Steinberg vs. Schwyzer, My $0.02

Neely Steinberg is not a stranger here. I consider her neither an ally nor an adversary. That said, she has a very nice article (HT: Susan Walsh) in which she shares perspectives with Hugo Schwyzer regarding feminism and the hookup culture.

The reader will get an immediate impression from the title: that alone carries the implication from Steinberg that the hookup culture is not a good thing. That she is implicating feminists is not particularly endearing to their ranks.

As for Schwyzer, I’m going to be positive: he is either a bald-faced liar or a complete idiot. Any woman who listens to his advice is setting herself up for disaster. Here are some highlights (emphasis mine):

If there’s one truth I’ve learned (and seen so many others learn), it’s the idea that contrary to folk wisdom, one mistake—or even a series of mistakes—will not ruin your life. In her wonderful Full Frontal Feminism, Jessica Valenti writes that Sometimes doing silly, disempowering, sexually vapid things when you’re young is just part of getting to the good stuff. That doesn’t seem all that profound until you realize that it’s pushing back against the toxic idea that experiences invariably leave life-long scars.

Toxic idea? Try reality, Hugo.

(1) Sex is a very messy endeavor. When a woman loses her virginity, the results are usually VERY bloody and traumatic. If she experiences this in a “hookup” situation, the potential damage is limitless. This can seriously impact her ability to give herself fully away in marriage, and therefore can adversely impact her ability to enjoy sex. Simply telling her, “it’s no big deal” won’t cut it, because–no matter how much you say, “it’s no big deal”–it really is a big deal. Just as telling someone that gravity doesn’t exist will not help them as they leap off Mt. Everest, telling a woman that hookups are no big deal provides her counsel that is as effective as a post-mortem colonoscopy.

(2) One “mistake” can indeed ruin your life. This is because all it takes is one “mistake” to contract HIV/AIDS, or HPV. All it takes is one “mistake” for a woman to go home with a rapist she met at a bar, who offered her a drink that she didn’t realize was spiked with GHB. If she gets drunk and gets behind the wheel of a car, that one “mistake” can get her, or one of her friends, killed. If she gets pregnant from that one mistake, then she is facing either (a) a shotgun wedding for which she has not planned, (b) a life as a single mother, or (c) the lifelong stigma of having had an abortion.

Having done my share of post-abortion counseling, I can attest that post-abortion trauma is as real as gravity.

One mistake–or a series of “mistakes”–MAY OR MAY NOT ruin your life. At best, they create baggage that she must carry. When she gets married, it will be on her and her husband to unpack that baggage. This may take a very long time, especially when one or more of those “mistakes” are getting in the way of their ability to enjoy sex together.

Experience really is the best teacher, even if not every student learns the lesson the first (or 101st) time. Women in particular need reassurance that their worth is not linked to their number of sexual partners. They need to hear that pursuing pleasure for its own sake when they’re young will not make it more difficult to form enduring monogamous relationships (if they want them) when they’re older. These are lessons I’ve learned, lessons I’ve seen the men and women in my life learn and embrace.

Hugo, you are once again attempting to teach women to deny the existence of gravity. Sadly, the law of gravitation–just like the Laws of Thermodynamics and Newton’s Laws of Motion–shall not be up for repeal in the foreseeable future.

The same is true with respect to relationships.

Women, listen up: Promiscuity will adversely impact your ability to attract a high-value man for marriage.

I say this not to start a fight with the women; I’m just telling the bare truth. Calling me names will not change the reality, because I didn’t create it; I’m merely reporting it.

Does that mean that a woman who has made one “mistake” in her past can forget about marriage? Certainly not. But if she continues to repeat those “mistakes”, her marriageability heads south. She will find that the quality of men that she attracts will decline over time.

I’m not saying this to disrespect the ladies; I’m just telling you the naked truth, which Hugo Schwyzer is either too stupid or too dishonest to tell you.

I do regret the pain I caused other people. Rightly so. But what my life has taught me is that insight and compassion are rooted in experience; you can’t advise about what you don’t understand. My own ability to be a patient father, a faithful husband, a decent teacher and mentor isn’t in spite of my wild sexual choices when I was younger—it’s in large part because of them, and the lessons I learned. I’m lucky, but not that unusual.

Hey wait a second, Hugo. Didn’t you just say that one mistake doesn’t ruin one’s life? If that’s the case, then how can you call yourself “lucky”?

While experience can be a great teacher, observation is often a greater teacher. This is because, through observation, one can see the telos of certain choices without having to be binded to those experiences. One of the problems of learning through experience, is that–in many cases–one can have his ability to discern a present situation jaded by his prior “experience”. Observation, on the other hand, allows some disconnection and therefore a better chance of learning the “big picture”.

As for Steinberg, I think she is on the right track, although she still has not completely come around.

I agree with a lot of what Hugo has to say, but I think we may have different perspectives on the effects of casual, no-strings attached sex. I also happen to think most women aren’t all that interested in having a lot of it for purely sexual reasons, with multiple partners no less. And I’ve come to believe that feminism’s inability, and at times refusal, to acknowledge differences between the sexes has been disingenuous and has gravely backfired on women, leaving them ill-equipped to discover what really feels good and right to them.

So far so good.

The Samantha Jones (of Sex and the City fame) lifestyle was, in my opinion, a false bill of goods, sold to impressionable young women as glamorous, exciting, and liberating, while ignoring any sort of biological mechanisms that induce women to emotionally attach with their mates. I was told, by the 10% of women who are capable of effectively and consistently compartmentalizing their emotions when it comes to no-strings attached sex, that emotions were overrated, anathema even, and could easily be separated from sexual acts with another human being, to unapologetically unleash my inner slut (there’s that word again). It was our right (rite?) as women, our responsibility as sexual creatures, to show the world we can fuck like men do, have instantaneous orgasms, and feel faaaabulous while doing it in our 4-inch Manolo Blahniks. Countless women bought into this lie, only to realize years later that it doesn’t, in fact, feel so great most of the time, and that actually, there’s nothing all that empowering and liberating about spreading your legs with wild abandon.

What the feminists call “empowerment” carried a mother lode of Unintended Consequences. Gynecologists perform pap smears exclusively due to the prevalence of HPV, which is responsible for 100 percent of cervical cancer cases.

Oh, and the Sex And The City paradigm is neither realistic nor productive. As Ann Coulter pointed out a few years ago, SATC is the brainchild of a gay man, promoting a sexuality of women based on what gay men experienced. This is totally disconnected from reality. If a woman wants to learn about sexuality, SATC does nothing of value.

Instead of embracing the emotional and biological differences between men and women, or at least considering them, sex-positive feminists buried their heads in the sand, unintentionally creating, in the meantime, a veritable sexual playground for men, often times at the expense of women, many of whom just wanted relationships that were both sexually and emotionally satisfying. Women were told they could have their cake and eat it too, but the dessert in many ways has been a better payoff for men.

Yes, but only to a point. When Gloria Steinem sold feminism to the men, she gave them the bait: “you’ll screw more and enjoy it more!” The men, collectively, punched that ticket. As a result, any man with the audacity to demand sex, will never lack for partners. Without moral or religious imperatives, the men could otherwise count on a sexual bonanza.

If the goal for men was to get laid by lots of women, feminism was a big win for the men.

The downside, however, is that feminism has not been good for the men either. The education system–from preschool to college–has marginalized men and waged a full-on war against masculinity. At home, men are at a higher risk for divorce–and therefore greater economic peril–than they were before the days of “no-fault” divorce.

If a man wants to get married and have a stable family life, feminism has made things very difficult.

Everyone needs to read the following from Neely:

I spent the latter half of high school, college (if dating was scarce when I was in college, it’s nonexistent today), and many years post-college, mired in the hook-up scene, which was, mind you, always fueled by alcohol. It’s as if I needed the crutch of Vodka to tell me what I was doing was an awesome idea, because without it I’d know better. I wasn’t alone. It was happening all around me. My friends, female acquaintances, countless women I’d met briefly over the years—we were all in the same boat. Post-college, we could pursue our careers and hobbies and passions full-force but were unable to form lasting attachments, to believe that a man wanted us for anything more than a quick hook-up, to understand what real intimacy was about. We tamped down our emotions and hid our dissatisfaction—how else could we have had our witty Sunday brunches at which we joked about our encounters? In reality, I spent countless nights crying over my dating life. I know my friends (smart, beautiful, accomplished women) felt just as dejected and lonely. And all of a sudden we were in our early-30s. Whereas I once blamed men for my dating troubles, I now began to turn a critical eye on myself and an ideology that didn’t seem to be serving me all that well.

I won’t deny those wild days are tinged with a bit of sweet nostalgia, but I also know that pain has a short memory. Overall, these sorts of trysts usually left me feeling empty and the hollowness I felt had nothing to do with the evil patriarchy shaming or guilt-tripping me. It just felt lacking in so many ways. I remember one night in particular when I was 29 quite vividly. After being totally ignored at a party by a guy who I had hooked up with the night before, I cried hysterically while my friend drove me home. When we pulled up to my apartment, I remember feeling devastated and deflated, yelling, “I’m sick of this! I don’t get it, what am I doing wrong?” as I smashed my hand against the passenger seat window, shattering my bracelet in the process, pearls spewing everywhere. I was tired of making mistakes and not learning from them but felt stuck, like I had just lost myself. If feminism’s goal was to eradicate the falsehood that a woman’s worth is tied to her sexuality, it has failed on many accounts. All I learned from drunken, fleeting hook-ups over the course of a decade was how much I was being viewed as a sexual object by men, as a vagina who happens to think and feel, rather than a thinking, feeling human being who also happens to have a vagina. As Laura Kipnis writes in her book The Female Thing: “Welcome to the new femininity—at least under the old femininity you got taken to dinner.”

Yes, and back then the men paid for the dinner. Today, the men generally expect you to pay half the time, or pay your end of the tab. And it only goes downhill from there…

I agree with Hugo and Valenti’s point, to an extent, about the importance of making mistakes in your love life and learning from them. If it weren’t for some of the wrong turns (and their attendant lessons) in my life, I wouldn’t have found the wonderful man who I am dating today and be able to appreciate him. But I think I owe that more to the few actual relationships I’ve had with the wrong men and less to vacuous sexual encounters that taught me nothing about intimacy or pleasure. Thankfully, I did the hard work to understand how both my familial dynamics and the cultural winds of the day influenced my decisions. I consider myself lucky to have found the right guy at 34 but worry about other women, no matter what age, who are wedged between a culture that tells them one thing and the voice inside them that tells them another.

Neely, Neely, Neely…you’re so close, but not quite there.

Like I said regarding Hugo, while experience can be a great teacher, observation is often a greater teacher. Especially in matters related to sex. One does not have to experience the devastation of one or more hookups–with or without alcohol–to see what a cesspool of disaster that culture brings. One only needs to observe others doing the same thing over and over, and the results.

A woman need not lose her virginity at a drunken hookup in order to discover what she really longs for.

I understand what the feminist credo and Hugo have to say about pleasure-centered sex education and helping women to understand that it’s okay to enjoy sex outside of relationships (it is!) and to make silly, vapid mistakes, but we should also consider the notion that casual sex and hook-ups may not be for many women and can indeed have long-term deleterious effects (emotional and physical). Moreover, I think this sort of feminist-speak can often seem like highfalutin mumbo jumbo to a woman who, say, has hit her early to mid-30s, already spent years exploring her sexuality, made mistakes ad nauseam, and is now ready to settle down but has unfortunately found the dating pool has shrunk considerably. Lori Gotlieb wrote about this dilemma in her controversial article (and subsequent book) for the Atlantic entitled Marry Him!

To call feminist-speak “high-falutin’ mumbo jumbo” would be way too kind. In fact, feminism is all about making women equally miserable–no marriage, no children, but lots of sexual variety that doesn’t really satisfy–and dragging the men down with them.

Here, Neely gets to the 9,000 pound elephant in the room:

And, of course, there’s the ever-present tick-tock of the biological clock. It’s the one factor that feminism and college professors can’t manipulate. This is one such example as to why real-world practitioners are often at odds with academics: A professor sits behind the thick veil of tenure, spouting off theories and philosophies about how the world should be; a real-world practitioner has to deal with the world as it is, to make difficult decisions based on the realities of life.

Ahhh yes, the biological clock. THAT is the turd in the feminist punch bowl. Unfortunately, the women are largely unaware of how fast that clock is ticking down.

Based on my experiences and what I’ve seen countless other women deal with over the years, you can see why my approach to dating, sex, and relationships comes from a more strategic, realistic place (another example of this approach: if you want marriage and biological children, you should start taking your love life seriously by the time you reach your late-20s/early-30s), and why I now feel compelled to offer a critique of feminism. I want women to be happy, and to be honest with themselves, without feeling the need to buy into a politically-correct ideology, about what makes them happy. If it truly is lots of casual sex and fleeting hook-ups, more power to you! If not, that’s okay too! For so long I was dishonest with myself, getting swept up in a powerful cultural force that wasn’t there for me when I really needed it. Regarding the feminist movement, we have much to be thankful for, but we must also recognize it has created an unintended set of less-than-desirable circumstances for women that are very real and difficult to confront. We now have to deal with those consequences, honestly and openly and without fear of reproach.

As a libertarian, I have no stew with people making their own choices in life.

That said, over here, we provide admonitions and exhortations. If you want to learn–the hard way–about how nasty the hookup culture is, then you can do the stupid thing and partake in it.

If you wish to learn the easy way, then you can take what we say here seriously.

Even better, just read Proverbs.

2 thoughts on “Steinberg vs. Schwyzer, My $0.02

  1. it’s so sad, isn’t it. waves of people washed ashore by the fallacy of superficiality because they jumped in without even looking or considering or thinking … just because everyone else was jumping in. yep, their friend jumped off the bridge, so they did, too … in droves, and they still are.

    to say it’s irresponsible to take the time to observe and think is ludicrous. we do not have to learn simply from our own mistakes, as Amir so aptly pointed out … we can learn from others … or simply from commen sense … or, even better, from the bible.

    be and become a thinking person. teach your children to be and become thinking people. be willing to be different to do what you know is right and to stand up against a culture that could care a less whether you live or die or how you do either.

    btw – this should also be a HUGE wake-up call to parents pushing their children to go to college … not only will you load them down with unspeakable debt if you don’t pay for it for them, but you will be pushing them into a horrible tsunami culture against which they must be extremely strong to stand against. teach your kids to think and then allow them the freedom to do so.


    when i was younger and working full-time, married, without children, i would drive my 45 to 60 minute commute home every evening and look at the faces of the women driving home along side of me. not one woman ever looked peacefull. every single one looked stressed and haggled and tired. also, i would watch as women argued with their husbands on the phone at work as to who would pick up the sick kid from school – whose turn it was … whose job was the most important and therefore demanded the other should take care of THEIR sick child.

    i made my decision then – i wanted no part in either. staying home with my kids has cost me a lot, but being a working career-mom would cost more, imho.

    now, with a special needs child, i am very limited in what i can do for income as i cannot leave her alone. she is not safe to be left alone, and to pay someone to watch her, i’d have to pay as much as i’d make. we make significant sacrifices and stretch our budget paper thin every month to do so. my girls go to school with dual-income kids, and these kids have EVERYthing and more they could want. sometimes i feel really bad for my kids. then something comes up, and one of my girls makes a decision, argues a point at school against all her peers, helps out someone else, knows mommy is here for her when she needs her and/or is sick, and i know i’m doing the right thing.

    life will cost you something … choose what you want that cost to be … and who you want to pay the price.

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