(Another post on another chapter of the text book Difference Matters.)
(Note: Don’t think I’ll get too detailed, but some might consider the topic and some of the discussion R-rated.)
I think this is the chapter so far where I am the most conflicted. Most of the other chapters had a well-reasoned feeling to them on the topic, even when I could sense a definite slant, but this chapter reads much more like a politically correct tract — especially in the constructing sexuality section. The author shows a blatant disregard for the views and opinions of other eras. We obviously are much smarter now than they were then comes through very clearly. Even so, the author does manage to maintain her scholarly tone and perspective.
I’m going to write up this chapter different than the others. I am going to put her conclusion first, and work backwards on various points. She concludes:
Sexuality is a primary, primal part of human identity. Across the history of the United States, constructions of sexuality reflect changing attitudes toward reproduction, pleasure, and hetero- versus homosexuality. Currently, ideologies of heteronormativity infuse dominant institutions of society, as GLBTQ groups and their advocates seek equality. Moreover, a double bind persists as heterosexual women generally are expected to be chaste, while heterosexual men tend to be socialized to perform aggressive sexuality as a marker of masculinity: “The Victorian sexual philosophy in America is part of a traditional approach to life in which male dominance is accepted and the inequality between women and men is considered proper.” And, attitudes and behaviors vary depending on other aspects of identity such as gender, ethnicity, race, religion, and age. Although advertisements, television programs, movies, and Internet pornography bombard us with explicit and implicit sexual behaviors and lifestyles, we “continue to harbor remnants of an overall degrading and fearful view of sexuality.”
Allen, Brenda J. (2010-07-01). Difference Matters: Communicating Social Identity (Page 133-134). Waveland Pr Inc. Kindle Edition.
That conclusion is a dense summation of what she wrote, and hides so many assumptions, many of which I think are evidence of “chronological snobbery” (viewing the perspectives of ones own era as superior to those of all others). If one was using her concepts of dominant vs. non-dominant groups, she views “Victorian-era” views on sexuality as the dominant influence on American sexuality today, while I read her perspective as being influenced by post-modern sexual mores as the dominant influence. There is a question of which is dominant, the past or the present? Which in my perspective is the wrong way to look at it. One era shouldn’t be dominant over the other, rather they should both impart their own wisdom.
Her initial statement, that sexuality is a primary part of human identity, is the one part of her statement that I think no era of time would disagree with. Where they start to disagree with her is on everything that she writes following that idea.
The author makes a statement about early colonial sexual ideas that is highly at odds with what was actually the view of the time:
Based on strict religious doctrine, these groups viewed the sex act solely as a means to an end: reproduction. In addition to concerns about adhering to religious dictates, they advocated procreative sex because they needed a critical mass of laborers for the growing society. Consequently, clergymen and lawmakers collaborated to develop and enforce religious doctrines and legal statutes to facilitate reproduction. They proclaimed that only married couples should engage in sex, strictly to procreate and not for pleasure.
Allen, Brenda J. (2010-07-01). Difference Matters: Communicating Social Identity (Page 118). Waveland Pr Inc. Kindle Edition.
This view partakes of the view of Puritans as “Puritanical”, deniers of pleasure. But any reading of the source documents from the time will show this to be untrue. Puritans threw great parties. Puritans enjoyed life, and thought that signs of prosperity were signs of God’s blessing. They believed in the joy of the marriage bed.
What they didn’t do, which the modern culture today does, is separate the joy of sex from its creative process. Pretty much the entire rest of the chapter, its discussions of various eras, medical treatments, heterosexual and homosexual developments, all arise from a separation of the two complementary elements of sexuality, and treating them separately, instead of as one unified, organic whole. It is this lack of perspective that leads to all the current issues and confusions today. There is a drive today to be one with nature, to be natural and organic. But the one place we don’t — the one place we divide and get all scientific, is in our sexuality — and we all suffer for it.
The author’s long discourse on the history of sexuality in the USA, its “construction”, gives credence to a statement that C.S. Lewis made about sex. He noted that during his lifetime people said if we would just talk about sex, get it in the open, we would finally be free and get rid of all the mess. Well, we have been talking about it all of his lifetime, and all of mine, and it is still a mess. C.S. Lewis suggested that perhaps the reasons the Victorians chose to put it behind close doors is because it WAS a mess.
Throughout the chapter the question of whether our sexuality is essentialist or universalist (basically is it nature or nurture) comes up in various contexts. I think the answer is “YES”, and I think how much of each, in any person’s context, is an important question in deciding how each person needs to deal with the current state of their own sexuality. But the root of it all, where it all branches out from the core, is the original statement I made about the dividing of the organic whole — the separation of the pleasure of sex from its creative force.
I am not a Catholic, but an American protestant. But theologically I agree with the late Pope John Paul II in his Theology of the Body. The body expresses theology, including the creative force. When we separate or deny any part of that, we deny ourselves and that theology and do damage to the whole of ourselves and others.
Does that mean I claim to be whole? Far from it, but it is the core of identity that I recognize for myself, where I want to be.
Does that mean I look down on others with other identities? Try to discriminate against them for being different? No, though that is a more personal decision on my part. As C.S. Lewis also noted in the Four Loves, how anyone can have anything but “bewildered pity” for the truly homosexual he was never able to understand.
(P.S. — I missed a lot of other points, sexuality in the workplace, etc., that the author had, by addressing this major philosophical point from the beginning. It is hard to follow along the same thoughts and questions, when you begin the journey headed in different directions, and see your destination as something different. I am sure I will have discussions during the class itself on the areas I have managed to skim over in the post.)