Friday, January 8, 2010

Visualize Success (But Don't Believe Your Eyes)

So here I am, still writing about the same book (Sex Is Not a Natural Act), even though I haven't read any more of it. (I want to...but I just keep watching The Wire instead.) But, the book does bring up my pet concept, which is that sex and romance are increasing in importance (and as methods of distraction) as people become more estranged from communities, culture, and social change. Does this concept have a name? I really wish it did, because then I could look it up and find more information, something I could spend many happy hours doing...if it had a damn name! As it is, I just have to settle for getting excited when it randomly pops up, as it did in Michael Lerner's Surplus Powerlessness (link is to my post on the topic). In the chapter "Am I Normal?", Leonore Tiefer gives her opinions as to why people are so preoccupied with whether or not they're normal sexually. In a list of "large social changes in how we view marriage and life" helping to make sex more of an urgent issue for us, Tiefer includes "People are relying on personal relationships to provide a sense of worth they lack in the public sphere due to increased technology, mobility, and bureaucracy" (11). Tiefer also quotes Gunter Schmidt, from a 1983 forward to a book on sexuality:

[Sexuality] is supposed to hold marriages and relationships together because they scarcely fulfill material functions any longer; it is supposed to promote self-realization and self-esteem in a society that makes it more and more difficult to feel worth something and needed as an individual; it is supposed to drive out coldness and powerlessness in a world bureaucratized by administration, a world walled up in concrete landscapes and a world of disrupted relationships at home and in the community...All discontent-- political, social, and personal-- is meant to be deflected into the social and relationship sector in order to be compensated. (25)

This statement is extremely similar to some of Lerners'-- they should probably get together for coffee or at least a nice, long Skype chat (to name their concept?). But all matchmaking aside, this unnamed concept relates to something I've been thinking about lately, which is how to define "success" for myself when society is always telling me I've failed. As I touched on here, I'm not especially interested in excessive money, in power, in fame, or in marriage and children. I really don't give a damn whether I have a huge house, a nice car, expensive clothes, or the latest gadgets. And I can't expect to be changed by romantic love for someone, or to have that experience give meaning and purpose to my life. For whatever reason, the ideas Schmidt talks about just don't "work" on me. Would I rather they did? No, not really, but it bothers me how many people are probably knocking against this unnamed concept, wondering why they don't quite fit in, asking if that's all there is, and then thinking they have some problem. Can we blame the ascendancy of sex and romance as all-powerful and all-encompassing for social change being so hard?

There's one clear song to sum up this post: This, especially the third verse (maybe someone saw that one coming). I guess it's a depressing song, but it also kind of makes me laugh because it's so over-the-top. Let's break out the booze! Or, okay, the tea.

10 comments:

Emily said...

I'm not sure there's a word for the concept you're describing either. But it does seem analogous to the concept of consumerism (i.e. that personal self-worth depends on what material "stuff" you have) only with sex and/or relationships instead of material goods. I'd propose "sexism" as a term for it, but that obviously has another well-established meaning. How about relationism or relationshipism?

Kim said...

I've been reading The Feminine Mystique, and there seems to be an important similarity here. If left to their own devices, people would pursue X. People are told (by authority figures, magazines, psychologists, whomever) that they should want Y, to the point that people don't realize that X is missing from their lives. They do realize that something is missing, though, so they try to get more Y. Getting more Y doesn't make them happy, so they feel like failures and get depressed.

In the case of feminism, X was independent interests/money/power, and Y was children/marriage/homemaking. In this case, X seems to be community and Y seems to be sex or sexual relationships, although I could be wrong.

Ana said...

Because I fail at keeping track of my scholarly sources, I forget the names of places I have read this, but scholars who work on the post-war American shift from urban to suburban life talk about this phenomenon, although I'm not sure if they have a name for it. Those scholars emphasize the shift from public space, like parks, stoops, sidewalks, bars, and clubs, to private space- big (or tiny, depending on the development and the decade) homes in the suburbs. I THINK that Jane Jacobs, Andres Duany, and David Roediger might talk about this in their books about the dichotomy between cities and suburbs, but I can't swear to it.

There's also a book by David Nylund, "Beer, Babes, and Balls," about sports talk radio (wait, I will make this relevant, I swear!). Part of Nylund's argument is that in the move to the suburbs, and with the growth of feminism, men lost all the spaces where they used to bond with other men, and now spend all their time being civilized, either at their white-collar jobs or at home with their wives, so they use sports radio as sort of a substitute for the kind of community men used to get at the Elks Lodge, or wherever. I don't totally buy that, but it's an interesting argument.

...Okay, maybe I couldn't make that strictly relevant. But there's definitely a thread of work that addresses how certain relationships are becoming more impprtant in our lives as others fade away.

Ily said...

Thanks for the comments! Another Emily...props. :-) I agree about consumerism. Both concepts are trying to get you to stake all your happiness on one thing. And I think we get fooled because it can work, for awhile. And the happiness from sex and romance probably lasts longer than shopping does. But still, we need more options than just shopping and dating/marriage to be happy...but I think everyone reading this blog probably knows that.

I was actually thinking about "The Feminine Mystique" while I was writing the last part of this post-- I read it too, a while back. (If anyone's interested, here's the post on it: http://theonepercentclub.blogspot.com/2008/07/feminine-mystique.html) I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on the book, Kim.

It seems like every book I read ends up quoting Jane Jacobs somewhere, so I'm a little familiar with her even though I haven't read her books. I'm not as well-acquainted with the other names you mention, Ana...I'll check 'em out!

Kim said...

Honestly, it's having a huge impact on me. I expected to read the book and see my mother, a woman who gave up her nursing career to be a stay-at-home mom. Instead, I read the descriptions of college students who couldn't envision their own futures, and they sound exactly like me. The thing is, I was never the girl who planned her own wedding. I was the kid who wanted to be a singer or run for president or something. But now I'm in college, and I have no idea what I want to do when I graduate.

So all of that sounds incredibly depressing, but it's really not. It's a relief to know that I'm not the only person who's gone through this. It also helps that I know a couple of really cool older women who've switched careers a few times and still seem pretty happy with their lives.

Ily said...

That's cool! I think it's definitely still worth reading, even though parts of it sound dated now. It's funny because I did know what I wanted to do when I graduated from college, but now that I've graduated, I don't know any more. Maybe the opposite is better...

gatto said...

I think the concept is called "boredom". In the past, what people considered "the good life" was a life that was not too hard. Nowadays, "the good life" is more like a big, exciting adventure.

Ily said...

I think that could be part of it. The solution to boredom, we're told, is more excitement in our romantic relationships. I've definitely known people who enjoy creating drama for no clear reason.

fedelinii said...

I'm really glad you explained that unnamed concept. It's something I guess I've been vaguely aware of in my life, but I've never really seen it expressed well. So, thanks.

Just being aware of the struggle to fit in sexually is a step in the right direction.

Ily said...

I'm happy you found it relatable...thanks for the comment!