Sunday, August 7, 2011

Devil's advocate

I don't remember where I heard it, but someone (probably Jon Stewart) once said, "If you say you're playing devil's advocate, you're really just saying you're going to play an asshole." I think this is hilarious, and almost always true.

Earlier this week, I sent Eric this segment from the Today Show. It discusses a new phenomena where young women go on "Sugar Daddy" websites to find older, wealthy gentleman who will help pay off their loans or otherwise compensate them in exchange for (ahem) companionship. The women, called Sugar Babies, were touted as yet another byproduct of the crippling recession.

I was surprised by the segment - surprised that one of the women profiled was a Sarah Lawrence grad, that there were hundreds of thousands of women signed up, that the women weren't considering their faux-mances to be prostitution.

I said to Eric, Sarah Lawrence birthed the feminist movement! How is this even possible?!

Eric said he agreed, but he was going to play devil's advocate. Boo. He wondered, Could the women have different values than you? Perhaps they can justify and even become empowered by their role, rather than allowing it to defeat them?

No! I cried. Being a sexual object is never empowering. Empowerment is all about engaging in your chosen behavior with no strings attached. Saying that women might gain empowerment by sleeping with older men is no different than saying that women shouldn't feel denigrated if their bosses hit on them.

That's when Eric told me I was coming at this issue from a white, middle class, Judeo-Christian perspective. That's the problem with feminism - it assumes we all have the same values, backgrounds, and goals.

I've had this argument about a hundred times - hell, I majored in this argument. However, it doesn't ever get any easier. Also, the longer you're away from Emily Dickinson essays and classrooms full of women advocating for transgender bathrooms in preschools, the harder it gets to fight the good fight. Even when you're just fighting with someone on your side, playingdevil's advocate.

So, in the beginning there was basic modern feminism, which stated that women had the right to control their bodies. And now, we've added an asterisk, where we remind women that selling their bodies in exchange for a lifestyle upgrade is simply a new way to relinquish that control. In ten years (in ten days, probably), there will be another way in which sexuality is being used as a commodity, and I'll fight that, too.

Whew. After we finished discussing the horror that was the Sugar Babies, we somehow segued to planning a Rick Moranis marathon. That was a much more fun topic, to tell the truth. But this was an important one.


Jamie said...

I am super overwhelmed lately but I just wanted to tell you that I love your blog and I'm still lurking... I just never have a spare minute to comment. Keep writing please! :) xo