site banner

Culture War Roundup for the week of October 23, 2023

This weekly roundup thread is intended for all culture war posts. 'Culture war' is vaguely defined, but it basically means controversial issues that fall along set tribal lines. Arguments over culture war issues generate a lot of heat and little light, and few deeply entrenched people ever change their minds. This thread is for voicing opinions and analyzing the state of the discussion while trying to optimize for light over heat.

Optimistically, we think that engaging with people you disagree with is worth your time, and so is being nice! Pessimistically, there are many dynamics that can lead discussions on Culture War topics to become unproductive. There's a human tendency to divide along tribal lines, praising your ingroup and vilifying your outgroup - and if you think you find it easy to criticize your ingroup, then it may be that your outgroup is not who you think it is. Extremists with opposing positions can feed off each other, highlighting each other's worst points to justify their own angry rhetoric, which becomes in turn a new example of bad behavior for the other side to highlight.

We would like to avoid these negative dynamics. Accordingly, we ask that you do not use this thread for waging the Culture War. Examples of waging the Culture War:

  • Shaming.

  • Attempting to 'build consensus' or enforce ideological conformity.

  • Making sweeping generalizations to vilify a group you dislike.

  • Recruiting for a cause.

  • Posting links that could be summarized as 'Boo outgroup!' Basically, if your content is 'Can you believe what Those People did this week?' then you should either refrain from posting, or do some very patient work to contextualize and/or steel-man the relevant viewpoint.

In general, you should argue to understand, not to win. This thread is not territory to be claimed by one group or another; indeed, the aim is to have many different viewpoints represented here. Thus, we also ask that you follow some guidelines:

  • Speak plainly. Avoid sarcasm and mockery. When disagreeing with someone, state your objections explicitly.

  • Be as precise and charitable as you can. Don't paraphrase unflatteringly.

  • Don't imply that someone said something they did not say, even if you think it follows from what they said.

  • Write like everyone is reading and you want them to be included in the discussion.

On an ad hoc basis, the mods will try to compile a list of the best posts/comments from the previous week, posted in Quality Contribution threads and archived at /r/TheThread. You may nominate a comment for this list by clicking on 'report' at the bottom of the post and typing 'Actually a quality contribution' as the report reason.

Jump in the discussion.

No email address required.

Male vs female sexuality isn’t “better” or “worse”, the point is to illustrate that yes, male sexuality is more likely to be responsible for post-sexual-revolution sexual morality than female sexuality. And yes, a simple deductive exercise shows that men are much more interested in the promise of non-monogamy than women, because they want to fuck lots of hot chicks.

If you offered a thousand men and a thousand women the choice between ten years of regular casual sex with a vast array of 99th percentile hotness partners or one monogamous, happy, forever relationship with a kind, very attractive, wealthy, supportive and charismatic woman or man (who was incredibly attracted to them) including marriage and children, this difference would play out in the results.

The fantasy of casual sex with strangers, ie. promiscuity ie. hookup culture appeals more to men than to women. The dream of the sexual revolution wasn’t really a dream that was designed to appeal to women, which is telling when considering how it came about.

I suspect that the core of @HighResolutionSleep's objection is this:

You posted about how specifically men's sexual vices are destroying our societies—the vice of sexual liberalism and the men who pushed it for their own gain: the gain of having less attached sex with women. The gain that men got at the expense of women. Men's ill-gotten gain against women.

He perceives me to be blaming men - blaming his group - for "destroying our societies." I imagine that must feel maddening, in the context of feminism's long history of blaming men for every bad thing that happens, including women's own bad choices. It must feel very, "Heads I win, tails you lose."

But, for starters, I do not think and did not say that the Sexual Revolution is "destroying our societies." I believe it has had some benefits, like making medical information freely available. I also think it's causing a lot of unnecessary misery, particularly for children growing up in unstable households and young girls growing up in the shadow of widely available graphic imagery. But PornHub will not bring down the Republic.

For middlers, I heartily agree with you that it's just wildly implausible that widespread promiscuity and casual sex was enacted at women's behest and for women's benefit. Like, on its face ridiculous. The most prolific slut-shamers have always been women. The most gossipy enforcers of marriage vows have always been women. The $70b/year wedding industry is built almost entirely on women's dreams of happily ever after. The romance genre is by far the bestselling in publishing, it's written almost exclusively for women, and publishing houses tend to have fairly strict formulas about how the story must end with The Heroine Getting the Guy, because that is what sells. You do not see women reading John Ringo-style pulp about a talented woman Doing Cool Things and Nailing One Hottie After Another. No, you see content creators adapting Jane Austen for the seventy-first time.

For enders, it's true that (some) women fought to reduce slut-shaming, stigma, and sexual repression. In the age of condoms and penicillin, it became unfair and unnecessary to ostracize and socially exile a woman forever for exercising bad sexual judgment, especially in her hormonal youth. It had always been monstrous to blame rape victims for their own victimization. It was always unwise to treat innocence and ignorance as synonymous, and women are better off when better informed. Women were involved in social movements to get sympathy for rape victims and "fallen women," where there was previously very little.

But guess the sex of OnlyFans' founder.

Apropos of nothing, I always appreciate your and 2rafa’s contributions to these battle of the sexes conversations even more than elsewhere. I certainly don’t always agree with you, but thank you two for keeping these from devolving into tendentiously male-POV circle-jerks.

I’d be interested to hear more about “growing up in the shadow” of widely available graphic imagery, as compared to young boys growing up in the shadow of female-oriented media like romance novels.

I certainly agree that men are the main driving force behind literal one-night stands. Is this also true for serial monogamy, which seems to be much more widespread, and about which women seem to be pretty enthusiastic? Would they in general (apart from religious conservatives) willingly lose the ability to take a test-ride before irrevocable, lifetime commitment? Would they accept losing the ability to terminate longstanding sexual relationships? My impression from female relatives (none of them especially promiscuous - and I say with love that a couple have big enough mouths that I would have heard about it if they were) and girlfriends is that that would not. Are these not part of the sexual revolution?

Again, with the “having to put out,” as 2rafa put it - I get the general vibe that women are not averse to this? The alternative, both in theory and in practice, was to say ‘yolo’ and hope the guy didn’t have severe ED or otherwise be unsatisfactory in bed. You could historically get the marriage annulled on those grounds in Catholic countries, but only if he was literally unable to penetrate.

How could reduction in slut-shaming, stigma, and sexual repression fail to increase the incidence of promiscuity and casual sex? That’s what those things are for.

Edit: I have no idea why I thought there was a ‘c’ in 2rafa’s handle.

I certainly don’t always agree with you, but thank you two for keeping these from devolving into tendentiously male-POV circle-jerks.

Thanks for saying.

I’d be interested to hear more about “growing up in the shadow” of widely available graphic imagery, as compared to young boys growing up in the shadow of female-oriented media like romance novels.

I am thrilled that you asked, because I think these situations are roughly analogous.

Boys1 may not read or watch much romantic fiction, but its tropes are in the water supply. Young men cannot help but notice that their female peers swoon for tall, solid, good-looking men. Perhaps they're unaware "billionaire" is its own subgenre within published romance, but it’s hard not to notice that many romantic heroes are fabulously wealthy (Mr. Darcy, Linus Larrabee, Christian Grey), titled nobility (Matthew Crawley, every goddamn Disney prince), or otherwise high-status. If he comes from a modest background, he must be remarkably competent, like Lady Chatterley's working class lover who proved his mettle and leadership on the battlefield, was promoted into the ranks of officers, and has reading habits above his station. An utterly unassuming leading man (Hugh Grant in Notting Hill) will at least show impeccable moral character and have a certain earnest charm.

In addition to his other virtues, the romantic hero must be capable of eloquent speeches and/or grand gestures. How must a teenage boy feel, watching this guy? That is how he’s expected to express himself? That’s what girls want? Bare souls and extreme vulnerability - but only the precise right kind of vulnerability? And first you must be a stoic six foot tall combat veteran woodworker self-made man with a taste for poetry?

Perhaps boys have noticed how many leading men are portrayed enduring incredible pain and hardship for the sake of their women. For instance, I had to stop watching Outlander because of just how much self-sacrificial torture they put the hunky Scot through. Even in films aimed at general audiences, you might see heroic men competing with each other for the honor of being burned alive in place of a precious woman. We've discussed in this space how male disposability lies at the center of one of the highest-grossing, most Oscar-nominated movies of all time. Even for womanizer James Bond, the peak of dulce et decorum masculinity is to die for his true love and their child2.

What mortal man can live up to this? What does it all mean about how much women value men in and of themselves, rather than as appliances, means of protection and provision? Are men valuable only for what they can do for women and give to women? And how self-deluded about its realism are the ladies who consume this media?

Now, look, I've watched nearly every adaptation of Jane Austen with half-decent production values. I've watched the Ang Lee film at least six or seven times. I have full-on-sniffles-and-snot cried over the climactic letter in Persuasion. If someone tried to take romantic media away due to alleged harmful effects on boys, I would argue vociferously for its value. I could write 50,000 words on its positive vision of masculinity.3 I could defend it as harmless escapism.

But I must also admit that I binged this stuff most heavily, not when basking in the glow of real life love, but at my lowest and loneliest. In its most tropey, self-indulgent, concentrated form (looking at you, AO3), this is effectively feelings-porn for women. It can warp your wishful thinking as easily as comforting your broken heart. At high enough doses, it’s poison.

On the other hand, little girls are now growing up in the shadow of ubiquitous porn.

The women in their opposite sex peers’ fantasies are just as unrealistic as the vampire billionaires. If you’ve read any cultural commentary in the past twenty years, you’re familiar with the objections: unattainable bodies, unenjoyable acts, etc. These images are available with less effort to more people than ever before. All the parallel questions arise. What girl can live up to this? What does this mean about how much men value women in and of themselves, rather than as bodies performing for their pleasure? And how self-deluded about its realism are the men (and, increasingly, boys) who consume this media? Etc, you’ve heard this before.

If you want to know what it’s like to grow up in this climate, you could do worse than Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade. It’s hard to describe how real it feels. I can’t stand to watch the whole film again, because it’s too uncomfortably true. The heroine, cute little blonde Kayla, wants admiration and attention from her peers, from boys, and especially from her crush. Too shy to seek the limelight in person, she relies on social media instead. She is a hormonal teen like any other, interested in romance and probably some kissing, but she is not ready for sex. Indeed, she finds it intimidating, as is developmentally appropriate. Midway through the film, she discovers that her crush broke up with his girlfriend for refusing to send him nudes. To pique his interest, Kayla lies that she has a whole folder of photos of herself. For the first time, she is an object of interest. When asked if she is willing to gratify boys in other ways, she lies that she is. (Real or perceived) sexual availability is the admission fee to have boys notice her at all. Later in the film, she accepts a ride home from another, older boy, who initiates a game of truth or dare to try to get her shirt off. He gets angry when she stops playing along. She goes home in tears.

“Nothing happened,” someone might say. “He asked, she said no, she got out of the car. Big deal.” I’ve found it difficult to explain to men just how viscerally frightening and degrading this kind of thing can be. Sex is much riskier for women than men, and women’s instincts and emotional hardwiring reflect this. Pretty much any healthy man can overpower even an athletic woman. When you’re alone with a man who unambiguously expects sexuality from you, the mere possibility that he won’t take no for an answer is extremely unsettling.

And in the age of PornTube, men often expect sexuality in return for what is, by historical standards, nothing. The boy in the clip expects Kayla to be grateful for the “experience” he’s offering. This is, of course, absurd. She’s a thirteen year old girl. She wants to be asked to Homecoming and given a goddamn flower on elastic. Maybe she’d like some kissing. She does not want this experience. She’s only entertaining the idea in the hopes of the goddamn flower on elastic. Again, the whole offer is as one-sided and insulting as a woman asking a man, “Wanna buy me a drink?” and then scooting back to her girlfriends with her Paloma.

If someone tried to ban pornography due to alleged harmful effects on girls, I would make the usual arguments about how it’s wrong to ban steak for the adults just because the baby can’t chew it. I could defend it as harmless escapism. But this stuff, too, can warp your wishful thinking as easily as scratching your itch. And at high enough doses, it’s poison.

1When you read “boys,” “men,” “girls,” or “women,” please assume that I am speaking in general, on average, with many individual exceptions. Bimodal distributions, overlapping bell curves, etc. “But I know women who love one night stands!” Fine, sure you do - that’s not the level of resolution on which I’m focusing.

2And to save the world, because he's Bond. But you see what I'm getting at.

3I am restraining myself from waxing lyrical about Frederick Wentworth right now.

I really appreciate your thoughtful answers, which I found helpful in several respects. I’ll try to jump in on the battle of the sexes conversation earlier next time instead of waiting until it’s winding down like I did this time (sorry!)