Friday, January 19, 2018

Prosaic Exchange On #metoo


An exchange on #metoo


.... I don't know quite what to make of it all, truly.

Part of me finds this all exhausting and overblown. Nobody has done, or is doing, a fine-grained analysis of whether these behaviours are, in the aggregate, more or less common than they were. And so I'm inclined to agree with your point that media, and social media in particular, has fanned the flames of a fire whose original size we don't know. That's a problem. 

But I'm also struck by the number of so-called feminists today who can't seem to muster some basic assertiveness. And on that point, I think we disagree. We have a society whereby women are endlessly encouraged to be empowered and independent, sexually free, etc. etc. And yet I can't help comparing these accounts to how I think my mother would have handled similar situations in her younger years, where it seems totally clear she would have slapped these men around, or worse, for that kind of behaviour.

I'm inclined to make a couple of points, here. (This is my conservative side coming out.) The first is that there's an easy and obvious solution to much of what I'm reading about: don't be promiscuous, don't get so drunk or high you don't know what you're doing, and try to make sex something you pursue with someone you know, trust, and love. Of the two sexes, women are much more capable of this, and I think it would serve their interests much better than the current standard.

Another related point I'd make is that the current standard is a mess. While modern feminism has done a great job of tearing down hypocrisies about male and female sexuality, it has done an awful job at replacing them with anything meaningful. It isn't enough, I would argue, to equate sexual pleasure and gratification with empowerment. And it isn't enough to just rail against guilt and shame. Feminism should have something more important to say about sex than simply asking whether it was consensual. It should give women (and men), an ideal or a vision of its purpose beyond pleasure. But I fear that it can't, and it won't.

Anyway, it's a muddled mess, what I've written. But I'm still trying to figure it all out.


....I want to present you with a counter-account that holds that what’s happening as encapsulated (say) by #metoo isn’t that complicated or muddled but is made to appear so by viral fanning, where individual cases get endless analysis, mainly celebrity instances, and lend much to at least three big mistakes: 

the conflation of anecdote and evidence; 

the corollary assumption that these sensationalized, over-analyzed instances disclose norms of, or typical, conduct; 

and the further corollary assumption that the rules are unclear and the ethics of sexual encounters are in a state of chaos.

I’ll try to do that by bouncing off your comments.

So your third paragraph is a case in point. I’m married for close to two generations so I can’t first hand speak to this. But all my adult life, from my late teens till now, I’ve been in contact with single adults of all ages and both sexes who date, who are out there. And apart from your present relationship, you will have had actual dating experience besides knowing people, being closer in age to millennials and most likely knowing more of them than I. 

In my experience I have never encountered anyone, man or woman, young or old, describing difficulty in saying “No” and being assertive in repelling unwanted advances. Never once. Have you? What I do understand, and what case by case can be grey or confused, is mixed feelings and motivations. 

In the Ansari case, my sense is that “Grace”is a star fucker, as I’d said, who was excited, by her own words, to be going out with a celebrity. My sense is that that’s what inhibited such assertiveness she otherwise might have expressed. Do you really think if she was out with a regular guy, nothing special about him, who put unwanted moves on her, she’d have trouble saying “No” assertively? For me that notion seems preposterous.

So I’d argue that that case is a template for the infinitude of instances where the recipient has mixed motives, is willing to let other considerations trump a lack of real desire or reciprocal sexual interest. 

Which, again, is not to say, that something really important culturally hasn’t happened and isn’t happening. It is. From the gross to the subtle, men are learning to put into practice lessons that are obvious, don’t, or try not to, trade on power for sexual advantage. Don’t be a bully, either a gross or a subtle one. 

The complexity, the grayness, the ambiguity, they’re all at the margins of a pretty well understood sense of the appropriate and inappropriate. And they’re usually case specific rather than there being rules we struggle to understand about how to behave sexually.

So I’m quite against your view in your second last paragraph. 

Give me an example of where there’s confusion about how in general terms we should conduct ourselves. The things you say in your third paragraph are some obvious examples of oughtn’ts. And even granting some drunkenness, being high, even for those states, the oughts and oughtn’ts are clear. And where errant things happen, it’s instances of oughtn’t rather than the standards themselves being confusing. 

One night stands may be ok, if that’s what’s wanted, I’d think, with some common sense appraisal of things and understanding risks. I wouldn’t myself in the interest of laying out clear oughts and oughtn’ts proscribe them.

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