CNN has run yet another entry in the “people are having enjoyable sex, better sound the death knell of civilization” genre of op-ed. I was actually surprised that this one wasn’t written by a woman – don’t get me wrong, I don’t think women are any likelier than men to feel this way. But the media loves running op-eds by prudish women, often women who identify as feminist solely so they can concern troll about how maybe all this sexual freedom is just downright bad for women, who propagate the notion that women don’t actually enjoy sex.
Pictured: The lovechild of Andy Griffith and William Shatner
But no, this one is written by an old white man, namely William Bennett. Now, I thought we as a society had moved beyond caring about what old white men think about our sex lives, but then, I suppose that hope was quashed when the GOP and the media decided that the opinions of a bunch of old white male virgins should have any impact on legislation concerning women’s reproductive healthcare.
The op-ed as a whole is a dizzying and deeply confused mixture of sex-negative buzzwords, beginning with the well-worn condemnation of “hookup culture” (and the accompanying finger-wagging at college-age women for letting men take advantage of them like that, don’t you know you’re supposed to demand a suburban house and two kids and a life of housewifery in exchange for sex?) and quickly spiraling into a Kubrickian wormhole of flashing colors and rants about BDSM until suddenly you’re in a hotel room and you’re not entirely sure how you got from there to here.
The op-ed seems to have been sparked by something he read Maureen Dowd (of course) say about that really awful new book that everyone with a taste for tacky literature is reading, 50 Shades of Grey.
Dowd cites the remarkable success of the trilogy among Generation X women — the contemporaries, allies and beneficiaries of the modern feminist movement. And yet, the narrative flies in the face of women’s progress.
This is one of the red flags that tells you a person isn’t actually interested in ushering in a post-patriarchal era of liberation from gender oppression, but just using superficial feminist language to concern troll about what women are doing with all this freedom we’re so magnanimously giving them. There’s no distinction in such a person’s mind between “woman” and “feminist.” Suddenly all women, especially all young women, are held accountable for the goals and direction of feminism.
It’s akin to getting angry at a completely random black person that there’s a BET but no WET. Because obviously every single black person had a hand in the creation of BET and endorses it.
For example, a contract that the girl signs with the man stipulates that “the Dominant may flog, spank, whip or corporally punish the Submissive as he sees fit, for purposes of discipline, for his own personal enjoyment or for any other reason, which he is not obliged to provide.”
Oh, so it’s BDSM that he’s hyperventilating so much about. Funny, I thought we were talking about “hookup culture” as a whole. At any rate, while I don’t partake in BDSM myself, the kinky-ass agreement described in this paragraph appears to be entirely consensual, so I’m having trouble getting worked up over it.
If this is progress for women, what would regression look like?
I’m glad you asked! Regression, to answer your question, would look like the man being able to “flog, spank, whip or corporally punish the Submissive as he sees fit, for purposes of discipline, for his own personal enjoyment or for any other reason” without the woman’s prior consent. Are we clear now? Good.
Bruni goes on to grapple with Dunham’s loveless sex scenes and wonders whether today’s onslaught of pornography and easy sex has desensitized men to the point where they view women, to recall the words of an earlier day, only as objects.
Pornography? Maybe. Not a can of worms I intend to open right now. Easy sex? Hardly. Women have faced systematic objectification for the entirety of human civilization. They still face it today. The existence of casual sex neither contributes to nor reduces this problem.
But really all this is especially rich coming from someone who (as we’ll see later on in the column, though I assure you it won’t come as a surprise) cleaves to the patriarchal view of sex as something that women have to hold onto for their future husband. That is objectification. Believing that casual sex necessarily debases women is objectification. Believing that their sexual purity is so central to their value that to have sex with a woman outside of marriage is to sully her is objectification, and that is the position you are advancing, Mr. Bennett.
A person’s sexuality (if they have one) is part of their personhood. It’s only part, and it’s not an essential part – unless they choose to make it so – and certainly to value a woman’s sexual desirability or availability over anything else about her is objectification. But to merely acknowledge and address and interact with that sexuality, if she so desires that you do, without denying the rest of her personhood, is not objectification. And it’s very irritating to see the way conservative misogynists have latched onto the term to advance their incredibly objectifying, patriarchal vision of family values while pretending that they’re the real feminists.
Even the act of sex itself is boring to some men unless it is ratcheted up in some strange, deviant fashion — all at the expense of the thoroughly humiliated and debased woman.
Wait, what just happened? Are we now proceeding from the assumption that all of hookup culture consists of BDSM sex? BDSM is probably the best-known kink out there, but it’s still a niche. Bennett’s point seems to have gone off the rails.
As Bruni asked: Is this what feminism fought for? In the 1970s we were told to respect women, treat them as more than sexual objects and treat their humanity the same as ours. Is any of this still true today?
Yes, it is true, in that I can have casual sex with a woman without regarding her as a “slut” or in any way “damaged.” Which is more than you can say, Mr. Bennett.
Take note that this disheartening and dismal tableau of modern liberated sex comes not from pro-family conservatives, who have been condemning this turn in our culture for some time, but from two stars of the liberal commentariat.
Oh good lord, no. No. Just no. Maureen Dowd and Frank Bruni are not “stars of the liberal commentariat.” Sure, they’re on the New York Times‘s payroll, but so is Ross Douthat. Dowd is one of those faux-liberal, faux-feminist concern trolls I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post. And Bruni is just… well, he’s just kind of an inoffensive guy who’s well below theTimes’s purported quality. But you can say that about 2/3 of their editorial board these days. Liberal stars? Neither of them qualify, sorry.
The end of Bennett’s column is the real howler, though:
Is there no alternative to the “Red Room of Pain” and Dunham’s demoralizing sexual encounters?
Absolutely! Consensual, mutually enjoyable sexual encounters with whomever you want, as frequently or rarely as you want, with as few or as many partners as you want!
Yes, there is.
Oh good, I’m glad we agree.
In an enfoldment of immeasurable cares in a real and true love, there is immeasurable intimacy too, including a richly satisfying sexual intimacy that finds no equal or parallel in a callous and casual hookup culture.
It is worth pointing out that this desideratum — deep sexual satisfaction — is found most often, as has been empirically verified over and over again, in what is often called, derisively, traditional marriage.
Well, there you have it, folks: Your two options are marital sex or kinky BDSM sex that’s only enjoyable for the man. There is no other way to have sex.