Saturday, March 29, 2008

Rejected in the Times

I really hoped these two kids had a "clarifying talk" before this New York Times magazine article, on pro-virginity students at Harvard (there's a novel topic! [/sarcasm]) came out:
Keliher smiled and said he was “a little bit” attracted to her [Fredell] — “in very superficial ways,” he added. “It’s something we laugh about — if we dated.”

But Fredell did not laugh. “No!” she erupted, and with increasing volume, “No! No! No! I can’t emphasize enough that there is nothing between me and Leo! It’s just that we’re not compatible in that regard.”

Otherwise, that would really suck.

As for the article itself: meh. I totally agree that feminism fundamentally means women have control of their own body. If they don't want sex, fine -- and I agree that there are a lot of sexualizing messages out there that push women towards sex when they might not want it. But if women do want sex, also fine -- and there are a lot of really harsh memes out there as well that judge women as sluts and whores, or say that they're worthless, or warn that they'll never be happy, if they do engage in sexual activities. And that's bad too. Being feminist means breaking down these damaging perceptions on both sides. But I'll tell you -- while I've seen plenty of feminists get really annoyed when "virginity advocates" get self-righteous and imply that they're better than women who have pre-marital sex, I've never seen feminists condemn the choice to stay abstinent in of itself. Because that would be utterly inconsistent with what feminism means.


1 comment:

PG said...

I think what I find really puzzling about this sort of thing is the joiner-ism of it. One can't just not have sex because one doesn't want to have sex -- one must form an organization with other people who don't want to have sex. As far as I know, the people who did want to have sex in the 1950s, or whatever imaginary chaste period we're thinking about, didn't feel the need to organize around it. Some of the braver ones did lobby against laws that made sex outside marriage illegal (penalizing fornication) or very practically difficult (outlawing contraception), but such lobbying didn't depend on being sexually active outside marriage oneself. Nor does it today -- I know people who are not sexually-active who attend pro-choice rallies. I don't know of there having been a Wellesley Sexually Active club to correspond to the current Ivy abstinence movement.

Those of us who don't have sex in college oughtn't be embarrassed and in denial, as the sexually-active were at a time when premarital sex was more socially-disapproved. Yet I find creating a club around it a bit ludicrous.

It reminds me of Weight Watchers or Alcoholics Anonymous, which at least make some sense because drinking and eating too much are physiological conditions with psychological aspects that people need support to deal with. Unless someone is an actual sex addict whose sex life is destructive of health and well-being, why does s/he need a support group? Sex seems to me something so private that if you are struggling with a sexual desire that you find wrong, you should talk to a therapist or counselor about it, not a classmate who may be too immature to understand and help.

I know several people who were virgins through college, and none of them felt the need to trumpet the fact. They weren't ashamed of their virginity, but they didn't think it was something of which to be hugely proud. It was just a personal choice, albeit not at the level of a "lifestyle." It certainly wasn't true for them what the NYT writer claims for Fredell: "what she believed in more than anything at Harvard was the value of not having premarital sex." It's very important that someone who feels that way NOT have pre-marital sex, but I'm a little troubled by someone for whom that is the pre-eminent value in her life. Especially when "To bolster herself, she often thought of Gandhi and Nelson Mandela."

Perhaps the difference between the people I knew and the abstinence advocates is that my friends didn't see every aspect of themselves as necessary to "popular culture" or the "mainstream" or what have you. Those who were of minority races/ religions already were used to seeing themselves as not doing what everyone else did. A lot of what seems to drive Fredell is the unbearability of being an invisible minority. Shalit says this: "there is just one lifestyle that doesn’t get recognition." If you see popular culture as an entertaining thing to which you are a spectator rather than a fevered participant, the fact that it is "sex-saturated" creates no expectations for you at all.

It brings to mind the same confusion I feel toward people who insist that their religion is being denied if it is not supported by the government. My parents managed just fine having their kids pray at home, and had no problem with sex ed at school because they had raised children who were properly terrified of their parents.
Education, great!
The likelihood that their kids would consider some white woman talking about sexual activity to have relevance to their own lives, nil.

I am seriously considering writing a book on child-rearing titled, "How to Raise an Indian Child Without Being Indian." It really seems like it would help a lot of folks who otherwise are demanding that schools and government do the job for them.