Monday, June 22, 2009

Sexy Brides


I was about to start writing the second part of my review of Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs, when I came across an article proving that Levy is not alone in her vision of American society as more and more sexualized in a very negative way.

In her article "Like a Virgin No More," the Newsweek's Kayleen Schaefer takes on modern brides who, instead of being "blushing, virginal and wrapped from head to toe in tulle and lace", are "more vamp than virgin" and "more bold than blushing." In her scandalized observation that on their wedding day most women today are not virgins and have nothing to blush about, Schaefer is several decades too late, so I won't even address her strangely outdated views on brides.

What interests me much more is the refrain that characterizes most of the publications on sex in America. "Our entire culture is loosening up and becoming more sexualized" says Schaefer, echoing Levy, Valenti, and many others. Here is yet again, this peculiarly American belief that talking about sex and performing it equals being sexually liberated. In fact, of course, it's just the opposite. People who create endless variations on the word porn (porny, pornified, porned, pornification, etc.) and people who talk sexuality to death are equally afraid of sex. The strong desire to have sex and the enormous fear of sexuality (Puritanical heritage) produce both the phenomenon Schaefer describes and her response to it.

In order to justify her discomfort with more revealing bridal gowns and "racy bachelorette parties", Schaefer comes up with an extremely belabored explanation for her fears: "While most sociologists agree that women admitting to lust and wanting to be sexually empowered is a good thing, they see a problem with making exhibitionism the centerpiece of the wedding ceremony: it might crowd out other aspects of the marriage." This article is far from being an only attempt to ascribe some social message and meaning to what is simply the author's discomfort with the idea of sex. Schaefer need not worry, however. Everything she describes in her article has as little to do with sexual liberation as her article itself.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Actually, I like the tendency described in your reference... :) And not just for selfish reasons. :) I think that since the old symbolism is gone (brides are no longer virgins, they are not property of their fathers before marriage, do not become property of their husbands after marriage, etc), it is natural to look for some new symbolism for such a marker event as wedding. And in view of what the old patriarchal symbolism was about, it is, in my opinion, very appropriate irony that the new symbolism is sexy, including more sexy than usual.

I do not believe for a moment it is only about "exhibitionism", which in turn is supposedly consequence of our "sexualized culture"...

One thing which sounded extremely weird to me is the following: "The message you're sending about your appearance can override other conversations you should be having about your future." ??? Now one has to have some very serious conversation about the future right on the wedding day! And night! It is an order! Fun? What fun? :):)
V.

Clarissa said...

I know, the part about serious conversations was very strange. If people are getting married, I'm sure they've had an opportunity to have a couple of serious conversations about their future. :-) If the wedding is your first chance to have such a conversation, maybe you are kind of rushing into the marriage.

On one of discussion sites there was a question from a 27 year old man asking if he HAS to have sex with his bride on wedding night. There will be so many things to do on that day, he said, who'll have the desire or the energy for sex? Of course, I asked him whether it wouldn't make sense to skip some other stuff instead of skipping sex, but people started getting upset and screaming that weddings are not about sex and do I even know how many chores the bride and the groom have on that day.

So, yeah, for many people fun is not as important as chores. :-)

Anonymous said...

Clarissa, these are two different sub-populations. Members of one sub-population are, on their wedding day, satisfying society, relatives, and their own Cinderella fantasies, or wishes to outdo neighbors or friends. Of course they have a lot of chores on their wedding day. But these are conservative people who have nothing to do with the original article.
Others are enjoying themselves, sometimes in ways described in the article. I do not think boudoir photos or sexy dresses are considered "chore" by anybody yet. When they become chores, I'll agree that "culture got porned".
V.

Clarissa said...

They are not as much different sub-populations as two sides of the same coin, I believe. The same as the growth of the number of stribbers and the resurgent interest in Playboy bunnies (described by Levy) correlate very neatly with the Bush era.

Anonymous said...

May be...
I cannot pinpoint it very well, and it is definitely not based on the latest posts alone, but I am starting to get a feeling that for you talking about sex, acting sexy (for the lack of better words I use these to speak about the subject matter of that bride post) on one side, and actually having sex and enjoying it on the other side somehow became mutually exclusive...
In my opinion they do not have to be. Or is it just a belief about how majority of people approach the issue?
V.

Clarissa said...

Believe me, I'm totally with you. You should see the way I dress and behave when I'm not teaching. :-) (Not stripping in bars, though). :-)So, of course, these things are not exclusive. Only, in a patriarchal society many people use all of this stuff as a substitute for actual sex.

This is absolutely not my idea. I stole it from Foucault's first volume of his History of Sexuality. I wish I had it with me to post some quotes. He said something like "Everything in this society is about sex, except sex."

And I think that, sadly, he is right.

Anonymous said...

Clarissa, I obviously did not mean that talking about sex and doing the deed became mutually exclusive in your own life. What I meant was that somehow you seem to suspect everyone else who dares to talk about sex or to act sexy in that it is all they got, in using talking about sex to compensate for the lack of actual sex... :) I just wonder why?.. Based on a self-contradictory behavior of some flashing virgin, whom you yourself declared being far from the mainstream? Or is it some kind of personal statistics based on conversations with friends?
V.

Clarissa said...

Based on the fact that this society at large is a society that blabbers about sex non-stop but is deeply Puritanical in its actual attitudes to sex. Remember our discussion about purity balls? Where esle could such an atrocity possibly happen?

When I hear what my students have to say about sex or what some feminist professors dish out as advice on sexual matters I often think that people are making fun of me. And then I discover to my horror that they are dead serious.

Anonymous said...

How large a fraction of population went through the purity balls? Is there any statistical evidence indicating that those who did blabber more than average about sex?
I am not saying you are wrong, some tendencies are definitely there, but it seems to me that you are overgeneralizing. By virtue of assuming, by default, that people described in the referred paper fit into that sexy-outside-patriarchal-inside mold.
However, you did answer my question - it is statistics based on personal interactions...
V.

Clarissa said...

And in everything I observe in the news, on television, in public discourse. Abstinence only sex ed, a character on a popular tv show worrying that she must be a slut since she had two sexual partners (altogether, not at the same time), every episode of Sex and the City, Dr. Phil show, etc.

Anonymous said...

Two thoughts...
First, I suspect there is some danger in watching Dr.Phil and similar things even if you vehemently disagree with him/them... Maybe that's what happened to Levy - maybe she watched too much of that stuff, and finally started believing it is all widespread?.. :)

Second, have you ever considered to look beyond that "puritanism is a source of many evils" idea? I mean, what if the puritanism became just an excuse for not doing certain things (loosely defined as growing up) people are afraid to do for other reasons?

V.

Clarissa said...

First point: I agree completely. As a long-time fan of Dr.Phil, I have to say that I oftem have to tell myself "this isn't real, this isn't real" to avoid being scared.

Second point: this sounds so interesting! Are you suggesting that the fear of sexuality is not the cause, it's one of the effects of immaturity? I have to think about this some more.

And then somebody is complaining about not having enough original ideas. :-)

Anonymous said...

Technically, it was not my idea. Its Schnarch's...
Close but imperfect quotation: "we are very selective about which particular religious prohibitions cripple us - they are usually about something we feel uneasy about in the first place"
V.

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Anonymous said...

I find it very curious that you both assume that there are no more normal people out there that are virgins getting married. I have dozens of friends, normal friends who have fun just as you do, who are/were virgins before they got married. I too am a virgin, soon to be married. I understand many people aren't virgins anymore but as more virgins are getting married, more non-virgins are wondring why they would ever get married in the first place, so they never do.