Kathryn Jean Lopez discusses the weird sexual imbalance we’ve got going on in society right now. Because she is a better Catholic than I am, she emphasizes birth control as a contributing factor more than I would, though as a former hippie I find the notion of staying on oral contraceptives for more than several years at a time fairly shocking: ladies, that is no way to cardiac health, and you need to break it up with abstinence, barrier methods–something. Manipulating your hormones is a short-term strategy; one doesn’t run a body that way.
I’m one of those who thinks this has more to do with the misuse of feminism than the misuse of birth control, and I know I occupy a strange middle ground inasmuch as I’m not quite a proper social conservative.
Yet what we’ve created at this point is a situation in which women and girls attempt to ignore their own emotions and “out-detach” the boys. In practice, this means many have trained themselves to be sexually available, and make no demands whatsover–and, yes: in some circles, a request to spend time with a guy doing anything other than sex is considered a “demand,” as Wendy Shalit has documented extensively in her books.
This is not the world I want my niece and church sponsee to live in (and I’m delighted to say that they haven’t bought into this nonsense at all). But we have to get back to a place wherein “sexual freedom,” as a cultural norm, actually includes the freedom to say “no.” This in turn requires that we celebrate the notion of dating as something that doesn’t require sex, and we appreciate the wonders of human attraction without having to act on them every single freakin’ time, for crying out loud.
This is something that’s difficult to talk about or write about without using the cartooney images of men as always-horny, or of women as wanting-marriage-rather-than-sex. (As if! I, for instance, planned to be a sexually active spinster all my life, until I fell in love with the man I later married. In fact, spinsterhood of both the celibate and the non-celibate varieties has a long, respected history among intellectual women.)
Right now, we live in a culture in which the structure of male-female relationships is broken, and everyone senses it. When I talk to my lefty friends, they acknowledge that as well, but they would really like it to be the fault of corporations, so they tend to talk a lot about “making sex into a commodity.” But that isn’t all of what’s going on, either.
Instead, what happened with premarital sex is what happened with abortion: something that started out as a “choice” turned into a cultural imperative. What was possible became a mandate. And women/girls were screwed not in the nice sense–but eventually, more and more, in the not-nice sense.
There needs to be a course correction. Not an over-correction, but a simple turning back to the ideal of treating each other decently, as people rather than as representatives of our respective genders. Decisions about whether (and when) to have sex should be based on mutual respect, and erotic restraint has to be acknowledged as the wiser course, rather than treated as weirdness.
Heterosexual males and females should go back to learning from (and about) each other. Dating needs to return as an institution that doesn’t require a hookup to be considered a success, and “who pays” is less important than whether the conversation over dinner or drinks was actually interesting. Men who treat women as notches for their bedposts should be shunned, as should women who judge men by their bank balances–because each approach is equally dehumanizing.
In short, sex should be part of the human experience, but we must work our way back to treating each other as humans–that is to say, we must act humanely, above all.
UPDATE: Kay Hymowitz talks about the sources of male anger.
UPDATE 2: This post by Glenn collects some of the currents that have been swirling around for the past week on the subject of sex and dating. The last time I’d seen it he simply linked that shmuck, Roissy, and noted–quite reasonably–that he’d never bought a drink for a woman he didn’t know.
My thought when I read that was, “what kind of woman accepts a drink from a man she doesn’t know?” I mean, unless there’s some special circumstance, such as you’re very familar with each other’s work to the point that you virtually do know each other–or if the woman has left her wallet at home and only realized it as she got to the bar, and the man is being gallant (And why is she in that bar? I’m only in a bar to either 1] meet friends, or 2] have a quick cheeseburger with a beer or a martini when I’m in the middle of a project, and/or at a conference of some kind.)
UPDATE 3: And then, there’s Ace, whose post did, I think, have a few stereotypes hitchhiking through it, but still made some good points.
UPDATE 4: Stacy McCain (who is, by the way, a male) makes some good points, and then quotes the Ace essay with its ghostly sexist presences.
Then he goes into his usual “anti-feminist” routine, critiquing the “second wave” of feminism ushered in by Betty Friedan and ignoring the third and fourth waves. Even in Stacy’s formulation, though, the suffragists were the first wave. And . . . I like voting.
Besides, “[w]hen I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less. . . . The question is, which is to be master — that’s all.”
UPDATE 5: Cassandra wins the comments thread, with this:
Sooner or later we all need to decide whether sex is a guilt-free pastime like watching football or crocheting a sweater or an act that invokes powerful and primitive emotions (and one that can have life changing consequences for both men and women). Either way, the conflation of moral courage with weakness is a real problem.
UPDATE 6: An Anchor-lanche! Elizabeth has a general roundup that includes a mini-roundup on the New Modesty/New Restraint, that’s, um, sweeping the nation. I hope. Catch the fever!