I want a red dress.
I want it flimsy and cheap,
I want it too tight, I want to wear it
Until someone tears it off me.
— Kim Addonizio from her poem, “What Do Women Want”
Over the decades I have earnestly considered just that question. Sigmund Freud famously asked, “The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my 30 years of research into the feminine soul, is "What does a woman want?” I find Freud a stereotypical joke, rather simplistic, chauvinistic and clueless.
One might legitimately ask if women want different things than men? I raised my only daughter to feel/think that that was not the case. That anything a man aspired to, she, as a female, could also attain. That biology was not necessarily destiny. That grit, determination, intelligence and will were just as much feminine as masculine qualities. So, what does a woman want? Besides equal pay for equal work, respect, a man with a slow hand and free pedicures?
Oh, our literature abounds with what modern women want. Sleep. A break from the kids. A man who will clean the toilet. Genuine equal opportunity. A safe, nonthreatening environment (culture). The list of universal wants is not particularly surprising yet each woman’s “wants” are unique to her.
Let me relate my most recent movie experience. I saw “Magic Mike” opening night, and I was one of maybe three men in a theater full of “ooohing” and “awwing” women who enthusiastically applauded the lean pulsating pelvises of the male strippers featured in the film. Couple (no pun intended) that with the success of the E.L. James’ book trilogy “50 Shades of Gray,” which features sexuality, submissiveness and orgasms, and, well, as Cindi Lauper so presciently cooed, “Girls, just wanna have fun.” Indeed.
Desire. A woman wants to be desired. Add that to the list. There is a growing field of female researchers who are exploring female sexuality, particularly from the perspective of what women want sexually. Key in that discussion is the function of desire.
Meredith Chivers is a psychology professor at Canada’s Queen’s University. She is on the editorial board of a leading journal on sexual research, the “Archives of Sexual Behavior.” She describes the male/female dynamic as “One part is pumped full of testosterone, is more interested in risk taking, is probably more aggressive, you’ve got a very strong motivational force. It wouldn’t make sense to have another similar force. You need something complementary. And I’ve often thought that there is something really powerful for women’s sexuality about being desired. That receptivity element.”
Another prominent researcher, Marta Meana, a professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, said that for women, “being desired is the orgasm.” Hmmm, as a man, I wonder about that. Yet I do agree with Meana’s summation on the nature of female desire, “It is at once the thing craved and the spark of craving.”
What do women want? Oh, everything. Just like men. Yet, as has been suggested, “Didn’t a longing for erotic tenderness coexist with a yearning for alley ravishing?” What? Both ways — women want it both ways?
Indeed. And modern men please take note. By all means let the ravishing begin. But first…
“May I get a hanger for that dazzling red dress?”