For more information, contact:
Gary Schouborg, PhD
Schouborg, Gary (2009).
The following is a commentary on the recent public debate, especially among feminists, about monetizing virginity. The specific stimulus for my comments is the Wall Street Journal editorial posted at the bottom, which decries a woman's auctioning off her virginity through the good offices (not to mention orifices) of the Moonlite Bunny Ranch in Nevada.
At the risk of my anti-philosophical friends once again accusing me of being a master-baiting qualifier, let me distinguish between airhead relativism and critical relativism.
Airhead relativism: values are purely subjective; there's no real difference among them, just individual preference.
Critical relativism: there are no absolute values, but values nevertheless have real consequences. There is no free lunch. Any value has its costs and benefits. Thoughtful people identify the consequences before choosing their values.
I thought of this issue last night after watching a Chris Rock one-man show. His riffs on how different are men’s and women’s attitudes toward pussies and dicks and fucking and different levels of cuming were funny and insightful, but at the end I felt brutalized and saddened by his relentless focus on the superficial and immediately intense absent the slightest evocation of tender and abiding feelings between the sexes.
Rock's humor has the social benefit of demystifying sex, liberating it from a false sacredness that feeds prurience, from a false seaminess that feeds shame and guilt, and from denial that one is at all subject to either of those illusions. However, that benefit is highly specialized and limited. The humor's voltage is reduced for those in little or no need of such exorcism, so that they're looking for more than staring at each other's crotch in order to overcome their inhibitions.
I have a similar mixed reaction to the woman selling her virginity to the highest bidder. Traditionalists huff and puff about degradation but are silent as to precisely why virginity and capitalism should never mix. I applaud the young woman for seeing through the illusion that virginity has some abstract absolute value that's violated by being sold. At the same time, I'm saddened by the thought that, though theoretically possible, it's unlikely that she can sell herself like a piece of meat while maintaining the emotional ability to relate to others with nuanced tenderness.
It's a legitimate and important question to know how many people have that level of discernment. How many men and women does this public debate about monetizing virginity free from unnecessarily inhibiting attitudes toward their bodies? For how many men and women does that liberation come at the price of desensitizing them to the role of sex in developing an enriching intimacy? How many men and women does the public debate liberate in a way that develops their sensitivity to both themselves and others? I don't think we know the answer to those questions. But I'm reasonably confident that those who react the most intensely to the issue do so from an emotional base that they little understand.
FEBRUARY 5, 2009, 11:25 P.M. ET
Putting Herself on Sale
"It's the ugly result of a philosophical movement that came to trumpet relativism at the expense of any kind of judgment..."
By BARI WEISS
It's a typical recession-era evening at my apartment in Brooklyn: an $8 bottle of wine and a discussion with one of my roommates about donating her eggs for $100,000.
She has already sent in the application -- filling in her SAT scores and GPA, along with her ethnic background, weight and height. We carefully selected the required photographs, imagining the agency drooling over the shots of her in cap and gown at graduation (this egg is destined for the Ivy League), riding a bike in spandex (leggy and vigorous), and posing in front of a temple in South Asia (cultured, with appropriate empathy for the developing world). Suffice it to say, she is a genetic dream.
The gravity with which my highly educated and highly indebted female friends discuss the prospect of selling their genes is a sign of the times, my way of tracking the recession. For this friend, $100,000 would mean the ability to pay off most college loans and the freedom to spend her time on pursuing a graduate degree rather than cobbling together babysitting gigs at $15 an hour. Sure, there's something distressing to her about the eugenics implicit in the enterprise. But an infertile couple's decision to shell out for tall, thin, Anglo-Saxon eggs is their choice, we conclude. They get a child; my friend gets the money.
Donating eggs, though certainly more ethically complicated than waiting tables, seems acceptable, even entrepreneurial, given this economy. But what about selling your virginity?
Enter 22-year-old Natalie Dylan, who, in a move à la "Memoirs of a Geisha," says that she is auctioning her virginity through the Moonlite Bunny Ranch in Nevada (prostitution is not legal on eBay). A women's studies major at Sacramento State who is writing her thesis on the "value of virginity," Ms. Dylan -- not her real name, she says -- claims that she will use the money to pay for her graduate degree in marriage and family planning. So far, we're told, the highest bid is $3.8 million.
It is hard to believe Ms. Dylan's virginity auction isn't a hoax or, at best, a sociological experiment for her thesis. Spots on the "Howard Stern" and "Tyra" shows over the past weeks have already scored her a book deal. Yet assuming she does go through with it -- as did a British university student in 2004 -- what should we make of her self-designed stimulus package? Money is power, right?
This is certainly one way that Ms. Dylan has framed things. She's the savvy businesswoman praised for her "entrepreneurial gumption" by the head of a Fortune 500 company. "For me," she writes on The Daily Beast Web site, "valuing virginity as sacred is simply not a concept I could embrace. But valuing virginity monetarily -- now that's a concept I could definitely get behind."
If the alleged high bid were in the thousands, we probably wouldn't blink. But the more tantalizing the amount, the less the act is viewed as degrading: It merely seems enterprising. Which is why Ms. Dylan's self-pimping and the envious reactions it has elicited from some women are actually less indicative of the state of our economy than of the state of American feminism. "These days, more and more women my age are profiting directly from their sex appeal," says Ms. Dylan. About this, she is absolutely correct.
Over the past few decades, feminism, which used to stand for a clear set of values -- most basic among them, that women are not sex objects and must refuse to be treated as such -- has been reduced to the mere right to make a choice. Want to rip off your shirt for "Girls Gone Wild"? Just remember to say that you're empowered, that you're choosing to do it, and no one will bat an eyelash. It's the ugly result of a philosophical movement that came to trumpet relativism at the expense of any kind of judgment -- providing the intellectual scaffolding for porn.
And so for Ms. Dylan, selling her body to the highest bidder isn't actually raw capitalism -- it's part of her "value system." After four years spent soaking up wisdom at the feet of third-wave feminist professors, Ms. Dylan was finally freed from old-fashioned ideas of right and wrong, finally able, as she puts it, to "form a moral code of my own design." So she "decided to flip the equation," using sex "to gain power and opportunity from men."
And -- voilà! By dreaming of wresting several million dollars from a high-rolling john, Ms. Dylan has crowned herself the ultimate 21st-century empowered woman.
But no matter how much cash is ultimately forked over, no matter how many times words like "value system" and "empowerment" are bandied about, there is nothing liberating about this sale. In the end, it is no more and no less than prostitution.
Ms. Weiss is an assistant editorial features editor at the Journal.