Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Eve of Self-destruction, pt. 2 - It is plain to see that America's women, both young and old, are on a collision course with self-nullification, all aided by feminism's relentless pursuit of "empowerment"; as much becomes evident even from a casual review of current goings-on. For instance, a mere few weeks back, the New York Times treated its readers to a frightful sight. Women of a certain age - certainly of an age to know better - were spotted participating in so-called pole dancing parties.

Pole dancing, once exclusively the province of exotic dancers, has flared up as a much-hyped Hollywood exercise craze, and has seeped into the collective unconscious through shows like "The Sopranos" and "Desperate Housewives." A variant called motorized pole dancing, which occurs in stretch limos, has raised eyebrows as far away as Britain, where some female university students pole-danced as a fund-raiser for testicular cancer. And mini-poles have even been spotted as dance props at over-the-top bat mitzvah parties in suburban precincts.

Now the pole - think ballet barre turned vertical - is the new star at racier versions of Tupperware parties in well-heeled (if high-heeled) areas like [Kinnelon, NJ] in the northwest hills of Morris County, about 33 miles from Manhattan. Billed as "femme empowerment," such at-home pole dancing lessons are taking place in the realm of book clubs, with mothers - and grandmothers - learning slinky moves for girl's nights in, bachelorette send-offs, even the occasional 60th birthday celebration.

Of course, these would-be Jenna Jamesons are not the only ones claiming an empowerment motive. A similar rationale is at work at more than a few colleges, as is apparent from a New York Times Magazine article on campus publications. From Boston University to Harvard, and from Vassar to Yale to the University of Chicago, students are writing, editing and publishing DIY student sex magazines. Some, like Vassar's Squirm, christen themselves as magazines "of smut and sensibility," and cover topics as diverse as "bondage and sadomasochism, the history of the condom and the fluidity of gender." BU's Boink recently tackled "Fall Fornication Must-Haves," to include the sine qua non for the campus libertine, a Swarovski-crystal-encrusted dildo. For its part, the Times did the best it could to make some sense of it all.
In an era when the educated elite seems wholly comfortable with overt sexual imagery... maybe it’s not so strange that students are confronting their own sex lives so graphically and publicly. But there’s more to the phenomenon. Considering that a smorgasbord of Internet porn is but a mouse click away for most college students, there’s something valiant, even quaint, about the attempt to organize and consider sex in a printed magazine. It's as if, though curious to explore the possibly frightening boundlessness of adult eroticism, they also wish to keep it at arm's length, contained within the safety of the campus. The students involved display a host of contradictory qualities: cheekiness and earnestness, progressive politics and retro sensibilities, salacity and sensitivity. They aren’t so much answering the question of what is and what isn't porn — or what those categories might even mean today — as artfully, disarmingly and sometimes deliberately skirting it.
And while the young ladies may consider their involvement with these mags as of a piece with feminism's ceaseless effort to overthrow the "patriarchy" by unleashing female sexual power, the young men involved with these publications exhibit no such delusions. Indeed, they seem to understand the situation quite well.

At one of Boink's parties, Aaron Foster, the cover model from the third issue, met a female model, Anna Lee, signing copies of the second issue of the magazine, in which she appeared wearing only body paint. They connected again on MySpace and had what he described as "a whirlwind thing," but then he stopped calling her. "It was a weird situation," he said. "She’s a porn girl, so ... I dunno. I assumed she wasn't really looking for much from me. I'm a guy. There's a lot less stigma attached to it. A chick, people think 'slutty,' whereas a dude gets associated with male bravado."
So the old double-standard prevails after all, even on some of America's most progressive college campuses, amongst the "enlightened" men of the post-feminist generation. It appears that rather than enabling female empowerment, feminism has abetted a new subjugation of women, with absolute conformity being the new rebellion. Indeed, the plight of today's young women is only slightly less absurd than that of a group of African slaves demanding to pick cotton on their master's plantation, entirely for the purpose of asserting their "right" to labor without proper recompense.

As has been discussed abundantly elsewhere, feminism has left young women and adolescent girls with the choices of "
complete engagement with – or more often than not, total submission to – the dominant culture, or complete withdrawal" into a cultural oblivion. And now based on the equally self-evident and relevant (if not a bit tardy) realization on the part of the American Psychological Association that (gasp) young women and girls "are portrayed in a sexual manner... and are objectified."
Societal messages that contribute to the sexualization of girls come not only from media and merchandise but also through girl's interpersonal relationships... Both male and female peers have been found to contribute to the sexualization of girls - girls by policing each other to ensure conformance with standards of thinness and sexiness... and boys by sexually objectifying and harassing girls.
While any attempt to tease out whether the new "sexual conformity as sexual rebellion" ethic is a cause or result of sexualization of young women - the discussion of which represents the classic "chicken and egg" dilemma - it can be said that feminism's major failing is that of providing an insufficient bulwark against exploitive societal behaviors and messages. Sadly, young women seem more confused than ever about what constitutes productive behavior - sexually or otherwise.

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