Friday, October 21, 2005

A Cunning Wingnut Plot?

Have you noticed how the soundbites are somehow distributed through Wingnuttia? Suddenly all wingnuts talk about the same thing, be it Social Security or something Bill Clinton did in 1958. Often I can see why the topic is up for renewed chewing but equally often I can't see where they get a particular topic from. So I am semi-convinced that all wingnuts have little wires to their brains, and every Monday morning a message is sent about what to write and talk about that week.

This week it seems to be all about modesty and how well it protects women in the American society. I recently blogged on a speech given by a Harvard professor on this topic, and now a website is republishing Leon Kass's old musings about how lovely it all was when a man had to really work to get his penis home, so to speak. It was really good for women, too, because women were in power in this game. Sort of like baseball where you try to hit the umpire in the groin?

I have read Kass on the female modesty before, but if you haven't had the pleasure here is a taste:

But most young women strike me as sad, lonely, and confused; hoping for something more, they are not enjoying their hard-won sexual liberation as much as liberation theory says they should.2 Never mind wooing, today's collegians do not even make dates or other forward-looking commitments to see one another; in this, as in so many other ways, they reveal their blindness to the meaning of the passing of time. Those very few who couple off seriously and get married upon graduation as we, their parents, once did are looked upon as freaks.

After college, the scene is even more remarkable and bizarre: singles bars, personal "partner wanted" ads (almost never mentioning marriage as a goal), men practicing serial monogamy (or what someone has aptly renamed "rotating polygamy"), women chronically disappointed in the failure of men "to commit." For the first time in human history, mature women by the tens of thousands live the entire decade of their twenties — their most fertile years — neither in the homes of their fathers nor in the homes of their husbands; unprotected, lonely, and out of sync with their inborn nature. Some women positively welcome this state of affairs, but most do not; resenting the personal price they pay for their worldly independence, they nevertheless try to put a good face on things and take refuge in work or feminist ideology. As age 30 comes and goes, they begin to allow themselves to hear their biological clock ticking, and, if husbands continue to be lacking, single motherhood by the hand of science is now an option. Meanwhile, the bachelor herd continues its youthful prowl, with real life in suspended animation, living out what Kay Hymowitz, a contributing editor of City Journal, has called a "postmodern postadolescence."
The change most immediately devastating for wooing is probably the sexual revolution. For why would a man court a woman for marriage when she may be sexually enjoyed, and regularly, without it? Contrary to what the youth of the sixties believed, they were not the first to feel the power of sexual desire. Many, perhaps even most, men in earlier times avidly sought sexual pleasure prior to and outside of marriage. But they usually distinguished, as did the culture generally, between women one fooled around with and women one married, between a woman of easy virtue and a woman of virtue simply. Only respectable women were respected; one no more wanted a loose woman for one's partner than for one's mother.

The supreme virtue of the virtuous woman was modesty, a form of sexual self-control, manifested not only in chastity but in decorous dress and manner, speech and deed, and in reticence in the display of her well- banked affections. A virtue, as it were, made for courtship, it served simultaneously as a source of attraction and a spur to manly ardor, a guard against a woman's own desires, as well as a defense against unworthy suitors. A fine woman understood that giving her body (in earlier times, even her kiss) meant giving her heart, which was too precious to be bestowed on anyone who would not prove himself worthy, at the very least by pledging himself in marriage to be her defender and lover forever.

Once female modesty became a first casualty of the sexual revolution, even women eager for marriage lost their greatest power to hold and to discipline their prospective mates. For it is a woman's refusal of sexual importunings, coupled with hints or promises of later gratification, that is generally a necessary condition of transforming a man's lust into love. Women also lost the capacity to discover their own genuine longings and best interests. For only by holding herself in reserve does a woman gain the distance and self-command needed to discern what and whom she truly wants and to insist that the ardent suitor measure up. While there has always been sex without love, easy and early sexual satisfaction makes love and real intimacy less, not more, likely — for both men and women. Everyone's prospects for marriage were — are — sacrificed on the altar of pleasure now.

Yes, it is silly stuff. But Kass is quite serious beneath all the silliness. So it might be useful to note what mistakes his little sermon makes.

First, there is the tacit assumption that women and men in the past were happy, that it was a good thing to be ashamed of being born outside wedlock, that the courting system Kass assumes existed led to good and strong marriages. Note that in Kass's view of the history families didn't contain incest or rape or married couples who hated each others' guts and tore everybody else apart with their continual warfare.
We are not actually given any statistical evidence of this golden past.

Second, there is another tacit assumption Kass makes, and that is his belief that he knows what makes women happy or unhappy:

Women also lost the capacity to discover their own genuine longings and best interests. For only by holding herself in reserve does a woman gain the distance and self-command needed to discern what and whom she truly wants and to insist that the ardent suitor measure up.

How does he know that women lost this capacity? I am a female goddess and I have that capacity just fine. And maybe the reason he finds most women sad and lonely-looking is that they feel like that when they see Kass? I wouldn't be surprised.

Third, the whole article is extremely insulting to men, extremely so. Men are portrayed as wild beasts which must be steered towards the abbattoir of marriage, by their penises it seems. And the people to do this steering are the ones these wild beasts supposedly hunt for! Now that is curious.

Fourth, the whole article is based on anecdotal evidence and personal opinions. Which is fine in, say, a blog of a minor goddess, but not so fine in the writings of a professor and a bioethicist.

And so on. But Kass has a serious point, naturally, and that has to do with the "otherness" of women. His solution to this "otherness" is the old contract between gentlemen, the one that excludes the ladies when they get up after dinner in a Victorian dining-room to leave the men to their drinks, cigars and real power.
I got the topic from Crooked Timber. The discussion there is good.