In a recent article on “The New Backlash Against Casual Sex,” Slate “Double X” blogger Jessica Grose reacts with abject revulsion toward recent events manifesting what she sees as the “fervent conservatism” of the current decade. These atrocities include a new book called I Don’t Care About Your Band, in which feminist writer Julie Klausner documents her disappointments with casual sex.
Espying a sinister pattern behind these events, Grose bemoans what she characterizes as a horrid resurgence of puritanism that has become a common attitude among young females and is somehow perverting even once-sensible feminists such as Ms. Klausner:
Domestic bliss is now the cultural ideal for young women, which is why Lori Gottlieb haranguing women to settle for Mr. Good Enough in her new book Marry Him hit such a raw nerve. Cue the “spinster panic” articles, like this one from the New York Times in January, which talks about how successful beautiful women are “victims of a role reversal” that will leave them single because men aren’t making as much money as they are anymore.
At the start of this decade, we have thoroughly internalized these recent conservative cultural messages about the importance of marriage: “73 percent of women born between 1977 and 1989 place a high priority on marriage,” writes Hannah Seligson in theWall Street Journal. If what Gen Y wants is marriage, then it follows that feelings about sex would be more complicated—and in some cases, deeply judgmental. A Princeton freshman wrote an op-ed last week about why her friend should not be allowed to claim rape after a night of highly inebriated sex, the implicit message being that she should not have been having inebriated sex in the first place. A poll taken last month in London showed that women were less likely to forgive a rape victim than men were.
Isn’t that just awful? Women want to get married, think it’s not rape if a friend gets drunk, has sex, and then regrets it, and find they can’t attract many men who earn less money than they do. Gee, whatever happened to liberty?
Of course the fact that women freely choose to adopt these attitudes is not good enough for Ms. Grose, and as a result she refuses to believe that such madness could indeed be adopted voluntarily. Instead, she argues, the American culture is making women ashamed of their natural, decent, honest impulses toward sexual abandon. She makes this startling claim after kindly providing what she considers to be compelling scientific proof that sexual abandon is a very good thing indeed:
From whence this confusing, shame-feedback loop? Compelling research shows that hooking up is not psychologically damaging, and only purity-ring-clutching evangelicals believe that it’s wrong to have sex before marriage. Feminist Web sites advise that is it our “feminist duty to 1) seek pleasure and feel entitled to it and 2) to make the world a more orgasmic place for other women.” And yet there seems to be something else at play in the culture that’s making Klausner and Anderson regretful, some new wave of anti-orgasmic sexual conservatism that makes you hate yourself for what you did last night.
Ah, yes, that relentlessly puritanical American culture of our time. But wait, the real problem, she argues, is not some (obviously nonexistent) surge in arguments for traditional values in the mainstream media, nor a rise in entertainment media characterizations of such values as being the cat’s pajamas. The real problem is, well, sexual abandon is gross and creepy:
The current raft of regret seems to be a response to the Girls Gone Wild archetype of the late ’90s and early aughts. Ariel Levy described the new era’s version of sex positive in Female Chauvinist Pigs, “a tawdry, tarty, cartoonlike version of female sexuality has become so ubiquitous, it no longer seems particular.” We were supposed to dance on tables like Paris Hilton and wear ass-baring chaps and hump the floor like 22-year-old Christina Aguilera did in her “Dirrrty” video, or at least find that sort of thing appealing, otherwise we were marmish prudes. We were supposed to go to strip clubs and wear Playboy necklaces around our necks—as Sex and the City star Carrie Bradshaw did.
But after a while, we did not really want to do any of those things anymore, as Tina Fey explained in an interview with Vogue earlier this year. We have been handed “a sort of Spice Girls’ version of feminism. We’re supposed to be wearing half-shirts and jumping around. And, you know, maybe that’s not panning out.”
Note the special horror in which Grose recoils from successful females’ embrace of revoltingly conservative values:
Christina Aguilera married a nice Jewish boy and had a baby. She’s been replaced on the pop charts by 19-year-old virginal chanteuse Taylor Swift, who sings chaste love songs about Romeo and Juliet. Paris Hilton is rarely in the tabloids and we haven’t seen her nether regions in years. Finally, the fictional Carrie Bradshaw is wed and living a New York domestic fantasy.”
I sympathize with Grose’s dismay at the world not being exactly as she wishes it to be, but I find her article (and others like it) charmingly transparent in their elitist hunger for power: women should be free to do whatever they want, provided that they want what feminists such as Grose want them to want.
What does this mean for the future of feminism? Who knows? But the grotesque crassness of the past decade may well have brought about at least one very good consequence: the tawdry reality behind the ideals of orgasm-obsessed feminists such as Grose has been laid bare for all to see and judge for themselves. Now that’s liberation.