Friday, February 22, 2013

A little light culture: Who is driving the sexual coarseness of our time?

I want you to do a thought experiment. This is an old historian's trick (taught to me by an old historian). Imagine you are a Martian anthropologist. That is, imagine you don't know anything about western culture except what you can observe.

Okay, now imagine that you are coming to visit western culture (meaning western Europe and North America as opposed to, say, Montana). You know that Martians last studied the sexual culture of the west in the early 1960s. You've been told there has been a sexual revolution and that there has been considerable coarsening of the sexual mores in the west in the aftermath of this revolution. That's all you know. Now walk around and look for evidence of this. What do you see?

I put it to you that the preponderance of the evidence you see of any sexual coarsening of our culture is going to be in the behaviour—dress, language and attitudes—of women. And it's not a subtle thing. It's not as if our Martian anthropologist is going to sit down in her office at the end of the day to type up her report and think that maybe the women are a little cruder than the men. No, she's going go report that the crudity of the sexual mores of women is stunning, staggering, simply amazing compared to what used to be the case.

Don't believe me? Walk around and look a while.

But the truth is that you probably don't believe me. For no era in history has been so hopelessly in thrall of bizarre superstitions as our era is in the cult of the moral superiority of women. And we go to extraordinary lengths to maintain this fantasy. We see a 19 year old girl wearing her already skin-tight leggings pulled up so the centre seam forces apart and clearly outlines her labia and we think, "How horrible that men and the fashion industry have somehow conspired to make her to do this."

Don't, on the other hand, go all misogynist to compensate. That is, don't tell yourself that the woman in leggings is horrible in some typically womanly way. Yes, what she is doing is typical of women, especially young women, but it isn't horrible. It's normal!

That said, picking your nose is also normal but we still discourage it at the dinner table.

But suppose we believed that children were naturally pure and never would pick their nose. If we did then, every time we saw it happen, we'd blame not the child but some outside influence. Where else would the child have gotten this impulse after all? It must be adult men and capitalism. If we really believed this, there would be no reason to explain to a child why they shouldn't do this. When people do things they have no natural inclination to do it has to be because someone or something else is inspiring them. In fact, we couldn't give them any reasons for not doing this because we wouldn't have any reasons for them not to do it for the simple reason that we don't believe that they want to do it.

And this is exactly what has happened with slutty dress and manners in women. We've watched it spring up and move down to progressively younger women with our mouths agape because we simply can't believe this is happening. We've stood by in wonder as the girls' mothers have not only not discouraged this but helped them do it. And at every step, we've tried to figure out what outside force is making them do this. The poor girls driven by evil boys and their poor bewildered mothers not knowing how to respond.

And there you can also see the solution. Or rather, you can see that there isn't a solution. Dressing and acting in a sexually provocative manner is what young women do. It's what they always do. You can't stop them. The best you can do is channel it in particular directions.

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