30 December 2022

#MeToo and the Reclamation of Feminine Dignity

'The modern woman (is) compelled to come face-to-face with the (fact) that she is the prisoner of a culture obsessed with unbounded sexual freedom.'

From The European Conservative

By Veronica Lademan

The issue of sexual degradation, around which #MeToo centers, has stirred something in the modern woman’s heart and compelled her to come face-to-face with the simple reality that she is the prisoner of a culture obsessed with unbounded sexual freedom.

t is easy to disregard the #MeToo movement as merely an inane ideological outgrowth of feminism. While it is undeniably true that the movement rests on certain feminist premises, it has inadvertently introduced a challenge to the dogmatic claims of its progenitor. The outburst of rage that swept a large part of the Western world, expressed in the banal and vulgar women’s marches that flooded city streets, is a sign of hope. The issue of sexual degradation, around which the movement centers, has stirred something in the modern woman’s heart and compelled her to come face-to-face with the simple reality that she is the prisoner of a culture obsessed with unbounded sexual freedom. The #MeToo movement is a reaction against the entrapment of women, who, finding themselves confronted by the failed experiment of the sexual free-for-all, have begun to stumble blindly towards a reclamation of their feminine dignity and unique societal role. 

This claim is difficult to defend. After all, #MeToo is a branch of the feminist tree. As articulated today, the movement rests on the imaginings of a fundamentally oppressive ‘patriarchy’ built by men for the subjugation of all things unmasculine–that is, any quality that Western culture has left out of its purely constructed masculinity. The feminist indulges in the pernicious idea that all her suffering in life is reducible to masculine power and malice; that a woman exists primarily as victim, an identity that is almost ontologically prior to her humanity. #MeToo has taken these theories from the arcane halls of academia to the public square and everyday life. Their fallacies lay themselves out for easy picking. The analysis is far too riddled with absurdities to hold any true weight against sober and rational judgment. 

While it is clear that the movement’s roots are not grounded in the clear, cool realm of reason, it has a deep hold on the restless and raging hearts of generations of lost women. Feminism uses the emotional force of unreasoned conviction to disseminate its doctrines. This has been remarkably effective in the course of #MeToo. Theories of masculine tyrannical dominance were replaced by a flood of heartbreaking examples, each of which was used to bolster the claim that feminism has been correct all along. Countless women came forward—neighbors, friends, sisters, daughters—bearing their scars in anger for the world to see. The problem was no longer abstract; what had been hidden was brought into clear view, communicated through the torrent of gruesome testament on social media. These outbursts gave voice to the pent up fury and trauma of many women who had been alienated and alone in their suffering. 

They demanded that their suffering be recognized and that its source be repudiated. On the face of it, this is an easy request to oblige. It is natural to condemn sexual violence. While cures offered for the problem of rape and assault by #MeToo advocates—particularly in the realm of the justice system—are beyond the pale for any reasonable observer, the simple acknowledgement that sexual violence is evil and should be condemned is a self-evident obligation—at least in the context of Western tradition. 

The Lie of Liberation

However, #MeToo’s rage extended beyond sexual violence. A woman’s discomfort, remorse, or guilt—feelings that often accompany random sexual encounters—became sufficient proof for the activist that her regretted experience constituted a violation. This disingenuous broadening of the definition helps to explain the sudden ‘epidemic’ of sexual violence that exploded on college campuses. The statistic trotted out in support of an alleged rape culture is that 1 in 4 women will be assaulted during her academic stint. However, this is true only if the parameters of what comprises assault are drastically morphed and shifted.

In a revealing article for City JournalHeather Mac Donald recounts a story of ‘Jane Doe,’ a freshman at Occidental College, who lost her virginity during a one-night stand. When she saw that the young man in question was “unaffected emotionally by it … she felt distracted and unable to concentrate.” Doe reported the incident, citing her distress at seeing him around campus. School authorities determined that this was sufficient grounds for guilt and expelled him. 

The actions of the accuser and the administration flouts the cornerstone of our legal process and allows for the imposition of feeling without substantiating evidence to determine the course of justice. This is rightfully condemned and has caused no small amount of ire amongst observers. It bodes of a serious threat to how we enact justice in the face of criminality and violence. As Mac Donald noted, it was “during the Kavanaugh hysteria, that this conceit jumped out of the ivory tower into the world at large. It will be no easy task to put it back.” It is reprehensible to use feelings of personal guilt as grounds for accusation and the resentful destruction of another person’s life. Those who partake in this farce must be held accountable and reminded of the responsibility they must claim over their own actions. 

It is tempting to heap scorn on the women who partake and promulgate the elevation of their wounded feelings over the demands of reality and the burden of proof. However, it is worth considering that these women are, in fact, pointing to some truth. Through the whirlwind of chaotic emotion, there is a compelling case that ‘casual’ sexual relations between men and women, while not necessarily coercive, are inherently degrading. In fact, the very act of calling out these newly permissive norms and categorizing them as a violation of womanhood may be an ironic and unexpected reclamation of what it means to be a woman in society. In other words, these reactions are, in some very real sense, a messy and misguided recovery of authentic femininity in a modern world that is waging war against it.

As Mac Donald went on to note in her exposé, what we are witnessing is the consequence of the comforting but incoherent promise that promiscuity is a win for women:

Sexual liberation pretends that males and females respond identically to one-night stands, and that the loss of virginity is just an insignificant way station en route to the rounds of casual sex expected of contemporary adults … [T]raditional culture was right to regard the loss of virginity as a milestone in a girl’s life, and to surround it with the sanctifying rituals of marriage.

Tradition provides guidance for women on how we are meant to live and act in the world. The guilt, discomfort, and emotional turmoil that sexual liberation causes has, inadvertently, led many feminists to act out traditionally feminine behaviours, resting on the received wisdom about women’s sexuality. The outpouring of overwhelming feeling at the harried sexual lives of countless women is an encouraging sign of the resilience of human nature. It challenges the feminist premise that women are simply men with wombs, who are left significantly disadvantaged as a result.  It is becoming apparent that this stance cannot stand in the face of what sex reveals to us about men and women and how we are meant to relate. 

In a healthy and meaningful context, sex incarnates the inherently complementary nature of men and women, in all of its joy, love, pleasure, fun, cooperation, and intimacy. This culminates in the creation of new life. It is the ultimate sign that we are meant to work with one another. The benefits of a healthy and meaningful relationship go beyond that man and woman. The family serves as the foundation for a thriving culture and an integrated nation. In other words, the health of the relationships between men and women can serve as a test of a society’s resilience.

If ordered sexuality reveals how men and women compliment each other, promiscuity illustrates the disastrous results of fundamentally dysfunctional relating. It reveals the deep truth that, precisely because sex admits of the capacity for the deepest intimacy, it can also facilitate the most profound alienation. It is this alienation, in which the other is turned into a pure object for amusement and the satisfaction of physical or emotional lust, to which the women of #MeToo are in large part reacting. The overwhelming feeling which causes many women to lash out in accusation stems from a befuddled awareness that what they consented to and participated in was their own desecration. 

This flies in the face of a prevailing theory on liberation. Women, so the claim goes, have been bound to restrictive norms by men who are frightened of the feminine unleashed. Our sexuality is ours, to be deployed at will for our own gratification. The only thing required is an individual’s consent, which according to a liberal framework is the dividing line between what is good and what isn’t. Yet this is wholly insufficient for the intricate workings of the human heart. Sir Roger Scruton noted that, “the charge of date rape, in itself an unjust assault on the seducer, is a last-ditch attempt to make sense of the accusers own moral feelings.” This irrational and seemingly unprovoked slander illustrates that “the desacralized morality of liberal consensus is inadequate to deal with our sexual emotions.”

Despite this, young women are sent out, armed with fables of absolute freedom, into a sexual jungle, inhabited by the likes of Kim Kardashian, Cardi B, and OnlyFans models. What is meant to be a mode of bonding is forced to conform to the standards of an abstract theory of sexual liberation which has no grounding in human nature and certainly no concern for the hearts of the individuals involved. The insistence that the height of female power consists in her freedom to have sex without attachment is to expose women to a world in which they are used and discarded at will. Emotional devastation and broken bonds are left in the wake of these experiences. Women are easily left with the impression that men are heartless and selfish, capable only of relating to a woman as an object. Given that many of them have been exposed to male sexuality purely in the context of a half-sober hookup, they do not lack good reasons for feeling as such. 

However, nature cannot be so easily tricked. Women are not made to divorce our actions from our emotions; we are not made for robotic sexual encounters. Feminist literature inadvertently affirms this inescapable truth. As Louise Perry wrote in the New Statesmanon many feminist platforms “readers are told that taking cocaine or methamphetamine before sex could dull the dopamine response.” She goes on to recount the various tactics recommended to women so that they can avoid cultivating feelings of emotional intimacy during sex:

These [feminist] outlets then encourage women to achieve their proffered feminist ideal by overcoming a perfectly healthy preference for intimacy and commitment in sexual relationships. Guides with titles such as “12 Ways To Not Fall For The Guy You’re Casually Hooking Up With” and “The Relationship Game: How to Avoid Catching Feelings for Someone” advise readers to, for instance, avoid making eye contact during sex, in an effort to resist “making an intimate connection.

Insight into the lengths that are taken to refute the demands of nature are revelatory. Given these attempts at destroying any connection with and awareness of their feminine nature, many women are left without a vocabulary to parse through and articulate the devastation caused by the abuse of sexuality. Many have sought to soothe these wounds by simply placing the blame on the men to whom they consented.

Reclaiming Womanhood

#MeToo gives a voice to these aggrieved and hurt women. The result, as we have seen, is an untrammeled, often vicious display of convoluted feelings which strain to grasp and present some truth that has been denied by rigid feminist dogma. In so doing, they are reentering into a uniquely female role in society. The movement acts out a shadowy imitation of the rich emotional contribution that women can make to our social life and cultural health. 

Obviously, this contradicts the radical feminist attempt to equalize men and women, so as to efface any distinction between the sexes. Men and women are different and inhabit different roles in society. As Edith Stein points out, “man’s essential desires reveal themselves in action, work, and objective achievement”; however, “the strength of women lies in the emotional life.” The feminine inclination towards rich awareness of life in all its feelings—a disposition which, like the female body, reveals the unique mandate of motherhood—allows women deeper and more natural insight into the whole individual.“Women naturally seek to embrace that which is living, personal, and whole. To cherish, guard, protect, nourish, and advance growth is her natural yearning.” 

The organic and immediate awareness in a woman’s emotional perceptiveness permeates her entire being. Mankind is not merely mind in matter; his nature is expressed through his embodied form. The female body is built specifically to facilitate the urgings of the feminine soul, most obviously in her capacity to bear and nurture human life. Stein argues that this distinction makes itself felt in the different ways that men and women are physically attuned to themselves. Where men are more inclined to cultivate a certain sense of physical detachment, viewing their bodies more as instruments to serve them in work, women have a more immediate awareness of themselves as embodied. 

Even the relationship of soul and body is not completely similar in a man and woman; with a woman, the soul’s union with the body is naturally more intimately emphasized. … A woman’s soul is present and lives more intensely in all parts of her body, and it is inwardly affected by that which happens to the body.

It is no wonder, then, given the emotional, earthy attachment that a woman experiences with her own body and through it the other, that the culture of ‘casual’ sex is so devastating. The active encouragement to inhale drugs and avoid eye contact, so chillingly reported by Louise Perry, is a direct response to the innate sense that what a woman subjects herself to sexually is a violation of her body, her nature, and her role. Our bodies are not merely things to be used as statements of defiance expressed through carnal liberality.

Casual sex is a mutually degrading and alienating undertaking, but if Stein is correct, then it would follow that women are more immediately aware of this. Feminine nature is more readily equipped to feel and intuit disunion, dysfunction, and disorder, particularly in the realm of the personal. And in her desire to “advance growth,” she is inclined to point to it, to draw attention to the thing that threatens the flourishing of the whole person. And although feminist ideology has consistently attempted to stamp out these inclinations, to deny that women inhabit a place in society apart from men, it cannot escape their inevitable resurgence—or worst still, in the form of #MeToo, their fateful vengeance.

The whirlwind of #MeToo, while often viewed as a feminist victory, may be a herald of this deeper moral fracture. It is undeniable that many women unjustly project the responsibility of their feelings of desecration onto the man to whom they consented; willing sexual engagement, no matter how ill-advised, does not constitute assault or rape. However, these women are right in claiming that they have been violated. Sex is a means of intense bonding between a man and a woman and opens them up to the possibility of bringing new life into the world. There is nothing casual about this. To treat it as such is to act out a delusion that can only end in harming the very individuals it purports to empower. 

The shrieks of angry women are, in many respects, the most fitting response to the absurdity of our current sexual culture. In some convoluted way, these women are reclaiming and standing again in their femininity, not according to the condescending stereotype of the hysterical woman, but in the sense that they are pointing to something destructive and wrong and demanding a response. They are inhabiting that realm of feminine emotion which is more immediately aware of the practices that can detract from the “personal and the whole.” These outbursts should jolt us out of a comfortable rationalization of indulgent sexual practices. 

Our response to this cannot be to indulge in the fantasy of cruel exploitation where there is none. This would be an act of cowardly disservice. But what can be cultivated is an awareness that these voices are saying something true; these women are pointing to an uncomfortable reality. We disregard them at our own peril. Led by the lies of ideologues which prey on the atomized and the unmoored, they have encountered something destructive and ugly. Sexuality serves as a microcosm that reveals the functionality of the web of relations that builds our societies. The health of our sexual culture correlates directly to the health of our familial relationships which build up our communal ties and so weaves together our national life. It is no wonder that our current state causes such deep and visceral emotional response. The dysfunction of modern sexuality is surely a reasonable thing to rage about. 

This unfolding tumult presents conservatives with an opportunity. If the aim is to affirm the invaluable contribution of a wholly feminine woman to our culture and tradition, then misguided expressions of a woman’s nature in the #MeToo movement cannot be dismissed. These moments of emotional vulnerability should not be reduced to entertaining clickbait, nor should they be met with pure contempt and further indignities. Those sentiments are the very concerns these women are rightfully condemning. They deserve a response of understanding, of the simple acknowledgement that we live in an era of pain wrought by dysfunctional sexuality. It is possible that one simple, charitable gesture can begin to transform a woman’s suffering into clarity. It will be long and hard work, but the human heart is made to be receptive to what is true and good. 

As Stein notes, “when women themselves are once again whole persons and when they help others to become so, they create a healthy, energetic force that supplies healthy energy to the entire national body.” Inviting women to reassert their feminine dignity will contribute to healing our sickly culture.

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