Prudishness is pretense of innocence without innocence. - Friedrich Von Schlegel
In my column of last September 30th I wrote that, as my friend JustStarshine points out, “Western Society has descended into a new Victorianism”:
…we have become shockingly hypocritical about sex and grant our governments tremendous power to suppress it while simultaneously spending tremendous amounts of time and money on it (Victorian London had the largest number of prostitutes per capita of any place and time in history). We have revived Victorian ideas of government-enforced temperance and “social progress”, and the Victorian “Cult of the Child” has returned with a vengeance. The…adult myth that children live in some sort of state of Divine Grace which must be protected at all costs and extended as far into adulthood as possible…preaches that children are as emotionally fragile as soap bubbles and the merest hint of sexual imagery before puberty can cause irreversible trauma; its adherents also believe that teenagers (whom they equate with “children”) should be lied to, spied on or even criminally prosecuted to prevent them from engaging in any kind of sexual behavior, and some even believe that adults should not be allowed any form of entertainment or reading material which is inappropriate for even the youngest child, on the grounds that a child “might see it” and thereby be petrified as if he had looked into the eyes of the Gorgon. Child cultists can be recognized by their stated belief that any degree of tyranny is acceptable “if it saves even one child,” and by their fondness for promoting unconstitutionally broad legislation lugubriously named after dead little girls.
The Child Cult’s rhetoric is also pressed into service for sex issues which have nothing to do with children; as we have stated before, only 3.54% of all Western prostitutes are underage and the average underage prostitute is 17, which does not legally qualify as a “child” for sexual consent purposes anywhere in the United States except Arizona, California, Iowa, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee and Wisconsin. But that hasn’t stopped prohibitionists from resurrecting the late Victorian “white slavery” moral panic under a new name, “child sex trafficking”, and wielding it as a bludgeon against adult whores and our clients with the usual “one child” battle cry. But lest anyone balk at treating adult women as children, there’s a Victorian answer for that as well; prostitutes are abnormal, defective “victims” of men who have to be protected from our own choices, which are clearly irrational. Similarly, trafficking fanatics classify brown people as “child races” who are too stupid and unsophisticated to move between countries on their own without being “trafficked” by gangsters, so by the Victorian “white man’s burden” philosophy they need to “save” these poor victims, whether they want to be “rescued” or not.
Like the Victorian “social purity” movement, the modern Puritanism exemplified by trafficking hysteria, prohibitionism and other anti-sex movements was formed from a mixture of Protestant Christianity and decaying feminism. And just as the voices of first-wave feminists (such as Margaret Sanger and Emma Goldman) who espoused sexual liberation for women were drowned out by those whose minds were mired in typical Victorian prudery and therefore considered prostitution, pornography and masturbation to be “social ills”, so the original feminists who embraced the “sexual revolution” were shouted down by the anti-sex neofeminists who turned the feminist movement into a neo-Victorian campaign against sex; women like Catherine MacKinnon, Donna Hughes and Melissa Farley would have been right at home among the “social purity” advocates of a century ago who spread lies about “white slavery” and “diseased whores”. Some of these anti-sex feminists even consider male masturbation to be a form of marital infidelity; one commenter on an article about coffee stands with bikini-clad servers wrote: “Have you considered the women and children out there that have been hurt by their daddie’s [sic] affection for porn and worhtless [sic] garbage like this that they bring into their relationships, only to have them fall apart because the ol [sic] man can’t keep his eyes to himself or his hands off himself?!” and stated that her ex-husband “…had a history of this type of voyerism [sic] since before I met him and he promised he didn’t need it anymore after we were together. An addiction is an addiction and you guys apparently have one to this! Sow your seeds with a real woman and a real relationship…” And regular reader Sailor Barsoom reports that “Just before I let my subscription to Playboy run out, I saw, each month, one woman after another writing in to earnestly explain why masturbation is adultery.”
Nor are these Victorian attitudes limited to radical feminists and their followers; they even crop up in articles written by more mainstream types. I’ve previously mentioned the ambivalent attitude the staff of Jezebel has toward sex work; this pandering article about the recent Melissa Farley propaganda not only claims that sex worker rights have to be “debated” with those who have no stake in the issue, but also that they have to wait until men as a group regularly seek their wives’ and girlfriends’ approval to look at porn. And this New York Times article (which was called to my attention by regular reader Guilty Pleasures) about Slutwalks displays an attitude common among older feminists; the article appears to have been originally entitled “Clumsy Young Feminists” and simpers that:
To object to these ugly characterizations is right and righteous. But to do so while dressed in what look like sexy stewardess Halloween costumes seems less like victory than capitulation (linguistic and sartorial) to what society already expects of its young women. Scantily clad marching seems weirdly blind to the race, class and body-image issues that usually (rightly) obsess young feminists and seems inhospitable to scads of women who, for various reasons, might not feel it logical or comfortable to express their revulsion at victim-blaming by donning bustiers.
One can practically see the author, blouse buttoned up to her neck, fanning herself furiously to ward off an attack of the vapors.
No social trend lasts forever; the new Victorianism is as doomed as the old one was, and the young women who will help to bury it are joining Slutwalks, buying porn for themselves and shaking their heads at the prudery of their elders just as the young women of the Roaring Twenties did. Within a decade, the new Victorianism will start to die off along with the Baby Boomers who embraced it, and in the freedom of a new Jazz Age perhaps all of the laws which seek to restrict the sexual behaviors of consenting adults will be tossed out as the quaint, incomprehensible and useless relics of a bygone age.
One Year Ago Today