Political Flavors

Commodification and Dehumanization

Posted in Editorials on February 28th, 2011

This recent article by Mark Regnerus of Slate has been making the rounds. Christopher Ryan is quoted at the end but stated on facebook that he disagrees with it and Violet Blue explained why it makes her uncomfortable (blog contains NSFW advertisements.)

I agree with Violet that the premise is inherently “slut shaming.” That is, it challenges the idea that women’s sexual autonomy is a good thing.

If women were more fully in charge of how their relationships transpired, we’d be seeing, on average, more impressive wooing efforts, longer relationships, fewer premarital sexual partners, shorter cohabitations, and more marrying going on.

This conclusion, upon which the entire article is based is stated as if it were self evident. It’s not. What people say is their ideal age for marriage is within a year of the average age most people do get married. I don’t think you can blame this year gap entirely on women having premarital sex. Economic factors like the price of student loans, the job market for young people and cultural factors like the acceptability of delayed marriage also play a part.

Regnerus is also extremely vague. What are more impressive wooing efforts? Our cultural fascination with engagement rings and extreme proposals has created an unrealistic standard for men to live up to. But I think Regnerus was saying that if women had their way they wouldn’t be having sex without those types of grand romantic gestures during early courtship. This is patently ridiculous – he’s painting grown women as little girl children demanding grand gestures and valuing sex with a partner no more than a sex worker does with her clients.

And that’s the heart of what I disagree with about this article. To reduce all sex to a commodity is dehumanizing. It removes all other factors from a persons behavior. Under this model a man never has tender or loving feelings for his partner, and a woman is incapable of lust. There is no such thing as mutual affection and pleasure, only a calculated transaction. Some people might view their sexuality in these terms, but it is patently false to insist that every human person does, not to mention the way this erases gay, lesbian and polyamarous people.

Imagine if we commodified other types of interpersonal interactions the way we do sex. What if we were shaming people and blaming advances in telecommunication for how it’s lowered the “price” of a conversation. In the olden days it took months for letters to travel across the ocean. Now with fairly cheap cell phones, people don’t wait for important events to communicate. They can call to say hello and chat at any time! It used to be you had to wait until Sunday afternoon or evening to make a long distance phone call without ruining your budget. Now people can Skype every night! Not feeling outraged? Me neither.

The role that the acceptability and reduced risks of premarital sex might play in delaying marriage is probably a good thing. It’s inadvisable for someone to make the serious life long commitment of marriage just because of lust and curiosity. Those who would say otherwise are usually pushing an agenda be it religious or natalist, but never with the interest of the young person held first.

Jill, a 20-year-old college student from Texas, is one of the many young women my colleagues and I interviewed who finds herself confronting the sexual market’s realities. Startlingly attractive and an all-star in all ways, she patiently endures her boyfriend’s hemming and hawing about their future. If she were operating within a collegiate sexual economy that wasn’t oversupplied with women, men would compete for her and she would easily secure the long-term commitment she says she wants.

Get that? Jill doesn’t want to marry her boyfriend because she loves him. She wants long term commitment – the unspoken assumption is that any man would be sufficient. This is what I talk about when I say that these narratives portray women as incapable of love. It’s disgusting.

And Regnerus doesn’t stop at misogyny – he is decidedly man hating as well:

Don’t forget your Freud: Civilization is built on blocked, redirected, and channeled sexual impulse, because men will work for sex. Today’s young men, however, seldom have to. As the authors of last year’s book Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality put it, “Societies in which women have lots of autonomy and authority tend to be decidedly male-friendly, relaxed, tolerant, and plenty sexy.” They’re right. But then try getting men to do anything.

Do you understand that men? If you are getting laid, you are incapable of contributing to society. But it’s not your fault for being lazy, it’s those nasty women’s fault for having the sex with you that you thought you both wanted. The evil sex is why there has been no scientific, artistic or social progress made by men since the birth control pill was made available in 1960.

It’s really incomprehensible to me why feminists are the ones who supposedly hate men in this discussion. People like Regnerus can argue for stripping women of their autonomy and paint men as loutish slaves to their sex drive and it’s not immediately understood as hateful to both men and women. Instead, people nod along as if he’s speaking some great truth about human nature. He’s not. He’s simply repeating outdated tropes that have yet to fade into obscurity with the passage of time.

3 Responses to “Commodification and Dehumanization”

  1. Christopher Ryan Says:

    Hear, hear! It’s funny that the concluding notion is that men who are having sex are unproductive. Tell it to Jimi Hendrix, George Clooney, and the entire NBA. Hell, tell it to the most productive men from any sphere of life. Most of them are getting laid plenty, thank you very much. But they keep showing up at work in the morning. Somehow, the sex doesn’t destroy their work ethic. It is an incredibly insulting piece of writing. Women are nothing but carrots held in front of men to get them to pull the wagon of civilization a bit further along. And let’s not even get into the question of whether or not civilization is a net gain for human beings…

  2. MissCherryPi Says:

    I don’t know what the goal is of this type of reasoning. A return to a society where people regard their sexuality with shame? I consider myself lucky to be alive when I am – I think of Ann Fessler’s “The Girls Who Went Away” and the scene in “Kinsey” where the young married couple asks for advice about sex, fearful that female masturbation leads to infertility.

    It’s almost beyond the realm of parody. When Futurama imagined a world where easy sex made people unproductive, it was robots who tempted men away from society. Not actual human women with thoughts and feelings of their own.

  3. Doug Says:

    “What if we were shaming people and blaming advances in telecommunication for how it’s lowered the “price” of a conversation.”

    Oh but they do that too. How many “social networking and cell phones are leading to the destruction of our youth’s communication skills!!!!!” articles do you think have been published since the mid-90’s? I’m going to guess somewhere in the tens of thousands. Interestingly enough, usually by the same type of people who throw out “sex as a commodity” garbage.

    I absolutely hate everything about that article and all the people who talk of those halcyon days where women were forced into their place, children were beaten as a matter of course, babies died at an alarming rate and men suffered from elevated rates of personality disorders.

    I wish there was a little reminder every time one of these articles is written that pops up saying “Yesterday wasn’t better; we’ve just had time to polish it.”

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