Thursday, November 09, 2006

I agree with The Crumpy Blogger's review of Female Chauvinist Pigs: it's interesting but not insightful. So does anyone know why young women today are acting like such sluts?

Well, I am relieved to say that the form of the essay is still relevant - at least to me it is, because, once again an essay helped address a gnawing unease. Mark Greif's essay "Children of the revolution" in the November 2006 issue of Harper's Magazine doesn't actually spell out the reasons why the kids are doing what they are doing but instead concentrates on what happened to sexual liberation. And he comes to his conclusions by way of first speaking of the disturbing subject of "sex children".

Mark's uses the phrase sex children to refer to those who are 'persons barely eligible to vote' and
furnish our gossip -- with their tumultuously flings, bootleg sex videos, and accidental breast exposures on the red carpet. They are broadcast, examined, emulated, desired. These 'sex children' are repositories of fresh sexuality, not, say, of intellect or even beauty. As their age goes up to seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen, the culture quickly awards them its highest sexual adulation. Yet as their age goes down from some indefinate point, to sixteen, fifteen, fourteen, and so on, the sexual appeal of childhood quickly reaches out culture's zone of absolute evil.
[An aside: On the Media did a segment called 'Minor threat' which deals with this minefield of a subject is a manner both subtle and direct.]

From this launching point, Mark then examines the notion of sexual liberation,

Liberation implies becoming free to do what you have already been doing to have meant to do. But what passes as liberalization has often been mere liberalization. Liberalization makes for a free traffic in goods formally regulated, creating markets in what you already have for free... This [sexual] liberation went astray because another force turned out to have a use for the idea that sex is the bearer of the richest experiences -- commerce. Sex was initially difficult to liberate against the rival norms that had structured it for centuries: priority of the family, religious prohibitions, restraint of biology. But once liberation reached a point of adequate success, commerce discovered it had a new means of entry into private life and threw its weight behind its new values... Opposition to this supposed to be not only old-fashioned but also joyless and puritanical -- in fact, ugly.

But Mark's key insight is that it is not essentially sexuality that is being sold to us, but youth (I am restraining myself from reprinting the entire article in this post. I'm sure you can furnish your own examples of our youth-obsessed culture) Youth is ever valuable because it something that we are always losing. And this is where the notion of 'sex children' becomes so important. "One fears our cultural preoccupation with pedophilia is not really about valuing childhood but about overvaluing child sex. It is as if the culture understands it must be ruthless in preventing adults from tampering with real children, just because it is working so hard to promote the extreme commercial valuation of youth."

Mark then prescribes what would be a truly liberated, as opposed to liberalized system. Its worth tracking down the article to finding out what that is. By the way, Greif's essay in Harper's is from a piece called "Afternoon of the Sex Children published last spring in n+1 if you are lucky enough to be in a place that carries that journal.


Katie said...

Did you get to reading Female Chauvinist Pigs? Because Levy also says that the problem is not human sexuality (that is, sexuality in its complicated entirety) being sold to us, but ONE OVERSIMPLIFIED TYPE OF SEXUALITY being sold to us (and called, with really good marketing campaigns and all the best propaganda, "sexuality in its complicated entirety.")

I think she avoids labeling that particular oversimplified sexuality as "youth" because she wants her theory to apply to any oversimplified versions marketers may come up with someday, rather than the oversimplification that happens to exist in 2006. She wants people to focus on the fact that "shaven = oversimplified version of 'sexy'" rather than "shaven = oversimplified version of pedophilic perceptions of 'sexy'."

Can you agree with me there?

Mita said...

I didn't finish Female Chauvinist Pigs so I'm really not able to respond properly to her work. That being said, if she cites the main problem at hand is that our mass media is selling us an oversimplified sexuality - well, I'm glad I didn't bother finishing the book.

Instead of explaining why, let me tell you Mark Grief's take on the matter:

"One of the cruel betrayals of sexual liberation, in liberalization, was the illusion that a person can only be free if he holds sex as all-important and exposes it endlessly to others - providing it, proving it, enjoying it. This was a new kind of unfreedom. In hindsight, it was a mistake the liberators seemed fated to make. Because moralists had said for so many centuries, "Sex must be controlled because it is so powerful and important," sexual liberators were seduced into saying, "Sex must be liberated because it is so powerful and important." A better liberation would have occurred if reformers had freed sex not by its centrality to live but by its triviality. "They could have said, "Sex is a biological function -- and for that reason no grounds to persecute anyone."

Here's an example that I think illustrates this "better liberation". Where I live, there is a large number of people who are not intolerant of homosexuality - from my understanding there are even openly gay students in my neighbourhood high school. Essentially, people around here stopped caring that their accountants, nephews, neighbours, etc. were gay because it was largely unimportant in their daily lives.

Mass media will always try to sell us the uncomplicated and unrealistic. It's up to us to walk away from the hustle.

Katie said...

Well, the OTHER important point she made, which doesn't seem to be the focus of Grief's work according to what you've cited, is that the simplistic version of "sex as done by women" is much more harmful to human beings than the simplistic version of "sex as done by men," since the latter (or, what I suppose one calls "male sexuality") is portrayed as active even in its oversimplified & "sold" versions, whereas the former (or, what I suppose one calls "female sexuality") is portrayed as the act of wanting to be wanted (passive) and not at all as the act of wanting (active).

I think that's why her book is important--it's not just an echo of Grief; it's an, "And then, on top of that, look at what ELSE is wrong with it! Can we at least undo the social-category-based, extremely damaging inequity even if we're going to be stuck with the overimportance of sex?"