Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A New Sexual What?

Dear Libby, I read your article ‘A New Sexual Manifesto’ in today’s Guardian, and I ended up almost as confused as you obviously are.

The line of your argument, as far as I understand it, was as follows: 1 I am not a puritan. 2 I am unhappy with the way sex is portrayed in popular culture, both in terms of quality and quantity. 3 I hold free-market capitalism responsible for the situation. 4 I call upon my readers to join together in some kind of bloodless cultural revolution and ‘take back control of sex’. 5 I am angry and disappointed that other middle-class people do not automatically subscribe to my feminist opinions, which I hold to be self-evidently correct.

To consider each of your points in turn. “…it is considered hip for middle-class men and women to visit swanky lap-dancing clubs while remaining oblivious to the continuum of exploitation that links those polished performers with the crack-addicted working girls on the street corner”. This argument strikes me as bizarre, confused, and not a little disingenuous. I suggest that the existence of any such ‘continuum of exploitation’ is highly questionable at best. What is this claim supposed to mean? A more plausible ‘continuum of exploitation’ could be drawn between poor coca farmers in South America and your ‘crack-addicted working girls’. I fail to see how ‘swanky lap-dancing clubs’ have any bearing at all upon street prostitutes. The only thing they have in common as far as I am aware, is that they are two things that heterophobic puritan feminists disapprove of. You seem to be recommending that we should all boycott lap-dancing clubs as a measure calculated to help crack-addicted street prostitutes. How exactly would such a boycott help them? This is a nonsense argument. Surely, decriminalising prostitution and increasing drug-treatment provision would be a more effective package of measures.

I think the real logic here is simply that you dislike lap-dancing clubs, swanky or otherwise, and you attempt to draw a link between the two in order to ‘delegitimise’ them in the minds of your readers. You are offering us the claim that “going to a lap-dancing club is the same as funding a prostitute’s crack habit”, and you do this simply in order to persuade us not to go to such clubs. This is disingenuous and arguably, deceitful. The fact is that these clubs are legitimate businesses which provide lucrative employment to women who are by your own admission ‘polished performers’, and that these women do their jobs at least as voluntarily as you do yours. You are desperate to find some way of delegitimising these clubs, and the spurious connection with crack-addicted street prostitutes is the best you can come up with.

You then go on to mention the fact that gossip magazines publish details of celebrities’ sex lives. I feel obliged to point out to you that these magazines sell in huge numbers, that the people who buy them are almost all women, and that these women buy these magazines of their own volition. You then commit another bizarre non sequitur by attempting to link celebrity gossip magazines with sexual coercion in marriage. What possible connection you see between these two is utterly beyond me.

In attempting to pay lip service to impartiality, you mention that “similar data for young men does not exist”. You do not bother to question the dubious data produced by feminist advocacy-studies, or the fact that they exclude men (for an insight into this, read “Who Stole Feminism?” by Christina Hoff Sommers, or “Heterophobia”, by Daphne Patia). Why does the data for young men not exist? Because feminist advocates have no interest in collecting it.

I would like to point out, for the benefit of the deconstructionist in you, that I do not frequent lap-dancing clubs, hire crack-addicted street prostitutes, buy celebrity gossip magazines, or rape my girlfriend.

Your next paragraph seems to be the claim that, having won the right to have sex, women must now fight for the right to abstain from it. On the face of it this seems to be a reasonable enough sentiment, but it seems perfectly obvious to me that women do have, and always have had, this right. Of course, I haven’t read all of the radical feminist advocacy studies explaining that rape is an all-pervasive reality under the capitalist-patriachal system that you have obviously read.

You go on to say, “…the images of women presented by advertisers are eager to please, easy to satisfy, and as challenging as a blow-up doll”. Firstly, are the images of men presented by advertisers any different? I suggest not. Secondly, you seem to completely misunderstand the role of advertising. It is intended to persuade us to buy products, it is not some sinister propaganda machine designed to brain-wash us with patriarchal-capitalist ideology. You seem to be suggesting that advertising should be censored for political correctness. Would you prefer it if advertisers portrayed women as churlish and difficult to please? Who would buy the products? No-one, and the advertisers would quickly go out of business. Consumers vote with their money. The free market is a kind of evolutionary environment in which the fittest products survive and others perish. You may claim not to like this, but you participate in it every time you go shopping, particularly if you buy something because you know it is fashionable.

What is this about being ‘challenging’? Are you so insecure, so desperate to be taken seriously as a thinker, that you have to adopt a permanently combative posture towards the world, and towards men in particular? Do you have to think of yourself as always being ‘challenging’? Sometimes, I get home from work too tired to be bothered with yet another challenge, and just want to be with someone friendly. If you want to be taken more seriously as a thinker, then your best policy is to think more, not to censor the media. Your ideas in this this article are certainly not very challenging.

You then go on to say, as a kind of silver lining in your cloud, “there is some evidence that teenagers are becoming more confident about reporting rapes and sexual assaults…younger women know that they have the right not to be abused”. What about younger men? Whenever boys complain that they have been sexually assaulted by women, society treats it as a joke. What about homosexual rape which is endemic in American prisons, as well as occurring in private life at least as often as heterosexual rape? We are not allowed to mention this, for fear of being called homophobic. You also mention nothing of false accusations of rape against innocent men, which are becoming increasingly common. As a typical feminist, all you are concerned about is the welfare of women, whom you perceive to be eternal victims. Nothing else matters.

You put forward a Romantic notion of sex as a kind of magical mystery, private and unanalysable. “celebrating the human freedom that sex embodies…desire can take us to the heart of our greatest potential…in a moment we might be anybody or anything…to desire and be desired can be many things: funny, awkward, transforming, sacred and profane”. You seem to be saying that representations of sex in the media and popular culture – what you refer to as “the megaphone imperialism of cultural sexism” - somehow degrade that magical mystery, and this seems to be the source of your discomfort.

However, you seem deeply confused about this too. “It seems that private language is being gradually eradicated from the public domain”. Surely, if it was in the public domain, it can’t have been private in the first place. I am far from persuaded that there is such a ‘megaphone imperialism’. Personally I am not “overinformed about how other people while away their bedroom hours”, because I don’t choose to read celebrity gossip. If it upsets you so much, perhaps you ought to stop reading it too.

Having outlined your vague and rambling complaints, you then turn to the issue of possible causes. You consider - and I use the word in the broadest possible sense – the question of whether male and female sexuality differ. You quickly brush evolutionary biology aside and declare yourself to be a social constructionist. No surprises there. I suggest to you that familiarising yourself with evolutionary psychology and sexual selection might help to clarify things for you. For me to explain it to you is far beyond the scope of this essay, but you might like to read “Why is sex fun?” by Jared Diamond, “The Red Queen”, by Matt Ridley and “The Mating Mind”, by Geoffrey Miller. Yes, all men, unfortunately. For one thing, “the slapper/stud convention around promiscuity” makes sense when seen from an evolutionary perspective, but we can’t have that, now, can we?

Your diagnosis of the problem is the standard leftist-feminist model: the problem is due to the way in which society is organised. In this particular case, it is the way in which boys and girls are socialised into gender roles. The problem is what you call ‘cultural sexism’, a concept which, although central to your thesis, you leave undefined. Personally, I am concerned by cultural Marxism, and in order to practise what I preach, I will define it.

I defer to the definition offered by Gross and Levitt in their excellent work “Higher Superstition”. Cultural Marxism is the prevailing political ideology within feminist and particularly academic Leftist circles. Feminism has been termed ‘Marxism without the economics’. After the trial and very public failure of Marxism in the Twentieth century, leftists have turned away from economics and concentrate instead on culture. In former times, the way in which society was organised economically was deemed to be the root of all social evils; today it is, instead, ‘discourse’, the way in which we speak, and indeed think, which is deemed to be the problem. Your own article is a textbook exercise in cultural Marxism.

The very name, ‘A New Sexual Manifesto’, alludes, no doubt deliberately, to the Communist Party Manifesto of Marx and Engels. Your faith in social constructionism, your disdain for anything ‘essentialist’ in your rejection of Darwin, your rabble-rousing call for cultural revolution, all of these are familiar Marxist tropes. Even your glassy-eyed Romanticism about the nobility of sexual love before capitalism came along and spoiled it all, seems to mirror Marx’s historical analysis, with its fond notion of primitive communism. Your ‘revolution’ is to be the development of a new vocabulary – you believe that the solution lies in reforming ‘discourse’. You complain that “men and women are no closer to developing a common erotic language”, although you do not specify what this could be, or why it might be of any help. Your very final words are “we’re going to need a new manifesto”. Presumably, one who has your insight would be best placed to come up with it, and yet you offer us nothing concrete, just vague complaints about too much sex in popular culture.

If we were to implement your demands, as I understand them, there would be no images of the person in advertising (or certainly not images of women anyway), there would be no public discourse about sex, and there would be no lap-dancing clubs. Crack-addicted working girls, however, would still be there, because you have nothing substantive to recommend to them. It would, be in short, a return to the Britain of the Nineteenth Century (with the addition of crack). People's private sexual behaviour would not alter one jot. In short, I thought your entire article was churlish, incoherent and politically juvenile. I am surprised that the Guardian even publishes such unutterable drivel. Despite your protestations to the contrary, you obviously ARE a puritan.

"It seems to me that we need gender, as much as sex, education in our schools". One of your key recommendations is that schools should become chapels of gender feminism, to indoctrinate children into marxist/feminist ideology. God help us all. Are people still spouting this kind of Maoist nonsense? I wonder if, after their 'gender education', they will end up as confused as you are. If you read the works of Christina Hoff Sommers, you will learn that this kind of left-wing social engineering of children's minds is already being attempted in American schools, with disastrous consequences. Ten percent of American 12 year old boys are now being prescribed Ritalin to make them sit still and behave more like girls. Side effects including hallucinations and sudden death from heart failure are now coming to light. Women's studies 'professors' on american campuses make it their mission to convert all of their female students to lesbianism. Good idea Libby. I hope you are going to sign your sons and nephews up for the first class.


Anonymous said...

Ever heard of joined up thinking? This blog really is egocentric misogyny at it's worst. I will be forwarding this to everyone who thinks feminism is no longer an issue. This kind of shit that could really mobilise.

Heretic said...

Dear Anonymous,
I feel sorry for you.

"This kind of shit that could really mobilise."

Perhaps you should learn English before posting comments on my blog.