Let’s look at the two words: “guilty” and “pleasure”. Since they have opposing meanings they make the phrase an oxymoron. We feel guilty when we have done something bad or harmful, usually to another party. We might feel guilty as children when we see that our actions have upset or disappointed our parents. As adults we might feel guilty for cheating on our spouse, or for stealing money out of the petty cash at work. Guilt is inherently an unpleasant feeling. It is our conscience pricking at us, making us feel bad about ourselves and ashamed of our actions. Because it’s such a bad feeling we don’t want to repeat the experience which caused it. Pleasure, on the other hand, is something which makes us feel good. It makes us happy. Therefore we want to repeat the experience, often as many times as possible. If a pleasure makes you feel guilty, then it makes you feel bad or ashamed, and it cannot possibly be a pleasure. Our pleasures - given that they don’t harm anyone else or break too many obvious laws - should never make us feel guilty.
It’s easy to dismiss the concept of “guilty pleasure” with a casual “Oh, it’s just a saying. It doesn’t mean anything.” Granted, there are lots of words and phrases in our rich old English language which we do use casually and which are not freighted with meaning, and God knows I’m rarely ever an unbearably pc word-Nazi who takes issue with every sentence uttered. Who the hell has time for that? And even if I did have that kind of time on my hands, I could better occupy my hands with a chocolate éclair, a few bottles of Stella ( okay, okay then...at least ten bottles of Stella ), and maybe a woman if I’m feeling so inclined. None of which I ever feel the least bit guilty about. And I'm not a feminist either ( wait...I just got to thinking about how ludicrous that is and now I need to quickly stitch my sides back together )! But there are just some bugbears too grizzly not to take a poke at them, and “guilty pleasure” is not an innocent phrase. Therefore I will always spare a little time between getting better acquainted with Madame Artois and deciding how many varities of full-fat cheese I want on my pizza for taking a poke at this bugbear. In the case of “guilty pleasure” words do have meaning, and not a positive meaning either. Labeling our indulgences and pleasures as “guilty” is just another verbal means of oppressing women. Plenty enough women have issues with self-esteem, often linked to other issues such as an ongoing battle with food and weight and appearance, things which are already preyed on by rapacious, unscrupulous companies flogging everything from fat-sucking diet pills to wrinkle-banishing miracle face creams, and a media obsessed with this year’s crop of vacuous skinny-ass celebrities. That it is women themselves who most often bandy inquiries like “Ooh, what's your guilty pleasure?” around in the company of other women, makes the darker implications with which this phrase is weighted even more insidious. Women help to perpetuate their own oppression, and to bolster their own feelings of inferiority by continuing to employ uselessly outdated, irritatingly loaded phrases like this, each and all of which should be banished from the English language for good.
Think about this for a moment: when was the last time you heard a conversation between two men at a bar in which guilty pleasures were mentioned?
Joe: “Oh man, I gotta tell you…watching porn is my guilty pleasure! Sheer wicked indulgence!”
Bob: “Oooh! I know! My guilty pleasure is having an extra pint on Friday evening. Sooo bad, but sooo good!”
I mean, Jesus, it even sounds weird and silly, doesn’t it? I know I want to be as far from these two loony old fishwives as it would be possible to get without falling off a continent. Men don’t talk about guilty pleasures because, quite simply, men rarely feel guilty about their pleasures. Certainly they don’t see pleasures or indulgences as something bad, something to be ashamed of, something to keep a secret, nearly as often as women do. And it is high time we women joined our male counterparts in making our pleasures a guilt-free zone too!
Now, if y'all would excuse me, I'm off to indulge in some non-guilty, free-from-recriminations beers on this Sunday evening!