|Supermodel David Gandy, a fav among|
many of my NECRWA chaptermates
I had my friend's story, and these questions, in the back of my mind as I was reading Victoria Dahl's latest contemporary romance, So Tough to Tame. Everyone assumes that for cowboy Walker Pearce, easy on the eyes and quick with the flirt, being the go-to guy for any woman in the greater Jackson Hole area who wants strings-free sex must be as close to heaven as a guy on earth can get. Ever since high school, Walker's known just what to say to women young and old to charm the socks (or other pieces of clothing) right off them whenever he felt the need to "scratch an itch."
Yet underneath his good-natured charm, Walker's carrying around a whole shitload of insecurity. He's never been in any relationship that's lasted for more than few months—no women, especially the smart women he really goes for, think him worth more than a few rolls in the hay. He's nearly thirty, but he's got "exactly as much to his name" as he had when he left high school: "a big truck, a strong back, good hands, and some almost-promising ranch work lined up" (51). And he's not even got what everyone else from high school left with: a diploma. His dyslexia, and his own low opinion of his intellect, an opinion only confirmed by the verbal and physical abuse dealt out by his ornery father, has him believing all he'll ever be good for is what he can do with his body: lug bales of hay; rope a cow; and have sex with women, none of whom will want him to stay longer than they need to find their own pleasure. And now he's been fired from a job he really enjoyed, all because he drew the attention of the boss's cheated-on wife, and fell into making out with her more through happenstance and others' expectations than from any real desire for the woman of his own. Men are supposed to like it when women offer them sex, aren't they? Why would he say no?
|Our cultural assumptions about which gender wants|
sex, and which gender wants other things, too...
She'd left his apartment with a friendly "Thank you," as if he'd done her a service. And that's probably all it had been to her. He'd heard that same "Thank you," before. More times than he cared to count, actually. Thanks, cowboy, that was just what I needed. (113)
—and Charlie careful not to expect too much, given Walker's ladykiller rep—
...he couldn't stop thinking of all the other thing she'd said since they'd started messing around. That he wasn't her boyfriend. That it was only stress relief. That he wasn't the marrying type and she wasn't possessive. (209)
—it's hardly a surprise that neither Walker nor Charlie can believe that their fling could turn into anything more than superficial sex. Yet Walker's beginning to wonder if "Thanks for the ride, cowboy" is all that he'll ever hear. "Yeah, he got it. And hell, he was up for a good time, but what if he wanted more than that?" (210).
At first, Walker assumes that the only way to get that something "more" is to "stop dating women who were so far above his station" (210). The smart ones, the witty ones, the ones glowing with intelligence and humor (Oh, yeah, this romance is a tasty bit of wish-fulfillment for girls who were nerdy geeks in high school :-)). Only if Walker dates the dull ones, the ones who don't make him dissatisfied with the role he'd taken on early in life, a role that once fit comfortably, but has now begun to chafe—"just a big package of physical labor" (210)—does he have a chance at experiencing something different than what the good-time guy role offers.
But what Walker really needs is to ask not for less, but for more—more from his friends, more from his brother, more from Charlie, and, most importantly, more from himself. Being a sex object certainly has its perks, perks that both Walker and Charlie have enjoyed in the past, and continue to enjoy with each other in the present. But the limits it places, on both women and men, Dahl's novel argues, means that it's only one role among many that both sexes can and should take pleasure in donning.
David Gandy: Ftape.com
Sex Ven Diagram cartoon: The New Yorker, April 5, 2010. Via Culture Mulcher
So Tough to Tame