Okay, let’s just put it out there. I’m 52 years old. The Same as Michelle Obama and Rob Lowe and interestingly enough, Sarah Palin and oh yes, Anthony Weiner. Born in 1964, we technically are the last babies of the baby boom. But we aren’t Baby Boomers. We didn’t protest Vietnam or attend Woodstock. My Summer of Love was spent in a baby pool with my little sister, my pregnant Mother, and a garden hose.
By middle school, the protests were done. The Vietnam Vets were home, ragged and addicted, and we were left to face the Seventies alone. My parents were stunned, indeed outraged, at the state of our nation. “You mean to tell me these young girls are going to try out for the police department! It’s ludicrous!” Guitars at mass were just plain goofy. Black people were to be tolerated or preferably, entirely avoided all-together, and everyone, I mean everyone, needed a haircut. (I’d have to agree with that last point.)
My older brothers and sisters were wrapped up in the party culture, and our teachers were either naïve or met with our scorn for their “new age” attempts to relate to us. Life had changed, and our generation felt the gap.
As a girl, this meant navigating the dichotomous messages left over from the Baby Boomers: Love the One You’re With and Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? I liked to imagine a life for myself that was similar to the way my mother described the courtship of her 1950’s generation, “Oh, we would never enter a tavern unescorted.” The lines of coke spread out on the coffee table at a friend’s apartment represented a world far removed from such times. The nuns at our high school reminded us in urgent whispers (with hints of bitterness?), you can be anything you want.
In 1981, after we heard that another cousin was pregnant, my three best friends and I vowed to “save the big V.” I wanted to be wanted, but a pregnancy didn’t seem worth it. Birth control might have been around, but no one talked about it. By the mid-Eighties, AIDS had crushed any free love that wasn’t already ruined by teen pregnancy, slut shaming (though we didn’t know to call it that) and The Reagan’s.
Eventually, we learned. We learned that even hippies could be sexist (and racist.) We learned that bosses grabbed asses. When cat-called from a car, the warmth of my shame eventually turned into anger. As time went on, I would respond with a confident “fuck you!” Yet, they seemed to like that too. My rage silently burned as I’d head off to work. Still, we were lucky. We heard the stories from our Moms who were willing to speak truthfully; the stories like, after having five children in five years, she went to the family priest for advice and was told to submit to her husband. And she did. There was a line in Mystic Pizza, one of the first movies starring Julia Robert’s, that my girlfriends and I often recited to each other, “It’s the 80’s, I don’t have to marry an asshole!” Things were different for us.
Now, I’m a mom. I married a good guy – a feminist actually, in as much as a heterosexual, white man could be. He’s kind. I have a voice. We grew up in between the era of free-love and the hook-up culture. Sex was always around us, but somehow couples had more time. Sure, many “one-night-stands” took place no doubt. Today these might be called hook-ups. Or date-rapes. Recently, I had the pleasure of spending the weekend with women I’ve known for 45 years. My sister’s best friend recounted that at age eighteen, she and a group of girls enjoyed a sixteen-day spring break in Daytona Beach in 1984. Lot’s of drinking (beer), and a few “make out” sessions (no sex) were involved. Thinking back, she was shocked that nobody was raped. We wondered aloud, why not? Maybe because there was no binge-drinking? Or because there was no expectation of immediate hook-ups? No hard liquor? We all agreed that “make-out sessions” were really fun. Just as importantly, these initial sexual encounters were a good segway into eventual sex. It gave us time. Time to sober up, time to change our minds, or time to double down on our desire.
We all have daughters. And we all worry about them. Their world is fast. Kids hook-up. Send boob-shots in middle school. Give blow-jobs. Sex is everywhere. On Netflix, Snapchat as well as prime-time TV. Besides the pace of things, we also notice that something else is different. The girl’s pleasure? Today’s sex doesn’t look like very much fun for the girls. Sex seems to mean nothing to girls or boys. I’m told, it’s only physical, so it doesn’t matter. Somehow, there is supposed to be power in this disconnect.
My rage burns.
In today’s (June 26, 2017) NYT’s opinion page, Amelia Marren-Baden writes:
Nowhere are Americans exposed to the idea that talking to your partner before, during and after sex — regardless of whether you met five years or 15 minutes ago — makes sex better! Why is nobody teaching us that “great sex” happens when both partners are equally engaged in respecting and communicating their expectations?1
I can hear my own outrage in the “talks” with my daughter – and with my sons. What is in it for these girls! Why so one-sided? Sex is supposed to be fun! I tell my daughter, “Just wait until you’re older.” Against the dizzying pace of Snapchat streaks and instant messaging, I beg her to slow down.
“Save the big V!”, I say. I can hear how old I sound. And I think of my Mom.
New Feminism or the same old story?