In a recent performance here in New York the comedian Patton Oswalt observed that the the internet has made every man his own Caligula. Everything and anything the most decadent Roman Emperor could have imagined we can now witness played out on human flesh from the comfort of our desktop computer. I am ambivalent about porn. The fascination of those who are stridently anti-pornography are as strange then those who are passionately pro-porn. The increasing "pornification" of pop-culture is a trend with an arc exactly like the other trends Kelly traces to make his case for Progress. I would not feel comfortable defending that trend in terms of Freedom, but Oswalt's joke points to something real, looking at naked girls isn't an expression of Freedom, it's an expression of Privilege. Privilege is a term I have never liked. I associate it with the cruelty of treating human beings like chattel. It brings to mind lords with the Privilege of the first night and husbands with the Privilege of disciplining their wives. But as Julianne Moore's character points out in The Kids Are All Right, "human sexuality is complicated..."
The country had been wedded to the old Victorian belief that women had a much lower sex drive than men and that women were the ones responsible for drawing the line. For a boy, manliness meant pressing his dates to go farther, ever farther. It was the girl's duty to call a halt... Girls with reputations got asked out on dates for only "only one thing," and most people they believed they forfeited their chance of a good marriage.
I probably had those conversations with my parents in 1982. I became sexually active in 1984, the year Time magazine announced "The Revolution is Over." What they really meant was that the party was over. Gail Collins writes:
In fact, what was over was not the dramatic changes in women's feeling's about the double standard that had been at the heart of the sexual revolution. What had ended was to-the-nth-degree-ness of it - the group sex, the casual encounters at a rock concert of airport ticket line that led almost instantly to sex behind a tree of in a plane restroom... The legendary suburban cocktail hours where couples dropped their car keys into a hat and chose the keys of their partner for the night seemed to disappear - if many had The brief window in which people could have sex at random without any serious safety concerns had closed. There was an epidemic of chlamydia... By the mid-1980s, an estimated one-sixth of young women who were sexually active were infected...The decade also ushered in an epidemic of genital herpes, the first widespread incurable sexually transmitted disease since the invention of penicillin... AIDS was identified in 1982, but it only really hit general American consciousness in 1985, when actor Rock Hudson announced the disease that was killing him was what people were beginning to call "the gay plague." It quickly became clear that AIDS could be spread by heterosexual sex, too.
My father never encouraged me to practice "free love." He was aware that I was entering a very different environment then the one he had grown up in, and was right to think that me and my friends would start earlier and have more partners than he and his friends did as boys. He pressed me to practice safe sex ("herpes is forever" he warned), but more urgently he was advising me to be respectful in the ways I comforted myself. I can remember his expression of distaste as he talked about the boys who bragged about "making" girls - he said "they were bullies." Bully was and is a term my father reserves for individuals he holds in special contempt, the dictators in North Africa for instance. His deepest concern was that I abandon the double standard. I remember him saying he hoped I would move through the world with less guilt and confusion than he had.
In the Western world women start sooner at sex, have more partners, express less remorse for the partners they do, marry later, have fewer children, leave bad marriages in order to get good ones; we are seeing the rise of female sexual expression. We are moving forward to the kinds of sexual expression that we probably saw on the grasslands of Africa a Million years ago.
Adler argued that the presumed difference in value between the sexes, with images of men above and women below, was experienced as a damaging source of discouragement. Girls and women responded with a claim to equal dignity as if to say "Treat me like a man!" Boys and men, feeling in danger of a loss of dignity if they were to appear in any way other than superior, pressed a simular claim, as if to say "Treat me like a real man!"...Each was protesting that he or she had a right to the kind of dignity that until now was associated with superiority.
...most hunter-gatherer men can support only a single family, but a few powerful men have several wives. Polygamy on the scale of elephant seals, amoung which powerful men have a dozens of wives, is impossible for hunter-gatherer men, because they differ from elephant seals in having to provide child care. The big harems for which some human potentates are famouse didn't become possible until the rise of agriculture and centralized government let a few princes tax everyone in order to feed the royal harem's babies.The traditions of the last 10,000 years are not the way forward. Fisher believes we are moving forward into the past. That making happiness lie in comporting ourselves in ways that bring us into agreement with our deep evolutionary past, technologies of being that were subsumed by the discovery of agriculture.
She reminds us that this equality between the sexes is not new, that it was the structure of our ancient past on the African savana. Many of the choices we make in how we pair will, like gay marriage and variations on polygamy, cause upset. Like Kanye West and Taylor Swift vs. Kanye West and George Bush Freedom is not a useful ethical metric to guide us, but Dignity is. Fisher believes the modern trend of equality between the sexes has been the most profound social trend in the history of the human animal and has fostered "the rise of female sexual expression." But we are also living through the rise of male sexual expression - we are indeed like feet, however awkwardly we are all moving forward, changing, and making happiness together. Anatomy is not our destiny, it is a simply a point of departure. (Continued to Part 7.5)