Sunday, February 22, 2009

Nonexistent Moral Terpitude

I have done quite a few posts on sexual ethics, and I found this topic irresistible. The photo is from Google Images, and should be taken as ironic rather than prurient, unless of course one's eyes explode at the glimpse of young people engaging in Bacchanalian excesses.

Jessica Valenti gets it right.
I have to admit that when I found out I would be speaking on "hook up culture" today, I was somewhat at a loss.

Because the truth is, I actually don't believe that hook culture exists.

Do I think young people in college have sex and hook up? Of course.

But I don't think that this means that there's some nefarious culture of wanton sexuality rampant across college campuses - at least, not any more than there ever was - and I don't think that the fact that young people have sex or are otherwise physically intimate with each other is necessarily a cause for concern.

What I do think is cause for worry is the way that conservative and anti-women organizations, writers, and media makers are using this myth of a hook up culture to promote regressive values surrounding gender and to roll back women's rights.

So just to get some context - let's talk a little bit about what "hook up" culture actually is as its imagined by the media and conservative organizations.

In 2007 alone, nearly 1,000 news and magazine articles referred to the "girls gone wild" or "raunch culture" phenomenon.

The topics of these articles ranged from general finger wagging about girls' supposed promiscuity and spring break, to op-eds about college women's slutty Halloween costumes.

I found headlines like "Spring Break, Broken Girls," "Dying to Date" and "Girls Gone Bad."

One article for Newsweek even wondered whether America was raising a generation of "prostitots." (That would be slutty toddlers.)

Another piece from The Washington Post - and this one is actually my favorite - said that young women hooking up was tantamount to "a mental health crisis on American campuses."

There should be two things that are immediately evident to you - even from just these small sampling of articles. 1) The concerns about young people hooking up and having sex aren't about young people at all - they're about young women.

And 2) The attitude is definitely that young women having sex is a bad, bad thing. There's a whole lot of shaming and scare tactics going on.

Read the whole thing.

Now, as for why I am writing this. I refuse to say whether this is "bad". For one reason and one reason alone - since it doesn't really exist, how can any moral judgment have any meaning whatever? The medium-sized conservative commentary industry dedicated to hyping this nonexistent problem is a wonder to behold; yet it exists solely to push the idea that young women having sex is the root of our national cultural malaise. Since I see no signs of such a malaise, and since I detect no increase in young people engaging in sexual activity, I refuse to make any judgments about something that doesn't exist.

It would be nice if the prudential amongst us would spend far more time worrying over the collapse of the American economy and the resulting stresses on family life; the increase in the foreclosure rate and the increase in homelessness, the stresses on foodbanks and other local charities that result; the refusal of the current national minority party to offer rational, workable alternatives that would reverse our current plunge into the economic abyss than inventing a problem so as to wag their fingers even as they gaze in a mixture of distaste and desire at pictures of young people enjoying one another's company.

I realize it makes some feel superior to click their tongues at young people - well, really, as Valenti points out, it's young women who are the target of so much approbation - and bemoan our coarsening culture. Yet, if memory serves, the reports I read today are not much different from many things I witnessed as a college student a quarter century ago. If you look around at college-educated men and women in the early- to mid-40's, please remember they most likely were privy to much the same excesses we are currently seeing decried. We all turned out alright; shoot, we even have a President now.

I know there are many who will wish that, as a self-professed Christian, I would say that such things are "bad", "evil", whatever. I refuse to do so, because they are just people being people, as God created them. If that shocks or disappoints, there really isn't anything I can do about that. So, go ahead and call me names, but like Jessica Valenti, I really can't worked up about something that isn't real.

Virtual Tin Cup

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