'Close friendship' of Cara Delevingne and Michelle Rodriguez raises usual paradoxical interest among men

The language is careful in the extreme, but no one is under any illusion about what is being suggested in parts of the media: Cara Delevingne and Michelle Rodriguez have been spending a lot of time together, they went to a basketball game - the New York Knicks were playing the Detroit Pistons at Madison Square Garden - and they exchanged some cuddles in a taxi. They appear to have started a lesbian relationship. Perhaps.

We'll never know for sure, and it doesn't matter in any case, because what is more interesting here is why this news should prove so compelling to one very unlikely constituency in particular: heterosexual men.

A paradox surrounds male attitudes to lesbianism: a lesbian is someone who has made an explicit declaration of her lack of interest in men. And yet the revelation of lesbianism, far from dampening male desire, seems to heighten it exponentially. Why do men seek, and at some irrational level even hope for, acceptance from the very section of the world's women who have specifically excluded them from their concerns?

One kind of answer begins with the residual guilt many men feel around sex. A good number of them spend the bulk of their formative adolescent years feeling that sex is something they want far more of, and far more urgently, than women. They would love to go further, try certain things, but the girls they know too often look straight through them and never call back. The scenarios in porn and in their imaginations seem incapable of being enacted with anyone available in the real world. The result is shame: it may end up seeming as though sex is an embarrassingly peculiar thing they made up themselves and can't persuade anyone else to partake in. Even outside of religious belief systems, even in this liberated age, it is only too easy for straight men to feel lonely, even dirty, about having a sex drive.

Hence the relief of lesbianism for men. Here, at last, is incontrovertible proof of a point that should always have been, but isn't necessarily, obvious: that women want sex just as much as, and sometimes far more than, men; that women can be as uncompromising, imaginative and committed in its pursuit as any male. That this glaring insight should have come to men via the example of lesbians, that is, women specifically uninterested in them, seems not to sink easily into the folds of the male imagination. So overwhelmed are men by evidence of this libido, they overlook - in a way that is both poignant and bathetic - that they are not included in its equation.

At the core of many relationships is the longing to be understood by one's partner. For many heterosexual men, a big part of their inner life is taken up with finding women in general attractive. Yet this is very rarely a topic it is easy to share at requisite length with the particular woman they happen to be with. Entirely irrespective of what the reality might be, the heterosexual male fantasy is that lesbians understand men. Lesbians are women who get what it is like to find women sexy, and so the male imagination concludes: here are women who know, in an important arena, what it is like to be us.

Men's fantasies about lesbians aren't really about lesbians at all. They reflect illogically handled unmet longings to be understood and to be liked for who one is. Whether or not they happen to be in a relationship, Cara and Michelle are reminding straight men of a desire for mutual excitement and an end to shame. They are imaginative emblems of a relationship in which sex can indisputably be both people's idea.


The School of Life