Instead, she experienced a rude awakening of how hard it is to be a man. Her readings and classes in Women’s Studies had not prepared her to realize that the ostensible advantages of the male role come at high cost. She was glad when it was over, and in fact she cut the episode short in order to go back to what she concluded was the greatly preferable life as a woman. The book she wrote was far different from the one she planned, and any woman who thinks life is better for men will find it a sobering read.

I don’t buy everything Baumeister says, but he’s lucid and skilled at explaining his ideas in terms of medians, averages, and trade-offs, which most polemics and professional gender people don’t or don’t want to address.

He seems open to revision, provided that the revision is based on data and not just belief. But you can take a lot of what he says, a lot of what Vincent says, a little evolutionary psychology, a lot of band culture, and read Campesinos’s piece not as Campesinos herself does, as a means of throwing up her hands and wondering “why?”, but has having a clear theoretical framework explaining why her self-made situation came about.


Randall Munroe also recommends Self-Made Man. This New York Times review is descriptive and reasonably okay.

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