“Let’s Talk about Sex”

3 04 2012

By now, in the twenty-first century, most of us think that women’s rights is a good thing (although there seems to be battle grounds that still exist such as contraception) and that women’s suffrage is an obvious thing. More and more, feminist or not, it seems to be the trend that women receive equal treatment or more freedom, and in most cases, this is a good thing. But Frank Bruni raises an interesting issue in his NY Times column titled, “The Bleaker Sex” about the awkwardness of the new HBO series “Girls” trying to make feminine sexuality just about the physical, like how men often do:

But “Girls” also amplifies a growing chorus of laments over what’s happening on the sexual frontier, a state of befuddlement reflective in part of post-feminist power dynamics and in part of our digital culture and virtual fixations.

Are young women who think that they should be more like men willing themselves into a casual attitude toward sex that’s an awkward emotional fit? Two movies released last year, “No Strings Attached” and “Friends With Benefits,” held that position, and Dunham subscribes to it as well.

In a recent interview, presented in more detail on my Times blog, she told me that various cultural cues exhort her and her female peers to approach sex in an ostensibly “empowered” way that she couldn’t quite manage. “I heard so many of my friends saying, ‘Why can’t I have sex and feel nothing?’ It was amazing: that this was the new goal.”

What is weird is that fact that for feminism (and maybe I’m wrong), freedom is defined as having what men have even when what men have isn’t the very best of things. Bruni continues in his column to discuss the tremendous distancing and shallowing effect the internet has had on American sexuality:

Dunham noted that the Web also fosters a misleading sense of familiarity between people who have shared nothing more than keystrokes. “All sorts of promiscuity don’t feel like promiscuity,” she said. “But a month of text messages does not a personal connection make. I’ve fallen victim to the sensation that I understand some guy’s essence when I’ve really just read 15 of his tweets.”

And there’s an emerging literature of complaint from young men and women alike about the impact of free or cheap online pornography. Early last year, New York magazine ran an article by Davy Rothbart, 36, who admitted faking an orgasm with a real live woman, learned that other men had done so as well and wondered if a “tsunami of porn” was to blame. It was titled “He’s Just Not That Into Anyone.”

He ends the column with I think a correct general diagnosis of the modern culture of sexuality:

Dunham’s more convincingly rendered characters seem perplexed, and their frustration with men raises questions about whether less privacy means more intimacy and whether sexual candor is any guarantor of sexual satisfaction.

People can be so available in a superficial sense that they’re inaccessible in a deeper one. Or, as Dunham put it, “People underestimate the importance of making solid connections.”

What is missing in this discussion is that for men treating sexuality as merely physical should not be a norm to be chased, nor is it merely a biological standard, it is just plain wrong. Additionally, the diagnosis is in want of a treatment. What can be done to change this culture of superficiality? It is a large task. But maybe we can begin by acknowledging that our understanding of freedom is superficial, that we need a better definition of the term, feminist or not, to come to realize that most often times what we think of as freedom is, in fact, not freeing at all.


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5 responses

3 04 2012
joonyounglee

cool, very thought provoking

4 04 2012
Paul P

Thanks Joon!

5 04 2012
innaepark

Freedom is such a misunderstood word. When people use it, it’s almost always silently accompanied by another word: freedom (from _____), freedom (to _____). The essence of freedom is to be independent.

The same goes for feminism. The essence of it is to BE female. What exactly that means… opens up another can of worms. I’ll stop here🙂

5 04 2012
Paul P

Hi Innae,
Not sure if you’re claiming that the essence of freedom is independence, but I think that’s the mistake of philosophy (and colloquial use of the word). A common example, freedom for a fish is not independence from the fish bowl (because that would mean death, not freedom) but rather dependence into a more awesome body of water than a measly bowl of water. Freedom, defined correctly, is to regain flourishing.

I will not try to tackle what being female or male is though, because that is a bunch of worms. I would like to hear a female perspective though, hint, hint~

10 04 2012
innaepark

I’m not tackling that can right now either!

As for the definition of freedom, ‘regaining flourishing’ is an insightful way of putting it. I didn’t mean ‘independent,’ as in standing alone, but I was trying to shed light on how we’re dependent on other things to be “free,” and we’re either constantly casting them off and putting others on.

But I guess there’s nothing wrong with that if there is growth.

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