Tuesday, June 29, 2010

No Sex Please?

I just read the most fascinatingly problematic article on sexuality from Sunday's New York Times.   The title, "No Sex Please, We're Middle Class," caught my eye at number two on today's most e-mailed article list.  I was expecting a treatise on the ways in which middle-class values contrasted with the values of the working and/or upper classes in repressive ways.

What I got instead was a winding rant about how much better things were in the good old days when men were men and women were women.  Before improved sexual parity in the work place abolished the "intriguingly separate worlds" of the sexes and caused "suffering from over-familiarity" and "a curse of the mundane."

Basically Camille Paglia is arguing that a female version of Viagra will never work because low female libido is caused by the current set of middle class values.  The main problem with her argument is that she provides absolutely zero evidence that the average middle class woman of today has a lower libido and/or less satisfying sex life than women of either another era and/or class.

And while the total lack of support for her central thesis is certainly problematic for arguing her point, it is actually not my biggest problem with the article.  My problem lies in the blatant racism, sexism and classicism that runs throughout the piece.

Middle class white women are characterized as frigid office drones who repress their sexuality and whose very presence in the work place forces men to "neuter themselves," while "multiracial lower-middle-class and working-class" individuals apparently have better libidos because they can be found shopping at the "racy lingerie" store Victoria's Secret in "white middle class" suburban shopping malls.

Without some sort of evidence (of any sort) to back up her assertions, Paglia's portrayal of people of color amounts to nothing more than racial stereotyping that has existed since it was used as part of the justification for keeping African American as slaves--when dark skinned individual were seen as having an animalistic hyper-sexuality that helped to justify treating these people as animals and therefore as property.

I really am quite intrigued by Paglia's central tenet in this article.  We certainly do live in a culture that is quick to medicate, and there are plenty of examples how this can indeed have unintended consequences. And, a lot could be argued about whether it is necessary to pathologize what may very well be natural variation in libido level. We don't expect everyone to be the same hight or run at the same speed, so why should we expect everyone to be equally sexual?

But, there are just as certainly countless people whose lives have been dramatically improved by all of these medication that we are so quick to criticize. Pretty much any bodily function we have can and does malfunction on occasion, so is there any reason to believe that female libido is somehow different?

There are vast quantities of space to debate this issue.  I just don't think a long whine about how the grass is greener for everyone else (based on nothing but racist and sexist stereotypes) is the way to make a point about female sexuality and the necessity of female libido enhancers.

I have even more thoughts about this article. But, I am at a conference this week, and it's time for me to get back to talking about obscure and nerdy things with my follow affectionados of strange and obscure organisms.

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