Saturday, June 26, 2010

But Is It Sex?

Last Monday I was meditating about a puzzling phenomenon.

Prof. Nancy Bauer, Chair of the Philosophy Department at Tufts University posted a column on the New York Times site wherein she explained how feminism had been promoting hookups. To Bauer's mind feminism had liberated young women to go out to parties, to match men's alcohol consumption shot for shot, and then to drop to their knees to service these men's more lubricious needs. Link here.

To her philosopher's mind, this amounted to liberation and empowerment. If young women did not find this to be a gratifying experience, then clearly they had been duped by the patriarchy.

When some of us express serious doubts about what is being taught to college students today, Prof. Bauer stands forth to demonstrate that we are creating caricatures. I could not have dreamt this one up if I had tried.

I would add, since I mentioned it yesterday, that when a serious philosopher like Martha Nussbaum complains that college students are not taking enough humanities courses, she would have done better to look at what is being taught in said courses.

How many students, having had a brief glimpse into the tormented mind of Nancy Bauer, will go running to courses in business and finance? A goodly number, I hope.

Today I just discovered some research that sheds further light on the hookup culture. I read this piece of analysis in a report entitled, "Sex Redefined: The Reclassification of Oral/Genital Contact." Link here. It was prepared for the Guttmacher Institute, which is certainly not a part of any right wing conspiracy.

The report observes that these young women who are falling to their knees to serve the almighty phallus are not, in their own minds, really having sex. They are following the latest dance craze: they are doing the Lewinsky.

Yes, you heard it right. This scientific survey discovered that over the past decade or so there has been a major shift in young people's attitudes toward oral/genital contact. In the 1990s about 40% considered it to be sex. Now, 20% would agree that it is sex.

When the researchers started asking why the definition had shifted so markedly, they decided that today's college generation had suffered the influence of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.

When they, as children, learned of the scandal it was their first exposure to sex education. Watching the evening news taught them a lot more than their parents wanted them to know about semen-stained dresses. But it also allowed them to watch Bill Clinton point his finger at the nation and declare, in an inspired piece of legalistic caviling: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman... Miss Lewinsky."

If Bill Clinton said that oral sex was not sex, then oral sex was not sex.

The hookup generation grew up in the age of Clinton. It learned that Bill Clinton was to be admired, even defended, no matter what he did to women. Led by none other than Hillary Clinton the feminist matriarchy rallied around Bill Clinton, and thereby, granted more than the usual amount of credence to his behavior and his pronouncements. Let us not underestimate the importance of Hillary Clinton in excusing her husband's behavior, and thus, rendering it legitimate in the eyes of certain segments of the population.

Of course, the article's conclusion seems fanciful. How can you possibly measure the influence of something like the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal? But keep in mind, people naturally emulate their leaders, especially those who are lionized in the culture. Serious leaders know that their behavior is going to set the standard for the nation; thus they are quite careful to control how they are perceived in public.

Even if you choose not to believe that such influence exists, it is worth thinking about the issue. We all know that leaders lead by setting an example. Have we ever really thought through the different ways that this can play itself out in our lives and the lives of our children.


Duncan Idaho said...

Redefining an action ain't gonna change the consequence of that action. This disconnect scares me. I have friends doing the hookup thing. The weird thing is that the girls will continually call/text/contact through Facebook, in order to see if they can start a relationship (or whatever they concoct up to resemble one). Seems to be a pattern, a girl hooked up with a boy for a possible edge in having a relationship with said boy, boy rejected girl, girl went out with friends to get drunk and hooked up with another boy to forget about rejection from previous boy, drunken texting and/or drunken phone call to previous boy, boy dismissed all as "just a hook up", girl repeated pattern, boy hooked up with another girl and get STI, boy now has to call previous girl back about STI.

Misery, sadness and STIs all around.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Isn't it striking that the people who are supposedly so pro-sex that they encourage young people to hook up are in fact ruining the sexual experience of these same young people.

I hope that this comment, among others, will help people to understand that just because people say they are in favor of sex that does not mean that they are.

When they tell people to go out and undergo repeated sexual traumas they are really turning them all off from sex.