Wednesday, March 5, 2014

"The Economics of Sex" A Critique

This cute little animated feature, "The Economics of Sex," has been making its way around social media in recent days.  I really wish I could give you a glowing, positive review of it, but alas, it really did not please me in the way it seems to be pleasing so many Christians.  I'll explain, but first, I'd like to point out what I do like and agree with in the movie.

I agree wholeheartedly that the birth control pill, with it's reliable and easy way of preventing pregnancy has changed how our society views sex.  We've managed to almost completely separate the reproductive act from reproduction.  This has had a profound impact on how we view sex outside of marriage.  Being Catholic, albeit one that was lapsed for awhile and did both, I believe that birth control and premarital sex are both disordered uses of our sexuality, so I give that aspect a thumbs up.  I also enjoyed the positive light put on saving sex for marriage.  It was nice to see a purely secular case made for avoiding premarital sex.  I wish, however, that the message was more effective and better done.  As far as I can see, the major flaws of this movie make it more damaging then beneficial, especially to women. The message that came across to me was, "Women, stop being sluts because you are ruining marriage!" with no responsibility being put on men.  With all the other noise in the world about how women need to keep men from falling into sin, this is just going to feed into the negativity towards female sexuality.

This movie starts with an inherently flawed premise (i.e. that we can reduce sex down to a commodity), which then had statistics and bits of truth shoved into it to feed an agenda to tell women how to behave to be "desirable."  If you don't already know, that kind of bothers me.  First of all, sex is not a commodity, nor can it ever really be.  Sex is so much more than that.  Let's look at what the Catechism says about the marital embrace:
2335 Each of the two sexes is an image of the power and tenderness of God, with equal dignity though in a different way. The union of man and woman in marriage is a way of imitating in the flesh the Creator's generosity and fecundity: "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh." All human generations proceed from this union.
Sex is a way of imitating God's ability to create.  Sex is meant to show us about God and His creation in a way that our puny mortal brains can handle.  As I've said previously, Revelation describes heaven as a "wedding feast of the lamb."  The unity created in the act of sex points us towards the intimate unity we hope to have some day with God in heaven.  Sex by it's very nature cannot and should not be reduced to a mere commodity.  Do so, and you remove all of its meaning and make it no longer special.  Why should anyone who believes that sex is truly just a commodity care to wait until marriage to have it?  The whole premise of this little movie undermines its message right from the beginning. Reducing sex to a commodity cheapens it just as much as, if not more so, than birth control does.
One of the first arguments the creators present us with is that since men are able to divorce romance from sex and generally have higher sex drives, a woman determines when sex occurs in a relationship, therefore, making her the "Gatekeeper."  Before I go further, I have to say that I hope that I am not the only one who can't stop thinking about this whenever I hear the a woman is a "Gatekeeper":

Are you the Key Master?
(I just can't stop laughing over this.  I crack myself up.  Okay, I'm done now.  I promise.)

Anyway, there is definitely truth in the information about male sex drives and views on sex.  I personally have talked with my husband about this ability to remove some aspects of emotion from sex, and I find it fascinating that he can do this. Men do seem to be better able to think about sex in a purely physical sense than women are.  I have, however, met enough women who can also do this who have extremely strong libidos to know that this generalization is not enough to really prove the point of the movie.  Beyond this, the truth is, I know that men don't have to disassociate sex and romance if they don't want to.  "The Economics of Sex" makes it sound like a given that pretty much all men will remove romance from sex given the chance, and they will go and have sex with any woman who is willing to give it to them. It allows no option for men to just decide that maybe they have standards for their sexual liaisons as well.  It literally says that, even though men separating sex from romance is not necessarily "how it should be" it's "just the way it is."  Okay, so men get a free pass because, "boys will be boys"?  We're not going to try to hold men accountable to this at all?  It's all on women because we can't even fathom that maybe we should ask men to man up and be responsible and in control of themselves?!  I have a better idea, how about if we perhaps advocate men trying to avoid the things that increase a chance of a them learning to disassociate romance and sex like pornography instead of acting like looking at porn is completely okay?  Why don't we stop buying things that objectify women in their advertisements to send a message that we don't want women's bodies to be treated like commodities?  Or advocate for parents to raise their sons to respect a woman's body and not just view them as convenient masturbation tools?  Why must we lay this all at the feet of women?  Men CAN rise up and be better.  They CAN control themselves.  It's not just up to women to make this happen, but men, too.  Fathers and grandfathers and uncles and brothers need to encourage each other to be respectful; to be MEN.  To pretend that men have no control over themselves is complete and utter sexist nonsense.

The movie goes on to say, "Sex is [a woman's] resource."  Okay, so sex is a tool for a woman to get what she wants from men?  The idea that sex is a tool that women can use to manipulate men to get what they want from them is even more horrific than sex being a commodity!  This worldview being presented in this movie is truly terrifying.  In it, essentially, in the eyes of men, women are walking vaginas that they will use to satisfy themselves with whatever one consents to let them. A woman then uses this knowledge to manipulate the man she wants most into marrying her.  The woman therefore becomes a glorified prostitute, and she knows that her husband only puts up with her because she is the only one who will have sex with him.  Heaven knows that lust and manipulation are super strong foundations for a marriage!  Sex, the union of two bodies pointing us towards union with God, should not be used as a bargaining chip to get a ring on your finger.  Also, no woman really wants to marry a man who is only marrying her so that he can have sex with her.  Tell me, how is this movie supposed to be making a good argument for avoiding premarital sex?  Honestly, the marriages implied by this "utopia" of women manipulating men who want to get in their pants sound awful.  The attitudes regarding sexuality and marriage in this movie are setting women up to feel that all they can expect from a marriage is to be their husband's masturbation tool, so they will have their rings and maybe the kids they want, but they shouldn't expect happiness or fulfillment. That's a great way to create a positive change in this world!

The attitudes regarding sexuality in this movie also hurt men and boys.  By perpetuating the myth that men will have sex with whatever willing woman they can find, we set our boys up to be bullied if they dare to say that they aren't ready to have sex yet.  Can't you see it now?  The questions, the harassment? ("Why don't you want to have sex yet?  What is wrong with you?")  Our men and our boys deserve to live in a world where they can also live without being pressured into having sex or treated like there is something biologically wrong with them for wanting to wait to have sex.  A movie showing that men know where to get easy sex with illustrations of motels and claims of women being THE ones to decide when sex happens is not going to give any dignity or help to our young men.  Chastity is a two-way street.  We need to support and encourage both sexes, not shame one side and ignore the other.

To make matters worse, this movie doesn't even make a clear argument for why a marriage is desirable nowadays.  I've noticed increasingly that marriage is being reduced down to health benefits and financial interests.  People get married to get on each other's health insurance and for stronger finances.  As a Catholic, this makes me weep because, to us, the purpose of marriage is to die to your spouse and live in service to him/her and God and to raise children for God.  It is a vocation meant to bring us closer to God through union with our spouse:
2360 Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion. Marriage bonds between baptized persons are sanctified by the sacrament.
2361 "Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves totally to one another until death."
2363 The spouses' union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple's spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family.  The conjugal love of man and woman thus stands under the twofold obligation of fidelity and fecundity.
There is such beauty in marriage, yet it is now being seen as less and less desirable.  People fear divorce and commitment.  If you want to increase marriages, you need to make marriage look desirable for everyone again.  Simply asserting that women want to get married without asserting the benefits of marriage will not increase marriages.  Perhaps a movie with the benefits of getting married for men would be a more effective way to increase men looking to get married instead of trying to shame women into taking on the entire burden.

The creators of "The Economics of Sex" also assert that, at some mythical point in history, women supported one another in marriage by keeping the value of sex high and therefore didn't compete for husbands.  Um, hello, since when did women actually support each other and not compete?  Have you guys never read a Jane Austen book?  Do you not know who Lucy Steele is?

Here is a picture of Lucy Steele definitely not trying to compete for Edward Ferrars...
I would really like to see proof of this camaraderie that women supposedly used to share.  Marriages and relationships have always had issues.  People have always competed for mates.  I also think that we need some convincing data showing that increasing the number of marriages will increase overall happiness if we want movies like this one to be effective.  I don't think that rushing to get married so that you can have sex has ever been a good way to guarantee marital happiness.  People have a tendency to idolize the past and long for it, forgetting the bad parts of it and only remembering the good.  Perhaps, instead of encouraging people to get married quickly and young so that they can increase the numbers of marriages, we could encourage chastity in the context of our current lifestyle.  Maybe people should wait until they are older to get married.  Maybe they should get educated.  There is so much more here going on that needs to be addressed and looked at and analyzed.  The explanations in this movie are too simplistic and the solution cannot solve all of the issues we have with the institution of marriage today.

Instead of just increasing the numbers of marriages, shouldn't we want to increase the number of happy, enduring, fulfilling marriages?  Why don't we go for quality over quantity?  We need a truly radical solution to the unique issues facing marriage and family in our country today, not just the same old, "A man won't marry you if he's already getting what he wants from you."  "Women, stop being sluts," is only going to cause more shame over being a woman.  Women constantly have competing messages being bombarded at them that they either need to be sexy so that men will want to be with them and value them, or that they need to be pure so that men with want to be with them and value them.  Everything women hear is essentially how our worth is related to men.  The message in "The Economics of Sex" is just another voice telling women how to act for men.  In the context of how women are already viewed, this just adds to the false notion that our worth is determined by men.  We are worthy because we are made in the image and likeness of God, just like men are.  We shouldn't have to prove it in any other fashion.

It really would.

If we really want to increase the number of quality marriages, we need to show value for our children.  We need family-oriented messages.  We need positive messages about our sexuality.  If we are going to use secular arguments, we need to find compelling statistics that will convince men and women that marriage is something that they want instead of premarital sex. Otherwise, we fall short of a good solution and make movies like this that characterizes women as glorified prostitutes and men as uncontrollable animals. I feel that we would have more success at changing hearts with the Gospel and the Catechism. We can either promote messages like the one in this movie that are flawed and short-sighted, or we can promote Jesus' word and His love.  We can give people Truth and substance.  We can provide a message that can actually stand on its own.  Anything less, in my opinion, just won't be enough to cut it long-term.

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