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Did Feminism Backfire?



Tom Hoopes - published on 08/31/14

After the sexual revolution, what's a woman worth?

As the 2014-15 school year begins, campuses across the country are deeply immersed in Title IX training.

The regulation previously known as an athletic fairness doctrine has morphed into a comprehensive set of training and reporting requirements designed to prevent sexual violence on campuses. Debates rage about whether it is biased against men but the truth at its core cannot be denied: Women feel increasingly unsafe in a culture that has turned them into objects of sexual pleasure above all else.

The evidence is everywhere.

Headlines in August told us that Nicki Minaj beat Miley Cyrus’ record for the most views of a video in 24 hours (19.6 million). Minaj out-grossed Cyrus in more ways than one: Her video featured many women writhing in a jungle; Miley writhed alone in a construction site.

Instead of denouncing the new expectation that women have to strip to be interesting, feminists have embraced it. At last week’s VMA awards, Beyonce and scantily clad dancers writhed in front of giant letters spelling “FEMINIST,” and real live feminists took to Twitter (and Time) to celebrate the moment as a glorious win for women.

To understand just how ugly the culture has gotten for women, try this experiment: Google image search your children’s first names. The boy searches will turn up famous namesakes from history, sports and movies. Any search of a girl’s name will return sexualized images and topless models.

How did we get here? You can trace the history of the sexual revolution by what each decade mainstreamed and how that changed the culture:

The 1960s mainstreamed the Pill, liberating sex from baby-making.  Cultural attitudes to sex outside marriage quickly went from the winks and double-entendres of one generation to the celebratory rock-n-roll anthems of the next — from “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall In Love” to “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road?” Whether everyone was having extra-marital sex or not, everyone was proclaiming their right to it by the end of the 1960s.

The 1970s mainstreamed abortion and ushered in an age of ironies. Sex was celebrated as uncomplicated fun on the one hand, but you had to kill your kids for it on the other. Hippies were making sex a form of enlightenment and self-fulfillment in The Joy of Sex and the Whole Earth Catalog while macho men from James Bond to Burt Reynolds were making it a form of conquest.

The 1980s mainstreamed the condom. Just as venereal disease epidemics were making sex more dangerous than it had ever been, “safe sex” was the mantra. High schools told students to “Just Say No” to drugs and gave them condoms so that they could say Yes to sex. Music videos and John Hughes movies were targeted to audiences of sex-obsessed adolescents.

The 1990s mainstreamed the thong. Victoria’s Secret debuted its underwear fashion shows and Monica Lewinski signaled the President of the United States with hers. They wouldn’t become the official stage costume for female artists until later, but singers from the Spice Girls to Britney Spears were starting the move in that direction.

The first decade of the 2000s  mainstreamed pornography. The federal government folded on obscenity regulations in the 1990s just as the Internet was emerging as a force and so the stage was set: Pornography became big business and men (and then, increasingly, women) began spending a lot of time online alone with the door shut.

What will the 2000-teens bring? They have already seen a burgeoning sex toy industry and courts are in the process of redefining marriage so that it is an affirmation of romantic feelings, not a help for child-bearing and child-raising.

I remember in the newsroom at the National Catholic Register in 1999 when someone remarked that they couldn’t imagine the culture’s sexual amorality getting any worse.

A wise older editor chuckled. “Just you wait and see,” he said.

Now we have seen: A sex saturated culture where everything goes and nothing is left to the imagination. Mary Eberstadt demonstrated with social science that the sexual revolution has had devastating consequences for women, men, teens and children.  

The biggest cultural change may be in our degradation of women.

Catholics know that “purity of heart” is that quality that allows us to see another’s true worth. People describe what it was like to look into the eyes of St. John Paul II or Blessed Teresa of Calcutta: It was like you were the only person who existed for them at that moment. That’s purity of heart; being treated like what you are, a person of infinite dignity.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy in the sexualization of our culture is the loss of that purity.

When we allow human beings to become objects of sexual pleasure, we are all diminished in each others eyes. As women become increasingly fed up with the state of affairs, and try to reclaim safety, at least, in a world where they must constantly be on guard, Catholics have an important message to add.

Women’s power isn’t in their sexuality, it’s in their humanity. Just like men.

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