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This, sisters, is what sexual liberation looks like


If you have not spent hours of your life watching the HBO drama Girls (I sense, like myself, you have not) then don’t worry, you can get the whole summary of what life is like for millennial women (at least highly-educated, white, middle-class millennial women – is there another kind?) by reading the short story Cat Person by Kristen Roupenian, which appeared in the New Yorker.

Most short stories in the New Yorker do not cross cultural and international boundaries, but this one did. It sparked a huge online debate about what young women have to endure these days from (rotten) men.

The author has since been offered a six-figure advance, so congratulations to her. I am not offering a literal criticism of this piece, as I am in no position to do so. But I am fascinated, absolutely fascinated, by the reception it has received.

Lena Dunham is the ultimate feminist liberal, but despite this some conservative women believe her depiction of life for millennial women in Girls is a ‘brutal indictment of the current sexual culture we live in and what the sexual revolution has inflicted upon young women’.

I must say, the same is true for Cat Person, although once again this is not Roupenian’s intention.

Roupenian wanted to focus on self-deception and says, ‘Margot, choosing between having sex she doesn’t want and “seeming spoiled and capricious”, decides to have unwanted sex.’ And it turns out to be very bad sex indeed, having started out with hope.

The sexual encounter between Margot and Robert is based on many, many text messages, and a previous meeting at a 7-Eleven convenience store at 11 o’clock at night.

A few weeks later Margot and Robert go to a movie, have a few drinks after (although she is 20 and underage so they have to change bars) and end up going back to his place after Margot asked him if she could come over.

There comes a point during this sexual encounter when Margot wants it all to stop but she doesn’t communicate this so she marches on through gritted teeth. When it is all over she thinks to herself, ‘This is the worst life decision I have ever made!’ Given her 20 years, it probably is. She pulls the plug on any possible relationship with Robert, and many texts later he calls her a whore.

Anyway, Cat Person is the short story that launched a thousand tweets, hundreds of theories and quite a few think pieces.

According to some, the story is ‘relatable’ to every single woman, for others it ruined their day. For some, it was ‘the most depressing thing they read in a very long time’. In fact, 12 hours later one woman was still ‘haunted and sad’ and reluctant to share it with her friends as they could be ‘triggered’. For another woman, ‘That’s possibly the most real story I’ve ever read.’

You get the picture.

Many men had a different reaction, pointing out Margot’s egomania and manipulation. It has been a full-on battle of the sexes.

Ladies, I don’t really get what all the moaning is about, for this is what sexual liberation looks like. Your mothers battled long and hard for this liberation, so what’s the problem?

Way back when, way back in the bad old days, I doubt if college girls were even permitted to leave their dorms to meet a man at a 7-Eleven, as they were curfewed. Now they are free to come and go as they please, which includes meeting some random man you met once before. No one makes Margot pursue this relationship – she chooses to do so at every turn.

Way, way back when in the bad old days, young women were cautioned against sleeping with a man whom they barely knew, but they are now free to do so. If you choose to sleep with someone you have met only twice before, you are free to do so, but don’t be surprised if does not turn out to be the romance of a lifetime.

Hell, way, way back when in the bad old days, 34-year-old men were told not to ‘take advantage’ of 20-year-old drunken women, but not these days. And thank goodness for that, eh?

Women want it as bad as men, we are told – so if she asks to go back to your place and initiates sex, then why the hell would a man stop? If you do that, you are undermining her agency and maturity as a woman. Why, you would not be treating her as your equal. So go ahead – take all the advantage given to you by the sexual liberators.

The author says that Margot cannot even contemplate an outright refusal to this sex, because first there could be the outside chance of a violent reply, but culturally women move through the world ‘working extremely hard to keep everyone around them happy’. Really? What, after 40 years of feminism we are to believe this is the case?

We are to accept that young women move through the world ‘not making people angry and taking responsibility for other people’s emotions’. I don’t buy this. The snowflakes who demand their safe places love to make people angry (which is fine, for the right reasons) and care only about their own emotions. Hell, they will make insane demands upon others just to make themselves feel safe and comfortable.

No, this is an interesting piece for what it truly reveals about the current dating culture: it is not pretty out there. This, sisters, is what liberation looks like. This is what happens what cultural norms and expectations are trashed and nothing is put in its place; well, nothing other than consent, which is really a legal requirement, not a cultural norm.

For many, the liberation has been welcome. But for others it can lead to many, many unpleasant experiences. There is a sort of ruthless individualism to it all – every man and woman is out there just to protect themselves and get what they can. Welcome to the revolution.

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