The US anti-porn campaigner Gail Dines has been popping up all over the place, expounding her views authentic feminine sexuality. Porn is bad, she opines because:
“The more porn images filter into mainstream culture, the more girls and women are stripped of full human status and reduced to sex objects. This has a terrible effect on girls’ sexual identity because it robs them of their own sexual desire.”
I confess to having some sympathy. From a Catholic perspective, the first part of that statement is entirely correct. One of the problems with porn, is, as the Blessed John Paul 2 observed, is not that it shows too much, but that it shows too little, pornography is by its very nature reductive.
What fascinates me is how certain feminists are becoming the new arbiters of sex and sexuality, the very same women who eschew Catholic sexual teaching as the product of an oppressive patriarchy are inadvertently embracing and proclaiming an identical doctrine, without so much of a hint of self-awareness or irony. Let’s compare Dines’ statement on female sexual identity with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out. CC 2333
Both are certainly agreed on the subject of individual sexual identity, although gender theorists may well have something to say on the subject of complementarity, but there can be no doubt that both are arguing that men and women have diverse sexual identities.
Speaking in an interview last year, Joan Bakewell, the veteran broadcaster and former feminist icon conceded that the much maligned Mary Whitehouse was right to fear the sexual liberation of the ’60s would damage society.
“The liberal mood back in the ’60s was that sex was pleasurable and wholesome and shouldn’t be seen as dirty and wicked”
A view of sex that is not confined to liberals or advocates of free love. Consider the catechism once again:
“The acts in marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of the spouses takes place are noble and honorable; the truly human performance of these acts fosters the self-giving they signify and enriches the spouses in joy and gratitude.”Sexuality is a source of joy and pleasure:The Creator himself . . . established that in the [generative] function, spouses should experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit. Therefore, the spouses do nothing evil in seeking this pleasure and enjoyment. “
It seems that both feminists and the Catholic Church are in agreement in terms of separate male/female sexual identities and the inherent beauty of sex. In fact both Catholicism and feminism seem to want to hearken back to prelapsarian innocence, of Adam and Eve, cavorting freely in Eden, happily engaging in sexual intercourse as a sign of mutual love and affection, unbound by the chains of lust, oppression or exploitation. It’s not an image borne out of the free love movement of the sixties, indeed Milton pictures Adam and Eve enjoying conjugal bliss in their bower prior to the fall and the language that he uses to physically describe Eve is ripe with eroticism reminiscent of the Bible’s most sensual and sexy books, Song of Songs.
No doubt feminists will baulk at being identified with a religion which they perceive as being the product of patriarchy, but one has to admit that the parallels are compelling. Feminists display the qualities of prudery associated with Mary Whitehouse, as recently observed by Brendan O’Neill and therein lies the root of the irony and proof of women’s continued sexual oppression. Women feel uncomfortable with the marketisation of sexuality, which has been commodified, turned into a selling point and used as a yardstick against which women feel they must measure themselves. Any women who experiences discomfort or worse still expresses this, is according to O’Neill, an outdated conservative relic and something of a spoilsport. A particularly sexist advert in which women were objectified was aimed at a teenage market, which is why women are having a sense of humour lapse, no matter that women might be concerned about the effect of such advertisements on the developing psyche of the impressionable teenage boy who is immersed in a sexually saturated culture and who potentially has access to a volume and nature of pornography beyond the wildest dreams of the preceding generations. The usual Mos Eisley crew of Daily Telegraph commentators, point out in their usually charming fashion, that women are only complaining because they are ugly old harridans who can’t measure up and who are all probably rather useless in bed.
Women’s sexual liberation has paradoxically given birth to their sexual repression, couched in the language of sexual freedoms. Joan Bakewell noted that
“The Pill allowed women to make choices for themselves. Of course, that meant the risk of making the wrong choice. But we all hoped girls would grow to handle the new freedoms wisely.”
“Then everything came to be about money – so now sex is about money, too. Why else sexualise the clothes of little girls, run TV channels of naked wives, have sex magazines edging out the serious stuff on newsagents’ shelves?