Beauty, Power, Babbling, and Tocquevillian Sex Ed

 

“He drinks because of you.” Even knowing now what I didn’t know then, the claim stinks of false blame, though youth and beauty are said to have great power over those who admire them. Young I was. But beautiful? Not really, I thought. A great many budding young women are kept far too busy frantically scrambling to keep the less-beautiful parts of puberty from turning their bodies into an embarrassment to take the extra step of deliberately using their bodies to gain power over others. Some girls absolutely are Machiavellian little minxes equipped to use “sexiness” to manipulate others before they’re even old enough to drive. Other girls are as absolutely not: these latter are innocents in a society that still claims (however implausibly) to value innocence. And of course, gals come in all stages in between.

Toddlers are innocent. Toddlers are hilarious – and destructive – because they haven’t yet figured out their own agency. Our own toddler likes nothing better than to make something “happen” – but he has little idea what, or why. He’s more powerful than he knows, which adds to the havoc. Much innocence comes from simply not knowing yet what the hell you’re doing. While babies’ innocence of basic motor coordination, language, literacy, and social skills is cute, it’s not inherently valuable. Indeed, the quicker children outgrow that kind of innocence, the better. But we do value youngsters’ sexual innocence. We also value young adults’ sexual agency. Puberty is sexual toddlerhood, only we’d really rather not have our teens exploring the world with their genitals the way toddlers do with their mouths. Fortunately, children are, at least in theory, quite grown up in other ways by the time puberty hits; in theory, able to apply lessons they’ve learned about their agency in other spheres to sexual agency; in theory, able to use reason to assert their sexual agency while maintaining their sexual innocence. In practice, though, developing sexual agency while maintaining innocence is tricky, especially absent wise counsel.

Conservatives want youth – but especially, let’s be honest, young women – to exercise more agency in guarding their genitalia. Even libertine conservatives want today’s young women to recognize their sexual agency better, and most conservatives would also like to narrow the gap between the age at which women lose sexual innocence and the age at which they marry, through some combination of earlier marriage and later loss of virginity. We want this not primarily to control women (though for some, control is part of the appeal), but to make human life generally more flourishing – for women, too. One problem, though, is that, while lack of awareness of one’s own sexual power isn’t all there is to innocence, it’s part of it.


We often hear that women’s dress reflects knowing use of their sexual power: women dress “sexy” because they know the power it has over men. Well, no, not all women do, particularly young, innocent women. Girls know being “ornamental” is a role young women are expected to fulfill. Some young women know exactly how that role gives them social power. Others – more innocent – truly do not. They dress “ornamental” in order to play-act a role expected of them without understanding what the role is and the powers it has. The very act of playing the part is educative: young women will eventually learn, if only through trial and error, what presenting oneself as alluring is more-or-less about. But just as parents who’ll happily let their toddler accumulate some scrapes and bruises in the course of his play, so that he learns from his mistakes, still step in to save their toddler from worse harm, those interested in young women having an innocence left to defend must naturally take an interest in guarding young women from what would severely compromise it, even – especially – when the young women are too innocent to have developed the awareness to effectively guard themselves.

When Tocqueville visited the United States, he noticed that American girls were well-educated sexually. Not because they had an encyclopedic knowledge of contraceptive methods and various kinks, but because they were guided into maturity in a way that encouraged them to exercise agency over what was then quaintly called their virtue:

In France, where remnants of every age are still so strangely mingled in the opinions and tastes of the people, women commonly receive a reserved, retired, and almost cloistral education, as they did in aristocratic times; and then they are suddenly abandoned, without a guide and without assistance, in the midst of all the irregularities inseparable from democratic society. The Americans are more consistent. They have found out that in a democracy the independence of individuals cannot fail to be very great, youth premature, tastes ill-restrained, customs fleeting, public opinion often unsettled and powerless, paternal authority weak, and marital authority contested. Under these circumstances, believing that they had little chance of repressing in woman the most vehement passions of the human heart, they held that the surer way was to teach her the art of combating those passions for herself. As they could not prevent her virtue from being exposed to frequent danger, they determined that she should know how best to defend it; and more reliance was placed on the free vigor of her will than on safeguards which have been shaken or overthrown. Instead, then, of inculcating mistrust of herself, they constantly seek to enhance their confidence in her own strength of character. As it is neither possible nor desirable to keep a young woman in perpetual or complete ignorance, they hasten to give her a precocious knowledge on all subjects. Far from hiding the corruptions of the world from her, they prefer that she should see them at once and train herself to shun them; and they hold it of more importance to protect her conduct than to be over-scrupulous of her innocence.

Well, that was then, and this is now, and these days, I’d say plenty of American girls no longer benefit from the sexual education Tocqueville describes. For all the lip-service paid to the claim, “I can do what I want with my own body,” Mark Regnerus notes that a substantial fraction – 25% in one national study – of American women describe their loss of virginity as neither forced nor wanted. While this evidence that women can still distinguish between regrettable and forced sex ought to reassure the menfolk, if you know you can do what you want with your own body, and nobody’s forcing you, why do what you don’t want?


Why, if these young women have sexual agency, are they not using it? For all the “girl power” lessons they’ve gotten, Regnerus often observes that today’s American girls don’t see themselves as having much sexual power, especially when they’re young and inexperienced.

If youth believe they’re expected to discover their sexual power through simply having sex (this is the “use your genitals the way toddlers do their mouths” method), it shouldn’t be at all surprising when the sexually innocent are also quite innocent of their sexual power. Tocqueville, though, described an America where girls could learn how to defend their virtue while presumably still having a virtue left to defend: obviously, it’s possible to arrange lessons short of hide-the-sausage which might serviceably give young women enough inkling of their sexual power to permit them some mastery over it. What else might leave a young woman so unaware of the power she actually has that she fails to exercise it, despite all the rhetoric telling her she is and ought to be empowered?


Speaking just for myself, I had no idea when I was younger (and perhaps still don’t really know) how imperfect a young woman’s body can be while still being plenty arousing to many men. I didn’t grasp how many men don’t notice flaws that are perfectly obvious to any woman, and how much youth all by itself provides its own beauty, even to ugly ducklings.

I saw “beauty” as an act to put on because it was socially expected – a rather fraudulent act, too, when I did it: I didn’t picture myself as ugly, exactly, merely as not-beautiful, as having something to hide. Men were attracted to beauty, I had learned, and I simply wasn’t beautiful enough, I thought, to have much power over men. (I was also dimly and cynically aware that men may also find convenience attractive, but the prospect of serving as little more than a convenient collection of holes hardly seemed like “empowerment”.) Besides blithely assuming I couldn’t exercise much sexual power over men, I didn’t want to exercise such power, either – the “mean girls” I noticed exercising that kind of power over others were not the people I wanted to emulate. I liked guys. I admired them. I didn’t get my jollies trying to control them.

It’s quite possible to make yourself more attractive, to flirt and tease, without really knowing what all the coquetry is for – without quite realizing it’s for giving yourself the same kind of dangerous powers over others that others might have over you. It’s difficult to blame people for failing to control a power they don’t know they have. Laws cannot be geared toward protecting humanity’s most outstandingly naive individuals since the most naive are too far from the norm to take priority over the needs of normal people. But within some range of “normal”, we expect laws to err on the side of favoring the innocent. Hence, we expect laws to protect younger postpubescent girls sexually, despite the fact that they’re physically “ready” and many of them are already savvy enough to know exactly what they’re doing with their “readiness”: Many other, more innocent, girls of the same age don’t yet realize the postpubescent power they have, and consequently there’s less justice in permitting the Gods of the Copybook Headings to punish them severely for their innocence.


Babbling may not just be a stage in language acquisition, but a stage in any autonomous mastery – motor babbling, for example, is a means of autonomous machine learning. Conservatives caution young women to be careful about the sexual signals they send, but when you’re innocent enough, the “signals” you send are just so much babbling. I remained innocent a long time and often found myself confounded by complaints I had been sending specific signals when, as far as I knew, I hadn’t been. Like the complaint I’d driven a fellow undergraduate to drink merely by talking to him – and holding his hand once – before we went our separate ways: I would like to think that, in order to be a femme fatale, a girl at least has to put some effort into it.

A guy might object, well, I was putting effort into it. My appearance, for example.

Unrealistic standards of beauty attract a lot of blame, though it’s often not clear exactly what for. I’m beginning to wonder if one thing unrealistic beauty-standards might rightfully be blamed for is this tendency for modern American girls in the first bloom of sexual maturity to radically underestimate – and hence fail to own – the power they have over men. I consumed less pop-culture trash than many girls do, but even I got the impression that I’d be fairly disgusting to everyone (nonsexually, too) unless I could approximate a beauty I wasn’t born with – indeed, I considered myself a grim-enough case that’d I’d have to work extra just to be perceived as physically “normal” and not a pariah. Given this, why would I think I had the kind of beauty that could mesmerize men? I wouldn’t. Guys attributing that kind of power to me quite naturally struck me as riotously off their onion. And also as unfair: as blaming me for a desire to dominate others I did not have.

Meanwhile, what the guys saw was a gal who, despite no great natural gifts, was trying awfully hard to make herself attractive… to them sexually, they concluded – because why wouldn’t they? How could I not know the power of my youth and beauty (such as it was)? After all, it was perfectly obvious to them.


Douglas Murray recently wrote of one young man’s attempt to play a player – to capitalize on an older man’s sexual interest while worming out of the “obligation” to “repay” that interest with sexual favors. Murray observed,

The belief that power lies only — or only meaningfully — with older, richer, more “powerful” men and that these prey on younger, prettier, more vulnerable people is not just wrong because it is a construct of the modern, misandrist Left. It is wrong because it entirely ignores the form of (for want of a better term) bottom-up power that also exists. That is the form of power that attractive young women as well as men are capable of deploying in order to make some people do almost anything to gain their approval. As well as being observable in everyday life, it is also the subject of a great deal of art, as well as many novels and operas (both comic and tragic).

Only once did I try to play a player, and I found it terrifying. Fortunately, some combination of shy stubbornness and abject terror kept me from repaying his quid with my quo, until his abrupt disappearance. I’d say the whole affair scared the pants off me, only the result was more like it scared the pants firmly on me, which may have explained his vexation right before he vanished.

Was I exercising power over this fellow? At the time, I couldn’t discount the possibility I’d caught his interest because I was an easy mark – in his eyes, a pliable waif (which I almost proved to be, to my chagrin). That is, I suspected my sexual “power” over him might be no more than my convenience and relative powerlessness. Which isn’t to say he abused or exploited me – he didn’t. But the lessons I learned about power from the encounter weren’t, “Wow, I have sexual power over this guy!” Instead, I learned I had power over myself (though not as much as I’d hoped) – power to avoid falling entirely under a charming man’s spell, though not the self-mastery to avoid it with any dignity. Having gotten in over my head with this fellow, I was far too preoccupied with exercising self-control to consider whether I had control over him.

Whatever his intentions, he was the more experienced one – the player – while my knowledge consisted of little more than the broad truism that innocents like me should be wary around players like him. The thought that I was exercising power over him, too – that he had to worry about my approval – still makes me laugh. Of course, I knew – as he could not – that he already had my approval, in quantities great enough to cause me to doubt my self-mastery and even sanity. Sure, maybe I did have far more power over him than I knew – but if so, the fact that I didn’t know it was precisely the problem: we can’t plan to act on powers we don’t know we have.

The more experienced have had more chance to master the powers of their attractiveness, and that mastery is itself a power. While of course youth and beauty have power, the young have had less time to learn what those powers do. Often, the young and inexperienced ought to know better, in the sense that they ought to have listened when their elders warned them, but those older and more experienced really ought to know better – firsthand. No wonder we’re inherently less inclined to give an older party in a sexual scandal as much benefit of the doubt as a youthful party, no matter how attractive or intelligent the youth. Even wayward, fairly experienced youth seems likely to be less experienced than the sort of older person who considers such youth fair game.


Neither youthful innocence nor unrealistic standards of beauty fully explain, though, why so many of today’s youngest American women perceive themselves as sexually powerless enough to doormat themselves into having sex that’s neither forced wanted, a state of affairs that ought to disgust both those who value chastity and those who value individual autonomy.

While we could blame these young women for their pathetic self-assessment that they’re so powerless, we might also ask what they learned that taught them to see themselves this way – and I doubt that bugbears like “misandry”, “SJWs”, “self-esteem”, and “snowflake culture” are the only answers. Specifically, we might ask what other lessons girls could be learning instead to teach them to master their powers of youth and beauty without them having to sow their oats like wild young men, even if reliable contraception has permanently split the mating marketplace. America’s contemporary conservative Christian culture at least tries to offer youth alternative lessons here, although, in my opinion – and in Regnerus’s gathered evidence – with underwhelming success. Despite Christ’s admonition to be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves, teaching innocent young girls to be sexually “shrewd” doesn’t sound, at first blush, like what Jesus would do! But if innocents cannot be taught to be shrewd while they’re still innocent, why should we expect them to defend their innocence successfully enough to make it truly their own?

There are 44 comments.

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  1. Dorrk Inactive
    Dorrk
    @Dorrk

    Great, thoughtful post. I don’t have much to add aside from two additional points of reference.

    First, your question, “why do what you don’t want?” I read earlier this weekend the New Yorker short story Cat Person that has caused some buzz by attempting to answer, or depict an answer to, this question. It’s not perfect perfect prose, but I think it’s probably insightful in terms of how young women mentally negotiate with themselves sexually.

    Second, a lot of the ideas in your essay are stuffed inside a small-but-terrific coming-of-age movie that came out a few years ago, The Diary of a Teenage Girl. Based on a graphic novel, it tells the story of an American teenage girl with poor parenting discovering and dealing with the very complicated notions that you raised. If it didn’t have so much strong sexual content, I would insist that my own 14-year-old daughter watch it, as I’d rather she learn the same lessons from watching this fundamental mistake of confusing sexual power with sexual agency than making it herself.

    • #1
  2. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Dorrk (View Comment):
    If it didn’t have so much strong sexual content, I would insist that my own 14-year-old daughter watch it, as I’d rather she learn the same lessons from watching this fundamental mistake of confusing sexual power with sexual agency than making it herself.

    At 14, I would have found strong sexual content gross and shocking, and my parents’ recommending it to me certainly wouldn’t make it any less gross. But…

    …the message is such an important one that I kinda wonder if it’s worth providing girls at this age today with a safe environment to see such a story, even if the content can’t be edited out. Or maybe others have an idea of a story that’s similar but with less graphic scenes.

    • #2
  3. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Fantastic post.  Thanks!

    No wonder I’ve never understood women.  Good heavens…

    • #3
  4. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    I think the reason women have traditionally relied on their physical attributes to control men is because back then, it was the only power they had. Now, women are lawyers, doctors, and heads of state. But even so, when I met with my accountant this year to discuss a sticky matter with the IRS, he recommended that I meet with them and bat my eyelashes. In 2017.

    • #4
  5. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Conservatives want youth – but especially, let’s be honest, young women – to exercise more agency in guarding their genitalia.

    Nope. Boys need it too, if they are ever to become gentlemen. As to whether or not we can ever achieve the level of cultural pushback required for that …

    Hey! I’ve got it! We could have the women insist that they be gentlemen! As some comedian (Richard Jeni?) once said, you can get men to do anything as long as you end the proposition with “… and then you get to meet women.”

    • #5
  6. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    I think the reason women have traditionally relied on their physical attributes to control men is because back then, it was the only power they had. Now, women are lawyers, doctors, and heads of state. But even so, when I met with my accountant this year to discuss a sticky matter with the IRS, he recommended that I meet with them and bat my eyelashes. In 2017.

    Don’t hit them full force with that. You’ll wreck ’em sure.

    • #6
  7. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Percival (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    I think the reason women have traditionally relied on their physical attributes to control men is because back then, it was the only power they had. Now, women are lawyers, doctors, and heads of state. But even so, when I met with my accountant this year to discuss a sticky matter with the IRS, he recommended that I meet with them and bat my eyelashes. In 2017.

    Don’t hit them full force with that. You’ll wreck ’em sure.

    Ha. With my luck it would be a woman.

    • #7
  8. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    I think the reason women have traditionally relied on their physical attributes to control men is because back then, it was the only power they had. Now, women are lawyers, doctors, and heads of state. But even so, when I met with my accountant this year to discuss a sticky matter with the IRS, he recommended that I meet with them and bat my eyelashes. In 2017.

    Don’t hit them full force with that. You’ll wreck ’em sure.

    Ha. With my luck it would be a woman.

    She might be gay. Just sayin’

    Seawriter

    • #8
  9. Judithann Campbell Member
    Judithann Campbell
    @

    This is a great post. I am not sure how to answer the questions you ask: my advice to young women would be, do not attempt to be friends with young men. Be friendly, sure, but do not be friends. I have had two close male friends in my life, and both ended badly after many years with them accusing me of leading them on, treating them like beta orbiters, etc…. even though they assured me from day one that they had no romantic interest in me. I started out dating one of them, then he decided he would rather for us to just be friends, I was fine with that, and then, 7 years later? he changed his mind, decided he wanted to marry me, and became very angry when I responded by being kind of confused. I was actually willing to consider marrying him, but he was angry that I didn’t immediately jump at the chance. The other one spent years regaling me with his love for another woman, assured me day and night he had no romantic interest in me, and then after years of this, became very angry when he realized that I had no romantic interest in him either.

    Needless to say, my experiences being friends with men did not end well, but even so, I am not sure that I totally regret it: I learned a great deal from both of them, and their influence was probably a lot more positive than the influence of most of the women I knew at the time. But it didn’t end well, and even now, both of them are still angry with me-though at the time, they both would have scoffed at the notion of being romantically involved with me. Young women probably shouldn’t believe men who say that they just want to be friends. Be friends with your brothers and cousins, but do not attempt to be friends with men to whom you are not related.

    On a related note, when I was young and single, I paid attention to how men treated their sisters, nieces, and female relatives: I took a very positive view of those who were protective and supportive, and a dim of view of those who weren’t.

    • #9
  10. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Judithann Campbell (View Comment):
    This is a great post. I am not sure how to answer the questions you ask: my advice to young women would be, do not attempt to be friends with young men. Be friendly, sure, but do not be friends. I have had two close male friends in my life, and both ended badly after many years with them accusing me of leading them on, treating them like beta orbiters, etc…. even though they assured me from day one that they had no romantic interest in me…

    Needless to say, my experiences being friends with men did not end well, but even so, I am not sure that I totally regret it…

    I wonder if one reason I had better luck with having male friends is I spent my teens and early twenties in male-dominated milieus (math and science) and so had considerably more than two male friends, though several of them were very close at one time or another. Some friendships did end in their frustration at no romance, but most did not. Since I had several male friends, rather than few, I could at least avoid the impression that my befriending a man was “extra special” in some way, and maybe that helped.

    Male-female friendship is a fraught thing, certainly. I’m quite grateful for all the decent young men (even some who were personally libertine, but whose regard for my innocence kept them from overstepping boundaries with me) with whom I had friendships. It was through friendship (where I had much experience), not romance (where I had little experience), that I learned to admire the male character, a means of learning which may have particularly suited my peculiar personality.

     

    • #10
  11. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    Some friendships did end in their frustration at no romance, but most did not.

    This could be taken in two different ways…

    • #11
  12. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Ms. Rattlesnake, I’m not sure I’ve ever read such an honest essay by a woman.  I think I was better off before I knew all that you wrote.  I kid.  A little.

    Kent

     

    • #12
  13. SkipSul Inactive
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    Judithann Campbell (View Comment):
    This is a great post. I am not sure how to answer the questions you ask: my advice to young women would be, do not attempt to be friends with young men. Be friendly, sure, but do not be friends.

    Basically the lesson of When Harry Met Sally – or rather the lesson is that friendship can lead to romance if one is not very careful.  It is difficult for men to be friends with women without also developing at least a certain protectiveness of them, and that can lead to romantic interest too, especially when us guys are poor at reading signals.  I had one such experience myself, and was quite crushed when I found that my affection was not returned in the way I had hoped.  And I was trying to be a gentleman about it too – how much worse and more dangerous when one is confronted with a man of less honorable intentions.

    • #13
  14. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Misreading a person is true tragedy. It’s terrible that a moment of poor judgment or wishful thinking can destroy a friendship weeks or months in the making. The same can be said of non-sexual relationships, I suppose. Wrecking them is so much easier than building them. Accidents are the hardest to forget.

    Maybe before flying cars we will get mood rings that really work.

    • #14
  15. Nick H Coolidge
    Nick H
    @NickH

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: I was also dimly and cynically aware that men may also find convenience attractive

    I think this can work in a couple different ways. One is what you’re talking about, where the girl is just a “convenient collection of holes”. That’s obviously not a healthy relationship. A similar thing (though not as inherently unhealthy) is what I’ll call settling, for lack of a better term. There are so many mixed and misunderstood signals at that age that any clear signal of attraction can radically change how a young man views a young woman. A girl he hadn’t paid much attention to is suddenly much more interesting, just because for once he doesn’t have to wonder. Obviously there are times this can go badly, and lead to the convenience relationship you describe. But sometimes a relationship like this can be a good thing. Physical attraction is instinctive, but looking deeper, beyond just skin deep beauty, is something that has to be learned.

    • #15
  16. Jim Beck Inactive
    Jim Beck
    @JimBeck

    Morning MFR,

    Orson Scott Card in one of his talks suggested the power of our media to shape behavior was much greater than we think.  He said that the actions of the characters of our favorite shows and movies give us models which we follow without thinking about how these actions might play out in real life.  Do you think teens are given images which cause them to take risk beyond their capacity to understand and beyond their capacity to manage.  These images are not real life but created for dramatic purpose.  In your experience do you think this is accurate?  How would you describe the ideas which influenced your sexual behavior, parents, peers, other, your own imagination?

    • #16
  17. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Jim Beck (View Comment):
    Do you think teens are given images which cause them to take risk beyond their capacity to understand and beyond their capacity to manage.

    Yes but.

    Yes, in that I’m sure it happens. But, in that it’s not just the images they’re given that causes it.

    Taking risks we don’t yet fully understand and which may well beyond our capacity to manage is part of learning. “A man begins cutting his wisdom teeth the first time he bites off more than he can chew,” and all that. Teens are supposed to be venturesome, so that they learn to make their way in the world. Indeed, teens are attracted to risk despite overestimating the possible negative consequences of risky behavior. This applies to nonsexual stuff, too, of course.

    Taking a risk and managing a successful outcome is an achievement. If achievement is where true self-esteem comes from, then risk-taking is very much part of that. Military service, a high-stakes academic career, entering the job market, especially as an entrepreneur… all those activities involve risk that conservative parents can be proud of their children taking – yes, even an academic career, if the stakes seem high enough (why we mock academic fields we don’t approve of as being low-stakes). Scouting is about adventure – risk. So’s romance.

    A “successful outcome” of a love affair needn’t be sex. In fact, until marriage, I considered avoiding sex a successful romantic outcome, according to Christian teaching, aware at some level that guys were less likely to see things that way than I was. Most people do end up wanting a stable marriage, and that by itself ought to shape what our idea of a “successful” romantic outcome is: it’s what prepares you for marriage, though often not marriage to the person you’re entangled with at the time.

    The player I tried to play in return had to offer me something I really wanted, in order to induce me to even try. But part of the appeal was the challenge he offered – that maybe I would get in over my head. As in fact I kind of did, more so than I expected, if not enough to be “conquered”. Rather than trying to conform to a particular image or narrative in that case, I was deliberately trying to buck one. It’s hard to overstate, though, how much the whole affair revolved around a thirst to prove myself. And we want youth to have a thirst to prove themselves.

    I would be most surprised if we could separate the thirst to prove oneself from all the crazy things youngsters do. We want them to have that thirst, even to satisfy it, just we hope not in ways that are too wicked or foolish.

    • #17
  18. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):
    Misreading a person is true tragedy. It’s terrible that a moment of poor judgment or wishful thinking can destroy a friendship weeks or months in the making. The same can be said of non-sexual relationships, I suppose. Wrecking them is so much easier than building them.

    True. It’s learning, though. Painful, painful learning.

    Looking back, I can think of a few times when I wish I had been wiser, to treat a guy’s heart better. But I wasn’t, and at least I acted out of ignorance, not malice. And I think most of the guys who misread me were in the same boat: they were still learning, too.

    There are predators out there who deliberately use the uncertainty and ambiguity of those still learning to their advantage, and I have no wish to excuse that kind of exploitation. But predators wouldn’t have found a niche exploiting it unless it were plentiful to begin with.

    • #18
  19. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Risk-taking is a better way to frame it than settling. Settling seems to imply awareness of better but difficult or costly options. Romance is usually a blind bet, with the requitted affection of each person being unknown.

    Settling is embracing a known option (“This person likes me too”) in lieu of mere hope of a better one (“Does that other person like me?”). It’s like accepting a pleasant gift not sought, rather than refusing that gift to bet on something long wanted and thereby risk being left with nothing.

    It’s remarkable how fragile most egos are where affection is involved. Typical advice upon rejection is to forget the person or to belittle them, rather than accept the harsh reality that one admirable person might have any number of decent reasons for rejecting another… and to continue admiring the person in charity. Or perhaps that speaks more to defense of friends and loved ones than to the rejected ego.

    Besides, people are stupid. Half the time, we don’t really know what is good for us.

    At some point in life, everyone is in love with the idea of being in love. To embrace a hint of that dream, sweeping aside warning signs and incompatibility in fixation on the willful possibility, is foolishness but not stupidity.

    • #19
  20. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Ms. Rattlesnake, let me expand on what I only hinted at before.   I’ve never read such an honest account by a woman regarding courting and other matters concerning the relationship between men and women.

    I’m glad I wasn’t courting you when I was young.  You would have known much more than I did, and you might have taken advantage of me.  What that “advantage” might have been, I can only guess.  But with your high level of self-awareness, I would have been a lump of putty in your hands.

    At any rate, Ms. Rattlesnake, you offer much insight into the female mind.  I see now that I was naive.  I should have been more scared of your sex than I already was.

    Kent

     

    • #20
  21. SkipSul Inactive
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    Looking back, I can think of a few times when I wish I had been wiser, to treat a guy’s heart better. But I wasn’t, and at least I acted out of ignorance, not malice. And I think most of the guys who misread me were in the same boat: they were still learning, too.

    Indeed.  If someone offered me a boatload of money to relive my late teens / early 20s, but without the learning from the hard knocks along the way, I’d decline.  That was just too confusing a time.

    • #21
  22. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Well done! This is a great article.

    I am not as pessimistic as you, though.

    While I have no influence on a great many girls, I do have influence over my daughter and can exercise some in my church at some future time.

    Like you, I had little confidence in my claim for beauty. Unlike you, I was not unaware in my innocence.

    I have no idea how I pulled it off. I don’t remember my mother really talking to me about it, but I think media I consumed, the seriousness of my faith, and a reluctant, though unfearful, attitude towards “growing up” helped. My mother did encourage us to be children just a little longer. By the time I was aware, I had good boundaries, probably born from classic literature I consumed. My faith made me adamant about waiting. My boundaries made me unapproachable. My failure was exhaustion from being judged by people I had spent good time ignoring for much of my life (college, being considered judgemental goody-two-shoes has a sell-by date).

    I wish I had held out longer.

    So what would I say gave me sexual confidence and agency without destroying innocence? I consumed Louisa May Alcott (everything she ever wrote) and LM Montgomery. Jane Austen is excellent with behaviour that is suitable for young women (don’t be Lydia or Kitty, be Jane). But not just P&P, but also Sense & Sensibility.

    Sound of Music is amazing in romance, forbearance, seduction, reticence, sexual power, modesty, and innocence.

    My Fair Lady is excellent in acting lady like and modestly.

    Five Little Peppers is sweet and innocent in its romance between Polly and Jasper.

    I think considering parent sex as gross and creeping out over it is ridiculous and counter-productive. It prevents healthy conversation between mother-daughter and father-son.

    Biblical lessons I took to heart was run from sexual temptation (the ONLY sin to flee and not stand firm against) and God is the only one to please. I learned the latter very early. Up until college, I was like cheap Teflon with my peer group. I scratched, but little stuck.

    I also was not sheltered from the seedier bible stories and parents taught modesty. I do recall my dad having a couple conversations about boys with me and my mother was highly critical of the media we consumed.

    I don’t know if this was real success or if I was just lucky. I keep asking if I can prepare my daughter for her teen years adequately. She is not like me in temperament at all. I will cont inue to pray for wisdom.

    • #22
  23. SecondBite Member
    SecondBite
    @SecondBite

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    Most people do end up wanting a stable marriage, and that by itself ought to shape what our idea of a “successful” romantic outcome is: it’s what prepares you for marriage, though often not marriage to the person you’re entangled with at the time.

    Yes.  This should be the starting point for discussions about sex:  where are we going?  What helps us get there?  What hinders us?  Thank you .  Good post and discussion.

    • #23
  24. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    KentForrester (View Comment):
    Ms. Rattlesnake, let me expand on what I only hinted at before. I’ve never read such an honest account by a woman regarding courting and other matters concerning the relationship between men and women.

    I’m glad I wasn’t courting you when I was young. You would have known much more than I did, and you might have taken advantage of me. What that “advantage” might have been, I can only guess. But with your high level of self-awareness, I would have been a lump of putty in your hands.

    Au contraire mon frère, it took me until now to become aware of much of this. Which is several years into marriage, and after motherhood: what drove these insights home was watching my toddler play and destroy things! True, I have vivid memories of being young and single and stupid to draw on, but back then, I simply wouldn’t have known enough to be this frank.

    I was aware, then, that there was a lot I didn’t know, and that awareness helped keep me out of trouble – but there was no way I could have guessed, at the time, how much I didn’t know. As Rummy said,

    Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

    Being wise enough to defend your innocence means learning known unknowns. Getting to know them well enough that they’re known unknowns instead of unknown unknowns, but not so well that they’re known knowns and you’re no longer innocent. So love isn’t quite a battlefield, where more known knowns are always better.

    • #24
  25. Mole-eye Inactive
    Mole-eye
    @Moleeye

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    I think the reason women have traditionally relied on their physical attributes to control men is because back then, it was the only power they had. Now, women are lawyers, doctors, and heads of state. But even so, when I met with my accountant this year to discuss a sticky matter with the IRS, he recommended that I meet with them and bat my eyelashes. In 2017.

    So how do you think that would go over if the auditor is female?  (L0l).  Seriously, hetero men will never stop being attracted to women, thanks be to God, and that enriched sex drive that they have will always complicate their lives more than ours.  Vive la difference.

    • #25
  26. Mole-eye Inactive
    Mole-eye
    @Moleeye

    Judithann Campbell (View Comment):
    This is a great post. I am not sure how to answer the questions you ask: my advice to young women would be, do not attempt to be friends with young men. Be friendly, sure, but do not be friends. I have had two close male friends in my life, and both ended badly after many years with them accusing me of leading them on, treating them like beta orbiters, etc…. even though they assured me from day one that they had no romantic interest in me. I started out dating one of them, then he decided he would rather for us to just be friends, I was fine with that, and then, 7 years later? he changed his mind, decided he wanted to marry me, and became very angry when I responded by being kind of confused. I was actually willing to consider marrying him, but he was angry that I didn’t immediately jump at the chance. The other one spent years regaling me with his love for another woman, assured me day and night he had no romantic interest in me, and then after years of this, became very angry when he realized that I had no romantic interest in him either.

    Needless to say, my experiences being friends with men did not end well, but even so, I am not sure that I totally regret it: I learned a great deal from both of them, and their influence was probably a lot more positive than the influence of most of the women I knew at the time. But it didn’t end well, and even now, both of them are still angry with me-though at the time, they both would have scoffed at the notion of being romantically involved with me. Young women probably shouldn’t believe men who say that they just want to be friends. Be friends with your brothers and cousins, but do not attempt to be friends with men to whom you are not related.

    On a related note, when I was young and single, I paid attention to how men treated their sisters, nieces, and female relatives: I took a very positive view of those who were protective and supportive, and a dim of view of those who weren’t.

    I had such a wonderful friendship with one young man, who wasn’t interested in me that way, (tall blonds not his cup of tea, petite brunettes on the other hand . . .), I would have hated to have missed that.  Can’t remember how many times they pushed us out of Denny’s at closing.

    • #26
  27. ST Inactive
    ST
    @SimonTemplar

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    The player I tried to play in return had to offer me something I really wanted, in order to induce me to even try. But part of the appeal was the challenge he offered – that maybe I would get in over my head. As in fact I kind of did, more so than I expected, if not enough to be “conquered”. Rather than trying to conform to a particular image or narrative in that case, I was deliberately trying to buck one. It’s hard to overstate, though, how much the whole affair revolved around a thirst to prove myself.

    Very Like

    • #27
  28. ST Inactive
    ST
    @SimonTemplar

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):
    At some point in life, everyone is in love with the idea of being in love. To embrace a hint of that dream, sweeping aside warning signs and incompatibility in fixation on the willful possibility, is foolishness but not stupidity.

    well said

    • #28
  29. Mole-eye Inactive
    Mole-eye
    @Moleeye

    Terrific essay, MFR!

     

    • #29
  30. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Midge, this is absolutely brilliant! You really ought to write professionally.

    It was just the other day when I was at my local Mall looking for a present that I realized that almost every woman dresses with a sexual overtone. Women seem to dress now to highlight some sexually provocative appendage, either with these skin-tight leggings, or some sort of bra that pushes out their breasts, or exposed cleavage, even in the cold of winter, or close forming jeans that reveal the shape of their posteriors. Even those that are not trying to transmit sexual vibes are doing so, such as by wearing knee high boots. And it’s not limited to attractive women. Even the heftiest ladies that should by common sense be more modest, are not.

    Real elegance – the kind that suggests beauty: long flowing dresses, pretty collars, delicate shoes – is nowhere to be found.

    And I’m not excusing men either. They are just as inelegant, though different. I have noticed that men are mostly not dressing to emphasize sexuality, say like it was in the Saturday Night Fever era of the 1970s. Ninety percent of the men walking the Mall are dressed as slobs, shirts untucked, clothes that look like they have been slept in, unshaven faces that belong in the mountains rather than in society.

    Not that I’m excluding myself. I have real flaws too. Mea culpa, mea culpa. Society is a mess.

    • #30

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