July 31, 2013

"As a feminist, I find it infinitely sad to imagine a vibrant young woman sitting alone at her computer..."

"... and turning herself into a sex object for a man... she does not know — even if she is also turning him into a sex object. Twentieth-century feminism always linked the social progress of women with an expanding sense of self-worth — in the sexual as well as intellectual and professional spheres. A willingness to engage in Internet sex with strangers, however, expresses not sexual empowerment but its opposite — a loneliness and low opinion of oneself that leads to the conclusion that any sexual contact is better than no contact at all."

So writes Susan Jacoby, in the context of the Anthony Weiner story. I suspect that Jacoby was sitting alone at her computer when she wrote that. And I'm sitting alone at my computer writing this now. Is anything infinitely sad about writing at the computer? Is it sadder when you expect someone is waiting to read what you write and you expect them to write back? These days I choose, for each post, whether I want to allow comments or not, and for this one I haven't chosen yet. Is the sadness of what I'm doing right now dependent on whether I allow comments?

Or is this infinite sadness dependent on whether you are writing about sex, which I kind of am, or writing about sex while hoping that your reader finds you sexy?

As a feminist, she finds it infinitely sad, so perhaps you have to be a feminist to feel what's so terribly sad about a woman sitting at a computer, writing sexily to someone she expects will write back sexily. And perhaps the woman at the computer needs to be vibrant and young for it to be extremely sad for her to chose bodily solitude and sex in written form. Those are the words of the self-identified feminist, feeling sad about women writing alone and sexily at computers. Jacoby is 68 years old. Is she like Paul's grandfather in "Hard Day's Night," scoffing at Ringo for reading — "tormenting your eyes with that rubbish" — instead of "gettin' out there and living... Parading the streets!"?

That's not about sexting. It's timeless advice from the old to the young. Perhaps the elders in Jane Austen's life pressured her to quit writing about love relationships and get out there and fall in love.

But Jacoby seems most concerned with context:
Sex with strangers online amounts to a diminution, close to an absolute negation, of the context that gives human interaction genuine content. Erotic play without context becomes just a form of one-on-one pornography....

Deep down, what does a man really think of himself when he must feed his ego with phony gasps of erotic pleasure from strangers in a digital vastness? What does a woman think of herself in the same arid zone of sex without sensuality?
Sex without context is pornography (to Jacoby). It's arid and fake. Even the man's orgasm is fake: "phony gasps." Even the man must lack self-esteem. That's the wrong kind of equality, with the woman straying out into the "arid zone" where meager men satisfy themselves. That's "not the sort of equality envisioned by feminism," she says in the end.  Women should shun this "lowest common denominator" sexuality that "debases the passion and reason of both men and women." Jacoby claims this end for feminism, but it's the oldest task in the world for women: channeling male sexuality, taming them, civilizing them, lifting them up, pumping the phallic lever for the elevation of us all.

(I'll put the comments on to make this more sad.)

31 comments:

David said...

Girls just wanna have fun.

Henry said...

"One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do
Two can be as bad as one
It's the loneliest number since the number one"

SteveR said...

Its not nearly as sad as the type of sex portrayed in a show like "Sex and the City"

FleetUSA said...

As for AA's writing without the comments turned on, I believe it is not sad. The good Professor can go about her business educating the readers without being exposed to the equivalent of kamikaze attacks during WWII. Those with good comments know how to make them and her selectivity can drain the swamp of the rest.

Matthew Sablan said...

How prudish to expect it to be meaningful. I thought such prudishness was frowned upon and that we were supposed to just do it?

Jeff with one 'f' said...

" Jacoby claims this end for feminism, but it's the oldest task in the world for women: channeling male sexuality, taming them, civilizing them, lifting them up, pumping the phallic lever for the elevation of us all."

Ain't it the truth. Hetero-sexual relationships are all about compromise between very different sex drives, usually with mens drives being subordinate to womens: guys will take what we can get. So there it's men accommodating women and it's "equality". If a woman accommodates a man's idea of sexuality it's "debasing".

It's only gays and lesbians who get to fully live out their own hardwired sexual urges unconstrained by accommodating a different gender's ideas and impulses. Feminists are fine with that because no women are "debasing" themselves by giving themselves over to their lovers' desires or by expressing their own sexuality in an un-"feminist" way.

Feminism: it's all about freedom to make choices unless its Mandarins disapprove of said choices.

Inga said...

What is sad to me would be if a person prefers electronic sex with strangers more than real sex with lovers or wives. I suppose a well rounded person could enjoy both, especially if the person on the other end isn't a stranger.

ricpic said...

Frankly, it's infinitely unbelievable that any woman finds Anthony Weiner sexually attractive. But as a male whaddaIknow.

surf-ed said...

"Turning Japanese"

Big Mike said...

Has anyone besides me noticed how articles or posts or comments that begin with "as a feminist" usually boil down to "she's not doing what I think she should be doing with her time/ career/ education/ whatever"?

Maybe as a feminist the "vibrant young woman" should be doing what she wants with her leisure time and Susan Jacoby should flat butt out? Just askin'

William said...

I think everyone strikes a pose when they write on the computer. This is where we put our reasonable, witty, outrageous or whatever persona on display. It's not who we are but who we want the world to think we are. It's not surprising that some of this would leach over into our sex lives. Everything leaches over into your sex life.......Maybe sexting is some new ingredient in the courtship dance--an introductory bow and curtsey. This is not my area of expertise, but mating rituals change with technology. I'm too old and sour to participate in any of this, but maybe it's a new, improved way of netting mates......My own experience with carbon based life forms has not been universally successful. Our courtship rituals could do with some tweaking. I've walked away from the gravesites of too many distraught Victoria Secret models not to realize the sorrows and frustrations we endure and inflict on each other when interacting with real people in their real lives..

Roger Sweeny said...

"Virtual sex is to sex as virtual food is to food: you can’t taste, touch or smell it, and you don’t have to do any preparation or work."

I assume Ms. Jacoby never reads fiction--of any kind.

Crunchy Frog said...

As not-a-feminist, I find it infinitely sad to imagine that a crusty old bat can presume to talk for crusty old bats everywhere and think she has something meaningful to say to vibrant young women or anyone else for that matter.

What sheer twaddle. Can't people do what they want as long as it's not hurting anybody without being scolded by self-appointed schoolmarms? Sheesh, it's not like someone walked on her lawn or something.

Sigivald said...

It's awesome how "feminism" is a mystical incantation that lets her simply judge other women's self-actualization without, well, knowing how they actually feel about their actions, or what their actual motives are.

Sounds more like she's just projecting her assumptions on them.

"Feminism" as the idea that women are real first-class actors requires that one not do things like deny that action X can ever be compatible with "feminism".

Whatever a woman decides she wants to do, of her own free accord, is feminist.

Any other definition is bullshit.

Ann Althouse said...

"What is sad to me would be if a person prefers electronic sex with strangers more than real sex with lovers or wives. I suppose a well rounded person could enjoy both, especially if the person on the other end isn't a stranger."

You're forgetting the possibility that the person's other option is no sex at all. Empty or nasty in-person sex is worse than nothing, and in my opinion, when it comes to in-person sex, better than nothing is a high standard.

The written word can be the highest level of sexual relationship and it can be the cushioning that makes it possible to stick to the practice of making better than nothing a high standard.

66 said...

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness released October 24, 1995.

Less than a month later (according to CNN), M. Lewinsky begins her own infinitely sadder performance.

cubanbob said...

Too bad Ms. Jacoby first didn't listen to the poor unfortunate's interview with Howard Stern. She likes sugar-daddies and her fifteen minutes of fame.

bpm4532 said...

Certain "feminists" are pretty doctrinaire. They're all for choice as long as you choose the behavior they prescribe.

I'm still trying to figure out how this was worse that Bill Clinton's behavior and Hilary's enabling.

peoplearenotstupid.com said...

I see nothing in the article to suggest that the author would condemn virtual sexual relationships among men and women who had no other option. Rather, I understand the author to be criticizing what she takes to be a modern, less meaningful approach to relationships among people who have more meaningful options. "More meaningful" being dependent on the situation of the person involved. Certainly some people are, as Professor Althouse puts it, faced with an alternative of "empty or nasty in-person sex." But surely some people who are taking the porn/sexting/phone sex avenue to sexual gratification would find that recognizing and cultivating in-person opportunities would ultimately provide more meaning.

Carl said...

Jacoby is the oppressed soul, her thinking still hobbled by the notion that for a woman sex is only satisfying when it is exchanged for property rights -- rights to a man's devotion, attention, wallet, car keys. She wouldn't phrase it that way, of course. She exchanges sex for mutual loyalty and support, and that mutual loyalty and support is fungible currency that can be exchanged for attention, wallet, car keys et cetera.

For Leathers, we might imagine, sex is just sex. Fun. Not an investment that need to pay off in future years, just an immediate mutual exchange of pleasure. You send me descriptions of your arousal, I send you descriptions of mine, illustrated -- whoo-hoo!

In that sense, and if it can be believed, Leathers is by far the more "liberated." She is treating sex with the same careless immediacy of a young man her age jacking off to an anonymous cam girl fondling her double Ds. The "connection" is by definition ephemeral, and lacks any meaning beyond the moment and perhaps warm memories, like a glass of good wine or a dish of Death By Chocolate ice cream.

Why is this threatening to Jacoby? One can only speculate. But perhaps her "feminism" was Stalinist: the idea was to shed all the nonsexual quid pro quo of the male-female bargain -- feminine submissiveness, shall we say, or the obligation to shave your armpits and have a martini waiting when he comes home from work -- and put all the leverage into sex. Someone like Leathers who just gives the sex away undermines the whole proposition. What's left with which to bargain??

The young woman's response, one might imagine is: well, all the things with which genuine partners -- in business, single-sex friendships -- bargain: mutual loyalty, trust, assistance, common tastes in music and politics, all the stuff you see on the twentysomething Internet dating site. You (the young one might say, speaking to Jacoby) are the reactionary, unable to conceive of male-female bargaining except through the old prism of sex for property rights, an inequivalent, if not unequal bargain. You just don't get that women no longer need to bargain with sex except in the area of sex itself. These days we have others things to exchange for mutual trust, support, and so forth.

Of course, it could be Jacoby knows something Leathers does not, which is that, willy nilly, men and women are not the same, and their bargains cannot work the same way as bargains between businessmen, or same-sex friends.

Oso Negro said...

This form of feminism is indistinguishable from Puritanism in its desire to oppress the sexuality of nearly anyone who is attempting to have fun in what is viewed as an unacceptable manner. Perhaps the young woman is gratified by her power to excite a man. Perhaps the man is simply seeking gratification as well. Nothing wrong with that. I am proud of the high art erection I got 25 years ago looking at Greek bronze of a naked female in the Met, but it gave me no more lasting satisfaction than I might get from tawdry internet porn. I suppose we must now proclaim a right to unauthorized erections and unapproved orgasms! All in all though, real girls beat bronze or pixels.

a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...

Sex in this context seems secondary. Related to sex, my main feeling is to feel bad for Miss Lewinsky in a role she can't leave. But this hunting Hildebeast has a kind of exciting Jurassic Park feel to it.

Anthony said...

Jacoby is obviously finding it sad not that the woman is sitting alone at her computer, but that she's "turning herself into a sex object for a man she does not know".

But is that really worse than pornography (or romance novels), where you're turning youself into a sex object for a man who doesn't even exist?

You're forgetting the possibility that the person's other option is no sex at all. Empty or nasty in-person sex is worse than nothing, and in my opinion, when it comes to in-person sex, better than nothing is a high standard.

For most women, that's true. For most men, it isn't. However, "most" is not "all", and there are certainly some women for whom that is not true, just as there are men for whom it is true.

Ann Althouse said...

"But surely some people who are taking the porn/sexting/phone sex avenue to sexual gratification would find that recognizing and cultivating in-person opportunities would ultimately provide more meaning."

I think there are a lot of people who don't have much ability to get those good relationships, even if it is the ideal. Older people, introverted people, disabled people, single parents, and married people who reject infidelity (but have permission from the spouse, as Weiner might have had).

Ann Althouse said...

Have permission to play on the internet (I mean).

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Well, it's the ultimate safe sex now isn't it, love with the perfect stranger.

kentuckyliz said...

Why even view it as subpar interpersonal sex?

Why not see it as enhanced masturbation?

Maybe Jacoby hates it because the wankerette won't be punished with an inconvenient fetus and line the pockets of a Gosnell getting rid of it.

Abortion, the holy sacrament of feminism.

This is your body, given up for me.
This is your blood, poured out so that I might have my life back.

Leit Bart said...

"Twentieth-century feminism always linked the social progress of women with an expanding sense of self-worth."

This is so meaningless it's inscrutable.

But how about an honest analysis whether 20th-century feminism has contributed to the financial decline of women, by encouraging a constricting sense of sexual self-worth?

"Promiscuity and the Purse," perhaps. It has a nice Victorian ring.

Ann and "Jeff with one f" are exactly right: Jacoby fancies herself a feminist Mandarin.

colleen cafferty said...

I see her point but it depends. Maybe this woman always had this fantasy, but didn't want to actually put herself at risk, so this is an improvement over that.

Maybe she would have just sat in her room alone never having any sex before this.

Although she does have a point. It does likely keep some people inside who would have benefited by being out more. Somehow geekly guys occur to me here. The real geeks, not the trendy ones.

Michael said...

A nice example of the Victorian strain present in so much feminism, its obvious contradictions ignored.

Kev said...

(the other kev)

If only there was a short, simple, monosyllabic word to describe such a person . . .