Sunday, February 24, 2008

An Economic View of Life Degrades Everyone by Anthony McCarthy

According to the morning paper and, apparently, Barbara Walters a “cougar” is an old woman who likes having sex with younger men and is able to find a supply. And that’s the problem with the idea, not the age difference, the view of people as commodities to be graded and sorted by age and quality like eggs. That’s The View, view of human relationships, apparently. Thinking women will most likely have a more sophisticated knowledge of this kind of economic objectification than most men, its language is one of the most insidious features preventing their full ownership of their lives. But, while Joanna Weiss’ article is a place to start, it gives up too soon on what this pop-culture phenomenon can tell us about what is wrong with us. All of us.

Deep in the article are keys to unlocking the box that keeps us from freeing ourselves from this view of other people and ourselves in terms of utility and conspicuous consumption.

Everyone loves a label, Gibson says, but the "cougar" type has actually existed for centuries. Catherine the Great dabbled in younger men because she could.

Start with the false idea that “everyone loves a label”. What is a label used for? It is a statement about an item to be consumed, allegedly an indication of contents, a bill of fare. What would a woman who embraces the label “cougar” expect of herself? What contents does she think the label represent and for what reason would she want that label?

The attraction, one supposes, is that it allows a woman to assert her will on less powerful people in the way that powerful men have always assumed was their natural right. That is also indicated in the article.

Self-defined cougars take their aging seriously. And they consider themselves elite.

"Not all women who date younger men are called cougars," Gibson says. "It's a particular, sophisticated group of older women . . . what they are is very free.”

The idea that anyone who thinks of themselves in terms of a predetermined role is “free” reaches one of its most absurd manifestations in masculine stereotypes. It is one of the biggest lies men are taught about their gender. There are no people less free than tough guys, jocks, bikers, cowboys,... The insecure insistence on rigidly following the role in these phony individualists is so great that violators will either be mocked out of the pack or physically attacked in order to suppress their expression of individuality. The idea that assuming a rigid role will set women, or men, free is just stupid. Why would anyone think that one of the more repellent aspects of traditional patriarchy is "sophisticated" or that it "frees" anyone, especially women, involved with it?

The idea in both of these gender roles is to use other people as resources. In both cases it is the idea of powerful, older people asserting what they see as their droit des seniors, using younger people, perhaps against the interest of the younger person. My guess would be that the woman would be assumed to have an advantage in terms of wealth, in most cases. If that is true, the somewhat mocking, “cougar” analysis is distinctly disadvantageous when compared to the old-fashioned “gigolo” analysis of past lives. It’s my impression that today a younger man who hooks up with a wealthy older woman is seen as "smart", using their cougar for what they can get out of her as compared to a younger woman who is seen as a cheap slut or a gold digger. How free can women be in a transactional analysis of their personal relationships? The advantage men have in that view of human relationships is so long established that the bias will just about always turn to favor the male.

It’s tempting to go on looking at this here, but there is something much more topical in this election year in the article.

In fact, Franklin wants to expand the "cougar" definition altogether. That part about dating younger men isn't essential, she says. A cougar, instead, is "a woman over 40 who is strong and confident and sexy and independent. . . . She knows what she wants and she knows how to get it."

By her standards, Hillary Clinton could be a cougar, too.

A cougar in a pantsuit? Hold on a minute. If we're going to set Barbara Walters straight, we should admit that the whole idea started with sex. So says Valerie Gibson, a Toronto-based sex and relationship columnist who takes credit for spreading the "cougar" label through the United States.

When I look at Hillary Clinton I see a dedicated public servant. In one of the most trumped up of the trumped up “Clinton Scandals”, her very short history of high stakes investment, we found out that she was smart enough to make an enormous amount of money in a very short time, while, notably, staying within the law. Hillary Clinton could have chosen to be enormously wealthy and powerful, exercising power over both the private and public sectors of the United States, instead she has chosen public service at enormous personal cost. Whatever reasons Hillary Clinton is a Senator putting up with the constant lies and smears - Ted Kennedy WITHOUT his more irresponsible, past, personal indulgences - she is clearly not just in it for herself. Her life’s work , with all its successes and follies, which we have been taught for sixteen years to view as being all about her and her husband’s power, deserves more respect than it is ever given.
The rebellion against and rejection of the all consuming, nearly universal, disease of viewing other people and ourselves in terms of commodities and objects for use, neglect or disposal is the very heart of the life of the left. Its manifestation in feminism was the most wonderful and most subversive aspect of the movement, it was the part of feminism that had to be suppressed by all means. For feminism or any other part of the left to turn from the struggle to assert the universal person hood of everyone in favor of the privileges of an elite of any kind is a capitulation of the most basic part of why it exists. And in the end it will not leave anyone free it turns us all from living beings to things. Older women who form relationships with younger men, or women, for that matter, should not settle for having a toy boy of better or lesser quality, they should insist on a real, relationship with another person on the basis of mutual regard and respect. That kind of living, mutual, affection and regard, can’t be reduced to some thing that is a suitable fashion or fad, it will never be the kind of “thing” they discuss on TV shows or in pop-sociological scribbling.

Note: Objectification among gay men is the heart of why we continue to be oppressed, it is the most appalling aspect of what we are encouraged to see as “gay culture”. Gay men will never be free until we stop encouraging the view that we are to be seen as commodities in exactly the same way that women are regarded by straight society. That women of means are also being encouraged to view men like this is not progress. It is one of the most successful tools of oppression that members of subjugated groups are taught to regard themselves and others in their groups in these terms. That is the worst part of hip-hop culture, which has important lessons to tell us about self-oppression. Objectification of other people and of the living environment is the heart of most of the political evil in the world.