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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Have women been duped by the feminist movement?

When it comes to sex and relationships, our culture is messed up - a jumble of ideas and opinions that focus little, if at all, about the true nature of what those relationships can do to us or mean, especially long-term. The divorce rate is at about 50 percent right now, and I'm wondering if it's because many people wouldn't know how to have a healthy married relationship if it bit them in the ass, in all honesty. The "anything goes" ideas of the 1960s (basically, our mothers' and fathers' generation) are trickling down and bringing with it a hefty emotional price tag.

The over-sexualization of young girls is especially troubling. Teen sex has always been a "problem" in some way or other, but the rate of STD's among teens has reached an all-time high. Our society is obsessed with sex in all forms, and if you aren't, then you're perceived as the one with the problem. No more so than for women, who are subject to double standards and all kinds of 'rules' that don't seem to apply to men.

I can't help but wonder if the 'liberated woman' mentality that came out of the most recent feminist movement is nothing but a farce - a way of making us feel better about our past bad choices, justifying otherwise bad behavior, and basically making us think that whatever problems we have will just 'go away if you ignore it.'

I can see how the feminist movement did more than try to get equal rights for women: it tried to remove the social stigma of women having sex before marriage. Women who had promiscuous sex, and those who probably trusted a partner before marriage and had a steady relationship that might have ended in something other than holy matrimony, were sort of lumped into the same category: slut. Women were supposed to be pure and chaste, and sex was "for men." If a man had more than one sex partner, that was okay; women were supposed to look the other way. However, women were labeled.

This public health ad warns men about "those kind of women." No guilt on them, just the unspoken permission that it's okay for you to be wherever you want, but the woman gets the blame. (And no one's asking why on earth they're looking for a good time when they might otherwise be in a relationship with someone else, either.)

In some ways, perhaps indirectly, the women's movement brought about a new way of thinking about sex - anything goes, "love the one you're with," etc., which has been a time bomb waiting to go off - for both women and men. Perhaps as a way to free ourselves from that negative stigma, it's become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and only made things worse. Rather than help us learn about our self worth as women and the amazing things we can do, our culture has taken it to extremes, trying to separate love from sex.  In other words, they have tried to drain all the emotional ties, both good and bad, out of sexual relationships and what it symbolizes. In some ways, it's like trying to fill a cup that has a large crack in it; eventually it's going to slowly leak out, maybe imperceptibly at first, but noticeably. Patching it back up helps for a little while, but then the crack gets bigger - until it can't really be repaired at all.

The idea that sex = fun and is for everyone pervades, even though it seems, as a greater public consciousness,  there are still some of the same stereotypes persisting. One campaign geared towards HIV-positive teens (read the PDF here) basically said "it's totally okay" to try on multiple partners like a pair of sweat socks, experiment, do what makes you happy, but protect yourself from pregnancy and disease. The one thing they're forgetting is that even if you don't get a physical disease, it can create another kind of disease: one of the mind, of the emotions. I don't necessarily think we should be shamed into feeling that sex and our bodies are dirty; but neither should we think that it's perfectly okay to give it away to anybody that walks by, either.

If you do have somewhat of a checkered past, we're told to ignore our inner feelings that perhaps what we're doing is wrong, and proceed as if nothing has happened. Get over it! It's in the past! We can all be friends here! is the mantra. If you don't want to be "friends" with someone, it's perceived that you're still pining away for that person, even though it couldn't be further from the truth. Maybe people think you're still bitter, or behaving like a child if you don't manage to have some contact, however benign, with the former boyfriend/girlfriend.

Just like teenagers, adults are impressionable when it comes to relationships and sex. We have fallen for the big lie that says it's okay to throw your feelings away and just do whatever feels good. Every time I see Cosmopolitan magazine on store shelves, I want to puke my guts out: 10 things guys want you to do to them in bed! Learn how to please your man! What is your man really thinking about sex? Blah blah blah, it's freaking endless. Who'd think that all the while the editor of that magazine, Helen Gurly Brown, was the biggest shriveled up looking prune of a woman that you ever saw. That's not teaching us how to have REAL, meaningful relationships with anyone but OURSELVES. Heads up, people: (ladies?) YOU are not the number one priority in your life. Stop thinking about yourselves all the time and then you'll be able to take care of others, and even yourself. I wonder: when women, accompanied by their young daughters, pass through those checkout aisles, what do their daughters think when they see these magazines?

What is our over-sexualized culture teaching us, and our daughters, about how to love and respect their bodies, within appropriate parameters? The same culture that has a hard time separating breasts for pleasure and as a source of nourishment to a baby; the same culture that likes to tell us "You don't need a man to validate yourself as a woman," yet does just the opposite. No one seems to want, or even know how, to put those ideas into practice.

If anything, the sexual liberation movement has taught us less how to behave and think like women, but to approach those same ideas of sex and relationships and think like a man. The other day I was reading an article from Cosmo (gag) called "Should exes be friends?" At one point, I thought this might be true, although it certainly depended on the relationship. Bad idea. Very, very bad idea.

One tidbit they mentioned: more men, statistically, still pine over former flames than women do. (Who said anyone was pining for each other?) This stat might be telling: that as women, we're taught to treat these once-important relationships as more 'throwaways' than anything else. That it's okay to pick up and move on without more than a passing thought.

The article set some parameters for whether you should be friends with an ex. Like, it's okay to be friends with an ex if, after a night of drinking, you "still wouldn't sleep with him." One Ph.D. offers this "advice" -
It is possible to be "just friends" with an ex, especially if the relationship was mostly platonic anyway. "Even if a romance loses its spark, you can still enjoy each other's company," says Patricia Farrell, Ph.D., author of How to Be Your Own Therapist. Plus, he remembers why he fell in love with you and can give you an ego boost when you need it. 
What, exactly, does "mostly platonic" mean? Not only are those boundaries fuzzy, but using someone else to get an 'ego boost' is doing just that: using them. I imagine this psychologist's patients are going to need more than just therapy after taking advice from her.

Further in the article, you are suggested to "booty call him for a sporadic shag if "the sex is fantastic but your feelings don't run deep" or "the day after a booty call, you feel just as good about yourself as you did the night before." Another expert Ph.D. tells us that sex with an ex can be positive because you're just in it for the fun: "Not only are you already comfortable with this person sexually, but also there's little at stake since the relationship aspect is over."Yep, like a pair of sweat socks that can just be washed over and over again, such is completely emotionless sex with another person.

Two things this article doesn't mention at all: how the other person might feel if he knows you're just using him, and how your possible current (or future) partner might feel about your past. It's all about me, me, me and what I can do to please me, me, me. We want to be seen as the sensual and emotional females that we are, but yet simultaneously want to be able to act like it's perceived men are allowed to act. What?! 

Conversely, we allow - no, expect - men to behave cooly and detached from relationships as a matter of course, as if that's the measure of a man. (And yet, somehow when they do behave that way, we can't stand it. Weird.) Deep down, no doubt, they don't even want to behave that way - because many of them aren't - but there's sort of a societal expectation of them to behave badly. Sure, many of them do, but if they don't, they're sort of treated as an anomaly, as if it's too good to be true.

The entire idea of sexual liberation, just like Cosmo magazine, has taught us how to do little more than justify our own needs over those of others and gratify ourselves at any cost, all while saying it's okay. And in doing that, it's supposedly cloaked in learning how to respect yourself, but has done the total opposite. All those ads from the 1950s that warn men about "those kinds of girls" has pretty much come true. 

Somehow, in all of this, we misinterpret new-found 'sexual freedom' as loving and respecting our bodies, that it's okay to show them off because we're proud of what we have. We let ourselves and the female image be objectified and take the emotion out of what we have to offer a man - not just any man or a string of them - because we don't even recognize our own self-worth and beauty that we already had and just didn't know it. Whatever innate power we had, we have let ourselves give away for the asking.

More reading:
A Return to Modesty, by Wendy Shalit
Love Your Body - Offensive Ads 
Statistics on HIV/AIDS, STDs and Unintended Pregnancy - State of Illinois pamphlet
STDs and Teens: A Reality Check
The Daily Mail: Friends with Benefits


Ethel said...

I think you don't understand what it means to be a feminist or what the feminist movement was about. The sexual revolution is not the feminist movement, not in the slightest.

Anonymous said...

I can only hope I look no worse than Helen Gurly Brown if I ever make it into my nineties!

I think part of the reason that these cultural problems persist in the media and the marketplace is that they don't affect the privileged and powerful nearly as much as they affect the average American - not really as a conspiracy, but as a supply and demand issue. If you don't want Barbiedolls and Bratz dressed like hookers, that's fine -- but then don't shop at Target or Toys'R'Us. But you can expect the "wholesome" doll market to be priced at a premium (e.g., AmericanGirl dolls). WholeFoods and other high-end grocers definitely do *not* have Cosmo in the checkout line, and their customers would not stand for it if they did.

Even modest, conservative clothing tends to be more expensive. I do not know but I would guess this is partly because modesty and conservatism are still associated with the tastes and style of the English landed gentry (think Talbots, Brooks brothers, etc.). Anything that looks "classier" is going to be priced up. (I don't think the retailers ultimately care about morality; I think they are thinking in terms of class - aiming at getting the struggling middle-class to spend extra money on maintaining the appearance of middle-class status.)

So the more cheap and sleazy the "default" toys and magazines are, the more money hopefully parents will be willing to spend on the "specialty market" toys and magazines, or the venues that sell exclusively to the "discerning parent" market.

This is how it seems to work to me. I don't think that anyone is deliberately trying to corrupt the public, but they are trying to take advantage of the fact that consumers value wholesomeness to assign that a monetary value as well.

So.. I guess by all means we should boycott the skanky stuff! And let our local retailers know that it does bother us. I know that Target has taken offensive products off the shelves before. Other solutions are to start co-ops so we can get exactly what we want, or shop on etsy, etc.

I find it's always really hard to know whether it's better to engage with culture (let's get porn out of gas stations!), or make a different choice (let's not stop at a gas station; let's stop at a family rest station).

Anonymous said...

Anyway, sorry for the really long post! I guess all I was really thinking was that I never see these kinds of toys or magazines anymore, or Hannah Montana merchandise, or any children sporting merchandise from any popstar or television show, and then I realized it's because I happen to live in a hugely yuppified neighborhood, where rich parents made everything exactly the way they wanted it. That's what made me feel that innocence and childhood and freedom from these cultural influences has become commodified, and ultimately something that only the very well-off can afford :/

Kathy said...

A hearty amen!

The Deranged Housewife said...

I think, Ethel, that the two went hand in hand. As a result, we were told that through sex, we could liberate ourselves from those old fashioned notions about the way women were supposed to behave.

Sara said...

I totally agree with this post. I personally believe that the standards set forth in the Bible for men and women are what is best for everyone- sex is for marriage mates only. My husband and I have been married for 8 years and he is the only man I ever dated. It was hard growing up in a society that absolutely does not value virginity and committed relationships, but I am so glad that I stuck to the convictions that I had and was taught by my parents. I don't feel like I missed out on anything by not having "normal" dating/sexual relationships as a teenager and young woman.

I agree that women have been hoodwinked- sold the idea that they are more free, but in reality they are enslaved by men and their own desires even more than ever. The marriage arrangement is just a mockery at this point.

Sara said...

What a great thought provoking post. I wish I remembered where I heard it or read it, but some time ago, someone said that the feminist movement's idea of liberated sex was in terms of being able to pursue sexuality in the terms of monogamous relationships outside marriage. Basically, to sleep with their partners without the social stigma that predominated in the mainstream culture...that binary opposition of being either a virgin or a whore.

Ethel is right, however, in that the sexual revolution was not the the same thing, nor the goal, of the original feminist movement. But a lot of it got all mixed up in the culture as the messages were getting out.

Today, there are many forms of feminism. Some feminists take an similar view of the outcomes of the sexual revolution as you do: that women are being duped into creating themselves into sexual playthings for others. Other feminists take a very pro-anything goes in terms of sexuality. Others fall somewhere in between.

These days, the way sexuality is practiced in our culture seems to have very little to do with feminism at all. If anything, it is anti-woman and anti-feminist.

A young woman is expected to engage in sexual activities with both casual and more committed partners. Yet, at the same time, she is not supposed to hold the partners to any sort of standard of expectation of any life time commitment.

Yet, while the man puts in very little and receives sexual gratification as a result of his contribution, a woman is potentially risking her physical well being in exchange for allowing herself to be used in this way.

Like it or not, sex leads to pregnancy. It's a biological reality we can't escape.

As natural and normal as most pregnancy is, it does carry potential risks.

Pregnancy can sometimes lead to conditions like placenta previa, placental abruption, pre-eclampsia. A woman might end up needing a C section which carries numerous risks.

If the woman is not in a long term committed life partnership like marriage, then she will likely be facing all of these risks and possible outcomes on her own.

While contraception and abortion do exist in our culture, they carry their own set of physical risks that the woman must also endure on her own. The male partner isn't at risk of stroke from being on the pill. He is not risking possible uterine scarring and infertility from an abortion.

To me, the unshared risk points to inequality between the sexes. If the male partners were more invested in the women, then perhaps it would be different.

The Deranged Housewife said...

Well, I sometimes wonder if we (meaning, women as a whole) see all men this way, and tend to ignore and overlook the ones who *don't* hold to that lifestyle, etc. The men who are saving their experiences for the right girl - preferably a wife - are often labeled as gay or weird. Men want meaningful relationships and commitment, but it seems those who *don't* want that tend to ruin the rest of the bunch. That, and often I wonder if women are looking for "Mr. Right" in all the wrong places.