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The toxic legacy of the sexual revolution

Who benefited from the sexual revolution? Branded as a victory for the feminist cause, it turns out that, years later, women lost out.

This is what Louise Perry, writer and activist, defends in her book ‘The Case Against the Sexual Revolution’ , in which he assures that the promise of freedom and autonomy that the changes of the sexual revolution brought was not fulfilled for the vast majority of women.

The thesis is not new. Already in her essay of 1982, ‘Towards a Feminist Sexual Revolution’, Ellen Willis (1941-2006) denounced the way in which the ubiquitous sexual debauchery in the counterculture was not good for women. Like Perry, Willis lamented that the desire for love and commitment had been equated with repression, and that sex without emotion or attachment had been exalted as the ideal to aspire to, with a motto along the lines of “do as men do.”

Where’s the news then? Perhaps in the fact that it came from a voice she hadn’t always thought of as she did now. Perry herself says in a tone of mea culpa that she used to believe in liberal feminist discourse.

Perry identifies liberal feminism as “primarily focused on women’s right to choose or consent”. The same that, according to the writer, created a taboo around the public discussion of the costs that the sexual revolution had.

The author worked for years in a crisis attention center for rape victims. It was there that he stopped believing in this narrative and his frustration grew when he proved that this feminism did not provide solutions to the real problems of women.

According to Perry, a taboo has been created around the public discussion of the costs of the sexual revolution

Perry herself assures that it is neither religious nor pro-life. Nor is he nostalgic for the world before the sexual revolution, but he really wants to answer a question: what do women really want, and what is best for their well-being?

A simple and controversial reality: men and women are different

Perry bases his argument on a reality as evident as it is provocative these days: men and women are different. And not only biologically, but also in his psychology, in a way that marks his way of understanding sexuality.

Although claiming differences is not in fashion these days, Perry points out that denying them is not “intellectually coherent” and denounces that constructivism (which claims that differences are not innate, but culturally taught) is a theory that harms women in the long run.

You are not alone in your perception. Camille Paglia, writer and feminist icon, has also gone to war with mainstream feminism over this very issue. “The political equality of women, totally desirable and necessary, will not remedy the radical separation between the sexes, which begins and ends in the body”, defends the intellectual.

Therefore, For Perry, if we want to create a society that respects women, the question should be: “What does a woman tend to desire, given the type of female animal she is, with the specific reproductive capabilities she usually has?”

Erika Bachiochi, a researcher at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and at the Abigail Adams Institute, comes to the same conclusion in her work ‘The Rights of Women: Reclaiming a Lost Vision’ [Os direitos das mulheres, reivindicando uma visão perdida, em tradução livre]: to to truly meet the real needs of women, it is necessary to know their specificities.

These feminists, therefore, do not see female biology as an obstacle to overcome in order to achieve equality, but as a reality that must be recognized and known in order to make “informed inferences about female well-being in particular ular”.

From sexual repression to emotional repression

The what do women expect and want with sex? Perry doesn’t deny that there are women who want casual, no-strings sex. It simply points out that they are not the majority.

The writer’s conclusion is that women in general prefer stable, committed relationships, in which sex also has an emotional and affective meaning.

However, the sexual revolution popularized the idea that the only thing preventing women from having a sexuality as free as men’s was the fear of getting pregnant.

“Thus, at the end of the years 60, a totally new creature came into the world: the young girl apparently fertile, whose fertility had been suspended. It changed everything”, explains Perry, speaking of the arrival of contraception.

This is not an amendment to the totality of the consequences of the sexual revolution on the part of of Perry, who recognizes the potential that the movement had for women to fully incorporate themselves into the professional world and to end the naturalization of motherhood. In fact, unlike Bachiochi, Perry is in favor of abortion, although she feels that its consequences are not sufficiently taken into account.

However, the trivialization of sex has had consequences. harmful, defends the writer. She says that sex was sold as an act that matters only if the person wants to give it and whose limits are only marked by desire. Which means, according to Perry, that a lie has been sold. In fact, the first chapter has a warning in its title: “Sex must be taken seriously”.

Perry argues that, with a little common sense, it is possible to realizes that sex is not like any other activity that can be done for pleasure; and that acting ignoring it harms people, especially women, who expect more from sex and who suffer more from its consequences.

However, in a post-revolution world where the message it’s “have all the sex you want, but avoid falling in love”, women feel the pressure to say “yes” to sexual practices they don’t feel good about and don’t enjoy; and feelings are a disease to be avoided at all costs. Women who want more commitment are labeled “toxic” and wanting to “get attached”.

In the end, Perry warns, “the story of the sexual revolution is not just a story of women liberated from the weight of chastity and motherhood, although that is also the story of the triumph of the playboy, a figure who, too often, it is forgotten and forgiven, despite its central role in this still recent history.”

In fact, in this framework, Perry proposes a reinterpretation of the movement MeToo: “This avalanche of anger and pain was proof of a sexual culture that didn’t work for women. The stories that emerged from MeToo included many unmistakably criminal behaviors, but there were also many women who described sexual encounters that were technically consensual, but which nevertheless left them feeling terribly bad because they were asked to treat as meaningless something they thought were meaningless. was important.”

“When we intend to disenchant sex, there is then another type of cost, which falls in a disproportionate over women”

While opposed to Perry in many ways, columnist Jessica Valentini adopted the same idea in the English newspaper The Guardian in an article published in the light of MeToo: “It is true that women are fed up with violence and sexual harassment; but it is also true that what this culture considers ‘normal’ sexual behavior is often harmful to women.”

In the years

, some feminists had already realized that sexual liberation and women’s liberation are not the same thing. Sheila MacLeod wrote of her generation’s discovery that “the world of fantasy fulfilled male demands brought nothing to the sum of their own happiness”.

Michelle Goldberg, journalist and writer, reflects in the New York Times on the real impact of sexual liberation: “Feminism is supposed to alleviate the dissonance between what women want and what they believe they should want. Sex positive feminism was able to do this for women who felt oppressed by sexual taboos and pressured to deny their own desires. But today this seems less relevant to women who feel stultified by the expectation that they will be open to everything.”

Consent, the (insufficient) solution of current feminism

Perry points out that the point where liberal feminism failed women was the idea of ​​making consent the sole criterion of freedom in a decision.

According to this principle, “a woman must be able to do whatever she wants, be it to sell sex or to invite consensual sexual violence, since all her desires and choices must be necessarily good, no matter where they come from or where they lead.”

The idea that there is no sexual morality beyond the ability of those involved to consent does not convince Perry: “I am critical of of any ideology that does not balance freedom with other values, and I am also critical of the failure of liberal feminism to question where our desire for a certain kind of freedom comes from.”

The author turns to the pornography industry to emphasize that if there is anything to be learned from former retired sex market workers, it is that “consent is fragile”. That is why he criticizes the movement’s inability to assume that there was something wrong with its statements from the beginning: “This is where the false belief arises that women continue to suffer just because the sexual liberation project of the years 60 is unfinished, and not because it has always been inherently flawed. Thus, they prescribe more and more freedom and are continually surprised when their prescription does not cure the disease”. In the end, there is no freedom in everything that is consented.

Perry’s final advice: “Listen to your mother”

Under the motto “Listen to your mother”, the author ends the book with some advice that assures that common sense is, in the end, wiser than any theory.

Advice like getting married, not getting pregnant with unknown men, waiting a while before having sex when starting a relationship, or simply not having sex when you think the man won’t make a good father.

Naturally, Perry didn’t leave the book unscathed and received criticism for his claims , from various points of view.

Writer Emma Collins points out that Perry “does women a little favor by repeatedly questioning their ability to resist cultural forces” and criticizes that Perry support the idea that “our options are very limited because that we are impressionable creatures who absorb the values ​​and ideas of our surroundings”.

Julie Bindel, journalist and feminist activist, points out that she agrees with Perry on many things, but stresses that she “I would never recommend that women invest in a hypothetical chastity belt and accept it as inevitable that men rape unless we stop them.”

In any case, Perry’s view that there will be a counterrevolution is not misguided. In an article by BuzzFeed, several young women comment on how the sexual culture in which they live has influenced them: “It seems that they tricked us into exploring ourselves and tricked us into We think it was our idea.”

Perry believes that this movement is accompanied by a new feminism: “A post-liberal feminist is nothing more than a liberal feminist who has seen the reality of sexist violence”.

©1982 ACEPRENSA. Published with permission. Original in Spanish.

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