Rules of the Sex/Love Game to Keep In Mind, Thanks to Howard Hawks

Elaborated from Twitter:

In our current moment of sexual harassment claims sweeping the nation (which I will not debate: if you feel defensive, you need to look in the mirror and ask why. If you feel like saying “not all men,” don’t come to me with it. I KNOW THAT. If you want to bemoan the loss of “flirting” and “seduction” then I’m slightly frightened of your definition of “flirting” and “seduction.” I’m done debating with men about this.), I have been thinking a lot about this line, which shows up in three of Howard Hawks’ films: To Have and Have Not, Only Angels Have Wings and Rio Bravo. Clearly it had great meaning for him. It has always had great meaning for me too. It puts in plain words the problem, and also the solution. It seems as though the line SHOULD be, “I’m easy. All you have to do is ask me.” But that’s not the sentiment at all, not really. The line forces you to think about sexual dynamics and how it SHOULD work. Howard Hawks, that tough gruff immature man (and he’s my favorite director, so no dis – I’m an immature woman in a lot of ways – although I prefer the term “free” or “outlaw” or “wild child” or something semi-flattering like that), was at heart a romantic, with an Ideal in his head of the kind of woman who got his motor running. She was NOT “easy.” She held her ground. She didn’t fall into bed with you. She kept her own counsel. BUT – and this is key – she was not a hardass or a Man Hater who had to be broken down. She wanted to get in bed as much as you did. But you had to work for it. She liked her independence as much as you do, bub. So you had better be worth it. And in my experience, that way works best anyway. I know it’s hard, boys, but anything worthwhile is hard.

I absolutely LOVE Liz Meriwether’s recent essay “Men Don’t Get to Decide What Counts As ‘Sex’”. It pretty much puts into words my thoughts on the matter, especially since there are a lot of women who – judging from their words – resent male sexuality in general and wish they never would express it. I am not one of those people. I totally understand that women are not a monolith in their tolerances, desires, reactions: everyone comes to this with their own life experiences, and no one should tell anyone else to loosen up or change or any of the rest. I would never do that. But along with that comes my OWN reaction, which is equally valid and also exTREMELY hard-won, I had to claw it out of the EARTH, and it comes from my own experiences and tendencies and proclivities and all the other big words, and so here I am speaking it. I hope to God the “future is not TOTALLY Female” because I love Teh Boyz. Now we’re living in complicated times – and how these men who are now getting busted – across the board – think about sex and what they think sex IS needs to be examined – by THEM, not by US, because we WOMEN already know about it. The first time I saw a penis – in person, that is, outside of porn – it was waved in my face by a stranger who called me over to his car and then started jerking off furiously – jerking off AT me. These are not isolated incidents. I literally do not know one woman who has not had a similar experience. And worse. That was an act of violence and intimidation against me. Penis as weapon. My first time seeing one. Nice. Thanks so much. It’s a miracle any of us still want to sleep with you at all.

But if you read Meriwether’s essay, she lays out the case exactly.

Sex is not being in a room with a man masturbating in front of you, unless you are very excited to be there. If that’s your thing, please go forth and have fun. “Honey, how about we go out to dinner, watch a movie, and then I put on a winter coat and stand in front of you while you masturbate?” Fantastic. I’m glad you found each other. In that situation, there’s been some kind of conversation beforehand. This is what you both want. There’s trust between you and also probably some kind of reciprocity — if you’re turned on by someone masturbating in front of you, chances are that you will probably end up masturbating too or at least falling asleep together while watching The Crown.

Expressing your sexuality needs consent. Otherwise you’re not expressing your sexuality at all.

In other words: in Howard Hawks’ words: “I’m hard to get. Just ask me.” Who knows, I might even say Yes.

The most stereotypically macho of my boyfriends – the man I have written about ad nauseum, and, more specifically here, about his strong body and how he used it, how he inhabited his strength, how much I loved his strength (I wrote that particular essay – which is a BEAR – after I learned from a mutual friend that he had been diagnosed with a degenerative incurable disease that would attack his body and his muscles, in particular – I was devastated) – At any rate, the man who was perpetually cranky, tall and gruff and sexy, with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his sleeve unironically – said to me soon after we met, “When I hit on you and you were into it, I felt like King of the World.”

Who would deny themselves that experience? There’s nothing like it in the world. He asked me for my phone number. Drunkenly, for sure, throwing himself into the abyss of the Unknown. With my friends all around me, too. BRAVE. I said Yes.

And that was that. For years afterward. He took the risk to ask. And LOOK what happened.

Bless him. I only mention his macho qualities because this is an example of a man who inhabited his macho-ness with respect for what it could mean, who downplayed it in the initial stages so that I wouldn’t be scared of him, because he understood the Rules of the Game. This is not manipulation. This is not trying to trick me into saying Yes. There are those sociopaths out there and you have to watch out for them. But his “come on” allowed me so much room to answer either way. He knew how things worked. And his “come on” was so well done (besides, I was already so attracted I was weak in the knees) that I said Yes.

Years later, circa 3 a.m., watching White Nights (of all things, what the HELL) on late-night TV, he said to me, out of the blue, out of a silence that had lasted for two hours: “There isn’t a word evolved enough for what we are.”

My relationship with him was the first one that made me not afraid of men and obliterated the memory of the guy in the car who jerked off at me. He was the one who basically forced me – without even knowing he was doing so – or who knows, maybe he did, he was very very intuitive – to move past that and accept that all men weren’t like that. That sex wasn’t something done AT me, but WITH me. That male sexuality wasn’t always violent. His could be fierce but that was only because I was into it that way. We read each other like books we had memorized by heart. He did all this because that’s just how he was.

And I was pretty hard to get. All he had to do was ask me.

Howard Hawks knew what he was talking about. Here’s all three versions.

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6 Responses to Rules of the Sex/Love Game to Keep In Mind, Thanks to Howard Hawks

  1. Adam says:

    you know, i love that line but never thought about it before thx

  2. sheila says:

    Adam – thanks so much for reading and commenting – I appreciate it!

    Very important to think about these things for sure!

  3. Sheila This post is loaded with great stuff, I don’t know where to begin with a subject that’s on everyone’s mind. Starting with that great Hawkes quote! I admit I didn’t get it at first either. Loved what you wrote about that.
    I clicked on the Brawn story and so much here too. So much I laughed at! You just walking away from that guy. The lace gloves. Sitting at the table with your friends and from going so shy you had to walk away to loudly proclaiming to your friend, Did you just ask her for my number? That’s how I would operate too when young, all over the god damn place. His wince! And later, Yeah, I’m just waiting for Sheila to stop ignoring me, should be about 20 minutes. So hilarious!
    The story so touching too as he is sick now. Really? God, Life?, did you have to take that away? But you story hits on that old universal thing that everyone can relate to even though our stories are different. I’ve done similar things because I didn’t know at all how to do the things my friends and sisters seemed to have no trouble with. This story was one I had to read to C. When done he said. “Well I think Sheila has yet another movie to make!”
    I loved Sarah Silverman’s take on this issue and in particular on Louie CK, her friend that she loves, “I’m going to address the elephant masturbating in the room.”
    I mean, you gotta laugh sometimes.

    • sheila says:

      // “I’m going to address the elephant masturbating in the room.” //

      hahahahaha oh man I had not heard that.

      and thank you for not only reading that monster post Brawn but then reading it to C.! It’s kind of all over the place with the leaps in chronology but I decided back then to just let it be. I just wanted to celebrate his body – mainly because of the diagnosis I had just heard about :( and because of the hit-and-run and all that I had already been slightly obsessed with the fragility of his body – totally unconnected to what he actually looked like. I mean, he played basketball. He was tall. and imposing. even with the disease, he’s still out there and still teaching improv in LA … and seems (? – it’s hard to tell sometimes and we don’t speak) to be happy.

      // Yeah, I’m just waiting for Sheila to stop ignoring me, should be about 20 minutes. // hahahaha That was The Best. Amazing to me still. 80% of men would have felt put off or like I didn’t want them there – that percentage is probably higher – I myself would be TOTALLY insecure if I showed up at a place where I knew M. would be, and he proceeded to totally ignore me. Oh my God the agony. It would have KILLED me. and he was totally chill. incredible.

      He just liked me, that’s all. Imagine that.

    • sheila says:

      and most definitely: you gotta laugh sometimes.

      • sheila says:

        and here’s a hilarious dovetail: He was in a show with my friend Alex (Billings) – a musical version of Hamlet – a spoof, really – but with great music (composed by Tina Fey’s now-husband incidentally) – it came out of the improv scene, but it became a huge theatrical hit in Chicago, moving to a gigantic venue eventually – and eventually to Broadway. But they were in the original production in a tiny theatre on Grand Street – and he played Claudius and she played Gertrude. She wore a skin-tight glittery gown and a boa. He wore a gold crown and a cape. This was during our time together – and I didn’t even KNOW Alex then, although I had seen her in shows. The two of them together onstage were absolute insanity. They are such different people – obviously – but basically: they are the same in many ways. And definitely the same as performers: 100% fearless. He’s the male her. As crazy as he was onstage, she was crazier – so they were competing with each other, and it made the show NUTS. It was the Claudius-Gertrude show. You never knew what was going to happen.

        He hosts a popular podcast now – and he interviews various improv performers – he’s had some pretty big names on there – and he actually reached out to have Alex on the show. It hasn’t happened yet, due to schedules – but Alex and I were roaring with laughter about the mere possibility. Because of course she knows about us – AND, even funnier, remembers me hanging around the backstage area of Hamlet the musical, waiting for him – and she told me that at the time she wondered, “Who is this woman who could put up with this crazy man?”

        I was like, “Yeah. That would be me.”


        Chicago was such a small world – and I was there in the audience to see M. – having NO idea that one day me and the lady up there box-stepping beside him and making me HOWL with laughter – would try to infiltrate the cult of Scientology together. hahaha Life is so weird.

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