The Evils...No, the Virtues of Seduction

The year 2017 saw the wounding of the cultural leviathan, the multi-limbed monster that strangles all forms of discourse and political imagination that threaten its progressive habitat.  To poultice the ailing behemoth, post-Harvey Weinstein feminists are struggling to come up with new myths of womanhood.  If we can't look to Hollywood, where do we find our heroes?  

The first stage of the undertaking appears to lie in redefining feminine beauty.  This is not feminine beauty in the sense that may have inspired Botticelli or the eighteenth-century philosopher Immanuel Kant.  Who cares anymore about such trivialities as the nature of the sublime with so many pressing questions occupying our historical moment?  How do we restore libido to the workplace?  Who is treated more unfairly: luscious young women set upon by wrinkly old geezers, or wrinkly old geezers upon whom young, ambitious women work their charms?   What is the rule of law, again?

Alas, anyone looking for a manual on the proper limits of flirtation will be disappointed.  What you'll mostly get is young, attractive women coyly disclosing their dalliances – and a few wrinkly old geezers on the sidelines, wheezily cheering them on.

The core question remains.  What does it mean to be an exemplar of womanhood in today's society?  Our ideal types from the big screen have tottered off the stage, trailing their strings.  The second wave of feminists had their foremothers as models: Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriet Tubman.  Ours – both historical and imaginary – are in the crapper.  I'll take the hilariously impious Mark Steyn and his thing for "stacked secretaries in the accounting department" over Kirsten Gillibrand's faux feminism every time.

Here is the dilemma for feminists: how do you make an omelet out of so many broken eggs?  When canonizing so many "sexual misconduct victims," when faced with the systemic deception of an entire industry and ideology, how do you appear strong and victorious instead of...well, suckered?  One way is to make a virtue of weakness, or, as the postmodernists say, "recover your agency."

This is done by asserting that you really, really like being the passive object of male prerogative, which then – voilà! –  makes you not the object, but the subject.  But there's a catch.  To recover your agency, you must convince your readers that when an octogenarian grabs a scoop of your "bum," he's super-fly:

I did not freeze, nor was I terrified.  I was amused and flattered and thought little of it.  I knew full well he'd been dying to do that.  Our tutorials – which took place one-on-one, with no chaperones – were livelier intellectually for that sublimated undercurrent.  He was an Oxford don and so had power over me, sensu stricto.  I was a 20-year-old undergraduate.  But I also had power over him – power sufficient to cause a venerable don to make a perfect fool of himself at a Christmas party.

The author has it all figured out, thanks, she tells us, down to her winning combination of cleavage and talent.  Good for her.  Oh, but wait!  Isn't that how Weinstein's protégées must have thought about their situation before being sent out to fetch penile dysfunction syringes and hide them in a brown paper bag?  Sorry: Dress up the story with charming insouciance and implied pornography however you might, but it's still gross.  The Latin ablative juxtaposed with "Oxford don" is a nice touch, though.

This "I'm gorgeous and I love the edge it gives me" line of advice is coming from the right as well as the left.  Recently, David French at National Review and D.C. McAllister at The Federalist sized up the essence of civilization as the competition for hot women.  Has anybody subscribing to this theory noticed that Harvey Weinstein had a trophy wife up until a few months ago? 

Here's McAllister on women not being victims:

Here's a little secret we have to say out loud: [w]omen love the sexual interplay they experience with men, and they relish men desiring their beauty.  Why?  Because it is part of their nature.

Her position is that woman's allure is so potent that she can lasso wealthy and powerful men into submission.  But don't get too excited at the news of female empowerment.  Before long, according to McAllister, this small quota of self-determination women enjoy "naturally" curdles into wickedness.  Women exploit their power "to abuse and take advantage of men, to reduce themselves to objects instead of cultivating their minds and souls[.]" 

We see how these extravagant speculations take on a serious cast in the recent controversy at the Metropolitan Museum of Art over the twentieth-century painter Balthus and his, to quote Jed Perl from a 2013 New Republic article, "idiosyncratic eroticism."  This latter euphemistically refers to a subset of Balthus's paintings that depict visual assaults on young girls, whether by the eye of the painter and through the painter, by the spectator, or by figures in the painting.  Here is Perl's telling description of the painting that petitioners are now seeking to have removed:

Anybody who takes a long look at Thérèse Dreaming, in which Balthus arranged the young model's legs so as to reveal a glimpse of white panties, will see the artist's attention is far too inclusive to be characterized as pornographic. ... This is not to say that the spread of the thirteen-year-old's legs and the light glancing off her underwear isn't a shock.  But it is no more of a shock that the shuttered look of her head, seen in profile, with the eyes so tightly (grimly, almost angrily) closed as to repel the promise of the dream to which the title alludes.

I'm not sure that the model in the painting, with her grimacing jaw and tightly shut eyes, would agree with Perl's bullying interpretation, in which only the artist's imputed intention counts and if you don't go along with the author's viewpoint of it, you're some kind of illiterate.  The model might also take issue with McAllister's upbeat assessment of what it means to play the muse.  But since the girl's father was a waiter who made the acquaintance of the aristocratic Balthus at the local bistro, we can assume she didn't have much say in the matter.

In any case, the Met refused to take the painting down.  It purports to be promoting open conversation about the issues the painting raises.  Progressive art publications like Frieze readily jump into the fray.  From another art critic speaking about Thérèse:

To me, it's not only that she's complicit and empowered, but that she realizes her role at large as a woman, even a mythical one – like Peitho, Pandora, Calypso[,] even – she is not relegated to some domestic [b-------] or second[-]tier intellect.  She's greater and able.  This is what frightens people more.

Funny – I never heard anyone on the left admiring Roy Moore's supposed victims as cultic goddesses who cause great men's downfall.

The Met is right: it's time to investigate the state of our "advanced" culture.  We can begin with how the left exalts as "code-breaking" what it demonizes in the right and thereby fleeces society of its traditional values.  From there we can move on to Part II, which should be why the cultural right, in resurrecting the myth of woman-as-succubus, is going along for the ride.

The year 2017 saw the wounding of the cultural leviathan, the multi-limbed monster that strangles all forms of discourse and political imagination that threaten its progressive habitat.  To poultice the ailing behemoth, post-Harvey Weinstein feminists are struggling to come up with new myths of womanhood.  If we can't look to Hollywood, where do we find our heroes?  

The first stage of the undertaking appears to lie in redefining feminine beauty.  This is not feminine beauty in the sense that may have inspired Botticelli or the eighteenth-century philosopher Immanuel Kant.  Who cares anymore about such trivialities as the nature of the sublime with so many pressing questions occupying our historical moment?  How do we restore libido to the workplace?  Who is treated more unfairly: luscious young women set upon by wrinkly old geezers, or wrinkly old geezers upon whom young, ambitious women work their charms?   What is the rule of law, again?

Alas, anyone looking for a manual on the proper limits of flirtation will be disappointed.  What you'll mostly get is young, attractive women coyly disclosing their dalliances – and a few wrinkly old geezers on the sidelines, wheezily cheering them on.

The core question remains.  What does it mean to be an exemplar of womanhood in today's society?  Our ideal types from the big screen have tottered off the stage, trailing their strings.  The second wave of feminists had their foremothers as models: Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriet Tubman.  Ours – both historical and imaginary – are in the crapper.  I'll take the hilariously impious Mark Steyn and his thing for "stacked secretaries in the accounting department" over Kirsten Gillibrand's faux feminism every time.

Here is the dilemma for feminists: how do you make an omelet out of so many broken eggs?  When canonizing so many "sexual misconduct victims," when faced with the systemic deception of an entire industry and ideology, how do you appear strong and victorious instead of...well, suckered?  One way is to make a virtue of weakness, or, as the postmodernists say, "recover your agency."

This is done by asserting that you really, really like being the passive object of male prerogative, which then – voilà! –  makes you not the object, but the subject.  But there's a catch.  To recover your agency, you must convince your readers that when an octogenarian grabs a scoop of your "bum," he's super-fly:

I did not freeze, nor was I terrified.  I was amused and flattered and thought little of it.  I knew full well he'd been dying to do that.  Our tutorials – which took place one-on-one, with no chaperones – were livelier intellectually for that sublimated undercurrent.  He was an Oxford don and so had power over me, sensu stricto.  I was a 20-year-old undergraduate.  But I also had power over him – power sufficient to cause a venerable don to make a perfect fool of himself at a Christmas party.

The author has it all figured out, thanks, she tells us, down to her winning combination of cleavage and talent.  Good for her.  Oh, but wait!  Isn't that how Weinstein's protégées must have thought about their situation before being sent out to fetch penile dysfunction syringes and hide them in a brown paper bag?  Sorry: Dress up the story with charming insouciance and implied pornography however you might, but it's still gross.  The Latin ablative juxtaposed with "Oxford don" is a nice touch, though.

This "I'm gorgeous and I love the edge it gives me" line of advice is coming from the right as well as the left.  Recently, David French at National Review and D.C. McAllister at The Federalist sized up the essence of civilization as the competition for hot women.  Has anybody subscribing to this theory noticed that Harvey Weinstein had a trophy wife up until a few months ago? 

Here's McAllister on women not being victims:

Here's a little secret we have to say out loud: [w]omen love the sexual interplay they experience with men, and they relish men desiring their beauty.  Why?  Because it is part of their nature.

Her position is that woman's allure is so potent that she can lasso wealthy and powerful men into submission.  But don't get too excited at the news of female empowerment.  Before long, according to McAllister, this small quota of self-determination women enjoy "naturally" curdles into wickedness.  Women exploit their power "to abuse and take advantage of men, to reduce themselves to objects instead of cultivating their minds and souls[.]" 

We see how these extravagant speculations take on a serious cast in the recent controversy at the Metropolitan Museum of Art over the twentieth-century painter Balthus and his, to quote Jed Perl from a 2013 New Republic article, "idiosyncratic eroticism."  This latter euphemistically refers to a subset of Balthus's paintings that depict visual assaults on young girls, whether by the eye of the painter and through the painter, by the spectator, or by figures in the painting.  Here is Perl's telling description of the painting that petitioners are now seeking to have removed:

Anybody who takes a long look at Thérèse Dreaming, in which Balthus arranged the young model's legs so as to reveal a glimpse of white panties, will see the artist's attention is far too inclusive to be characterized as pornographic. ... This is not to say that the spread of the thirteen-year-old's legs and the light glancing off her underwear isn't a shock.  But it is no more of a shock that the shuttered look of her head, seen in profile, with the eyes so tightly (grimly, almost angrily) closed as to repel the promise of the dream to which the title alludes.

I'm not sure that the model in the painting, with her grimacing jaw and tightly shut eyes, would agree with Perl's bullying interpretation, in which only the artist's imputed intention counts and if you don't go along with the author's viewpoint of it, you're some kind of illiterate.  The model might also take issue with McAllister's upbeat assessment of what it means to play the muse.  But since the girl's father was a waiter who made the acquaintance of the aristocratic Balthus at the local bistro, we can assume she didn't have much say in the matter.

In any case, the Met refused to take the painting down.  It purports to be promoting open conversation about the issues the painting raises.  Progressive art publications like Frieze readily jump into the fray.  From another art critic speaking about Thérèse:

To me, it's not only that she's complicit and empowered, but that she realizes her role at large as a woman, even a mythical one – like Peitho, Pandora, Calypso[,] even – she is not relegated to some domestic [b-------] or second[-]tier intellect.  She's greater and able.  This is what frightens people more.

Funny – I never heard anyone on the left admiring Roy Moore's supposed victims as cultic goddesses who cause great men's downfall.

The Met is right: it's time to investigate the state of our "advanced" culture.  We can begin with how the left exalts as "code-breaking" what it demonizes in the right and thereby fleeces society of its traditional values.  From there we can move on to Part II, which should be why the cultural right, in resurrecting the myth of woman-as-succubus, is going along for the ride.

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