One meets the most interesting people in the obituary pages of The New York Times. On Monday, July 13, 2015, for those of us who didn’t know him before by reputation or his 20 books, we learned about Charles Winick, a professor of anthropology and sociology. He taught at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and is known for his warnings about the blurring of lines between the sexes in The New People: Desexualization in American Life in 1968.
He insisted that ‘equality does not mean equivalence, and a difference is not deficiency.’ Archaeologists of the future may regard a radical dislocation of sexual identity as the single most important event of our time.
Winick’s concern about the increasing lack of distinction between the sexes reminded me of the state of sexual experience displayed on several popular TV series. Since the first season of Girls, Lena Dunham’s successful HBO series about women in their twenties trying to make it in NYC, I have been disturbed by the prevalence of explicit, casual sex scenes in many episodes. Broad City is a funnier series on Comedy Central, about a similar group of young women experiencing life in NYC. Their friendships are shallow, interesting jobs are rare, and sex looks lousy. It is pornography for the middle class [in other words, it’s borderline porno and the middle class can be titillated without feeling “dirty”] and, thus, acceptable on cable TV.
According to Manohla Dargis, in a New York Times review of Amy Schumer’s new film, Trainwreck, that was just released, we are in a neofeminist (see note below) moment. In a kind of convoluted way, women, now unencumbered by stereotypes of the past, are free to express themselves as they wish (totally “feminine” or not) and behave with the same freedom once associated with men in the arenas of sexuality and the workplace.
In Trainwreck, as in her best work elsewhere, Ms. Schumer is at her strongest when she insists that women aren’t distressed damsels but—as they toddle, walk and race in the highest of heels, the tightest of skirts, the sexiest, mightiest of poses—the absolute agents of their lives and desires.
Winick warned of a flattening out of experience as the sexes take on the attributes of the other. Prior to the Sixties, it was a kind of given, whether true or not, that men could have as much sex as they could get with impunity. Women now claim the same right and why not? But at what cost? According to Winick,
It is increasingly difficult to tell the sex of many things, at almost any distance, in America today. . . . He said scientists had warned that radical changes in sex roles might lead to the end of the species. This does not mean that we, The New People, will fail to survive or we are unable to create a viable substitute for rejected lifestyles. . . . It does suggest that the new tone of life, a bitter, metallic existence, may simply not be worth the price of enduring it.
While Winick’s view of a future of sameness in gender roles is harsh and extreme, one cannot help but be deeply disturbed by the repeated display of casual sex scenes that do not indicate any sense of intimacy, passion, or tenderness, and often even privacy in Girls or Broad City. As an antidote to the current culture and Professor’s Winick’s bleak prediction, here is an idealized description of what Mario Vargas Llosa, in “Ars Erotica,” proposes that human sexual relationships should/could be like:
There are many ways to define eroticism, but the best might be to call it physical love stripped of animality. The satisfaction of an instinctive urge becomes a shared creative activity that prolongs and sublimates physical pleasure, providing a mise-en-scène that turns it into a work of art. . . . An ideal eroticism would broaden the boundaries within which our sex lives unfold such that men and women might act freely, exploring their desires and fantasies without feeling threatened or discriminated against. But it would still maintain the forms that preserve the private and intimate nature of sex, so that sex lives do not become banal or animalistic. . . . Without attention to the forms and rituals that enrich, prolong, and sublimate pleasure, the sex act would again become a purely physical exercise—a natural drive in the human organism, devoid of sensitivity and emotion . . . Making love in our time, in the Western world, is much closer to pornography than to eroticism.
— Gayle Rodda Kurtz, Zeteo Contributor
Note: Here is the definition of Neofeminism from Wikipedia,
Neofeminism describes an emerging view of women as becoming empowered through the celebration of attributes perceived to be conventionally feminine, that is, it glorifies a womanly essence over claims to equality with men. It is a term that has come into use in the early 21st century to refer to a popular culture trend, what critics see as a type of “lipstick feminism” that confines women to stereotypical roles, while it erodes cultural freedoms women gained through the second-wave feminism of the 1960s and 1970s in particular.
Some might disagree with part of this definition. Women have clearly gained and celebrate freedom in the sexual sphere while dressing in the most feminine “costumes.” In the workplace, women have made huge strides and gained in equal pay and more women are graduating from college than men.
Quote from “Ars Erotica” is from the July 2015 issue of Harper’s Magazine.
Top photograph of Charles Winick is from The New York Times. Second photo of Girls and third photo of Broad City from Google Images.