Archive | Sexual Ethics

Prenups

A woman who appeared on my cable show not long ago revealed, when I announced that fifty percent of all American women will live with or marry a man with children, the following (familiar, alas) story.

She’s close to retirement and has been saving for years. Her adult son doesn’t need money, so her small stash supports the household she shares with her boyfriend of five years, a twice-divorced man  whose money mostly goes to his two young children by his second wife. My guest agreed to this arrangement, feeling strongly that his children should be his first priority, and that they could manage their household expenses together.. BUT, she says, “in  this protracted downturn, none of his money goes to our household; it all goes to his (second) ex-wife’s. I’m wondering where to draw the line. He does, after all, live here. He did, after all, make a financial commitment, albeit a small one, to our life together.”

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Sexy Parents, Sanctimonious Kids

 I wrote a long time ago, in response to the fact that so many women were leaving their marriages:  “In the past 25 years women have bloomed. How can we still be talking about fitting modern wives back into an ancient institution, rather than enlarging an ancient institution to make room for modern wives?” I said this on television shows, much to the horror of many hosts, who got so mad that women were leaving (and not men, as I suppose they thought was better). that they blamed me for writing about it.  

 Well they must be really mad now, because America isn’t even a married culture anymore.  That picture of ourselves talk-show hosts and politicians and so many others insist on—the happily married American couple–is a very nice picture, but it has little to do with us in the US. No, as I’ve said a million times, we’re now a dating culture. What’s more, the Pew Research Center points out that nearly four-in-ten survey respondents in the 2010 Census said they believed that marriage is becoming obsolete.

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Who’s Sabotaging Teenage Girls?

     In any story, whether we read it or see it on film or in a store window, we have to know  who  is speaking. Whose voice is telling us what story? Whose point of view is it?  A  great  story at the moment, spoken by the Census, is about women’s increased  power. Women are  now the majority of the workforce; the majority of managers; the majority earners of  undergraduate and graduate degrees; the majority owners of wealth.

So, who is narrating the story of this photo in Victoria’s Secret window in Fairfield, Ct.?  (We added the type to illustrate where it might have been more appropriately shown) Odd  that the moment when women are powering ahead, storefronts and magazine covers  feature skinny young girls not only made  up to look like fashionable adults, but posing in a  way that clearly suggests  subjugation—as  does the girl above. Whose viewpoint is this, do  you think? Who’s telling girls about to inherit a legacy of unprecedented power that their  REAL power lies not in their education and their upcoming careers, but rather, in looking  like baby hookers,  pouting and bruised and with their arms up in their air as if in chains?  Are storeowners telling this story so they  can sell underwear? Perhaps. Photographers,  who want to make their mark? Maybe.

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“So, Georgia, Are Those Flowers Really Vaginas?”

In reading Deborah Solomon’s interesting review of the new book, “My Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Steiglitz”in this Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, I was struck once again by how free literary and artistic men have historically felt to reveal themselves in all their egomaniacal splendor or horror (think Picasso, Hemingway, Styron, Faulkner, Keroac, to name a few) while literary and artistic women have kept silent about themselves (from Austen on).. Steiglitz, the famous photographer and gallery owner, wrote letters that Solomon says “read like an exercise in negative self-salesmanship,” endlessly revealing his hypochondriacal, egomaniacal, wounded self without inhibition to the woman he first hoped to and then did marry.  O’Keeffe, by contrast, throughout their friendship and later marriage “retained her armor of discretion,” Solomon says. She remained silent about her deepest self in these letters–just as she remained silent when critics asked whether those luscious flowers of hers depicted women’s sexual organs.

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Honesty about Infidelity? Not on Your Life!

Last week, a Portland, Oregan documentarist interviewed me about my feelings about open marriage. He’s making a documentary about marriage, and he wants to share his idea that couples should ditch sexual exclusivity and, moreover, be open and honest about it.  A few days later I read Mark Oppenheimer’s article in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine (“Married with Infidelities,” July 3, 2011) quoting Seattle-based sex columnist Dan Savage, also a married man who believes in both sexual nonexclusivity and openness about it.  I’ve spoken with hundreds and hundreds of people about infidelity, and I want to point out something I’ve learned over the years from women who tried being open about their infidelity:  The “openness” playing field is not level. However free men feel to tell their wives about their indiscretions, wives should—and I mean this—shut up about theirs.

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Ask Not What Gay Marriage Can Do For Us, But What We Can Do For Gay Couples

Yesterday’s jubilant march along New York streets celebrating the right of gay men and women to marry was a spectacular reaffirmation of something we haven’t witnessed in awhile: A victory of civil rights, yes, but also a victory for marriage.

Marriage needs a victory, for it’s in deep trouble. I’ve long lamented the high rate of depression among young married women—a depression the culture has stonewalled, and which has led to a massive walkout strike among wives. I call it “Matrimorphosis,” this transformation of sexy, authentic brides into unhappy wives. And now that so many middle-class women no longer need marriage to put a roof over their heads, they’re finding other ways to live.

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Weiner’s Reasons? Schwarzenegger’s Apology? Do We Care?

I mean, what is there left to say but “Whatever”? That’s now the word of choice used by the young when, yet again, some famous, important guy does something weird and inappropriate or bizarre with his libido.  It’s our only remaining response to a morality that these men envision as entirely situational: a way to comprehend why they’re so self-righteous one moment, showing their penises to strangers the next. Situational morality is Anthony Weiner’s “But I’ve never had sex with any woman other than my wife” used as a defense of his honor. Hey, man, just because my privates are flying all over the net, don’t EVER DARE accuse me of infidelity!

An interviewer not long ago asked the creator of “Mad Men,”  Matthew Weiner, whether he felt Don Draper’s fall from power and failed marriage was a result of his basic, underlying badness–a badness like, say, Tony Soprano’s.

Not at all, he replied. Draper, unlike Soprano, “has a lot of admirable qualities and is basically a moral person, and he makes mistakes. His morality is conflicting. It’s situational, which is the disease of the 21st century.”

There it is.

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Women Surfing the Edge of Change

That an entire book has to be written about the way in which the French put pleasure first in their lives–a pleasure gleaned from a lovely long lunch; a good cheese; a natural (as opposed to a creepy or inappropriate) flirtation, makes me sad that our culture comes out so unfavorably.  It’s true that in our culture, “pleasure” seems to be a code word for sex, not a joy we breathe, not the expansive emotion, as the late William Safire wrote in his language column in The Times many years ago, “that suffuses one who has been gratified or stroked; it’s a good feeling, whether physical or intellectual.”

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What’s God Got To Do With It?

Now that the 2012 election is nearing and potential candidates who have committed ethics slip-ups are trying to  get vetted by, say, the tea party, it’s fun to see the Righteousness Crew do their thing. There’s Newt Gingrich, toying with running, explaining away his adultery (not to mention his divorces) by citing Patriotism as his justification  (If you love your country enough, how can you be asked to be faithful to a mere mortal?). At least G.O.P. senator John Ensign had the decency to resign today, and not put us all through that tortuous game of moral fact-twisting. It’s actually fun to watch the Righteousness Crew at work; religious conservatives so often  present themselves as so very holy. But let’s get real: Let me point out what the facts say, now and for as long as I’ve been studying this (which is about 25 years)  about Who Cheats and Who Doesn’t.  Continue Reading →

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The $500,000 You Should Get – But Won’t

What if you knew that you’d lost half a million dollars because someone didn’t pay you your fair share of your salary?  What would be your next step?

I just spoke with 15 young women in their twenties about pay inequality. What do you think, I asked, when you realize that women get less than men for the same job? They looked at me with that wry “What else is new?” look I’ve become familiar with when discussing issues that are as deep in our culture as the minerals in our bones. It’s a bored look, like “How lame is that?”…but it’s not an outraged look. Continue Reading →

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