Men often make women feel like prey. Many women have pointed this out. We can see what they’re talking about: Return of Kings, assorted fuckboys, catcalling, “nice guys” who think they deserve a fucking medal for being courteous. Or, you know, just a little smile, gorgeous?
The standard explanation of this is packaged in one word: patriarchy. And patriarchy looks like it’s all about power. But there’s a mechanism that is driving much of this behaviour and is probably the main fuel for patriarchy. It’s this: to a heterosexual male, attractive women are – by dint of their attractiveness – essentially Pez dispensers for endorphin and other reward hormones (dopamine, oxytocin, etc.).
You know what I mean when I say Pez dispenser, right? Those little toy candy dispensers with various heads on them. You tilt back the head, out pops a Pez, which is basically sugar with a bit of flavour. Think of that Pez as endorphin and the other hormones. This is how a woman’s attractiveness functions for a man.
I read a study a few years ago that found that men get an endorphin rush just by looking at an attractive woman. I thought, “Of course!” A lot of the discourse about intersexual relations is focused on sex as the necessary ultimate outcome, but we really don’t have to go that far. The reward chain – which, yes, is geared to drive men to get sexual intercourse – starts with the simple fact of looking at an attractive woman. We get a reward just for that. The endorphins increase with a smile or other positive acknowledgement. Every additional bit of access – a touch, an exposed bit of skin, and so on – gives more reward. More Pez. More endorphins.
Endorphins, I have to tell you, are addictive. You want more. And more. And more.
So you do what you can to get some. See pretty woman: Pez. Pretty woman glances at you: Pez. Pretty woman smiles at you: Pez. Pretty woman says hi: Pez. Physical contact: PEZ. And so on.
Endorphins make you feel good. They make you feel like you own your spot in the world. And speaking of owning and controlling, this is another Pez dispenser. Yes. The same reward chain that feeds into and off of sexual interplay also feeds into and off of mastery and control.
So. Guy sees pretty woman. Gets some Pez. Wants some more. Wants a smile out of her. Is already feeling a bit of a bump in endorphins, and has an anticipatory bump too. “Hey, gorgeous! How about a smile?” Or, because he’s feeling those sex-master-hormones firing up, “Hey, sugartits! Nice rack!” Endorphin-drunk and endorphin-greedy.
But then she refuses to give him what he wants. No smile. Maybe a “Go away.” Worse. What then? Fuckin’ shitty Pez dispenser broken empty won’t work!
You like what your computer can do for you, right? You enjoy it, right? And what happens if it’s slow in delivering? Or doesn’t give you what you want? “You useless piece of garbage!” And that’s just a computer. That’s not a full-on endorphinated Pez dispenser.
But guys see women as people, right? They have conversations with them and everything! Yes, of course. And many guys are very well able to remember that this is, above all, a person. They can keep perspective and not get too Pez-greedy. But some guys – far too many, actually – are just too tied up in the Pez. And they will make all sorts of rationalizations. You know how alcoholics can behave? “I can stop any time. I drink it for the flavour – look, this is quality Scotch, not cheap crap from a paper bag.” “Come, we’re having a fun chat, come have a drink with me.” “My friend! You’re a great guy. Got a beer for me? WHAT? Whaddya mean no? You fucking asshole!” What, by the way, is the reward system for alcohol? Endorphins – among other things.
Sex is addictive. Desire is addictive. Being the object of attraction is addictive. Being dumped can be like heroin withdrawal.
So. Attractive women are a source of hormone Pez. Men naturally desire that. Some desire it quite strongly. Some may rationalize it or deny it. Many will feel vulnerable: that thing that gives them the good feeling, the feeling of control over their world, is coming from an outside source that can say no to them. But it’s their sense of power! Yesss! They must have it! They must control the supply!
That endorphin Pez can make you feel like a king. You want to be a king. A king of the Pez. If you’re not feeling kingly enough, you want to do what will return you to your kingdom and given you control over the Pez! Even if it means carpet-bombing the damn place and killing or enslaving the people there because you must have your Pez kingdom.
Obviously this is not a good approach. But even the more subtle approaches can be problematic. Guy stops, blocking other people behind him, to “let the ladies go by,” and fancies himself a magnanimous gentleman for giving them what they don’t need but he really just wants to be the person receiving Pez from them. If someone cuts around him, he might threaten to punch them, or might just make passive-aggressive comments loudly (I’ve seen both happen). So many other “gentlemanly” behaviours are also geared to Pez-dispenser control and maintenance.
When a woman who is normally very friendly and affection just doesn’t feel like popping out an extra piece of Pez at the moment, the guy has abrupt Pez withdrawal and gets upset. Women who aren’t sufficiently attractive are treated like broken dispensers, no good.
If you’re a guy who’s attracted to women, you know this. You know how it feels. You’re lying or in denial if you say you don’t. (I believe the reward pathways are the same for gay men, but with different objects of attraction and different sexual politics, but I don’t feel qualified to comment on it. I really don’t feel qualified to talk about the reward pathways for women. I’m always hoping to learn more.)
And if you’re a guy who’s attracted to women, you do at least some of the above. Yes you do. No matter how hard you try not to treat women like they’re just Pez dispensers, you gotta have you some Pez. And you will get it. In fact, many women are quite pleased to dispense it, in reasonable measure, as long as they have control of themselves and their lives, and as long as they aren’t given the feeling that they’re just seen as Pez dispensers. Why not? People flirt. People smile at each other. You’re not a bad person for enjoying a bit of freely given Pez. You have pretty certainly gotten a bit too greedy at times, and I hope you have learned not to. You will very likely get a bit too greedy again, and you will continue to learn how to get your Pez and how not to. It’s called growing up. You know, that thing you’re supposed to do to be a man.
Because as long as you rely on someone else for your sense of control, you don’t really have control. Even if you maintain control over that external source, you still don’t have control. You’re a man when you can control yourself. And not require constant pops of Pez like a sugar-addicted boy.
Oh, and if you’re a guy reading this, and you’re saying, “Yeah, but women…”, stop there. Are you responsible for yourself? Deal with yourself. Trying to use other people’s behaviour to excuse your misbehavior is what children do.