This piece from the Sunday Styles Section of the July 14 New York Times is, to quote noted addiction specialist Dr. Robert Palmer, simply irresistible. I just have to jump on the bandwagon.
The gist of the article is that harried Ivy League girls with no time for serious relationships but a desire for periodic sexual release and companionship can enjoy casual sex just as much as the boys do. Whoa, Nellie: you’re saying that there are young women studying at coeducational secular universities who are so sexually liberated that they are not only receptive to offers of casual sex but are so forward as to make the offers themselves? Le gasp!
Paula, wouldja pass me my clutchin’ pearls, dear? Aw, thanks, Mr. Lauer, you always are a gentleman to keep an extra set of pearls on hand, even when you’ve just reduced a Southern lady to tears for no reason but the ratings.
For anyone who isn’t compulsively repressed and ignorant about female sexuality, this premise is rather pedestrian and self-evident. The idea that women who enjoy and desire sex but don’t have any imminent interest in dating, a serious relationship, or marriage might actively seek out casual sex is unimaginably scandalous–if you’re an idiot who got hit on the head with a shovel a few too many times in your youth. Because as everyone knows, the oldest profession has historically been practiced disproportionately by the male sex, which is consequently also the sex that is instructed by Jerry Springer’s audience to sit down in consideration of its whorishness. No: you have to be a drooling hypocrite to believe that women are incapable of desiring and soliciting unsanctioned sexytime of their own accord, even if you’re the kind of abrasive scold who insists on smearing them as dirty whores or carousel-riding sluts for doing so.
Sure enough, the Grey Lady is appealing to the easily titillated hypocrisy of its sexually repressed readers. Every woman interviewed for the article allegedly insisted on partial anonymity, even the ones who agreed to be identified by their unusual ethnic given names, detailed descriptions of their physiques, or a combination of their ethnicity, socioeconomic class and hometown. Did a woman who agreed to be identified as “Pallavi” in fact insist on anonymity? I report, you decide.
Then there are the accompanying photographs. The cover picture alone speaks a thousand scolding words. It is a soft-focus portrait of a young woman on a bed, her face conveniently shaded into the background, her mostly (entirely?) unclothed left leg brightly lit up to a few inches below her buttocks, and focused parts of the foreground reserved for her fingers, including her immaculately painted black fingernails, and the bedspread and pillows. I never had such nice bed linens in college. In fact, I still don’t. The sheets that I currently own will never make the Times because they’re an 80-threadcount lime green set that I bought several years ago at a Walmart in Reno. Of course, I, unlike most of these fortunate ladies, have joined the poors, at least enough to satisfy Midtown tastes. Anyway, there was something vaguely familiar about that picture, and also about the one inside showing a chick from behind, slightly hunched over in a coyly tarty blue denim shirt, or the one next to it showing a third woman, again from behind, walking out the front door of a house, her torso obscured by the door. After maybe an hour’s reflection, it hit me: the body language is very much what one finds in pictures of women who are supposedly experiencing menstrual pain or dealing with unintended pregnancies. This “family newspaper” has infringed on the territory of ads for Midol and pregnancy crisis centers.
The imagery is strange and incongruous for a cohort of women who, we are told, are generally satisfied with the casual nature of their sex lives and happy enough to play their relationships by ear as they go forward. One might wonder how the Times found women who looked so pained and apprehensive. Moving over to Sunday Business for a moment, one might also wonder how they found an Asian dude who looks so contemplative leaning on the railing of a balcony and gazing up at a Providence skyline lit up in the waning light of a summer evening. The Times’ portraits are so evocative, so why are one’s own bar pictures so banal and sucky by comparison?
Oh, yeah, it’s because the Times uses professional photographers, and professional photographers are OCD cases who see nothing off about spending half an hour adjusting and switching lenses and telling their subjects to make minuscule but precise adjustments in their postures and facial expressions.
There’s a name for what portrait subjects do: acting. These Penn coeds are no more women in pain than I’d be a commissioned peace officer if I broke into an Oregon State Police barracks, put on a set of dress blues and a service belt, and then spent the afternoon at the nearest Starbucks, encouraging all present to call me Trooper. It doesn’t take much of an eye to distinguish genuinely candid shots (of which there were several in the Penn hookup article) from pretend-candid shots (although the picture of the girl walking out the door may straddle the two styles of photography). It does, however, take a keener eye than most newspaper readers care to use. That’s why papers print that kind of bullshit.
There’s a huge buried lede in this piece. The main reason that these women have such casual sex lives is that they’re exceedingly driven; they’re too ambitious, and their lives are too unsettled, for serious relationships, or in many cases even for casual relationships. Paradoxically, casual sex arrangements aren’t necessarily casual at all. In deference to prevailing SWPL mores, Kate Taylor graciously refrains from openly asking why on earth they can’t slow down enough not to have to schedule their sex lives into play dates. One chick she interviewed mentioned that she and her fuck buddy (the “family newspaper” didn’t use the term, but I did, and I’d bet that it has at least as much currency at Penn as “hookup buddy”) only have sex at his place, not hers, so that she isn’t stuck washing the sheets afterwards. This strategy would be appallingly craven if it weren’t brilliant. Of course, Taylor didn’t ask whether maybe there’s something not quite right about not having the time to do laundry. Speaking just for myself, and for Mr. T, I pity the fool. Then again, I had a sub-3.0 undergraduate GPA. I’m pretty sure that’s why I had a social life in college.
Predictably enough, alcohol plays a major role in this piece. In fact, too big a role: as our enigmatic friend “A.” put it, “If I’m sober, I’m working.” This isn’t necessarily a cause for much clutching of pearls. Again, speaking just for myself, I find that the fruit of the vine and work of human hands can become not only our spiritual drink, but also (probably upon distillation into something hideous, like vodka) the drink to summon my inner pagan spirits. I can come on to a woman while stone cold sober if she seems receptive, but I agree wholeheartedly with Van Morrison: I can’t dance and stay uptight. Actually, he switched cause and effect for rhyming purposes, as my dancing is contingent upon my failing to stay uptight, or maybe sober enough not to drop a whole roll of toilet paper into the bowl at an alcoholic young graduates’ party on City Line Avenue. Still, that foultempered old Irishman was close enough. If I was uptight at that party in the course of contriving a dance to the Superman song, it was strictly in the bizarre sense of the term used by Stevie Wonder. At the time, I assumed that the song was a celebration of Superman’s superpowers, and I was merely a bit perplexed, not disgusted, as I came to realize that it seemed to be an enticement to ejaculate on a passed-out drunk girl’s upper back and then affix to her person a sort of cape.
Legally, I wasn’t sober enough to consent to sexual activity that evening, but in point of fact I was lucid enough to express, if not very coherently articulate, consent to be jumped by a hottie. That didn’t happen, but it’s a nice thought. As I said, I don’t need alcohol to get frisky; I merely need it to dance (unless I’m being directy ground on by a chick who has her head on kind of straight) because booty-shaking strikes me as a mortifyingly undignified activity. Some people, however, need it for their horizontal dancing, or at least benefit mightily from it. These are mostly women, although a guy friend of mine who was renowned for his habit of recreational catatonia once hit the bottle hard enough that he hooked up with a mutual friend of ours at a house party, and happily so, only to subsequently fume that she was too ugly and dimwitted to screw in a million years.
The people who take abusive advantage of these incompetent drunks are, of course, mostly guys. This is where Taylor’s article veers into the minefield of campus rape culture.
It’s surprisingly easy to prescribe a solution to this predatory free-for-all, as it’s hidden in plain sight in another part of the article, in which a girl named “M.” tells her first-time story about hanging out at a party with a guy she had met in class the previous semester and then giving him her virginity when they both felt comfortable. Unlike most of her friends, she liked the guy and was even pretty much sobered up by the time they did the deed, and everyone envied her for it. Of course, as a New York Times writer, Kate Taylor is all about avoiding the obvious prescriptive glosses, as offering them would kill everyone’s objectivity boner. So instead, we end up hearing about a different student, Haley, who tells of a party at which she expressed her desire to go home but instead ended up being fucked by a college boy in his bedroom while sporadically conscious, and only realizing later that the whole experience kinda seemed like rape.
Recall that this woman, like all of her peers who were interviewed for this article, had matriculated to one of the most competitive undergraduate universities in the United States. Hearing her explain her belated enlightenment about the threshold for rape falling somewhere on the near side of the victim being asleep for the sex act is like hearing of MIT students who can’t correctly align batteries in home electronics. In a similar vein, the undergraduates as a group are surprisingly inarticulate, with a high propensity to, like, talk like this, in contrast to the polished statements made by the older, and supposedly wiser, women dredged up by Taylor for purposes of analysis.
Look: it’s important to recognize when one has been a crime victim. This isn’t so much a matter of compulsively reporting every crime to the police as it is a matter of being an informed citizen and not a total doofus. That way, one can realize when one is associating with habitual criminals, do a cost-benefit analysis of this predicament (cost-benefit analyses being a big part of Penn girls’ decisions to hook up instead of going steady), and make an informed decision about staying or leaving. In my own case, I came to recognize that I was working for an elder relative who had abjectly low and worsening morals (like his wife), apparently had a personality disorder (again, like his wife), was descending into a disinhibited state resembling early-stage senility, and had been criminally endangering my welfare out of gratuitous malice because that was how he construed real manhood. Pathetically, I had fairly strong reasons to stick around in this quagmire, and to keep returning to it after impulsive absences like a dog to its vomit, but I made it absolutely clear to my parents that I was a crime victim and that I was incensed, and I leveraged my factual status as a crime victim to convince my parents to play the good cops in a good cop-bad cop-Trooper Walport scenario. This convinced them to intervene with the geezer, on the understanding that if they didn’t I was inclined to find some eager beaver at OSP South Operations to do the deed.
It’s a matter of individual discretion: Do I want to be a stumbling drunk who parties with rapists? Do I want to hang out with assholes who deliberately harass and endanger their relatives and employees and habitually cause domestic disturbances because they’re moronic assholes? There may be reasons to make the outwardly dumber decision in these cases, but there’s no way to make such decisions sensibly when one dismisses criminal activity as just kind of eccentric or insensitive. I’d certainly expect a higher level of intellectual engagement from Penn students.
In addition to the threats of rape and oh-dear-our-students-are-using-alcohol-and-illicit-drugs, the coed who avails herself of opportunities for casual sex instead of using college as a time to date purposefully may someday find herself old, withered and alone. Taylor’s authorities on this subject are Julia Shaw, who married at 23 and used that experience to get a writing gig at Slate, and a Princeton alumna named Susan Patton, who, I shit ye not, got a book deal by writing a letter to the editor of the Daily Princetonian in which she advised the rising generation of coeds to go on the manhunt Grove City-style. This woman is a version of Amy “Tiger Mom” Chua, but with no professional qualifications instead of irrelevant ones. I’m not sorry to burst anyone’s bubble, but being a “human resources consultant” is not a professional qualification. If anything, it’s an anti-qualification. Chua’s shtick is, “Look at me, I’m a Yale Law prof, so you white parents should stop indulging your little brats by not forcing them to take piano and calculus lessons.” (Bizarre side note: The Times also ran a piece Sunday about an eight-year-old budding golf prodigy near Shenzhen who does nothing all day but play golf and do golf-related hand exercises, including piano lessons–oh, and drive his street-legal sedan to the links AT THE AGE OF EIGHT!) Patton’s shtick is, “Look at me, I went to Princeton, so you should listen to me when I warn you not to wait to look for a husband until you’re over the hill at 35.” An HR consultant turned professional troll in the grand bitchfest of American feminist politics; and I thought Dickinson graduates were morally embarrassing. (Actually, they are. Dipshittery in elite higher education is not a zero-sum game.)
What they never tell women in these shrill warnings is that they could make all the outwardly right decisions and still end up married to duds. A woman can be sexually cautious in college, marry her college sweetheart in her mid-twenties, and end up divorced and alone in her mid-thirties because he turned out to be gay, then, well, not really gay, but definitely not rooted enough in this world to get in touch with dear friends when he’s in town, and prone to depression when his efforts to bring peace to the Middle East fail, and loose enough in the head to send those friends Christmas letters saying that he “should plead incipient brain damage for interfering with the honorable impulse to say ‘hi’ and catch up.” My parents have some close friends who ended up in these respective positions as exes; they’re still quite friendly with each other to the extent that he’s not in another galaxy (or holed up in the ass end of Santa Fe) at the moment, and they’re both really decent people, but as I’ve shown, dude’s well weird. I’d be stunned if a youth misspent on alcoholic sluttiness or excessive professional ambition, on either spouse’s part, had fuck-all to do with the divorce.
Is it just me, or is this whole dispute just another insipid round of sanctimonious breeders intoning ominous warnings at cat women in training?
And of all the Philadelphia sluts the Times could have profiled, these? Seriously? The greater Philadelphia area has some fine sluts, as I know because I have had the privilege of consorting with several of them. It also has some who are not only generically unstable but also really trashy, but they can be fun, too, as I also know from experience. I suppose these Penn women might be fun, after a fashion, but Lordy, they sound like headcases. All work and no play makes Jill a very dull girl. For that matter, all play and no work can easily do the same thing, but how stupid are American yuppies that they can’t find a happy medium? And how beholden are they to the helicoptering of their parents? That faint thumping of the blades can be heard in a few spots where the girls mention that they’ve always been told to be ambitious and successful. Some of these chicks are clearly in the land of psychosomatic disorders, malnutrition, mental illness, and substance abuse–all of it, I should mention, clearly attributable to discrete and needless stressors in their educational lives. How else does one explain an inconceivable comment like this:
“Ten years from now, no one will remember–I will not remember–who I have slept with,” A. said. “But I will remember, like, my transcript, because it’s still there. I will remember what I did. I will remember my accomplishments and places my name is hung on campus.”
Huh? I will remember what I did, but I won’t remember my sexual encounters, because my sexual encounters were not things that I did? There’s a certain poignant farsightedness to this woman’s musings, but it’s mixed in with straight-up crazy. By her reckoning, her college transcript will be a literal idol in the biblical sense, or maybe the Holy of Holies, solemnly guarded in the Registrar’s Vault; the socially meaningless activities she took on because she was too ambitious for her own good will be enduring; her intimate, human interactions with other people will be dust in the wind; and her name will be commemorated like that of Ozymandius in the hallowed halls of University City. This is existential metaphysics gone completely batshit.
That said, one does not simply believe such things, unless one has been socially conditioned to believe them. Teh crazy has an extrinsic origin: parents, parents’ friends, peers, the earnest twatwaffles at US News & World Report, high-hatters in the white-shoe “industries” where the big bucks are made. It’s reasonable enough to say that it’s society’s fault, as long as one properly delineates society to exclude all the poors who don’t give a shit where the graduate went to school. I can assure you all that the vast majority of the people where I’m currently staying in Northeast Salem can’t explain the differences between Penn, Penn State, and Penn Central. They probably figure that all three are an improvement over Chemeketa Community College, although I certainly don’t. At least Penn Central literally got people somewhere, albeit insolvently and in an uninspiring livery.
By the way, one doesn’t learn that kind of thing by going to college; one learns it by being a train buff, by reading books about trains and shit. I get the feeling that these Penn girls don’t have much of a general fund of information because they haven’t allowed themselves the time to build one. The disgusting truth is that the status whores who define success in America have no problem with ignorance as long as it’s clubbable. The other disgusting truth is that other people let them define success instead of simulating masturbation for their benefit when they don the high hat.
Here’s what I’m wondering: If I pen a strident letter to Dickinson Magazine in which I explain that the reason I have established a massage parlor for women is that careerism has turned women into the kind of empty hedonists who are willing to pay me to rub their T&A, will I be able to parlay that letter into a contract for a book in which I explore the sociology of divorced flight attendants–make that stewardesses of any marital status, definitely including the married ones, and also Chapman alumnae, who are way more chill and fly than their Dickinson counterparts, and while we’re at it, some of Oregon’s preternaturally hot State Troopers, who obviously need a massage? Less coherent books have been written; I’m just sayin’.
Nah, I have way too much in the way of scruples for that business.