For 50 years feminism has failed to recognise the truth embedded in the old catchphrase, ‘lock up your daughters’. Male and female sex drives and proclivities are not the same, and pretending they are sets up our most vulnerable women, and especially teens, for damage.
With all due respect to the many good men out there, women have always needed some protection from male predators, which is why traditional societies tightly regulated the interactions of the sexes, using everything from strict sex segregation to chaperones, curfews, and burqas.
The pill, the hippie revolution and feminism changed all that in the West. Feminists conflated how society is with how they felt society should be, and told young women they could do anything and have it all, because in Helen Reddy’s totemic song, they are ‘invincible’. When setbacks such as violence and sex assaults occurred, women were told to #Reclaim the Night, that they should wear what they like when they like and not let toxic masculinity dictate their behaviour. Which is a bit like sending Bambi off into the woods without mentioning, Oh look out for the wolves. And so we arrived at the #MeToo moment, when protected elite predators like Harvey Weinstein were finally unmasked, along with the open secret of the vulnerability of ambitious young women to age-old male abuse.
Observing the Brittany Higgins and Christian Porter affairs, plus the March4Justice anger, I was, like many older women I spoke to, inclined to the ‘‘twas ever thus’ school of thought, which is somewhat impatient with young women’s inability to deal with what every generation of women has already dealt with. I wanted to know if anything had changed, and so read some of the 3671 testimonials in the former Sydney private school student-now-activist Chanel Contos’ student petition urging earlier education on sex and consent.
The behaviour described was same old, same old – young men’s crude efforts to get into young women’s pants, peer group coercion of the insecure and vulnerable (mostly females but also males), and too much alcohol. What was shocking though was the extraordinary negligence of parents in letting kids as young as 14, 15 and 16 get plastered in regular, unsupervised, late-night teen ‘gaths’, fuelled by limitless alcohol. With a 23-year-old daughter I knew a bit about this scene, including Year 12 formals with ‘before parties’, the ‘after party’ and the ‘after- after party’, all of which involved late night transport, (hence hanging about in the dark outside venues), changes of outfits, and drinking, always drinking. Way too many opportunities for mishaps in retrospect. Teens at this age are ruled and bullied by peer group pressure, worse now thanks to social media. Parents have the option of being cool – i.e. letting kids do what they want – or being hated as too strict. ‘But everyone is going/Why can’t you be a normal parent?/Don’t you trust me?/I hate you’ (slam door).
Girls are slow to grasp what can be a Jekyll and Hyde pubertal transformation of the nice boy next door. While girls are thinking about what dress to wear and who they fancy and what the mean girls are saying, the boys are organising the booze and indulging in promiscuous carnal cruelty, imagining what girls are like in bed and who they have a chance with.
Too much student freedom has morphed into a bawdy Hobbesian brutality, a Lord of the Flies free-for-all in which the strong have free rein to bully the weak, who are too young, naive, insecure or a combination of all three to understand either their own bodies and motivations, or how to protect themselves. In my country co-ed high school fifty years ago, by contrast, we had few parties and only occasional alcohol. Bad behaviour will find a way in every generation, and Chanel Contos’ examples are self-selected and hence the worst stories, but since when did parents expect wisdom and self-restraint from 14 and 15-year-olds?
Now we are being told that men’s attitudes must change. Sexual violence is never right, and men, young and old, should behave better. Shouldn’t we all, always? But we won’t and neither will the nature of men change, short of chemically castrating all our blokes. Because women have been driving this conversation, the male sex drive has been largely ignored. Men must control themselves and always treat women with respect, say the campaigners. Which is a fine message but let’s not assume it will be reality anytime soon. The engineer husband of a friend once described his sexuality as like a pressure gauge; without sex the pressure gradually increased, until he was in a state of extreme sexual urgency – release provided relief. Obviously the strength of these urges varies individually, but the self-declared sex addict who just shot eight dead in Atlanta massage parlors said he wanted to eradicate sexual temptation. The shooter had been tormented by his need for sex, said a friend. Pundit Scott Adams suggested, in discussing New York Governor Cuomo’s stream of sexual abuse accusations, that many men’s brains simply stop working when sexual opportunity loomed. This was probably nature at work, he said, ensuring wild oats got spread.
I have no idea what it’s like to be a male, but nor do the women leading this push. Clearly any practical solution that fails to take into account the crude urgency of many, especially young, men’s sexuality is doomed to fail, no matter how strong the sex education, the legal penalties and the shaming.
This is not just a men’s problem but a societal problem. Australia, like much of the West, is in a demographic winter: our fertility rate of 1.8 per cent is below the 2.1 per cent replacement level, our marriage rate has halved from the 1900s, the number of single households is rising, and anecdotally, I see a rising number of 30-somethings failing to find partners. Nature’s only metric for success is survival, and we’re not meeting it.
By all means be angry and blame men, but that is no solution, either personal or social, and will drive men into more video games, online porn and alcohol, and increase the number of lonely singles who never found Mr or Mrs Right. All relationships need kindness and compromise, and politicised anger will just see them out the door.
Perhaps we could start mending our sexual battleground with parents regaining some control over their cherished but vulnerable youngsters’ social lives.
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