Sexy vs. Sexual: Semiotic Mismatch & the Language of Clothes

One of the great things about Second life is that things are so exaggerated here, so extreme and in-your-face, and happen so fast, that you can gain years of understanding in the blink of a metaphorical eye. And that’s what happened to me recently when I had a sudden revelation about women and the clothes they wear and how radically they’re misinterpreted by men.

In short, my revelation was this: Women think of sexiness as a look. Men think of it as an invitation. For a woman, sexy and sexual are two different things. For men, they’re not. Men don’t make that distinction. To a man, if you look sexy, that means you’re looking for sex. Case closed.

It has to do with fashion and style and the different ways the genders approach these subjects. For a woman, showing off her body is often part of a fashion statement, an integral part of her outfit. She treats her skin like a dress designer might treat a piece of fur or lace: for effect, as part of a package.

But the man doesn’t see it like that. He sees those legs and boobs and skin as advertisements. He’s not seeing the stylishness of the whole look, the complete ensemble. He’s seeing a seller showing off her wares. And if he likes what he sees, he’d be a fool not to put a bid in and do it right now and in the most direct way he can.Which unfortiunately, he often does.

Or look at it this way: A woman pays attention to what her clothes reveal. That’s her way of making her body part of her fashion statement. But a man doesn’t look at clothes as being a fashion statement. He looks as them as a necessary (but unfortunate) concealment. To his way of thinking, the more a woman’s willing to show, the farther she’s probably willing to go.

This single error in the interpretation of clothing has been and remains one of the great breakdowns in male-female communications and understanding. You see the results every time some oaf pops the eternal question: “Hey baby wanna fuck?” The woman is outraged, furious, and insulted. They guy’s a jerk, a sleazebag, a dick. Meanwhile the man is baffled, startled, and angry. The girl’s a bitch, a tease, a slut.

It’s an issue in semiotics, the science of how people communicate non-verbally through signs and symbols. The symbols in this case are clothes. The tragedy is compounded because men, for whatever reason, are not at all attuned to the semiotics of women’s style and fashion. They’re style-blind. 99% of men wear clothes because either the law or their SO’s make them, not to enhance their appearance or give themselves a “look.” And when men do dress up, even in Second Life where clothing choices could be almost infinite, they wear what every other man wears. A man doesn’t use clothes like a woman does. He uses them as a uniform.

So what does he see when you put on that darling little black velvet empire dress with the lace bodice? Well, first he checks out your cleavage and looks to see if your nipples are visible. Then he looks down and sees how short the hem is and figures he’s got a good chance of getting lucky tonight.

Then he renders his verdict: He likes the dress. He tells you it looks nice.

Don’t believe me? Put on a new dress and ask your man why he likes it. Demand to know. Ten to one it won’t be because of the elegant line or classical drape or the playfulness of the cut and ornamentation. It’ll be because it makes your legs/boobs/butt look great. That’s the average man’s understanding of fashion.

I’m not trying to makes excuses for the “Hey baby wanna fuck?” guy by pointing out men’s fashion-blindness. There’s really no excuses to be made for him in any case. (Although you do have to wonder: if it’s such a lousy technique, why do so many guys continue to use it?)

And at the same time I don’t want to give the slightest impression that women are totally innocent in this communications breakdown, that they’re the pure, ingenuous victims of that vile, subhuman male sexual obsession that so shames the human race. Women know very well what their clothes and appearance do to men, fashion or no fashion, and we should have no sympathy for the fashionista who pretends to be shocked—just shocked–that anyone would comment on that generous slice of asscrack or areola her L$3,000 gown presents to the viewing public.

And let’s not excuse all women and all outfits. That woman in the latex cat suit with the cutouts for breasts and crotch is probably not here to discuss politics and building. There are limits.

So what’s the solution to this conundrum of failed semiotics and missed signals? School uniforms? Mass male education in women’s wear? Outlawing fashion? Mandatory orange jumpsuits?

No. It’s just something we have t live with. Another one of those fissures that defines the great Male-Female Divide. The usual SL guidelines apply: Be kind. Show respect. Remember that clothiness is sexier than nakedness.

And beyond that: Vive le Difference!

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About Aiden Swain

Editor/Publisher, Humm Magazine: Journal of Cybersexuality

2 comments

  1. Marie

    Semiotics… love it, and so true. Good to see you posting more. A wave hello.

  2. I guess men need to also realize that women sometimes like to dress up and look sexy for *themselves* and not just for the guys. If I put on a sexy outfit and go out in public it’s not necessarily a signal that I’m looking. Sorry, I know it would make life a lot simpler for the boys in SL if that were the case. 🙂
    ~~Cat

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