Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Opposite Sides of the Same Cultural Coin

Where hedonism was once a short walk around the block from profound conversion (see Augustine of Hippo, Oscar Wilde, and Ève Lavallière, among many others), it is now, according to Eve Tushnet, a culturally-sanctioned and expected segue to secular bourgeois complacency.

An excerpt:

A woman who has sex with multiple partners (maybe hooking up a lot if she’s at a more elite college), contracepting throughout and having at least one abortion, then cohabits, then marries in her early 30s if at all, might be a hedonist or a relativist. In my experience she’s much more likely to be trying to do everything right, finish her education and start climbing the economic ladder and make good rather than hasty choices in her men. Her mother usually supports or even pressures her in her decision to abort, and many of the decisions I’ve described are made not in the service of personal sexual liberation but as a means to preserve her relationships. A lot of the time it doesn’t work–the marriage or cohabitation she really hoped would be “the one” still breaks up–but she sees all the alternative choices as even riskier, and therefore irresponsible.

Read the rest of Eve's provocative and important piece. It may not square with what you've come to assume if you've been raised in a more traditional environment and have always striven towards a traditional adulthood achieved by means of a traditional morality, but in my experience, and in the experience of so many women I've known, she is absolutely right.


Robin E. said...

Excellent article! This totally squares with what I've seen, starting out adult life as a freshman at Georgetown, living the hedonist lifestyle, and reverting to the Catholic faith after declining to pay the high price demanded on the path to bourgeois respectability. Thanks!

JMB said...

Good piece. I grew up in an upper middle class town and basically, nobody had a child out of wedlock. I knew of one girl who got pregnant and she virtually disappeared. Among my high school friends who were culturally Jewish, all of them were put on the Pill by their mothers as teenagers (regardless if they were in a relationship or not), to prevent them from getting pregnant which would therefore ruin the pursuit of their education, ie professional degrees. We Catholic girls disdained the Pill back then, but I'm not sure we fared much better than my Jewish friends. We all came out damaged by the culture.

ex-new yorker said...

The girls in my sort of happy-nerd group (i.e., not asocial, but not caught up in much social drama either) at a Catholic girls' high school -- not one that was a feeder for Christendom or Steubenville, if you get my drift (isn't that an obnoxious expression?) -- didn't gossip about each other's sex lives and I strongly suspect we didn't have any, though I wasn't close enough friends with most of them to hear about it on a confidential basis. But after high school, even among those who attended Catholic colleges, fornication, contraception, and cohabitation don't seem to me to have been significantly less common than you'd expect from the college-attending-mostly-graduating middle class demographic at large. Still, as someone who has been "studying" this sort of thing my whole life -- people and how their ideas about the really big things like religion and sex affect everything else -- I feel like I can only identify really huge trends (orthodox Catholicism and its teachings on sex being unpopular) and individual variations. It can be surprising whose parents still take issue w/cohabitation before marriage even when they didn't do anything to crack down on teenage sex, etc.... all this to say I read the article and was tempted to say, "Oh, that would explain her, and her, and her," but I'm not sure any of those people would fit more neatly into the description than I would into a "cradle Catholic ... but raised in the '80s and '90s!" or "my parents were brought up pre-VII and that made me different from my peers" or whatever category.