Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Don't Call Me Daughter, Not Fair To

To dwell a little on the point I made in my previous post, imagine that you have a daughter and you want her to be happy. You teach her to respect herself, to stand up for herself, not to be ashamed of her sexuality, etc. Basically, you do your best to make sure she is well-adjusted. (This is a delicate balance. I'm not a parent, but I'm guessing that discretion is often the better part of valor. No one actually wants to talk about sex with her parents. But the point is, you do your best.)

Your problem is that this isn't really enough. It matters how her peers were raised, and you have little control over that. In some communities, the vast majority of boys (and maybe girls) will have backward views about women and sexuality, and that is going to be no fun for your daughter.

And the worry is not just boys whose parents don't inculcate good values. The worry is also boys whose values come from mass media and the internet instead of from their parents. To some extent we have outsourced these aspects of child-raising. Kids look for examples on which they can model their behavior, and unsurprisingly they end up being influenced by what they see on TV and on the internet. And these are businesses (albeit highly regulated ones in the case of broadcast television) whose interest is making money, not making sure your daughter gets the respectful treatment she deserves.

An example of this is the movie M*A*S*H. Remember the character Hot Lips? Why is she called Hot Lips? It's because (if I remember correctly—it's been a while) the protagonists eavesdropped on a sexual liaison in which her partner said that her lips were hot. So for the rest of the movie, that's what they called her, even to her face (again, if I remember correctly). (Seemingly the sexual liaison is being broadcast to the whole camp over the PA system, and the character says, "Kiss my hot lips," hence the nickname.)

This kind of casual humiliation of a woman based on her sexual activity is really gross (so much so that it's difficult to enjoy the rest of the movie). So what do you do if M*A*S*H becomes a hit movie and long-running TV show, and basically every American teenager sees it? You can tell your daughter (and your sons, if you have any) that the behavior in the movie is unacceptable, but you can't do much beyond that.

So you just have to trust that the anarchy that has been unleashed will sort itself out and that we won't move to a degrading or alienating equilibrium. How has it worked out? I don't know. Very well for gays, I think, relative to the status quo ante (note, this is an area where mass media has probably been helpful on net, with its sympathetic depiction of gay characters). Probably fairly well for straights too, but I am not so thrilled with the way men are encouraged to behave. As a society, we've decided to take a decentralized, hands-off approach, and that makes it a playground for capitalists. The kind of people who make M*A*S*H and pornography and beer commercials.


Blogger Alan said...

There may be something to this, but I'm not sure if there's a better alternative (what exactly would we regulate? how?), and I'm not sure that men treat women worse than they used to because of the influence of mass-market sexuality, even controlling for the fact that women experience much less pressure to stay in abusive relationships. (Men may have been more polite back in the day, but they were also more sexist.) This might just be a case where we have to take the bad with the good.

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