Monday, 08 April 2013

Miranda Devine and the cloven hooves of feminism

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Miranda Devine continues her quest to save us all from the evils of feminism.

In Hark! A Vagrant Kate Beaton created Straw Feminists, hissing shrews hiding in the closet, ready to subvert and terrorise children. They are the hateful mosquitos of humanity, devilishly tempting others to hate men as they do. 

I find these characters amusing but, after reading Miranda Devine’s recent editorial Secrets of hookup culture, in which she argues that an entire generations of girls are at risk and lays the blame at feminism’s cloven hooves, I realised that those characters are real to her.

Devine opens with the assertion that women reign supreme in “the business of coupling, procreating and child rearing” and that, from this sphere, they have been had huge a influence on society. Goddamn that feminine privilege, owning all the pregnancies and unpaid work. 

Obviously (no, really, it is obvious to Devine), she believes this has been subverted by feminists who have moved past “genuine inequality” - like the reduced career and financial opportunities women have based on all that feminine privilege - and has now callously moved on to “damag[ing] women, and threaten[ing] the health of society.”

How have the feminists managed this? Casual sex. Yes, the promiscuity of hookup culture (which is apparently running rampant) is damaging women and it’s all feminism’s fault; which is an amazing feat of multitasking because feminists also get blamed for inventing rape culture which, as we know, doesn’t exist. 

Devine claims hookups are “dehumanising” and then briefly cites (but doesn’t link to or discuss in depth) a report by the American Psychological Association, whicht she believes shows that sexual desires are disconnected, influenced by gender (a three drink minimum) and deeply regretted. Once again, this has all the hoof marks of feminism. 

In actuality the report, rather than presenting women as damsels under duress and attack from feminism (mentioned once), suggests “popular media promotes hook up culture...more than the reality experienced by many college-aged students”. The report states that not only do “college students believe their peers are substantially more sexually permissive than was actually the case” but that these perceptions relied upon media portrayals of purported contemporary sex rather than actual experience. 

Devine’s victimisation and damselication is further undermined when you consider the report’s authors state “although alcohol and drugs are a factor, it is still largely unclear what role individual differences play in shaping decisions to engage in hookups”.

Is there hookup regret and is it higher for women? Yes, to a degree but the report states this is influenced by factors other than gender. The interesting difference occurs when the subjects have a positive view of hookups and their sexual history. Where regret lies may, in fact, not be in Miranda Devine’s antiquated views of sex but in “the possibility of desire [which] seems to be missing from the sexual education of women”. 

In one of the studies referenced by the report, women orgasm less than men in hookups, possibly due to the fact women statistically receive less oral sex (which the researchers argue results in a higher rate of female orgasm) than men. While orgasm isn’t the only measure of pleasurable sexual encounters, the less likely one is to experience it, the more likely they are to view the sex negatively. 

Amazingly, the quote-happy Devine doesn’t quote that or this “important message” close to the conclusion of the report: 

A challenge to the contemporary sexual double standard would mean defending the position that young women and men are equally entitled to sexual activity...the attitudes and practices of both men and women need to be confronted. Men should be challenged to treat even first hookup partners as generously as the women they hook up with treat them.

Such quotes won’t work for Devine’s agenda. Instead of exploring how women can pursue pleasure that is meaningful and real, free from power structures, she criticises feminists for trying to imply women can use men for their own sexual needs and that “somehow this perverse aspiration has become morally desirable”. No mention that there can be mutual consent and expression of need, just a suggestion that sex is a trade of advantage where one side must lose. 

She is helped in this effort by quoting Donna Freitas, a religion and sexuality scholar and author of The End of Sex - How Hook-up Culture Is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled and Confused About Intimacy. According to Freitas, hookup culture is damaging and people should explore abstinence instead. This has already been roundly rebutted by researcher Lisa Wade’s work on the topic and in an article published by Slate, Wade concluded that there “is no hookup epidemic” on college campuses - the problem is not that students are having “too much casual sex, but rather that many of them are dissatisfied with the sex they are having  (or in the case of peer shaming, the sex other students are having).” Basically, in agreement with the American Psychological Association’s report. 

Also mentioned in the editorial is Susan Patton’s letter to the Princeton’s college newspaper, in which the alum exhorts women to marry one of their classmates because never again will they be surrounded by such smart and educated men. “For most of [us], the cornerstone of [our] future[s] and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man [we] marry.” But hurry up, she tells us, as these men will always be able to choose women, whether they be smart OR pretty, unlike women who don’t have the same selection available to them later in life, leading to a sad imbalanced existence, where the only leaning in will come from their unused ovaries, laden with eggs and melancholy. 

Devine springboards from this to reminding women that their eggs are ticking time bombs of relevancy and usefulness and must be fertilized as soon as possible. This is something women are often told. The media write on the costs and unpredictability of IVF (last preserve of the aging woman) and how they can’t put it off or they will be denied the one milestone they REALLY wanted (not the career or child free status or anything else vaguely fulfilling to them). 

It is telling we don’t mention this to men, despite the fact that ageing sperm has shown to have fertility implications or ongoing complications for children born from older fathers. However, as Patton and others will remind us, as long as men get young wives they will be fine, because when we discuss age and fertility, we use language that paints women as livestock for trading and breeding. There is no letter from Princeton alum dads advising men to find a woman early, no exhortation to get in early and balance their lives, no warning to really think about their priorities or recommendation to have children before their late thirties. The responsibility of getting pregnant and chasing the family milestone is placed solely upon women. 

It is in this desperately reaching tumble of quotes and references we see Devine’s true message: women exploring their own sexual pleasure is bad because, according to Devine’s assumptions, women don’t want or enjoy sex, women want relationships, but will sadly barter their mouths and vaginas in the hopes of having a relationship that will lead to children so they can retreat and enjoy their feminine privilege at home. 

Devine has portrayed women as victims who make her “female heart ache for their delicate little hearts”. They are unable to chart their own course of fulfilment due to the interference of predatory sex-chasing men and callous feminists. She represents sex as a transaction where one side always has to compromise, if not lose, on the bargain. And yet, Devine wonders why the “scolding fem set” are encouraging women to experiment and learn to negotiate for better sex and stop being victims so they can reclaim some privilege  outside of their domestic reign.

I wonder what the straw feminists who hide in Miranda Devine’s closet say to her at night. 

Amy Gray

Amy Gray is a writer and broadcaster from Melbourne, Australia.

Follow her on Twitter @_AmyGray_