Recent weeks have witnessed the unedifying spectacle of gloves-off gender wars, fuelled by badly behaving men caught in the glare of the headlights. We have witnessed alleged rapes in Parliament House, and their tawdry cover-up by ministers and staff, a convicted rapist footballer, and parliamentary staff caught masturbating over female MPs’ desks. Not to mention the growing cacophony of (mainly) feminist voices decrying workplace culture generally. It has been a real pile-on. Man-bashing is in, alas, in the Year of St Joseph, God’s perfected man.
Ugly stuff, without doubt. But hardly new. And there is little evidence that the depravity is on the rise at present. After all, we have had a former Western Australian Treasurer who delighted in sniffing chairs, and a Hawke Government minister who owned up to having sex on his ministerial desk. Yes it was consensual and with his wife, on this occasion. Still, far better not to know about it, thank you. And then we had footballers who either did or were alleged to have done unspeakable things en masse with innocent or not-so-innocent women in
motel rooms. (The relevant names are Troy Buswell, John Brown, Jan Murray, Matthew Johns and Jonathan Thurston and friends).
So no, not new. But there is a rotten culture all about, a seediness and a decadence that seems to define our age and to cause revulsion. A wise bishop recently noted that the real problem with today’s sexual mores and our social malaise generally is a toxic culture infested with toxic ideas and ideologies, and not so-called toxic masculinity. After all, the plot of a recent American television show depicted female-initiated sado-masochistic behaviour in which women and men unknown to one another used an internet platform to seek partners for rough sex. One of the police suggested – who on earth would want to do this? His colleague answered “millions”.
As with all these things, it behooves us to find the real problems and their causes, and not to be distracted in this endeavour by the seedy and the depraved, or indeed by the ideological. Perhaps before the sexual cataclysm of the 1960s and, shortly thereafter, the communications revolution which allow everyone now to access information about everyone and everything, all these things were there but simply hidden from view. We now see and know things we would rather have not seen or known, and cannot now un-see or un-know. The parliamentary masturbators, after all, filmed the events.
Or perhaps things changed forever because of the sexual revolution itself.
Most contemporary discussions of sexual propriety focus on the issue of consent. The abhorrence comes from a lack of consent, and for those other than the morally depraved, this is a natural response. For the same reason, anyone other than the morally depraved abhors sexual activity between adults and children, including between adults and teens who themselves otherwise might be sexually active with partners their own age and not to be judged immoral for this. Now we even let children change their “gender”, and some people, indeed, cheer them on in this endeavour.
So, it is all about consent. This way of thinking is necessary, but not sufficient, in analysing our malaise. The bishop is correct. It is the culture that is toxic.
Both men and women thought, in the 1960s, that they were being liberated. By sloughing off religion, with all its rules and sexual prohibitions, by using new technology – the cheap, safe, reliable – to prevent pregnancy, by aborting unwanted babies, by welcoming easy divorce, by (women) escaping the patriarchal home, by dissing then all-but-eliminating marriage, by outsourcing the raising of children to institutions, by embracing same-sex attraction as something normal and indeed something to be welcomed and celebrated. Of course, I never really understood why so many women thought the idea of eschewing domestic self-employment – “working from home” – and embracing wage slavery only then to spend most of their newly acquired salaries on child-care was a good idea.
From about 1970, all the old bets were off. The old constraints of sin and guilt were hosed out the door. All this was to herald the coming new age of heaven-on-earth, with us in charge. How did it all turn out?
Well, guess what? By and large, the sexual revolution mainly benefited men. Or at least it did to begin with, and superficially. It made sex, sex without commitment, far easier for men to access. In the longer term, though, it turns out not to have benefited men. Or women.
It (through the pill) made infidelity safer, and therefore more prevalent. It led to the killing of literally hundreds of millions of babies globally, all as a solution to the “unwanted” outcomes of casual sex, and often urged upon women by men.
It made divorce – always previously seen by men and women as a failure (hence the term “failed” marriage) – the norm in society. It led to the notion of not one, but two or three wives or husbands, for life. This massively diminished the chances of children being brought up in stable homes with a natural father and a mother. In fact, it has all but destroyed fatherhood as a noble profession. (This, decidedly, has NOT benefited men).
And it forced children to share their lives and homes with total strangers, and, often, with abusive step-fathers. In creating the latter as a class, it ushered in a new age of domestic paedophilia. It continued, in fact, intensified, bad behaviour by men towards women.
It visited hookup culture on the world, with more and more (mainly young) people living alone and only meeting others for sex. Except for all of those numberless, poor souls addicted to the now free and ever-available pornography that is a fixture in a hyper-sexualised world that is awash with imagery of naked flesh and de-personalised, online sexual encounters. For these folks, you don’t even have to leave the house for sex. The pill severed the link between sex and procreation, itself a disaster. Pornography and online sex have severed the link between sex and even needing another human for the encounter. In severing these links, the sexual revolution has, indeed, encouraged a pandemic of loneliness. All in the name of liberation.
More than this, sex has been diminished, step by step, from a God-given gift and mechanism to prolong the human race to a casual, performative, recreational and often meaningless activity undertaken by mainly disconnected participants – total strangers, no less – where the desire for it and the rules surrounding it have become a murky matter at best, often assumed but nonetheless unclear to the other person. A fetid place where rape allegations can only fester. And not necessarily even enjoyable, as a number of observers have noted that monogamous sex is more enjoyed than its modern, upstart competitor.
Tom Wolfe has brutally satirised hookup culture. Jordan Peterson has also addressed our technologically enabled Tinder-culture’s disastrous outcomes.
One of the outcomes of Tinder-sex may well be the sexual marginalisation of those men outside the preferred sub-group of Tinderers who attract most of the women.
And, bizarrely, the sexual revolution has turned the chaste and the modestly attired into figures of fun and sources of bemusement for the liberated generation who simply do not understand chastity and who feel no compunction in routinely baring their bodies to total strangers in public places.
I defy anyone to attempt to argue successfully that the sexual revolution has been a good thing for society, that it has helped women, that it has enriched our culture, that it has maintained our moral energy – the moral energy that any society needs so that it might genuinely flourish – and that it has all been worth the unshackling of libido that justified the whole thing in the first place. While there is little uncontested evidence that sexual assaults are on the increase – despite the heightened current focus on them – the total destruction of all sexual boundaries, bar consent, has done nothing to dampen the environment in which sexual assault and sexual harassment occur.
Creating the very expectation that sexual encounters are always there, ripe for the taking, and no big deal anyway, is no way to reinforce the message that no always means no. Knowing one’s partner intimately is a great starting point for reducing any likelihood of misunderstandings. (Someone might explain this to people like Jarryd Hayne, and his complainant). Eliminating, or even blurring boundaries, and endlessly celebrating this, cannot be remotely thought to encourage the kind of self-restraint needed to make men and women behave honourably towards one another, both in and out of the bedroom.
Bringing up well-formed males must include the embedding of restraint, deferred gratification, praising chastity as a noble thing, restoring marriage as the preferred model of living adult sexual lives, and, above all, reinstating boundaries as a norm of behaviour. Living in monogamous marriages would do wonders for the sexual enculturation of children, too. Doing all this would not eliminate rape. It would help, though. And it would achieve so much more for society in the process.
The same bishop who identified toxic culture as the real problem also noted that, in the very early days of Christianity, most of the converts were slaves and women, including rich women. Christianity liberated them! Slaves in Roman Christian homes were no longer treated as slaves, but as family. (And no, not all later Christians either stopped having slaves, or treated them well). Women, through Christianity, found a perfect solution to the age-old problem of imperfect male behaviour. Christian marriage domesticated men. In return for sex – yes, I know women too like sex – men provided for their wives devotion, respect, security, safety, food on the table, income and co-parenting. Without ever guaranteeing fidelity, Christian marriage encouraged it. Men went off to do whatever they did, running governments and businesses, exploring the globe, getting killed fighting wars and so on, and women got to run their own small-to-medium enterprises, largely unimpeded and all with a guaranteed salary. And this continued, right the way down the ages, till about 1970.
What a great deal that was for women. If only more men and, yes, women, realised it. And realised just what we have lost.
So no, rape is never welcome and never justified. Not now, not before. As crimes go, they do not come much worse than rape. (And men and boys are raped, harassed and bullied, too, of course). It is never right to blame the victim or to excuse the perpetrator. No one is “asking for it”.
Rape also demeans all the good men who roam God’s green earth looking to do the right thing by women. It is not endemic in male behaviour, whatever the toxic feminists might claim. Just as paedophilia is not endemic in priestly behaviour. It too has been given a massive fillip by the sexual revolution. But just remember that consent is not the only criterion by which we should judge good sexual behaviour in our age. Consent is never the end of the discussion about a culture that is truly toxic and that demeans us all.
And what is at the core of this toxic culture, with its toxic ideas and ideologies? Essentially, what we have lost is a sense of the good, the true and the beautiful. Losing any sense of truth has been disastrous. It has trashed standards of behaviour, and a sense of good behaviour is at the heart of virtue. We have replaced truth with post-modernist pap, with “my truth” and “your truth”, with anything goes, with “everything is relative”.
A flourishing society is underpinned by not just laws but by promises too, and accepted constraints on otherwise out-of-control behaviour. By men and by women too. The expectation of promises kept builds in a predisposition towards accepting deferred gratification. Abandoning “virtue” and instead promoting individual “values”, too, has helped to deflate sexual and other behaviour. Ditching religion has forced us back on our own meagre, Godless resources, and these have not been up to the task of creating agreed standards of behaviour for the post-Christian world order.
Paraphrasing Yeats, the centre (of morality) has not held, nor could it. We are unmoored, and things HAVE fallen apart, as he tells us:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Moral anarchy is a very good way of thinking about our current state. Yeats was writing in the shadow of World War One and the sheer scale of the revolutionary events of the 1960s described above were, at that time, still a long way off. Yet his reflections capture much of what had begun to emerge with late nineteenth century Nietzschean thinking, about God and about the fundamentally new and different world order, and in which the once-prized elements of the old order were gone forever. Back then it was called “modernism”, described by Pope Leo XIII as the heresy of heresies, and, as the name suggests, it very precisely prefigured the catastrophic events of half a century later.
You can measure a culture by the quality of its commercial television and its tabloid newspapers. I have all but given up on free-to-air television, and only wonder what sort of people still watch it. The competition among the prime channels is a race to the bottom.
For my subscription to the Sydney Daily Telegraph, I get seedy gossip, soft porn, endless reality TV reportage, celebrity culture where all the celebrities, most of whom I have never heard of, are themselves boring and depraved. Oh, and rugby league. With its own multi-layered off-field depravity and tedium. (Down south of the Murray, you get all of the above, except for the rugby league).
It ain’t pretty.