Writing in the New Yorker, Masha Gessen asks if the ongoing public outcry over sexual harassment in the workplace might inadvertently revive more conservative sexual norms, in a way that would be bad for women. "In the current American conversation," she writes, "women are increasingly treated as children: defenseless, incapable of consent, always on the verge of being victimized. This should give us pause. Being infantilized has never worked out well for women." Read a longer excerpt from Gessen's piece below, or the full text here.
The conversation we are having about sex began with incidents that involved clear coercion, intimidation, and violence. Paradoxically, it seems to have produced the sense that meaningful consent is elusive or perhaps even impossible. On Tuesday, the band Pinegrove announced that it was suspending its tour because its front man, Evan Stephens Hall, had been accused of sexual coercion. The details of that particular accusation are unclear. But, on the group’s Facebook page, Hall posted a statement that seemed to sum up his sense that women, at least when faced with a famous man, cannot make adult choices: “i have been flirtatious with fans and on a few occasions been intimate with people that i’ve met on tour. i’ve reached the conclusion now that that’s not ever appropriate—even if they initiate it. there will always be an unfair power dynamic at play in these situations and it’s not ok for me to ignore that.”
The timing of this current sexual renegotiation makes sense. Sex is one area where, it seems, we can change something. In this way, sex is different from a nuclear holocaust or a climate disaster. But, while we think we are moving forward, we may be willingly transporting ourselves back to a more sexually restrictive era, one that denied agency to women.
Image: Former Oklahoma state senator Ralph Shortey, who pled guilty to child trafficking after a sexual encounter with a teenager of consenting age.