Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Sexual Revolution and Sexuality

On Youtube, I recently started noticing a handful of posters who, when a female news anchor does Al Jazeera's news summaries (an excellent way to keep in touch with the news on your own time, by the way), left comments consisting entirely of a note that she's quite attractive. I find this pretty bothersome, and occasionally grumble at people a bit for it. One of the people I grumbled at recently had a strange response, framing me to as an ultra-conservative with views from before the sexual revolution. I'm not directly threatened by his statement; he's drawing a lot of wrong meaning out of my grumbles, but it does illustrate an interesting tension between some of the goals of the sexual revolution and of efforts at building a more sexually just society. The tension can be resolved by framing each in a reasonable way and then examining the intersection of those refined concepts. There are a few reasonable ways to do that; here's my take.

The sexual revolution was a set of shifts in society's attitudes towards sexuality. Instead of being a taboo topic, marked as entirely private and often shameful except in an Abrahamic sense, it is an acceptable topic in some contexts, and is usually not shameful. As a topic, we still must use judgement to figure out when to talk about sex and when to do sex. Masturbation, non-marital sex (assuming one is not yet in a monogamous relationship) and pornography are both considered part of a healthy lifestyle but are still matters that are best discussed only with caution in public, not because they are shameful, but because they are:
a) intimate, and may bring us more close to someone than we want to be
b) squick-inducing, potentially, given the wide range of potential sexual practices
c) not very classy to wear on one's sleeve
We note as well that some parts of the sexual revolution went much further than what we are left with; things like free love, swinging, and polyamory were once pushed as a new norm; instead these things have just been marked as acceptable/tolerated but off-the-beaten-path. Likewise (but less so) with public nudity.

Efforts at building a more sexually just society (that is, one more just to people of either gender) are about eliminating a number of the barriers to human potential by changing laws, explicit social structures, and to a certain extent attitudes that limit the ability of half of our population to self-actualise. Alongside these problems, it is also desirable to deconstruct the traditional concepts of masculinity and femininity, as these are barriers to people of both genders reaching their potential.

So stated, the apparent conflict between these is in expressions of sexual interest. While one of the goals and results of the sexual revolution was to create acceptance that sex happens and allow discussion of it, this should generally be topically appropriate; victorian sensibilities are over, but the replacement still has boundaries of propriety. Expressions of sexual interest are still inappropriate in many situations. In the particular case I approached, it's inappropriate because when only women are commented on that way, and often when it's the only feedback they get, it easily gives the impression that women in the workplace are only there as eye candy, and that they'll never be treated seriously as professionals; that attitude is damaging. Moving slightly off the example, if one's coworkers themselves did it, it suggests that one will not get on the interesting projects or move on to roles of greater responsibility if one is not even being evaluated on the right criteria.

This is not to say that flirting should be verboten in workplaces. It is also not against objectification; we all objectify others sometimes (in porn at least, and often people (of either gender) go out to a bar just looking for sex; not something I've ever done, but it's ok), and that is fine. Also, this kind of criticism is less-strongly aimed at people who really are very sex-oriented and are mainly at work to pay the bills. It's more strongly aimed at men who have a strong interest in work and a strong interest in sex, and are work-objectifying in their interactions with other men, and mostly sex-objectifying in their interactions with women at work.


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