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  • Is porn causing all of society's ills?

    From Slate:

    Pornified and Female Chauvinist Pigs

    This week in the Book Club, Laura Kipnis, Wendy Shalit, and Meghan O'Rourke discuss Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families, by Pamela Paul; and Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Rauch Culture, by Ariel Levy.

    From: Laura Kipnis
    To: Wendy Shalit and Meghan O'Rourke
    Subject: Is Porn Really Transforming Our Sex Lives?
    Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2005, at 2:56 AM PT

    Hi Wendy and Meghan,

    We're supposed to grapple over two new and pretty alarmist books on the state of sexual culture in America: Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families, by Pamela Paul; and Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, by Ariel Levy. There are a lot of overlaps between them: Both describe the dire effects the rising cultural acceptability of porn has on male-female relationships and on female self-esteem. Paul presents a parade of dismal male porn addicts who can't relate to real women; Levy focuses on young women who've decided (wrongly, she thinks) that porn and its motifs can be empowering for gals. Both paint a depressingly disconnected world, like Sartre's No Exit for the porn age: Women want intimacy with men, men want fantasy sex with porn stars, and the porn stars presumably just want a paycheck. No one's getting much pleasure. It's all alienated, compulsive masturbation, cartoonish artificial breasts, and incessant pop-up ads.

    Let's start with Pornified. I must confess that this book made me very cranky. Not about the rise of porn, but about the decline of cultural criticism: Paul's analysis is as compartmentalized and shallow as the sex lives of her subjects. She has her nose pressed so firmly against porn culture that she's utterly blinkered about the rest of society, or history, or politics; it's as if sexuality occupied some autonomous world of its own. (Like a porn set.)

    Here are a few of the many bad things Paul blames on porn: failing relationships, men's flight from intimacy, men judging women by harsh appearance standards, men liking large breasts, female body-image issues, general female insecurity, lack of sexual foreplay, male impotence, men demanding more oral sex, infrequent sex among couples—just about everything but acne. (Yes, a single explanation for every social ill is very convenient.) I'm no historian, but I'm under the impression that all these behaviors and predispositions long preceded the rise of porn. Men treat women like sex objects? Not exactly new: Consider the brilliant, crazy Valerie Solanas' 1967 S.C.U.M. Manifesto: "It's often said that men use women. Use them for what? Surely not pleasure." Women are romantically disappointed in men? Read—gosh, it's such an endless list—the collected stories of Dorothy Parker. Men are in flight from intimacy? I know from careful study of The New Yorker cartoons that when television was invented, husbands planted themselves on the couch and have yet to look up—unless it's to play golf, poker, flee to the office, or have affairs, all of which wives have been miffed about for decades.

    So, when exactly was the golden age of relationship bliss that Paul thinks porn has torn asunder?

    Wendy, I think that to understand anything about the popularity of porn, we have look beyond porn. For instance, let's notice that the mainstreaming of porn occupies the same cultural moment as the rise of abstinence-only education (with which it technically complies). I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that the two aren't exactly unrelated: They're both products of a culture that's deeply conflicted and hypocritical about sex.

    Take a glance at the rest of the Internet for a bit of cultural context. What comprises the majority of Web sites, aside from porn? Religion and shopping. A seething cultural compost of sexual prohibition and compulsive consumption—here's fertile soil for a thriving porn commerce. Paul seems weirdly surprised to discover that so many religious types—clergy members and conservative Christians—have sex-addiction issues. Pamela: Meet Jimmy Swaggart. Public virtue and private lechery are also long-standing features of American sexual culture, from The Scarlet Letter to the Clinton impeachment committee. We're a culture that hates and fears sex, but can't get enough of it.

    Porn may make a convenient scapegoat for everything that's appalling in the world these days, but new technologies or genres like Internet porn only thrive when they confirm dispositions already inherent in the culture. What I'm saying is that Paul mistakes a symptom for a cause: It's a muddled porno-determinism. Take a deeply puritanical society that loves its sexual hypocrisy, in which gender and power dynamics are in flux. Add factors like increasing female financial independence, which ups the demands women are making on relationships. Then add the fact that feminism has put male sexual behavior under scrutiny in the workplace, where, by the way, economic anxiety and job stress are rampant. What social forms would be likely to flourish in such a context? Hey, I know: Internet porn! But does porn produce the versions of anomic sexuality and relationship disconnection that Paul is so distressed by? It didn't need to.

    Many of the men Paul interviewed say that if faced with a choice between their girlfriends and porn, they'd have to give up the girlfriends. Yet Paul seems convinced that minus porn, somehow these guys would be fulfilling all the intimacy needs of their partners. Sorry, but who's the compulsive fantasist?

    That's a segue to Female Chauvinist Pigs, Wendy, which I hope you will manage to toss into the mix. For some women, porn is a rival, but for others—Levy's subjects—porn's a fun new pal.

    Over to you.

    Laura


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    From: Wendy Shalit
    To: Laura Kipnis, Meghan O'Rourke
    Subject: What's Feminist About Girls Gone Wild?
    Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2005, at 9:11 AM PT
    It's great to be doing this book club with you. You raise a lot of interesting questions.

    I'm curious what type of study would need to be done for you to say, OK, I have to take this conclusion seriously? For it seems to me that both Levy and Paul's research methods are quite legitimate. And their findings directly contradict the assumptions they began with. That means something to me.

    Levy, an avowed feminist, tried valiantly to see how the Female Chauvinist Pig ideal was liberating, because everyone else was saying it was. She pounded the pavement. She crashed a Girls Gone Wild filming to find out why so many middle-class coeds are taking off their shirts [Ed. note: This section of Female Chauvinist Pigs appeared in different form as a dispatch in Slate]; she ducked into CAKE parties where women's sexual desires are supposedly fulfilled (but where, in fact, girls end up bickering and performing for male approval). Levy tried to "get with the program, but I could never make the argument add up in my head." Of course she couldn't.

    Levy interviews women who've tried to be super-casual about sex for years, only to discover that "accumulating sex for its own sake … is not that sexual," as one puts it. I found Levy's research really interesting and not at all alarmist, though I'll concede that what she reports—like "Cardio Striptease" classes for birthday girls and their pals—is genuinely alarming. True, there have always been men who objectified women, but society also encouraged them to grow up at some point. But today, even grown women are taking their cues from the most immature males. Under pressure to compete at being "hot," young girls are making objects of themselves. Don't you find this a teensy bit depressing? I certainly do. Levy asks, essentially, isn't there a way for women to be sexual without having to be publicly sexual?

    Paul began with the assumption that pornography was not a big deal, but after interviewing 100 men and women from a range of backgrounds, talking to dozens of sex therapists and psychotherapists, studying piles of sex studies and advice columns, she realized she had underestimated porn's influence. What changed her mind?

    Elementary-school boys are getting porn from libraries. Thirteen- and 14-year-old girls are being pressured to get more "hardcore" in their sexual encounters lest they be called "prudes." A Baltimore 24-year-old is hurt that her boyfriend's so "open about his interest in porn," but she can't share her feelings because "a guy doesn't think you're cool if you complain about it." Husbands are ignoring their children to watch porn for hours on end. Thrice-divorced Luis, a porn enthusiast since age 10, doesn't get why women need foreplay: "It usually takes longer in real life … I get pretty impatient." Tyler, a 21-year-old, is frustrated that his 16-year-old girlfriend, Betty, has a "problem" with taking a razor to her private parts. As porn consumers become increasingly desensitized to viewing sex online, Paul shows how their tastes turn to the odd, the young, and the violent.

    But is Paul really arguing that porn is the sole cause of societal woes? Take the 28-year-old ex-porn fan who admits that "real sex has now lost some of its magic. And that's sad." I read Paul as saying that the availability and intensity of Internet porn is what's new, and that because porn desensitizes us, we'd better wake up and pay attention. Is she implying that without porn, these men would be perfect partners? I thought she was saying something far more reasonable: that if men weren't learning about sex from pornography at age 8, or 10, or 13, then at least they'd have more of a chance to forge real intimacy with women.

    At any rate, I found Paul's stories quite shocking. We're talking about men who can only be sexually satisfied by pornography, and in increasingly gruesome forms—young men who can no longer perform with their "boring" girlfriends. I think these stories complicate your assumption that people who wait until marriage are the ones who "hate sex."

    It's like some big cosmic joke: The people who are supposed to be "sex positive" and enjoying their cultural freedoms are actually lonely and having terrible sex, whereas studies have shown that religious marrieds are the ones enjoying themselves the most. What's happened? Perhaps without emotions involved, sex becomes boring.

    You're right that pornography is not the whole picture. To me the real question is: What else is going on in the culture that makes women so positively intimidated by porn? Why do they feel they don't have the right to object to their boyfriend's or husband's use of it, even if it's totally destroying their intimate life? Laura, if a man gapes at a woman's body parts so that he can "replicate the porn experience," if a man says he'll hand out "points" for certain acts that a woman finds "demeaning" and "empty"—both Paul anecdotes—why in the world don't these women just say no?

    Here is where Female Chauvinist Pigs fits in. Levy uncovers the steady pressure on women to be "cool chicks" and do any number of things that, deep down, make them uncomfortable. She points out, rightly in my view, that competing with men about how piggish we can be is getting us nowhere, fast. Girls today have so much anxiety about appearing "hot" and servicing boys correctly, it never even occurs to them that they should actually experience—or wait for—their own desire. Is this not a problem?

    Inquisitively yours,
    Wendy



    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    From: Meghan O'Rourke
    To: Laura Kipnis and Wendy Shalit
    Subject: Twenty Questions, and Then Some
    Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2005, at 9:11 AM PT
    Dear Wendy and Laura,

    Allow me to jump in, if I may, to pose some questions that these two timely and interesting books raised in my own mind as I read them—questions that seem to me to be worth interrogating further, since in some cases it's easy to take the answers for granted.

    What I was struck by in each was how difficult it was for the authors—for all of us—to get past their (or our) own assumptions about porn and sex. There are many truly intricate issues in play: not only the usual debates about the role of biology and culture, but questions about just what it is we think porn is, and what role we want sex to play in our lives. The simplest example is this: Is it true that if you are a man in a relationship, it is a betrayal of your partner to watch porn on your own? And if so, why? Why, furthermore, do men and women have such different ideas about this behavior? Some of the men in Pornified consider it perfectly normal, almost a mechanical aid, while most of the women, including Pamela Paul, personalize it. (Let's imagine I'm talking here not about the obviously fucked-up guys, but about men who seem to love their partners.) Given this impasse, how do we decide what to do about it? You see what I mean, I hope.

    What I'm trying to get at is this: There are murky issues just beneath the surface of each book. Yet those of us reading them quickly split along ideological (or gender) lines. Is men's use of porn necessarily destructive, or is it simply women's relationship expectations that make it seem destructive? Reading Pornified, I sometimes thought the women were simply allowing an unrealistic dream of imaginative fidelity to shape their response to their partners. At other times, I wanted to get myself to a nunnery, so crazily unappealing—and relentlessly objectifying—did these guys seem, with their anomic affection for digital bodies and their disgust with live girls.

    But what about the milder cases: Are men who look at porn on a slippery slope to permanent alienation, as Paul worries? Does pornography really shape your expectations of what you want from the person you're sleeping with, and if so, does it distance you fundamentally from that person? It seems to me those questions aren't necessarily the same. Paul, I think, assumes they are. I'm not suggesting that porn opens our hearts and minds. I'm merely questioning the conviction that pornography is inherently degrading. Likewise, what if women who flash their tits on Girls Gone Wild are enjoying themselves—if not all of them, then a select few? What then?

    Laura, you dismiss Paul's idea that we need to look deeply at the particular forms that porn takes ("muddled porno-determinism" you called it) since you're arguing that porn itself comes out of the materialism you cite (consumerism, etc.). I agree that if we want to look at the cultural work pornography is doing we also need to look at deeper social and political currents. But surely we also need to examine closely the effects of the new wave of porn. For what's taking place, Paul persuasively argues, amounts to a massive cultural shift in the kind of media being consumed, the time being dedicated to it, and the content of the porn itself. Porn doesn't exclusively produce the relationship woes and female insecurities she describes. But in its new form it presumably contributes to the ongoing shaping of how we see the world and affects the behavior of those who use it.

    Perhaps what was most striking about reading these two books together is how different their portraits of female sexuality look at first glance. In Paul's book, women seem squeamish about sex (oral sex sounds like a burden to many of them) and naive about male desire—shocked to discover that men might keep Penthouses around after marriage. In Levy's book, the women embrace raunchy sex, lifting their shirts for TV cameras, making out with their girlfriends. And yet in the end, both groups of women are left emotionally bereft by contemporary sexuality—victims of a rapacious male appetite they can't control.

    Levy pinpoints something important when she shows that many young women are mistaking sexual display for emancipated "empowerment." But what's curiously absent from both books is a view of female sexuality as something rapacious in its own right. I think we know why Levy and Paul emphasize the worrisome aspects: Troublingly, women still have less power than men, even if there's more parity than ever before. But Wendy, do you think all girls like those in Levy's book are filled with "anxiety" about "servicing boys"—isn't it possible that some are just filled with hormones and the desire to, well, discover what they like? Is the female impulse to "own" her sexuality necessarily a prophylactic attempt to ape male sexuality, a kind of strange defense mechanism?

    Finally, what we can agree on: Is porn more hardcore, more graphic, more ubiquitous than it was 20 years ago? If so, what does that mean—what effect might it have?

    I don't expect you to respond to all this. But thanks for letting me pose some questions that are still very hard to answer some 40 years after the sexual revolution.

    Meghan
    June 9, 1973 - The day athletic perfection was defined.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-Kva...eature=related

  • #2
    Far from being the decline of society - I think it is a brick in the new society -

    A brick of sexuality that society has to have - after the riff - raff get run off - people can say openly I enjoy sex. What the hell is wrong with that.

    The problem with porn as I see it - is when women are degraded though language and violence. However, that doesn't have to be a part - more and more clean porn is showing up as an option and I hope people are taking it.



    Just my two scents.
    Turning the other cheek is better than burying the other body.

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    • #3
      Porn causing society's ills?

      No, it's girls that won't put out [img]style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/biggrin.gif[/img]
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      • #4
        Any of our female posters have thoughts on this?
        June 9, 1973 - The day athletic perfection was defined.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-Kva...eature=related

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        • #5
          I did not waste my time reading that crap.

          My answer is No.
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          • #6
            QUOTE(tallahassee blues fan @ Sep 20 2005, 12:29 PM) Quoted post

            Any of our female posters have thoughts on this?
            [/b][/quote]

            i read some of this in a magazine and personally it pissed me off. it was as if they were trying to tell me that everything i had felt was acceptable cause that's the way life has been, was actually my fault. it was my fault that couples just starting to have sex find it boring cause the guy wants something but the girl was never taught in a correct way that it may be OK or to express her feelings and together try and find something they can both enjoy. it also confused me cause it basically said that if i'm not in the mood, he'll turn towards porn, so i should be in the mood and make him happy which would in a sense lead me to possibly degrade myself cause of what he wants that i may not want. they wanted me to fight against porn, but at the same time fix the guys i knew cause it wasn't their place to fix themselves even though it was obvious many of them had the bigger problem of not seeing the real life

            "Tyler, a 21-year-old, is frustrated that his 16-year-old girlfriend, Betty, has a "problem" with taking a razor to her private parts. "

            why is it my fault that Tyler is dating a 16 yr old? Doesn't it seem that Tyler may have other problems other than just watching porn? Instead of the author letting us know what kind of childhood and such Tyler had, she basically skips that part cause she's more concerned about the porn he's watching even though his idea of cutting may come from a deeper psychological issue.

            apparently its OK for her to write a book about the subject and go to all these sexual events, but its not ok for the rest of us with our feeble minds.

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            • #7
              I think Tyler's bigger problem is that he's 21 and dating a 16 year old.
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              • #8
                QUOTE(Lippa @ Sep 20 2005, 03:48 PM) Quoted post

                I think Tyler's bigger problem is that he's 21 and dating a 16 year old.
                [/b][/quote]

                ++
                Actually, I...have no comment on this situation.
                None at all.
                "Whaddya mean I hurt your feelings?"
                "I didn't know you
                had any feelings"

                Comment


                • #9
                  QUOTE(SunuvaNun @ Sep 20 2005, 03:51 PM) Quoted post

                  QUOTE(Lippa @ Sep 20 2005, 03:48 PM) Quoted post

                  I think Tyler's bigger problem is that he's 21 and dating a 16 year old.
                  [/b][/quote]

                  ++
                  Actually, I...have no comment on this situation.
                  None at all.
                  [/b][/quote]
                  ++

                  Driving the bus straight to hell I am....

                  "Can't buy what I want because it's free...
                  Can't buy what I want because it's free..."
                  -- Pearl Jam, from the single Corduroy

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                  • #10
                    QUOTE(SunuvaNun @ Sep 20 2005, 04:51 PM) Quoted post

                    QUOTE(Lippa @ Sep 20 2005, 03:48 PM) Quoted post

                    I think Tyler's bigger problem is that he's 21 and dating a 16 year old.
                    [/b][/quote]

                    ++
                    Actually, I...have no comment on this situation.
                    None at all.
                    [/b][/quote]

                    Tell me the intern/boss's daughter wasn't 16, was she?
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                    • #11
                      QUOTE(Lippa @ Sep 20 2005, 03:52 PM) Quoted post

                      QUOTE(SunuvaNun @ Sep 20 2005, 04:51 PM) Quoted post

                      QUOTE(Lippa @ Sep 20 2005, 03:48 PM) Quoted post

                      I think Tyler's bigger problem is that he's 21 and dating a 16 year old.
                      [/b][/quote]

                      ++
                      Actually, I...have no comment on this situation.
                      None at all.
                      [/b][/quote]

                      Tell me the intern/boss's daughter wasn't 16, was she?
                      [/b][/quote]

                      No, thankfully no.
                      Similar age gap though, and an unhealthy feeling of robbing the cradle.
                      "Whaddya mean I hurt your feelings?"
                      "I didn't know you
                      had any feelings"

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                      • #12
                        QUOTE(BlueBrained @ Sep 20 2005, 01:30 PM) Quoted post

                        I did not waste my time reading that crap.

                        My answer is No.
                        [/b][/quote]


                        Agreed.



                        I wasnt ready to find a "video" in my son's room either.

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                        • #13
                          QUOTE(*007* @ Sep 20 2005, 04:52 PM) Quoted post

                          QUOTE(SunuvaNun @ Sep 20 2005, 03:51 PM) Quoted post

                          QUOTE(Lippa @ Sep 20 2005, 03:48 PM) Quoted post

                          I think Tyler's bigger problem is that he's 21 and dating a 16 year old.
                          [/b][/quote]

                          ++
                          Actually, I...have no comment on this situation.
                          None at all.
                          [/b][/quote]
                          ++

                          Driving the bus straight to hell I am....
                          [/b][/quote]

                          In NO the bus is flooded.

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                          • #14
                            Nope...its the Baptists
                            Go Cards ...12 in 13.


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                            • #15
                              The debate continues:

                              From: Laura Kipnis
                              To: Meghan O'Rourke and Wendy Shalit
                              Subject: Why Aren't More Women "Opting Out"?
                              Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2005, at 3:22 AM PT

                              Dear Wendy and Meghan,

                              Gosh, what a lot of big complicated questions we have flying around: What is sexual fidelity; what would real female empowerment look like; in what ways are women sexually different than men; do technologies or cultural genres like porn dictate the kinds of intimate relationships we get to have—or not have—with each other? And that's just a start!

                              Meghan, you want to know whether watching porn betrays your partner. (We're assuming the context is a monogamous couple.) Which raises even more questions: What proprietary rights over another person's body and sexuality come along with coupledom? Is masturbation sexual treachery, or just anxiety release and distraction? Does it matter whether it involves porn stars and fantasy, or just friction? Or is it an issue of frequency—multiple times a week is cheating, but once a week is OK?

                              Let me try to back into (or out of!) these questions from a different direction. Like you, I, too, was struck by the fact that neither of these authors could get past their own assumptions about porn and sex. Instead, both tell us what they think good sex should be. For everyone. Both want sex to be about intimacy, connection, trust, real breasts instead of fake ones, and so on. So do you and Wendy, I assume. And so do I, to be honest.

                              Then why do I feel resistant to these forms of social scolding, even if in my heart of hearts, I gravitate more to their views of sexuality than to the porn sensibility? Possibly because both of these books also put me in mind of the Sadeian insight that dictating what people should do in bed, even in the name of virtue, is actually the height of perversity. Read Sade's 120 Days of Sodom if you can bear to, or watch Pasolini's brilliant, disgusting, utterly pornographic film version, Salo, which transplants the story to fascist Italy. The point is that people may like making their own preferences into norms, but that's a bit monstrous in itself.

                              So, returning to the betrayal question, Meghan, the rather Sadeian problem we find ourselves in, is that dictating the terms of intimacy and desire as stringently as Paul and Levy do invites a level of micromanagement, suspicion, and anxiety that's destructive of intimacy in its own right. After all, maybe the need to control another person and their body is also an intimacy issue. Is it only men who have intimacy issues? It would be a little smug if women thought that, wouldn't it? But if women perpetually adopt the scolding mom role, and men escape into adolescent porno sex, I think we're looking at co-dependent, gendered forms of intimacy avoidance. It was the tone of the books that set me to thinking about this: Even when I agreed with them, the self-certainty about what correct desire is made me want to jump out of my skin. Or go watch some porn.

                              In short, sustaining intimacy is a dilemma for all of us, and I'm not sure that installing surveillance software on your home computer is the solution. Maybe mass psychoanalysis?

                              I agree that both Paul and Levy underestimate female agency: They seem to like their women in the prone role a bit too much. What Levy misses about girl-raunch culture, I think, is the degree to which all of this is a form of ongoing experimentation, not the end of the story. Women are trying on wildly contrary styles of femininity and mucking around with gender conventions. And this also takes place in a context of increasing economic independence and social equality. You have a generation of girls who came of age reading Camille Paglia and watching Madonna videos: They're exploring their whorish pagan sexuality, and vamping, and doing male impersonation all at once. But femininity has always been about masquerade, whether it was pearls and twin-sets, or leopard prints and false eyelashes. Now, in addition, we've got the vestiges of traditional femininity—including all the desperation, the narcissism, and the man-chasing—merged with feminist idioms of empowerment and equity. I agree it's a mess, but it's a fertile interesting mess.

                              I also agree that it's distressing that heterosexual femininity is still organized around the need to capture and retain male attention. Why don't more women choose to opt out? Yet another large perplexing question—I think it might have something to do with fathers.

                              Levy worries that girls don't know what their desires are, that they're just getting used when they think they're getting pleasure. As it happens, just last week the National Center for Health Statistics released the first comprehensive government survey of American sexual practices, and the big revelation is that there's a lot of teenage oral sex going on, and that it's reciprocal. Not all about girls servicing boys, as Levy insists. So, no, Wendy, I didn't find the research methods of either of these books so solid, and can now say that the government backs me up on Levy. With Paul we get a flurry of conflicting poll data and stats on every page. But good news about the newfound sexual equity, right?

                              These books left me wondering: Why are women still perpetually playing the role of social scolds and self-appointed moral beacons? This stance traces back to the 19th century social purity movements when women decided that men were essentially dirty, that gambling, drinking, and prostitution had to go, and that sweeping up social dirt—playing the nation's housekeepers— would be the path to female empowerment. At least the raunch girls have given up on male reform. I count this as progress, since I'm not sure that being the most self-righteous sex is really the path to anyone's emancipation.

                              Laura
                              June 9, 1973 - The day athletic perfection was defined.

                              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-Kva...eature=related

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